The “P” in my PTSD should stand for pregnancy loss – because pregnancy loss is what has created my post-traumatic stress syndrome.
My PTSD stems from the stillbirth of my daughter.
I know outside of the loss community people don’t often want to hear about the trauma that is associated with the death of our children. Thinking PTSD is reserved for war veterans, but anyone can get PTSD and in the case of pregnancy loss, the trauma that we experience as our children are so confusingly born into this world, yet have already died inside us, is one of those reasons.
A recent study found that after miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, 1 in 6 women may experience PTSD symptoms for up to nine months after her loss. And for many women, pregnancy loss might be the most traumatic event they have experienced in their life.
Below are some of the criteria for PTSD, along with my own experience added, to share with others how my PTSD is shaped explicitly by pregnancy loss.
Yours might look different.
Symptoms of my PTSD from Pregnancy Loss:
1. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both the following are present:
- The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with a pregnancy that ended abruptly, never began, or resulted in the death of their unborn/newborn child.
- The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror as they were forced to intensely participate in the birth of their dead child, which also resulted in the demise of their hopes and dreams.
2. The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one (or more) of the following ways:
- Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the delivery or loss of pregnancy and child.
- Nightmares of the event or associated dreams such as: of your husband now dying, your dog dying, future babies you do not have dying.
- Horrific things happening that you did not dream of before the event.
- Flashbacks to the moment when you heard the words, “No Heartbeat” and “I’m sorry your baby is dead” from doctors and nurses.
- Intense psychological and physiological distress and reactivity at exposure to triggers from the event and reminders of not having the child you planned for (i.e., exposure to hospitals, living babies, pregnant women, the empty nursery, your menstrual cycle, and even car seats make your heart race.)
3. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and emotional numbing including:
- Efforts to avoid thoughts (of your baby and the way it was supposed to be), feelings (sad, anxious, guilt, grief, anger, confusion, despair, etc.), conversations about the event (“How’s the baby?” is the worst. I try to avoid that one all the time.).
- Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma (baby showers, your doctor’s clinic, ultrasounds, friend’s newborn babies, pregnant women, thinking about getting pregnant again…I could go on).
- Feeling detached and estranged from others – Ah, Yeah!
- Especially from people whose pregnancies result in living children.
- The sense of a foreshortened future – YES!
- Thinking – “My child didn’t live, why should my life be all of a sudden guaranteed.”
4. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the loss):
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep – Who sleeps well after knowing the worst can happen to them and has.
- Irritability – Having a short fuse because life has played a cruel joke on you.
- Difficulty focusing – On anything but your grief.
5. Duration of the experience is more than one month.
When I wrote this, it had been a few months post-loss. Still, seven years post-loss I sometimes experience these symptoms.
6. Causes clinically significant distress or impairment of everyday functioning.
Yes! Your life is never the same, people at work think you should get over it but you can’t focus, your relationship struggles in ways you never thought it would.
Even doing a simple task like going to Target is impossible because you cry every time you walk by the baby section.
In conclusion, I think I have it.
I have PTSD, but my “P” stands for pregnancy loss.
I want readers to know that you can have PTSD/PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder/Post-Traumatic Stress) from a pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or the death of your child AND it’s okay to seek help.
I wrote this piece to let people see that even someone who has access to all the skills and resources as a Mental Health Therapist, can still get sideswiped by life and experience mental health struggles – like PTSD from pregnancy loss.
If you feel that some of the symptoms described in my version of PTSD from pregnancy loss apply to you, please consider talking to a professional counselor or therapist to help you address your pain.
I know that seeing a therapist at first might be scary, but finding the right one has helped me address my traumatic grief and PTSD from the stillbirth of my daughter.
I will never forget my trauma or grief. Instead, I try to integrate it into my life as part of my story — a piece I hold close to my heart.
To find a therapist in your area check out the resources below:
*A version of this article was originally published at Still Standing Magazine.