Pregnancy Trauma

A month after my first miscarriage, I ran into a friend in the doctor’s office. She offered to listen if I needed to talk and shared that she’d “been there” too, but “no where near as traumatic as you.” At the time, I felt a little puzzled by the term—I didn’t feel like what I experienced with Noah could really be called “traumatic.” I did feel like the placenta aftermath was traumatic as was the blood loss and fear of death, but his birth was not traumatic and that is what I was focused on. As time went on, I was interested to note that my interest in reading and writing about birth and my birth activism interest hadn’t changed. But, what had changed was my interest in working with or being around pregnant women. And now, I have this experience of being pregnant again and that feeling of not wanting to talk about it out loud—and feeling nervous, skittish, and like saying “stop!” if other people talk about it out loud (like, “do you actually think I’m going to have a living baby?”). Not wanting to wear maternity clothes, etc. And what I realized is that I am not birth traumatized, but I am pregnancy traumatized and for me there is a difference between the two. My experience of birth with Noah was a positive one (as these things go), it made me feel strong and brave and proud of myself and it reaffirmed my sense of amazement at the capacity and capability of my body. The experience of losing the pregnancy, however, was scarring. One of the most painful experiences of my life (not including burying my baby) was having to put away all the maternity clothes that were unpacked and in my drawers. It was awful. I can still hardly stand to look at the tub where they all are now. And, I certainly haven’t gotten any of them back out and do not know if I will be able to wear some of them ever again (i.e. the shirt I was wearing during the ultrasound where we found out that he’d died).

Another painful experience was cutting my fingernails for the first time after Noah was born—why would this be painful? Because they were super-strong from pregnancy hormones and cutting them off felt like abandoning my last physical sign of pregnancy (also because the reason I had to cut them short was in order to try to feel around the edge of the stuck placenta). I have never been able to cut my fingernails again without remembering how it felt to cut off my strong, pregnant fingernails. The kids for days said things like, “you still have your strong mama fingernails!” Of all things to be “scarred” by, I know, but it was very painful.

There is STILL a bookmark in my Meditations for a Healthy Pregnancy book at the 15 week entry. I can hardly stand to look at the pictures in the pregnancy book or on my charts of the 13-15 week size fetus—but that is where my eyes automatically go. When I look at pregnancy books now, I only go to 15 weeks and stop—for me pregnancy arrested there. That is as far as it goes (mentally). If someone says they’re 14 weeks pregnant, I want to run away from them.

Shortly after he died, I put away all my pregnant belly necklaces that I like so much, because I couldn’t stand looking at them either. In the last week, I have gotten some of them back out and worn them a couple of times, though I feel strange and almost “scared” of them.

My kids, I think, have been pregnancy traumatized too. When we told them about the new baby (they never knew about my second m/c), L said, “I hope this one survives.” And, just now, Z (4) said to me, “I’m glad you’re pregnant, but I really hope this baby does not die.” Little four year olds shouldn’t have to know so much about that possibility 😦

This revelation about the difference between birth trauma and pregnancy trauma made a lot of things more clear to me—how it is that I can still enjoy birth stories and books about birth and that I still love writing about and talking about birth. Because birth itself didn’t hurt me—it affirmed me. But, pregnancy left me empty and sad. I can’t read a pregnancy announcement without thinking about putting away those clothes and cutting those fingernails.

This explains to me why I cringe slightly when I see someone else’s pregnancy announcement—because it seems hopelessly naïve in a way, because I hope so much that they don’t have to learn that for themselves, and because it is a painful reminder of what ended so sadly, and so suddenly, for me.

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17 responses to “Pregnancy Trauma

  1. This makes so much sense, Molly. I’m praying for you and Baby, over these next several weeks especially.

    • Thanks, Laurel. When I figured out that there was a difference (if only in my own mind), it cleared up some things I’d been wondering about!

      I am hanging on for these next 5 weeks–I really want to make it past 15 weeks and I think I will breathe a little easier then.

