Anxiety Early in Subsequent Pregnancies

QUESTION

Dear Experts,
I have suffered 4 losses in the past year and a half. I am now just over 5 weeks pregnant and I am a basket case. Every time I am waiting for my beta results, I cry like a baby until I get them. My last results only doubled in 73 hours, so now I am in a complete state of panic! How do I deal with it?

Thank you.

ANSWER

We are so sorry that you've had to endure so much grief over the past year and a half. Your anxiety is perfectly understandable. Because of your past experiences, it's only natural that you would feel vulnerable to more loss, and brace yourself for the worst. If all of your pregnancies have ended in the first couple of months, you may not be able to relax until you are well into your second trimester. You are a grieving mother.

First, make sure that you are under the care or consultation of a high-risk pregnancy specialist. There are treatments that a general obstetrician may not be familiar with, and it is reasonable for you to seek second and third opinions.

Secondly, it may help you to set aside some time for yourself to grieve for your babies who died. By identifying your feelings and finding ways to express them, you can work through and let go and find a perspective that will help you cope with what has happened and what will be. You might try journaling, writing poetry, making a quilt, planting a flower garden, going on a trip, or doing any other creative or nurturing activity that helps you affirm these short lives or claim your motherhood to these babies. And by working through your feelings of grief (which may include sadness, despair, guilt, failure, hopelessness, anxiety, etc.) you will be able to feel some sense of moving forward toward healing, even as you attempt to conceive another baby.

Finally, although your panic is a natural result of your repeated losses, you might seek counseling or therapy in order to cope with your anxiety, which is more than just normal "jitters" or concern. A skilled counselor who understands the depth of your loss and anxiety can help you grieve for the babies who died, and help you bear the anxiety and turmoil of current or pregnancy.

We wish you the best,
-- Debbie and Mara
The Childbirth Complication Expert Team

Davis and Stein

Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D. and Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D. are the authors of Parenting Your Premature Baby and Child: The Emotional Journey, a 2004 National Parenting Publications Awards "Gold Award" winner. They also collaborated on Parent: You and Your Baby in the NICU (2002), as part of the nationwide March of Dimes NICU Project. They.ve been invited to regularly contribute to Advances in Neonatal Care, a neonatal nursing journal; their first article appears in Spring 2005. They are the founding members of Partners in Perinatal and Pediatric Consulting, which promotes developmentally supportive care for babies and parents, as well as collaboration between families and health care professionals.

Dr. Stein is a clinical psychologist in private practice, specializing in the emotional aspects of coping with crisis and adjustment around pregnancy and parenting. She is regularly invited to lecture and give workshops on these issues throughout the country to conferences of physician and nursing groups, doulas, and lactation consultants. Since 1997, she has been consulting with organizations and providing training to health care providers, guiding their efforts to improve the level of psychological support and developmentally supportive care to families during and subsequent to perinatal crisis.

Dr. Davis is a developmental psychologist, researcher, and writer who specializes in perinatal and neonatal crisis, medical ethics, parental bereavement, parent education, and child development. Dr. Davis is the author of four books for bereaved parents, Empty Cradle, Broken Heart (Fulcrum, 1991; 1996), Loving and Letting Go (Centering, 1993; 2002), Fly Away Home (Centering, 2000) and Stillbirth, Yet Still Born (PILC, 2000). She is also on the Board of the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance (PLIDA.org) and is regularly invited to write articles for professional periodicals and parent support materials.