Pregnancy loss: From great expectations to heartbreak

Young girl and little boy siblings

I’m thankful to be Mom to these two.

A blighted ovum. B-L-I-G-H-T-E-D. O-V-U-M.

I had never heard of this before, but it’s what my OB-GYN told me when I was at her office getting my first ultrasound of my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was successful and I had a healthy 7-month-old girl at home. I was so naïve. I wasn’t expecting these words to come out of my doctor’s mouth.

A blighted ovum is when your body thinks it’s pregnant (hence the positive pregnancy test), but there is no fetus. It was an empty sac of tissue in my uterus. Now I had to tell friends and family that I was no longer pregnant, or never really pregnant in the first place. All those thoughts of baby shopping, starting to pick out names, wondering what the baby would look like, what changes I would need to make as our family grew instantly became unimportant and were replaced with thoughts like what am I going to tell people, how should I phrase it, what are they going to think, why did this happen, I hope they don’t ask me questions.

I definitely understood why people waited to announce their pregnancy. So when I miscarried for the second and third time, I didn’t have to tell anyone but my husband. I had three miscarriages in 13 months all during the first trimester. After the third miscarriage, I fell apart. I was bombarded with questions. What was happening? Why was my body betraying me? What I was doing wrong? Did I need to lose weight? Did I need to wait longer before trying to get pregnant again?

I did my research and then met with my OB. I had an article that reviewed and summarized potential causes for repeated miscarriages and we discussed this article. I also tracked my cycle on one of those apps and was able to show my OB months’ worth of data. She determined that I had Late Luteal Phase Defect, which meant that my body wasn’t producing enough of a hormone to maintain the pregnancy. We made a plan for me to see her immediately if/when I was to get pregnant again. Today I have a healthy 2-year-old son.

I learned a lot during this time in my life and, as a psychologist, I am forever reflecting on what helps and what doesn’t. Below are some tips or suggestions for those that have experienced a pregnancy loss or know someone who has.

Grieve

Allow yourself to grieve. Fighting the grieving process will only prolong it. Grieving is different for each individual or couple. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no time limit. Grieving gives meaning and purpose to the loss.

Say what?

Many people don’t know what to say or do when a miscarriage or stillborn birth has occurred. Sometimes not saying anything and just being present is all the person needs at that time. During one of the miscarriages that I had, someone said, “God knows what is best” and while my faith is very important to me and I agreed with this statement, at that moment I did not find that helpful. At that moment I was not ready for logic, I was still processing my own emotions and coming to terms with what was happening.

Know yourself

You know yourself best and what you need. Some individuals prefer information and details (like me), others prefer less information as a way to manage stress/anxiety. Some people need to keep busy and occupied others need solitude and quiet. All of the above is OK, but finding balance is important. After the loss of a pregnancy or infant, seeing other pregnant women or going to a young child’s birthday party may be too much to handle too soon. Give yourself permission to not attend events that may be too overwhelming or emotional. There are other ways that you may be able to be involved or provide support (e.g., sending a gift or video message).

Mood

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are the stages of grief that you may experience after the loss of a pregnancy or infant. However, there are many other emotions that you may experience as well such as jealousy, anxiety or guilt. Postpartum depression can even occur after a miscarriage or stillborn birth due to the rapid hormonal changes that can happen. Monitor your mood and behavior and seek help from a mental health professional if you are concerned.

Help me

“How do I know if I need help from a mental health professional?” is a question that is sometimes asked. If you notice that completing daily activities of living (e.g., hygiene, chores, other routine tasks, etc.) is difficult or you notice significant changes (increase or decrease) with your sleep or eating habits, it may be a sign that professional help is necessary. Also if you notice changes in your mood such as persistent sadness, this may be an indicator. Sometimes though it can be helpful to talk to a mental health professional to help process through your thoughts and emotions about a significant life event. Contacting your physician or insurance carrier can help you identify a mental health professional.

– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP, Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Hospital Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology

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