Photo courtesy of Maya Beano
How to Heal after Losing a Pregnancy
“I’ve sat with women who feel relieved, angry, happy, depressed, guilty—in the span of an hour,” says postpartum and loss doula Stephanie Matthias. Everybody’s experience of losing a pregnancy is different, so “allowing space for that, not needing to solve anything, just listening” can be healing.
Matthias’s work—providing support to women who have lost a pregnancy—is highly individualized, but some of her wisdom is universal. Like this: Don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Seek the comfort of others. “In other cultures, the community helps women who have lost a pregnancy, but our culture does not,” she says. “If a woman loses a pregnancy, she thinks the best thing to do is to move on with her life.” And we often carry the unprocessed experience and emotions into our daily lives, Matthias finds. Which is why she holds a space to allow her clients to grieve and to heal: “It’s the biggest gift you can give to someone when you help them figure out the way forward.”
Editor’s note: Matthias works with women who have experienced all types of pregnancy loss, which she says can include miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, infertility, and failed IVF/IUI. Her support does not take the place of a physician, whom you should of course absolutely consult.
A Q&A with Stephanie Matthias
Experiences of pregnancy loss are as varied as the women having them, so there really isn’t a typical session. A loss-support session is completely customized to what the client is going through.
I’ve counseled women who are deciding whether to continue with a pregnancy, and in those cases, our sessions focused on emotional support, as well as presenting them with more information so that they could make an educated decision. I’ve supported women who have recently suffered a loss. Those sessions are more focused on emotional support and recovery, which can include meals tailored to recovery, Reiki, listening, talking, and reflecting. I’ve supported women virtually who are in the center of their loss experience—for example, a woman who is choosing to allow her miscarriage to progress naturally at home and is looking for help navigating and normalizing the physiological aspects of the experience. This can be really helpful for a woman who wants support but may not have access to a loss doula in person. Or she may prefer to be alone with her family but still have access to support.
I also have clients who have had loss experiences in the past and feel as though they never fully healed from an emotional and energetic standpoint. Sometimes they are still working through feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, longing, regret, anger, relief, resentment, depression, etc. The feelings are often extremely complex and layered. Other clients have been at a place in their lives where they wanted to become pregnant and felt like a past loss was still hanging around them. In those cases, I would suggest some Reiki sessions to help clear blocked energy in the body.
- Meals customized to a client’s healing needs
- Reiki energy healing
- Emotional support
- Normalizing the loss experience (i.e., going over typical physiological experiences)
- Accompanying a client to a procedure or care provider appointment
- Phone and email support before, during, and after a loss
- Physical rituals (i.e., assisting with vaginal steaming, therapeutic baths, or other modalities)
- Ceremonial rituals
- Physician contact and professional referrals, as needed
It can be really difficult for partners to understand the experience of pregnancy loss, especially if it’s a male partner who hasn’t had such a physical experience. I’ve seen hesitation from the side of the partner who is not physically experiencing the loss. They may feel like they’re not allowed to feel certain things because they’re not the ones quote, unquote “really going through it.” They’re often the ones who end up keeping it inside, and it can be damaging to the relationship. It can be a very confusing time for partners, and sometimes they need someone they can lean on for their own emotional support. A loss doula can provide that.
Also, having someone there who can normalize what’s happening, as well as provide suggestions for how a partner can hold space for the person experiencing the loss, can be really effective. If they don’t know how to help her or are confused or nervous about something she’s going through, a loss doula can help them navigate that and show up for their partner.
There are myriad ways a woman can care for herself, physically and mentally, as she’s experiencing a loss. These can include any of the following (and be sure to always check with a physician first):
Herbs can be made into a tea or added to a bath. If using as a tea, I like to make an infusion: Take about two teaspoons of the herbs of your choice (I like to make a mixture of herbs), add them to a large Mason jar, fill the jar with boiling water, and put the lid on (this way you concentrate all the good stuff). Allow it to cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, strain the infusion, let it come to room temperature, and sip throughout the day. You can dilute it if it’s strong and add honey for a little sweetness.
A warm bath can be very soothing. Just be sure to ask your doctor if it’s okay for you to take a bath.
Some of my favorite herbs include:
- Yellow dock
- Holy basil
- St. John’s wort
I highly recommend staying warm while you’re processing and healing. Keep a hot water bottle, heating pad, warm blankets, and socks handy. Light the room with candlelight in the evening as much as possible. And allow yourself to be held by someone.
Here are some nutritional guidelines I recommend to my clients. The length varies: If a woman has experienced a miscarriage or termination (up to nine weeks) or a failed IVF/IUI procedure, they typically follow this for a week. If they’ve experienced a second-trimester termination or miscarriage, they follow this for two to three weeks. If they’ve experienced a late-term (third trimester) termination or stillbirth, I recommend following this for forty days, if possible. For women who choose to allow a miscarriage to naturally progress at home, I recommend following these dietary guidelines throughout that waiting and release period, as well as the time after the loss has completed.
- Chinese red dates (you can find these in-season at the farmers’ market or dried at the health food store)
- Dark leafy greens (I suggest eating them lightly cooked)
- Orange root vegetables, like carrots and yams
- Bone broth
- Tahini and sesame seeds
- Zinc-rich foods, including mushrooms and oysters
- Protein, including organic meats, wild fish, lentils, and eggs
I prefer to use essential oils in a diffuser rather than directly on the body, but use them in whatever way feels best for you. A few of my favorites include:
- Helichrysum (sometimes called everlasting)
There are so many beautiful ways to support a loved one who is going through this. I think the most important thing is to not disappear. Be there. I’ve work with so many women who are saddened by the fact that the people in their lives go quiet when they learn of the loss. Most people don’t know what to say and they don’t want to be intrusive during such a vulnerable time, so they give the person space. To the woman who is having the loss experience, that can feel like she’s been abandoned. It’s okay not to know what to say. You can offer a hug, listen to their story, tell them you love them, or just sit with them. Look the person in the eyes, show them compassion and love, and create a space for them to experience whatever they need to experience. And if they need to fall apart, offer to be there for them while they do that.
Of course, if someone asks for space, that is different. The second most important thing is to listen to what the person needs. If they are clearly asking for space, give it to them. If they are asking for company, be there for them. Just listen and do your best to not let your own feelings get in the way. Remember that what they’re going through is not about you, and what they need isn’t a reflection of their feelings toward you or relationship with you.
It’s always nice to send a thoughtful gift, like flowers, tea, a natural beeswax candle, a cozy blanket, a hot water bottle, a heating pad, cashmere socks, a linen robe, a book—anything comforting and supportive to the body and spirit. You can bring them healthy food or give them gift cards for their local health food store. If they’ve requested privacy, leave the food at their front door and send a short text letting them know it’s there.
If the family already has children, offer to go over and babysit or take the kids out for the day or for a meal. Pregnancy loss for women who are already mothers can be especially challenging, and helping with childcare can sometimes be the most supportive thing you can offer.
Stephanie Matthias is an educator, a postpartum and loss doula, a holistic chef, and the founder of Radiant Woman, a Los Angeles–based healing practice that provides support for all females.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.