mental health, Miscarriage

Mental health after miscarriage: my thoughts

Last week, on the day the news story broke about miscarriage causing PTSD, depression and anxiety (using this published paper as evidence), I was asked by Yahoo Style UK to share my thoughts. Their questions and my responses are below and the article can be viewed here

I also wrote a blog post on my experiences of accessing mental health services after miscarriage last year, which you can view here

Yahoo Style UK: Why do you think the new study about miscarriage is so important? Did it touch on any of your own experiences? 

Me: This study validates what women who’ve been through the experience of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy already know – that it can have deep, long-lasting effects that can really change you. I’ve often felt that my grief isn’t justified, that I’m being self-indulgent in my sadness, or am reacting too strongly to something that is common (miscarriage happens in an estimated 25% of pregnancies). But for a respected journal to publish a study saying that the trauma of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy is real and valid is a powerful thing.  

I had two miscarriages and one failed pregnancy of unknown location (suspected ectopic) in the space of 11 months and found accessing psychological support really difficult. I was definitely depressed, for a significant time afterwards, and also suffering with anxiety. But all I could do was join the (very long) waiting list for counselling (in my local authority at the time, the waiting list was approx. 6 months long). I was lucky enough to receive excellent support from a bereavement nurse at my local hospital, but what I really needed was ongoing, structured therapy and this just wasn’t available. 

Why do you think it is so important to address the mental health implications women could experience after a miscarriage?

Miscarriage can be a lonely and isolating time and I think that’s what makes it so important for psychological safeguards to be put in place for women who’ve been through it. 

For me, on top of the grieving the baby I’d lost, I was also worrying about the physical implications of loss, wondering whether I’d be able to get pregnant again, whether I’d have more miscarriages, how I could carry on as normal in my work and personal life. I confided in friends, but was conscious of not wanting to over-burden them with these feelings – yet it was all I could think about. All. The. Time. I was told to move on, to distract myself and keep myself busy, but when dealing with depression or anxiety, it isn’t necessarily as easy as that.  

What would you like to see change in terms of the treatment/care women and families receive after miscarriage?

I think it’s so important that support is available to women and their partners, if needed, from the point at which the miscarriage takes place until they feel they no longer need it. I think the medical system needs to understand there is no set timeline – some women cope relatively well, and don’t need much support outside family and friends, but others are torn apart for months or years, and need support for much longer and much more intensively. My husband, for instance, dealt relatively well with the first miscarriage and the failed pregnancy of unknown location, but it was after the third miscarriage that he really struggled. So I think it’s vital that each woman / partner should be treated as an individual, and the care for that person should be tailored to their needs.  

Ideally, I think a pregnancy-loss bereavement service should be available in every hospital, with immediate access to counsellors for anyone affected by miscarriage. I also understand that, resources-wise, this is probably not realistic. We all know how overstretched mental health services are in our health system. But I think it’s worthwhile defining what should be available, because then we can at least aim for that target. 

Why do you believe it is so important to open up the discussion about the psychological implications of losing a baby? 

When I went through my pregnancy losses, I needed to talk about them. And I’ve consciously been very open about them, both in the real world and online. But I’ve heard from lots of women who’ve not felt so able to discuss their emotions following this massive life event and I think that’s such a shame. Not only can women provide amazing support to each other, there’s something about knowing you’re not the only one feeling a certain way that is immensely comforting. 

Ultimately, if there’s more discussion about the potential psychological impact of miscarriage, the stigma may be reduced and women may feel more inclined to seek out support if they need it. And – assuming the help they need is there – that can only be a good thing.

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