Need help coping with multiple miscarriage
March 22, 2011 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me get over my miscarriages. I know logically that there's nothing I did that made them happen, but I can't seem to shake the feeling that a) I caused them through bad thoughts or actions, and b) that this negativity means that even if we do conceive again, I'm going to lose the next one as well because I can't make those thoughts go away.

My husband and I have been trying to conceive a second child almost since our son was born 2.5 years ago. I'm 41 now, and we had mild fertility issues requiring IUI, so we didn't want to waste time. About a year after my son's birth, after no luck naturally, we tried again via IUI. On the day of insemination, we were unable to get child care and took our son with us (the clinic also housed an OB/GYN practice and had parenting magazines in the waiting area, and when I called ahead said it would not be a problem, but still not ideal at all). We tried to be sensitive to the feelings of the handful of other patients in the waiting area, asked if they minded us having him there or wanted my husband to take him outside, etc. One couple was there with their fertility doctor and said that they not only didn't mind, that it even gave them hope since he had been conceived there. Their doctor, however, pulled me aside and told me that it didn't matter what they said, we were insensitive horrible people to have brought a child there (pretty much those exact words). I fought back as best as I could under the circumstances, but I was really shaken by the experience. But the IUI was successful. A few weeks later I saw their fertility doctor on the street in my neighborhood. I had this flashing thought that it was a bad omen. At the 6 week ultrasound, there was a good heartbeat, but the doctor warned me that the sac was small and there was low embryonic fluid, so it was likely not to survive. A week and a half later I went back in for another U/S and the heartbeat had stopped. I needed a D&C. Genetic testing was inconclusive and bloodwork showed nothing wrong with me other than my age. Subsequent IUI attempts all failed, and every time we went to the clinic I was obsessed over that other doctor not being there, that she was somehow bad luck. After a few cycles we decided to take a break for a few months.

During the hiatus, we conceived naturally. It felt like the greatest gift - that we had managed to do it ourselves, that I didn't have to go back to the clinic. I went in for the 6 week ultrasound and the heartbeat was strong and everything was normal. But I was freaked out by the prior miscarriage and asked if I could come back sooner than a month later. My OB made it pretty clear she was humoring me, but scheduled me for another appointment at 9 weeks. I went in, and when she asked me how I was feeling, I had a moment where I knew I could say "great," and instead I said "worried." There was no heartbeat. My OB is pretty stoic and has tons of experience, and I could tell she was pretty shocked - apparently miscarriage after heartbeat is only 2% of all pregnancies. (I know that 2% still represents a huge number of women, and that includes far later and more heartbreaking stories, and I am in no way trying to make my situation special snowflakey, but it's still a hard number to wrap your head around when it happens to you twice.) Again I needed a D&C, genetic testing was inconclusive, more tests were done and there's nothing wrong with me that should have caused it.

That was last August and after a couple more failed cycles trying on our own, we switched to a new fertility clinic. A lot more experience, better track record, and I feel much more comfortable there. But I can't help but feel like that couple's doctor cursed me in some way, or that my negativity cursed those fetuses somehow; that by acknowledging to my doctor that I didn't believe in my pregnancy, it caused the heart to stop beating - that if I'd said "great," it wouldn't have happened. I think these things even though I don't believe in curses, fully understand biology and that that's not how it works - that I'm being irrational. But I also know that everyone says that stress and negative thinking can negatively affect fertility - so where's the line? If being negative can keep you from conceiving, why couldn't it also keep you from bringing a baby to term? If the one is woo, then it's all woo.

TL;DR: After multiple miscarriages after heartbeat with no known cause, how do I get back to being rational about my fertility? How do I stop feeling like even if we do conceive, it's probably doomed? It seems like the very irrationality of my fears is what's making them so potent.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How awful. I'm so sorry. And I'm not aware of any evidence that stress or negative thinking can keep you from becoming pregnant. Think about all of the miserable women who have become mothers - think about women living in deprivation (i.e. most of the women on the planet, and essentially ALL of the women in human history as a whole) who, of course, had babies. "Everyone" says a lot of things about everything, especially fertility. They don't know what they're talking about. It's not your fault.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:11 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry for your troubles.

But I also know that everyone says that stress and negative thinking can negatively affect fertility

I also have fertility issues, and this has been the cruelest thing people say to me. Because by saying that, what they're really saying is -- "This is your fault." I realize that this is a way for people to distance themselves from my fertility woes, and to convince themselves that it won't happen to them. They're positive upbeat people, after all!

It's also one hundred percent complete bullshit.

