How Culture Can Impact Healing, Grief, and Honoring Loss After a Miscarriage
“Loss is a unique experience.”
We hear this said often when comforting those who have lost a loved one they knew and grew to love, but the silence weighs a little heavier when the loss stems from a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Oftentimes the reasons grief isn’t addressed are rooted in cultural, religious, or societal norms. In Latinx culture, for instance, the old saying, “calladita te ves más bonita” (you look more beautiful when you’re quiet) or the expectation that feelings are kept behind closed doors, can isolate those who need support the most.
Miscarriage in Different Cultures
“Culture impacts how people navigate miscarriages and infertility in many ways,” explains Arden Cartrette, Certified Bereavement Doula & Founder of The Miscarriage Doula. “From putting pressure on [the couple] to move forward in a timely manner or casting judgment for grieving the loss of embryos and miscarriages that happen [early]."
Many cultural superstitions will encourage expecting parents to not share that they’re having a baby until a specific date, which while comforting for some, can further isolate parents who experience a miscarriage before the said date.
Instead of feeling limited to secrecy, Cartrette encourages parents to find a community that does understand their needs or even a slice of their lived experience.
“The more we discuss miscarriage and infertility, the more that society will accept the very real emotions and trauma that people experience when they are walking through it,” shares Cartrette. “Finding support through friends, family, services like group support and therapy, is all important.”
Cultural Rituals After Pregnancy Loss
In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers concluded that “The loss of an infant through stillbirth, miscarriage, or neonatal death is recognized as a traumatic life event.” And as such, this trauma can have the physical and emotional repercussions of any traumatic event.
"Because it is medically common, the impact of miscarriage is often underestimated," says Janet Jaffe, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego and co-author of the 2010 book "Reproductive Trauma: Psychotherapy with Infertility and Pregnancy Loss Clients."
According to an article by the American Psychological Association, “Another common misunderstanding about miscarriage is that a woman will experience less grief if she loses the baby early in her pregnancy. But most researchers have not been able to find an association between the length of gestation and the intensity of grief, anxiety, or depression (Research in Nursing & Health). "A woman who has lost her child at 11 weeks may be as distraught as a woman who has lost her child at 20 weeks," says Jaffe's co-author, Martha Diamond, Ph.D.
And yet, even with statistics from March of Dimes showing that 1 in 4 individuals experience a miscarriage every year, there is still a tall barrier of entry between those people and any given support.
In a World Health Organization report, for instance, it was found that a woman who miscarried in Nigeria was more likely to be found “guilty” by those around her for the loss of her child than she was to be instantly given support. The cultural superstitions would hold that her loss is a punishment from God for bad behaviors that would then weigh heavier than any of her physical or emotional needs.
On the other hand, in Japanese culture, there is a ritual called "Mizuko Kuyō," a Buddhist ceremony for those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. In many societies, pregnancy loss is something often kept behind closed doors, but Mizuko Kuyō brings this grief to the forefront in an attempt to comfort the soul of the deceased baby while also easing the grief of the parents.
Miscarriage Grief: Finding Support
Where possible, Cartrette encourages those who have experienced miscarriages or stillbirths to find mental health professionals who see beyond taboos, superstitions, or cultural cues.
“A red flag in the world of finding mental health support is when someone doesn't validate one's experience with pregnancy loss or infertility or uses language they don't agree with,” says Cartrette. “It's also important to know that it's okay to seek out support from someone with personal experiences similar to yours as that may create a safer place in your journey.”
While cultural taboos, superstitions, and norms may make it difficult for grieving parents to reach out to their own families or communities for support, it’s important to remember that there are other avenues of support available. Communities, like Rescripted, offer a place to connect with others who have experienced similar journeys through loss.
Vivian Nunez is a writer, content creator, and host of Happy To Be Here podcast. Her award-winning Instagram community has created pathways for speaking on traditionally taboo topics, like mental health and grief. You can find Vivian @vivnunez on Instagram/TikTok and her writing on both Medium and her blog, vivnunez.com.