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Studies acknowledge how traumatic miscarriage is — so why doesn’t society?



Anna O'Neil - published on 08/16/18

The traumatic aftermath of a miscarriage, even an early one, is an empirically proven, statistically significant trend.

When you have a miscarriage, everybody wants you to feel better. A lot of people want you to feel better at any cost, even the cost of denying what’s actually happened. So they try to comfort you, but their comfort sounds a lot like dismissal:

I was told, “It’s for the best. You wouldn’t have wanted an unhealthy baby. You’ll be pregnant again before you know it.”

One of my friends got, “You have too many kids anyway.

Another, “With your health, this was for the better.

Another heard, “It was God’s will. There was probably something wrong with the baby anyway.”

People mean well. But words like this don’t acknowledge the fact that a miscarriage is a traumatic experience, and you can’t make trauma disappear by telling somebody that their trauma is not real, not legitimate.

Many serious scientific studies, in fact, are pointing to the fact that a miscarriage has lasting, serious effects on a woman’s mental health. One study found that a full 25 percent of women followed had post traumatic stress disorder a month later. And 7 percent of them still had it four months later.

I read that study today, and my first thought was, “Oh. So that’s what that is.” Because it’s been 18 months since my miscarriage, and I still have occasional flashbacks, where I see that a part of my mind still lives in the middle of that day, and might always live there.

Another study reports finding that “large number of women having experienced a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy fulfill the diagnostic criteria for probable PTSD. Many suffer from moderate-to-severe anxiety, and a lesser number depression. Psychological morbidity, and in particular PTSD symptoms, persists at least three months following pregnancy loss.”

A study from the Irish Journal of Psychology found that 44 percent of women who had miscarried during their first trimester showed “clinical levels of psychological distress,” even months later. That includes depression, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.

And yet, women are still hearing that what they’ve been through isn’t so bad. That maybe it is even a good thing. That they need to get over it. Some women, like Chloe Henri, are denied bereavement leave from work. It’s a message women hear over and over: if you are still sad, after three days, a week, a month, a year … you are being self-indulgent. You are being weak. You need to move on.

But of course, you can’t just move on from a traumatic event. Not by sheer willpower, at least. And the traumatic aftermath of a miscarriage, even an early one, isn’t just a bunch of women overreacting — it’s an empirically proven, statistically significant trend.

That last study, from the Irish Journal of Psychology, made a point that is obvious to any woman who’s miscarried. “Aspects of medical management, such as … the ability to discuss miscarriage at follow-up, were significantly related to levels of psychological distress.” That is, women didn’t show such severe psychological symptoms when they were taken seriously. When they hadn’t had that trauma dismissed by their doctors. When they hadn’t been left to deal with a serious condition alone.

My own doctor never told me that it’s common for a miscarriage to affect your mental health. When the panic attacks and dissociation came, I didn’t even know they were related, at first. It was an indescribable relief when I finally heard older women, women I trust, say “Yes, miscarriage is common, but it’s also legitimately traumatic.” I began to think that maybe I wasn’t weak–maybe, just maybe, what I’d gone through was just that intense.

If that’s you, still reeling from the miscarriage of your child, and the whole world is telling you to move on, please remember that the world has no right to ask that of you. What you have been through is real, and it is big. Please get the mental health care you need, and understand that you are not weak — you are hurting because you’ve been through a pain that many people can’t even imagine. Miscarrying can be a traumatic experience, and it’s time that society acknowledged that.


Read more:
Is your doctor dismissing your miscarriage too easily?

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