What I Want You to Know about Pregnancy After Loss

PAL What I want you to know

My first baby died. Yes, she died, after a perfect 40-week, full term pregnancy.  She died from an E.coli infection.  Nothing could be done.

Then seven months after she died I was pregnant again.

When I looked down at the pregnancy test on that warm Minnesota July afternoon I did not jump for joy or quiver with excitement inside like I did with my first pregnancy pee stick turning positive. No. I frowned, shrugged my shoulders, then threw the stick in the trash.  I was apathetic, indifferent to the possibility of carrying life again, because the first time I tried, I failed miserably.  Or at least that is what I thought.

This is how the journey started, and here is what I want you to know about pregnancy after loss.

The first three months that I tried to conceive after loss and got the negative pregnancy result, I would break down in tears.  I thought that my only chance at motherhood had passed when my baby died.

When I finally got my positive pregnancy test I went numb.  I showed the results to my husband, and there was no jumping for joy or tears of happiness like there was just 16 months ago.  We looked into each other’s eyes and shrugged our shoulders, crossing our fingers that we would be able to bring this baby home.

At my first clinic visit my doctor said, “Congratulations,” and I winced as I thought, “What was there to congratulate me about? This baby could die too.”

As I reached the 12-week ‘safe zone,’ I knew in my mind that there was no longer any ‘safe’ part of pregnancy.  I didn’t want to share the news with friends and family, as I didn’t want to disappoint them again if this baby died too.

I didn’t buy maternity clothes until I was bulging out of my normal clothes, in fear that I would have to return them.  I also hid my pregnancy under baggy shirts and sweaters so I could avoid the heartbreaking questions, “Is this your first” and “How many children do you have?”

As the baby grew, so did my anxiety.  With each new kick I feared she would die too.  I didn’t want to attach, to get too close to her, just to lose her like I did her sister.

From 20 weeks on I must have visited the emergency department 15 times until I actually delivered the baby.  I was always worried that her movement had decreased or an infection had found me again, always scared that she would be taken from me too.

I had nightmares, constant anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD moments as I got closer and closer to delivery.  The longer she was inside of me the scarier it got.

After each ultrasound and NST test I would cry.  I would panic in the minutes before the tech placed the ultrasound wand on my round tummy, and once I left the appointment knowing baby girl was okay, tears of relief and fear would flow from my eyes in the car where I could once again grieve my baby that died and hope, but yet still fear, for this one’s life inside of me.

I didn’t have a baby shower.  I didn’t buy her clothes.  I wouldn’t let my husband bring the car seat to the hospital, because I didn’t want to bring it home empty again.

I would pray, even though I don’t believe in prayer.  I would ask her sister, the baby that died, to keep this baby safe.  A voice would respond in my mind, not mine, but that of my daughter that died, that said, “Mom you get to keep her.  This time you get to keep her.”

I didn’t sleep in the nights and weeks leading up to her scheduled C-section.  For two months before she was born I woke up every two hours to count her kicks and make sure she did not silently slip away in the night like her sister did.

As we drove to the hospital to deliver her I poked and prodded at her to keep her moving.  I needed her to remind me that she was still there and that she would be delivered alive.

When I heard her scream a sense of relief washed over me.  She was alive!  Alive!  I remember turning to my husband and saying, “She is so warm.”  You see, my other baby was cold to the touch when I held her for the first and last time.

But that’s not the end of the journey.  The anxiety of pregnancy after loss carries into the postpartum period and parenting after loss.

Two days after she was born I had a mental break down in the hospital–crying, having an irrational fit of anxiety and worry.  I needed medication, because I was at a higher risk for postpartum depression and anxiety.

I have postpartum anxiety.  I have had it since before she was born, and 11 months later it’s still here.

The fear of losing your child doesn’t go away after you get through the pregnancy after the loss.

I still check each night to see that she is breathing.  I still panic when daycare calls me at work.  I still mentally prepare myself for having to hear the word, “I’m so sorry.  Your baby is dead.”

But…

I will tell you that no matter how hard this journey of trying to conceive, pregnancy, and parenting after loss has been, the moments of joy outweigh the fear of losing again.

I just want you to know that pregnancy after loss is hard–the hardest thing I have ever done after grieving the death of my child. But, when my daughter smiles at me and reaches for me and cuddles with me at night, that makes the horrendous yet hopeful journey worth it.

That is what I want you to know.

 

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About the Author:

Lindsey Henke
Lindsey Henke is the founder and Executive Director of Pregnancy After Loss Support, writer, clinical social worker, wife, and most importantly a mother to two beautiful daughters and one sweet-cheeked baby boy. Tragically, her oldest daughter, Nora was stillborn after a healthy full-term pregnancy in December of 2012. Since then, she has turned to writing on her blog, Still Breathing. Lindsey was featured as Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine’s Knocked Up Blogger during her pregnancy with her second daughter, Zoe, who was born healthy and alive in March of 2014. Her writing about life after loss has been featured on Still Standing Magazine, Listen to Your Mother, Scary Mommy, Healthline, Postpartum Progress, and The New York Times. Lindsey can be reached by email.

