Navigating Pregnancy Loss with the Help of Ring Theory

navigating pregnancy loss

*If you feel your loss is affecting you to the point of mental instability or you’re noticing significant changes in your behavior, please do not hesitate to talk to a mental health professional or ask for help*

Emily Nagoski, PhD and healthy relationships researcher, says “Emotions are tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end.” If you are grieving a miscarriage, the tunnel of raw emotion can feel so long that light isn’t even visible to your eye. 

What do you do in that awful in-between stage of grief that overshadows even the most basic of daily tasks? How do you support a friend or family member going through this kind of loss? 

For the grieving person, reaching out can seem like an insurmountable task. That’s where Ring Theory comes in.

What is Ring Theory?

Ring Theory is a practical tool developed by clinical psychologist Susan Silk to help the circle of friends, family, and acquaintances comfort the grieving person. 

Silk developed the theory in the aftermath of her breast cancer diagnosis, seeing a need in her own life for a way to clarify the question: who is processing grief and who is providing comfort? 

The answer to that question is, actually, everyone involved in the loss. But in order to provide comfort and space in a way that serves everyone, there has to be a method to both the processing of grief and the providing of comfort.

Ring Theory is especially helpful for people who are grieving pregnancies because that specific loss can be so difficult to put into words. How do you articulate a loss that held so much hope for your future? A loss that will stay with you if you decide to try again?

Practical Application for the Support System

One of the most frustrating and draining situations a grieving person can find themselves in is the need to comfort the person who they are communicating their grief to. 

When you’re informed of a loss, it’s very likely that you’ll be affected on some level by this news as a long-time friend, coworker, or someone generally close to the situation. There’s nothing wrong with being sympathetic, empathetic, emotional, or anything in between, especially when taking in difficult information. At the same time, it’s important to remember that at the center of this news is the person who it affects the most whether it’s a mother who has lost her child or a child who has lost their parent. There is always an epicenter to grief, and Ring Theory points us toward that person. 

This next part is very important: should you find the need to discuss your feelings or verbally process what’s going on, do not move toward the epicenter of the rings. Grief should always be processed outward as to not further burden the person at the center of the loss. Take your feelings, hurts, grievances, and so on to the people in the outer rings who are farther away from the situation so you can have some comfort as well. That’s where the phrase “comfort in, process out” comes from. 

Practical Application for the Grieving Person

If you have a moment, find a piece of paper and draw a few rings like the ones shown in the visual above. Take a deep breath and begin to fill in some names of the people who are your most immediate in the first ring. Then, in the second ring, fill in some names of people who will know of your loss but who you feel less close to. Use the labels in the visual as a guide to fill in the blanks. This should give you an idea as to who your core people are; the ones who are going to walk closely with you through this. 

Our biggest piece of advice through this is that boundaries have to be clearly stated, so if you’re beginning to feel like the people in your support system are coming to you with their grievances, don’t hesitate to remind them that their pain isn’t something you can take on in addition to your own. Direct them to the outer rings (or to the previous section of this article!)

A Parting Word

There is no wrong way to navigate the loss of your pregnancy within the context of your community. Every part of this experience is raw, revealing, and deeply human, as you well know. Feelings surrounding loss can be some of the most difficult to verbalize, but when you feel ready to share your experience we hope that this tool will help you along your path to healing.

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