Surviving Pregnancy After Loss
I have had two pregnancies since my first baby died. They were truly magical months; healing in more ways than I could have imagined. But they were torturous, too; grief magnified as memories of the first time became so vivid that they were almost tangible. There were moments during my subsequent pregnancies when all I could do was close my eyes and breathe. There were many, many tears. But I survived.
I tried to stay present, to not look too far ahead, to not dwell too much on what had been before.
And I talked.
I talked to my doctor, to midwives, to a psychologist.
I talked to friends, to family.
I talked to anyone who would listen.
I talked about Maeve, about that first blissful pregnancy.
I talked about her death and her birth.
I re-lived them, every minuscule detail, over and over and over again.
And I asked questions.
I had a thousand “what ifs?” And I asked them all—as if asking them would somehow provide a shield of protection, preventing my fears from being realised.
I asked about every cause of baby loss I knew, and I had heard about many since being thrust into this world of the bereaved parent.
I asked about pregnancy complications. I became a placenta expert, a cord fanatic.
I asked about infections.
I asked about anything that would be considered “not compatible with life.”
I asked my doctor to save my baby ahead of saving me if that became a decision that needed to be made.
I tried hard to enjoy my first pregnancy after loss. I appreciated how miraculous it was, how it saved me, how it quite simply gave me a reason to live. But looking back, I was an anxious mess. Every breath was drawn with worry and grief. Every brief spell with no movement made the floor disappear from under me. “This is it,” I thought at every scan, “this is the one when I’ll hear those words again.” I prepared myself each time for “I’m so sorry,” for a still image on a screen, for all hope to come crashing down again.
And, yet, the weeks passed by. Excruciatingly slowly. I lived scan to scan. Reassured for the length of time it took to return to my car. By then the worries had begun to creep back in, weaving their way into my hope.
The medical support was my survival, knowing I could go to the hospital at any time for reassurance. Though interestingly I never did, as I was too afraid of bad news. I felt owned and cared about by a doctor who knew about Maeve, who was there the night she died, and who made her a part of my subsequent care. She was my greatest support, patiently hearing my fears and answering all those questions.
If you don’t have similar, please fight for it—you shouldn’t have to, but it will be worth it. Consistency of care is possible and can make all the difference, as does a delivery plan that you feel comfortable with and that takes into account the circumstances of your loss and what might trigger your grief. For me that meant a planned c-section; it was unanimously agreed that I would not cope with labour and my waters breaking because that was when Maeve died. It is a secondary loss for me, the type of birth I dreamed of, but a compromise that was easy to make to bring Maeve’s siblings home.
My third pregnancy was a little easier, mostly because I was running after an exuberant toddler and so had less time to dwell in worry and fear. Again it was a doctor who held me up with kindness and understanding and an acknowledgment of my grief, of Maeve and her importance.
My pregnancies after loss seemed like insurmountable 9-month mountains. But I survived with a lot of hope and a lot of help, with the ever-open ears of loyal friends and compassionate medical professionals. And by taking things one day, one hour, one breath at a time, until I could hold my babies in my arms and whisper in their tiny ears about the one who came before them, the one who opened my heart to motherhood.
Image: Shona Cooley Photography