October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This day focuses on raising public awareness of pregnancy loss and infant death, which includes miscarriage, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or the death of a newborn. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and many women (and their partners) endure this painful loss, sometimes multiple times, in silence. The silence is often compounded and made more deafening by the well-meaning comments of loved ones and strangers who ask questions or make statements such as: “Do you have any children?” “Do you want to have children?” “What are you waiting for?” And for those who already have one or more children, the questions may include “How many children do you have?” “Do you want more?” “When are you going to have another baby?” “It’s time for baby #__” “Your child is ready for a baby brother/sister!” Again, while each of these questions/comments seems innocent and curious, they pack the force of a Mack truck careening into a wall… except that wall is the aching and tender heart of a mom who is longing for the promise of the little one she dreamed to feel, see, hear, hold and watch develop into the fullness of his/her greatest potential.
As clinicians, we are taught that there needs to be a degree of distance between our personal and professional identity and that what we share with clients about our personal lives should be very limited. Being the authentic and transparent therapist that I am, I have learned to sense when and to what extent my sharing is valuable to clients. In that vein, I have decided to publicly share about my recent pregnancy loss and how I am choosing to live in the aftermath of what was supposed to be.
In January of 2018, my husband and I learned that we were pregnant with our second baby! After the healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery of our first child, we expected for a similar outcome. We were ECSTATIC as our daughter had been praying for her “baby sister”. I immediately began keeping a journal to chronicle this pregnancy as I had done for the first. A few weeks after our positive home pregnancy test, we met with doctors for our confirmation appointment. Like an excited little family, with our daughter in tow, we awaited the sight and sound of a precious tiny baby! Then it happened… the sonographer searched and searched, with a perplexed look, for what seemed like a long time before finally turning the monitor toward us. She said pointing at the monitor, “You see, there is a sac with a yolk; the sac measuring for a 9-10 week pregnancy but I’m not seeing a fetus. I’d like to do an internal ultrasound to confirm”. I remember looking toward my husband, who was holding our sweet girl and trying not to express the disappointment and rush of sadness I felt. These words made no sense to me as they were not aligned with my heart’s desire or my daughter’s prayers. As I prepared for the internal ultrasound, I prayed and asked that God be with us… whatever the outcome.
Following the exam, we waited for the doctor, who delivered our first daughter, to confirm the initial assessment- a blighted ovum. She stated that this would be further confirmed with blood work to assess hormone levels which would determine the viability of this pregnancy. My husband and I agreed to follow up over the next few days and with our sweet girl in tow, we left the doctor’s office. My daughter rode with me, as was previously planned, and I held it together until she was in dance class. Then just like that, it hit me- that Mack truck hit me and I was overcome with emotion. I felt let down, in a major way, but more like I let her down… I knew how much she wanted and was praying for a baby and I was failing her… at least that’s how it felt. To top it all, my dad’s obituary, who was memorialized only one week prior, mentioned this baby so others knew and were excited too… not only was it our personal loss, but it was also that of those who knew and were thrilled about new life on the heels of a life lost.
I don’t have words to describe the way I felt other than empty… and this was before the actual procedure. To say that the next few days were challenging is a major understatement. I was a shell of myself, sometimes feeling like I was watching myself perform usual tasks. I was not okay and that made sense given what was happening but that didn’t feel right to me, as I am almost always smiling, joking, and in a good mood. Not so much at that time… not so much for a while…
In the weeks following the procedure, I’d come face to face with the depths of this new reality as clients with similar experiences sat across from me in session and lamented their stories of pregnancy loss, which reminded me of my own. I resumed therapy with my therapist and we discussed how I was managing the compounded grief I was experiencing. Therapy was helpful and at times wasn’t enough! I wanted this baby!!! I stress this baby because each baby is unique and one cannot ever be replaced. Yes I, like other moms in waiting, am hoping for the opportunity to have a/another healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery of a healthy baby AND I am clear that that baby does not in any way replace this baby.
Another interesting and somewhat painful aspect of this process, is the number of women, young and old, that I’ve encountered who’ve chosen to share their stories of pregnancy loss, often AFTER I’ve mentioned my story. What I continue to learn is that while none of us are alone in the experience and aftermath of pregnancy loss, the process of adjusting to life on the other side can be painfully isolating, as few people make and hold space for us to express our feelings and thoughts of longing as we process life without our little one(s). It is important for each of us to discover the support we need, which may include developing a relationship with a licensed therapist and/or attending/participating in a pregnancy/infant loss support group.
In this season, I have learned what seemed to a contradiction, that grief and gratitude can and do occupy the same space at the same time. As a way of coping with the loss of this pregnancy, I began thinking about ALL that I had to be grateful for because for me the alternative was to yield to the darkness that accompanied this loss. Gratitude brought light to the darkest places and even with tears streaming down my face and the weight of disappointment in my chest I was intentional about searching for and identifying great and small things for which I was grateful. Each time I was hit by the Mack truck of emotions or someone’s well-meaning commentary, the sight of a baby bump, a baby commercial, the cry/laugh or coo of an infant, I felt the intensity of the pain and challenged myself, to choose to be grateful still. Sometimes there was a long pause between the two.
This year my birthday was significant for a new reason, this year I was supposed to be pregnant with this baby… who would have been a girl (confirmed by testing)… and would have been due in early October. It was all too much… I was happy to alive and well but deeply longed to feel the kicks and nudges of a growing baby girl. The pain wasn’t and isn’t physical for me but it runs deep and resurfaces at predictable and random times. Each time I make it a point to honor the feelings as they come because they are reminders that this baby existed… that this baby was/is real. There are and will be reminders, some pleasant others painful, of this baby for the rest of my life and I am learning to live with this.
In addition to holding grief and gratitude, I still occasionally journal my thoughts and feelings about this baby. I think I do so because I don’t want to forget this baby and even as I type that statement I know there’s no way I could… this baby and the reality of her existence is and forever will be a part of me and I will continue to update the journal and make room for the feelings as they come and for as long as I need to. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the caring and supportive presence of my husband, whose approval I sought in deciding whether or not to share the story of our pregnancy loss. I am grateful to God for the gift of his love and kindness when it’s difficult and counts the most.
During this writing, I have paused a few times, walked away from the laptop and cried some too… as I have not forgotten the depth of love and the sense of disappointment and pain this experience has evoked in me. AND I am grateful still that my faith in Christ continues to anchor and strengthen me as I navigate the rugged terrain and choppy waters of grief and loss and even as I sit with clients who are in their own process of searching for and discovering light in their personal seasons of darkness. My hope in sharing my experience is that you are encouraged to seek out the support you need and deserve and in the process discover that you too can hold grief and gratitude in the waiting.