Pregnancy after loss can be emotionally draining. For many, it produces tremendous anxiety. If you’re struggling with pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage, the tips in this article should help you manage the pregnancy stress. Also learn more about pregnancy after miscarriage anxiety and how we often perpetuate that cycle.
Looking to support someone through pregnancy after miscarriage? This article is for you, too! And once shower time comes, celebrate by giving one of the best rainbow baby gifts for mom.
My Experience with Pregnancy Anxiety After Miscarriage
Managing extreme pregnancy stress after loss is something I know A LOT about. Far more than I’d like to.
Having 4 consecutive miscarriages without a living child, each pregnancy came with its own set of fears. Learn more about my experience with recurrent miscarriage.
I became expert in constructing emotional walls.
By the time I was pregnant with Jack, I’d built these walls SO high, y’all. I wish I were kidding with this next fact, but I’m not.
I checked into the hospital to be induced still not believing Jack would actually get to come home with us.
Denial is a Form of Protection From Anxiety
The night I checked into the hospital to be induced with Jack, I asked Husband to take me to have the best cheese dip in Atlanta. I couldn’t eat a bite.
Through our entire dinner, my mind kept racing as I thought through logistics.
“If we get to bring Jack, home,” I would say to Husband, “Should we both get up with him the first few nights, or should we take turns?”
There’s a word I want you to notice here, dear reader.
If. Everything was if.
This is the experience of pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage.
I felt zero sense of certainty that Jack would be born safely and come home with us.
I had planned nothing. His nursery was ready, but I’d done even that almost begrudgingly.
Coping with Pregnancy Stress
Here the point. I’ve developed a lot of coping mechanisms for making it through pregnancy after loss. I also have some serious suggestions for what NOT to do.
Thanks to the help of amazing mental healthcare, I’ve worked through a lot of these thoughts and feelings.
I spent a lot of time in therapy to come up with these insights. I figure, why not help other women by relaying this advice?
5 Tips for Coping with Pregnancy Anxiety After Miscarriage
(1) Be an Observer of Yourself
Imagine you’re able to sit out-of-body, above yourself, observing your actions, thoughts, emotions. Ghost-of-Christmas-Past style.
What do you see yourself feeling?
This is a very different question from what do you feel? But I meant it the first way. Write your answers down.
- What do you see yourself feeling?
- What actions do you see yourself taking?
- How do you see those actions impacting your emotions?
- Does the action make you feel better short-term?
- If so, do you feel inclined to do it more often? Or do you remain inclined to do it the same amount?
A Concrete Example of Self-Observation
Here’s a specific example of how self-observation can help healthily manage pregnancy stress.
When I was released from my fertility specialist to a regular OB, I was terrified. In response to my fear, I ordered a fetal doppler. At least this way I could hear my baby’s heartbeat when I needed to, I thought.
After 4 miscarriages, my pregnancy anxiety was through the roof, and I wanted this tool to help.
Except I was released at 7 ½ weeks. You cannot easily hear a baby’s heartbeat on a fetal doppler until sometime between weeks 11 and 12 weeks. Clearly, there was a disconnect in my thinking. Please, for the love of God, take my advice. DO NOT try to find your baby’s heartbeat on a fetal doppler before you’re AT LEAST 10-11 weeks along.
And if you do it that early, prepare yourself for not finding anything. You very well might not, even if all is well.
I waited until 11 weeks to start using my doppler. I knew I would freak if I tried too early and couldn’t find a heartbeat.
Even with this precaution, I was hesitant to tell my therapist I’d bought a doppler. This is the struggle of pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage. I wanted to doppler to make me feel less anxious, but I knew that using it was perpetuating my own anxiety. I’ll explain why.
Anxiety Feedback Loops
“You need to be really careful with that,” my therapist explained, when I told him about the doppler.
And he knew I knew why. You see, when you feel anxiety and seek reassurance, one of two things will happen.
- You will not get the reassurance you’re looking for (i.e. not finding a heartbeat on the doppler)
- You will get the reassurance you’re looking for (i.e. finding a heartbeat on the doppler)
In the case of #2, you create a negative feedback loop in which your brain begins to crave the mechanism that brought you reassurance. By craving it, anxiety increases, and you rely on that mechanism more and more often.
