The emotional aftermath of pregnancy loss

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loss of a babyTrigger Warning: pregnancy loss, D&C

If you are feeling particularly vulnerable/sensitive, you may want to skip this post or may need to stop reading part way through. If that’s the case, here’s a video of pandas playing on a slide. Actually, even if that’s not the case you may still want to watch the video because it’s just that darned cute.

Over the last year, one of the things I’ve been doing is going through the process of becoming a Gestational Surrogate. In January of this year, we did an IVF transfer of two frozen embryos. Both stuck and I was pregnant with twins. Unfortunately, at 11 weeks and 2 days pregnant an ultrasound showed that both babies had passed a couple of weeks prior. At the end of an agonizing and emotionally tortuous week, I ended up with a D&C. I won’t drag you through the whole story (you can read it here if you’re interested, at my surrogacy blog) but today I want to focus on some of the emotional aftermath of pregnancy loss and the risk of postpartum depression or anxiety.

When I gave birth to my second and third children, I knew to expect some up and down, some hormonal changes. I know about the ups and downs and what to watch out for that might signal that I was dealing with postpartum depression and not “just” the baby blues. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that I might go through the exact same process after miscarrying, but with added twists and turns to the roller coaster given the grief I was dealing with at the same time. It took my mom telling me, “Yes, you need to be on the lookout for PPD, but keep in mind that your hormones are going through the same type of adjustments that they would with a normal postpartum period”.

It hadn’t even occurred to me that a pregnancy ending means my hormone levels fluctuating, regardless of how or why the pregnancy ended. Once I realized that it was normal and natural (for my situation), it was a bit of a relief and helped me feel a little less antsy. I was able to take some of that energy I had been directing towards “OMG I feel *whatever* is this PPD?” and direct it towards processing my grief. It was a grief I wasn’t prepared for, because even though I went into the surrogacy knowing “Anything could happen”, I’ve never had a miscarriage before and especially once I got to that 8w5d u/s with two healthy babies and heartbeats, I felt like I was “safe”. That feeling of safety was an illusion; I realized that in about .025 seconds, but it still made it that much harder to accept the miscarriage.

I was fortunate, in that I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression after the miscarriage. But for too many women, that’s not the case. It has been more difficult than I can put into words to deal with the grief from the miscarriage; I can’t imagine if that had been compounded by PPD setting in to rub salt in an open wound. In 2012, Psychology Today posted an article titled “Pregnancy Loss and Depression: Understanding the trauma of fetal loss” by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW. In this article, Karen says:

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 1997) concluded that major depressive disorders are more common in women who suffer a miscarriage than in those who have not been pregnant. Furthermore, they suggest that women who suffer miscarriages should be monitored in the first weeks after reproductive loss, particularly those who are childless or who have history of major depressive disorder. Among miscarrying women with a history of prior major depression, half experience a recurrence. It is also interesting to note that this risk did not vary significantly by maternal age, by time of gestation, or attitude toward pregnancy.”.

This is information that all medical professionals need to be very aware of and disseminate appropriately to their patients dealing with pregnancy loss, as does everyone with a loved one dealing with loss in pregnancy.

One of the frustrating things about watching for PPD after my miscarriage was the difficulty in distinguishing symptoms. Symptoms that I know to often be associated with PPD were also easily attributed to my grief. Anger, feeling down, lack of appetite and interest, just wanting to sit around, crying a lot, mood swings, and more had me thinking “Is this PPD or is it just because I’m coping with a miscarriage?”. Thankfully, before too long, everything eased up and there was no PPD for me. I was lucky and I am grateful for that.

If you have been through a pregnancy loss, you have my deepest and most sincere sympathies. I am so sorry for what you are going through and if you need someone to talk to about it, I am here and I am more than happy to talk in the comments, on twitter, on Facebook, by email, whatever. Also please know that you are not alone. There are people who understand what you’re going through and who want to support you. There are resources out there for you. There are two websites that I personally found helpful in processing the miscarriage: The Amethyst Network and Unspoken Grief. Postpartum Progress has a couple of posts that also helped me (links here, here, and here). And last but certainly not least, let yourself grieve. Give yourself permission to grieve. No matter how early or late the loss, it is a loss. Whether it was an early miscarriage days after you got a positive pregnancy test, a stillbirth at 40 weeks, or anything else (I am definitely not setting limits, the possibilities are unfortunately broad), give yourself the time and space and permission that that you need to deal with your loss in whatever way you need to. Remember that there’s no timeline on grief and no one right way to grieve. Don’t worry about offending other people, just do what you need to do to take care of yourself. We are here for you. I am here for you.

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  1. Thank you for this post. All too often we don’t discuss infant loss in connection with PPMD. It happens, and it is incredibly difficult because it is compounded by the complexity of loss and grief. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and for taking about a difficult topic. Sending love & hugs.

    -Lauren

  2. Pingback: 13 Things To Know About Grief After Miscarriage or Loss