Harvard-trained psychologist shares her thoughts on the 'Emotional weight of miscarriage'

Tommy’s #misCOURAGE campaign has inspired reproductive psychologist Dr. Anna Glezer, to write a guest blog post on the emotional impact of miscarriage for us.

Dr Anna Glezer

A guest post by Dr. Anna Glezer

Emotional weight of miscarriage

You might be one of the millions of women who have been through a miscarriage. Yet, while common, the grief many women go through following a miscarriage is unique.

  • Especially when the loss happens early, it can feel as though there is nothing tangible to grieve. Instead, you are grieving for the loss of future, expectations, and dreams.
  • Even though common, many women do not share their experiences, and this leads to feeling alone
  • If the loss is early on, you might not have even shared that you are pregnant with others, so there is not a support system to provide you with comfort after the loss
  • Many might tell you it is common and encourage you to move on quickly
  • Many early miscarriages are due to some kind of abnormality in the baby, and so others might say “it’s for the best,” which can diminish the significance of your loss

For all these reasons, a miscarriage is sometimes referred to as a “silent loss.”

Many of my patients also describe feeling guilt, shame, and worthlessness following a miscarriage. Thoughts like “There must be something wrong with me” or “I’m a failure as a woman,” fill their heads.

Psychological consequences of a miscarriage

For some, the miscarriage leads to clinically significant symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. Studies in the US show that 20-55% of women report increased symptoms of depression after miscarriage. Similarly, 20-40% of women describe anxiety symptoms. There is also a heightened risk of OCD symptoms recurring, and post-traumatic stress.

This psychological distress can be severe. One international study noted a higher rate of suicide in women who have had a miscarriage in the last year, compared to women of a similar age. 

How long will these symptoms last? This is a question many women ask after a miscarriage. There is not one answer. However, research shows that women can experience symptoms of depression or anxiety for as much as a year or longer after a miscarriage. A time of particular vulnerability is around the anniversary of the loss and the estimated due date. Even when otherwise feeling well, those two times can bring back feelings of grief.

It is also important that the majority of women are pregnant within 18 months of having experienced a miscarriage. That means these feelings of depression and anxiety can carry into that pregnancy, making it more difficult to enjoy the experience and develop a healthy attachment with the baby. This is why recognition of these symptoms is important and treatment essential.

High risk women

What about repeat miscarriages? Research shows that women who have had more than one miscarriage have worse psychological well-being and higher rates of depression. Similarly, there is a link between higher anxiety and grief levels in women whose pregnancy was made possible with reproductive technology like IVF.

What about partners?

Partners also suffer following miscarriage. Often there is a pressure to be strong and supportive, and feelings of loss and grief are unrecognised and unexplored. There is a misconception also that because the partner is not carrying the child, they have not developed a bond with the baby. There have not been any studies looking at specific rates of depression or other illness in men following pregnancy loss. However, it is important to recognise that the partner has also suffered a loss and that seeking professional help and support is a healthy choice.

Treatment options for mental wellness after a miscarriage

There are ways to decrease the emotional after-effects of a miscarriage.

  • The first is ensuring a support network. This means potentially reaching out to family, friends, or organisations with online support for processing and moving forward after the loss, such as Tommy’s
  • It could also mean working with a professional counsellor who specialises in grief, loss, and fertility
  • If the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mental distress are severe and impact functioning, seeing a GP or therapist is an important step.

About Dr. Glezer:

Dr. Anna Glezer is a Harvard-trained psychologist with current joint appointments in the reproductive psychiatry and OB/GYN departments at UCSF Medical Center. She is the founder of Mind Body Pregnancy, a new educational website offering science-backed articles, resources, and advice to help women with their mental health and emotional well-being during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum.