When a Pregnancy Follows a Loss

Medically reviewed by Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB on March 16, 2016Written by Lindsey Henke on March 16, 2016
Pregnancy After Loss

We started trying in April. Each month we held our breath for three insufferable minutes before the pregnancy test, like a crystal ball, would tell us our fate. While the seconds passed in what seemed like hours, we waited. Fingers crossed, we hoped that parenthood for us was once again a possibility.

With each calendar page that turned and resulted in a pregnancy test with only one line, not two, my heart would break. My mind would return to that place of despairing defeat.

To the day that changed everything.

The Defining Day

She was a beautiful baby, with long black eyelashes and big dark lips. I will never know the sound of her coo or the color of her eyes. They never opened.

My first child was born dead.

Stillborn.

She moved and grew into a healthy child inside of me for 40 weeks and 4 days, only to become silent in the hours that I slept before her quiet birth.

Seven months after my daughter was born still, I found myself pregnant again.

Pregnant Again

“That’s not a line. It’s too faint,” my husband said as we stood shoulder to shoulder in early August, examining the light blue lines of the pregnancy test after yet another excruciating three minutes.

“Yes it is. Look here, the directions say any line is a positive result,” I explained while pointing to the flimsy piece of paper in my hand.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s too early. You haven’t even missed your period yet.”

“I know,” I replied as I looked down in defeat and walked back to the bathroom, throwing the test in the trash.

The excitement and innocence of being pregnant left before it had a chance to arrive. This new pregnancy was now held hostage by the defeat of the previous one.

The Things People Say

“Congratulations!” said my primary provider during a routine annual exam I had scheduled for a few weeks after the positive pregnancy test result.

“It looks like you’re about six weeks pregnant,” she said with a cheerful smile.

I blankly stared back at her hoping that she wouldn’t notice how my face morphed into a confused, contorted expression in response to her words.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted my doctor to say at that moment, but a chirpy “congratulations” wasn’t the most comforting response for the mom who just found out she was pregnant again after her previous baby died in her womb just months before.

Over the next nine months, I would learn that most people wouldn’t know how to respond to me and my pregnancy that followed a loss, nor I to them.

Questions like, “Is this your first?” would catch me off guard during the most mundane moments and have me blushing and bumbling to respond in a way that felt honest and true to both my children, growing and deceased.

My second biggest fear after this baby dying too grew from these seemly innocuous interactions. I worried that now that I was pregnant again people would forget my grief and my daughter and assume that this new pregnancy and baby would replace her.

Early Pregnancy Denial

Early pregnancy passed with apathy and detachment from my body and life. I didn’t let my husband touch my belly or talk to the “baby” that was supposedly growing there. Morning sickness was a cursed blessing. It reminded me that I was once again pregnant with a child I believed was destined to die, while at that same time the waves of nausea comforted me in knowing that the “baby” inside of me was still living.

We waited longer than the time before to share the news — well past the 12-week “safe zone,” which now seemed naive and absurd. There is no safe zone in a pregnancy. Our daughter was a sure thing, or so we thought, and then she died on the day she was to be born. The “safe zone” no longer held meaning for us, but we still waited.

Other things waited as well. Even when my blooming belly began bulging out of my jeans, I would refuse to buy maternity attire, as it was a commitment to hope I was not ready to make.

There were other commitments that also seemed too scary to make that had to be placed on hold. The fidelity to love this baby too was one of them. The guilt that came with loving the possibility of a child felt like a betrayal of my love for my daughter who died.

Instead of preparing for a future that involved us pondering our past, we spent our days in early pregnancy in the opposite way of a normal expectant couple. The only parenting-centered tasks we could commit to completely involved mourning a dead baby, instead of planning for a living one.

I Already Have a Daughter

The ultrasound tech asked, “Do you want to know the gender?” I turned to my husband and could tell by the look in his eyes that our answer was yes. We both nodded an affirmative toward the technician.

