Emotional Cushioning | Counseling | Therapy

Emotional Cushioning

Dr. Erica Goldblatt Hyatt , LCSW, DSW — Therapist

black therapist near me: emotional cushioning. image

Though it sounds like a strange term, if you’re newly pregnant after a babyloss, you’re likely already doing some “emotional cushioning”. Take this short quiz to see if you are.

  1. When I think about my new pregnancy, I:
    1. Try not to get too excited because I could lose this one too
    2. Try to “start with a blank slate” and enjoy myself
    3. Struggle now and then with anxiety but try to stay in the present moment.
  2. Is it safe for a mama to become emotionally attached to a new pregnancy?
    1. No, because the loss will hurt even more when it happens.
    2. Sure, might as well enjoy myself.
    3. Yes and no—depends on the day.
  3. If I find myself planning for the future of my child before they are born, I:
    1. Stop myself and do a reality check: this might not even happen.
    2. Allow myself to daydream a little bit.
    3. Try to make a few plans but not overwhelm myself.
  4. When thinking about going through the rest of this pregnancy, I:
    1. Feel a sense of doom or grief, like I have already lost this baby.
    2. Really try to find ways to enjoy formerly upsetting experiences like the anatomy scan.
    3. Struggle with anxiety before scans or important appointments, but try to stay calm in between.

If you answered mostly As, you are likely one of the many, many pregnant parents who use the strategy of emotional cushioning during a subsequent pregnancy.

So, what exactly IS emotional cushioning?

Emotional cushioning is a coping strategy in which a birth parent tries to protect their emotions by distancing themselves from their pregnancy and avoiding intentional attachment with their rainbow. Because of the overwhelming sense of anxiety and vulnerability that comes along with a pregnancy after loss, parents feel the need to “not get ahead of themselves”, or even engage in some magical thinking by telling themselves that if they feel hopeful or excited, something bad will happen to their pregnancy. While emotional cushioning can feel distressing, it is also all the more isolating in pregnancy after loss, when babyloss parents feel isolated because they will not allow themselves to join others in celebrating their loss. Even worse, some well-meaning family and friends might tell a newly-pregnant parent to “just enjoy it already!”, because the reality is that even those closest to you may not know how to address emotions that seem “negative” related to your pregnancy. They might say hurtful things like, “Didn’t you want this baby? Why are you wishing for bad luck?”. Unfortunately, they don’t understand that a rainbow pregnancy can involve tremendous fear over another potential loss, and a secret, simultaneous hope for a positive outcome. Most of the time, a pregnant parent may avoid talking about their pregnancy all together, worrying that if they even share in excitement or talk about their fears, they are “jinxing” the chance of that healthy baby being born. As a result, the pregnancy can feel stressful, interminably long, and very, very lonely.

How can I break away from emotional cushioning?

The answer to this question is simple in theory, but hard in practice: ATTACH. You may have the assumption that keeping distance from your growing baby will help protect your emotions if you lose them, but in reality, a loss will hurt no matter what. Holding back your emotions, grieving in advance, or refusing to talk about the pregnancy both will not stop a loss from happening, or make one feel better if it does. The way you connect to your baby now has no effect on what happens to them down the line. It does not alter genetics or fetal development, and can make you feel worse about yourself. In fact, some parents may emotionally cushion themselves while at the same time be overly critical or self-blaming, telling themselves they are “bad” for not wanting to connect more this time around. It is important to know that even if you have a hard time attaching to the pregnancy, you can still attach to your baby when they are born. However, avoiding attachment only harms you, and causes greater distress during pregnancy than you need. If you’re emotionally cushioning yourself, here are some tips for breaking away from the pattern:

  • Find some safe thoughts. Forcing yourself to have negative thoughts because you believe positive ones will harm your pregnancy isn’t rational, and life doesn’t work that way. For example, think of how many people are afraid of flying. If airplanes went down just because nervous flyers worried that they would, planes would crash constantly. Rather, we put our safety into the hands of skilled pilots who can navigate unexpected outcomes. This is true for pregnancy as well. The majority of pregnancies are normal: think of how many people are born every day! While you have experienced a loss, planning for another one outside of your own risks and odds is not helpful and accurate, and you need to let your pregnancy pilots, aka your Obstetricians and Maternal Fetal Medicine specialists, take the driver’s seat. Try telling yourself, “past experience does not predict future outcomes”. Create a mantra to stop yourself from obsessing over negative thoughts like “I will let the driver take the wheel”, or “Thinking bad thoughts doesn’t protect me”. It can be helpful to work with a therapist to generate these thoughts and have that helping professional challenge you when you start cushioning too much.
  • Find a safe person. Along the lines of working with a helping professional, it is extremely important to find a safe person, or people, that you can talk to about your fears as well as hopes. Therapists who work with perinatal loss, or babyloss, are familiar with emotional cushioning and understand why it happens. They are safe to talk to and can both abide with and gently challenge your fears, while your wider group of friends and family might seem not to understand it. Safe people are also those who you trust to talk to about other difficult situations in your life. They can be best friends or family members that were supportive during your loss pregnancy and after. Sometimes, a loss causes us to re-evaluate who are support systems really are. Frequently, babyloss parents are surprised to find that certain unexpected people “step forward” during and after their experience, and these are people who are likely to be there for you this time around too. Similarly, don’t reach out to people who weren’t supportive in the past, as you may feel you’re wasting your valuable energy.
  • Find a safe zone. A safe zone isn’t necessarily a physical location, but moments in time where you feel you can breathe a little bit easier. For many loss parents, this happens after 11-week or 20-week scans, genetic counseling appointments, or the end of the first or second trimester. You can work with your therapist on deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or other stress management techniques to help get you through these commonly triggering appointments, but also allow yourself real time to breathe and regroup when you get through them successfully. Each clear or “unremarkable” scan will provide you with greater certainty that this baby will make it where perhaps, your last one wasn’t able to. Your rainbow baby, then, honors the legacy of the baby that you lost and can help you find hope after tragedy. Create safe zones to look forward to at the beginning of the pregnancy, and create ways to celebrate them!

It is so very important not to judge yourself or tell yourself you don’t love your baby-to-be if you have been emotional cushioning during a subsequent pregnancy. Your grief and fear come from a place of love and pain, and they do not mean that you won’t attach to or love your baby. But emotional cushioning doesn’t work to protect or help you survive a subsequent pregnancy after loss. Consider using these tips or reaching out to a therapist for more help, so that you can enjoy the pregnancy you so very much deserve.

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