At work today I had Nasa’s live stream of the eclipse on in the background while I worked. In the days leading up to this event I didn’t really think I was interested in it. But watching on the screen as the dark moon passed in front of the blazing sun, I couldn’t help but see the eclipse as a metaphor.
Sometimes the mind forgets what the heart remembers. I’ve definitely experienced this many times on my grief journey. And here, in my eighteenth week of (what we’re assuming so far) is a healthy pregnancy, I can feel it in my bones. That subtle shift; my heart remembering how close we are in this pregnancy to where it all ended with Odin.
At this point in my pregnancy with Odin I was still naively unaware of all of the bad things that can happen on the road to parenthood. I still assumed that getting pregnant meant bringing home a living baby. And, at this point in that pregnancy, everything was also medically normal. For this pregnancy, we got pretty good news a couple of weeks ago and, although I’ve been feeling sad for Odin and missing him a lot, I’ve also been feeling relieved and hopeful for this baby girl. Maybe too hopeful. When I think about our upcoming 19-week scan next week, that same scan that told us that Odin would die last April, I realize that the dark moon of anxiety is slowly creeping out in front of the blazing sun of hope. When I think about next week’s appointment, my palms get sweaty. What if we hoped too much? There is still a chance that the echocardiogram will uncover a heart defect. For many babies that do not live past birth, it is one undetected heart condition that seals their fate. It’s also possible that the part of our baby’s brain that was not yet developed enough two weeks ago could be fatally flawed.
Maybe we hoped too much. Maybe we talked about cribs and strollers too many times. Maybe our list of baby girl names is too long. Maybe we will lose another baby. We wouldn’t be the first people to lose a second baby and we wouldn’t be the last. It’s not that I think my thoughts are that powerful, it’s actually that I know they are not. Hoping does not mean that this baby will die just as much as worrying does not mean that she will live. We can’t know what the outcome will be, but we can do our best not to be blindsided. Somehow between our loss and what comes next we have to find a balance between hope and worry.
It might sound like I’m being negative. It might sound like I’m a mess. I’m actually not either of those things. I’m still in the world, a high-functioning griever going through a rough patch, poker-faced and not showing my cards. This is just what happens in the mind of a mother who is missing a baby and is bravely trying again; wading through the darkness of possibility and risking her heart again. Pregnancy after loss is incredibly complicated. More complicated than I ever imagined. There aren’t nearly as many resources out there for PAL as there are for infant loss and grieving, but I have found the Pregnancy After Loss Support website helpful. Here are just a couple of facts about PAL from that site:
“Women who are pregnant again after a loss are at an increased risk for postpartum anxiety and depression, even after having a subsequent successful pregnancy and birth.”
“Psychological distress during a subsequent pregnancy increases the risk of chances of preterm labor and low birth weight, as well as having a difficult time bonding with the baby born after loss.”
“A new pregnancy after a loss can activate a new layer of grief.”
We’re up against some heavy heavy things. But it’s helpful to know that there are other people out there who are sharing their experiences and that, again, we won’t be alone.
I would love nothing more than to pull out all of the self-care tricks I’ve got and put them into place until our appointment next week. I think an art project or making a belated Day of Hope flag might be helpful. But we have a big family wedding this weekend and that’s just the way life goes. (I actually just realized that it’s at the same place we visited just before Odin’s anatomy scan, which is a really weird coincidence that I’ll try not to be superstitious about.) I’m anxious about the wedding, though. We’ll be away from home for four days and N will have lots of inescapable obligations. I’m worried about the isolation of being surrounded by happy people, much like I felt in the early days after Odin died. And that becomes increasingly difficult as people find out (or notice) that I’m pregnant. It’s hard to navigate people’s “Congratulations!” with my instinct to say, “Yes, but. . .” (An instinct I bury beneath polite thank yous.) I’m horrible with smalltalk when I’m feeling overwhelmed like this (it makes my skin crawl?) so I’m hoping I can carve out some alone time to recharge. I know it’s going to wipe me out to be social for four days but maybe there will be some time for relaxing and enjoying a bit of what’s left of summer.
PS. I have therapy tomorrow morning.