On Facebook yesterday, I stumbled across a link to an article on Babble.com titled “Suffering in Silence — How One Woman Coped With the Loss of Her Baby.” It is truly one of the best written articles on pregnancy loss–in this case, miscarriage–I have ever read. In reading the article I couldn’t help but be reminded of how I felt after my ectopic pregnancy and when I found out the twin to my daughter didn’t make it past the second month of pregnancy.
So, what do pregnancy loss and PPD have in common? Well, to start with, both seem to have become through the years taboo topics that you rarely hear others bring up on conversation….least of all by those who are in the process of grieving their pregnancy loss and those who are suffering from PPD. The only people you would be willing to share such a private matter with are certain family members and close friends. Ironically, it’s at times like this that you need support the most. Grieving in private, which is what I did when I suffered both my losses, only increases your risk for depression.
THE NUMBERS…YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW
Second, because people don’t talk about their experiences, society as a whole really has no concept of how frequently pregnancy losses and PPD occur. The author, Jody Pratt, points out:
“An estimated one in seven pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Each year in the U.S. alone, over 700,000 babies don’t survive to be born. Millions of people must be mourning them. So, where are they? ‘The only tradition our society does have regarding miscarriage is that you’re not supposed to talk about it.'”
As for PPD, an estimated one in eight new mothers experience it. So, where are they all? Before I had PPD myself, I hadn’t heard squat about it from anyone I knew. After I had PPD, I’ve only come across a handful of those I personally know that mentioned their own experiences to me. Believe me, they are out there. Thanks to the stigma of mental health and lack of awareness, all too many moms suffering from PPD continue to keep their experiences to themselves, not knowing that what they have is a true illness and there should be no shame associated with feeling the way they do.
ANOTHER CONSEQUENCE OF THE TABOOS
Another consequence of people not talking about their experiences is that people have no real concept–not unless they, of course, have firsthand experience themselves–of what it’s like to lose a baby during pregnancy, regardless of how early in the pregnancy the loss occurred. Comments that either I or others receive in reaction to the news of pregnancy loss lean in the direction of “Just keep trying….you’ll succeed.” “At least this happened now rather than later on in the pregnancy, after seeing your belly growing and feeling the baby kicking and moving and feeling your love for the baby growing daily.” You wouldn’t think that it would be possible to feel an emotional connection within the first few weeks of pregnancy, since there is nothing about an embryo that resembles a baby yet. For me, even the few weeks during my first pregnancy was more than enough time to become emotionally invested. When I found out it had to be terminated due to what they referred to as an ectopic pregnancy, I was devastated. Then, when I lost the twin to my daughter at two months, I cried on and off for a few days but forced myself to move on because I couldn’t risk having my grief jeopardize my pregnancy.
When it comes to PPD, unless you’ve been through it yourself, it’s hard to really know what the PPD mom is really going through. All people know is that having a baby is supposed to be a happy time and you only really see happy moms. So, when a mom who is suffering from PPD isn’t glowingly happy but instead is suffering from PPD, comments she receives may tend to send like the following: “You have the healthy, beautiful baby that you’ve always wanted. What more could you want? How could you not be happy? Pull yourself together…your baby needs you. All new moms go through this after having a baby. It will pass on its own. You’ll be fine in no time.”
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Parents who grieve should speak up more. Though, with the reactions they get from even the most well-meaning of family and friends, it’s no wonder people want to keep their grieving to themselves. It’s also no wonder that most expectant parents do not tell anyone about their pregnancies until the end of the first trimester, because there is a greater likelihood for pregnancy losses to occur during that time. As a consequence, if you do (God forbid) experience pregnancy loss, you automatically end up suffering in silence because people didn’t even know you were pregnant to begin with. Being as risk-averse as I am and prone to believing in “jinxes,” you better believe my husband and I didn’t tell anyone at all about my pregnancy until the first trimester was over and I didn’t tell colleagues until I could no longer hide it from them at around 6 months! I grieved in silence after both of my losses because they occurred before the first trimester was over.
At the same time, family members and friends should learn how to support grieving parents better. Maybe take some sensitivity training or something. Learn that keeping what you say to a minimum–in this case, LESS IS MOST DEFINITELY MORE–just your being there for the grieving parents and offering a listening ear (if they ask you) and avoid offering advice especially if you’ve never suffered a loss like this yourself. Read up on articles such as the one Katherine Stone had previously written up that provide suggestions on how to support someone who is grieving. Follow the blogs I list under Pregnancy Loss/Infertility Websites & Blogs. It would also help tremendously for people to know that there are many others who are going through–or have gone through–pregnancy loss (or PPD). I mean, look at the numbers! Articles like this one written by Jody Pratt should be accessible via pregnancy books, magazines, and newspapers. In all forms of media that expectant parents would have easy access to. As I mention in prior posts, the best place to obtain non-judgmental emotional support is a therapist that specializes in pregnancy loss (or PPD). Doing so is an investment in your mental health down the road as you embark on future pregnancies that will one day, hopefully, be successful.
PREGNANCY LOSS – A RISK FACTOR FOR PPD
Finally, negative life events related to childbearing–e.g., history of and unresolved grief associated with pregnancy loss (previous stillbirth, abortion, miscarriage) and multiple failed IVF cycles are a significant risk factor for PPD. There is a lot at stake emotionally with the baby that is conceived after years of trying, possibly with the help of IVF and after failed attempts/cycles and perhaps even miscarriages. Click here and here for more info.