You didn't do anything wrong. You did absolutely nothing wrong. You didn't jinx yourself when you said you were worried. You didn't make your baby's heart stop. You didn't, you didn't, you didn't.

I do think it would do you some good to focus not on what you think you've done wrong, but on what is going right -- your lovely son, for example, and your new fertility practice. This not because focusing on the negative will curse your future children, but because you have gone through a tough time, and you deserve to be kind to yourself. Would you tell your best friend, going through the same thing, that she'd brought these things on herself? Of course not! Then don't tell it to yourself.

If you find that you can't break out of these negative lines of thought, you might consider visiting a therapist, for some perspective. There are wonderful therapists who work with people going through fertility treatments.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sugarfish at 9:16 PM on March 22, 2011 [16 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your losses.

Fertility is a black box in a lot of ways, which makes it very frustrating for those of us who like to solve problems with our brains full of knowledge. It's absolutely OK that you continue to hunt for a cause in the absence of enough data to draw a real conclusion, that's one of the things that humans do. It doesn't make you irrational or stupid or anything except human.

What I would do in your circumstance -- actually, what I DID in similar though not identical circumstances -- is fight transrational thinking with transrational actions. You feel cursed? Do an exorcism. Or, you know, whatever. After my second miscarriage, I made a fertility charm with the help of my three best friends, who were all pregnant at the time, and I wore it until I conceived a sticky pregnancy. (More details available if you want them.) If you're a religious person, work within your faith, too. Basically pull on whatever woo resources you can bear, even if you don't believe in them.

Best of luck, and feel free to memail if you want.
posted by KathrynT at 9:22 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd like to echo moxiedoll.

I'm not a doctor or anything, and I didn't have any fertility issues. But I do have a PhD in reproductive neuroendocrinology, for what it's worth... and jeez, reproduction is the most fundamental thing to the species. If stress, even severe physiological or psychological stress fucked up reproduction too bad, then we as a species would have died out a long time ago.

It's not your brain being stressed that is making you miscarry. It's not your fault.

The reason I spent 12 years in the lab studying fertility is that there are still so many unknowns. It's so easy to blame something nebulous like "stress" when really it could be anything or nothing. Sometimes we just have to admit that we dont' have all the answers. but please, it's nothing that you are doing. Please believe that.
posted by gaspode at 9:40 PM on March 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

Mod note: comments removed - please don't do that here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:51 PM on March 22, 2011

The feeling that any pregnancy you might have in the future is doomed - this is a feeling that is shared by many women who have had a miscarriage (myself included). You want to insulate yourself from the pain of another miscarriage, so you don't let yourself feel joy or optimism about any pregnancy. It isn't self-sabotage, it's self-protection.

Grief, fear, confusion are strange things. Your potential children died and you don't know why - of course you start making up explanations about curses and stuff. It's easier for you to believe some explanation that is totally off-the-wall than that there is no explanation at all.

Given the above, I question the premise of your question. I don't think it is necessary for you to become rational with your fertility. Just feel your feelings. Feeling doom is OK. The only way I got over my feelings of doom was to carry to term - a healthy baby wiped the slate of most of the bad feelings. Should you not have the opportunity to carry to term - hope time will heal your wound. Your son will grow up, you will change, you will make memories with your family in its present configuration and these memories may grow large enough to replace the longing in your heart now with a sense of fullness.

If you give up trying to become rational, and instead focus on the question of feeling comfortable in your skin while you have these challenges in your life, you could then do general things such as meditation, breathing, yoga, exercise, or therapy as a general purpose mood lifter and stress reliever.

Sorry for your losses, hope for better luck
posted by crazycanuck at 9:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all, I am so sorry for your losses. Second, I want to assure you that "stress and negative thinking" have nothing to do with your fertility, as gaspode and others have pointed out so eloquently. And third -- you characterized your thoughts and grief as "irrational." But in fact, your response is *highly* rational: you're trying to provide a reason for unreasonable things to have happened, you're trying to make it all make sense. That is absolutely a heartbreakingly rational response -- even if the way in which your brain is trying making sense of it doesn't make much sense to normally non-woo you. More than anything, these kinds of "superstitious" thoughts may be easier to bear right now than grief, which feels far less organized, neat, and contained.

I'm not sure if this is something helpful to you right now at this moment, but there is a book called "About What Was Lost" that is a collection of essays about miscarriage. I found it very comforting to read about other people's experiences, especially when I was trying to make sense of my own. But even if you're not ready to read something like that now, know this: none of this is your fault, and none of it is caused by something you did or didn't do, and you have the right to feel sadness and grief over what's happened without blame.
posted by mothershock at 9:59 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm reeling from the comment by the doctor who said you shouldn't have brought your toddler to an appointment. Seriously? The other couples don't see children all over town every day? I can't imagine those couples would blame you for their pain. Maybe I am being terribly naive, but I think it was wrong of the doctor to make you feel bad, and you should release yourself from the power of that blame.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:14 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

And that doctor was insane. Are people who go to fertility clinics not to be exposed to children at all? Craziness.

