A subsequent pregnancy....I write this post not to convince you that I am crazy (I already know that) but in hopes that someone else reading this may feel a sense of normalcy. I write based off my own experiences and conversations with other women. I realize everyone has different experiences and I am in no way am I trying to generalize the experience of a subsequent pregnancy.If you are a mother who has experienced child loss and not yet embarked on the journey of a subsequent pregnancy, this post is not meant to frighten you. I only write so that if you experience some of these things, you won't feel alone. All the anxiety, sleepless nights, and tears are completely worth the joy I experienced holding my rainbow babies. Even though a subsequent pregnancy is emotionally hard, I would do it time and time again. In hindsight I wish someone would have forewarned me that a subsequent pregnancy would be a rollercoaster that not many can relate to.
This post is for the mother who is experiencing a subsequent pregnancy and feels alone....for the mother who has experienced child loss and is worried about what a future pregnancy holds....for the mother who has delivered her rainbow baby but felt a little crazy and wondered what was wrong with her. So unless you can relate to one of those scenarios, you will probably read this and be convinced that I really am crazy.
I am not an expert on the topic of a subsequent pregnancy, but I am currently in my third subsequent pregnancy so I feel somewhat "qualified" to talk about the subject. I talk with many women about their child loss & subsequent pregnancy experiences and I've come to the conclusion that unless you've been through a subsequent pregnancy, you can't relate to the feelings the grieving mother experiences. Even though I've delivered two healthy babies and Bristol died 4 yrs ago, that doesn't seem to change the way emotions erupt in a subsequent pregnancy. I thought it would get easier with each subsequent pregnancy, but somehow it hasn't worked that way. Each of my subsequent pregnancies has been different and I have struggled with different things. Maybe because I know how many things can go wrong in a pregnancy, I feel I am tempting fate once more. Once your heart has been broken by child loss you never forget that pain...and going through a pregnancy again feels....wrong, weird, hard, emotional, abnormal, crazy...I'm not sure what word to use....
I've thought about writing this post for some time now, and today is the breaking point. I know 6 other women who are currently pregnant in a subsequent pregnancy, and struggle with some of the emotions I'll talk about....guilt, anxiety, fear, depression, detachment.....and yet, even though we all have similar feelings and there is some comfort in that, it still doesn't feel right. Maybe because we base our expected pregnancy emotions off the 'normal' pregnancy. After all, there is no handbook or What to Expect When You're Expecting After You've Held a Dead Baby to guide you through a subsequent pregnancy. Instead we are often left struggling with these emotions alone. Subsequent pregnancy support groups are not common and not every woman is able to attend such a group. (I attended one in my first subsequent pregnancy and it was truly a wonderful resource for me.) And due to the nature of 'crazy' feelings and thoughts, a grieving mother is often apprehensive about discussing her true feelings for fear that you will judge her and/or walk away wondering what's wrong with her and why can't she be happy.
So let's start off by saying that NONE of the feelings a mother feels in a subsequent pregnancy means she is not happy to be pregnant. She is happy, excited, and thrilled at the possibility of having another baby. However, because she has experienced heartache in the realm of pregnancy, her fears may overshadow her bubbling excitement and hide her "baby on board" shirt. So please don't judge her, or question her actions or words. She may be struggling and the best thing you can do is practice grace and bless her with open arms....just watch out, she may collapse in them with tears.
Too often people try to comfort the mother by saying things that aren't helpful. I realize your intentions come from a good place, but let me just say that your words may not have the affect you were hoping for. Here are just a few examples....
* have faith: Please don't mistake fear & anxiety as a lack of faith. I know that I have relied more on my faith during pregnancies than at other times in my life. While I trust that God is good all the time, I also know He is always in control. So while I desperately want to believe that I will hold a healthy baby in my arms, I know that God is in control when that dream doesn't come true. Just as a cancer patient may lose their battle, fearing the worst doesn't mean you lack faith. Here's an alternative statement: "I know God has a plan for you & this baby. And I'm praying he answers your prayers for a healthy baby."
* relax, don't stress, it isn't good for the baby: Believe me I am trying to relax. I am trying to enjoy the pregnancy. But I can't lay aside my underlying fear all the time, no matter how hard I try, it still creeps up. And the last thing I need to hear is that something isn't good for the baby. I don't need to worry about something else that could possibly harm my baby when I already feel guilty for the one I lost.
Try: "This must be hard for you. I will keep you in my prayers. What can I do to help support you?"
*things will be fine, try and enjoy the pregnancy: Unfortunately the mother who has experienced child loss knows all too well that things can go wrong in pregnancy. Their naivety is lost in a subsequent pregnancy so blanket feel good statements are not helpful. The best advice I have is to just avoid those statements. Instead, ask how they are feeling and when their next appointment is.
My own sort of crazy....I've talked with enough women to know that I'm not completely alone in some of my experiences throughout a subsequent pregnancy. So take what I say for what it is....these are things I have experienced. Maybe you can relate, and maybe you've experienced something else. But I know you won't read any of this in a pregnancy book....so I'm praying that my disclosing will only be helpful or reassuring to another mother in this 'club'....
In my first subsequent pregnancy I used to tell Brad about some of my feelings & the nightmares I was having. But instead of being supportive he looked at me like I was crazy and told me to "stop it." His attitude didn't change and I found myself talking less to him about what I was experiencing....I'm not trying to bash him, but I think a subsequent pregnancy, just like child loss, affects the man and woman differently. So if you're husband looks at you like you're nuts, please email me (email@example.com) and try not to let his actions/words bother you. He is probably struggling in his own way and doesn't know how to communicate that to you since men want to be fixers.
