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Interview with Devan McGuinness of Unspoken Grief, Part Two

Updated on July 21, 2012

Unspoken Grief: A Website Providing Perinatal Grief Support

In Part Two of my conversation with Devan McGuinness, creator of Unspoken Grief, we discuss the range of feelings women experience after a miscarriage, what to say to someone who has had a miscarriage, and the impact of medical terminology on access to resources.

Triton's statue
Triton's statue

Part Two

Nicole: I wonder if we could talk a bit about the feelings women experience after a miscarriage, which are not often discussed.

One example of this I found in your letter to your baby, Triton, about his time with you helping you move past your hatred for your body. I experienced that feeling myself as I struggled with trying to get pregnant, and maintain a pregnancy. I also felt distrust in my body for not being able to protect my baby. I think those feelings are common, but not necessarily talked about, and the fact that you were so honest about it was brave.

Can you share any of the lesser spoken about feelings that women may not share, except in a safe space like that offered at Unspoken Grief?

Devan: There can be a lot of confusion at the beginning, regarding the initial feelings first off. Many might not expect to feel the grief like they do. There can be a lot of sadness that they feel and because society doesn't show it, it is a confusing emotion a lot struggle with.

Another one is anger. Many do not talk about the confusing anger that is left. Not just the "why me" which is very present and real and important. But there is also the very confusing experience a lot of women have when/if you have a family member or friend who is pregnant -- there can be a lot of anger towards that friend. Many feel conflicted because obviously they want to be happy for their friend but they are grieving their loss. That is a very confusing conflict.

There can also be this paralyzing fear that it was something you did to cause the loss. And there can be also a lot of anger towards medical definitions regarding miscarriage.

Nicole: Yes, I remember having conflicting emotions and the feelings of confusion. I also felt confused because I had gone through life trying to see the things that happen to us as having some overall meaning...I looked at life through a kind of spiritual lens where events could be looked at later and made sense of over time in the big picture. But that was not possible for me as I was dealing with the loss of my baby.

Did you have a spiritual belief that helped you cope with grief? Did you have a moment where you felt you understood on some greater level that there was meaning to what you had gone through? Or is that even possible?

Devan: I am not a religious person. I consider myself "non religious". I do not personally believe in "God" or "Heaven" but I do respect those that do and I respect how those beliefs can be very healing for many.

For me I do not have that. I do not believe there is any "higher meaning" for what I am going through/have gone through. I do not feel that some being will look after me and my children. I DO believe that they are around me in spirit - but in a very different way than the traditional meaning of that phrase.

Devan with one of her babies.
Devan with one of her babies.

Nicole: About the paralyzing fear that a woman could have done something to cause a miscarriage. I think the single most important thing anyone said to me (and it was a friend who had had a miscarriage) was that it wasn't my fault. She said it several times to make sure I got it. I would like to see a website for women who have been through a miscarriage with that message, “It was not your fault”, as the banner.

Devan: I think that is a great idea too. I think that fear comes from people who may be trying to say the right thing - but it coming out wrong. I wrote a post including all the phrases people have said to me (that could have been said in good intention) that I have found incredibly hurtful. One of those is the saying that "there must have been something wrong with the baby" - which not only makes the woman question why did my body to that -- but also what could/should I have done to make it better?

Nicole: I remember hearing that one, too, and thinking: I wouldn't have cared if my baby had something "wrong" with him. That wasn't a good reason for me not getting to meet him. I would have taken care of him no matter what, I just wanted the chance to do it. It is very helpful to offer some words of instruction of what helps and what hurts. Thank you for providing that info to your readers on Unspoken Grief.

Most often I think people would rather not say anything because they are afraid of saying something upsetting or of saying the wrong thing. I found that when someone acknowledged my loss in some way, I felt lighter, less invisible. I realized it was difficult for people to put themselves out there at times. Hearing a simple "I'm sorry that this happened" was very important to me.