What might make you feel better is to do some kind of ritual or accomplish a task to expunge the bad feelings you have associated with pregnancy at the moment. This can be anything: religious blessing, communing with nature, community service, whatever works for you. Just something that marks a change you'd like to make. It's a bit irrational but it works for me.
posted by fshgrl at 10:18 PM on March 22, 2011

Roll with the woo. If you feel like you have bad mojo clinging to you, do something to shake it off. Acupuncture. Aromatherapy. Ask a priest to bless you with holy water. Pay someone who cast a protection spell against the evil eye. Carry a good luck charm. Whatever it takes. You might feel silly. And then you might feel better.
posted by bq at 10:19 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fertility is so fraught and complicated, it's not surprising at all that some understandable irrationality may be part of the grieving process for pregnancies that don't come to term. Have the logical part of your brain tell the "I'm cursed" part of your brain "That's a reasonable way to deal with this pain."

Good luck to you.
posted by anildash at 11:36 PM on March 22, 2011

I've seen babies and toddlers with their parent/s several times when I was going to fertility clinics. It wasn't an ideal situation but I kinda agree with the couple who told you that for them it was a bit of hope, especially knowing how your child was conceived. I think the shaming and lecture you received from their doctor was unprofessional and damaging. He/she didn't 'curse' you but shamed you like a child so shake that off by leaving that practice and finding a new practice. [Which you have done!]
posted by honey-barbara at 11:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. I had a miscarriage and it took me almost two years to finally conceive; I hear you on the irrational thoughts, but as people above have said it's not your fault. Perhaps your new fertility clinic can recommend a good therapist? It sounds like you could really use someone to talk to about what you're feeling and help with your coping skills now and for whatever future comes.

(And not that you mentioned it, but I would stay away from those TTC boards, for me it was nothing but a source of agonizing and relentless stress.)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 2:11 AM on March 23, 2011

There're all sorts of less-than-ideal intersections in that branch of medicine. When I miscarried, I got to sit in waiting rooms stuffed with pregnant ladies, and when I spent the night in the hospital post D&C, I spent it in the maternity ward. Thanks, Hospital! But while it was an odd set-up it caused me no rage, no pain about babies; it was sort of a nice reminder that life was still going on all around me. I think the doctor you dealt with was a bit presumptuous to speak for his patients like that.

Anyway, I wanted to recommend a book called Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers' Bodies, which goes on quite a bit about the maternal body and which may be of interest/relief/amusement to you, discussing as it does the extent to which society projects its various fantasies onto you. It is a good dissection of the various flavours of woo which have been applied over the years.
posted by kmennie at 5:05 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a woman who had two miscarriages after good heartbeats were detected, I know exactly how you felt. I felt cursed or somehow marked by the universe. It was absolutely wretched. My third pregnancy resulted in Baby Leezie, but I didn't breathe until he did.

I knew logically that this wasn't my fault and I tried to be positive, but it was incredibly hard. What I think finally helped was I just got fed up with myself for thinking that way. I decided that I had had enough of it and I wasn't going to do it anymore. Did that help me conceive Baby Leezie? I don't know. He was IVF # 3 and I think that the protocol I did and the clinic I used were the primary reasons for our success. But, did it help that I no longer gave a flip? Hell yes.

You need to take some time to really examine what you and are not willing to put with from yourself thought and belief-wise because that is where all of this angst is coming from: you. Not some insensitive asshole doctor, not some karmic joke from the universe. You can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It's as easy as that.
posted by Leezie at 6:02 AM on March 23, 2011

I'm so sorry. I'm right there with you. I had a miscarriage after a heartbeat, and felt like a complete failure, partly because I didn't know why it happened and I didn't know how to keep it from happening again.

The only thing that helped me, eventually, was talk therapy. And time.

(Note: eventually I was diagnosed with something that helped me with the next pregnancy. If you have any desire to talk in more detail about how that happened/what it was/etc, or about miscarriages and feelings generally, feel free to memail me).
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:20 AM on March 23, 2011

Are you just looking for a reason, a cause that you can define, and even if that's your own thoughts then in some way that's easier than acknowledging that there probably isn't one reason, because it's complex and sometimes there might be a hundred reasons and sometimes none at all?

