Miscarriage may lead to 'long-term post-traumatic stress', new study

Photo: Sydney mum Samantha Payne experienced crippling grief and trauma after losing two babies early in pregnancy.
Photo: Sydney mum Samantha Payne experienced crippling grief and trauma after losing two babies early in pregnancy.  

One in six women who lose a baby in early pregnancy will experience long-term post-traumatic stress.

That's the key finding from a landmark new study into the psychological impact of pregnancy loss, published in the journal American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

The research, conducted by the Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium, studied over 650 women who had suffered an early miscarriage (defined as pregnancy loss before 12 weeks),  or an ectopic pregnancy (where an embryo starts to grow outside the womb and is not viable).

The study revealed that one month on, nearly a third of women suffered post-traumatic stress while 24 per cent experienced moderate to severe anxiety.

Nine months after the loss, 18 per cent of women had post-traumatic stress and 17 per cent experienced moderate to severe anxiety. 

Professor Tom Bourne, lead author of the research said: "Pregnancy loss affects up to one in two women, and for many women it will be the most traumatic event in their life.

"This research suggests the loss of a longed-for child can leave a lasting legacy, and result in a woman still suffering post-traumatic stress nearly a year after her pregnancy loss."

Sydney mum-of-two Samantha Payne knows only too well the devastating grief and trauma associated with miscarriage, having lost two babies early in pregnancy. 

"After my losses I experienced crippling night terrors, I cried myself to sleep, I woke up exhausted," she tells Essential Baby. "I felt a complete lack of control, I felt a failure, I felt alone.

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My symptoms were heightened during my pregnancy with Johnny, my rainbow baby, who is now nearly three-years-old. But I was very good at hiding it, because after all, I was meant to be grateful I was lucky enough to be pregnant again."

Photo: Samantha Payne and her rainbow baby, Johnny

Photo: Samantha Payne and her rainbow baby, Johnny. Supplied

While Payne eventually had a second child, she was anxious throughout her pregnancy and developed full-blown postpartum anxiety soon after giving birth. 

"I can barely remember the first four months after Johnny was born, but I do remember feeling powerless to protect him. I was genuinely fearful for his life, I believed he would die. Again, I put my mask on pretending I was ok until I literally couldn't pretend anymore."

Payne was so distressed by her experience and concerned about the lack of support services available for women who had experienced an early miscarriage, she set up the Pink Elephants Support Network in 2016 with her friend Gabbi.

She says the charity is pleased to see research focusing on early pregnancy loss, validating just how traumatic miscarriage and ecotopic pregnancies can be. 

"We believe women and their partners deserve clear referral pathways for support services like ours, and a six week post partum check-up after their miscarriage with their healthcare practitioner to screen for mental health issues," she says. 

"There is still such a lack in validation of the experience of grief and trauma couples face after the loss of their babies to miscarriage. I know, because women share their stories every day in our online communities, and I've experienced it myself. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Pink Elephants Support Network (@pinkelephantssupport) on

While Payne is lucky she eventually got help and proud of what the Pink Elephants Support Network are offering, she notes that so much more help is needed. 

"Sadly, my story is not isolated - there are too many women out there suffering with mental health issues every day following their losses." 

To find out more about Pink Elephant and get support, go to miscarriagesupport.org.au