After my 11-year-old son died, there was only what I could describe as a primal urge to be pregnant.
I imagined it was nature’s way of making sure that our species continued thousands of years ago when children dying was normal because nature was harsh, predators were abundant, and accidents were prevalent.
If that urge didn’t exist, I suspect our species would have become extinct.
I wanted it so badly.
My mind wanted it.
My heart wanted it.
My arms longed for it.
I wanted to grow a baby and keep it alive with my body. And we tried.
After months of negative pregnancy tests, the threshold of what we’d try kept moving. There were intrauterine inseminations, hormone injections, egg retrievals, and finally in-vitro fertilization.
With those, there’d been three pregnancies and three miscarriages. My body felt broken, and my heart was exhausted from the emotional ups and downs. We finally gave up.
Letting go was its own kind of grief.
And in letting go, we permitted ourselves to dream of the not-so-distant future when our youngest goes to college. We began imagining ourselves in Europe or Central America.
But as it turns out, if you don’t use birth control – even after many failed pregnancies – one can get pregnant the old-fashioned way even if you’re pushing 45.
Because of those pregnancies and losses, I was six months along before I told anyone.
It took me that long to start believing that the pregnancy would result in an actual baby because I knew that a positive pregnancy test didn’t guarantee a baby would be born alive.
It also took me that long because I was facing an intense internal battle.
In the three years of successes and failures, it never occurred to me how a pregnancy while in grief would feel.
I had not been pregnant long enough to be faced with those thoughts.
And how it felt was, well, complicated. How could I possibly be excited for a baby that was only possible because my son died?
As a result, my pregnancy was emotionally complicated, and I’d done my best to hide myself and my changing body from the world under lots of layers. Fortunately, it was winter, so layers were easy.
As I quietly shared this news with my closest friends, I cautioned them that it would never be a congratulations kind of pregnancy.
And just as it would never be a congratulations kind of pregnancy, it would never be a congratulations kind of birth. Even though births are congratulatory.
You see, I can’t get past the reality that if my son were alive, I would never have been pregnant in the first place.
And therefore, I was pregnant only because my son died.
It’s flawed logic, but when someone was excited about my pregnancy, it felt like they must be celebrating the fact that my son died because the current reality didn’t exist without the other.
Even though the intellectual side of my brain knows no one is celebrating his death, the emotional side of my brain finds it difficult to internalize that.
Ultimately, I do take comfort in the fact that he would have been enormously proud to have a new sibling. He’d proven over the years to be an excellent big brother, big cousin, and big friend to our neighborhood children.
I imagine it will get easier over time to accept that the pregnancy was because of Riley, not instead of.
Because of how much I love him.
Because of how much I miss holding him.
Because of how I have so much love to give.
Because of how I long for things to be different for him – for our family.
Nothing in grief is straightforward; everything is complicated.
And this joyful news needs to be handled with the tenderness it deserves.
Please tread lightly.