Even if the old experiences had somehow cursed things, didn't you wipe all of that out by starting at the new place? Acknowledging that you are scared or feel like something is wrong isn't the same as being negative, either.

You didn't cause this - neither did your thoughts. And that is coming from a person who pretty strongly believes that we get back what we send out into the universe.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:22 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your losses. My heart goes out to you and your husband. We are moms, and we love and want to protect our children from the moment we know about their existence. Losing a baby is so painful and so hard, I’m glad you have found a community here to share with. Sometimes I think our combination of a need to have some reason and our feelings of responsibility around caring for our kids, leads us to a lot of self blame. Combine that with all the “helpful advice” that others try to give, and you start to feel like “If I had only just….” all the time. Having gone through fertility issues myself, I can understand how you feel. No matter how many times I was told that fertility was complicated and that I couldn’t blame myself, I still did.

You may want to seek out something called interconceptional counseling. There are not enough people doing it, but it is counseling that directly works with women and couples to address feelings of fear, guilt, and grief when they have lost a baby. The idea is to support the woman and the couple as they move forward towards a new pregnancy and to then continue to provide support to the parents to help them bond with their new child. I’m not sure where you live, but if you check out the National Association of Perinatal Social Workers they might be able to recommend someone. These are social workers who specialize in helping parents who are experiencing exactly what you are going through.

My very best to you and to your husband and to you little one. As others have said, and we cannot say it enough, this is not your fault and you are not alone.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 8:12 AM on March 23, 2011

After 40, the rate of miscarriage is just plain higher. If women could use thought to abort, the world would have many fewer people, and surgical abortion would be less necessary. You cannot think bad thoughts and miscarry. You certainly had lots of conscious and sub-conscious loving, happy, hopeful thoughts. You have acted totally reasonably. It's sad that some people can't conceive when they want to, but seeing children is a reality, and people who wish to conceive should be expected to *like* children. I tend not to discuss certain experiences of birth with people who have certain bad birth experiences, but children are, and should be, present in people's lives.

Stress is generally pretty bad for you, so dealing with it is a good idea. Wear a hair elastic on your wrist. Snap it when you start to think self-blaming thoughts. Prepare a list of replacement happy/productive thoughts to substitute when you find yourself doing self-blaming. If you pray, prayer is a good substitute for negative thinking. I'm not religious, but I find prayer or internally chanting a mantra to be calming and meditative. Affirmations are different form of this. Congratulations on your boy, and good luck.
posted by theora55 at 8:32 AM on March 23, 2011

I'm not in an analogous situation but just in case it's useful:

Take care of yourself - and other things will take care of themselves. They may not take care of themselves in the way I'd like, but at least I'll be in the best possible shape to deal with however they do take care of themselves. In the end it's the only thing we can really control anyway.

And positive thinking is... Bullshit. Sorry. I think the line of thought that you can think yourself to health has done more harm than good in the world.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:53 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's terrible the pressure we put on ourselves when it comes to having kids.

When I was pregnant with my first, I felt fantastic, but I was worried about how I would handle labor. I had to have a a c-section, and I felt for a while that I had failed for not having the baby vaginally, like my doubts caused that c-section to happen. With my second pregnancy, I had some issues, and I was convinced I had screwed something up that time, not been as careful, and that maybe the baby was going to be "bad" or something. Crazy, hormonal stuff that make no sense in the bright light of clarity.

I know women who have blamed themselves for not having "natural" births without pain relief, and others that worried they labored too long before having a C-section and put the baby in stress...It goes on and on, the weight we put on ourselves.

Look, when we're pregnant, we are pumped up on hormones that make us feel very emotional, and the pressure of becoming a parent can make us very, very hard on ourselves. And your unfeeling, callous doctor called you unfeeling and callous when you were especially vulnerable emotionally. So your emotions got the better of you and you blamed the doctor's curse for having a miscarriage, and then you blamed yourself for feeling that way when you had the second miscarriage.

I know you are grieving. I am so, so sorry for your loss. Anger and blame, wondering why--all these feelings are natural, though awful to live through, steps of grieving. And you are emotionally vulnerable now, too, because you are trying to conceive again. And, added on to all the pressure that comes along with trying to conceive, the last thing you need is survivor's guilt on top of it all. Which, you know, is what you have, at some level, as well.

Sometimes, miscarriages happen because nature messed up. Maybe there were issues that just weren't going to resolve themselves, and your body opted for a do-over each time. No one can know, because the tests were inconclusive. But if the tests did say there was a genetic anomaly, would you feel better? You know what, probably not. You'd convince yourself that it was your fault because you carried those genes. You see what I'm getting at here? You're emotional, you're under a lot of pressure, you are thinking crazy thoughts that you know are crazy but can't get past.

