Background: Pregnancies after perinatal loss are known to be anxiety-filled. Stress in pregnancy and the response to it, often seen as anxiety and depression, have known negative consequences for obstetric outcomes, parenting, and infant behaviors. Women have reported fluctuating emotions in response to events in their subsequent pregnancies, but these pregnancies have not been studied longitudinally.
Objectives: To test Lazarus' theory of stress, coping, and emotions in this population, and to understand the patterns of threat appraisal, coping, and emotional states of women across pregnancy after perinatal loss.
Methods: In this predictive correlational study, 82 women pregnant after loss (PAL) were followed, and the study was guided longitudinally by Lazarus' theory of stress, coping, and emotions. Obstetric and loss history, and assigned fetal personhood were gathered at intake (Time 1). Measures completed at 10-week intervals (one time each trimester) included Moneyham Threat Index (threat appraisal), Ways of Coping Checklist-Revised (relative coping), Pregnancy Anxiety Scale (pregnancy anxiety), Multiple Affect Adjective Checklist-Revised (emotional states), and Stress in Life (stress). Time 3 sample size was 70.
Results: Threat appraisal was correlated with assigned fetal personhood and gestational age of past loss. Pregnancy subsequent to loss was perceived as a threat, and threat appraisal strongly predicted pregnancy anxiety. Pregnancy anxiety, reported at moderate levels on average, decreased over time; threat appraisal, coping, and other emotions were stable across pregnancy. Coping did not mediate these effects, but relative coping was correlated with emotional status as theorized, with problem-focused coping used more than emotion-focused coping.
Discussion: Women find pregnancy after loss stressful and a threat, and this appraisal remains across pregnancy. Because pregnancy anxiety is common, and highest in early pregnancy, providers should address worries and fears with all women early in PAL. Interventions must be tested in future studies.