Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Coping with Infertility, Miscarriage, and Neonatal Loss

 I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Amy Wenzel while she was presenting a training session I attended in Lexington, Kentucky. The focus of the training was treating maternal depression and anxiety. During a break, I asked Dr. Wenzel about research relevant to the lasting impact of poor social and professional support on a mother's mental health following pregnancy and infant loss, as it is a topic I have plans to research through our non-profit, The Carys Rainn Foundation, Inc. ( This prompted further discussion regarding my experience with infant loss, Dr. Wenzel's own pregnancy loss and the contents of this book, which was in the process of being written at the time. I was so excited to learn this book would be an available resource in the near future!
     Throughout our experience, I have spoken with so many people who have faced pregnancy and infant loss with limited or no support. What I have found to be most unsettling about the many stories that have been shared with me are the stories from those who seem to have never really given themselves permission to grieve and work through their loss because it seemed to be so easily dismissed by others.
     Pregnancy and Infant loss, as well as struggles with infertility, can be very difficult topics to approach. They can be uncomfortable to discuss and difficult to understand for those who have not experienced the impact. Even for those who have experienced reproductive struggles, no two experiences are exactly the same, but all have the potential to be devastating. I am very thankful this book is being made available to help validate that infertility and pregnancy and infant loss are significant, life-changing events, and to help its readers find effective ways to cope with the struggles that may result.
     I was personally introduced to the world of pregnancy and infant loss when one of our twins was given a fatal diagnosis in December of 2010, at about 16 weeks gestation. We learned at that time that our daughter had a Neural Tube Defect called Anencephaly, in which the head portion of the neural tube does not close. As a result, the baby's skull is left open and the remaining brain tissue is left exposed. It is always fatal, though some infants with this condition live longer than others. Most are stillborn or die shortly after birth if the pregnancy is carried to term. Our daughter lived about 7 hours after birth. Unlike many experiences with pregnancy and infant loss, our grief journey began several months before the birth of our babies and death of our daughter.
     In a way, I was forced into behavioral activation because of the nature of our loss. Due to work demands and the extended period of time leading up to my maternity leave, I had little choice but to resume my daily activities, though I was also able to find other outlets on which to focus. As a method of keeping friends and family updated, I began a web journal at After the babies were born, this turned into an ongoing blog (, as I enjoy writing and looking for ways to offer encouragement to others. I also turned attention to another favorite hobby and started a photography club through my church. Obviously, I could not avoid the pain of our loss, but somehow managed to keep moving forward through the remainder of the pregnancy, the births of our babies, and loss of our daughter by using the same valuable concepts and practical advice you will discover in this book.
     As a therapist, I was teaching parenting classes for clients referred by Social Services in addition to my regular caseload. I quickly realized the value of finding "balanced" thoughts to counter the unhelpful automatic thoughts that naturally came to visit. Specifically, I found myself relying heavily on my spiritual belief system and concepts I believe to be true from scripture, such as that scripture says that God is Love, He has plans for us, and that love is not selfish. From these passages, I frequently reminded myself, "God loves me and He isn't selfish, so I know He's not toying with me for His own amusement. He has a plan- even if I don't understand it yet." This belief helped me through many difficult days and continues to do so.
     Above all, I found myself seeking to find some kind of purpose through our loss, as finding meaning in loss seems to be a key to finding peace. Relying heavily on my own spiritual beliefs, I looked for ways to reach out to others experiencing reproductive trauma, which has led to the establishment of our nonprofit. Granted, our specific response will not be the appropriate response for all experiencing loss, but I encourage you to consider the advice given in this book with the confidence that it can help you find peace with your reproductive experience in time. Even for those who "cope well" with a loss, it is not realistic to think you will quickly "get over it," even though well meaning loved ones may make unintentionally hurtful comments about their expectations of your recovery. In my experience, even though I believe I was coping well with all we were going through, it was a little more than a year after our daughter's death before I felt like the "grief fog" seemed to lift. I share that merely to encourage others to give themselves time to recover. The process will vary from person to person, but it is important to recognize that emotional healing does take time, and like physical healing, scars will likely remain.
     I can honestly say I have peace with our loss. I am thankful to have found what I consider to be purpose in both her life and death. As strange as it may sound, I can think of many ways the brief life of my baby girl has had a positive impact on others, and I am comforted by focusing on ways to ensure that continues to happen. The Carys Rainn Foundation, Inc. is still very new and in the beginning stages of our mission, but I am confident in believing that through the foundation, we can minister to others suffering similar losses, in an attempt to help them find hope and healing as well. Resources such as this book are sure to help!

     As I read through Dr. Wenzel's manuscript, I found myself applying her words to experiences my clients have shared with me, and also to my own experience. I am so sorry if you have a reason to be reading this book, but I highly recommend it! I hope you are able to find the hope and healing you need most!

*yes, it is an affiliate link, but I will only recommend books or products if I believe them to be good/helpful!