Creating Grieving Rituals after Miscarriage

When someone passes away, we have rituals we do. What these rituals look like varies across geographical locations, cultures, and religions. For many of us, it looks something like this: there is a funeral or memorial service, along with a visitation period or wake. But when we’re grieving the loss of a wanted pregnancy, ritual is lost. What do we do to help memorialize the life we loved and imagined, but that never was? How do we learn to cope through this process? October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, so I want use this day to talk through a few options that can help cope with the grief of miscarriage. 

Find a Token to Memorialize Your Child

After my first miscarriage, I told my husband I  felt so empty. I remember feeling lonely in a new job one day, looking down, and talking to my belly. I imagined myself talking to a full-grown baby in there, even though I was too early to even show. “I’m not alone,” I said aloud. “You, darling, will be with me for 34 more weeks. During that time, I can never be alone.”

When I lost that baby, I felt so empty. I needed something to hold, a token of some story, and I wanted it to be something that was always with me. Husband and I went to a jewelry store and picked out a pearl ring. In some cultures, pearl rings are bad omens, but a pearl would’ve been that baby’s birthstone, so to me, it felt like a tribute. 

Sad and funny note: After my second loss, my husband looked at me sadly and said, “How much jewelry was I supposed to budget for this year?” We decided the pearl ring would do. It memorializes all my angel babies, and sweetly enough, is also the birthstone of my living son. 

I know women who have gotten tattoos, sketched drawings, ordered memorial bracelets from Etsy. The point is, a tangible token can give you a place to situate your grief, like visiting a grave site might do after losing a loved one. 

Make Space for Your Lost Children in Your Home

For some, this means keeping a teddy bear situated in a room that would’ve become a nursery. For others, it’s a small piece of artwork, sometimes hand-drawn. For me, it’s a shrine, a specific section on the bookshelf in my living room devoted to all the children I’ve lost. (Admittedly, this does include a photo of my deceased dog; he was my fur baby, after all). In this space, I have 4 little wooden angels, all different sizes, that spoke to me the second I saw them. I also have a piece of metalwork on the back of the wall, crafted by a Haitian artist to represent the tree of life. In front of that “tree,” there are 4 candles, one honoring each of my angel babies. Off to the side is a painting of my beloved dog, my second fur child. The first one, thankfully, is still living. She’ll join the shrine one day. 

I don’t notice this space every day, but its constant presence brings me comfort. Some days, I walk past it, notice it, and stop for a moment of silence. Other days, it warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. Others, I don’t even realize it’s there, a wonderful reminder that, no matter how much it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, the world does continue turning after grief. Grief will not always be your center.

Create a Ritual for Important Days

For many people, this happens shortly after a miscarriage; they memorialize their children by lighting candles, or lanterns, or planting a tree, or sending balloons into the sky. For me, this day was my original due date with my first pregnancy. I actually stopped learning specific due dates after that; for me, it’s easier to wrap all 4 of those losses into 1 ritual. On my original due date, June 17, 2015, my husband and I found a lovely setting where we placed 3 candles–the number of pregnancies we had lost at the time. My husband isn’t a big talker, so we each said our silent prayers, then held the lighter together as we lit each candle and watched until they burned out in the wind. Those are the same candles that sit on my bookshelf today (plus one more, for the next pregnancy we lost). 

“Candle Light on Black” by Stephen Train

We don’t actually have an annual ritual together each year now, but I do light those candles for a few minutes every June 17.

Use Specialized Holidays to Memorialize your Losses

During October, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, there are many ways to memorialize your lost children. October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, is perhaps the most common. You can find events that honor this day, or you can honor your child from your own home. My favorite event is the Wave of Light because it allows you to participate in a larger community from literally anywhere. 

What is the Wave of Light? Here’s the description to the organizing Facebook page. 

“Each year on October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day at 7:00 pm participants from around the globe unite to illuminate the night in remembrance of the little lives lost to soon and the grieving families that are left behind as the result of; however not limited to: miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, prematurity, neonatal and postnatal death…The result is a continuous chain of light spanning and illuminating the globe for a 24-hour period in honour and remembrance of our loved and longed for babies.”

To participate, merely light a candle at 7 p.m., leave it lit until 8 p.m., and upload a photo of your candle to the social media platform of your choice using the #WAVEOFLIGHT and/or #WAVEOFLIGHT2018.

To participate in the Atlanta event in-person or via Facebook Live, check out the event’s Facebook page