So I'd just ride the wave and acknowledge, "Hey, I'm hormonal, I'm a little crazy right now, and I'm thinking all this weird stuff." Let your friends, your spouse help you talk it out and get through it. Go to a therapist if you need to. In fact, I think that would be very good for you. Recognize that you have a problem with all that happened around those two miscarriages and you need to feel those feelings and talk them out and explore them. Go to a support group with other women who have been through similar experiences.

But also remind yourself, every day if you need to, that all that happened is in the past. These irrational thoughts have no power over what happens now or in the future.
posted by misha at 10:25 AM on March 23, 2011

Ironically, this sounds like one of those things that brains latch onto in order to reassure themselves. Something awful has happened, and there is no explanation for it. If there is no explanation for it, there is no way to prevent it. That's terrifying. If the brain can come up with an explanation, though, maybe this awful thing can be prevented. And that's reassuring, even if the explanation itself causes distress.

But I also know that everyone says that stress and negative thinking can negatively affect fertility - so where's the line? If being negative can keep you from conceiving, why couldn't it also keep you from bringing a baby to term? If the one is woo, then it's all woo.

I agree with everyone else. Have you ever seen a college-age, single, broke person find out they were pregnant and break down sobbing hysterically? I have, and it sure didn't end her pregnancy. If this were true, we wouldn't have teen pregnancies, pregnancies in abusive relationships or the result of assault; we wouldn't have any births to the millions of people who earn less than a dollar a day. If stress and negative thinking surrounding a pregnancy did anything, we wouldn't have anyone seeking abortions.

It might help to try to concretely test whether or not you can damage anything with your mind, thoughts and attitude. What if you tried to turn your thumb blue with your stress and negativity. Really concentrate on trying to do that, every day. If you see that awful doctor give her a thumbs up. I think after a few weeks of this, when yous ee your thumb still hanging out there healthy and fine, it might be the concrete proof you need to feel reassured that your emotions aren't harming anything.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:29 AM on March 23, 2011

A dear friend of mine is the most happy, positive person in the world. She recently miscarried (...after the first trimester) and is having a hard time conceiving again. This is after two perfectly healthy children.

I don't think that your brain is doing anything wrong. But I'd encourage you to see a therapist if you are so inclined. I think talking about this with someone might help you out.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:50 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been there. Not only with the mysterious loss of heartbeat miscarriages but also the iui with weird abusive, scolding doctor that ended up being my longest pregnancy (20 weeks.) I blamed myself for all of these losses. I know it's no help to gear this, but the only thing that helped me deal with the pain of those losses was time. I am not the same person now that I was before they happened, and in many ways I am totally ok with that. It just took some time to realize that after these losses things would be different. For a long time I thought that the difference was that I would never be as happy again as I had been before my 3 years of pregnancy loss. But now, 3 years after the last loss, I think of it more as a situation in which my perspective on parenting, pregnancy, and perhaps most importantly, the assumptions and values that are the norm in parent culture, is always going to be different than that of my peers. This may in part reflect the fact that I am now an adoptive parent and am predisposed to seeing things differently anyway. But it is also a trace memory of those losses. They don't define me but they are part of who I am, and accepting that was a big step on the road to healing.
posted by Morpeth at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2011

Just chiming in with some anecdotal evidence that stress and negative thinking do NOT negatively impact pregnancies. (I've never heard that before, by the way.) I work (administrativewise, not medical) in a clinic specialising in early pregnancy (and miscarriage). Many VERY worried women leave with good news, and many completely unworried women, sadly, leave with bad news. I recall one woman recently who had an ultrasound every week from week 5 through 12. She had had a miscarriage recently and she was so anxious. She and her baby were fine. I last saw her at her 18 week scan, the results of which were perfect.

Do what you need to do to reassure yourself, and don't feel that being worried is going to have consequences! It's totally normal and totally okay to worry.

Good luck!
posted by equivocator at 5:53 PM on March 23, 2011

Here is an interesting NY Times piece about mourning miscarriage in Japan.

And another NY Times piece that is specifically about abortion, but might be helpful to you anyway.

The search term that you might find helpful is mizuko jizo.

As for advice from me, I've never been pregnant, but I want you to know this is not your fault. You have done the best you can with the information you have. Continue to love yourself, and seek comfort in whatever healthy ways you find it. Exercise may be a helpful distraction - just long walks around the neighborhood, or a few laps at the pool. Journaling might be good.

Hugs for you.
posted by bilabial at 6:42 AM on March 25, 2011

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