After 5 years of trying for a baby — and 5 losses along the way — I was ready to call it quits.
I asked my husband to get a vasectomy. He said he wasn’t ready to be done. I told him my body seemed to have made that decision for us. But after a lot of thought, I was willing to give it one more chance.
I stopped birth control, but I had no expectations. Frankly, I had no hope either.
Then just one month after stopping birth control, I realized my period was a few days later than normal. Not thinking much of it, I tested that night.
The surprises continued. My ultrasounds kept showing a baby with a heartbeat.
And as the baby continued to stick around, the pleasant surprises mounted. Yes — it was a really hard pregnancy, as any pregnancy after loss is. Yes, I was scared day in and day out. Yes, I was so afraid that things were too good to be true.
But then, we had our baby. A live baby, after a straightforward, uncomplicated birth.
Now, with a baby in my arms, I discovered that pregnancy after loss was not only completely different — but having a newborn following loss is so different than I expected.
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Here are 7 feelings that took my by surprise after having a baby after loss:
Maybe it’s a way of protecting myself. Maybe it’s the lack of naievity. But during pregnancy – -I refused to take anything for granted. The moment I would think, “This summer, I will be this many weeks along, and my baby will reach this milestone . . .” I stopped myself. I didn’t ever look ahead on Baby Center’s week-to-week countdown. The day I moved ahead in weeks, was the day I Googled my baby’s development. I knew things could change at any moment — and I wanted to my expectations to a minimum.
Once the baby was in my arms, I didn’t realize this sort of mental protection would continue. But it did.
Just the other day, I thought about our upcoming summer vacation. I began daydreaming a bit of what we would need to pack for the baby and how she would do on the drive over. And then I stopped myself. “You have no idea if your baby will even be alive in 9 months. SOOO much could still happen.”
When she was brand, brand new, my husband was on edge. He looked at me, and said, “I just wish I could know if we get to keep her.”
I had thought that once she was here, I would feel some sort permanence. Like, she is here, and she is here to stay.
I thought I’d be able to count on that. But for some reason, my mind keeps thinking that happily ever after is too good to be true.
I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
2. Vulnerable. (And guarded.)
When I went through my first loss, I expected everyone around me to be able to feel the pain with me. I know some of my pregnant friends couldn’t “go there” … And to be honest, it felt a little frustrating to me.
In our pregnancy loss support group, we talked about how some people couldn’t handle our experiences. And the mantra that kept getting passed around was, “If you don’t feel like you can handle it, think about how the bereaved mom feels! She has no choice but to handle it.”
But it now that I’m on the other side, I’m struggling to handle people’s stories. I think in part it’s because I’m so intensely aware of what bereaved moms are missing out on. Every moment of joy I feel is a moment they don’t have with their son or daughter. Every milestone, every smile, every second my heart feels like it couldn’t love this little person in my arms anymore … I can’t help but remember my friends who are not experiencing the same.
Maybe it’s just too many emotions at once. Maybe it’s hormones. Or maybe it’s an intense desire to protect the joy I’ve fought so hard to attain.
Whatever it is, I struggle knowing I can’t support others right now the way I once needed support.
Which actually makes me feel …
Like walking away from an accident that claimed the lives of others, I’m walking away from infertility and loss with not only my life intact … But with a baby in my arms. And I feel guilty as heck for it.
Why was I given a rainbow, and my friend wasn’t? Why do I get to raise my 6 lb newborn when she had to bury hers? Why did I get pregnant without help when her last round of IVF just failed?
Just like loss has no rhyme or reason — blessings don’t seem to either.
Guilt follows me on Facebook. Who, I wonder, is triggered by my baby pictures? While I was super careful about my photos and statuses during pregnancy, I’m choosing not to censor photos of my baby, just as I still post photos of my older two. And yet … I still worry that my joy is triggering someone else’s grief.
Guilt follows me as I snuggle my baby to my chest as I shop. Strangers surround me, and I wonder if any of them are looking at me the way I looked at other new moms in the store when dealing with pregnancy loss/infertility.
Guilt follows me as I write. Who am I to write about having a live baby to a group full of parents mourning their child who died or their inability to have children? And yet I do … Because I know that many of you are also facing the mind game called parenting after loss.
Truth: There should be nothing guilt-inducing about walking away from this journey with a baby in my arms.
Also Truth: Guilt couldn’t care less. It’s ruthless.
