MYOB

I’m not sure why some people feel the need to give advice to those of us with babies on the way. I guess I know it’s just part of how our society operates but I really really want to know the why of it. Because this specific brand of advice for expectant parents is always at least a little bit the same. It’s typically some kind of warning or scare tactic to make you realize that parenting an infant is “gonna be the worst!” Does it make people feel better about how they dealt with certain aspects of raising a newborn? Are they trying to project their experiences onto me? I honestly can’t figure it out.

“Sleep now while you can!”

I’m trying, really I am. Elaborate pillow system and all. Some nights I sleep pretty well, other nights aren’t great. Being told to sleep now because I may never sleep again, surprisingly, doesn’t make sleep any easier. Weird, right?

“Insomnia is nature’s way of preparing you for the sleepless nights ahead when the baby comes!”

What is grief insomnia for then? I have a hard time believing that insomnia is for anything at all. I think it’s just an unfortunate part of our biology. We are meant to sleep and I doubt there’s any science in lack of sleep being a way to prepare for something. (Someone jump in if I’m wrong here.)

“Get ready for all hell to break loose!”

I know this was meant to be a lighthearted comment. But “hell”? Really? I know a little bit about what my own personal hell is, having lived through it, and I know that bringing baby girl home and into our lives [knocking on wood here that she’s healthy] will not be hell. It will be challenging, but it will not be hell.

“Your job is to not get divorced in the first 100 days.”

This advice was from a person we just met. She was three sheets to the wind at the time and I don’t even remember her name but we had to laugh because what do people think a baby is? If we are lucky enough to bring our daughter home, healthy and safe, I can guarantee you that no matter what kind of baby she is N and I will not be divorcing over her existence in our lives. And this can’t just be because we’ve experienced a loss. For sure N and I have a bond over losing Odin that has made our relationship stronger than anything out there, but regular people have babies all the time. Divorce? In the first 100 days? What kind of relationships do these people have? And where did the arbitrary 100 days come from?

“Having a newborn is so hard.”

Agreed. One hundred per cent a true statement and one we fully recognize (and do not really need to be reminded of). But you know what’s harder? Not having that newborn. Giving birth to your child and returning home without him and continuing to live a life that will never truly be complete . It’s a challenge for me not to remind people of that and I find myself literally biting my tongue sometimes. Most of what I’m talking about here isn’t just about PAL, it’s a general complaint about people not being able to mind their own business. (I know I’m not the only one who wishes people would quit giving unsolicited advice.) But when you factor in loss, it adds another layer. Where were these people who are worried about us getting enough sleep and divorcing when we really were going through the worst imaginable thing? Why is it now, when we’re about to meet our baby girl, that these random people want to put a negative spin on things? We are already anxious enough, thankyouverymuch. It’s such a weird thing to me. People, generally, being so willing to remind you of how “hard” things are and yet also, generally, being so unable to sit with things that are truly difficult, like grief. How and who does it help to suggest that this new chapter in our lives will be hard?

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“MYOB” is a thing my grade two teacher used to say to whiny students who would complain to her about other kids in the class. I’m sure it saved her a lot of time not to utter, “Mind Your Own Business” a million times a day to second-graders.

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Mind Games

N and I went for a scheduled ultrasound yesterday. It wasn’t totally necessary, but my placenta was low at our 20-week anatomy scan so it was a good excuse to just check on things. I won’t bury the lede: everything is fine and normal and I do not have placenta previa (my placenta is 8 cm away from the opening of my cervix which is plenty far and nothing at all to worry about).

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with just dropping the information bomb about our loss when we go into appointments like this. I’ve found that if we’re going to get the extra care or concern that we need, it’s best to leave the guessing out. Ultrasound technicians rarely know a patient’s background, so I just came out with it when we walked into the room: “Just so you know, we had a second-trimester loss last year so we’re always pretty nervous for these things.” The technician, Carlos, was kind, friendly, and professional. The ultrasound itself was quick, though, and I couldn’t see the screen while he was doing it. When it was over he made a point of bringing us the report in the waiting room and telling us with a smile that everything was normal.

All of that seems pretty reassuring, right? It probably should be. And I thought it was until later last night. (I feel like this is a running theme for me — the discovery of my not-okayness coming later on in the day after digesting a day’s events.)

