Coping with Miscarriage, Pregnancy Loss and Infertility
Starting a family is supposed to be a joyous time in a woman’s life; however, this does not accurately reflect everyone’s experience around conception and pregnancy. About 10% of women in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Because our reproductive story is strongly ingrained in our sense of self, when something goes awry, whether through infertility, premature birth, a pregnancy loss or, as it often happens, a combination of these events, it is a trauma that negatively impacts all aspects of a person’s life. A reproductive loss can cause deep heartache and despair in expectant parents regardless whether the loss occurs early during the pregnancy (known as miscarriage), later in the pregnancy (referred to as stilbirth) or in the short period after a baby is born. In many instances, this same set of emotions can happen when couples learn that their fertility treatments were unsuccessful.
Following infertility or a reproductive loss, you may experience emotions unlike those you have experienced before. You may no longer trust your body, your health or the belief that pregnancy and starting a family will be a given. You may feel helpless or out of control. These emotions can be intense and scary. Even when you gradually resume your usual activities and get back to your routine, you may be left with a sense that something in your has forever changed and wonder if you will ever feel like yourself again.
Types of Reproductive Loss
About 15-25% of recognized pregnancies end up in miscarriage. No one can prevent a miscarriage from happening so when a woman experiences a miscarriage she may feel anxious and out-of-control.
Often miscarriages feel like invisible losses to the rest of the world. Perhaps you were waiting to share the news, so friends and family didn’t even know you were pregnant when you experienced your miscarriage. This makes your grief feel silent and increases feelings of isolation and loneliness. While you are certainly mourning the loss of a baby that will never be, it may be difficult for others to comprehend your grief because your baby was never born. Remember that grief is a natural process, which everyone experiences differently.
Still births or neonatal losses occur when a woman delivers a nonviable baby after the 20th week of pregnancy. This impacts over 25,000 families each year. For many parents, a stillbirth loss is unexpected and shocking, which can complicate grief symptoms as well as healing.
Infertility is a condition that prevents conception of a baby. The diagnosis of infertility is usually given to couples who have been trying to conceive for at least one year without success. This impacts approximately 10-15% of couples in the United States. Dealing with infertility may cause a woman to feel disconnected from her body and her reproductive health. She may feel like she is failing herself and her partner. She may be worried about how fertility issues will impact her relationship and their future dreams of having a family.
Women who have miscarried or had unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization (IVF), may be hesitant to try again as it is costly, time-consuming and emotionally draining. Fertility problems impact everyone differently and you may not be sure where you can turn for support. Therapy can help you cope with fertility challenges in a healthier way.
Normalizing Emotional Experiences
Regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding your loss, grief is a normal and expected reaction to a loss, including a pregnancy or reproductive loss. The first several weeks following a loss are the worst and most intense. It does get better slowly and overtime as you begin to accept your new normal. There is no right or wrong way to feel during this time. Remember that everyone grieves and heals differently, even among partners.
For women who were carrying the pregnancy or trying to conceive, the emotional experiences are often compounded by the physical changes in your body. If you were taking fertility medications, many of your hormone levels are probably out-of-whack. If you experience a first trimester miscarriage, your hormones will likely be shifting back to how they were before the pregnancy. The further along you were in your pregnancy, the more likely that your body was preparing for a new baby and all the necessary changes that go with it. You may experience physical symptoms from the hormonal changes and from the emotional distress. These physical symptoms include:
Loss of appetite
In addition to physical symptoms, there is emotional distress known as grief. Grief is what happens when someone we love dies. Of course you loved your baby even before knowing him or her. So it is understandable that you feel the way that you do. There is no “right” way to grieve. So try to be accepting of any and all feelings.
After a reproductive loss, it may seem like the whole world is pregnant. You may have friends or family members who are pregnant. These constant triggers may be painful and re-open memories of your own loss. Eventually, you will begin to integrate the loss into your life and make meaning from a devastating situation. Here is some emotional distress that parents experience immediately following a loss and after several weeks.
Immediate grief symptoms include
Concern about the future
After the first several weeks
Intense emotional distress (such as depression, anxiety and anger)
Avoidance of painful reminders
Fixation on the loss
Fear about the future