Chances are, even if you don’t know who, you know someone whose life has been impacted a stillbirth. If you are aware of this, then you probably know how important it is to acknowledge and honor the baby who was lost. You may have heard the parents ask for you to say their baby’s name […]
Pregnancy after Loss AKA Why It’s Scary to Share Joyful News
So, I’m pregnant (see above). Other than a good handful of “loss moms” (mostly on Facebook), healthcare providers (everyone at my ob-gyn’s office, my dentist, my daughter’s therapist), and our immediate families–only about 10 others know (one of which is a friend/coworker who identified my pregnancy at 13 weeks–she pegged my previous 2 pregnancies also). My husband and I had a difficult time telling Astoria about this baby. Let’s just say it didn’t go great. And I waited until 21 weeks to tell my parents(!) and my boss. As I’ve been mulling over why it’s so difficult to share what should be joyous news, I’ve managed to come up with a few reasons.
Edited to add: This one is obvious and is related to the title of Trigger Warning–I’m ashamed that I forgot to write it. After nearly 19 months in the bereaved parent community, I know that pregnancy announcements can be difficult. Heck, I STILL struggle with pregnancy announcements and I’m pregnant. I doubt I will ever attend another baby shower and after Corva died it took me 17 months to hold a baby (and even then they were babies of other loss moms). Quite honestly, if it’s a fellow loss mom who is pregnant I don’t struggle but recently my college roommate announced her 4th pregnancy on social media and I had to unfollow her. I am also more aware and sensitive to those who have encountered the heartbreak of infertility. If you also struggle with pregnancy announcements, I am sorry if this post is difficult for you.
A. It could happen again
While the chances of this baby dying are low, the chances last time were also low. I was considered to be “low risk.” My blood pressure was normal, I didn’t have gestational diabetes, I didn’t use alcohol (while pregnant), drugs, or tobacco. Everything looked good. I had previously delivered a healthy baby at 40 weeks 5 days four years prior without any major complications. There was absolutely no reason to believe that my baby would die in utero. But she did. Research shows that once a woman has experienced stillbirth she is at four times greater risk of having another stillbirth. Fortunately, everything (once again), looks good for this baby and we have providers who are monitoring our progress more dutifully, but I still anxiously hold my breath daily. I don’t hold a lot of weight in statistics or chances as that really didn’t work out well for me last time.
B. Announcing this pregnancy invites conversation that I don’t want to experience
The conversation around most pregnancy revolves around excitement and happiness. I experienced this with my previous two pregnancies. And yes, I am excited and happy to welcome this baby into our family. However I’m also anxious (see point A). People typically ask about due dates (not something I want to share, I’m trying to be as vague as possible), gender (we do know the sex of this baby and have shared with some people but for a handful of reasons it’s a challenging topic), and names (see gender). Over Thanksgiving I managed to answer questions as briefly as possible and move the conversation away from my midsection. When I shared the news with my boss, I did reiterate (numerous times like a nervous lunatic) that we weren’t really sharing the news with many people. She promised to keep quiet (and I believe her completely) but she did ask what I’m going to do as I begin to show (more). I believe that some people will be oblivious, some people will just think I’m getting fat(ter), and others will suspect but have enough tact to not ask. At least this is what I’m hoping for.
C. Some people will assume that this new baby will “heal” our family
Let’s just make something clear right now: I think about Corva (and Astoria and this new little one) every.single.day. I know there are people out there who may think this is morbid or strange or believe I should just “move on” from such a tragedy. To them I ask: Do you think about your children everyday? How could a mother forget her child? I carried her for 40 weeks before she died and I delivered her in the same way I delivered my oldest daughter. Our third child is an addition to our family, not a replacement.
D. Some people lack tact
While most people were supportive after our loss and some continue to remember Corva with our family, other people weren’t/didn’t know how to be “there” for us during our grief. (Two of these people are my own parents which is why I waited so long to share our news with them. This has been a very hurtful scenario for me to navigate). If something DOES happen to this child (see point A), I assume those who failed to support our family the first time would continue in the same manner. Right now, my heart just can’t take that. I want to avoid conversations (see point B) that invite platitudes and hurtful comments, even if unintentional.
And last, but certainly not least…
E. I fear my child will be forgotten
There are going to be people who, upon finding out about this third baby, sigh with relief and think such thoughts as now they can move on. (see point C). And while I will never forget my 2nd daughter, my baby who never took a breath, others will forget and never mention her.
What were the biggest challenges you had in your pregnancy(ies) after your loss?
A few weeks ago, a fellow “loss mom” messaged me to check in. She noticed I hadn’t posted a blog in awhile. Yup, #truestory. And it’s not that I don’t have ideas for posts. I have a handful of half finished Google Docs that I could, well, finish and post. But for whatever reason, I haven’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve been having a crazy/busy summer with trips and house guests and work. Maybe it’s because my brain doesn’t work right anymore. Or maybe it’s just so painful. Like now I’ve gotten to this point where I feel like I’ve been able to manage my grief and if I churn up a blog post it unleashes all these emotions and I might (gasp) cry. Whereas before, I couldn’t stop crying and writing and posting now, it’s the opposite.
