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It's common for women to blame themselves during and after a high-risk pregnancy.
Donna Rothert, who specializes in high-risk pregnancy and reproductive losses, says she has listened to clients in her Oakland, California, practice do this time and time again.
"We're carrying this baby. We think we should be able to protect it, so we blame ourselves," she says. Many women feel not only anxious but guilty if there's a problem with their pregnancy."
Losing a baby: Two women's stories
When Pamela Wright* lost her baby at 18 weeks, she blamed herself. Maybe she picked up her toddler son too much while she was pregnant. Maybe she chased him around the playground one too many times.
In truth, it was her cervix that failed her with extreme funneling (dilation and shortening) early in her pregnancy. Eventually, Wright made peace with herself about the loss. "It took me a while to understand there was nothing I could have done to prevent it," she says.
Age can often be a source of guilt, says psychotherapist Rothert. You may think things went wrong because you tried to start a family too late in life. But your age may have nothing to do with your pregnancy problems.
Meredith Langston's age troubled her when she lost twins at 21 weeks. She was 39 at the time. She and her husband had lost two babies before and, afraid that time was running out for her to conceive, they banked some frozen embryos.
When they were ready to try again, they chose to transfer two embryos to make it more likely that one of them would survive. Instead, Langston* developed preeclampsia and neither one survived.
"I blame myself, "Langston says. "I feel that my babies died because I chose to have two. I was so afraid of it not working; I wanted a higher chance. I think one alone would have survived. I regret that every day."
Psychotherapy gave Langston the opportunity to talk it out and to cry. Because her husband couldn't discuss it and hated to see her cry, she says, she needed therapy as an outlet and a place to get the tools to move on.
She consulted the Preeclampsia Foundation and connected in online groups with other women who had been through similar losses. "That helped me get through the soul-searching part of whether I wanted to try to have a baby again," she says.
Langston went on to conceive naturally nine months later and give birth to a healthy daughter.
How to stop blaming yourself
First, consider how you would feel if you had another condition. Psychotherapist Gina Hassan poses this question: "If you were hyperthyroid, would you blame yourself for having a thyroid condition?"
Anna Glezer, a perinatal psychiatrist at University of California San Francisco Medical Center, says guilt and blame are often a key symptom of depression. "With people who've had a lot of losses, there can be a lot of self-blame. Those previous losses can be carried over and get attached to the next pregnancy," she says.
If you're blaming yourself, here are some steps to help you take care of your emotional health during a high-risk pregnancy:
- Make space for your feelings. "It's not out of the ordinary to feel the way you do, but as they say, 'Don't believe everything you think,'" Hassan says. Acknowledging that you blame yourself might be a first step, but then move on to doing the work it takes to feel better.
- Talk to someone. Many women find it hard to talk to family, friends, or even spouses who are going through this pregnancy with them. Fortunately, you can find psychiatrists like Glezer and psychotherapists like Rothert and Hassan who specialize in women's reproductive issues throughout the United States. Search for a therapist in your area via Psychology Today's Find a Therapist feature.
- Practice compassion for yourself. Rothert calls it "self-talk with compassion," acknowledging, for instance, that the difficulties in your pregnancy are not in your control.
* Her name was changed for this article