When people used to ask me about having another baby, my go-to response was, “I’m not very good at pregnancy.” That’s a really nice way of saying, “I have had 5 losses and have twice had life-threatening pregnancy complications.”
Reading birth stories made me sad for what I thought I’d never have — an uncomplicated birth resulting in a live baby. Driving past the labor and delivery entrance to the hospital often welled up feelings of sadness. Hearing pregnancy announcements, seeing new babies and bumps when I was out and about, and walking past the baby section at a store all used to cause a prickly sort of pain in my heart. It’s as though there was always a nerve, raw and tender, and easy to hurt.
Fast forward to now …. And my Facebook feed is FULL of newborn baby pictures, baby bumps, and pregnancy announcements. And I LOVE it.
Having a baby in my arms to love on has really helped heal the constant ache I had in my heart.
My birthing experience was everything I wanted (minus the tear at the end.) Really, I would have been happy with anything that resulted in a live baby. But getting the natural birthing experience I hoped for — where things went smoothly and everyone was healthy — was like getting the icing on top of the cake.
My body ripped, my body bled, my body tore with my daughter’s birth. But my soul? My soul found healing.
Somewhere along the path of pregnancy loss, I swore that if I ever had a healthy baby again, I would feel nothing but gratitude.
While I obviously can’t say I’ve not felt anything else … I can say I have never been so crazy thankful in my whole life.
Nothing about her seems mundane to me. Nothing deserves to be taken for granted. I whisper a thanksgiving to God countless times every day.
“Thank you for this second chance. Thank you for this beautiful baby. Thank you for her breath. Thank you for the delicious smell of her head.”
I know I can’t take anything for granted. So I don’t. I’m thankful. Just. So. Thankful.
But …I’m also ….
6. Scared (out of my ever-loving mind).
During pregnancy, my doctor told me that my fertility struggles lent me to having a higher risk of postpartum depression. Since I have a history of depression anyway, I got a prescription for an anti-depressant, filled it, and it’s waiting on my microwave just in case depression sneaks silently back into my psyche.
So far … So good. I feel very happy, not depressed.
That postpartum was anxiety though? Killer.
Initially, I went through feelings of not wanting anyone to hold the baby because they might drop her. Then, in the hospital, I couldn’t sleep. She had swallowed amniotic fluid and blood, and was spitting up and choking. So I pretty much stayed awake for almost 2 nights in a row to make sure she didn’t choke. And the kind nurse informed me babies had died from sleeping with mom in those hospital beds, so no matter how often I drifted off to sleep while nursing, I always jolted myself awake out of fear my baby would die.
Later she developed horrible reflux. While I handled it just fine with my other kids, with this baby, projectile vomiting is so stress-inducing. After one bad evening, I found myself in tears. My husband had to console me AND baby, all while feeling scared himself.
Reflux, while not normal, is common. And shouldn’t demand the “fight-or-flight” response that I meet every bad spit-up with or every gagging episode.
Anxiety has made me aware of all threats to my daughter’s well-being, real or imagined, at all times.
Forget laid-back parenting. I think I’m going to be fighting the urge to be a helicopter mom for the rest of her life.
7. At peace.
Now that I’ve just shared how crazy anxious I can be, feeling peace might be the last thing you would expect me to say.
But the truth is … I can look back at the last 5 years of heartache, and yearning, and loss … And I can see that it has all led to this baby here in my arms. If I hadn’t gone through the journey of both grief and joy … I never would have been able to say hello to this little one.
I’m so glad God will never have to ask me to choose between having my living children, and the ones I said good-bye to. For now, I just get to say, I love all my babies. I wanted them all.
I had already come to a decision that I would be OK even if I never had another baby. But now that she’s here, I can finally say our fertility journey is over, and it ended in the best way I would have chosen for our family … with this precious gift in our arms, and love flowing over in our hearts.
Was having a baby after loss everything you expected? Or did you also have some surprise feelings along the way? What were some of the joys or struggles you didn’t know to expect?
Rachel Lewis is a foster, adoptive and birth mom. She lost her second baby she named Olivia to a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, and had 4 miscarriages in the following 4 years. On the journey to becoming a family, she gave birth twice (once to a rainbow), adopted a precious daughter and fostered and released a darling son after a year and a half. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids around, you can find her shopping at Trader Joe’s, drinking coffee, or writing about her journey as a mom at www.TheLewisNote.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Thelewisnote. And join her online support group for bereaved and infertile mamas at Brave Mamas, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1657136001012257/