One year ago, I was crying multiple times a day. I was devastated and heartbroken. I truly thought I would never be happy again. I couldn’t imagine having to live the rest of my life in such sorrow, because the sorrow was so painful. I blogged frequently. It was a way to process what happened to me–to my family, to my dreams, to my life.
These days, I still cry but not everyday. I do think about Corva daily, how could I not? I miss her terribly and imagine what our lives would be like had she survived. That in-and-of-itself is a dangerous path to venture down. It leads to what-ifs, doubts, and blame.
Several weeks ago, we took our 2nd annual family vacation to Rye, NH–gorgeous beach, lots of sun and sand. It was the second year writing Corva’s name in the sand. This year I wrote some names for some other loss moms but my internet wasn’t working and I spelled one baby’s name wrong and neglected a few others which was terrible because these women have been my tribe for the past 14 months. But then I also had Astoria tugging at me to go with her to the water and because I’m paranoid and 50% of my children are dead, I won’t let her go in the surf alone. So I vow to do better the next time I’m at the beach. Also, for writing names in the sand, it can’t be too gloppy and it can’t be too dry. Who knew?
I’m still fairly active in a handful of Facebook support groups, though I have failed to return whole-heartedly to my in-person support group (I did get together with 2 other moms in the month of May, which proved to be a difficult month–duh–to say the least). And I’ve noticed that now, 14 months out, I’m the one commenting on the posts from moms saying “it’s been x days since my baby died.” I’m the one reaching back 13 months to my own dark days, searching for what helped me the most. I remember desperately looking for a way to survive the pain–I found the Facebook groups, the blogs, the memoirs, the Still Standing articles. And it blows my mind that I wasn’t the last one whose baby died, that many more families have faced this heartbreak.
If you’re reading this and you have experienced the death of your baby, I am so sorry for your pain. There are a lot of us mamas, more than there should be. And we are here, we are still standing.
Have you ever felt like the universe, seeing that you’re already on the ground, approaches and beats you up (or down)? This feels like my life right now. Monday morning my husband told me that he couldn’t find our cat. He had last seen him outside on our patio and had left the door to the garage open so he could come in at his leisure. We live in the country and I am certain that some animal has killed him.
Pedro was born May 15, 2005 in Oregon. My husband and I, not married or engaged at the time, had just moved into a shared house together in June 2005. I hadn’t had a cat in years–not since leaving my parents’ home for college in 1998. I’m a cat person. We picked up this adorable sweet tiny kitten from a pet store in July 2005. He was named for the character of Pedro in the movie Napoleon Dynamite.
As a kitten, I diligently taught Pedro not to climb on tables and counters. He lived in our rental home in Corvallis until we purchased our first home together in Monmouth. Once Aaron accepted a position in Orono and moved to Maine, Pedro kept me company in Oregon. Pedro helped me plan my wedding (ok, not really, but he was there). He loved going outside–though I tried so hard to keep him as an indoor cat–he was so happy outside with the wind ruffling his fur. When it was time to move him to Maine, we flew him on the plane, worried the whole time. He enjoyed clawing up our small rental house in Hampden and his life ended in Winterport, Maine.
Pedro was part of our family for 80% of our relationship. He literally was our first (and only) “fur baby”. He endured 2 pregnancies with me and met one of my children. He had incredibly soft fur–great for sopping up tears. He was also a good lap cat and loved to purr and be petted. As a baby, Astoria picked up a few signs and faithfully “signed” cat for Pedro (which was actually her just brushing her fingers against her cheeks to indicate whiskers).
Don’t get me wrong–he had his faults. His long soft fur shed like crazy, especially during season changes. He would get thick knots in his fur that I would brush out. He scratched up a great deal of our furniture. Once Astoria started walking he seemed to be really pissed (literally) and peed up one of our area rugs. He had constant eye gunk which every vet attributed to allergies. He coughed up the most disgusting fur balls and in recent years seemed to be getting some sort of cat IBS, which sometimes he uncontrollably shat on same pissed-on rug.
I’ve lost my fair share of pets in my life. In addition to like 5 cats (4 hit by cars), there was a dog, a couple of chameleons, a hermit crab, a snail, and numerous fish. Most of the time, we are going to outlive our pets. And losing a pet doesn’t come close to the loss of a beloved child. But it still stings. It’s still a reminder that we can lose what we love in a second.
May 15 2005-May 13, 2018
May 8, 2018
I can’t bring myself to say Happy Birthday, for a happy birthday would be one with you here. You are supposed to be here with us, your parents and big sister. We are supposed to be taking messy cake pictures and helping you open gifts. I’m supposed to be whispering I love yous in your tiny ear.
I has been fifty-two long weeks–it feels like yesterday and also a thousand years ago–since I whispered hello and goodbye all in one breath.
I need you to know that my love for you will last forever. Even if you see me smile or laugh or enjoy life, you are always on my mind and I am always thinking about you and wishing you were here on earth.
