If you've experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or ending a wanted pregnancy, then you might be familiar with the scenarios below.
You open Facebook to be greeted by pictures of your friend's first ultrasound, announcing a pregnancy at 6 weeks gestation. You roll your eyes and click "unfollow".
You open Instagram to see pictures of a "gender reveal" party. You close the laptop, close to tears.
You're walking through Target and encounter a happily pregnant woman shopping in the baby section.You quickly make a beeline for the elevator.
In all these situations, do you feel a surge of jealousy, frustration, or anxiety, and want to turn away? Has encountering pregnant women since the loss of your baby led you to feelings of hurt and anger, and then do you judge yourself harshly for reacting the way that you do? If so, you're not alone.
Though the experience of losing a baby feels like it's rare, it's actually more common than you think: Stillbirth, occurring when a baby displays no signs of life after a given threshold of usually 28 weeks of gestation, affected 2.6 million pregnancies in 2015 (Blencowe et al., 2016). Miscarriage, defined as the loss of a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks gestation, occurs in 15-20% of pregnancies, with about 750,000-1,000,000 cases annually (Katz, 2012). Finally,1.7-2.8% of wanted pregnancies are terminated due to significant abnormalities(Coleman, 2015). Despite these surprising statistics, you may feel as though you have walked the path of pregnancy loss alone.
The loss of a deeply loved, deeply wanted pregnancy and stillbirth can affect mothers on multiple levels, from the cognitive to the behavioral to the physical. For example, many bereaved mothers may have thoughts and feelings of self-blame. They may withdraw from social situations, and feel overwhelmingly fatigued or without energy. And yes, they may feel jealous when they encounter a pregnant woman in the days, months, and even years after their loss, resulting in embarrassment and shame.
As children, we are taught that jealousy is an undesirable, "bad" feeling that we should avoid, but as grownups, we rarely talk about the reasons why jealousy arises. I've heard many valid and appropriate reasons from bereaved mothers, including the following:
"I wish I could go back to that naive place where I was just excited to be pregnant. I know so much more now about how it could all go wrong."
"The anatomy scan was supposed to be for telling me whether I was expecting a boy or a girl. Instead, it became the worst day of my life when I found out that there was something very wrong with my baby."
"People posting ultrasound shots at 6 weeks get lots of happy congratulations. How do you post that you lost the baby at 8 weeks, and how will people react?"
"I should be picking out nursery furniture and names, but I have nothing to look forward to now."
These feelings speak to the enormity and complexity of pregnancy loss and stillbirth, which encompasses so much more than the loss of a child. For starters, it is the loss of innocence, and a loss of the exciting future and potential you imagined for yourself and your child. Even bereaved mothers who become pregnant again may never feel the same way about pregnancy.
Human beings are social and comparative by nature. We surround ourselves with people that we can relate to and share our stories with, but sometimes the loss of a baby causes mothers to feel like nobody understands. Even worse, the grief of pregnancy loss is often disenfranchised, meaning that society doesn't allow babyloss mothers to grieve as fully as they should, because not everybody recognizes the deep pain and loss of hope that comes along with losing a pregnancy or stillbirth. Mothers who have experienced this type of loss might be told, "You can always try again", when what they want is to be pregnant with the child they lost, and for the loss to never have happened in the first place.
As a result of this lack of acknowledgment from the people who should be supporting you the most, and the complicated, intense feelings that may accompany babyloss, it's completely normal to feel jealous or envious of pregnant women. These women, at face value, represent what you may have dreamed of for yourself, and the joy that was robbed from you. Even worse, secondary feelings of guilt and self-blame may arise from these feelings of jealousy. as you tell yourself that you "shouldn't" feel the way that you do.
Please know that it's OK to feel this way. At the Center for Growth, a therapist is ready and waiting to tackle your feelings and validate your experience. Together, we can deconstruct your experience and work on positive ways to reframe the tough moments, while creating an "action plan" for what to do when you encounter a pregnant woman online or in real life. Give us a call and we'll get started.