Mental Health After Miscarriage, Pregnancy Loss, Termination, Stillbirth, & Infant Death
Read our Navigating Trauma webpage.
Perinatal loss is an unexpected, traumatic, and life-changing event (Caccitore, 2013; Gold, Leon, Boggs, & Sen, 2016; Kersting & Wagner, 2012).
It can cause severe distress (Gold, Leon, Boggs, & Sen, 2016) presenting as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal ideations (Caccitore, 2013; Caccitore, Schnebly, & Froen, 2008; Gold, Boggs, Muzik, & Sen, 2014; Gold & Johnson, 2014; Hutti, 2004).
Bereaved mothers have 4 times greater odds of depressive symptomatology and 7 times increased odds of post-traumatic stress disorder than non-bereaved mothers (Gold, 2016).
Women pregnant after stillbirth had a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression compared with women with a previous live birth. Looking at the postpartum period, women who had experienced a stillbirth continued to be at greater risk for anxiety than women who had not experienced a stillbirth (Gravensteen et. al., 2018).
The existence of mental health problems is also an added risk factor for poor fetal outcomes during a subsequent pregnancy (Gold, Leon, Boggs, & Sen, 2016) and can negatively affect the attachment to this child (Gaudet, Sejourne, Camborieux, Rogers, & Chabrol, 2010; Hutti, 2004).
After this type of loss, a mother’s values, beliefs, and spirituality can be challenged.
The experience of death at birth is an existential dilemma (Uren & Wastell, 2002).
The mother’s assumptive world is jeopardized (Uren & Wastell, 2002) and things that once had meaning to her no longer do.
LOSS AFFECTS EVERYDAY LIFE
The death of an infant impairs a mother’s day-to-day functioning (Kersting & Wagner, 2012; Jaffe, 2014).
Mothers report changed appetite and sleep patterns, decreased social participation, decreased marital satisfaction, and increased isolation (Caccitore, Froen, & Killian, 2013; Caccitore, Schnebly, & Froen, 2008; Kersting & Wagner, 2012).
This type of loss frequently affects her professional career and relationships with workplace colleagues (Caccitore, 2013; Jaffe, 2014).
CULTURAL REACTIONS TO THE DEATH OF A BABY
Perinatal loss leads to the deconstruction of motherhood and role confusion (Caccitore, 2013).
Society does not recognize this type of death, and without a live baby in her arms, the mother has lost her maternal identity (Caccitore, 2013). This is also known as disenfranchised grief.
There is social pressure to forget the baby who died, move on, and try to have other children (Caccitore, 2013).
Perinatal loss also carries a stigma with it, leaving these mothers to feel shame and guilt (Caccitore, 2013; Kersting & Wagner, 2012).
Women report a discrepancy between the intensity of their grief and the extent to which they are allowed to express it (Uren & Wastell, 2002).
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