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What Is Reproductive Trauma?

When you want to have a baby, and it is not going as you had hoped and dreamed, you are in the midst of a trauma, a reproductive trauma. A trauma:

  • Is any event or feeling that goes beyond the range of usual human experience;
  • Is overwhelming either physically, emotionally, or both;
  • Typically involves a threat to your physical integrity or that of a loved one;
  • May be the result of a single devastating event or a series of events that gradually build up and overwhelm you.

As part of the mind’s attempt to master the catastrophic overload:

  • You may re-experience the event in flashbacks;
  • You may feel a general hypersensitivity and irritability, which may alternate paradoxically with a sense of numbness and withdrawal;
  • You may feel anxious, depressed, or have difficulty concentrating.

The diagnosis of infertility, and the medical interventions often needed to treat it, represent a threat to your physical integrity, and your sense of being healthy and whole. A miscarriage or stillbirth is a loss of a loved one unlike any other you may have experienced. These reproductive events are traumas in the fullest sense of the word. 

Likewise, postpartum depression or anxiety is also a reproductive trauma; even though you are able to have a child, you may be overwhelmed by negative feelings — this is not the way you thought it would be. It is a trauma because your reproductive story has gone way out of kilter from what you had imagined and expected. 

Infertility, pregnancy loss, and postpartum depression are traumas because they attack both the physical and emotional sense of self; they present you with multiple, complicated losses that impact your most important relationships and make you feel as if you don’t belong. Knowing that you are going through a trauma can help you acknowledge the depth of your feelings and better understand and accept why you feel the way you do.

Unsung Lullabies Excerpt from: J. Jaffe, M. Diamond and D. Diamond, Unsung Lullabies, Understanding and Coping with Infertility, St Martin's Press, 2005. Copyright © 2004-2005 by the Center for Reproductive Psychology. All rights reserved.
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