Pregnancy After Loss

With a rainbow baby on the way, you should be happy, right? It’s OK to have mixed feelings during a pregnancy after loss, and here’s how to cope.

It was only three months after I my miscarriage when I became pregnant with my rainbow baby. While I wanted to be happy about another chance to bring life into the world, part of me was afraid to get excited or share the news. I often had flashbacks to the night of my loss and felt anxious about what this new pregnancy would bring. I worried with every little cramp in my body that I was losing the baby again, and I obsessively checked for signs of blood. While each time I heard the baby’s heartbeat brought relief, I didn’t let myself get fully attached to the little being growing inside me until he reached the age of viability outside the womb.

If you’re also experiencing intense emotions in a pregnancy after a miscarriage or stillbirth, know you’re not alone. It’s common after a loss for women to experience intrusive memories, flashbacks, hypervigilance, distrust of their bodies, and feelings of apprehension, fear or dread — making the joy that accompanies the news of conception very confusing as our brains try to make sense of our experiences and prevent them from happening again.

The truth is, a pregnancy loss is usually not the mother’s fault. As you navigate the emotionally complicated journey of a new pregnancy, give yourself permission to experience your full range of emotions and seek out support during this vulnerable time. Here are some ways you can cope as you look toward the rainbow after the storm.

1. Be Gentle With Yourself

Your new pregnancy will not feel the same as the one before your loss, and it won’t make your grief go away. Acknowledge all the feelings you’re experiencing — the sadness, the hope, the fear, the joy — and know there’s no one correct way to move forward.

“You have the right to be just as you are right now, knowing that holding conflicting feelings does not invalidate them,” says Courtney Williams, a licensed mental health therapist in Indianapolis who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, pregnancy and infant loss, and fertility. “You are allowed to be both sad about your loss and happy and scared about your current pregnancy.”

In fact, the feelings of grief may continue once your rainbow baby is born, she says. There is nothing wrong with this. You’ve endured a huge loss, so be kind to yourself

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2. Find Providers Who Support You

Mothers-to-be who have experienced a pregnancy loss often need extra support and reassurance. Talk with your provider about your history. Do they show sensitivity when discussing your loss? Are they understanding of emergency appointments to check symptoms or hear the baby’s heartbeat? Can they connect you with other trauma-informed supports? “Having a medical team who understands and supports you through this is crucial,” Williams says. “If you feel dismissed by your medical provider, it’s OK to find a provider who takes the time to listen to your concerns and validates your unique needs.”

3. Seek Mental Health Therapy

Trauma-informed therapy is key during this time if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression surrounding your loss, particularly if those feelings are interfering with day-to-day activities, you’re displaying obsessive-compulsive behaviors, or you’re having thoughts about harming yourself or someone else.

“It’s OK to not be OK,” Williams says. “If you find that you are struggling with your mood, seek support. Deciding to carry another baby after experiencing a loss is a vulnerable experience. You don’t have to do it alone.”

Trauma-informed therapists can use a variety of modalities to help explore and process your loss, including cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, complicated grief therapy and emotionally focused therapy. If you don’t connect with the first therapist you see, don’t hesitate to ask for a referral or seek another provider. And remember, if therapy alone isn’t helpful, you can talk to your OB/GYN about exploring medications that can be used safely during pregnancy.

4. Connect With Others

There is something incredibly healing about sharing your story with others. Keeping in close communication with your partner who may also be struggling, as well as friends and family, is important not only for you but your baby, Williams says. Attending a pregnancy loss support group can also be helpful.

Often you can find the support you need in simply allowing others to help when they offer. Have a specific answer ready when people ask “How can I help?” Keep a list at the ready of things like meals, laundry, stocking baby supplies or accompanying you to the doctor. “Deciding to carry another baby after experiencing a loss is a vulnerable experience,” Williams says. “You don’t have to do it alone.”

Nearly a year after the birth of my healthy rainbow baby — and a lot of relational and professional support along the way — I still get a twinge of sadness when I think about the baby that didn’t make it full-term. Those feelings don’t go away — nor do I want them to — but the pain does get easier over time. By being kind with ourselves and sharing our journey with others, we can clear a path of healing and support for ourselves and other women going through this experience.

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