For women, a common experience that occurs that can lead to traumatic stress symptoms are both abortions and miscarriages. Although these experiences may seem entirely different at a glance; from an attachment perspective, they are highly similar for the following reasons:
- Both experiences involve a human death experience (the deconstruction of one’s unborn child)
- Witnessing a violent death
- The termination of parental/maternal instinct and maternal attachment (all three of these are very unnatural)
- Not fully understanding the reasoning of why a miscarriage occurred– According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “roughly 60 percent of miscarriages occur when an embryo has an abnormal number of chromosomes during fertilization — a problem that happens by chance, not as a result of anything the parents did.”
- Being labeled and blamed (social persecution): selfish, sinful, irresponsible, heartless, “you shouldn’t work out so much”,” you don’t take care of yourself”, “you aren’t meant to be a mother”, “you wanted this to happen.”
For many women that I have seen as clients, they have narrated at least one of those reasons as to why their abortion/miscarriage experience was difficult to deal with. Many women share symptoms of depression, anxiety, postpartum depression when they are able to conceive children, relationship distress, dissociative symptoms with their body, and low self-esteem. What I find from working with women of this population, is that what is especially hurtful is the lack of support and social shunning that takes place. Many women feel lost, alone, at fault, and that something is wrong with them. But the truth of the matter is that it’s not them who is at fault, it is a societal issue. Society does not give women enough support during the moment they find out they are pregnant and throughout their entire pregnancy, even if the pregnancy is not successful.
During grad school I completed a qualitative thesis related to women, abortion, and societal components. What I found was that women who had the most success in recovering emotionally from an abortion was having unbiased support during disclosure as well as at least one healthy attachment with a parent or with God. My study showed that many women who have insecure attachments with God or parental figures were more likely to exhibit traumatic stress symptoms and believed that they were being “punished” for the rest of their lives (a strong indication of insecure attachment). To live in a world where you feel punished can feel unbearable. In order to protect both women who have had a miscarriage or an abortion experience, there are some key ways to help and support:
- EMDR: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.
EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition, successful outcomes are well-documented in the literature for EMDR treatment of other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. The model on which EMDR is based, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), posits that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding of and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences. This impairs the client’s ability to integrate these experiences in an adaptive manner. The eight-phase, three-pronged process of EMDR facilitates the resumption of normal information processing and integration. This treatment approach, which targets past experience, current triggers, and future potential challenges, results in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, a decrease or elimination of distress from the disturbing memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.
Through EMDR, resolution of traumatic and disturbing adverse life experiences is accomplished with a unique standardized set of procedures and clinical protocols which incorporates dual focus of attention and alternating bilateral visual, auditory and/or tactile stimulation. This process activates the components of the memory of disturbing life events and facilitates the resumption of adaptive information processing and integration.
The problem with trauma and the brain is that often times when something traumatic occurs, the brain doesn’t know what to do with the experience and it does not get stored in long-term memory where it needs to be stored, in order to make sense of the event. Often times many aspects of the trauma are stored in the nervous system which evokes a frequent fight/flight response.
- EMDR targets the negative beliefs, emotions, somatic feelings related to the experience, and helps alter them in a way that’s easier for the brain to organize and make sense of. The most important piece of EMDR is that it adds the somatic piece. The process of both abortion and miscarriage are very physical in nature, and often times when women experience physical symptoms that mimic pregnancy or abortion, it sends them into an anxious state that creates dysfunction in their lives.
- Couples Therapy: Secondly, a key component to recovery is couples therapy. Many times, attention is placed on the woman who has physically experienced the event. While this is appropriate, it is also necessary that her partner is able to heal from the experience too. Often times, The woman is too triggered to process anything with her partner, leaving them unsupported. Often times intimacy becomes an issue as well. Feeling lack of emotional and physical intimacy can eventually lead to divorce without intervention. Addressing the experience and processing it as a couple would also help ensure healthy recovery.
- Yoga therapy: Another important aspect for women that go through these experiences is to learn to love and feel in control of their bodies again. So many women begin to believe that their bodies’ are toxic, or unfit, or unhealthy after these experiences. To learn how to reacquaint with their bodies in a loving and understanding way will help ensure their confidence in themselves and their body if they decide to have children later.
- Family therapy: Many times these experiences will impact the whole family. Helping the family learn how to support the woman and her partner is key so that she does not ruminate on feelings of guilt. If there are preexisting children, it would help to have an ally to explain in a child-friendly way what occurred, and allow them to process without taking on “adult like” responsibilities like comforting their parent.
There are also many other methods that are useful such as neuro/bio feedback, meeting with a nutritionist, or engaging in relaxation techniques. All of these services are provided here, at Balance. Let us help you heal.