Updated: Jan 15, 2022
Trauma or a traumatic event, of any kind, tends to be an overwhelming or negative experience that is sudden in nature, out of the blue, or a shock to the system. Discovering an ectopic pregnancy or experiencing a sudden loss to a pregnancy is exactly that: It’s a complete shock to the system. The shift in our reality can be extreme; with all the hopes and plans of pregnancy and beyond, a sudden change in plan can simply be too much for parts of our brain to be able to fully process the information, the change, the experience and the extent of what it all means.
Here are some warning signs that your pregnancy loss is at risk for becoming PTSD:
In an attempt to make sense of your loss, you may resort to blaming yourself. Self-blame helps provide some sort of an an explanation, however hurtful, but it is usually an inaccurate, unhelpful re-write of your pregnancy story. Getting stuck in a pattern of self-blame increases the risk of settling into depression.
2. Distorted Sense of Self (and Others)
Feeding off the self-blame, you might begin to view yourself in extremely negative ways. At the same time, your worldview can slip into all or nothing, black-and-white thinking:
“I just can’t trust anyone.”
“Bad things always happen.”
“Nothing is safe.”
“I’ve always had bad luck.”
"I am broken"
"I never get what I want"
3. Reliving the Experience
It's not uncommon to feel urgency to explain what happened, over and over, to yourself and others. In some cases, the experience of miscarriage may become intrusive; you may experience jolting flashbacks or nightmares. Even as time passes, it's not uncommon for the trauma to continue to feel fresh.
4. Struggling With Day-to-Day Activities
Life goes on but, for the victims of this sort of trauma, this fact can appear more like an ugly threat. You have domestic responsibilities, work duties, and social connections to nurture but it’s all too much right now, and if you already have other children, tending to their daily needs can feel impossible. This, coupled with struggles to find meaning in daily living in the aftermath of a pregnancy loss, can make daily functioning feel impossible.
It is expected that people who experience this kind of loss might become fearful and anxious that it may happen again, but the fear may pour over into other relationships: overly-anxious, overly-concerned, fearful or protective over other children or loved ones. This may include an increasing sense of needing to feel in control, which can manifest sometimes in obsessive-compulsive behaviors, alcohol or substance abuse, or indulgence in other addictive behaviors.
When someone experiences a pregnancy loss, the feeling that no one will understand what they are going through can be true and valid. It may be hard for friends or family to understand if they haven’t been through a similar experience. This form of grief is also unique as there isn’t usually a funeral or traditional ritual with loved ones to process the loss. Partners may also have difficulty understanding as they may experience the loss differently, which can cause a lack of connection between them.
While pain and grief are a normal part of pregnancy loss, early intervention is crucial in helping to prevent the onset of PTSD symptoms.
Good aftercare and grief counseling can be beneficial, particularly after traumatic cases. EMDR is one of the most effective forms of treatment for those who have experienced pregnancy loss; it can help resolve unprocessed traumatic memories allowing your mind to resume its natural healing process so that it is not reacting as if it is still in danger.
Although miscarriage and pregnancy loss can feel like a very taboo subject, speaking out– to doctors, friends and family – can all help to make those suffering feel less alone, and also help to alleviate the onset of any serious mental health problems.