14 Comments

  1. Erin April 22, 2015 at 6:59 pm - Reply

    Wow this made me cry. I can relate to this so much! Im currently 8 months pregnant with my rainbow. Its been a long and hard 8 months! Thank you for this its beautiful!

  2. Michelle April 22, 2015 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    I’ve been thinking about putting how I feel into words, and I found this post. I’m 23 weeks and I have had a lot of the same feelings, especially the “Congratulations” part. I still dislike hearing it. Seems like such a long road ahead still.

    • Amanda May 5, 2015 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Oh and the “aren’t you so excited?”
      Actually no, i’m terrified, but thanks for asking. It is a rough journey to be sure. I’m 18 weeks and movement isn’t steady, it drives me insane with fear.

  3. Marielle May 5, 2015 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    this brought tears to my eyes. I am two months out from losing one of my twins. My little girl is happy and healthy but I definitely have that anxiety and worry if she is going to be okay. We want to have more children and you described perfectly how I imagine myself feeling. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Tassie May 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    You’ve written exactly how I feel. The other day I looked at my son and thought “I wonder if you’ll get to see your next birthday”. After his older brother died, I can’t believe that I’ve had the past 13 months with him, let alone that we may be granted more. There are days I wonder if this is all in my head. If, in reality J died too and I’ve created this fantasy world in which I am Mum to a perfect, sweet and healthy baby boy.

    That mental breakdown in the hospital..yeah it happened for me the day J was born. It was so bad they broke hospital policy and let my husband stay with me because I was inconsolable. It didn’t help that being in hospital was a PTSD trigger for me. On a day where I should have been celebrating, tired and emotional but celebrating, I was breaking my heart.

    But every single moment of anxiety, stress, worry and fear is oh so worth it. Just like his brother before him was worth the pain, heartache and all-consuming grief. I wouldn’t change a thing because I have 2 wonderful sons, even if I only get to hold one in my arms at night.

  5. Carrie May 6, 2015 at 4:05 am - Reply

    This brought tears to my eyes. My husband and I recently lost our son from a CHD in February. We want to try again in a couple of months but I have been scared of the baby having a CHD. Lindsey, you said you are from MN – so am I. I was wondering what part of MN?

  6. Carrie May 6, 2015 at 4:06 am - Reply

    This brought tears to my eyes. My husband and I recently lost our son from a CHD in February. We want to try again in a couple of months but I have been scared of the baby having a CHD. Lindsey, you said you are from MN – so am I. I was wondering what part of MN?

  7. Jody May 17, 2015 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    hi,
    I’ve read your story and can only imagine this is the path we will be heading down. We lost our son, Kingston at 41 weeks from a rare bacteria, which caused a uterine infection. This was merely 7 weeks ago. We lost our son while I was in labour March 29th.

    Going forward is the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to endure. I long for that rainbow baby, and feel a sense of guilt with it. Your words give me hope that one day we can have a family and feel joy again.
    Thank you for your honesty.
    Jody Ireland

  8. Beth June 3, 2015 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Yes. All of this. I’m 20 weeks pregnant after losing our daughter at 16 weeks due to cervical incompetence. Every day we sneak up on viability is another day of relief, and I just try not to think about all the other things that could go wrong even at full term. The worst part, to me, is that people keep asking if this is my first baby, and I don’t know how to answer, so I always kind of awkwardly say that it’s my second pregnancy and that we lost our first. With medical professionals, it’s not so bad, but with absolute strangers in Target, it’s terrible. I think bed rest is a bit of a blessing, honestly, because it means I don’t get so many intrusive questions. Everyone I see knows my situation and is sympathetic.

  9. Amy June 3, 2015 at 1:28 am - Reply

    Every word written is so spot on!! I can relate all of it! Thanks so much for putting all of my thoughts in to your beautifully written words!

  10. Ashley June 3, 2015 at 5:08 am - Reply

    Your story really touched me. I lost my son Noah on May 7th. He was 6 days old. I miss him every second of everyday. I recently had my check up to go back to work, and was heart broker when the doctor said to wait one year before trying to have another baby. My heart just broke because even though right at this moment having another baby is the furthest from my mind the fact that in 6 months if I felt ready to try again is not recommended. i am terrified that if I do go against doctors orders something bad could happen within my pregnancy. I just want my baby to hold.

  11. kmp November 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your story. Your story parallels mine. Full term, 39.5 weeks pregnant; delivered my firstborn baby -stillborn just over 2 years ago. He was so precious! When i became pregnant again, it wasnt the most exciting thing to happen b/c we made it to the end with the worse possible outcome anyone has to go through the 1st time around. However, i was blessed with not only 1 rainbow baby, but 2 rainbow babies and delivered spontaneous twins a year and a half later (they r 7 months right now). Missin him every day though.

  12. Jess November 6, 2015 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you all for sharing as this is a hard road and it is good to know you are not alone. I lost my twin boys at 19weeks after a long road of IVF. I worry about moving forward as I can’t stand the thought of having this happen again. You all are so very strong! However, more than anything my husband and I long for our family. I hope that a rainbow will come my way and I wish you all the very best.

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