My daughter was stillborn seven years ago, and since then, I’ve witnessed many friends and family members become pregnant and give birth to healthy babies. Each time that news arrives, it brings a flood of emotions – excitement and happiness for the blessing of a child, but also inevitably grief, jealousy, fear, and anxiety. The loss of my daughter to stillbirth at full term has changed the way I feel about and react to pregnancy and birth announcements.
Here’s what I want you to know:
I Don’t Begrudge You Happiness
I want you to be excited and grateful for this blessing in your life, maybe more than most because I know how precious and fleeting each moment is. I’ve learned there are no guarantees. So, please, don’t feel you need to hide your happiness on my account.
Just understand that your pregnancy may also trigger sadness over what I lost. And that’s okay. Normal, even. If you see my tears or catch a glimpse of my grief, it doesn’t mean I’m not happy for you. There are so many emotions that accompany life after loss. Happiness and sadness can coexist. It’s all right to acknowledge both.
Baby Showers Are Off the Table
I may be so happy for you, and still not come to your baby shower. I appreciate the invite and am glad you sent it, but I probably won’t make it. It’s not about you or not being excited for you, so please don’t be offended. It’s all the “oohs” and “aahs” over your gifts, the shower games, the silly prizes, the cake, and the baby bliss in the air. It takes me back to my own shower, and how excited I was. How completely unaware of the tragedy looming in my future.
I wish nothing but the best for you and your baby. But I’ll be a harsh reminder to everyone there that awful things can happen without warning. And baby showers remind me of happy anticipation followed by unexpected and wrenching pain. Who wants to play “what’s in your purse” with all that going on?
For both our sakes, I’ll probably sit this one out.
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It’s Okay To Talk About It
I wish we could talk about how awkward this is at times – for both of us. As your belly grows, your ultrasound pictures collect, you pick names and dream about meeting your baby, I remember and think about doing those things with my daughter.
Sometimes I want to talk about my pregnancy when it comes up. I remember having awful morning sickness during my first trimester, too. Ugh. Back pain? Yep, I remember that well. Those first flutter kicks, baby hiccups at night, and hearing her heartbeat for the first time? Precious.
These things might be hard for you to hear. You may want to pretend my pregnancy never existed because you don’t want to think about what could happen. I get that. But I can’t pretend I was never pregnant. I’ve tried, and it’s just so much harder and more devastating to act like none of it ever happened.
So let’s just acknowledge that this is hard sometimes. I want to be happy for you, and it will be easier if we can also make room for the complicated emotions we both have about your pregnancy.
Stillbirth Is Not Contagious
When I was pregnant, I didn’t want to hear horror stories of labor and delivery, the near misses that still ended up better than the outcome I was unknowingly facing. I just wanted all the good vibes, positive thoughts, and happy expectations. I didn’t want to think about the actual, real dangers of childbirth because I only wanted to believe that mine was going to be perfect.
Shortly after my daughter was stillborn, I felt so anxious around pregnant women, especially near term. Losing Zoë unexpectedly at 40 weeks taught me that no one is exempt. No stage of pregnancy or delivery is “safe.” Loss can happen at any time to even the healthiest, most loving, and cautious parents out there.
But it’s not contagious. It took me years to release the feeling that somehow just being around pregnant women was bad luck. I won’t regale you with stories of the horrible parts of my labor and delivery; trust me, I still think you should get a “baby bliss” bubble while you’re pregnant. But enough live babies have been born to friends and family to convince me that while I was on the losing end of statistics with my daughter, it’s not like the flu – I can’t pass it on just by breathing near you.
Related Post: My Friends All Have Kids: A Story of Bereaved Motherhood
Your Pregnancy Doesn’t Spell the End of Our Relationship
In a perfect world, we would both be able to be open and communicate about this pregnancy of yours, how we feel, and what it brings up. It has the potential to bring us closer than we were before if we can find the courage to face our fears, anxieties, and grief. I know it’s not a perfect world, (if it were, my baby would be here), but I want you to know that your pregnancy after my stillbirth doesn’t have to drive a wedge between us.
If we can “lean into” our discomfort rather than running from it, this can be an opportunity for us both to grow together in empathy and understanding.
Photo by Joshua Sazon on Unsplash
Robynne Knight is a writer, educator, and acupuncturist who lost her daughter, Zoë, to stillbirth in 2011. She is passionate about sharing her experience with grief and loss, and helping others find growth and healing through her writing, private practice, and sharing support and resources through The Zoë Project.