Updated: Jul 24, 2022
Preparing for children after multiple losses
By Erin Epstein
I'm here to tell you the truth about my experience, and if you're reading this, it's probably very similar to what you have also experienced.
The first word that comes to mind is "terrifying". I think back on the many times, after both of my children passed away, when people would make statements regarding "being able to try again", "still being young" and that "the same thing won't happen twice".
Unfortunately, in my circumstance, it did happen twice. My Son was delivered sleeping in November 2018 and my daughter passed away in April of 2019. I never imagined that I would lose two babies, only 5 months, apart after making it into my second trimester of pregnancy. The most terrifying truth of it, all is that for some, our babies do pass away. You hope and pray that it wouldn't happen twice or three times or more and sometimes, it does.
Another component that has made preparing for another baby so hard is having to go through infertility treatment to conceive. There is so much grief around the time, the emotional and physical expense that it took to get pregnant in the first place. The thought of having to go through this same draining and demanding experience just makes me sad. Having to go through that same experience of waiting, hoping, testing, procedures, and various delays just for the hope of finally bringing a baby home. It feels so unfair. So unfair to have worked so hard and done all of the things you were supposed to do and then, in the end, the very beings you worked so hard for are no longer here. It is hard to invest your energy into having another chance when you know what the outcome was the last time. You fear investing all of your emotions in this baby just to possibly wind up heartbroken again. You're unable to believe that it IS possible for you to walk through the hospital doors, car seat in hand, with a perfect, healthy baby welcomed home for the very first time.
Yet, it is this same hope that gives you the courage TO try again with the utmost HOPE that this time it will be different and that everything you're thinking and fearing now, will be worth it.
It is hard to bring yourself to a place of excitement when the only reality you know is delivering a baby that was not breathing or having to decide to take your child off of life support. How can one bring themselves to BELIEVE that there can be a reality different from the one they have lived?
I find myself trying to be cautiously optimistic, having moments where my walls come down and some excitement shines through. This is all dependent on the day, the week, and the moment. I've had to learn that that's okay. For the most part, my emotions do circulate fear, mistrust, and guilt mixed in. As the time to try again looms closer, I feel such sadness and struggle to find the words to explain my feelings, but can't. I yearn for someone who truly understands my experience, but there's no phone book directory for "bereaved Mother's" and no two experiences are the same.
However, for those like me who have experienced a late-term pregnancy loss, I think most of us question if there was something that could have been done differently. I had physicians who did not always make me feel heard or seen. I fear that I won't be able to protect this new child if I don't have a support network of physicians who understand the dynamics around a new pregnancy after a prior loss(es).
I fear that if I cannot protect this child, then no one can. If you didn't feel that you were given proper care during your losses, that pain also sticks with you. Developing trust is so complex. It's hard not feeling as though your physicians care about your unborn child just as much as you do.
I envy people who are pregnant and do not carry the burden of what I have. I was once one of them. I was so elated to reach my 2nd trimester because I thought that I was out of the danger zone and nothing could go wrong. I fear that in a new pregnancy, there will never be a time where I can be rest-assured. I also have to know that this is ok and normal. A person who has faced trauma cannot be expected to "relax" or not have anxiety when they have already faced a terrible loss. Losing a child is an experience that changes your reality and steals part of your joy, in an experience that should be so happy.
You now become this person who wants to follow every rule. You're terrified to do anything that could potentially result in harm to your baby. You tell yourself you'll be able to detach from the experience, and maybe that's better. But then, being the wonderful Mother that you are, your instincts kick in and you want to protect this child at all costs, even before them being born. You don't want to EVER EVER have to face the reality again of looking into the face of a baby that isn't breathing.
So how do you get through it? How do you find support in a journey that feels so excruciatingly lonely? It looks different for everyone and there is no right or wrong answer. I am personally still trying to figure it out. Ultimately, this is for you to decide what feels the most comfortable. Here are some of my thoughts:
1) Communicate with whomever your support network is (support group, friends, family, spouse)
2) Journal your experience if writing helps you
3) Do research when it comes to infertility practices, OBGYNs,and all and even pediatricians, who are known to have been compassionate towards other women who have faced loss
3) Join a group for women who have experienced pregnancy and loss, when you feel emotionally ready to do so
4) Set boundaries around this new pregnancy, for what you do and do not feel comfortable with (when to tell others, your birth plan, conversations with doctors, etc)
5) Give yourself grace and know that it is okay to feel fear. You CAN NOT be expected to not relive elements of trauma when venturing back into the same territory that caused your grief in the first place
I often feel that others do not understand my experience in the ways that I want them to. I want their support on this journey but it is impossible for anyone to completely understand an experience if they haven't lived it. It hurts me when my fear of losing another child makes others feel as though I'm not being "positive" or "optimistic" and that I'm letting fear consume me. It doesn't feel fair when in reality, all I yearn for is to be a Mother who isn't visiting their child in a cemetery or neonatal intensive care unit. It might sound harsh but it is REAL.
I wish more than anything that this experience felt minimally carefree and that I could feel the excitement and joy that I so desperately want to feel. Yet, I feel I must protect myself, intentional or not. Sometimes that might look like I'm being extra cautious or just "being extra" in the eyes of others. It might mean taking precautions that some people wouldn't take. It might mean being fearful of not heeding every warning, so afraid if we don't, it will be our fault if something goes wrong. Society may never understand the experience of a mother who has lost a child. They probably won't, unless they'd lived it or been close to someone who has. I just wish that instead of judging an experience they know nothing about, they'd instead try to put themselves in our shoes. We don't want to be "extra", we don't want to feel "anxious", we didn't ask for any of the cards we are dealt and we are just trying to fulfill our dreams after what feels like an impossible journey.
For every precaution we take, we just ask for understanding and compassion. We don't want to ever go back to that place where an innocent life becomes a devastating loss.
I want this next experience to be a happy one. I want to have hope and faith and lean into my own higher power. I want to BELIEVE so badly that YES, this time will be different. It makes me so SAD that how I used to envision having a child looked so different. I am so heartbroken that it will never look quite the same again. I will find joy in all of the moments that I am able and continue to hope that a time will come when what I feel now, may not hurt so bad.
Yet, more than anything, I pray that one day I WILL have made it through the experience of having another child after a loss. That I WILL bring home a healthy child to love and nurture for the rest of their LONG life. I hope that I will have so much more to share and ways to help others navigate what feels like an impossible journey. That I can validate their fears, their concerns, and all of the things that maybe they NEED to hear.
But for now, know that it is ok to be sad, to be fearful, and to have your private moments of excitement when you feel safe to allow them. Know that it is ok to protect and shield yourself when you need to. Know that whatever boundaries you need to put in place to protect your well-being are ok. Know that others may never understand why your need to PROTECT goes so deep. At the end of the day, I know that it is because you are a wonderful Mother and all you want is to keep your child safe even before they are born.
You want a chance to FINALLY experience Motherhood in the way that you deserve to.
If you're struggling like I am, I SEE YOU and we are in this together.