Hello increased anxiety. This feedback loop is true for all anxiety, not just pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage.
The problem is with the feel relief part. I loved my doppler because it made me feel relief. But because it allowed my to feel relief, I craved it more and more. Thus, while I felt less anxious in the short-term because I’d used the doppler, it led to more and greater levels of anxiety over time.
At least it would have if I had not observed that pattern and stopped it.
When I heard a heartbeat on the doppler, I visualized a signal being sent to the subconscious part of by brain.
I imagined that signal saying, “You were right to worry about the baby. Thank you for alerting me. Stay on alert. Feel all the pregnancy stress.”
Even though avoiding the doppler was hard, by NOT using it every time I experienced the anxiety of pregnancy after miscarriage, I could break the feedback loop’s cycle.
Each time I felt anxiety about the baby but didn’t use the doppler, I would eventually come down from my panic and feel relief.
At that point, I saw a different signal being sent to my subconscious.
“False alarm. Pregnancy stress should calm without greater cause.”
In the short term, this was harder, but long-term, it helped my anxiety diminish greatly. I was actively able to diminish my pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage!
How Do You Avoid the Behavior that Gives You Relief When You’re Experiencing Pregnancy Stress?
I’ve never heard this question, but I can imagine you asking it.
My best answer: Create a system. Give yourself control where it’s healthy to have it.
That’s what I did. I used the doppler every Monday morning.
If the circumstance were to arise where I couldn’t find a heartbeat, I could call my OB and ask to come in immediately. A negative experience with the doppler wouldn’t leave me worrying all weekend, trying for hours to find a heartbeat, or going to the ER.
When I did find the heartbeat, it was a great way to start the week. I would not use my doppler again until the next Monday morning. To boot, I would feel good all week about the control I was exerting over the situation. Win-win.
Eventually, I started forgetting about it–my subconscious learned that there was no reason to panic without cause. I didn’t stop fearing miscarriage or experiencing pregnancy anxiety.
But I didn’t develop a specific anxiety that Jack’s heart had stopped beating and I needed to check. And that, my friends, is HUGE progress!
Over time, the doppler became obsolete. Though it did help me manage an extremely anxiety-producing time in my pregnancy after loss. .
(2) Give Yourself Grace
That story isn’t to say that all went perfectly according to plan. There were times when I used the doppler when I wasn’t supposed to.
Some were seriously for good. Like after I was in a minor car accident at about 13 weeks.
I was across the country (I was in California, and I live in Atlanta, GA). The tiny local ER didn’t even have an ultrasound machine. No OB would see me.
Finding Jack’s heartbeat after that accident was the only way I was able to bring myself down from massive levels of panic.
I even recorded the heartbeat on my phone it and sent it to a friend who’s an OB to make sure it sounded right.
Here’s the sound of a heartbeat at about 12 weeks gestation, in case you’re curious:
This reassurance held me over until I got home and could follow-up with my own OB for an ultrasound.
Even When You Can’t Justify the Pregnancy Anxiety
But other times, I didn’t have as good a reason for succumbing to use of the doppler.
Sometimes, I used it because the panic was just too much.
Then, my instinct was to beat myself up for it.
BUT I DIDN’T BEAT MYSELF UP FOR IT!
And you know why?
Because pregnancy is hard. Let’s not sugarcoat it.
“Does pregnancy after miscarriage feel different?” people sometimes ask. Hell yes it does.
When you’ve been through such grief and loss, pregnancy is really f*cking hard and scary, and sometimes it can feel crippling and debilitating.
Pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage is real. If you’ve previously lost a pregnancy, you’re likely to experience increased pregnancy stress, possibly to the point of anxiety.
When this anxiety leads you to make choice you regret, please, try to move on.
Forgive yourself. Give yourself grace.
Note: You Will Not Hurt Your Baby
This seems like a useful place to make one other important note.
You are not going to hurt your baby!
The cup of coffee you’re craving.
The spin class you took.
The heavy lifting of your toddler.
The pregnancy stress.
The intense pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage.
NONE OF IT WILL HURT YOUR BABY!
Warrior mamas with severe Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) carry healthy pregnancies without holding down a single nutrient for nearly the entirety of gestation.
