Having a miscarriage can be devastating both physically and mentally. It's something Scandal star Katie Lowes dealt with personally before she got pregnant with her son, Albee, who she gave birth to this past October.
On a new episode of her podcast with Shondaland, Katie’s Crib, released on Sunday, Lowes said that she was three months along in her pregnancy when a routine visit showed that the baby no longer had a heartbeat. She ended up having a dilation and curettage (D&C), a surgical procedure to remove tissue from the uterus. “I woke up and the baby was gone, and for me—and I wasn’t in pain afterward—but the real pain was mental, and it was shitty,” Lowes said. "So much shittier than I imagined it being."
She continued, “I think the initial feeling when I found out there was no heartbeat from the doctor in a routine checkup was, like, ‘OK, let’s Olivia Pope the situation. Let’s fix it. Let’s make this schedule. Let’s get to the hospital. Let’s get the D&C. Let’s get that done. When can I start trying again?’”
But Lowes said that, as soon as the idea that she'd had a miscarriage set in, things changed and she had a “major" hormonal drop. “I think I was massively sad for about three months, and I was only pregnant for three months,” she said. Lowes also said that she went to a lot of therapy, and that it took about three months for her body and emotions to adjust after her loss.
Miscarriage, the spontaneous loss of a fetus before 20 weeks, is unfortunately fairly common, with miscarriages happening in about 10 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. About half of these early pregnancy losses are caused by chromosomal abnormalities, ACOG says.
Everyone experiences a miscarriage differently, and the physical recovery process can vary from person to person.
During pregnancy, your body has higher-than-usual amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to support the pregnancy, Julie Levitt, M.D., an ob/gyn with The Women’s Group of Northwestern, tells SELF. But if you have a miscarriage, those levels drop.
The drop can actually be different depending on how your miscarriage is treated, Leann Haddock, M.D., an ob/gyn at Baylor University Medical Center, tells SELF. If you don't have surgical intervention to remove the fetus, the hormonal drop should be more gradual as your body recognizes that the pregnancy isn’t viable and passes it, she explains. But if you undergo a procedure like a dilation and curettage or dilation and evacuation (which dilates the cervix and evacuates the contents of the uterus), the drop can be more intense and sudden, which may cause a more noticeable change in mood, Dr. Levitt says.
In general, it will take one to three months for your period to go back to a normal cycling pattern, G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., an ob/gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells SELF. But your hormones don’t reset overnight and, depending on where you were in your pregnancy when you had a miscarriage, things might be a little different for you. "If you miscarried and you were six weeks pregnant, your periods will likely normalize quickly," Dr. Ruiz says. "If you were a full three months pregnant, it may take longer."
Some women don’t even get a period for a few months after a miscarriage, so don’t panic if you miss a cycle or two, Dr. Levitt says. However, you should check in with your doctor if it’s been more than three months and you haven’t had a period, or your cycle is still off after three to six months, Dr. Haddock says.
If you want to start trying again, you can right away, ACOG says. But ACOG recommends that women wait until after they have one period to make it easier to calculate dates during the next pregnancy.
Grief after a miscarriage is also an incredibly normal and individual experience.
Some people may emotionally bounce back quickly, while others can fall into a depression—and plenty of people fall somewhere in-between, Catherine Birndorf, M.D., founder of the Motherhood Center in New York City, tells SELF.
Part of that has to do with your unique response to that hormonal shift, Tamar Gur, M.D., a women's health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. If you have a personal or family history of postpartum depression, PMS, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a severe form of PMS) you may be more susceptible to mood changes due to shifting hormones, Dr. Gur says.
But many women will experience grief after a pregnancy loss, and that’s normal, Dr. Gur says. “Grief is a complicated process,” she says. “There’s no way to sneak around it.” There’s no timeline for grief, and it’s normal to still be mourning your loss a few months after your miscarriage, she says. And, it’s also 100 percent OK if you feel that you’ve moved on faster than you thought you would.
However, grief triggered by a miscarriage can turn into depression, which is why Dr. Birndorf recommends checking in with a mental health professional if you develop symptoms related to depression, including feelings of hopelessness or guilt, changes in sleep patterns or your appetite, or chronically low energy.
If you suffered a pregnancy loss and still feel upset when you’re faced with certain reminders, like a friend’s new baby or what would have been your due date, don’t be hard on yourself or judge your feelings. Grief isn’t easy, but it does get better with time.