PTSD After Pregnancy Loss

I have taken the bones (and admittedly, most of the meat) from the post, PTSD after childbirth, to construct this post. I know personally and from talking to others that women can experience Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Post-partum Depression (PPD) following birth losses. We enter our pregnancies with the fear of loss in the background – some worry more than others – but ultimately expect to be holding our beautiful babies in a mere 8 months after getting that BFP (big “fat” positive) on the home pregnancy test. I myself have been pregnant 4 times and have one living child. I have a lot to be thankful for. But 3 consecutive losses were almost too much for me.http://www.flickr.com/photos/parapet/

Yes, women can and do experience PTSD and PPD after miscarriage, pre-term birth loss, and still birth. The Florida Psychotherapy blog applies the DSM-IV-TR to childbirth related trauma. Let me apply the criteria outlined in that post to PTSD after loss(es).

According to the DSM-IV-TR, the following criteria must be met to be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

A. The person has experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others AND the person’s response involved fear, helplessness or horror.

How a prospective mother views early pregnancy can contribute to PTSD. One of my sister-in-laws had an early loss but wasn’t terribly affected by it. I was shattered after my first loss. How did the prospective mother react to her loss? Did she panic? Did she cry a lot? Does she remember the entire experience? Has she withdrawn from her life? These and other reactions can be stress responses to her loss.

B. The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in at least one of the following ways:

  • Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event.
  • Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
  • Acting or feeling as though the event were recurring (including flashbacks when waking or intoxicated).
  • Intense psychological stress at exposure to events that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the event.

Women who have experienced pregnancy losses can have nightmares about her losses. Strong images and flashbacks may occur at random moments, or she may have trouble NOT thinking about her experiences with pregnancy loss. Women who do participate in support groups and especially on-line forums need to be careful here. By continuing to relive and replay the experience, you may slow down your recovery.

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma or numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the event) as indicated by at least three of the following:

  • Effort to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the event.
  • Efforts to avoid activities or situations which arouse recollections of the event.
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the event (psychogenic amnesia.)
  • Markedly diminished interest in significant activities, such as hobby or leisure time activity.
  • Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others.
  • Restricted range of affect; eg, inability to experience emotions such as feelings of love.
  • Sense of a foreshortened future such as not expecting to have a career, more children or a long life.

Here are some examples of how this many manifest. She may avoid places where she is most likely to encounter other pregnant women – play groups, gynecologist, church, heck . . . even the grocery store. She may have trouble relating to other friends with children and friends who are currently pregnant. She may be unable to watch shows that feature pregnancy and birth, look at milk cartons, hear about abused or murdered children, etc. She may no longer find pleasure in activities she once enjoyed. She may avoid sex and/or intimacy with her partner. She may not remember that she was bleeding all over the bathroom and that her young daughter saw the blood . . .

D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the event) as indicated by at least two of the following:

  • Difficulty in falling or staying asleep.
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Hyper-vigilance.
  • Exaggerated startle response.
  • Physiological reactivity on exposure to events that resemble an aspect of the event, eg breaking into a sweat or palpitations.

Moms may have an anxiety reaction when driving past their birth centers or hospitals. They may get anxious when discussing the birth or when birth stories come up in conversation. They may also feel detached from their baby, partner, family, or friends.

E. B, C, and D must be present for at least one month after the traumatic event.

I certainly experienced many of the above symptoms. I had an outright panic attack shortly after my first loss. After my second and third losses I was taking medicine to keep that from happening. I’ve had an incredibly difficult time concentrating since my losses began. I’m doing better now, but last Spring was agonizing.

F. The traumatic event caused clinically significant distress or dysfunction in the individual’s social, occupational, and family functioning or in other important areas of functioning.

Like postpartum depression, PTSD is highly treatable, meaning the woman can get better, sometimes very quickly. Treatment options include

  • talk therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • medications and herbs
  • acupuncture
  • body therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), biofeedback, and hypnosis

I wasn’t able to recover quickly or easily and was prone to relapses. My last relapse was in August 2008. I went to a therapist and got tired of being told that “this is normal.” There is nothing normal about considering suicide. That is NOT an acceptable response, in my opinion, to any situation – merely “stressful” or absolutely traumatic. There is nothing normal about excessive drinking. There is nothing normal about not wanting to be around your partner or child (children). There is nothing normal about being nearly incapacitated for months and months. There is nothing normal about going out drinking and accidentally getting so drunk that you throw up in public, have to be driven home, black out, and want to kill yourself all over again. Of course, this last paragraph is MY situation, and I’m sure it may seem a normal response to recurrent pregnancy loss, but that doesn’t make it ok. I share these deep dark secrets with you so that you know if you experience these same or similar things, that you’re not alone. It may be normal, but it’s not ok. Please get help!

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