Content Warning: This story contains details related to anxiety after miscarriages.
I am pregnant with my second child and am filled with doubt, fear, and anxiety.
You might be asking yourself why, considering that it sounds like I’ve done this before. The truth is, yes, I have been pregnant before. Four times before, specifically. My husband and I endured a long journey to get our daughter. And now, even though I am lucky to have a living child, I am once again coping with severe anxiety after my history of multiple miscarriages.
Before now, I have never shared any parts of this story publicly. Every October during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month I think it might be time, but always hesitate. This year I finally feel ready to share some parts of our journey in hopes that someone else can feel less alone and perhaps find comfort.
My hope is that by sharing someone might find additional tools to help them with coping with anxiety after miscarriages. Writing this is a form of continued healing for me. As I write this, the first baby we lost would be celebrating their third birthday. Writing about these losses is cathartic now when previously it would have been too painful.
Four years ago, my husband and I joyfully decided that we were ready to become parents. We happily began trying to conceive and pulled the goalie, as they say. We were casual at first and filled with excitement. After a few months, with no positive pregnancy test, out came the ovulation strips, and the basal thermometer, and supplements. Six months later, I became pregnant. We were thrilled and told our closest family and friends almost immediately. I don’t regret this and feel that when to tell (or not) is a deeply personal choice.
We lost our first baby not too long after we told family and friends. I will never forget the nurse on the phone, saying gently, “I am so incredibly sorry, but this pregnancy is not viable.” Her voice is engraved into my memory. We ended 2015 in celebration and started 2016 swallowed by grief.
After that, we waited for a full cycle, as directed, and tried again. We immediately got pregnant. This time, we were optimistic but nervous. Surely, a miscarriage wouldn’t happen twice?
Wrong. After just five weeks of pregnancy, we lost that baby as well.
We waited again, and tried again, and wouldn’t you know, were pregnant again by late May. By many people’s standards, we were lucky. “At least you can get pregnant!” folks would say. We did not feel lucky and were filled with fear. At this point, all of the giddy excitement of the early days of conception and pregnancy were long gone. We still had a small thread of hope. Surely, we thought, no one would be so unlucky as to experience three losses in a row.
We lost our third baby too. I was just shy of nine weeks pregnant. We’d even had two ultrasounds with positive results. Like many others who have been through miscarriages, I felt lied to. Cheated. Betrayed by my body. I was also filled with dread and left coping with anxiety after recurrent miscarriages.
Three. Three pregnancy losses back-to-back in a six-month span. My spouse and I were drained emotionally and physically. We had been trying to have a baby for more than a year and I wanted to give up.
Thankfully, my OB sent me to see an incredible reproductive endocrinologist, who performed a comprehensive array of testing. However, the testing did not guarantee an answer. I remember in the first meeting with the doctor, she said, “Miscarriage is common. Three in a row is not. The reasoning for this is often complicated. I want you to know that we could get to the end of this testing and have no answer for you.”
We went through testing anyway, knowing that we might never get a “why.” My husband only had one test to complete, but I had blood draws at least weekly for two months. There were ultrasounds, physical exams, and even more blood work. Eventually, it was determined that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition found in about 5-10% of women that affects hormones, fertility, insulin production and resistance, and more. PCOS also causes a much higher than average rate of miscarriage. At the end of the testing, I was given a 10% chance of carrying a baby to full term given my loss history.
Eventually, through the use of hormones, medications, and a lot of luck, I successfully became pregnant again in September 2016. This time, we beat the odds and I gave birth to our daughter in June 2017. I know that I am very fortunate. So many women have different stories to tell and are still longing for a baby. Every time I look at my daughter, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the beautiful child I was able to bring into this world through determination, science, and a lot of bravery.
It likely won’t be a surprise that throughout my pregnancy with our daughter I was often overcome with feelings of fear, doubt, and anxiety. Then, and with my current pregnancy, I have occasions where I am absolutely convinced that the worst will happen.
Loss history aside, according to the National Institutes of Health, 10.5% of mothers will be diagnosed with perinatal generalized anxiety disorder (PGAD).
It is estimated that as many as 23% of pregnant women self-report anxiety symptoms to their physicians. Even more women never report their feelings of anxiety. For all of us, those 40 weeks of pregnancy are long and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by fear.
During my pregnancy with my daughter, I did find some things that helped with coping with anxiety after miscarriages, and I am excited to share them with you.
The first thing that made a difference in my emotional and mental well-being was therapy. It took a few first meetings with various therapists, but once I found someone I connected with, the experience was truly invaluable. Every time I felt the chest tightening pangs of anxiety creep up on me, I could call my therapist for an appointment and talk it through. She gave me a host of coping skills including breathing exercises and yoga that helped.
Along with talking to a therapist, I found that occasionally talking to family and friends helped. Some days, it still hurts me to talk about our losses. But other days, it meant so much to know that others were sitting with us in our grief. While I was pregnant with my daughter, this was especially helpful, as I was grieving the loss of three babies while carrying another.
Another source of support is my Obstetrician. I must call my OB’s office two to four times per week throughout my pregnancies. At this point, the nurses know my voice. Find a practice that knows how to help you in coping with anxiety after miscarriages, and doesn’t treat your questions like an annoyance. The practice I go to makes sure to tell me that I never bother them and that there truly are no stupid questions. Having the option to ask someone whether or not things are normal can truly help put your nerves to rest.
Anxiety after miscarriages, like grief, comes in waves.
It is important to face the waves as they come. My feelings of nervousness and panic creep in and build up the closer I get to a doctor’s appointment. My spouse and close friends know that I will likely need extra support during that time. There are other waves of anxiety that aren’t predictable and leave me feeling blindsided. I face them head-on, knowing that just like at the ocean, they will retreat.
Make sure you take care of yourself and practice self-love. Infertility and pregnancy loss have a way of making women feel like their bodies have failed them. After decades of combating self-loathing and finally working hard to get to a place where I loved my body (thanks, therapy), miscarriage sent me right back to cursing my body daily. I wound up sure that no pregnancy would ever work out because my body couldn’t do anything right.
If this happens to you, talk to people about it. Find ways to celebrate yourself and your body. Do physical things you enjoy that make you feel good. For me, that was yoga and long walks with my dog. For you, it could be running or hiking or gardening or dancing or snowshoeing. Just find a way to move that you don’t hate, and make time to do it.
In an online support group I was once part of, we had a mantra for when you got to the dark and twisty place of anxiety and fear: Today, I am pregnant. If you too are coping with anxiety after miscarriages, I invite you to repeat this to yourself. If it helps, place a hand on your belly while breathing slowly, and repeat it over and over. This small phrase can be a big reminder to take things one day at a time and not go down the rabbit hole of an all too unpredictable future.
Lastly, celebrate milestones during pregnancy in a way that makes sense for you. It could be a very public social media announcement or no public sharing at all. It could look like taking special note of trimesters or developmental milestones. For my spouse and me, every week is a celebration. Every week, we get closer to viability and holding a baby in our arms, and further away from the restlessness of the first trimester. Every week that passes in pregnancy we high five and do a happy dance. The anxiety and fear never truly leave, but eventually, the waves of anxiety become smaller and crash less often.
If you have experienced a miscarriage know you are not alone. Here are some local and national resources you may find helpful: