Miscarriage can create trauma which requires healing. Here are some insights from couples therapy to help you heal from your loss
Regardless of how far along you were when it happened, the loss of your baby is real.
It doesn’t matter that up to 25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies are lost. It doesn’t matter if you already have children, or if you can try again. You are grieving this loss, and the pain of it may not heal for many months.
Pregnancy, from the moment you know you’re pregnant, is filled with anticipation and heightened emotions. Both you and your partner may have been excited, scared, overwhelmed, overjoyed, and experienced any number of other feelings as well.
Miscarriage abruptly halts and shifts those emotions.
After a miscarriage, you may be feeling:
- Shock, disbelief
- Deeply anxious
- Difficulty sleeping, or having nightmares
- Physical aches and pains
- Visceral yearning to hold your baby
- You may also visualize and even hear your baby
These feelings can become consuming and affect your ability to function. They may leave you feeling withdrawn and isolated, or like no one understands. Sometimes, women feel like they are constantly pulled back to thoughts and memories of the miscarriage.
Research on PTSD and Miscarriage:
If you have flashbacks to your loss, or have other symptoms of trauma following your miscarriage, you are not alone. One in six women experience post-traumatic stress after pregnancy loss (Imperial, 2020).
For a lot of women, losing a baby is the most traumatic experience they’ll ever have.
Signs of PTSD after Miscarriage:
- Constant re-living of the experience
- Anxiety and hyper arousal
- Intrusive thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Avoiding reminders of the loss
According to one 2020 study, these symptoms of PTSD can last at least 9 months following the miscarriage, if not longer (Farren, et al.). What you might have thought was prolonged grief or a very intense reaction to the loss of your baby may actually be a response to trauma.
Unfortunately, many women suffer through this experience feeling alone.
Women Suffer in Silence
One reason women end up feeling alone after a miscarriage is the clinical focus on early miscarriages. You may have heard many times by now that nearly one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage within the first twelve weeks—so doctors often treat the occurrence as a matter of course.
There is nothing reassuring about feeling like a statistic. And your baby was not a statistic to you.
Additionally, many women these days choose not to tell friends and family they are pregnant until they hit the twelve-week mark. If friends and family don’t know you’re expecting, you experience all the anticipation, anxiety, and grief alone as a couple.
After a miscarriage, if a woman tells her friends and family, they may not know what to do or say. Or worse, they say something unintentionally hurtful, like “At least you know you can get pregnant,” or “It just wasn’t meant to be.” These comments are anything but helpful in response to grief and the pain of loss.
At best, society is uncomfortable with loss, and well-meaning people may be dismissive of your pain.
Medical Staff’s Attitudes Can Help You Heal
At follow-up appointments, doctors and medical staff can positively influence your experience after a miscarriage. First and foremost, medical staff should take your emotional reaction to the loss seriously—no matter when it happened, or for what reason.
Medical professionals who do the following can help ease the effects of trauma:
- Take your pain seriously.
They’re willing to talk about your emotional experience and ask you questions.
- Educate you about what’s ahead—more than just physically.
They explain that you might be in shock right now, unsure of how to feel or respond, and that later on the grief may hit you hard. They also explain that the intense emotions can take a long time to subside.
- Connect you to professional help.
They may refer you to a psychologist who specializes in pregnancy loss, and/or to pregnancy loss support groups.
A Good Relationship Can Help You Through Trauma
Research has shown that strong, caring relationships can help reduce the feelings of both emotional and physical pain (Greenman & Johnson, 2012; Coan, 2006).
Your partner can be your best source of support and security after a miscarriage.
Dr. Sue Johnson, relationship researcher and founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, explains in her book Love Sense (2013) that a partner in a strong relationship can offer you support in the following ways. They can:
- Sooth your pain
Physical and emotional presence from your partner can sooth the pain of grief and lessen the impact of intrusive or negative thoughts. Your partner’s presence can help ground you and bring you back into the moment. They might hold your hand, give you a hug, or rub your back.