He asked me more than once about her movements. He said she was pretty relaxed in there. Something is probably wrong. I’m not feeling her move enough. I know she’s alive right now, I know I feel her moving, but something must be wrong. Why did he ask so much about her movements?

Later in the evening, I tearfully described my fears about the appointment to N who remembered things very differently than I did (and in a way that I should — and am trying — to trust). He reminded me that Carlos asked about movement before the ultrasound even started, and that the two other times I remembered him asking about movement were actually just two parts of the same comment, “When is she most active?” and after my reply, “She’s pretty relaxed in there right now.” The thing is, I wasn’t being negative or looking at the appointment judgementally. I legitimately remembered the appointment being much darker than it actually was, which is a bit scary to me.

Strangely enough, I was more anxious about this ultrasound than our anatomy scan at twenty weeks. For that one I had somehow convinced myself that if we got a bad diagnosis again and went through what we did with Odin, I could do it. I would give birth and meet my baby and it would be worth it, because I would choose Odin over and over again and go through it all again to hold him. That probably sounds pretty insane, but it got me through that stage. For this ultrasound I didn’t know how to feel. Everything has been so normal so far that I can’t help but think about all of the potentially bad things that could still happen. Being a part of the infant loss support community makes everything that is, in reality, pretty rare, seem so much more common. Lately, I have been more anxious, generally, than I’ve ever been in my life (can you tell?) and this general feeling of dread and impending doom came with me into that room yesterday, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. The ultrasound image we got of baby girl isn’t a good one. It’s actually pretty creepy. For some reason we didn’t get to see her whole silhouette like I imagined we would. He just showed us her head and face. I imagined feeling reassured by seeing her okay in there, but it just didn’t happen the way I thought it would. But again, my memory of what we did see on the screen is much darker than what happened in reality. N reminded me that we saw her hand pop up and give a wave. And that, although she looked a bit squished, we saw her profile and her nose and it was cute. We may have even “awww’d” a bit.

Our friends have a collection of multiple images from their ultrasounds. Literally a dozen pictures of their baby before she was born. We have nothing for this baby. The hospital where we go for ultrasounds doesn’t give out images like the regular clinics. This time we took a picture on our phones of the screen but the picture is disturbing. It’s just her face and she looks like a ghost; her eyes look like black holes. What if this is all we’ll ever have?

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this or not, but I’ve been doing a mindfulness/CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course through the maternal mental health department at the hospital where Odin was born. It’s two hours long, once a week for 8 weeks. It’s been challenging, but helpful. I’ve gained new perspective on thought patterns and how they relate to depression and anxiety. My biggest takeaways so far have to do with self-compassion (probably the hardest part for me) and really starting to believe and remember that thoughts are not facts. I haven’t been super diligent about meditating regularly, but there was a study done recently that shows that all you need to do to gain benefits from meditation is a 9-minute practice a day, which seems pretty doable. If it seems like I’m a mess, it’s because I probably am right now. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not working hard not to be a mess. It’s just that this is hard. PAL is not for the faint-hearted. I am grateful for all the support I have and also for this forum, which helps me work through and process what I’m feeling. And maybe you’re reading this and relating to the mess. If you are, I’m glad you know you’re not alone.

No Pink

I know I’m not alone feeling gutted every time I check my Twitter feed these days. The news is depressing, it’s triggering, and it’s infuriating. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be pregnant and about all of the silent sacrifices that women and mothers make. It’s hard not to consider womanhood when the news has been what it’s been lately.

I am a woman and I am a mother and I am very happy to be both. But I am about to bring a female baby into this world and this is a world where women are vulnerable, both physically and emotionally to the power of the patriarchy. (Sidebar: I’m having a PAL pang here where I’m feeling scared to assume that everything with the rest of this pregnancy will be okay. Deep breath. . .) The news these days has been heartbreaking on so many different levels, but I’m here thinking about what it means to be a woman. In Hollywood, women who have been fearful and silent are coming forward to tell their stories of harassment and abuse at the hands of powerful and influential men. It’s starting a conversation about a hidden, accepted, systemic problem with how women and men are socialized. I am inspired by the strength the victims have to come forward and horrified by what’s happened to them. I know that there are so many reasons to feel grateful and lucky to live where I live and to have the privileges I do, but I am also scared for my girl.

