Guilt vs Shame


I have tried so hard to avoid writing this post.

A post I never wanted to write.

For a number of reasons.

But it seems that the more I push it away, the more the words swirl in my mind - demanding my attention. Demanding to be released.


I feel that this post needs a disclaimer right at the beginning.

Before I dive deep into this post’s tricky content, I need to make it clear - this post is about sharing my experience and my emotions (and my responses) through my journey. I don’t share these things to make anyone feel bad about what they did or didn’t do, but rather to offer another perspective (my perspective) which I hope will guide both grievers and those trying to offer support through grief.

I also want to make it very clear that I am in no way perfect. I get it wrong so many times and I completely understand how difficult it can be, when you’re not the one going through something, to know how best to show up for your friend. Even though I have been through many difficult situations in my life, I am still learning how I can best support others going through theirs.

I hope that this post will afford us all a chance to reflect on our own actions, both in situations when we are needing support, as well as when given an opportunity to offer support to others.


If you’ve ever listened to someone who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss, you will know that a common theme that weaves through each story is one of guilt. In some way or another, our minds are quick to try and find an explanation or reason behind our loss. Someone or something to blame. Was it that time I overdid it at the gym? Was it that time I ate a whole heap of licorice before I realised that licorice isn’t great during pregnancy? Was it when I reached up super high to peg a child’s piece of art to the display wire? So many thoughts, so many accusations, and definitely so much guilt surrounding our perceived part to play in our bodies failing our babies.

Guilt. It is a hard part of anyone’s journey, but one that you can’t avoid - even if you only feel it for a split second. You know deep down it wasn’t your fault, everyone tells you it wasn’t your fault, but you just can’t fight that urge to blame yourself. But for me, guilt was not the worst part of my 3rd miscarriage journey.

Of course, the worst part was most definitely hearing those words…again. “There is no heartbeat”. Experiencing that sensation of the ground opening up beneath you as you lay on that ultrasound bed and your heart shattering into a trillion tiny little pieces. The disbelief. The feeling that everything was moving slow motion and all sound was muted apart from the deafening drum of your own heartbeat, perhaps so much louder because you knew your baby’s heart no longer made the same sound. The realisation of all your hopes and dreams for life with your precious baby so abruptly blown away like leaves in a winter storm.

But, for me, the close runner-up for the worst part of my journey was the intense isolation and, to be honest, the shame I felt that I was not expecting.

So, what’s the difference?

guilt // a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

shame // disgrace; the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonourable.

I felt like the guilt I could handle. To some extent. I had handled it before. I had processed all of those questions and self-blaming accusations before and I had worked through the feeling of “what else could I have done?” I knew that I had done everything the doctors had told me, taken every medication prescribed, I had rested, I had prayed. I knew that there was obviously some crucial factor the doctors were missing as it was now the third time my body had miscarried. I was completely devastated and heartbroken, but I knew that it wasn’t my fault.

But, what I didn’t understand was the absence of my friends this time around. We were in Wales, at Christmas time, when we found out we were miscarrying Squishy. Initially, I had many messages of love, heartbreak, comfort and support from others. When we returned to China just a couple of weeks later, I had thought I would see some close friends quite quickly. I continued to get some messages from a handful of people, but still no visitors. I saw posts on social media of people catching up after the Christmas holidays, excited to share what they had done and where they had been - some people needing to go right by my house to get to the restaurant for dinner, but still no visitors.

2 weeks passed and not one single friend had come to see me - or even asked if they could come. 2 weeks passed and I had not been given a comforting hug from even one friend.

I was left wondering why this time was different to the last?

Was my broken-record life of loss and suffering getting too much for my friends?

Did I really actually even have a genuine friendship with these people? Or were they more just ‘sunshine and coffee dates’ kind of friends - there for the good times only.

Was there something I had done - had I not been a good enough friend to them - that meant I deserved to be left alone during such a dark time?

Or did they just not actually care about me at all?

Was my third miscarriage somehow so shameful that they didn’t want to even enter in to the drama this time?

With the torment of these thoughts swirling through my mind, coupled with the dramatic changes in hormones running through my body, as well as my body still physically trying to complete the miscarriage process and dealing with my revisiting and intense grief emotionally, I developed a form of Post Partum Depression. I had no baby in my arms yet even then, it is still possible to suffer from PPD.

My thoughts found a new home in a dark cavern of worthlessness. An abyss where all that echoed was how much better off everyone would be if I wasn’t here. My friends could be free to carry on their lives, catching up over dinner and drinks and chatting about their exciting Christmas adventures without having to even give me a single thought. My family wouldn’t have to experience the joy of adding another grandchild/niece or nephew/cousin to the family tree, only to have that child never arrive…again. And most of all, my husband would be free to find someone who could give him the living child he desperately wants - and most definitely deserves.

The shame that I felt, during those 2 weeks especially, dug its claws in so deeply that I was seriously contemplating a life where I didn’t exist. It wasn’t even about me, even though I was tempted by the thought of not having to endure this pain, this darkness and this overwhelming grief anymore. It was so everyone else could be free of the burden of knowing me.

It was a frightening place to be in. I knew that I needed to find a way to clamber out of this expanding chasm before it was too late. But I was frozen by the expectations in my head that it was all everyone else’s responsibility.



Who even invented them? They're useless. And cause so much unnecessary damage.

