Study: Pregnancy loss can trigger anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder

Last month was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a reminder to the world that the lives lost to miscarriage or shortly after birth were human beings who existed and who matter — regardless of the length of their lives.

Losing a child can be an extremely difficult experience, to say the least. Now, a new study, published November 2, 2016, in the BMJ Open, explains that women may be affected with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of losing their preborn children.

BBC highlights the story of Nicole Martin, who lost three of her babies to miscarriages in just one year. Martin was anxious about her second pregnancy due to her age (38) and the prevalence of miscarriages among people she knew. Sadly, her fears became reality when she became pregnant with twins and lost one at five weeks and another at seven weeks. When she became pregnant again, two months later, she again lost her baby at seven weeks. Medication was necessary to complete this miscarriage. Martin explained:

You get given a tablet which breaks down the lining of your womb and you just get sent home to miscarry.

It’s really not pleasant. It’s your baby, and you have to flush it down the loo. It’s horrendous.

The process Martin describes sounds much like the medication abortion (abortion pill) process. However, the big difference is that, in an abortion, the child is still living while the pill takes effect. In either situation, the mother has to go through a difficult and emotional physical process, and in a miscarriage, she did nothing whatsoever to choose it.

It’s no surprise then, that at the Imperial College London’s early pregnancy loss clinic, a third of the women have PTSD symptoms. BBC notes:

Dr. Jessica Farren, who carried out the BMJ Open study on nearly 90 women attending the pregnancy clinic at Imperial College London for a suspected miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, says although only a minority might have full-blown PTSD, many will suffer from moderate-to-severe anxiety.

Despite this number, there may be an issue with women experiencing such a loss, or multiple losses, getting the help they need, as Farren says “the NHS isn’t geared up” to meet the emotional needs of women suffering after pregnancy loss. While women are routinely screened for post-partum depression at a six-week followup visit, those who have had a miscarriage are not. This is astounding considering that these women have not only been impacted by the same pregnancy hormones, but have also gone through the loss of a child or children.

Although Martin shared that, at times, she wanted to be told to “just give up” on becoming pregnant, she eventually did become pregnant with her son. He is now almost two years old. It doesn’t mean the scars have healed completely, however:

“I still worry a lot, and I’m having cognitive behavioural therapy to help me cope with that,” she says.

“Even though we have two beautiful children, I still feel anxious to this day because I can’t quite believe it’s all over.

“I feel that something’s going to spoil our lovely family unit because it was such a struggle getting there.”

An issue for women who have miscarried is that, many times, they may suffer in silence, or people continually ask them when they will have more children.

If asked about anything, these women should be asked if and how they are healing.

Their children were real and existed, even if they were not born. And that means these children and their grieving mothers matter. No matter how a child is lost, parents deserve an opportunity to grieve with support.

Each child is a unique person who has never existed before and will never exist again. No matter how long a child lives — even if he or she only lives inside the womb or for a short time outside the womb — that child is a distinct human being. That’s why each life should be grieved by all of us when lost.

Editor’s Note: For more on miscarriage, supporting women through this devastating process, and the value of every human life, no matter how small or young, see the articles below.


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