I hate that she will walk down the street and be catcalled. I hate that some guy at a bar will slip a drug in her drink. I hate that men will tell her she should smile more. I hate that the mandatory uniform at her first job will be revealing and uncomfortable while her male coworkers wear jeans. I hate that she will face judgment and opposition when she makes choices about her body as if it’s anyone’s business but her own. I hate that she will never feel 100% safe walking alone at night.

People ask if we know the gender of our baby and it makes me defensive for a variety of reasons, despite their honest intentions. I am proud to be carrying this baby and proud to be her mother but I worry for her and what it means to be a girl in this world. I mask some of that fear behind a vocal and light-hearted disdain for the colour pink, but it’s much deeper than disliking a colour. For me, dressing our girl in pink feels like allowing the labels and limitations of what it means to be a woman to start before she even has a choice about it. For me, the problem is what’s tied up in baby outfits that say “Mommy’s Little Cutie” vs. “I Am a Superhero!”. It’s how we write on the bodies of babies the gender roles which we fight against as women and as adults. To me, dressing a baby in pink feels like adhering to society’s view of what is arbitrarily feminine based purely on my baby’s sex organs. Our daughter’s worth is not determined by what she looks like but by who she is as a person. We know this, we preach this, and yet. . . The retail market is overrun with the idea that a baby needs bows and sparkles to signify her femininity (what even is femininity in an infant??) There seems to be this strange need to add pink and ribbons to make it clear that a baby is a girl. And I don’t understand it. A baby can’t choose. I will definitely be sure that our girl knows that she does not ever need to demur to the assumed entitlement of boys in “Daddy’s Tough Guy” t-shirts. We will do our best to teach her these lessons while society shows her otherwise.

I am so excited for that wonderful day in the future when people stop asking pregnant women, “is it a boy or a girl?” as if it matters. It doesn’t matter. The answer should always be, “it’s a human baby!” My child can do or be whatever she wants to be whether she is dressed in blue or pink; whether she identifies as male or female.  But even as I say this I know that she will be limited. Unless feminism is accepted in every facet of our society over the next 20 years, she will make less money than her male colleagues. She will be overlooked for promotions. She will be judged for her appearance. She will make career sacrifices and take unpaid leave to raise children, if she chooses and is able to become a mother. She will be victim to the male gaze, no matter what she looks like, what her sexual orientation is or how she dresses or behaves. And all of this makes me so angry. I feel powerless to protect her and I want this world to be better for her. I suppose that’s where motherhood starts.

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(I want to acknowledge that my point of view is from a place of privilege. I am a cisgender, straight, white, middle-class, Canadian woman and that, inevitably, impacts my world-view. I try to stay aware of what my privilege means and hope that I haven’t said anything here that is offensive to anyone. I also know that life is a journey and on the way we learn things. If there’s anything I’ve said that you find problematic, please send me a message.)

Always Missing

And sometimes you can’t breathe.

How is this your life? How will you go on for the rest of it without him?

All it takes is an image, a thought, a sound, a memory, and the pain comes flooding back.

You can’t believe he’s gone. He was just a little baby in your arms. A little baby. How can this be?

Everything is tainted by the missing. A tiny him-shaped hole in everything.

All of your joys made a little bit bitter because of his absence. You know he is with you in your heart, but it’s not enough.

There are moments when all you feel is love and you know you were blessed he picked you. And you know you would do it all over again just to hold him.

But why couldn’t he stay?

Insomnia and a Blessing

After Odin died I had a lot of trouble sleeping for a few months. I was prescribed a sleeping pill by my doctor that really helped me get through that period. Otherwise, I have been a boastfully good nighttime sleeper all my life. Until the third trimester of this pregnancy, that is. According to the internet, 75-80% of pregnant women experience insomnia at some stage (usually later on) in their pregnancies. I am always torn about complaining about my symptoms (unless it’s to N, whose patience, I’m convinced, goes unmatched by any other human on the planet) because underneath the back pain, breathlessness (I’m pretty sure I have pregnancy-related asthma now), and general fatigue I am so so grateful to be pregnant with baby girl. The insomnia, though, is really starting to mess with me.

