Trigger warning: this post will talk about pregnancy loss and pregnancy after loss. If you’re not in a place to read this right now, I send you so much love and encourage you to save it for a time when you feel ready.
February 12th, 2021 marks my sweet daughter Jude’s 5th heavenly birthday. I’m writing about how to support a friend through pregnancy loss, because unfortunately this is something that will touch all of us in one way or another. I have learned through my own experience, and through talking with others, that pregnancy after loss is a whole other animal. It is this jumbled mixed-up mess of emotions and feelings. A time that should be filled with so much hope and excitement is juxtaposed most often with guilt, sadness, and fear. If y’all could only see my journal from that 9 months of my life you’d want to bring me some melatonin and tell me to turn my brain off for a few months. If you are walking through this, know that you are not alone!
THINGS I FELT
Hope and Doubt:
Holy moly this emotion was huge. I was constantly doubting my doctors, doubting my body, doubting my babies. At every milestone, I would read about the ways my babies were growing and developing and wonder which part was going to go wrong. Would their lungs not develop properly? Did eating that cold deli meat give me listeria to harm them? Did my toddler jump into my lap too forcefully? Would picking up that corner of the mattress to make the bed cause too much strain? Did that glass of wine I had when I didn’t know I was pregnant cause irreparable damage to my babies that we couldn’t know about? My goodness, just writing that all out makes me exhausted. My brain would go on these spinning loop-the-loops all day long. At the same time, I wanted to celebrate my babies. Somehow, some way, against all (perceived) odds, my body was growing two whole babies! I saw the evidence of that every time I got a sonogram, or heard their heartbeats, or eventually felt them kick and move. This deserved to be celebrated, but I would still constantly wonder when the other shoe was going to drop. It felt like an act of faith every time I added something to the registry, or bought them an outfit and imagined the cute photos I would take of them wearing it. I had to make a choice each time to just live in that moment instead of living in fear.
Guilt and Fear:
I also struggled a lot in my twin pregnancy with wanting to share about the experience, but at the same time being terrified to share. What if I had to take it all back? I remember announcing that I was pregnant with Jude when I was about 12 weeks. When we lost her at 19 weeks, I had to announce to family, friends, and social media, and it was so hard. I decided not to announce that our twins were coming until I was much farther along in the pregnancy. Most people who saw us on a regular basis knew (it’s hard to hide that belly at 20 weeks), but we didn’t make any sort of announcement until after our 20 week appointment! The fear of having to take it back never went away. Even in labor, I had a huge mental block because I just couldn’t truly believe that I was actually going to have two healthy babies.
I also felt guilt about announcing my pregnancy to people who were close to me that were struggling with infertility or loss themselves. I felt guilty for having a healthy pregnancy when so many others couldn’t. I had made so many friends who had been through similar losses after Jude, that I felt somehow I was betraying those friends who had helped me through such a tough time. I felt guilty when I was thinking about the babies and excited for their arrival, because that meant I was not thinking about Jude. I also felt immensely guilty any time I would complain about the aches and pains of pregnancy because I felt I should just be grateful.
Other Complicated Stuff:
Have you ever felt ten million feelings at once? That’s what pregnancy after loss was like for me. Throughout my pregnancy, I felt a lot of other strange and complicated feelings that I never would have imagined. Like jealousy. Sure, I could see being jealous of others’ pregnancies when I was not pregnant, but now that I was, why was I green with envy? I think it came down to being jealous that they weren’t afraid. I didn’t know if they were afraid or not, or even anything about their histories, but I imagined that they were just completely over-the-moon excited without a care in the world, and I wanted to be that way. I wanted to just blindly trust that this pregnancy would end with healthy babies instead of questioning everything. I also found myself stuck in this anxiety cycle where I was desperate for follow up appointments with my doctor or midwife so I could check on the babies, but simultaneously filled with dread because I just knew this would be the appointment I would find out something was wrong. It was exhausting!
Some of you are reading this and you’re like, “Me, me, that’s me!” I am so thankful for the folks who went before me and helped guide me through all of these mixed-up feelings. Here are some things that helped me cope with these emotions:
Journaling and Prayer
When my thoughts were spinning and I just couldn’t turn off that voice of doubt in my head, I wrote things down. And I prayed. And just this simple act of getting the thoughts out of my head and onto paper allowed me to process the feelings much better than just swirling them around in my head.
Feeling the Babies Move and Kick
There’s no substitute for this, really. I remember hoping and wishing that I’d feel my babies move early so I could have that physical reassurance every day. It isn’t foolproof, but it definitely helped!
Keeping Busy and Distracted
Not sure if this is the healthiest coping mechanism, but staying busy helped me to not focus as much on my fears. I just didn’t have time for them! I also had a two-year-old at the time, so he helped keep me distracted!
Talking with Friends Who Have Been Through It
I found so much support through chatting with other mothers who were going through the same things. We just really got each other. Whether they were real life friends, or people I met in pregnancy after loss Facebook groups, it was encouraging to know that other people were in the boat with me.
Therapy (Well, at Least I Should Have Gone)
I wish I had known more about therapy at the time! I really think this would have helped me heal from my traumatic experience while processing these new feelings. If you have the resources to access a therapist, do it!
Ultimately, everyone’s experience with pregnancy after loss will be different. Almost certainly there will be ups and downs, doubt, fear, and questioning. But I hope there is also excitement, celebration, and trust. Lean on your people, and know that you are not alone in this!