I hesitantly looked down and saw the word. “Pregnant.” Even though I already intrinsically knew, seeing the word made it real. I had been here before but this time couldn’t have been more different.
The first time I became pregnant, the excitement my husband and I felt was tangible, real, filled with expectations of what we would be experiencing with our baby. We wondered whether it would be a boy or a girl and discussed the different activities that we wanted to experience with him or her.
The excitement in our second pregnancy was cautious, guarded, and fearful. We no longer wondered if it would be a boy or a girl, but rather if the baby would be healthy; if we would get to take him or her home.
I remember my husband and I talking some times of how we wouldn’t be disappointed if the baby had some medical issue, as long as we got to take the baby home and raise them.
In my first pregnancy, I was initially fearful of giving birth.
How painful would it be actually?
Would I know when I was in labor?
Could I actually do this?
Those fears quickly changed after our 20-week anatomy scan when we learned that the baby had CDH (congenital diaphragmatic hernia) and it was pretty severe. My fears quickly changed from the pain that I personally would be experiencing; to if the baby would be able to live outside of me.
When I became pregnant with my second child, I didn’t even have those initial fears of labor. Sure, I was nervous, but I knew I could do it. My fears were immediately focused on the baby’s survival and if we would make it to full term.
Fear often induces a fight or flight response. At certain times, however, there is a third; paralysis.
Not having the option to fight or flee from my pregnancy, my body chose the third option. I became what one could only describe as paralyzed.
Being pregnant after losing a child is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to endure. There is no escape, no exit strategy, from the anxiety and fear that you feel every day.
For nine months, I felt like I was holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop and for my child to be ripped away again.
People would tell me, “I’m sure being pregnant again is difficult, but just remember to enjoy it,” and “Don’t stress, it’s not good for the baby.” I would nod my head and tell them “I know, I know,” but inside I was screaming with fear, unable to think about anything past pregnancy.
I would not allow myself to fantasize about life with a baby, a one-year-old, a five-year-old, and so on.
I told myself that I just had to get through the pregnancy; once that was over with, then I would enjoy motherhood. Losing a child, or even having a child that will immediately need interventions after birth in the NICU, robs you of the blissful, “glowing” pregnancy that people tend to envision for themselves.
You’re so used to hearing survival rate statistics and weekly ultrasounds to check the status of your baby’s ailment, that a “normal” pregnancy is so foreign; I found myself almost wishing for weekly ultrasounds just to confirm that our second baby was still healthy and very much able to live outside the safe confinement of my womb.
Going into labor with our son, I was excited to finally meet him, but my thoughts were with his older sister as well.
My only memories of labor and delivery were filled with an ambulance ride to the nearest children’s hospital, my room filled with different doctors (some for me but most of them for our daughter), and hearing things like “she most likely won’t make it out of the delivery room.”
She did though. She fought and lived for 33 sweet days. I had nothing else to compare delivery to than these memories.
I logically knew that a “normal” (what’s normal these days?) delivery did not go this way, but having nothing to personally reference, my mind was filled with worries. Our son was born at 10:57 p.m.
He did not, however, give a cinematic scream as Hollywood portrays. He was quiet, calm, and strong, already smiling for the camera.
I, on the other hand, was not smiling. I instantly became troubled, fretting over whether he could breathe or not.
It took not only my husband, but the doctor and nurse as well to reassure me that he was indeed breathing on his own and perfectly fine.
As I sit here now, rocking my three-month-old “rainbow” baby, I’d like to say that I’m not overly cautious or anxious with him.
If I did tell you that though, I would be lying.
Sure, I do the normal checks to see if he is still breathing at night and making sure he doesn’t get a diaper rash. I also find myself obsessing over his development to an unhealthy degree.
Is he eating enough food? Is he eating too much?
Developmentally, is he where he should be by now?
Why is his neck irritated? Now he has too much dry skin around his neck.
How do I cure this cradle cap?
Am I bathing him enough? Too much?
The worries are nonstop but so is my love for him. I’ve wished to be on this side of motherhood for a long time now, but I’ve never been here before.
But now that I am, I would do it all again for our son. He’s worth every anxious, fear-driven moment.
So if you know someone parenting after loss and have the urge to call them a “helicopter parent,” go easy on them.
Their heart both yearns for the one they lost and embraces the one they have, all the while agonizing over the thought of having to say goodbye to another.