Generally, my witching hours are 3-6am when I am wide awake staring into the darkness. I know there are rules and tricks to try for sleeplessness, but it feels very wrong to me to get out of bed in the middle of the night to putter or read. What if I could fall asleep if I just stayed in bed? I’m not sure how I manage to just lay there for 3 hours, but I do. And it’s getting harder and harder the more exhausted I am to keep my mind from wandering back to that delivery room where we spent our only time with our very missed baby boy. This insomnia feels like a cruel joke. The vicious cycle of being tired and then feeling rotten and being vulnerable to my emotions.

I stayed home from work today because I was feeling so anxious and tired and sad and weird. And maybe Halloween has something to do with it. Yet another kid-centric holiday that reminds us of what we’re missing. An 18-month-old in a dinosaur costume waddling around and giggling with a bit too much sugar in his tummy.

And even as I sit here writing this, I’m thinking that I’m not even saying anything worth reading. Exhaustion brings doubt. So, I’m going to cheat and use someone else’s words to wrap this up. A blessing sent to me a while ago by a dear friend whose baby died last year and who now has a living daughter.

Blessing for a Mother-to-be
John O’Donohue

Nothing could have prepared your heart to open like this. From beyond the skies and the stars this echo arrived inside you and started to pulse with life, each beat a tiny act of growth, traversing all our ancient shapes on its way home to itself.

Once it began, you were no longer your own. A new, more courageous you, offering itself in a new way to a presence you can sense but you have not seen or known.

It has made you feel alone in a way you never knew before, everyone else sees only from the outside what you feel and feed with every fibre of your being. Never have you traveled farther inward where words and thoughts become half-light unable to reach the fund of brightness strengthening inside the night of your womb. Like some primeval moon, your soul brightens the tides of essence that flow to your child. You know your life has changed forever, for in all the days and years to come, distance will never be able to cut you off from the one you now carry for nine months under your heart.

May you be blessed with quiet confidence that destiny will guide you and mind you. May the emerging spirit of your child imbibe encouragement and joy from the continuous music of your heart, so that it can grow with ease, expectant of wonder and welcome when its form is fully filled. And it makes it journey out to see you and settle at last relieved and glad in your arms.

 

Emotional Hangover

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada so N and I headed north to my hometown to spend the weekend with my family. It was pretty low-key. The weather has been unseasonably warm for October so we were able to go for a nice walk in a conservation area. On Sunday we had a big family dinner with some extended family. It was a nice weekend. I slept a lot and I didn’t feel stressed or overwhelmed or sad the whole weekend.

Until we got home.

After some reflection, I think that spending so much time over the weekend talking about (and planning for) baby girl impacted me more than I realized while it was happening. And I don’t even know exactly what I mean by this. Everything was just so incredibly normal and maybe I need to be more mindful about how un-normal our situation is. In our own home we have reminders of Odin everywhere. It’s the place we mourn, remember, and love him freely. And not that we’re not free to talk about him with family, but it’s easy enough to slip into “normal” when you’re in a different space. I think I need to always allow our loss a little bit of space no matter what we’re doing or where we are and that will take conscious effort. While we were away from home we talked a lot about setting up the nursery. My mom gave me a bunch of clothes that she had bought for baby girl. At the big family dinner there was so much focus on me being pregnant. I was fine with all of this while it was happening but when I got home I fell apart. I couldn’t sleep. I sobbed inconsolably into the wee hours. Our reality crashed down on me and I missed Odin as if we had just said goodbye.

On the holiday Monday we went to visit our friends from support group whose baby boy was born ten days ago. They lost a son last August when my friend was 36-weeks pregnant. Given my state of mind, it maybe wasn’t the best choice to visit that day. Or maybe it was the best choice? I have no idea. Their baby boy, Leo, is perfect. I held him and cried for lots of obvious reasons but also for reasons I can’t fully articulate. It felt good to be with that little family. Seeing how they’re okay. Seeing that it’s possible to have room in your heart for two babies, even if one isn’t here to hold. They miss the son they lost and they are overjoyed at the presence of their new little one. Maybe that sounds incredibly obvious but it was something I needed to see and feel with my whole heart. Holding that tiny baby boy was both a high and a devastation that I can’t explain. I feel like an addict who has had a taste and now I want more. But I want that more to be Odin, and it can’t be. If it sounds impossibly complicated, it’s because it is. Holding Leo was a reminder of what we’ve lost, but also a reminder of what hope and joy feel like. My heart swelled and shattered in a giant wreck.

