If miscarriage is seldom talked about, the feelings associated with pregnancy after a loss are even more seldom talked about.
I think there’s a misconception that once a woman conceives after a miscarriage, that somehow her miscarriage is erased – that the feelings of loss are replaced by feelings of joy for this new baby, and that everything moves forward as it should be. In my own experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I experienced my own devastating miscarriage at almost ten weeks pregnant in 2015, one of the deepest scars it left with me was fear. As I grieved the loss of my child, and what could have been, I was also paralyzed by a fear that I would never again have a healthy child. My miscarriage was so sudden, so unexpected. I had been into my doctor’s office for a perfect, normal ultrasound just the day before. I saw our baby moving and growing normally: its arms and legs, its perfect heartbeat, its size right on track. Then, our baby passed away inside me what must have been only a few hours later. The entire experience was traumatizing from the moment I knew my child was no longer living, all the way through the D&C, and the recovery period which reminds you every moment that your body is eliminating a pregnancy. Some women’s breasts even leak the milk they had been developing for their child in these days afterward.
I had always been a trusting person – able to believe that all would be OK even in the most stressful or unfortunate of circumstances, but now that felt idiotically naive. I understood for the first time not only how fragile life is, but how our hopes, dreams, and expectations are even more fragile. I realized at that moment, and in the thousands of moments afterward, that there is absolutely nothing special about my own hopes and dreams – that they are and always have been as delicate and vulnerable as the next person’s.
Gone was the illusion of “Good Luck” or “Fate” or “Meant To Be.” I entered a period of my life at that time where I felt the most vulnerable, and unsure of most of the things I believed and hoped to be true:
That I would get to choose how many children I would have, that my children would grow up safe and healthy, and that my family would always be OK in the end.
I’m sure these are common feelings felt by any grieving person. There are people who have lost children of all ages, even more than one, and I can’t imagine their heartbreak and depth of loss. I think this is one of the least understood things about loss of any kind:
That it seeps into every corner of a person’s life, that it changes them, and that their life after their loss is a different life than before.
I felt extremely misunderstood after my miscarriage, especially by people I knew that hadn’t experienced a pregnancy loss themselves. I think they hoped that time would heal, that after a period of grieving I would be all better and that it was best to wait it out. I got a lot of “reminders” that I would “have another baby”, that “it just wasn’t meant to be”, or reassurances that I would “eventually” have the family that I wanted.
What I wanted to tell these people was that I didn’t want “another” baby. I wasn’t interested in their “meant to be.”
I was interested in the baby that I had; the one that I loved and was waiting for. THAT ONE is the one that I wanted, and that one is the one that I will never have.
Above all, I was sure that every pregnancy I ever had again would end up this way – that it would seem perfectly fine and then one day the baby would be dead with no explanation. I was sure that I would never again birth a healthy child, hold them to my breast and touch their tiny fingers and toes.
For a while, I wouldn’t even discuss trying to get pregnant again. I felt resentful at the idea that we would just move on from the experience, “buy a new puppy”, so to speak. I wanted to figure out my feelings, to rage and sob and hold my daughter without trembling. I was so adamant that trying again wasn’t the right thing to do, until I looked inside myself and realized that my rejection of growing our family further was being fed and nourished by my fear.
I was so deeply afraid of the possible outcome of further loss that I was fighting even the idea of opening my heart again.
As anyone who has been through heartbreak knows, making yourself vulnerable after you’ve been deeply hurt is one of the hardest things to do. I was sick of living in fear, of having so many negative thoughts about my future, and having that fear affect the way I was living my life. After a lot of discussion with my husband, we both decided that the joy that another child would bring our family outweighed the challenges of another heartbreak. We decided to go into another pregnancy attempt with our hearts open and to hope always for the best.
Even with these intentions, it was terrifying when I learned I was pregnant again. I felt so many things. I was afraid of loss, of course, but I also felt fiercely protective, and above all;
a homesickness and longing for the baby that our family would never get to meet.
I didn’t feel like celebrating. I barely spoke of it. Kyle and I talked around it, almost. I was two weeks late before I even summoned enough courage to take a pregnancy test. I was reluctant to know my due date. I pushed off my ultrasounds, sure that each one would bring more devastating news. Each time I would begin to dream or think about this baby, I would hurry it from my mind. I threw myself into work, or into tasks and adventures with my daughter. I didn’t think of the nursery, of the baby’s face, or of our pregnancy announcement as I had so often with my last pregnancy. This ambivalence began to creep into all the areas of my life.
We had a couple of exciting bits of news that I saw only the bad in – every victory at work was quickly dimmed by my estimations of what could go wrong. My answer to everything was: “Well, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll get excited when it’s really happening”.
In my mind, I was waiting for the second trimester – the “safe time” where I could finally be happy and relieved. Then, I got an email from a Happily Eva After reader that really changed my outlook:
She wrote and thanked me for speaking out about my miscarriage, and shared her own devastating losses with me – two of which had happened well into her second trimester. I realized suddenly that pregnancy, like life, is never guaranteed. There is no safe zone, there is only hope or fear.
What good was I doing myself to ignore and dismiss this pregnancy just because of some arbitrary timeline? I wanted to fall in love with this child just as I had the two times before. I missed that feeling of hopeful joy, and I know my husband and daughter missed it too.
At that moment, I decided to love again – completely.
I had a little conversation with my tiny babe deep inside me, and apologized for all the time I had lost. We shared the news with friends and colleagues, I bought a teeny pair of newborn pants and kept them on my desk so I could feel them and hold them. We explained to our daughter that there was a baby in Mama’s belly. When we eventually shared the news of our pregnancy with the world, my heart was bursting with happiness and gratitude – both for the child we were expecting and for the personal growth I’ve pushed myself towards in the wake of our loss.
I, of course, fought the fear of loss every day…until we welcomed our son Major in October 2016. Even during my third pregnancy in 2019, I still had moments of panic and wariness that my worst fear could once again come true, long after the four-month mark. I allowed myself those moments, and tried to breathe through them. When I was scared, I would speak to my third child, another boy: I would encourage him to stay with us, and tell him how much we are longing to hold him and to welcome him into our family.
As one of my favorite lines by poet Rumi estimates:
“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”-Rumi
Writing this blog post almost four years ago was extremely cathartic for me, but also scary in so many ways. The feelings I was exploring within myself felt so complicated, and contrary to each other – and I carried them almost every day with so much loneliness. At the time, there weren’t many people talking about the ups and downs of miscarriage…and the long term effects that the devastation of miscarriage can have on subsequent pregnancies. I’m so glad that there is more of an openness now surrounding miscarriage and the feelings associated with it, but we still have so far to come in terms of opening this space to less stigma. I’m so grateful for the family that I have today, and I want to extend my deepest, open-hearted love and condolences to any family or person going through a miscarriage or pregnancy loss today. And the same for the individuals braving the landscape of pregnancy after loss. I hope you can find a little comfort in these words.