My daughter is turning two in a month, and recently I’ve been thinking a lot about her birth. I’m finally removed enough from the experience that I think I can actually process the details surrounding her birth. I’ve also given myself permission to have a little freak-out about how scary the experience was. I’ve always focused on the outcome—a healthy, albeit tiny, beautiful, perfect baby girl. And while I’m so grateful for that outcome, I think it does a disservice to me and to the larger pregnancy after loss (PAL) community to pretend that the scary birth didn’t happen or that it didn’t matter.
To understand the bigger picture of each unique experience, and to be able to give each other grace—give ourselves grace—we need to recognize and respect the wide range of experiences and emotions that mark this wild ride that is pregnancy, birth, and parenting after loss.
I’ve hesitated sharing our birth story. Partly, I didn’t want to scare people, and partly I didn’t want to be judged as ungrateful. I couldn’t bear hearing, “All that matters is a healthy baby.” In fact, when I heard that phrase during our pregnancy after loss, I’d actually correct people and say, “Living baby. All that I want is to give birth to a living baby.”
Even in the PAL community, many pre-conceived notions seem to exist about what we’re allowed to wish for with our subsequent babies. We shouldn’t be disappointed in gender or type of birth or frustrated with a colicky baby. We should just be grateful to have this opportunity to be pregnant, to give birth, to parent a living child, because there are many women who may not get that experience.
We don’t allow others, especially in the pregnancy after loss community, to grieve gender disappointment or a traumatic birth. In fact, we often don’t allow ourselves to grieve these things, and we judge ourselves harshly when we feel this disappointment.
But that’s not healthy. That judgment invalidates our experiences, our truth. And it rips away a piece of the story. As PAL mamas, we know that stories contain pain. Each one of us is here because of our loss. We aren’t who we are or where we are without the pain of loss.
So, why do we try to wipe away certain painful aspects of pregnancy and birth after loss? Because we don’t want to seem ungrateful? Because we don’t want to rub our good fortune in the faces of others who are still struggling and would do anything to have the outcome we had? Because we need to forget the more painful details in order to protect ourselves?
We use these beautiful terms in the loss and pregnancy after loss community—sunshine babies, angel babies, rainbow babies, and pot of gold babies. I understand that we’re trying to make something beautiful out of something dark and painful, but at times I’ve struggled with each of these terms. And, to be honest, I cringe when someone calls Patrick an angel baby. But, I don’t correct them, because I love hearing my son’s name spoken. I also don’t cringe when I hear someone else call her baby who died an angel baby. We each do what is meaningful to us.
But, what is meaningful to us may not be meaningful to someone else. And what is painful for us may not be painful for someone else. And what brings us joy may not bring everyone joy. And you know what? That’s OK.
Even though we are one big PAL community, each of us comes to this point in our journeys with different pieces in our story. We each bring complex richness to this community. Through these different pieces, we find incredible empathy.
Yet, sometimes when our experiences differ, we don’t understand. Instead of offering empathy, we judge. Or, we internalize the words we’re hearing outside of the loss community, like, “Now that you’re pregnant again, you can move on and be happy.” We start to judge ourselves and think, “I should be happier. I shouldn’t be so scared. I shouldn’t care about the gender of this baby. I shouldn’t care about my birth options. I shouldn’t care if this baby has a serious health concern. I should just be grateful and happy for each day.”
My advice for you is to not erase the parts of your pregnancy after loss story that were painful. And don’t let other people erase them either. But, at the same time, don’t erase other mama’s painful parts of their stories. Let’s embrace all of the messy painful beauty that pregnancy after loss brings. Let’s see and validate the richness that these different experiences bring to the community. Let’s give each other and ourselves grace.