by Tamara Hunter, LPC
The mental load of miscarriage and the disease of infertility can impact relationships, finances, and self-esteem, in addition to mental and emotional health. In some way, it can touch every area of your life. This article will discuss healing, self-care strategies, and loss support resources to help with coping and maintaining mental and emotional wellness while trying to conceive after pregnancy loss.
So, you’ve made the brave decision to try to conceive after experiencing loss. You know the pain of a miscarriage (or possibly multiple pregnancy losses or even neonatal death). The emotional roller coaster of devastation, disappointment, anger, shame, depression, and anxiety is familiar, and you don’t want to feel that again during a new pregnancy. The term rainbow baby describes what we are hoping for: a healthy baby in the future to come after the storm of the loss we experienced in the past.
Let’s face it: trying to conceive after pregnancy or infant loss (miscarriage, stillbirth, or otherwise) can be one of the scariest times of life. There’s an uncertainty to it all, along with the revolving questions that can plague your mind. If I get pregnant again, will this pregnancy last to the due date? Will I be able to maintain a healthy pregnancy and take home a healthy baby this time around? Ruminating thoughts of doubt often dominate no matter how hard you try to get them out of your mind.
Try to ask yourself the following:
- What’s showing up for you emotionally when you think about trying to conceive a new baby?
- What bodily reactions are you experiencing?
Remember that grief is not linear. It’s messy and often shows up at the most inopportune times. Is it possible to desire a rainbow baby and still mourn the loss of what could have been with your previous pregnancy? Absolutely! I encourage you to explore all of those emotions. Give yourself permission to grieve through the possible guilt of moving towards growing your family.
If there are some unresolved feelings about forgetting your baby, know that those are common and normal emotions, and you are not alone. Maybe there is more work to do around grief. Creating a ritual to work through that grief may help you move towards healing.
Honoring the loss
Here are 3 ways you can honor your previous pregnancy loss while working towards growing your family:
- Plant a small tree in honor of your baby
- Write a letter to your baby as an expression of gratitude for the time you had together
- Create a piece of art that expresses your love
Grieving the fertility process
When dealing with fertility challenges, grief can present itself in many ways. Losses associated with the fertility process are not always obvious, from struggling with treatment options to the loss of identity and self-worth. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Due to different grieving styles, pregnancy loss can create a barrier in communication, intimacy, and expectations between you and your partner. Try to give yourself and your partner grace and understanding. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and each participant has the right to grieve as it presents. Some may go through each phase of the grieving process in a different order, and the timing of these phases will likely vary from person to person. Some of these phases may include accepting that the loss is a reality, giving yourself permission to experience any pain that comes with your loss, and taking time to adjust to the new reality in which the pregnancy and baby are no longer present.
Most birthing people have expectations for pregnancy and parenthood before loss. And no, you can’t unlearn the loss, or the possibility that pregnancy loss exists. Living through pregnancy loss often shatters expectations and changes the path forward. The good news is there are a lot of options for support. It may feel scary, but there are steps you can take to support yourself when you’re ready to try again.
The fertility journey is taxing on the mind, body, and spirit. Be vigilant about warning signs that your mood is changing. Staying connected to support systems will benefit you during this process. You can research and connect with the loss community through fertility support groups, infertility counseling (offered for individuals and couples), fertility coaching, social media communities, as well as podcasts on trying to conceive after loss. Know that there are trained professionals such as reproductive and maternal mental health specialists that can help you process fears and anxiety specifically related to trying to conceive for those who have experienced loss.
Give yourself permission to feel. You can feel that infertility and pregnancy loss are unfair. Allow yourself to be angry, sad, or jealous when you see a pregnancy or birth announcement on social media. Acknowledge the reminder of your experience and the hurt that may go along with it. Be good to yourself, provide comfort, and try not to judge your reaction.
Beginning the journey of trying to conceive after loss can often feel out of your control with no guarantees. Try to do the things that are in your control. Taking a proactive role might help you feel that you are making positive contributions to your fertility health and the goal of growing your family. Whether or not your journey includes fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF), these tips can aid in supporting emotional and mental wellness.
It’s common to fear the unknown and have thoughts that pregnancy after miscarriage will end in loss. Or maybe you fear attachment to your potential pregnancy. Try to remember this is a new pregnancy with its own path. Refuting negative thoughts and replacing them with positive self-talk can help. For example, try saying to yourself, “I will stay present in what I know to be true at this moment” or “I am hopeful I will have the outcome I desire.” These are some options to replace the negative thoughts with a positive statement for this new rainbow pregnancy.
Be intentional about self-care by creating a plan. Get moving! Moving your body can improve physical circulation and mental clarity. Yoga is beneficial for strengthening your immune system, improving your reproductive system, and reducing stress. According to a recent study, stress negatively affects reproductive outcomes in IVF cycles and, yoga can be an adjuvant to reduce depression and anxiety rates in couples undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART).
Other self-care methods that can help you move forward and may even help improve fertility outcomes include:
- Womb and fertility massage, which can help assist in balancing hormones
- Acupuncture, which may help to improve ovarian function
- Essential oils, which can aid in calming and relaxation
- Affirmations, which can help support emotional wellness
- Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and releasing one muscle group at a time)
- Walking, which may help heart health and joint pain
- Journaling, which can help to release emotions
- Grounding techniques (such as deep breathing)
- Guided imagery or meditation (focusing on a place or object that brings you peace)
Whatever self-care routine you choose, know you are taking action to contribute to your overall emotional and mental wellness, as well as your reproductive health.
Deciding if you will share your new pregnancy with family members and/or friends is personal. However, it is important to surround yourself with those that can emotionally lift you up, be present for you, and offer a listening ear if you need it. Get clear about who you trust. Discuss, if appropriate, with your partner how you will proceed with sharing the news of any milestones during the conception and pregnancy journey this time around. Whatever you decide, know that the proper support is crucial while trying to conceive after loss.
Wherever you are in your journey to growing your family, be encouraged and know you can take breaks when trying to conceive becomes overwhelming. Take a vacation (or even a staycation in your city). Then regroup and assess if you are ready to try again. Tend to your spirit and invite the experiences and people who will help nurture you.