With a rainbow baby on the way, you should be happy, right? It’s OK to have mixed feelings during a pregnancy after loss, and here’s how to cope.
It was only three months after my miscarriage when I became pregnant with my rainbow baby. While I wanted to be happy about another chance to bring life into the world, part of me was afraid to get excited or share the news. I often had flashbacks to the night of my loss and felt anxious about what this new pregnancy would bring. I worried with every little cramp in my body that I was losing the baby again, and I obsessively checked for signs of blood. While each time I heard the baby’s heartbeat brought relief, I didn’t let myself get fully attached to the little being growing inside me until he reached the age of viability outside the womb.
If you’re also experiencing intense emotions in a pregnancy after a miscarriage or stillbirth, know you’re not alone. It’s common after a loss for women to experience intrusive memories, flashbacks, hypervigilance, distrust of their bodies, and feelings of apprehension, fear or dread — making the joy that accompanies the news of conception very confusing.
“Our brain tries to make sense of what happened and what we can do to prevent it from happening again,” says Rebecca Johnson, IMTF, PMH-C, an Ohio-licensed therapist specializing in anxiety and trauma. “These thoughts often turn inward, blaming ourselves for what happened in an effort to figure out what we can do differently.”
The truth is, a pregnancy loss is usually not the mother’s fault. As you navigate the emotionally complicated journey of a new pregnancy, give yourself permission to experience your full range of emotions and seek out support during this vulnerable time. Here are some ways you can cope as you look toward the rainbow after the storm.
1. Be Gentle With Yourself
Your new pregnancy will not feel the same as the one before your loss, and it won’t make your grief go away. Acknowledge all the feelings you’re experiencing — the sadness, the hope, the fear, the joy — and know that you can be just as you are in this moment. “We have the capacity to continue to mourn our baby who passed, and feel hope and excitement about the baby on the way,” Johnson says. “One emotion does not need to replace the other — you are allowed to feel both!”
In fact, the feelings of grief may continue once your rainbow baby is born. “There is nothing wrong with you,” she says. “You are a human who has endured an unthinkable loss, no matter when the loss occurred. Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with others who are kind to this, as well.”
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2. Find Providers Who Support You
Mothers-to-be who have experienced a pregnancy loss often need extra support and reassurance. Talk with your provider about your history. Do they show sensitivity when discussing your loss? Are they understanding of emergency appointments to check symptoms or hear the baby’s heartbeat? Can they connect you with other trauma-informed supports? “You are your best advocate,” Johnson says. “Do not hesitate to voice what you need and move on if they cannot provide it.”
3. Seek Mental Health Therapy
Trauma-informed therapy is key during this time if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression surrounding your loss, particularly if those feelings are interfering with day-to-day activities, you’re displaying obsessive-compulsive behaviors, or you’re having thoughts about harming yourself or someone else.
“Women need space to explore and process feelings and traumatic experiences associated with loss,” Johnson says. “Learning tools for how to relate to and care for your feelings can also be helpful.”
Trauma-informed therapists can use a variety of modalities, including cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, complicated grief therapy, and emotionally focused therapy. If you don’t connect with the first therapist you see, don’t hesitate to ask for a referral or seek another provider. And remember, if therapy alone isn’t helpful, Johnson says, you can talk to your OB/GYN about exploring medications that can be used safely during pregnancy.
4. Connect With Others
There is something incredibly healing about sharing your story with others. Keeping in close communication with your partner who may also be struggling, reaching out to friends and family, and attending a pregnancy loss support group can all be ways to process your emotions and cope.
Often you can find the support you need in simply allowing others to help when they offer. “Every person who asks, ‘How can I help?’ gets a specific answer,” Johnson says. She recommends having a list at the ready: meals, laundry, stocking baby supplies, accompanying you to the doctor. “It’s so ingrained in women to feel guilt for asking for help and it has to stop. We are stronger together, and you do not need to do this alone.”
Nearly a year after the birth of my healthy rainbow baby — and a lot of relational and professional support along the way — I still get a twinge of sadness when I think about the baby that didn’t make it full-term. Those feelings don’t go away — nor do I want them to — but the pain does get easier over time. By being kind with ourselves and sharing our journey with others, we can clear a path of healing and support for ourselves and other women going through this experience.