Not all women experience the loss of a pregnancy as traumatic or even as something to be grieved, per se. I didn’t realize that after my miscarriage, I was suffering from some of the classic symptoms of trauma. While it’s normal and healthy to grieve the loss of a pregnancy, if the event is experienced as a trauma, special care should be taken to offer the right kind of support!
1. Intrusive Memories
We know what this means, right? Thoughts that are unbidden reminders of the loss we suffered. But they could also show up in the form of dreams. I had a recurring dream after my miscarriage that I was holding a tiny woman made out of dried leaves in the palm of my hand. The more I tried to protect her, the more she crumbled and blew away. It’s not mystery what my subconscious was doing there, right? But I found these dreams to be SO distressing because the more I tried to save her, the more I hurt her. This also segues right into:
2. Persistent, Exaggerated Beliefs
This one is so tough– after a pregnancy loss, it’s so easy to believe that there is something “wrong” with us. We may develop a deep belief that we are bad, unworthy, untrustworthy, or that the world is an inherently terrible place. We may develop theories to try to explain the pregnancy loss that are distorted– if only I had done prenatal yoga, or eaten cleaner, or rested more, or quit work sooner, or not had that fight with my partner, or, or, or… I *still* find myself wondering about the role of the soil remediation project down the block on my pregnancy…
3. Changes in Personality
A woman who has experienced a traumatic pregnancy loss may present as “angry” or “irritable” after her loss. While this is to be expected immediately following the loss because of the powerful hormone fluctuations in her system, persistent unpredictability or outbursts that are uncharacteristic should be met with compassion. This is a sign that her nervous system is in a state of overwhelm!
She may also be on hyper alert regarding menstruation– this can be a powerful trigger because the process so closely reflects that of a miscarriage. She may feel the need to check closely for blood clots, or simply be excruciatingly aware of every sensation association with her period– cramps, feeling bloated, back pain, any of these may have been the first signal that something was going wrong with her pregnancy. The first period after a miscarriage is often a challenging one. If she is pregnant again after a loss, this may be an especially difficult time of second-guessing every decision and worrying over every appointment, counting every kick the baby makes, etc.
Folks who are healing from trauma often avoid trauma triggers in an attempt to protect themselves from harm. When a woman has experienced a traumatic pregnancy loss, she may choose to avoid baby showers, baptisms, or family gatherings where pregnant friends or relatives may be. She may avoid driving down the street of the hospital or even the room in her own home where she miscarried. She may also internally avoid the pain by not talking about the event or self-medicating to make her feelings bearable.
While any and all of these are also typical of a bereavement response, a traumatized person will experience these in a way that causes significant distress to herself, challenges her relationships with others, and feels overwhelming in her system. These experiences can set in anywhere from immediately to three months after the loss. Women who experience pregnancy loss are at an increased risk of developing perinatal mood disorders in subsequent pregnancies, so it’s important to seek out the right kind of support.
The good news is that there is a way forward! You don’t have to live in this vortex of overwhelm and distress. You can learn how to recognize signs of overwhelm in your body, you can learn techniques to soothe yourself. You may always grieve the loss of your baby– and I’m so sorry to need to acknowledge that. But there is a way forward to a new normal, and we can find the way together.
If you are grieving the loss of your child, or think you may have trauma from the experience of your loss, I want you to know that you are not alone, it’s not your fault, and with help, you can find hope!