Unfortunately, miscarriage is not uncommon. The statistics say it will affect one in four of us, and sadly as we get older, this can rise to as many as one in two pregnancies. Just because it is common does not mean it’s ok… Statistics are all well and good, but when it happens to you it doesn’t matter how ‘normal’ or ‘common’ it is. It can be devastating.
Up until recently, the psychological impact of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy has not really been studied or even addressed. However, in the largest study published to date in the. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology we learn some important things:
- Nearly 30% of women who experienced miscarriage met criteria suggestive of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- 24% experienced moderate-severe anxiety
- 11% moderate-severe depression
No matter how ‘abstract’ this type of loss can seem from the outside, the research shows the impact is VERY real:
This research was almost an open letter to the medical community to take miscarriage and baby loss seriously from a mental health perspective. Sadly, busy medical professionals are not always sensitive to this, focusing more on the physical, which can make it even harder for the person experiencing it.
So, how can we help?
1. Understand what a person may be going through:
Simply being mindful and acknowledging the magnitude of their loss is a great start. Maybe it happened very early, but as per the stats above, no matter when it happens, it is a very real loss and trauma for the person who has experienced it. Being sensitive to this is a great start. That can be expressed as simply as by saying ‘sorry’ and asking how they are doing.
2. Sometimes a friendly ear is needed more than helpful advice or opinions:
Most of us want to offer words of reassurance and wisdom to try and lessen the pain. However, everyone will experience loss differently and will have different areas of sensitivity. So, a safer bet is simply to just listen. Acknowledge what they’re going through and ask how they feel. Give them some time, attention and company. Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. Miscarriage can be lonely.
3. Understand that it may take time…
The good news (yes, there is some!) is that the research showed that the impact of the trauma will decline over time, but, it can take quite a while. Up to nine months is not uncommon. Be patient. The impact does linger. Being mindful of this is another good way to support someone.
4. It’s not just the mental impact:
The loss of a baby is a physical process as well as a mental one. Offering to help the person by cooking them a meal, doing some shopping for them or even bringing a care-package over can be a great help.
5. Encouraging self-care:
Given what we know about the emotional toll of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, encouraging someone to make their emotional health and wellbeing a priority is crucial. Particularly in the weeks and months following. Then it’s about supporting them in doing this. Self care is often the first thing to go when a person is experiencing trauma or depression.
This can set off a vicious circle deepening their troubles. Encouraging self care is a positive step in the right direction.
6. Starting small:
Whether that is helping them find resources like an online baby loss community, a counsellor or encouraging them to take time for themselves and to do things they enjoy even if it’s just taking a walk out in the fresh air can be meaningful. Often starting small is the best way. This makes it more accessible and less overwhelming.
7. Being mindful of other people’s pregnancy and baby news:
A major trigger for anyone who has experienced loss is hearing about someone else’s baby news. It’s a tricky one as often layered on top of sadness, hurt and anger (at their own loss) comes guilt for feeling negative towards another person’s happy news. Being mindful of announcements and managing how they’re communicated in a sensitive way is a kind way to approach it.
A good resource to take a look at is Tommy’s baby-loss support area. Click here for more.