I thought it would be easier once she was here.
Turns out . . . I couldn’t let go of the fear after loss.
I never expected to get this far. Even after our baby hung on ultrasound after ultrasound, my previous pregnancy losses made me guard my heart. Every thought of the future was punctuated by a question mark. Would we get to bring her home from the hospital? Would she be safe through each night? I tried to imagine her on our family vacation when she would be 9 months old, but even that felt like too much to hope for.
And yet we did get to bring her home. And, for the last year, we’ve gotten through it all – family vacation included.
But not without some measure of regret.
The thing about babies born after loss is that you feel – no scratch that – you are just as vulnerable as you were before your loss. It’s just that now you understand that vulnerability in full. And for me, that vulnerability transformed itself into pure fear. Especially as my daughter began having health scares.
Fear burrowed deep into every cell of my being the moment we went to the doctor when she was five months old to go over some abnormal movements. Immediately I saw in my pediatrician’s eyes that things might not be OK this time. Over the next 4 months, things were put on the table I felt wholly unprepared to handle. Cancer screenings. Sedated MRIs to check for brain tumors or lesions. 24 EEGs in the hospital. Sleep studies. Visits to the neurologists, the pediatric ER, a gastroenterologist, a nutritionist.
But it wasn’t all these appointments and tests that got the best of me. At least during them, I felt like I was doing something.
It was every moment in between.
It was the breastfeeding her while compulsively Googling her symptoms, trying to come up with answers on my own. It was the times she lay next to me sleeping, and I couldn’t shut my own eyes for fear of waking up to her not breathing. It was every bite of food I gave her or ate myself that made me concerned it would cause a reaction in her. It was the exhausting hypervigilance – and the seeming inability to put a stop to it.
And that fear exacted a heavy price. Looking back over this past year, I feel like I’ve missed the very thing I was longing for – the joy of my daughter’s babyhood. Every moment I should have relished in joy I instead freely handed over for fear to chew up and spit out, and then demand more fodder.
I naively had assumed that once she was here in my arms, breathing and whole, joy would choose me. I didn’t know I would still have to choose joy. Daily. In the moment-to-moment. And that if I didn’t choose joy, fear would automatically take its place.
There are times we look back on certain seasons of our lives, and are tempted to judge the attitudes, decisions and commitments of our yester-selves, and sort of yell back at them, “What in the world were you thinking?” As much as we want to coerce and correct our former selves to operate the way we would now, with our fresh perspective and 20/20 vision, we can’t. So we do the only thing that’s left . . .
We offer grace.
Grace and forgiveness are all I can offer the mom I have been over this last year of my rainbow’s life. The mom who was terrified she was about to lose it all. The mom who chose fear and anxiety over being present and at peace, even in the midst of the storm. The mom who didn’t realize she had a choice to be grateful and present in spite of scary circumstances.
I don’t know where you are at, dear mama . . .
Are you facing the fear that your pregnancy might end before it’s time? Are you terrified this baby will not make it to your arms – or that once your baby is in your arms, you’ll have to give her back? Are you facing health scares? Has postpartum anxiety or depression reared its ugly head, robbing you of the joy in the moment? Are you looking back, like I am, at the last months or years realizing all that fear has robbed you of?
If you too feel consumed by fear, I want you to know you are not alone. And there is no shame here.
But I want you to hold on tightly to these three truths:
First – there is grace.
There is grace enough for the regret. For the longing for do-overs. For the wish for a second chance. Grace enough for every moment fear reigned, and you wished it had been joy.
Second – there is a choice.
You may never get yesterday back, but you have today. This moment. You can breathe in hope and exhale gratitude. You can choose joy and peace in this moment. Not for tomorrow. Not for the next moment. Just right here, in this present.
Third – there is support.
You don’t have to navigate fear alone. There are so many options for you to have a community to build you up. Join one of our Pregnancy After Loss support groups. Create your own private group on social media where you can request prayers and keep your loved ones posted on your baby’s updates. (I did!) Seek the help of a qualified therapist. Talk to a pastor, or a friend who has been there. Ask your OB about medicines which can help you through the worst of it.
It is normal for a woman who has experienced loss to feel fear and worry. But if your fear is robbing you of every sliver of joy along the way, please reach out. I promise you, there is enough grace, enough opportunities to still choose joy, and enough support that you can make it through this pregnancy or parenting after loss journey without being full of regret.
As for me – I’m still taking it one day, one breath, one moment at a time – with the help of medicine, friends and prayer support. And while fear still robs me of more moments than I wish, I still choose joy.
If you could have a do-over for this pregnancy or parenting journey, what would you choose to do differently? What strategies did you use to choose joy when fear threatened to rob you of the present moment? What kind of support have you found most helpful?