The Emotional Roller Coaster of Recurrent Miscarriage

Finding support and solace for an experience so few understand

by Christiane Manzella, PhD

If you have experienced multiple miscarriages, you have been on a journey that few people understand. It is one filled with waiting, hope, fear, anxiety, terrible disappointment, grief, and so, so much uncertainty. Not to mention the physical effects of intense hormonal surges and drops, and the heart-wrenching emotional toll. All this can seem insurmountable when you are experiencing it.

For many women, this tumultuous combination results in a deep sense of alienation and isolation. Because about 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, it isn't hard to find someone who's been through a similar situation. But recurrent miscarriage is a relatively rare experience: Only 5 percent of women have two miscarriages, and only 1 percent have three or more.

In that case, it can be extremely difficult to find the kind of support and understanding that you need as you make your way through this journey and your grief. And even though you may feel completely alone, we at Seleni hope you know that you are not. We work with many women who have suffered multiple miscarriages, and here are some thoughts and feelings they've shared with us.

After a loss, women report feeling:

  • Very afraid of being pregnant again and very afraid of not being pregnant again
  • A loss of innocence – meaning now that the worst has happened, it can seem that there is no way to recapture the sense of joy or ease around trying to conceive or conceiving
  • Detached and terrified at the same time
  • Numb from the cycle of anxiety and disappointment
  • Alienated from others who say insensitive things like, "Everything happens for a reason," or "You're young. Try again."
  • Distrustful of medical professionals who treat this kind of loss as ordinary
  • Worried about what they might have done to cause it
  • That their body is "broken" or that they have "failed"
  • Terribly alone

During a subsequent pregnancy, women described:

  • Having anxiety about every sensation that they don't recognize as "usual"
  • Being vigilant for blood in their underwear or other signs of miscarriage
  • Wanting to avoid any future planning, such as planning a baby shower or shopping for the nursery
  • Worrying that their need to protect themselves from disappointment will keep them from making a healthy attachment to their pregnancy 
  • Feeling as if they are always holding their breath
  • Constantly ticking off the timetable in relation to the time of their last loss
  • Experiencing disbelief if their pregnancy continues past that point
  • Feeling simultaneously happy like the "sun is shining" and afraid that "a big thunder cloud is threatening"

We see all of this. And if you have experienced multiple miscarriages, there are many other ways you may be feeling. These experiences are normal, understandable, and happen often. You can benefit greatly from getting the support and understanding you need to help you move through a subsequent pregnancy (or loss).

Here are some other coping techniques you can try:

Figure out what you need to know about recurrent miscarriage so you can work with your doctors to come up with a plan for taking the next steps. Uncertainty can make you feel helpless. Learning what you can will help you regain a sense of control in the process.

Work with a provider who "gets it." If you feel your OB or midwife doesn't understand how you may be feeling during or between pregnancies or take your concerns seriously, find one who does. You will benefit from a compassionate healthcare provider who will listen as well as provide you with the information and support you need.

Reach out to people you trust. Identify the people in your life you feel comfortable opening up to and who can handle your simultaneous emotions, such as fear about and fragile hope for a full-term pregnancy. Many people don't understand the seemingly conflicting feelings this experience can bring. Find someone who is willing to listen without judgment.

Join a support group, online or in person, of women who have experienced recurrent miscarriage. Talking with women who truly understand what you are going through can make a huge difference in your sense of isolation. But if you find your participation is increasing your anxiety, step away when you need to. Take care of yourself above all else.

Pay attention to your sleeping and eating. Grief and stress can interfere with your regular sleep cycle (making you wake up early in the morning or get sleepy in the afternoon, for example) and make it hard to eat healthfully. Do what you can to maintain a regular bedtime and provide yourself with nutritious food. This will help stabilize your emotions and give you the strength you need to weather all of them.

Get moderate exercise if your provider says it is ok. Physical activity – even just a walk around the block – can bring you out of your head, regulate your body and mind, and help you feel more like yourself.

Consider one-on-one supportive counseling so you can feel free to say anything, no matter how dark or scary. You will most likely have these types of thoughts and feelings, and it can help to get them out so you don't end up believing the worst-case scenarios and so you know that what you are feeling is ok. Look for health professionals who specialize in reproductive health issues.

We know that this unique journey has no road map and that your experience may differ from the ones we have described here. But we want every woman to know that she is not alone, and to remember that there are ways to get through the difficult twists and turns of this emotional roller coaster, including professional support if you need it.

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Christiane Manzella, PhD

Christiane Manzella, PhD, has been a therapist and grief counselor in New York City for more than 20 years. Dr. Manzella earned both her master's degree in clinical psychology and doctorate in counseling psychology from New York University and carried out her doctoral dissertation research at Beth Israel Medical Center hospice, with postdoctoral supervision in grief and bereavement work. She was named a Fellow in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement, awarded from the Association of Death Educators and Counselors (ADEC), and is completing the third year of a three-year term on their Board. 

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