The physical touch and emotional attention help you take on the pain, knowing you will weather this storm together.
- Help you hold onto hope
You feel devastated right now. You can’t imagine moving forward and maybe having a baby in the future.
Your partner can reassure you that this is not the end of the story. There will be happiness for you both in the coming months and years. Perhaps you will decide to try again in the same way or new ways, or perhaps you will create new plans for yourselves.
In dark moments, you can trust your partner to hold onto hope and bring you along with them.
- Reassure you that you are still loved even when you don’t feel loveable
After a miscarriage, you may feel bad about yourself. Some women describe feeling “damaged” or “broken.” You may have lost self-confidence or feel you’ve failed your partner by losing the baby.
When you allow your partner to see and hear these vulnerable feelings, your partner can show you that they love you in these same broken and dark places. You’re not alone there, and you’re still loved.
- Reassure you it’s not your fault
After trauma we often feel scared, contaminated, and just plain terrible. You may feel responsible for the things that happened to you and therefore unworthy of care and attention.
You might find yourself thinking, “Who would want to be with me anyway?”
Your partner can reassure you that that you are not to blame for what happened and that you’re not weak for feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
- Help you make sense of what happened
One of the key steps in processing trauma is retelling the event as many times as it takes (Gillihan, 2019). Your partner can be there to listen as you process. They can validate the weight of the experience, and the toll it’s taking on you.
As you work through the story, your partner can ask you questions to help you see all sides of your experience and encounter new ways to find healing.
- Providing emotional connection and helping you feel you are not alone
Your partner needs to be a safe haven and a witness to your pain. Their emotional and physical attention offer you a secure bond and the reassurance that you are safe in their support and love.
Partners Can Heal Their Trauma and Loss Together
As a couple, you experience the trauma of miscarriage together—and you can heal that trauma together.
Although each partner will experience the loss of your baby differently, it is still a loss for both of you.
Each of you will need to remember ways you can support each other when you feel able and remember to accept that support when it’s offered.
Standing together through the grief and trauma can make you more resilient individually and strengthen your bond as a couple. And leaning into each other through grief reinforces your sense of security, buffering you from some of the emotional intensity of the trauma.
Of course, pain doesn’t magically go away.
Even with the support of a strong relationship. It takes time, commitment, and willingness to do the emotional work.
If you are brave enough to allow your partner to see your vulnerable, dark, and painful places inside and they allow you to see theirs, you will feel closer to each other and stronger together.
Do you need relationship help with your pregnancy loss?
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for couples in Texas and New York City. She uses the research-proven method known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples heal from their loss and keep emotional connection, supporting each other through painful times.
If you need help with your relationship or healing after a miscarriage/, contact Dr. Irena at 281-267-1742 or email her at [email protected] to discuss your situation and find out how she can help.
Coan, J.A., Schaefer, H.S., & Davidson, R.J. (2006). Lending a Hand: Social Regulation of the Neural Response to Threat. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1032-1039
Farren, J., Jalmbrant, M., Falconieri, N., Mitchell-Jones, N., Bobdiwala, S., Al-Memar, M., Tapp, S., Van Calster, B., Wynants, L., Timmerman, D., & Bourne, T. (2020). Posttraumatic stress, anxiety and depression following miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy: a multicenter, prospective, cohort study. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 222(4), 367.e1–367.e22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2019.10.102
Gillihan, S.J. (2019, March 06). The healing power of telling your trauma story. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/think-act-be/201903/the-healing-power-telling-your-trauma-story
Greenman, P.S., and Johnson, S.M. (2012). United We Stand: Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. J. Clin. Psychology: In Session, 68, 561-569.
Imperial College London. (2020, January 14). Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy may trigger long-term post-traumatic stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 10, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200114224449.htm
Johnson, S. (2013). Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark.