If you’re pregnant and you’ve experienced pregnancy loss in the past, you might feel like you’re stuck in a mental pinball machine: You’re thrilled one moment, terrified the next, looking forward to the future one second, then grieving the past…sometimes all of the above (and more) at once. Check out these six tips for navigating pregnancy after loss to help make sense of that mental pinball.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR LOSS
Let’s talk about the pregnancy loss you experienced. Our society rarely discusses miscarriages, so when you experience one, it’s easy to feel alone. On top of that, people with the best intentions can say some very clumsy or straight-up invalidating things around miscarriage: These things happen for a reason, or at least it happened so early on, or three months and you can try again! When the miscarriage experience is seen as an afterthought and you’re still feeling really impacted by it on the daily, you can begin to ask yourself, What’s wrong with me? I should be over this by now. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your loss is real. No matter how far along you were in your pregnancy when the miscarriage took place, grief can still have its full-force impact on you, just as it has with other losses you’ve encountered in your life. There’s no timeline for “getting over it”, and being pregnant now doesn’t delete the way you feel about your miscarriage. You’re pregnant and you’re grieving. It’s both/and - not either/or – and sitting with both at the same time is simultaneously uncomfortable and important (we’ll get to that).
COMMEMORATE YOUR LOSS
Do you remember being a small child and trying to wriggle your way out of a puffy winter coat? Or as an adult, floundering while you extract yourself from your shapewear after a long night? The more you flail and struggle against it, the more stuck you seem to become. When we try to push away painful experiences, the same thing occurs. Those experiences get loud, and the more we struggle against them, the louder they become - until we decide to stop and listen. When we pause and just let it all be instead of trying to fix it, we find the precious space we need to tune in. Commemorating your loss is one way to take that pause and honor your experience. Choose a day that feels like the most meaningful milestone to you: Maybe the due date for that pregnancy, or what would have been the end of the first/second trimester, or the date the pregnancy loss took place. What you actually do to acknowledge the day is totally up to you, and it certainly doesn’t need to be a grand ceremony: Hike to your favorite spot or write in your journal. Put some fresh flowers on your desk or light a candle at dinner with your partner or a trusted support person. Go to the gym and beat the crap out of a punching bag. Even a small ritual makes the invisible more visible and creates that moment to pause and make space to just let it all be.
MEET THE GRIEF BUTTON
Imagine one of those red “Easy” buttons, but this one says “Grief.” This button is in a box, along with a rubber ball bouncing all over the place. You never know when the ball will hit the button. When your loss is recent, your grief button is huge and gets pressed frequently. Over time, the button shrinks and doesn’t get pushed as often. Randomly, unpredictably, it will still get pushed from time to time. In your current pregnancy, you might find your grief button is on fire, getting pushed all. the. time. It can feel confusing if you’re shopping for your baby registry and you “should” be ecstatic, but you feel a gut punch when you scroll past those tiny baby shoes (or that hat with little bear ears, or a diaper pail…truly, it can be anything). In any situation like this when overwhelm washes over you, start by noticing it (wow, something is happening) and naming it (my grief button got pushed). Then, instead of trying to wriggle your way out of that uncomfortable moment, try pausing to give yourself that space to just sit with it. You’re excited for your new baby and you’re grieving. Both/and.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH “AND”
Ambivalence is holding two or more seemingly conflicting thoughts or feelings at the same time. Ambivalence is uncomfortable because we’re humans, and we like to organize our worlds into neat little categories. Remember the feelings chart that hung on the wall at school? Are you feeling happy? Or sad? Or scared? Or mad? As adults, we know that it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. You’re about to interview for a new position and you’re both nervous and excited for the possibilities. You’re moving to a new city, and you’re both sad you’re leaving and eager for your new beginning. It’s messy, and we don’t love that. And yet, we can create space for all of it to be true at once. Once we name ambivalence, we can’t unsee it. It’s everywhere, and knowing this term can be so helpful in making sense of the emotional rollercoaster you might feel like you’re on if you’re pregnant and you’ve experienced pregnancy loss in the past. You’re excited for the baby and you’re scared of what could go wrong. You’re so happy, and you feel so guilty for feeling happy. You can’t wait to tell family and friends about your pregnancy, and you’re terrified about the exact same thing. It’s a lot. In those moments of overwhelm, remember that you can take a pause and give yourself space for all of it to be true at once.
NOTICE THE SHOULDS
You find out you’re pregnant: I should be thrilled. You’ve been staring at that unassembled crib for weeks: I should be more excited to put this nursery together. Your grief button gets pushed: I should be over this by now. Like ambivalence, once we start tuning into our should statements, we hear them all the time and we begin to notice how tough we really are on ourselves. When you hear that statement (I should…) pop into your mind, it’s often a sign that you’re about to be much harder on yourself than you ever would be on anyone else you love, and that you’re setting expectations for yourself that might not be serving you well. Try out a Best Friend Mindset in those moments to tap into more kindness and grace for yourself. Ask yourself: Would I ever say this to my best friend, or even think this about her? Of course the answer is absolutely not, so then ask yourself what you would actually say to her in this situation. Then, flip the script and offer those kind, gracious, loving words to yourself.
CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHO GET IT
There’s a special type of magic that sparks between people who have gone through similar experiences. Connecting with people who simply get it without you having to explain it is an incredibly powerful tool for healing and moving forward as you navigate pregnancy and beyond. After all, feeling a sense of belonging is listed right up there with food, water, and shelter as one of the most important elements humans need in order to thrive. It can feel absolutely terrifying to share your experience with family and friends, and yet when you’re the first person to open that door, often you’ll find that others will then feel safe to share that they’ve been through something similar. Keep those people close throughout this journey, and remember that this is your news: You get to choose the people you tell and don’t tell, and the people to invite onto your team. Check your area for group opportunities, or search for virtual options. If you’re involved with a fertility clinic, ask them for resources. If you have a partner, know that each of you might be processing this experience differently. It’s okay if it’s difficult to fully be there for each other when each of you is so consumed by your own needs. We all deserve a team of resources and trusted support people, and this is the time to call in (or create) yours.
All information shared here is for informational purposes only, and is not to be interpreted as psychotherapy or medical advice. This article is property of Mother Tree Wellness Group, LLC, and may not be reproduced or replicated without the written consent of Mother Tree Wellness.