When I first lost a baby I wondered if I would get lost in a sea of depression for the oncoming season. Then these words came to mind as an inner strength: ‘you have a choice’. Although I did experience sadness and frustration after that loss, I was proactive in self-care: physical, emotional and spiritual. Depression was not part of that grief journey. After my fourth loss, however, things were different. I was recovering from a second surgery where I had lost a second fallopian tube due to ectopic pregnancies (where the baby develops outside of the womb). I found that I was no longer able to conceive children naturally. The shock of processing that news and the spiritual questions I had about what had happened put me into a season of depression until those things could be addressed and worked through.
What is depression?
Although professional medical help is often used only after these symptoms have been present for several weeks or months, it is not uncommon for women to experience symptoms of depression as part of their healing from miscarriage and pregnancy loss. It is important to recognize them so that you and those around you can be proactive in helping you strengthen your mental health after your loss. Here are some of the symptoms associated with depression:
- Lack of motivation
- Increased fatigue
- Loss of interest in activities
- Loss of appetite/comfort eating
- Lack of concentration
- Feelings of deep sadness
- Being tearful
- Feelings of despair
Why does depression occur after pregnancy loss?
Miscarriage and pregnancy loss always incur some sort of trauma and that trauma takes time to work through. Tiredness from the grieving process as well as hormonal imbalances can all influence our mental health. When pregnancy loss grief is faced with plenty of self-care and kindness, it can still take time, but sometimes there are obstacles to a healthy grieving process and depression can set in. When other life transitions and stresses (like a job or house change) happen around the same time of the loss, any extra strain can make depression more likely too.
Johann Hari in his book ‘Lost Connections’ proposes that we all have basic psychological needs which include feeling that we belong, that we are valued and that we are good at something. When those needs aren’t met and we become disconnected from others, then it is easy for depression to overtake us. When we lose a baby then we are often met with feelings of inadequacy and feelings that we no longer belong because we have left the ‘pregnant women group’. Some of us may question what is wrong with our bodies – why are we no good at maintaining a pregnancy? It is no wonder that we are vulnerable to depression after miscarriage or pregnancy loss.
Although depression is common after pregnancy loss, it doesn’t always have to be part of your miscarriage grief journey, and there are things you can do to make yourself more resilient to depression. Fighting depression is hard because the motivation that we usually have in life to fight against something has gone. Depression feels too hard to stand up against at times. For that reason, we need to take a step by step approach to depression – taking small steps that don’t feel so overwhelming.
Some things that can help with depression after miscarriage or pregnancy loss:
1. Better out than in
Depression is often unexpressed pain turned inward. Because miscarriage pain is often misunderstood and seemingly unaccepted by society, women often don’t know how to express their pain in helpful ways and so the pain gets pushed down, dulling positive emotions at the same time, leading to an emotional depression. Facing our pain in healthy ways – by talking to others, writing, doing art activities, creating meaningful private or public memorials to your child etc can all help express that pain in a healthy way.
2. Find the support of others
One of the reasons women sometimes feel depressed after miscarriage is because they are looking for support from those closest to them, such as their partner, and those closest to them may not understand or share the pain. That can feel isolating. When we feel isolated, depression is worse. So finding someone who understands and who has perhaps been through what we are going through can be important. If our partner is struggling with the loss too (or seemingly unaffected) then their support may also be limited. Try and find other friends or family members who can help you process your loss. The right person may not be someone who has also been through pregnancy loss but someone who knows how to listen. Bear in mind that different women grieve loss differently so don’t be compare your grief to theirs. Just focus on your next step.
Also read: What pregnancy loss really looks like
3. Spiritual help
Many women find that spiritual help is part of their breakthrough for depression. It can be as simple as asking God to help you – even if you aren’t sure He exists! Check out this link for examples of some prayers that you may find helpful, even if you have never prayed before and are not sure how. Many places of worship also have pastoral counseling services available.
4. Don’t be afraid to get medical help.
If depression is lasting more than a few weeks; if you feel stuck in processing your grief or if you are feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate in getting medical help. Local doctors can point you towards the right professionals or you could check out online counseling services such as through betterhelp.com.
5. Practice self-care
Overcoming depression is, as I have said, often a step-by-step process and can be as much about prevention than cure. Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. We need to make sure we are giving ourselves enough physical, emotional and spiritual care to help us gain mental strength. Think about activities which have given you life before your loss and try and incorporate one each day. It can be a mixture of smaller and larger ideas – a mid-morning cup of coffee and 10 minutes reading a fiction book or organizing a spa-day with a friend. You may like to check out the quick guide I have put together with 10 ideas for self-care after miscarriage and pregnancy loss here.
Lost Connections – Johann Hari
Interesting online article by Johann entitled: Everything you think you know about depression is wrong