“It’s a protective mechanism, with the belief that, ‘If I don’t get too ahead of myself, if this bad thing happens again, it will hurt less. I’m protecting myself from future hurt and future loss’.”
But does this protective mechanism actually work?
It doesn’t really matter what we’ve done beforehand, we’re going to experience the full force of that loss.
Dr Charise Deveney
Our brains are wired to avoid threats, so, says perinatal and parenting psychologist Sarah-Jayne Duryea, it’s natural to try to mentally protect ourselves from potential trauma.
“You’re wired as a human being to protect yourself emotionally and psychologically; to keep yourself safe,” she explains.
“In a perfect world it would be wonderful if you could relax and enjoy [the pregnancy]; if you had a crystal ball that could predict the future and show you that everything would be OK … but [many people] can’t.”
And in the unfortunate event of a subsequent miscarriage, Dr Deveney says this protective mechanism probably won’t actually make the blow easier to deal with.
“It doesn’t really matter what we’ve done beforehand, we’re going to experience the full force of that loss, whether we’ve protected against it or not,” Dr Deveney says. “[And sometimes] if there is a subsequent loss, later there could be emerging feelings of guilt or regret about ‘Why did I not celebrate this pregnancy? I didn’t make space to be with this baby’.”
So what can you do if you feel so happy to be pregnant again, yet desperately worried something bad will happen?
Duryea suggests aiming for a healthy dose of protection. “[Try] not to get too caught up in focusing forward [and think], ‘Right here and now, just for today, I can relax and enjoy the feeling of this baby’,” she says. “Keep bringing yourself back to that.”
Dr Deveney says it can be valuable to hash out these feelings with a therapist who specialises in perinatal issues.
“Psychological intervention is really useful to allow that gentle processing to occur,” she says.
“[It can help] to really unpack what your thoughts or feelings or beliefs are around what the loss was like … and start to think of [yourself] as a mother.”
Finding the positives in a new pregnancy
Of course, not all couples fret in a subsequent pregnancy.
“There is definitely a chunk of women who would have a miscarriage and be very logical and pragmatic, [thinking], ‘It wasn’t meant to be; it’s sad but I can accept that it wasn’t meant to be for whatever reason’,” Dr Deveney says.
For Aimee Sing, 32, a change in attitude about pregnancy helped her cope when she fell pregnant with her daughter Willow, now seven, following a miscarriage.
“I was finding it really difficult to surrender to it, having all these tests to try and make sure everything was OK,” Sing, a birth doula and lactation consultant, recalls.
“But a friend said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a shame if you didn’t just revel in every moment of this pregnancy [and] the time you get to have with this baby? If it is short-lived, why not try to really enjoy that experience while you can?’ I thought that was a really beautiful way of approaching it.”
So Sing took photos, made baby books and did lots of journaling throughout her pregnancy as though the baby would get the chance to read them – which, fortunately, she did.
“It really helped me re-orient my ideas around what pregnancy was and the fact that even if I didn’t have a baby to hold in my arms at the end, I was still a mum and I got to have that opportunity of being a mother just through pregnancy itself,” she recalls.
Sing went on to have two more miscarriages before having her son Hamish, now four, and daughter Evalie, now one.
“For each pregnancy, we did the same thing: journaling, documenting what was going on and meditating to really try and enjoy the pregnancy for the fact it was a pregnancy, not that it would be a baby at the end necessarily,” Sing says.
“I also told family and friends, which really helped me think, ‘Yeah it’s a pregnancy, and I’m happy for that in itself.’”
How to help your loved ones help you
A lot of people who haven’t experienced miscarriage may not understand the depth of grief some parents feel after a loss.
“They may have dreamed up all of these hopes and dreams [thinking], ‘When they’re 17 I’m going to buy them a car and they’re going to go to university’,” Duryea says.
“But there’s no visual representation for that like there would be if it was a partner who passed away. Nobody else can really access those things because it was in your body, contained within you.”
If your loved ones are struggling to understand why you’re not ready to talk baby names or gender reveals, Dr Deveney suggests gently explaining the “dual process” you are experiencing.
“It’s a psychologically complex process – often you will swing between remembering the loss and the terror of something bad happening in this pregnancy, and then swing back to, ‘There’s a baby growing and that is exciting,’” she says.
“I think it’s important to be able to acknowledge this out loud and say something like, ‘I can see that for you, this is really exciting and you’re desperate for me to find joy in this. I need you to know that that part is there for me somewhere, but there’s also another part that I find really terrifying and I’m finding it difficult to trust that this will be OK’.”
And Duryea says it’s worth noting that you will find a new normal. “We never forget that we’ve lost that person or that little spark of life, but life does move on around that loss and that hole and we learn to adapt,” she says. “I would just encourage people to keep gently and compassionately bringing themselves back to the present moment, perhaps by saying, ‘I’m OK, the baby is here,’ or, ‘I’m in one piece.’”
If you need support for pregnancy loss, go to sands.org.au or call Sands’ 24/7 support-line on 1300 072 637.
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