I wrote this on Tuesday (I think I’ve mentioned I hate Tuesdays at the best of times) and I couldn’t care or focus at work. I was on edge. Grumpy. My heart and my mind are so full and I can’t seem to snap out of it. (*Pause here to email therapist to set up appointment.) I know I won’t always feel as bad as I do right now because healing is not linear and grief doesn’t follow any rules. Holidays are always hard and they likely always will be. There will always be a missing piece.

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Are You Expecting?

Someone asked me this for the first time a couple of days ago. I guess at 24-weeks even baggy clothes aren’t hiding the fact that pregnant very well anymore. The thing is, that statement is so weird to me. If there’s anything I’m not, it’s “expecting”. 

Generally, I feel like I’ve been doing pretty well lately, all things considered. I’ve had a bit of an emotional week which was instigated by some bad dreams on Sunday night (I’m laying in a hospital bed and a doctor says in a very matter of fact way, “Yes, of course. Your baby is dead.”) The dreams weren’t even what I would call nightmares (I’ve definitely had worse), but I woke up on Monday morning anxious and completely unsettled. And then, because I couldn’t feel her moving, I was convinced that baby girl was dead. And then I was drowning in deep grief, which is just something that happens sometimes. When a few tears fall, sometimes it leads to a flood.

My placenta is anterior, which is relatively common and not at all a cause for concern. The thing is, it means that I don’t feel bbg move very much. So it’s easy to panic that something is wrong. I’m sure women who haven’t experienced a loss also find having placenta anterior stressful, but in PAL it can be devastating. Since Monday, I’ve felt her bopping around a bit more consistently, which is something I’m grateful for.

I’ve decided this week to reactivate my Facebook account after many months away. I’ve realized that while I find most of what happens on that platform depleting, I miss the support and nourishment of the women in the online communities there — specifically a group calling Ending a Wanted Pregnancy. It’s a private group that you have to apply to get into, which makes it a very safe space. The admins are kind, intelligent, and thoughtful women whom I am grateful for. I’m glad to be back there, supporting other women and leaning on them with the things I know most people can’t relate to. It’s something I needed this week.

I’ve spoken before about the support of the loss community, both online and in-person. It’s incredible to me how many resources are actually out there; how much truly beautiful and insightful writing there is. There is a loss mom I follow on Instagram who posts often about her baby girl, Maeve, who died on June 10th, 2015. She and her husband have a YouTube channel and are very vocal about their loss and subsequent infertility. Joan is a gifted writer and I always appreciate what she shares. Earlier this week she posted a lengthy poem/letter about how sometimes her daydreams about Maeve feel like memories. I’ve gone back and read and reread it many times. I read a lot of emotional writing about infant loss, but I don’t typically cry over much of it anymore. I find it soothing to relate to what I read, but it doesn’t usually impact my ability to function. But Joan’s post affected me. I think it’s in part because I haven’t had the emotional strength to write/speak to Odin (something that still bothers me, but I know I will work towards) and she has clearly put so much thought into the life that she wanted to have with Maeve. The most thoughtful and impactful part of what she wrote, for me, was when she talked about the boy (or girl) who would marry the wrong person because Maeve is not here. (I’m tearing up just thinking about that again.) I sent Joan a message thanking her for her post and lamenting all of the things I will miss with my son. Her reply was short, simple, and beautiful. I won’t ever forget what she said and I think it might inspire and shape certain aspects of my grief journey going forward.

Her reply was, simply: “His whole life in your heart.”

Twenty-one and Six

On this day of my first pregnancy (21 weeks, 6 days) Odin was born. When you’re living in the dark timeline, the one that begins when your child’s life ends and yours continues, it’s hard to ignore these types of landmarks and dates. They’re the ones that remind you, despite the happiness or contentment you’re now capable of feeling, that your life is not exactly what it should be. Last year at this stage of my pregnancy I was admitted to the hospital and, 36 hours and 7 doses of misoprostol later, Odin was in our arms; his perfect (but tiny) outside disguising the fatal flaws within. Perfect chin, perfect nose, the littlest toes, fingers as delicate as thread. Our son.