Devan: YES, and that is a very important part that I included in the follow up article on Unspoken Grief, "How to help someone who has had a miscarriage". We need to know that someone cares - that our baby was a baby and that he mattered to them, too. The pain was/is real. THAT is important to acknowledge

Nicole: Absolutely. It is very isolating to feel we live in a world so heartless that we can tell someone we lost a baby, and yet we feel like we didn't say the words out loud - there is no impact. It still feels like we are the only ones who cared about our baby.

Devan: That is compounded by the medical definitions.

Nicole: Can you talk more about that?

Devan: For me personally, my "issue" with the definitions came into play when I lost Triton at 14 weeks gestation. He was formed, had a heartbeat and was a person. According to medical definitions he was a miscarriage, just a fetus. I feel he is more properly classified as a stillbirth (although I did have a medical procedure and did not labor him on my own as I had the others).

Why that is important to me is because medically classified stillbirths are considered people. The parents get access to a lot more support. In some places they receive death certificates, and access to traditional burials. Society understands that what was lost was a BABY and there are actually a lot more grief resources both immediately and after the loss for those who have been through a stillbirth (in most places, but not all).

Nicole: Would it be more correct to refer to all babies that have a heartbeat as a person, and treated as such in the case of a loss? Or would it be enough to treat all pregnancy losses with the dignity of a person, no matter what medical professionals referred to the baby?

Devan: Not necessarily because many women lose a pregnancy before a heartbeat could have been present - but to that mother it was a baby. Medical definitions are not really the issue in a medical sense - but the personnel treat you different and society does not "get it".

Nicole: There is definitely a gap between how the medical community treats us and our babies (with distance and detachment) and how we want and need to be treated after a loss. I suppose that is how they are able to do their jobs. But what could be done better is support after the loss, definitely. And I believe that society would take a cue from medical personnel if each and every loss was appropriately supported. Parents could be told after a loss, “We are sorry for your loss and understand this is difficult. Here are the resources we have to offer you, which you can request at any time. Can you tell us what it is that you need right now?”

Devan: There is a notion that the gestation that you lost the baby makes any difference in your grief. I can only talk about this from my perspective but it really hurts me when I am talking with someone who has lost a baby at 5-6 weeks gestation and feel the need to say "at least it wasn't later on", or even the phrase "at least I only had one". One should never compare their grief to someone else's. That only pains me because I don't want any woman to think that what I have been through is any "harder" or more "painful" than what they have been through.

Nicole: It's true, the experience of loss is very personal and doesn't have everything to do with how far along in pregnancy a woman is. I think the perception is that the longer the baby is with you, the more attached you are, and that may be true. But a woman who, like me, lost her baby at 6 weeks can be devastated by it. I still miss my baby. I talked to the baby every day when I woke up in the morning. I was certainly very attached, possibly more so than I was to the pregnancy I had after that loss.

Devan: The medical definitions - even defining the "types of miscarriage" - puts pain in a hierarchy.

I Can Make Life: Poems About Infertility and Miscarriage, Pregnancy and Birth

I Can Make Life addresses the impact of fertility treatments, pregnancy, miscarriage and birth as it re-traces the poet's long journey to her son -- and finally, to peace.
I Can Make Life addresses the impact of fertility treatments, pregnancy, miscarriage and birth as it re-traces the poet's long journey to her son -- and finally, to peace. | Source

About Nicole Breit

Nicole Breit is a published author and poet. Her debut poetry collection, I Can Make Life, explores the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual impact of fertility treatments, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and birth. I Can Make Life was a finalist for the 2012 Mary Ballard Poetry competition. Her essay, “For Tristan: A Meditation on Loss, Grief and Healing” was published in The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage (Wombat Books, 2011). She is also the author of a number of online pregnancy loss resources. Follow her writing journey on her blog, Writing for my Life, or on twitter @NicoleBreit.

Continue Reading This Interview...

In Part One of my conversation with Devan McGuinness, we discuss miscarriage, grief and healing, and the support she provides for survivors of perinatal loss through her website, Unspoken Grief.

In Part Three of my interview with Devan McGuinness we discuss memorials to our babies, her tattoos, and the response to Unspoken Grief so far.


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