Pregnancy after previous loss (miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal loss) is a complex time. For the pregnant person, it is a time of joy, but it can also be filled with intense fear, anxiety, worry, and isolation. It is a time where the external world meets your pregnancy in celebration but doesn’t always make space to hold the other emotions that come along with it. Society’s lack of acknowledgement can make you feel like you are alone; that maybe something is wrong with you for not being 100 percent excited, joyful, or connected to your pregnancy.
As someone who has personally experienced pregnancy after loss and now professionally coaches people through this experience, I am here to tell you that it is completely normal to experience an array of emotions in a pregnancy after loss.
Here are some tools for you as you navigate through the complex emotions that pregnancy after loss can bring.
Grief and coping suggestions
Many people struggle with allowing themselves to feel their emotions. One of the most helpful tools to help you during your pregnancy after loss is to allow yourself to feel. Don’t try to skip over your feelings. Even the tough ones. Pregnancy after loss is full of ups and downs so when you are feeling down, allow yourself to be with it. There is no pushing your way through this. Instead, give yourself permission to feel your way through it - the love, the grief, the highs and the lows. It is okay to feel your way through this. In fact, it is the only way. Whatever comes up in your pregnancy after loss, know that it is normal, and you are not alone.
Expecting worry or increased anxiety
When you have experienced previous miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal loss, it can be very difficult to see anything beyond that. Oftentimes, your mind takes you back to past experiences and outcomes or to unknown futures. A helpful tool to help with anxiety is to connect to your facts. In a pregnancy after loss, it is important to remind yourself of the facts as you know them in the moment. Not what happened before or what could happen. Only what you know for certain as true in this moment. This pregnancy. This season. In moments of anxiety, remind yourself of what is happening for you. Don’t go to Google - those are not your facts. Lean into the space inside of you and connect to what is certain for you in this moment. This is where you find the power to stay above the downward spirals that are not currently yours.
Anxiety, guilt, and coping strategies when passing pregnancy milestones
Practice being in today’s body. Passing pregnancy milestones is often triggering for people. After previous loss, many people have a complex relationship with their body. This can lead to feelings of distrust and frustration. In moments where you find yourself not trusting your body or you are frustrated with how you believe your body ‘should’ look/perform/be... use this term: “today’s body.” Using the term ‘today’ rather than ‘mine’ helps shift your mind from a place of judgment into acceptance. It is a powerful reminder that today your body is this way... it is not the body of yesterday. Using this term helps remind you to be more compassionate for where you are in this moment. Not where you once were or where you may be in the future... only where you are today.
Feelings of guilt during pregnancy after loss is common. I often hear clients say, “I feel like I got pregnant too soon after my loss” or, “I don’t want people to think that this baby is just our ‘replacement baby.’” It is normal and okay to feel this way. This baby will be their own person, and they will also always be connected to their sibling. If you feel as though you didn’t have enough time to process your loss before getting pregnant again, now is the perfect time to seek support. Talking about your loss in a safe and supportive environment or adopting intentional practices that are healing for you may help you process some of these feelings or emotions.
Communicating your needs with others
Speak your truth. Don’t be afraid to speak up about how you are feeling. As I have noted, whatever you are feeling is completely normal. The only way other people can help support you is if you are honest with them.
I remember at my baby shower in my pregnancy after loss, I sat disconnected from myself, my pregnancy, and everyone around me. No one knew that I was sitting in fear, waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop.’ Not one person knew how much anxiety was bubbling through my body because I didn’t tell anyone. There was so much shame surrounding that day. I wondered why I couldn’t just be happy. I know now it is so much deeper than that.
In those moments where the fear is louder than the joy, tell a trusted friend, partner, or family member. You could even connect with a professional to hold space for your truth. There is nothing wrong in feeling things outside of joy - find a space that can hold this truth for you.
In the event that someone you open up to responds with insensitivity or negativity, this is a great opportunity to practice setting boundaries. It can be difficult to set these boundaries with close friends or family members because people often believe that boundaries are set from a place of anger or hate. But the truth is, boundaries are always set from a place of love - for yourself and for your immediate family. Part of setting appropriate boundaries is clearly communicating your boundaries with others. Being clear and telling people what you need requires that you understand your own needs. It can be difficult to stand in your truth and tell people what you need or don’t need if you are not taking the time to reflect on what truly nourishes or depletes you.
Make time to sit with yourself and write down how current relationships and experiences make you feel. Use this practice to gain clarity on what it is you need or do not need at this time. After becoming clear on your needs, communicate these boundaries with the people in your life. If you would like help when doing this, you may benefit from connecting with a loss coach, counsellor, peer mentor, or trusted friend.
Pregnancy after loss is a complex journey. There will be many highs and lows. If you are struggling during your pregnancy, you are not alone. There is a community here in Calgary that can help you feel less alone. I hope that wherever your journey takes you, you meet each moment with more love and compassion for yourself. Remember, you can do hard things.
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