Blood. I find myself looking for blood every time I go to the bathroom. Yes, every time. I will even turn the light on at night, convinced that I am miscarrying. I'm not sure why I do this- and I feel crazy every time I look, and even more so admitting it- I've never experienced a loss this way so it seems completely irrational...but at the same time I can't help myself. My only rationale is that I've convinced myself the pregnancy will end in heartache so I look for the first possible sign.
Fear. I am excited at the possibility of having another baby, but I have a hard time believing that the positive pregnancy test will result in a healthy, alive baby in my arms. I am terrified of having to say another goodbye. I'm pretty sure it would kill me and that I wouldn't survive another heartache. I so desperately want to believe in a happy ending, but fear grips my heart and I struggle to emotionally accept the pregnancy.
Anxiety. I worry about everything, it's a constant battle. I try not to and I may have good moments, but there is always a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me of the what ifs. If I'm not tired/nauseous/craving something, I worry that I'm no longer pregnant. I worry about lab results and ultrasounds send me over the edge with high blood pressure and near panic attacks. If I don't feel the baby move, I convince myself the baby has died. I may drink a coke to see if I can get the baby active, but then I worry that the coke will somehow harm the baby and then feel guilty about worrying and drinking a coke. Then I worry that the baby will be so active he/she will wrap the cord in a knot or around their neck. I try not to worry, but it's always there. I find myself turning to prayer a lot...
Sleep. This is one 'symptom' that literally had me wondering if I was losing my mind until I confessed at a subsequent support group. After I confessed my nightmares another woman reached across the table to grab my hand. With tears in her eyes, she reassured me that she too had similar dreams. What a blessing. I needed to hear that. I needed to feel normal in the most abnormal period of my life. Nightmares...sleep was a struggle, and when I slept I often woke from horrible dreams. My dreams consisted of holding/seeing dead babies, of hearing babies cry but never being able to find the baby or soothe the baby, of reliving the feeling of delivering a dead baby...it was awful. I would wake from these dreams in panic and convinced the baby was dead. There have been times I would take a pregnancy test in the middle of the night just to see the positive result, or used a fetal Doppler to hear the baby's heartbeat. These were lifesavers for me. This is one of those unspoken things...when people ask how you are doing, they don't really want to hear how crazy you feel or awful dreams like this....and I can tell you that when I've confessed this to family or friends, they get the deer-in-the-headlight-look because they don't know what to say. (bless their hearts, what do you say?!) But I know I'm not alone, so hopefully my confession helps a mother feel normal about the roller coaster of a subsequent pregnancy.
Guilt/Excitement. I want to be excited about the new baby but when fear is overwhelming, I feel guilty that I'm not announcing to the world my pregnancy on Facebook or wearing "baby on board" shirts. I feel guilty that my excitement and anticipation is balanced with fear and anxiety. I wonder if that means I love the baby less, or if that makes me a bad mother? But I know in my heart that I love the baby so much that I'm not sure I could survive saying goodbye. I struggled with having a baby shower during my first subsequent pregnancy, but was finally convinced to have one prior to my due date. After the shower I looked at everything, then packed it up in bags and closed the closet door. There was no nesting period. It's not that I wasn't excited, but I didn't want to set myself up for heartache. I felt guilty that I was already failing my baby by not being a good mom. And if it hadn't been for a handful of girlfriends I would have had nothing ready for my baby. They washed the clothes, put together the crib, put the car seat in my car, and packed my hospital bag. I was afraid that if I did those things, I would jinx it and then have to deal with putting those things away after the baby died. Even now in my 3rd subsequent pregnancy I find myself doing the same thing. I have two boys and we are pregnant with a little girl. I will have good moments where I have bought cute girl clothes, then come home and hide them away in my closet. I shake my head thinking I'm being ridiculous, but then I hear the little voice in the back of my head....
Detachment. I find myself saying things like, "If we make it to the due date...." or "If we have a baby..." I have difficulty accepting the pregnancy and then feel like the ultimate failure as a mother because I have convinced myself this pregnancy will end in heartache. I've tried to hide my baby bump and pretend I'm not pregnant. When people ask me how I'm feeling I usually respond with, "Pretty good." Then think to myself, I'm pregnant? You mean I didn't each too much pizza and that isn't a gas pain? When planning things in the future I have to make a conscious thought about how far along I will be in my pregnancy (if it continues) and then pencil it in. I don't want anything to be set in stone because I know it's not guaranteed that we'll have a baby.
Don't call the psychiatrist....at least, not yet....
These are some of the 'big' issues I've struggled with throughout my subsequent pregnancies. Maybe I've scared the crap out of you. Maybe you think I've totally lost my mind. Or maybe you can relate to some of the above scenarios. Either way, please don't judge me or any other woman who has gone through a subsequent pregnancy. It's hard and 40 weeks is a long time to be on an emotional rollercoaster. I have to find humor in some of the things I do, I have to laugh at myself because if I don't I may cry. But I pray that at the very least someone reading this will be reassured they aren't crazy, and turn to prayer to help you through.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you
Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus
Revelation 21:4 ESV
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
1 Peter 5:10 ESV
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
John 14:27 ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.