In my place of grief and heartbreak, I was expecting others to know what to do, simply because they had done so the last time. Only after the fact can I see how this is unfair. Just as I wouldn’t want someone to assume that I would handle my grief in the same way the third time, I can’t assume that my friends would know how to respond to my grief the second or third time either.

In some amazingly predestined timing, my Mum was visiting in China for work commitments and I decided to unload all of my disappointments about my friends to her. She could understand my hurt, but asked me why I hadn’t asked them specifically to come. This took me a little bit by surprise. Like, why should that be my responsibility? I’m the one grieving! I’m the one suffering! But the more I thought about it. The more I knew she was right.

I was putting all of the responsibility for my own healing on the shoulders of others. What I needed to do, instead, was to be brave and invite people in to my pain {cue dramatic horror music}. To show up for myself by recognising when I need others to be allowed to show up for me - even if that means I need to send a message and not just assume that they will know what I need. I had to break free of the ‘victim mentality’ and actually take necessary steps towards my own healing.

For someone whose default during pain is to withdraw, this was such a hard thing to do.

But that's just another thing that my journey has taught me. Knowing how I react to situations like this, I should remember that others may also do the same. Therefore, don't be afraid to enter in to people's pain with them. Don't be afraid to send a message - at least then, they have the opportunity of accepting or declining your support. Sometimes, when withdrawing is a coping mechanism, people don't ask for help when they truly, desperately need it. "Let me know if you need anything" is a common statement during hard times. But for me, actions always speak louder than words. And turning up on the doorstep and then saying this, would have meant so much more than typing these words through a phone or computer - because, in my case, I probably won't let you know, even if I can think of a thousand ways you could help - and at that time particularly, I actually didn’t even have a clue what I needed anyway.

So I did it. I chose a few select friends to reach out to. The ones who I felt the closest to and who I felt I would be able to share the full rawness of this journey with. One friend I invited to come and visit, which she did, and I had the chance to share how I was feeling with her. She shared her assumption that I would want time to process or to have time to spend just with my husband and her fear of being a reminder of what we’ve lost as she has a young child, while also acknowledging my pain and hurt in the situation. After our talk, I felt a little of the weight lifting; I felt a little stream of light start to appear at the entrance of that dark cavern.

A few other friends were then messaged, and some responded with ‘explanations’ for their behaviour more than acceptance of what I was sharing. Of course, this hurt - but I chose to approach them with a heart of forgiveness - understanding that neither position is an ‘easy’ one to be in, and remembering the times that I have gotten it so wrong (and continue to do). See, there’s this thing that sometimes ‘gets in the way’ of people truly being able to show up for you. And that’s their own life. Everyone is walking some kind of journey that can be challenging for them at times. It is unrealistic (and unfair) to expect that everyone will be able to be exactly what you need in your time of need. So, find the people who can handle your “stuff”. Even if it’s just one or two people.

These were the other friends who responded with recognition of how their choice of action had contributed to my feeling of isolation and shame. We were able to talk openly about our assumptions from both sides, identifying the importance of not relying on assumptions of what we think they need as a way of showing up for our friends, but also not allowing assumptions to create rifts in our friendships in place of honest and brave communication.

These are the friends I feel safest with and know I can trust my vulnerabilities with. These are the friends that I feel most able to share the deepest parts of this journey with. We need to learn how to recognise these people and bring them close to us, treasure them and allow them the same safe space if and when they need it.


I think the lessons learned in this experience speak to both sides involved. As the person who was hurting, I have learned more strategies to ensure I don’t find myself back in that shadowy chamber. I have learned that sometimes, even when it feels like the hardest thing to do, I need to be the one to set off a flare, reach my hand up and actually indicate that I need help. I can’t assume that others will magically be able to predict what I need, or want, during that time. Sometimes, we need to help our rescuers find us.

And as someone who has a friend going through a valley of grief, the lesson would be to remember that they might not be in a place where they will be able to let you know how you can support them, because they quite possibly don’t even know what that would look like. But to also remember that the best way to show up for someone in need, is to simply show up. Simply be there.

You don’t need to have any answers. Most likely, your friend is not wanting them from you anyway.

You don’t even need to have words - because in times like these, there are often no words that are enough.

I would say “think about how you would want others to treat you in the same situation”, but I don’t think this advice is actually helpful. Everyone responds to grief and pain in different ways. Not everyone will want or need the same support. But showing that you care, that you are not ashamed of them and their journey, that you are not afraid of their grief and pain (even if it is a little daunting, which is completely understandable), will speak volumes to your friend and will quite possibly be the strongest lifeline they have to cling to in order to be able to pull themselves out of the clutches of the darkness.

A final word for those feeling disappointed because of unrealistic expectations you are possibly placing on others around you, remember that you might not know what is going on for another person at the time you feel they could (or should) be doing more for you. It may simply be that they just don’t have anything to give you at that time. We’re all made differently, and that’s okay. Some people view their struggles or journey as a way to grow themselves and choose more to look inward during those times. And that’s so admirable. For me, yes - of course I want to be able to grow myself from my journey too, but I also view my struggles as platforms from which to support others experiencing similar situations. I have to accept that, just because it is something I might do for others, it doesn’t mean that others are in the place to do the same for me.

How have you felt best supported by others during your grief journey?

How have you taken ownership of your own healing?

How have you been a safe person for your friends to be vulnerable and share their deepest pain?