  2. The experience has definitely been traumatic, even including those in your extended circle. I’m afraid to “jinx” the pregnancy by offering too much support or acknowledgment. I tucked my little gift away surreptitiously. There’s a feeling of guardedness — like we need to try to keep our armor on, just in case. But, at the same time, I’m dancing for joy, speculating about names, and planning the new rug. I love you and your baby is already in my heart.

  3. I know it’s on a different level, but I’ve also taken time to think about birth vs. pregnancy trauma. With L, the pregnancy and it’s abrupt end was traumatic even though I still had my baby. The miscarriage shook my ‘faith’ in pregnancy even more. When Jordan brought up fears about the birth of this baby, I realized I almost laughed – the BIRTH!? “That’s the easy part!” I found myself thinking. Likewise, I think there are many women with traumatic birth experiences who have no trouble trusting in pregnancy. I hope this baby continues to help you heal from your pregnancy trauma, and gives you another empowering birth.

    • While I haven’t “been there” exactly, I feel like I can understand what you mean about the experience with L being a traumatic end to pregnancy. It really helped me to realize that the types of “traumas” can be separated (I guess similarly to the way “birth trauma” can be separated from the feeling about one’s baby: that comes up over and over again, the “at least you have a healthy baby” comment to women who have had traumatic births and I just want to shake people! The two feelings are separate and can co-exist–“yay, baby. Bummer, birth.” And, now I’m realizing that I, personally can feel “yay, birth!” and “yikes, pregnancy!”

  4. This post really resonates with me and my experiences, as well. I lost my first baby at 19.5 weeks when my cervix spontaneously started dilating. (Later was officially confirmed that all the events and symptoms were consistent with cervical incompetence. Ick. I hate that phrase! My most recent pregnancy, I started saying, “My cervix isn’t incompetent; it just needs a little assistance!”)

    Anyway, I had many of the same type of feeling you describe. I had a difficult time being around any pregnant women for months. And if they were farther along than 20 weeks, I honestly thought, “Oh my gosh! How did their body make it this far!” That along with lots of jealousy, esp if their pregnancy was uncomplicated. I also had certain places I couldn’t go, certain items I couldn’t look at. Putting away my maternity clothes was so painful. Even worse for me was putting away the few baby items my mom had sent me just a couple days before we lost our baby. My best friend was pregnant, too, when we lost our baby and she was with us in the hospital for a few hours before our baby was actually born. Then, for weeks afterward, she was panicked over every little gas bubble she felt, even going to the hospital a few times just to be checked out. And when she was in labor, the L&D room she was brought to was the exact same room when i had been. She said she took one look at the room and said, “Absolutely NOT! Take me to a different room.”

    My most recent birth ended with an undesired c/sec for a persistent breech position (and couldn’t find a practitioner who would attempt vaginal breech). And even though I felt very honored and respected in this birth, there was still a lot of emotional baggage I had to deal with. When I came home, it took me weeks to put away certain items that reminded me that my birth ended in a c/sec. It was as if I wanted my home to remain locked in time from before the birth…that somehow “changing” it would force me to realize that I wasn’t pregnant anymore, that our baby didn’t turn head-down, and that I had a c-section instead of the normal birth I was deeply desiring.

    Thanks for your honesty…it’s a blessing and is sure to encourage others as well!

    • Thanks for your comments. I’m so sorry about your baby. I strongly dislike the term “incompetent cervix” too–as I also dislike “irritable uterus,” “inadequate pelvis,” etc. COME ON!

      I’m also sorry about your recent cesarean–I definitely know that it is possible to hold both feelings simultaneously (happiness about your baby and regret/disappointment about the cesarean).

  5. I can find few words to express my respect for your ability to consciously live your life and to willingly share your emotions, thoughts and experiences with others. Awareness brings fear, pain, anxiety into sharper focus. But it also brings greater joy and a clarity of sight that heightens the life experience. You truly LIVE your life.

    It seems odd to say this to you but your words have helped heal sore places in my heart from my experience with loss 23 years ago. Thank you, my wise young friend.

