Grief, Infertility and Mental Health

There is a lot of stigma against mental health. Labeled as crazy, people who have mental health issues suffer rejection by family, friends and co-workers. This is shocking, considering an estimated 1 out of 5 people will have mental health concerns in their lifetime. It should come as no surprise to you that those of us who have lost a baby or who struggle with infertility have much higher rates. Within a year of the death of their child, a full 50% of mothers were diagnosed with a mental illness, with about 30% being diagnosed with depression / post-partum depression or similar illness and another 20% with an anxiety disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.[1] Similar results exist for childless women, who report having approximately 3 times the risk of depression or anxiety when compared to women who have never experienced infertility.[2] Considering that mental health issues are often under-diagnosed, the rates may be much higher.

I am a PTSD survivor. I used to struggle with nightmares and panic attacks. While most friends and co-workers were supportive and helpful, that was not always true. One former boss even yelled at me in the middle of my panic attack “What the hell is wrong with you? Can’t you even stand to be around pregnant people?” Ummm… no, I can’t. I had no choice but to recover from my PTSD. One of the common treatments for PTSD is gradual re-exposure, and working at the hospital where I gave birth, with the same doctors and nurses and going through two subsequent pregnancies meant getting up, going to work, walking those same halls. At first, it meant debilitating fear and elaborate avoidance techniques: to not go to the same floor, to not do anything that reminded me of the day my boys died. I still suffer from huge anxiety around pregnant women who are not members of the baby loss community. I still occasionally have nightmares that I am unable to keep my children alive. However, on the other hand, I no longer have sleepless nights. I actively try talking about my sons and love talking to other baby loss moms about their children. Even as I type this, the radio is playing Sibelius’ Finlandia, (Be Still My Soul) which we sang at my sons’ funeral, and I am smiling while thinking of them.

If you are in the depths of depression or an anxiety disorder, I write this to let you know there are treatments that work. It may be a long road to healing, but others have travelled it before. Please take charge of your health by ensuring your doctor knows what you need. There are effective treatments for depression, anxiety and PTSD and finding the right one for you is worth it.

[1] Froen JF. Cacciatore J. McClure EM. Kuti O. Jokhio AH. Islam M. Shiffman J. Lancet’s Stillbirths Series steering committee. Stillbirths: why they matter.Lancet. 377(9774):1353-66, 2011 Apr 16.

[2] Klemetti R. Raitanen J. Sihvo S. Saarni S. Koponen P.Infertility, mental disorders and well-being–a nationwide survey. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 89(5):677-82, 2010 May.

This post originally appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

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