The Other Side of Grief is a series about the life-changing power of loss. These powerful first-person stories explore the many reasons and ways we experience grief and navigate a new normal.
There will never be a summer where I don’t remember the summer of my second pregnancy.
Surprised at how fast we conceived, I realized the changes in my body right away. Yet I was also aware that something felt different — not quite right.
After an early ultrasound in July confirmed the pregnancy was viable, I tried to replace the worried intuition feeling with excitement.
We had one evening picnic at the beach with her in my belly that August, toward the end of my first trimester. Wearing the pink maternity shirt I got at the consignment store, I ate a sandwich as my husband and our then almost 2-year-old son played in the sand.
I thought about what our family would look like once our daughter arrived.
The screening for abnormalities, suggested by our midwife given my age at the time —— almost 35 — was a week away. I was anxious but hopeful.
Though I may have imagined receiving bad news, I had no idea that a month later the pregnancy would be over.
I certainly never imagined I’d choose to terminate the pregnancy after a bleak diagnosis of large abnormalities due to Trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome, that would’ve made it difficult for her to live in her body.
Through therapy — both on my own and with my husband — I’ve come to understand the outcome of my second pregnancy as a traumatic event on my journey to parenthood, one that’s had a deep impact on me.
The grief of losing a heartily anticipated pregnancy
I want to be very clear for people who may try to change my narrative. This is not “post-abortion trauma.”
I don’t wish I’d made a different decision, nor do I question my decision, though it was a hard choice to make.
This isn’t Regret that wells up in my throat. It’s the Grief of being told, “this pregnancy will likely not make it. If it results in a live birth, your baby may never leave the hospital. If she leaves the hospital, she’ll likely not have a first birthday.”
It’s the loss of what was once imagined.
It seems naïve now to have envisioned a family with one girl and one boy, as mine was growing up. But I suppose once you’ve been a daughter, it’s natural to picture yourself being a mother to one.
Growing up a good Catholic girl who never planned to need an abortion, I had internalized the stigma of abortion before the choice became mine to make.
We spoke little about sex and pregnancy growing up. I, like many, was shocked to understand that so much can go wrong. And certainly, I’d never learned about the many reasons you could need to have an abortion.
The words “my baby” are hard for me to use in connection to the one I didn’t meet. Yet, in not being able to meet her, I had to become her mother.
I terminated a pregnancy so that my baby didn’t have to suffer. I had one chance at making something right for her — to give her peace and to save her and my already living son from a sad, much too soon death, or an even sadder life of tubes and pain.
I said goodbye later in September, three days after I turned 35.
After my abortion, I tried to move forward without acknowledging my own pain. Some people seem able to compartmentalize loss or somehow feel that they should be able to shrug it off, move forward as if nothing ever happened. That’s what I tried to do.
Feeling that pregnancy loss after a second healthy baby is born
By November, I was pregnant again. We told only a few people close to us at first. But later, after I began to tell people the happy news, I couldn’t help but tell them about what happened first.
That I’d lost a pregnancy — my plan for a baby girl.
Through that process I realized I felt a suspended, ambiguous grief. I began to long for rituals and a spiritual connection in which my truth didn’t have to hide or feel ashamed.
Once my second son was born, my rituals became caring for him and marveling at his aliveness. Once I stopped nursing him almost two years later, I was alone again with the loss that had come before.
I found solace in connecting with others who have experienced a pregnancy loss.
Our experiences are different, but we share one commonality: there was once something there that’s now gone, someone that never came home. For us, parenthood cannot and will not be innocent or without anxiety.
My sons are still young, but they now know there was another almost-baby between them. “N-I-N-A,” my older son recently spelled in an almost whisper — the name I gave her three years after she left my body.
We were talking about the way people and animals we love cannot last forever, but that when we honor them in our hearts, they become angels.
When I told them about her, I couldn’t say there was a baby that died. What I could tell them is that there was a pregnancy that couldn’t become a whole body, that all bodies live different amounts of time, and that some are, sadly, not ever born to earth.
My youngest son has a clear understanding that if it were not for the sad thing that happened before him, he would not have become who he is. Our family would not be our family if I didn’t have an abortion when I did.
Finding my gratitude for the children I have helped me cope with the sadness of what was lost.
Sharing the truth of my abortion grief, absent of regret
It seems hard for people to recognize that abortion can come with Grief while being absent of Regret.
While I don’t regret my decision to terminate my pregnancy, there are things I do regret.
I regret that I didn’t take the time and find the ways to mourn my loss when it was happening. I regret that my husband had to wait in the lobby as I breathed through perhaps the most difficult experience of my life, waiting alone for my cervix to ripen in a pre-procedure room, my contractions becoming stronger, and finally, being wheeled into the room with the red plastic box.
I will always regret not asking what would happen to the remains of my pregnancy after she was removed from my body. I regret that I couldn’t turn to my faith for comfort.
Pregnancy loss in the second trimester can feel hard to grieve. Our bellies aren’t yet big and round. People outside our bodies don’t always understand that the connection that grows is a deep bond, regardless of the length of gestation.
I knew the empty feeling after she was gone, even though my skin never touched hers.
She became a whole lost baby only in the dark spaces of my body where she’d once lived as a fetus. She became an angel in the way she touched my heart.
I write about this because as with everything in life, abortion can be complex.
It often feels hard for me to make my story make sense, or to make space for all of the pieces of it. But I know talking about my loss helps me make room for the rest of my life.
I know that the word loss is important to my narrative because it helped me find my grief. And that it’s important for me to say the word abortion because it’s my truth, and that sharing it may offer someone else an opening for their own.
Want to read more stories from people navigating a new normal as they encounter unexpected, life-changing, and sometimes taboo moments of grief? Check out the full series here.