From this point on, everything about pregnancy will be new to me. I know I will continue to balance missing Odin with the excitement and anticipation of meeting our baby girl (with a side of anxiety for good measure). I also know that grief and joy can live together and some days one wins out over the other, which is okay. It’s the price of great love when that love has nowhere to go.

Back in February I ordered a Molly Bear. Molly Bears is a company founded by a woman who lost her baby girl, Molly Christine, in 2010. Seven years and 26 volunteers later, they have produced over 11,000 bears and have shipped to 35 countries. Each Molly Bear is handmade and weighs exactly what your baby weighed. Initially, I had mixed feelings about ordering one, but decided to go for it after reading that other loss parents had found comfort in these bears. Ours arrived a few weeks ago and it’s so hard to describe how that bear makes me feel. At first glance, it’s very cute. It’s scruffy and brown like we had requested and has a red felt heart on its chest with “Odin” embroidered in it. And it weighs his exact 470 grams (which is just slightly over a pound).

When you hold your baby in your arms and you know it will be the first and last time, you do your best to try to remember everything. Aside from the endless and all-consuming love you’ll feel for your child for the rest of your life, these few moments are all you’ll have. You live a lifetime of loving and shared experiences in whatever short time you have with your baby before saying goodbye. And you don’t even know at the time that that’s what you’re doing. It’s impossible to prepare for that. Sometimes I try to go back and remember every excruciating moment just so I won’t forget. But forgetting is inevitable. The memories become less sharp and the images become blurred. I try. I try so hard to keep it all but I can’t, it’s just not possible. I read a quote from a poem called Grief by Stephen Dobyns a while ago that describes it so perfectly:

“Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand.”

When I held our Molly Bear I couldn’t believe the weight. I spent a lot of time checking my math and second-guessing that I had sent the right information. The bear felt so heavy to me. Eventually, I realized that the things I had been holding in my arms since Odin died (the stuffed bear from the hospital, his clothes, the blanket he was wrapped in) were all empty; nearly weightless. I had forgotten the weight of him. And I crumbled. I couldn’t believe that while Odin’s presence in our lives symbolically weighs so much, the reality of his physical weight had slipped away from me. I try so hard to keep it all but I can’t.

The bear is on Odin’s special shelf now, keeping safe guard of his ashes in the tiny brass urn. I haven’t picked it up since the day it arrived in the mail, but I am comforted to know that I can hold it and be reminded of what I try so hard to keep.

Everything is Fine

Last Tuesday was another long, emotional day. But our anatomy scan and the echocardiogram were both normal. Big relief? Yes. Lots of other stuff/feelings? Also, yes.

On Saturday we went to a cemetery with our support group friends for a memorial balloon release. Our friend’s son, Jude, should have been celebrating his second birthday that weekend. For the second year in a row, his parents organized a truly beautiful balloon release where friends and family tied messages for Jude to helium-filled balloons and released them together into a bright blue, cloudless sky. I’m tearing up just thinking about it now. There was a bubble machine, a photographer, and an elaborately decorated plot stone for Jude with toys, flowers, and brightly-coloured pinwheels. After the balloons were released, N and I spent time walking through the cemetery and reading the names and dates of the babies who have died. It was as sad as you can imagine, but what hit me the hardest was the fresh flowers at the stones for babies who died many years ago. There were dates like February 1999 with a fresh bouquet. February. This is September and not an obvious holiday or birthdate. To me these freshly-laid flowers are an affirmation of endless love. The grief of missing a child does not end, and the pain is not reserved for holidays and birthdays. I’m both comforted and overwhelmed by this.

After the balloon release we all headed to a nearby park for a catered picnic with games for the kids, face-painting, and even an ice-cream truck. Once again my emotions were all over the place. Jude’s parents put so much into this birthday party; a beautiful symbol of their love for him. And it crushed me that these incredible parents are here with all of this love but Jude is not here in their arms. It’s incredibly unfair.

Still reeling from the emotions of this last week, I’m feeling fragile. I’m definitely relieved about our test results and N and I have felt more comfortable talking about plans for the coming months (I’ve even signed up for a prenatal course. Gulp). But things are not easy. Nothing is straightforward. It’s not as simple as good test results = stress-free happy pregnancy. But we are trying.

 

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.