    I believe you already know but I want to remind you – I’m holding you and your tiny baby in my heart and in my prayers.

    • Thank you, Mary Alice. This meant a lot to me. I know we all process our losses in our own ways, but we all never forget. I can’t help but write about things–it is like I am *compelled* to do so.

      I think a lot of people are holding us in their hearts and that makes me feel so good–that is one reason I decided to start sharing my news, because I thought, “it couldn’t hurt to have other people being hopeful for me, and it might actually help!” 🙂

  6. I’ve found that miscarriage touches everyone differently, it’s kinda like “Wow” I feel this way and you feel that way, there’s no wrong or right. I cried on and off for months when a friend said she didn’t. Mine was at 10 weeks between daughter 2 and 3 and getting pass the 10 week period was always rough trying not to think what might happen or what happened before. Everyone is also different in when they get pregnant again some right away some not till after the baby would have been born, I find that interesting too. We choose to wait, it just felt right to us. I was still a mess for awhile, and I worked with two pregnant moms who were due the same time so that made it even harder and I felt like this isn’t fair, looking back I can see where that is probably why it took a lot longer to heal (maybe?). I agree with the pregnancy traumatized never thought if it that way. Pregnancies after the miscarriage were not announced to everybody right away like the previous ones. I still stop and pause and think I’d have a ___ yr old right now every so often.
    Hopefully I don’t sound too rambling.

    I’m happy for you and your family!

  7. Pingback: Pregnancy Loss Blog Carnival + Noah’s Trees « Footprints on My Heart

  8. So true. You reminded me of something. In my pregnancy with Blanka – my 3rd pregnancy within the space of a year – I absolutely WOULD NOW invest one penny into maternity clothes until I couldn’t breathe anymore. It was ridiculous, looking back. I remember going to an appointment in the 5 month – still wearing my normal clothes – and wondering if I might have to cut off my skirt because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to unzip and remove like a normal person. I didn’t think of that aspect until I read this. You are so right – pregnancy trauma.

  9. Pregnancy trauma. Wow. This makes perfect sense to me. As I patiently wait each month for another positive test, in the back of my mind I am very aware that the joy will only last a moment. Fear will set in, and while I’d like to think that at 14 weeks, it will subside – by now I have read way too many stories that will keep me from relaxing until that perfectly healthy baby is in my arms.

    As far as this: “someone else’s pregnancy announcement—because it seems hopelessly naïve” when I shared the news of my pregnancy at 6 weeks with a girl who had suffered a miscarriage, she definitely looked at me like I was hopelessly naive. Unfortunately, she was right.

  10. The part that resounded with me was the comments that the boys have made in regards to the current pregnancy, and how it’s so unfair that our innocent little children have lost a piece of their innocence. They shouldn’t be thinking of death at all, really, and especially about their sibling! (And possibly their mom, if they were exposed to anything like the blood, a hospital visit, etc.)

    Michelle

  11. My mother experienced a miscarriage (after years of infertility) when I was a young teen, and a dear friend of mine experienced several miscarriages before and during my pregnancy. I was a wreck, convinced that I was going to A. not be able to get pregnant or B. loose my baby. I was so deliriously happy that I was scared to my toes that I would have it all dashed away. At week 12, when I heard my baby’s heartbeat, I sort of breathed a sigh of relief that the worst was over and began enjoying my pregnancy. I was completely blessed with an uncomplicated pregnancy and a healthy baby. I did not take one bit of that for granted!

    I hope in my next pregnancy I can relax a little more. But it’s so hard even just KNOWING the negative possibilities, not even having EXPERIENCED them. I pray that all goes well with your pregnancy and maybe your future expeirences can be tinged with more hope than fear.

    • This is a very good point, Andrea. I’m experiencing that effect during this pregnancy as well–I’ve known so many women with losses and read so many stories and also so many “worse” things than what happened to me (even though I try to avoid quantifying loss as “better” or worse,” since loss is loss) that I have some vicarious trauma stored up from all of that too and just have a heightened sense that anything could go wrong at any time. It stinks to feel this way!

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