I love you, baby girl.
I had anticipated that May 2018 would be rough but April surprised me. The end of the month brought me back to one year prior–36 weeks pregnant, 37 weeks pregnant, 38 weeks pregnant. Tomorrow marks the Monday that last year I was 39 weeks pregnant. Spring is my absolute most favorite season. I wanted both of my children to have spring birthdays–it’s the season of new life, of hope, of growth.
Last summer I had to “unfollow” another loss mom. She’s had a long and heartbreaking journey through fertility treatments, 2nd trimester loss of twins, and eventual adoption. She and her husband adopted an embryo last summer and her due date was May 5th. Yes I was happy for her, no I couldn’t bring myself to continue going to my support group and watch her growing belly, knowing that her timeline would follow mine from one year ago. Too painful. I found out that she delivered her healthy baby girl via C-Section last Thursday. So happy for her. So sad for me.
Yesterday I found myself at a “Baby Fair” (no, they weren’t selling babies, it’s one of those indoor yard sales where people set up tables and try to sell off their used kids’ clothes, books, and toys–they’re very popular around here). I was there to scope out toys and books for my oldest. I hate picking through used clothes at those type of sales. No luck finding any Shopkins but I did manage to pick up a slew of Magic Tree House books for a bargain. It’s getting easier to see babies although there’s always a bit of an ache in my heart for what I should have but don’t. I ran into another loss mom from my abandoned support group. This is a mom I actually like very much, who I feel actually gets my pain. She lost her son, Malcolm 3 ½ years ago at 39 weeks. Since then, she’s gone on to have twin boys who are now a bit over 2 years. I remarked that my one year is approaching and that I don’t know what to do. We don’t have a grave. I’m not planning to go to work that day but my husband has to give a final exam and I’m hoping to send my oldest daughter to school. It will be a Tuesday this year. I don’t want to have a party for my dead baby. I know some people do that, and that’s fine if it works for them. I can’t imagine saying Happy Birthday. A happy birthday would be one here on earth with her family. I’ve thought about making the 50 minute drive to the hospital where I delivered. Then what? I’ve thought about having flowers delivered to the nurses on the labor and delivery ward. I’ve thought about curling up in bed for the day.
This coming week will be difficult. One year ago I was at the very end of my pregnancy, ready to meet my baby. It was this week a year ago when my husband became very sick, one year ago this Saturday when he was admitted for observation at the local hospital. And that is likely when Corva died. As I lay down with Astoria, I fell asleep only to awake at midnight and throw up violently (I’d been sick the entire pregnancy). I often wonder if that is the moment life left her little body. On Sunday Astoria and I picked my husband up from the hospital and on Monday May 8, 2017 I awoke in labor, having no idea my baby had already died.
It’s spring again, one year later. The snow has melted. The birds are singing. My friend’s goat delivered two healthy babies last night. But all I can think about is what I don’t have. My hope is gone.
Fifty-two weeks ago, on a Friday night after a full day of work, I was laying down with my 3 year old daughter. I turned to my husband and said “I don’t think the baby has been moving much today.” It was my 37th birthday and I was 37 weeks pregnant. I texted my midwife. Here’s our conversation:
April 21, 2017 at 7:07 PM:
Me: Today I didn’t feel much movement from the baby
Laura: Are you concerned?
Me: Not sure, it’s a bit unusual to not feel some activity after I eat dinner but I think I’m feeling light movement just not strong obvious moving.
Laura: Babies have less room to move as they get bigger. It’s not uncommon for there to be a gradual decrease in the strength of their movements.
Try lying on your left side and see if you get some movement
I’ll admit I had no idea that my baby could die. In retrospect, that sounds so stupid, so naive. How did I think I was immune to this tragedy? I had never had a pregnancy loss, already delivered a full-term healthy child, my blood pressure was perfect, as were my blood sugars. I didn’t drink, smoke, or do any illicit drugs. Nobody had ever mentioned the possibility of stillbirth to me.
If only I had known. If any pregnant woman ever has an inkling of a doubt, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to the hospital.
Of course it’s possible, that had I gone to the hospital, an ultrasound could have deemed my baby fine and I would have been sent home. But what if something was off? What if the decision was made to give me a c-section that night? I would be holding my youngest child right now, planning a first birthday party.
Why risk it?
I will regret, for every second of my life, that I didn’t follow my instincts. I will blame myself, of course, regardless of what others say.
There are even apps for kick counting.
One part of me feels I should have known better, like it’s a “duh” concept. Another part of me blames my midwife. The letters after her name, CPM, stands for Certified Professional Midwife. And yet she acted unprofessionally multiple times. She let me down. She spoke with me in-depth about baby-wearing and eating dates to induce labor but somehow she left out the importance of kick-counting?
I just can’t.
I have to live with this for the rest of my life. My only consolation is that she does too. Three months after I delivered my dead daughter, she delivered a living son. I hope that every time she looks at him she remembers the terrible advice she gave me that cost my daughter’s life.
(Yes, I am still stuck in the ‘anger stage’).