We lost our first baby, who we named Lavender, when I was 13 weeks pregnant. There were no obvious reasons as to why I lost my baby. I was young. I was healthy. Everything seemed to fine, until suddenly, everything wasn’t fine.
I became pregnant again soon after our loss. That pregnancy was totally normal and healthy, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t complain—especially not about the good aches and pains that accompany a healthy pregnancy. Swollen ankles? That’s ok, my legs are carrying a heavy stomach that’s growing a baby! Mood swings? I can handle them. My body is full of wonderful hormones that are growing a healthy baby! Stretch marks? Totally worth it! I am growing a healthy human being inside my stomach! I tried to stay totally optimistic the entire pregnancy. Even when I peed my pants a little bit, or when a previously loved food now made me puke. It was all normal and all worth it.
After we delivered our healthy baby girl, my heart was overwhelmed with thankfulness. I was thankful that my pregnancy went smoothly. I was thankful that my body grew our baby to term. I was thankful that the delivery was uncomplicated. I was thankful that I finally got to hold my baby in my arms.
I expected certain emotions after we had our daughter. Joy. Uncertainty. Newness. Fear. Excitement. Exhaustion. Gratitude.
But what I didn’t expect to feel, was guilt.
Because I got pregnant so soon after my first loss, it made sense that my healthy pregnancy was experienced through the lens of fresh grief. After a loss, each subsequent pregnancy-experience is altered. There’s no longer such a thing as blissful ignorance. There’s no rationalizing that a twinge or an ache may just be a twinge or an ache. It’s impossible to believe that there’s nothing to worry about. Worry is always present, at least to some degree.
Knowing the sorrow of losing a baby caused me to savor each milestone and healthy check-up more than I would have otherwise.
A few months after our daughter was born, I endured very heavy postpartum depression. Before I understood why I was feeling that way, I became angry with myself. Why was I so sad and overwhelmed? I had a healthy baby! That’s what I had prayed for and hoped for. I felt so guilty for not feeling complete bliss all the time.
I reached out to a counselor, a doctor, and also my pastor’s wife. Within weeks I began to feel normal again. And after a few months, I felt like myself again.
But still, certain situations would arise and I would end up feeling guilty because I didn’t handle them the way I should have. After hours of trying to get my daughter to sleep, desperately wanting to sleep myself, I would feel guilty for being frustrated. How could I be so frustrated being in the exact scenario that I had longed for—rocking a healthy baby to sleep, even if it did take longer than anticipated.
When I was too exhausted to read “one more” book, I felt guilty.
When I didn’t handle one of her completely normal toddler-tantrums the best I could have, I felt guilty.
When I felt worn out from a long day, I felt guilty.
When I laid awake in the middle of the night, wondering if I had what it took to be a great mom, I felt guilty.
I didn’t want the presence of any negative emotions to enter into my parenting after my loss.
The guilt still pops up ever so often. The older my daughter gets, and the more parenting I have to do, the easier it is to feels waves of guilt. Because I don’t want to waste a day or even a moment—I want to fully experience the beauty of parenthood. I want to savor what I have because I know what it’s like to lose it.
But if I’m honest, some days are just hard. Some days are full of compromises and exhaustion. And I’m learning that’s ok. It’s ok to feel both depleted and thankful. It’s ok to acknowledge the utter exhaustion that sometimes comes at the end of a full day, because I love my reasons for being exhausted.
My bad days, my good days, and every day in between, doesn’t change that I have lost a baby. But what losing a baby has taught me in my parenting journey is this: the wonderful fullness of parenting after loss can be a complicated thing. Joy and grief, gratitude and exhaustion, good days and bad days…they all coexist. And it’s ok to feel them all.
Parenting in general is no easy task. And parenting after loss adds another complex layer to it. So embrace the good that you have. Let go of the guilt. Give yourself grace…because you are strong and you are courageous.