Sun vs. Moon

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.

 

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Hello Grieving My Old Friend

Before I bury the lede: our ultrasound went well. It was an emotional day, for sure, and a long one. We were at the hospital for four hours and saw two technicians and our genetic specialist. I used every tool I’ve got to just get through the waiting around and wondering and I know N was pretty anxious even though he hid it pretty well. I’m sure it’s just as hard to go through the ultrasound as it is to sit (for 45 minutes) wondering what’s happening in the other room. When he was finally allowed to come in and see the screen for himself he looked pretty destroyed.

The technician I saw was actually the same woman who did our anatomy scan for Odin. (The follow-up one we had after we were flagged for issues.) She remembered me and I was both grateful and terrified to be in that room again, with the first person who knew that our lives were about to change in an unimaginable way. She was kind, but professional. She explained right away that we’d have to wait to talk to the doctor about the results but that she could tell us about the heartbeat and the sex. The baby was very active and it felt like it was taking a really long time. I did my best not to cry and to keep breathing. About halfway through she caught me fidgeting and asked if I was okay. And I said, “it’s just really hard not to try and read your face.” She was as reassuring as she could be and said, “for an early scan like this the baby is still very small so things are hard to see. I just have to look hard. I can’t tell you much but I will say this: things are very different this time.” And she said it in a way that let me read between the lines for her positive message. I relaxed just a little bit.

Eventually N was allowed to come in and the technician told us with a fair amount of confidence, given that the baby is still very small: it’s a girl. Once again we were able to see her moving around, legs crossed, bum view, profile (mouth opening and closing), hands waving and it was incredible. The technician purposely left her image on the screen and left the room so that we could take pictures in the cell-phone-free zone.

And then we waited.

And then we had another ultrasound done by a radiologist who said, “don’t worry! We just want some more pictures. Everything is okay.” I felt reassured, N looked worried.

And then we waited some more.

We eventually saw our genetic specialist (who is an angel on earth) and he walked us through the results. We both wish he had opened with “everything is okay!” but he eventually did get around to that after a bunch of clinical descriptions. It looks like our baby girl is okay. We will have another scan and an echocardiogram in a few weeks (Odin had a complex heart condition so they want to check on this baby’s heart) but so far everything looks normal.

Since that day I’ve run the gamut of emotions from relief and joy to extreme grief and sadness. It’s like all of the anxiety and worry that was taking up space in our hearts about this pregnancy has been released (or at least abated) and now my heart is full of sadness and I’m missing my boy so much. It’s been like the early days all over again. I’m back to thinking about his body and the weight of it in my arms. I’m back to crying when I look at his picture (beside my bed; I look at it every night before I go to sleep), I’m back to feeling overwhelmed by the idea of missing him until I die. Which leads to feeling guilty for not feeling grateful to have a healthy pregnancy, which leads to feeling guilty that I’m not my best self for this baby and for work and for my family and friends. Which leads to feeling isolated because of the complicated feelings. And then I worry about this baby and if I’ll resent her for not being Odin. Or that I’ll be able to love her like I love Odin. Basically, it’s a lot. It’s confusing and it’s sad. Now that people are finding out that we’re expecting a baby we’re getting lots of congratulations messages and inquiries about how we’re doing. And it’s so hard to reply sometimes. The feelings we feel are all over the place. We are happy and we are sad. I just have to go easy on myself and hope that people will understand (or at least accept) that they may not hear from us.

Rationally I realize that this, too, will pass. We have wonderful (personal and professional) support and I know I’ll work through this phase. It’s just so hard to see outside of a dark cloud when you’re this deep in it. I think part of what might help me is more journalling and maybe some kind of project for Odin. Something that I can focus on and feel like I’m doing for him. August 19th is The Day of Hope and last year I made a flag for Odin. I don’t know if I’ll have time to complete one this year, but maybe I’ll try. It’ll be a journey figuring out how to parent him and fit him into this new baby’s life but thinking about that is another way for us to include him in our lives, which I’m glad for.

The finished flag