If this isn’t real-life evidence that stress does not cause miscarriage, I don’t know what is.
You have to drink a really excessive amount of coffee/wine/etc. to pose an increased risk to your fetus.
YOU, MAMA . . . YES, I’M TALKING TO YOU!
YOU ARE OKAY, AND YOU ARE NOT GOING TO HURT YOUR BABY!
If something serious happens, see your doctor. Otherwise, you’re okay. You can’t worry over your every move.
Just to be safe, however, don’t jump out of an airplane.
(3) One Step at a Time
One doctor’s appointment at a time, day at a time, trip to the bathroom at a time.
I know how hard this is. Pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage is awful. The anxiety feels never-ending.
Even while raising a toddler and being on birth control, and I STILL check the toilet paper every time I wipe.
I still fear blood. Trauma is not easily overcome.
No habits are easy to break, but fear-based habits die HARD.
To avoid fixating on these fears, think toward the next step. What’s your next step?
Remind yourself of what that next step will be, and know that it may not be the same as someone else’s. This is about finding what works for you.
There’s an example of what I mean in Tip 4.
(4) Find a Language for Your Feelings that Others Can Learn to Speak
For me, Tip #3 and Tip #4 were intrinsically connected.
Throughout my pregnancy with Jack (and every pregnancy before), my mom was the eternal optimist. She always believed that “this time would be different.”
Eventually she was right, but 1 out of 5 isn’t the best record.
My defense mechanism was believing the opposite…sort of.
This is where Tip # 3 comes in. I didn’t say, “No, this time won’t be different.”
Instead, I said, “Maybe. The next thing we need is to make it to X point. We’re just waiting for that point.”
Analogies Are Helpful
I’m Southern, and if there’s one thing Southerners are known for loving, it’s football. So I created an emotional conversation about my pregnancy anxiety using the analogy of football.
When blood tests showed my hcg levels rising properly, that was was a good play. We picked up a couple of yards.
A flicker of what we believed to be a fetal pole was another good play, and we gained a few more yards.
That first heartbeat. Oh, that first heartbeat. Y’all, it was a big deal.
That was a first down. You can celebrate on a first down. Clap, cheer, maybe high five your neighbor.
But everyone in the stadium knows that, on a typical drive, you need a lot of first downs to get into the endzone.
Create a Language for Positive Steps and Setbacks
At about 12 weeks, my perinatologist (high-risk specialist) found a little spot on Jack’s heart.
“It’s nothing,” she told me. “I promise you that it’s nothing.”
This is one of the drawbacks to seeing a specialist, she said. Her machines are too good, so you see things that can worry you that you would never have known about from an ultrasound with a normal OB.
When I told my mom after the appointment, she said, “Well, she told you it’s nothing, so we’re believing it’s nothing, right?”
“I trust her judgment,” I replied, “but I feel like I just got sacked.”
She understood. This was our language.
Finding yours will save you so much pregnancy stress.
(5) Ask For Help!
Did I mention that pregnancy after miscarriage is a REALLY hard time?
It’s okay to be scared, nervous, anxious, sad. It’s okay to experience small pregnancy stress, crippling anxiety, or to feel normal and excited.
Feel how you feel.
But if how you feel is bad, and you don’t think you’re handling it well, ask for help. Please.
Talk to a trusted family member or friend.
Reach out to me.
Reach out to someone you know who’s been there.
But if it at all possible, reach out to a qualified mental health professional.
I might’ve spent my entire pregnancy with Jack curled up in an anxious ball if not for my therapist. Don’t do that.
Not sure where to turn for mental healthcare?
Checkout Postpartum Support International for information about local therapists who are specifically trained in perinatal and postnatal mental health.
You Are Not Alone in Your Pregnancy Anxiety After Miscarriage
I’ve lost 4 pregnancies and carried 1 successfully. I feel you, mama.
And I we have a community of countless more women who have been there. They’ve done it. They’re all part of our tribe.
We all feel you, mama. And we’re here for you.
If you made friends in the loss community and are currently pregnant, that can be tricky as well. Check out our article on what to do if your friend had a miscarriage but you’re currently pregnant for tried and true advice.
What helped you most in managing pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.