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"Everyone Wanted to Minimise the Experience": Pink Elephants’ Founder on the Struggle for Miscarriage Support

Samantha, founder of Pink Elephants, joins the Unprocessed podcast to share her story, from her pregnancy losses met by invalidation and silence, to her transitional grief and why she set out to create a supportive space for the 1 in 4 dealing with miscarriage. 

“I founded this company after my second miscarriage, I had a child already and was met with a lot of, ‘at least you’ve got a baby, focus on her’, yet no one was acknowledging the babies that I’d lost.” 

Miscarriage is a topic often shrouded in silence, yet its prevalence touches the lives of countless individuals and families around the world. Statistics tell us that approximately 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, making it a strikingly common experience. But behind these numbers lies a profound reality: the emotional devastation and heartbreak that accompany the loss of a pregnancy. Whether it occurs in the early weeks or later stages, miscarriage can leave a lasting impact on those who experience it, stirring feelings of grief, confusion, and profound loss. Despite its prevalence, miscarriage is often met with silence or invalidation, leaving those affected feeling isolated in their pain.

It was Samantha’s own experience and awareness of the lack of accessible support for women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss that drove her to begin Pink Elephants. 

“Women deserve access to support for free,” Samantha tells Unprocessed host Grace. “There was a need – what I got from the hospital was a black-and-white printed glossary of terms…, no one was asking me how I am, for support – we want to be the opposite of that; peer support and emotional support.

“No one has permission to disenfranchise my grief.”

Pink Elephants is a not-for-profit founded in 2016 after Samantha had just gone through her second loss, with the goal of building a bridge to support for women experiencing early miscarriage. From diagnosis to procedure, and even knowing what to expect, the Pink Elephants believes women deserve better. Information needed to be shared, conversations needed to happen, and validation needed to be given. Despite an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in loss before 12 weeks, there wasn't specific support available for early pregnancy loss in Australia. Enter Pink Elephants! They’re here to provide the latest resources, info, and peer support for anyone impacted by early pregnancy loss. So much of the current experience of miscarriage is based on outdated perceptions, taboos and plain old mistruths. But why the name? Well, “within an elephant community, if a mother elephant loses her baby, the other elephants use their trunks to form a physical circle of support around her.” Unfortunately, humans are a little behind in this regard, hence the need for Pink Elephants.

Samantha says invalidating women who have experienced pregnancy loss often stems from a lack of understanding, discomfort with discussing grief, and societal misconceptions about miscarriage – but the effects of leaving those grieving without support is wide-spanning, from developing depression and anxiety to isolation. In the Pink Elephants founder’s case, she found herself dealing with transitional grief. 

“I feel so much sorrow and tenderness for who I was 8 years ago, trying to help others but also trying to have my own losses acknowledged – I now know I was transitional grieving, I avoided my grief and I didn’t look after myself.” 

Transitional grief, also known as ambiguous grief or disenfranchised grief, refers to a type of grieving process that occurs when a loss is not openly acknowledged, socially recognised, or validated by others. Unlike more conventional forms of grief, such as the death of a loved one, where there is a clear recognition of the loss, transitional grief often occurs in situations where the loss is unacknowledged. This can include losses such as the end of a relationship, infertility, pet loss, loss of a job, loss of identity due to illness or life changes, and of course, loss of pregnancy. Transitional grief can be complex and challenging as it lacks the social support and validation that typically accompanies more recognised forms of grief, and those experiencing it may feel isolated, misunderstood, and unsupported in their grief journey. It can also lead to the development or worsening of mental health conditions, as was the case for Samantha. She was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, before suffering yet another pregnancy loss.

“It felt so cruel, that I could still have a miscarriage despite having done so much for so many others, and it was so public.”

After going through her pregnancy losses without adequate support or understanding, here’s what Samantha wants loved ones to do for the person in their life who is grieving.

“Validate Their Experience" 

When you validate your loved one, “you’re giving them permission to grieve, it’s the antidote to isolation.”

