16 March 2011

More Than Three Years Of Grief

A significant share of mental health issues are congenital. But, episodes of severe stress, grief and trauma don't fit this pattern. Miscarriage and stillbirth is one common, but profound stressor.

Women who have lost babies to miscarriage and stillbirth experience unusually high levels of depression and anxiety during new pregnancies and for nearly three years after delivering healthy infants. . . . Many women become depressed and anxious after losing a baby during pregnancy, and these reactions often persist after carrying another child to term[.]

From here.

Infant morality is now much lower than it used to be, so few Americans will have to bury very young children, something that my grandparents and almost all of the generations before them often experienced. But, it is estimated that about one in three pregnancies ends with a miscarriage or stillbirth, which means that the average American woman will experience at least one in a lifetime.

My mother experienced this before I was born. My wife and I experienced this before our children were born. Even people who welcome pregnancies routinely keep this very private for the first three months, when the risk of a miscarriage is greatest, so that they won't have to endure the discomfort of explaining what happened to everyone who knew.

This is one of the more emotionally potent experiences that a person can encounter. When it happened to us, we remembered it in a little ceremony for just the two of us in the mountains. For better, or for worse, this grief is rarely a community event. It can be a painful, silent, lonely grief.

People are resilient. Eventually, they do reach a point where the present overwhelms the potency of life's past heartbreaks. But, the time it takes to reach that point is often much longer than the pregnancy itself.

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