In the moments before her announcement, my husband squeezed my hand tightly, as I repeated a silent wish to myself for our second child to be a boy. For the previous 19 weeks I had committed myself to the idea that if this child was a boy, then this pregnancy would surely have a different outcome than the previous one. It was a delusion I hoped to hold onto to help me get through the rest of this pregnancy.

“It’s a girl!”

As her exclamation echoed in my ears, my body became numb, and my mind began to quiver. Confusion and anger swirled throughout. I cursed the universe for not making this journey through pregnancy after loss easier for me by providing me with some saving grace, a different gendered child than the one I lost.

Why this girl and not my other one? I would ponder this question over and over in my mind. Sometimes I would mumble it throughout the days during the weeks that followed in hopes that the cosmos, Mother Nature, or a divine power would respond.

I wanted answers, but could find none.

Will This Baby Die, Too?

As pregnancy progressed, so did my fears.

I no longer trusted my body to protect and produce life for my unborn child within. With each passing week I was blooming with baby, I grew more attached. Not purposefully. I made ardent efforts to not make the same mistake twice of expecting this baby to be a guarantee, like I so foolishly did with her sister. Even with my attempts to stay disengaged from this baby, a subconscious connection grew with the child inside of me.

“Please, baby, move. Let me know you’re there,” were the words I would whisper to my large third trimester belly each night upon waking anxiously from a deep sleep. Intuitively I knew two or three hours of slumber had passed where I was not aware of baby’s movements, so I would wake.

I would count the minutes as I waited for her to kick, and sometimes I would poke and prod in hopes that she would push back. It was in the moments that she would not respond to my probing that I was certain she had died. Flashbacks to the words, “No heartbeat,” that marked her sister’s death flooded my mind.

“Please, baby, please, move. Please, be alive.” I was no longer asking, but begging baby to respond.

Kick. Kick. Jab.

With these wiggles, tears fell from my eyes as I cried out, “Thank you baby. I love you so much! Please don’t die!”

Planning for a Future That’s Not Guaranteed

There were no baby showers, preparing of the nursery, or taking birthing classes.

We were too afraid to jinx this baby’s arrival with preparing for a future that wasn’t guaranteed. We already had all the items we needed from our previous baby. They were perfectly placed and untouched in this new baby’s bedroom, right where we left them just 15 months before. But, as the weeks drew closer to her birth, we hesitantly chose to take little leaps of a faith that this baby might live.

There was a gender reveal party and a coming home outfit all her own that we placed in a hospital bag. It was packed just two weeks before her arrival. We did some little things deliberately to let in the light of joy during days that were often still shrouded by darkness and fear.

We even made a birth plan, which now felt like an oxymoron, but we went ahead with creating one anyway. This time it was a birth plan with a clause in it for losing a baby that we hoped we wouldn’t have to use.

Giving Birth to Life

Lub dub. Lub dub.

I could hear my heart beating in my ears as my eyes stayed focused on the surgical lamp above. In it, I could see the reflection of my OB-GYN lacerating my abdomen.

Within seconds of the incision, I heard the most sacred sound, the wailing of my second daughter’s lungs gasping for her first breath.

“Is she OK?! Is she OK?!” I would repeat a hundred more times as my husband leaned down and kissed my forehead, his tears mixing with mine.

After the nurses tossed her back and forth like a football over the scale and wrapped her in a receiving blanket, they placed her on my chest. Her skin touched mine.

“She’s so warm. So warm,” I said in disbelief that this baby was not cool to the touch like my other.

I searched her face for a person who was not there, disoriented by grief and how the past can show up in the present. I hoped for a moment I was meeting my first daughter once again. The dissociation only lasted a second. Within a heartbeat, my soul filled with joy and connected to the new little bundle of life we had created.

She’s a beautiful baby, with long reddish-brown eyelashes and big pink lips. The sound of her coo brings a smile to my face. The color of her eyes are a seductive blue. When she opens them every morning and they meet mine, my heart whispers, “Thank you,” for another day with both of my girls. 

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