“Who else am I going to lose?”
“How can I ever stand being pregnant again? Or not being pregnant again?”
“Will this loss hurt my relationship with my partner?”
Perinatal bereavement is a startling juxtaposition of birth (anticipated or actual) and death (whether of a baby or dream). It may feel like a dramatic roller coaster ride from an all time high to a record low in a very short period of time. This extreme drop can leave us quite shaken and scared. As C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”
As you probably know firsthand, anxiety comes in a variety of flavors and strengths. This can vary from minor worries to anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (exaggerated worries about everyday things) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (anxiety reactions following and related to a trauma). Most experiences of anxiety after baby loss are usually transient but can be quite uncomfortable. Many factors, including if you are a bit of a worrier in general, may be affecting your current experience. The details of your loss, including the level of trauma it involved and the meaning your pregnancy or baby has for you, will likely play a part in the level of your anxiety.
And although you might be worried about any number of things, there are certain concerns that commonly raise their head after a reproductive loss. If you recognize any of the following, you’re in good company. Many people have had these concerns after a perinatal loss and were able to successfully work through them.
What Other Bad Things Can Happen?
The world may suddenly feel like a precarious place. Previously unimagined things have now happened. What next? You may be waiting for the next bad thing to jump out and mess up your life even more. Especially in the early days and weeks after a loss, many people worry about something terrible happening to their partner or to their other current or future children. It’s also common to just worry that the recent lousy trajectory of your life will continue and plow you into more pain-inducing experiences.
Luckily, having a terrible loss does not mean you are now on a course for more of the same. It may be important for you to delineate what is happening now vs. what has taken place. This means noticing that the painful event has already happened. You are having feelings about your loss, but you are not having the exact same experience of loss forever. Despite whatever anxious thoughts are going through your head, this stage of your life is not endless.
Anxiety usually involves some negative self-talk– those things that you say to yourself that raise your blood pressure. You may need to find gentle ways to speak to yourself about what you’re feeling. Examples may be something like: “I’m grieving a baby I loved, and my life is really hard right now but I will get through this”. Discussing your concerns with people in your support system, whether friends, family, therapist or support group (in person or online) can also be reassuring.
Should I Try Again? If So, When?
This question is incredibly compelling and probably pretty stressful. You may be filled with intense longing to have a baby. You might also be convinced that becoming pregnant again is the only way you will heal. You are probably also scared about being pregnant again. Many factors can contribute to an anxiety-producing preoccupation with trying again.
You may need to give yourself permission to delay this big decision. This probably sounds terribly hard to do. Additionally, many of us feel the pressure of time. Our age, known fertility concerns or other physical challenges affect our sense of how long we can wait to try to conceive.
Even with these realistic concerns, it may help to remember that you have time for something. You have time for a breath and time to notice how your body is feeling. You also have time to give at least a bit of thought as to what you need right now. If you really feel time is of the essence, you may want to break down the decision into whether you can and want to try to conceive this month or whether you wish to decide next month. This may give you at least a bit more time while not pushing the issue off too far into the future.
Can My Partner and I Get Through This?
Two grieving people don’t generally make for the calmest couple. That doesn’t mean that you and your partner are headed for disaster. It just means that the two of you may be facing some additional challenges in your relationship such as differences in reacting and coping.
It’s quite common for each member of a couple to react to the loss of a pregnancy or baby with different levels of emotion. One of you might be more expressive and verbal. This person might be more interested in talking about the loss and be more likely to find comfort in speaking to friends, family or a therapist. The other of you might be less likely to cry or talk and instead find more relief in activity or quieter expressions of grief.
When you’re feeling depleted due to grief, it can hard to understand why your partner is having such a different experience than you. However, finding a way to respect, accept and work with differences is far more important than trying to be “on the same page” in the grief process. Hearing and validating your partner’s experience and supporting him or her in getting what he or she needs may do the most for both of you. This may mean finding others who can listen to you when your partner is maxed out or acknowledging that your partner’s reaction, although different, isn’t wrong.
In general, if you are looking for ways to address your worries, it helps to start simply. Break things down into whatever size pieces you need. You can practice getting through your life one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, or one breath at a time- all fine choices. Whatever size you’re at right now, that’s all you really need to do.
If you’re experiencing a lot of worry, it’s important to remember that it will not feel this way forever and that there are steps you can take to decrease your anxiety. Many of them are actions you can do on your own such as practicing relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation or any physical exercise that settles your mind and body. Since self-talk matters, don’t forget to have some good conversations with yourself. Topics could include what you are doing to help yourself, reminding yourself that your anxiety is temporary and that there is additional support out there for you if you need it.