In the months that followed my son’s loss I considered the way forward. I never questioned my resolve to attempt another pregnancy, but it often seemed insurmountable. I wandered around gazing at babies and imagining the apparently endless path from here to there. I felt defeated. I remember the tears springing daily to my eyes, and my throat tight and painful.
Months later, there I stood holding the positive pregnancy test. I was flooded instantly by the innumerable emotions that coursed through me as if hundreds of little dams were bursting.
I was seized with panic at the idea of having to actually endure being pregnant once more. Yet I was flooded with relief at the possibility that I could. How could these two things coexist?
I kept my pregnancy secret for far longer than I reasonably could. I felt that to tell people would be to jinx the pregnancy, although, in truth, I longed to reveal it. As I negotiated the polar opposites of true joy as well as the residual grief/trauma symptoms that often define a post-loss pregnancy, I was overwhelmed.
I wish I had known just how common my response was. In similar circumstances, many women suffer depressive symptoms such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Intense anxiety is also endemic in post-loss pregnancies.
Lindsey Henke is the founder of Pregnancy After Loss Support, an organization whose mission is to support women who are expecting again after a previous loss. Members of the PALS community have suffered losses at all stages, from miscarriage through to infant death, and support one another in their subsequent pregnancies. Research shows that parental grief is not linked to the gestational age at which the loss occurred and “early” losses may be wholly devastating, as bonding begins at different times for different people. It’s impossible to know or to judge the back story to a pregnancy or a loss, and those in need should seek understanding from a community that shares their experience.
Henke’s first daughter, Nora, was stillborn in 2012.
“When I was pregnant again after Nora died I was riddled with anxiety and fear. I wanted so much to enjoy this new life growing inside of me and experience joy but it was really hard for me to do. When my little girl arrived safe and sound, the idea of starting an online magazine and peer-to-peer support focused on the mom-after-loss formed.”
Henke noted that she was not always certain where she fit in as far as communities, and this too was the impetus for PALS.
“[A]s a mom pregnant again after a loss, I didn’t feel completely comfortable in the bereaved world discussing new life when others had just experienced death … I was also worried that the stories I wanted to share about my pregnancy after loss were too difficult for the non-loss mom to understand.”
The feelings Henke describes point to a universe of complex emotion difficult to tease apart. I suffered tremendous guilt over my efforts to have another child, as if this emergent reality threatened what precious little memory remained of the baby who had died. I was scared to leave him behind. I felt trapped in a moment remembering little, and yet afraid to imagine more. I was afraid that my fear for this new pregnancy itself imperiled it. I was unable to move either backwards or forwards in time.
I felt stuck.
There were good days too, and on these days I was able to permit myself to imagine a baby I could actually raise, as I let the seeds of joy creep in to my heart and flower and remain there for as long as I could nurture and grow them: sweet, sweet hope. These feelings coincided that year with springtime, so verdant and strewn with shadows, warmth and quickening life.
For women who are pregnant again after a loss, there are wonders – but there too are challenges. Finding ways to ease understandable anxiety and allay fears may provide the complex space necessary to discover the hidden joys inherent in this aspect of her story.
If I can impart anything here, it is the fact that there is support out there for people following pregnancy and infant loss occurring at any stage. Knowing how to find help will smooth your complicated path forward. It is a gift you can (and should) give yourself.
Photo credit: Angela Miller
This article originally appeared on BabyCenter.