  • Validation confirms that the emotions someone is feeling are normal and understandable reactions to their loss.
  • It reassures them that their feelings are valid and acceptable, reducing feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Validation helps people understand that they are not alone in their grief. Knowing that others have experienced similar feelings and reactions can normalise their experience and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Validating someone's grief gives them permission to fully experience and express their emotions. It encourages them to express their feelings openly without fear of judgment or criticism.
  • Feeling validated increases individuals' ability to cope with their grief. When they know that their feelings are understood and accepted, they are better able to navigate their emotions and find healthy ways to cope.

“Meet Them Where They Are”

“We don’t need to know about your aunt’s aunt who had acupuncture and has 5 children,” Samantha says. 

  • Meeting someone where they are acknowledges and respects their unique experience of grief. Each person grieves differently, and what may be helpful for one person may not be helpful for another.
  • Being present without judgment validates their feelings and experiences.
  • It communicates that their emotions are valid and acceptable, regardless of how they may differ from others' expectations.
  • Meeting them where they are empowers them to navigate their grief journey in their own way and at their own pace. It allows them to take ownership of their healing process and make choices that feel right for them.
  • Unsolicited advice or attempts to "fix" their grief can unintentionally invalidate their feelings and cause harm. As Samantha says, don’t make it about you or your relative who claims to have a miraculous “cure”!
  • It may create feelings of frustration, resentment, or inadequacy, hindering their ability to grieve authentically.
  • Simply being there creates a safe and supportive space for them to express themselves openly. They can share their thoughts, feelings, and memories without fear of judgment or criticism.

“Make Sure They’ve Got Access to Support”

“I wish someone picked up on how much I was struggling, I didn’t need to end up with postpartum anxiety, I needed clinical intervention,” says Samantha.

  • Supportive environments validate feelings, reassuring people that their emotions are normal and acceptable.
  • Knowing that others understand and empathise with their grief helps individuals feel less alone in their experience.
  • Support offers access to coping strategies and tools to help individuals navigate their grief.
  • Support groups, therapy, and counselling provide practical techniques for managing emotions, reducing anxiety, and coping with grief triggers.
  • Support networks offer valuable education and information about the grieving process.
  • Understanding the stages of grief, common reactions, and self-care techniques helps women feel more equipped to handle their emotions – knowing that they’re not alone is a huge step in combatting the isolation. 

“We have this arbitrary timeline with grief where we measure the grief by the amount of time the mother had the baby for,” she says. “What we hear time and time again, is that the due date, when that comes around, bereavement can come up then. People forget the hopes and dreams we imagined for these babies stay with us forever.”

Pregnancy After Loss

“We see so much anxiety every time you go to the toilet, checking to see if you're bleeding every time you feel something that's slightly different, imagining that that means your baby is dying and people again have this arbitrary marker that okay, well, we've got past the miscarriage point now, we can be really happy and you can be really happy – and I remember myself having to pretend I was happy and put joy on a pregnancy, when I wasn't, I was riddled with anxiety.” 

Navigating pregnancy after experiencing loss is a journey filled with complex emotions, fears, and hopes. Samantha shares how each twinge, each milestone, and each ultrasound brings a mix of excitement and anxiety, with many struggling to balance hope and carrying the weight of past losses. Having someone to talk to, especially someone who understands, is invaluable – and the Pink Elephants founder unpacks how so many women don’t have a safe person to find support in, adding that the way we approach a loved one with a past pregnancy loss matters.

“We have to get so much better at not putting your excitement onto the person that’s pregnant,” Samantha says. “Meet them where they’re at.”

So, What Next?

“We need to get comfortable having hard conversations,” Samantha says. “Think about miscarriage – it happens in this Venn diagrams of taboos, it’s blood, it’s the death of a baby, it’s women’s health and reproductive organs, it’s everything that is hard for so many people, and for so many generations. We need to get better at saying yes, you’ve lost a baby.”

Need a trunk to lean on? Whether you're navigating your own journey through early pregnancy loss, looking to support a friend or loved one, or seeking more information, head on over to Pink Elephants. Want to listen to the episode for Samantha's story and advice? Check out the podcast HERE.

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