How to Treat Grief and Pregnancy Loss: An interview with a certified EMDR therapist.
Jessie Cuadros is a Certified EMDR therapist who specializes in grief and pregnancy loss. Her practice in Orlando Florida accommodates both in-person and telehealth services. She shared with me her passion to treat those who have lost a pregnancy via miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth. I really wanted to chat with an expert to highlight this topic as it’s something I have encountered in my work as a couples therapist. People do not talk about this issue enough and many couples tell me the pain can feel so isolating even within their own relationship.
Kari: Let’s start with EMDR. How do you explain this treatment to clients?
Jessie: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a special form of therapy that has been extensively researched and proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences. EMDR is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain, allowing it to resume its natural healing process so that it is not reacting as if it is still in danger. It uses bilateral stimulation (such as back and forth eye movements) to activate the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The idea behind it is that maladaptive behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are a result of unprocessed memories. There are eight phases to the model that focuses on preparing and stabilizing for processing, the reprocessing, and the installation of new thoughts and behaviors.
Kari: What interested you in getting trained and certified in EMDR?
Jessie: After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL in 2016 there was an overwhelming amount of trauma that the city experienced. The Trauma and Recovery Network of Central Florida initiated an EMDR training to help respond to the local crisis. I wanted to learn the tools to be able to respond to the outpouring of trauma happening in our community. I completed my training in 2016 and continued with the certification process which I completed in 2018.
Kari: When did you start working with those who have lost a pregnancy?
Jessie: I have had a lot of friends who have experienced all different types of pregnancy loss. To be able to provide support as a friend led me to be interested in this area therapeutically. In 2008, I got involved with a pregnancy loss retreat as a volunteer and transitioned to a counselor. In 2019, I opened my private practice to better help serve those with pregnancy loss.
Kari: What do people need to know about getting help for pregnancy loss?
Jessie: First of all, you need to know your pain is valid. Often times society doesn’t view pregnancy loss as a legitimate loss and this is unfortunate because the parents may be left to grieve alone. It’s important to know that this form of loss goes through the grieving process like any other form of loss. Sometimes people may be tempted to ignore it but if you don’t process the grief, it can interfere with other areas of your life. Grief can be a form of trauma especially when the loss involves your body such as with pregnancy. Trauma can be stored in the mind and body in ways that can be overwhelming for the individual or couple. This is where EMDR can be an effective form of treatment for those experiencing pregnancy loss.
Kari: I’ve heard people who’ve experienced this loss say it can be very isolating. Tell me more about that.
Jessie: Often times when someone experiences a pregnancy loss, the feeling that no one will understand what they are going through can be true and valid. It may be hard for friends or family to understand if they haven’t been through a similar experience. This form of grief is unique as often times there isn’t a funeral or traditional ritual with loved ones to process the loss. Partners may also have difficulty understanding as they may experience the loss differently. Instead of grieving together, this can cause a lack of connection between them. With abortion, this can be a stigmatized topic and the individual feels they can’t open up for fear of judgment.
Kari: I know all types of pregnancy loss can be devastating. Are there special complexities in certain losses?
Jessie: As mentioned before, abortion is considered a controversial topic regarding pregnancy loss. The very nature of this can leave the individual feeling trapped. Not everyone feels like they have a choice with abortion, there could be a medical issue, domestic abuse, rape, pressure from loved ones, financial instability, etc. Even if those reasons aren’t the case, someone can experience regret later on and grief is still a natural response to any loss. In regards to a miscarriage if there are infertility issues this can complicate the trauma because it can be ongoing. There is no physical representation of the baby so others may not understand. With a stillbirth, a full-term baby was carried, celebrations may have occurred and the expectations beyond birth have been shattered. This creates a complex trauma experience.
Kari: I read a research article about how men are often neglected when we think about pregnancy loss. How can we improve accessibility for support for men who’ve experienced loss too?
Jessie: I think what would be helpful is talking about it more to make it a more known issue. Men are most definitely affected by a pregnancy loss and because they didn’t carry the pregnancy themselves it may make their grief more complex. It would be helpful for conversations to be held at the doctor’s office about both partners seeking supportive services. I would also love to see more research and literature on how men are affected by pregnancy loss to make the issue more transparent.
Many thanks to Jessie for sharing her expertise. Learn more about her and her work here. Along with seeking individual therapy for pregnancy loss, couples counseling can be extremely helpful. As Jessie stated couples, can have different reactions when experiencing grief and trauma that can cause issues in the relationship. Using the Gottman Method, I work with the couple to communicate and find a deeper understanding of their partner’s feelings and needs about the loss. We work on rituals of connection to honor their loss and build shared meaning in the relationship. Shared grief can be a hard thing to navigate and seeking a qualified trauma couples therapist can help you stay connected and repair any hurt between you.