Monday, March 25, 2013
Pregnancy after loss
This is my belly! Pregnancy #4 is underway and has so far been a smashing success. In about a week or two we should be meeting this little person who has been doing circus tricks and tap dances on my insides for the past few months.
We are thrilled, of course, to have another opportunity to be parents. I am relieved to find out that my body can carry a baby this far. Pregnancy after loss is such a mixed experience and I'm sure it's different for everyone. Our experience has been interesting, joyful, terrifying all at once.
Since we had one 2nd trimester loss and two 1st trimester losses, we had several different "milestones" to cross before we could really start to enjoy the pregnancy. Getting through the first trimester was a huge relief, as the previous 2 pregnancies ended at weeks 9 and 10. As usual, we felt the need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. When I had my early ultrasounds, I chose to privately tell my boss what was up. Since going for a scan for me has sometimes meant discovering an embryo no longer growing, I had to plan for that in case I went to a medical appointment and then couldn't come back to work for a week or two in order to allow for the miscarriage to occur or have a D&C. So always on my mind before doctors appointments was "are my files in order and my work up to date in case I disappear for a week and someone has to cover for me?" Luckily my supervisor is supportive and I could trust her with my information. She always encouraged me and told me not to worry that no matter what happened she would take care of everything. Fortunately I made it back to work after all those early appointments and did not have to deal with an unexpected absence!
As the 2nd trimester approached we got a little more excited, but as always, nervous. Not outwardly, I couldn't really "feel" the nervous feeling. But it showed up for us in different ways. Changed sleep patterns, attitude changes (a.k.a. Grumpyfest 2012) and signs of anxiety. The hardest part about the 2nd (and 3rd) trimester is that you can no longer choose when and with whom to discuss the pregnancy. It's just out there! Anyone who feels like commenting on it can and will comment on it. Even if I'm not in the mood, or feeling particularly vulnerable and fearful that day. This was actually a major adjustment for me. I had to prepare my response for the "Is this your first baby?" question which happened several times a week.
Something tells me I've talked about this before, but I'm too lazy to check back on my older posts, so skip this if I'm repeating myself. Other bereaved parents have told me they are often unsure of how to answer this question too. If I say "yes, this is my first baby" I feel a twinge of something in my soul...I think it's guilt and/or sadness. Not that Donovan can hear me, nor does he care that I have chosen not to mention him, but more of like yucky discomfort when you know you're not being true to yourself. For reasons that are hard to pin down, it's not always a safe time/place/person to bring up the fact that I've lost a child. So sometimes I don't. Other times I do and say "It's actually my second but my son passed away a few hours after he was born" or something to that effect. This is always dangerous, but it is my preference to be honest and to allow that person to know the real answer. I love Donovan as much as any parent loves their children, and to ignore/deny his existence just feels wrong, even when I do it to protect myself, or to avoid awkward conversations. In a perfect world I could always be truthful and never have to regret having answered honestly.
How do you know when it's a good time to be honest and when it's best to just skip it? No idea. I thought I had it down, but I was proven wrong. Normally (I thought) someone who is older, more experienced in life and maybe has children of her own, can handle the fact that sometimes babies don't make it and life can really suck. These people I tend to assume will handle my truth carefully and respond with a solid "I'm so sorry to hear that, I hope everything goes well this time." Someone younger, less life experience, I sometimes assume won't care, or will say something dumb just for lack of tools for how to handle unexpected responses to basic questions. One week in February I was proven so very wrong.
A lovely young woman (early 20s) was cutting my hair. I had never met her before. I answered "yes" to the "is this your first baby" question and we continued to chat. After awhile she mentioned that her best friend had recently had a very late and devastating miscarriage and she didn't know how to help her. I then shared a little about my experiences and also told her about my blog. She was very interested and we had a very meaningful discussion about what helps and what doesn't help when someone is suffering this type of loss. I felt grateful for the opportunity to help someone find ways to support a grieving friend. I was glad she was honest with me and glad I was honest with her.
One week later, feeling all energized and healthy about my attitude toward my own loss and willingness to be honest with others, I went to the dentist. My big belly and I settled into the chair, and before the lady even started cleaning my teeth, she asked if it was my first baby. I said "No it's my second but my first one was born premature and didn't make it." Mistake!!. While both of her hands were in my mouth, she proceeded to natter on and on about everyone she has ever known who has lost a child (and there were many), how it happened, how many times it happened and what I should be doing to avoid it happening to me. She even said at one point "My sister lost her daughter at exactly the stage you are now!" Then I'd had enough. I backed away so I could speak, and said "Why would you tell me that?" To which she replied "Because you need to know these things. You need to talk to your doctor." Oooooooh Maaaaaaaaaan. I was livid. She was going to need her own doctor soon if she kept talking. I politely asked her to ease up on the scary stories, but obviously this women (mid 50s, mother of 2) had no common sense and my warnings went unnoticed. Now the worst part in this situation was that it is hard to talk, interject or defend yourself while someone is cleaning your teeth. I felt helpless. Plus, it is one of those offices where there are chairs lined up with no walls, and I felt self-conscious with other people in earshot. I felt like I was about to cry. Yes I could have bitten her fingers, but somehow I refrained. I left the dentist office having heard of about 20 new ways babies can die that I hadn't even heard of (and I thought I'd heard them ALL...after 3 years of "Ya my cousin's neighbour's best friend's aunt lost a baby too...."). I was devastated and so discouraged. I called the office later that week and asked for her name and requested not to be paired up with her next time. They didn't ask why, but they sounded surprised and agreed to make a note on my chart. This experience really rattled me. It took me over a week to catch back up to where I had been emotionally. It's amazing how much 2 strangers affected me that week.
This pregnancy has been going very well. It still surprised me though, that when I admit aloud I'm a little nervous about it, how many people resort to "Oh you'll be fiiiiiiiiiine." Can you really say that to someone who has been pregnant 4 times and has no children in the house? Look at it this way: If you had a child die in a boating accident, it would be a long time (or forever) until you'd feel comfortable putting the rest of your children in a boat. Correct? Of course! You might never go near water again! Pregnancy is our boat ride. We have been so hurt in the past, and a pregnancy is how it all started. However it's our only way to become parents, and we refuse to give up on that based on fear. It's complicated. I'd order kids from the catalogue if I could (and don't say "why don't you just adopt" because you know that's not a simple solution, adoption takes years and is a huge life altering decision in itself!") You can't "just adopt" like you can find a puppy on kijiji. And I know this because I checked. : P
As always, the "you'll be fine" comment is patronizing and irritates me (because I don't complain very often, I don't feel like it's necessary for people to say that. I take great care not to talk about my fears more than my joys). Another thing that happens a lot is people will give me labour/birthing advice or explain to me what to expect. This is not weird when it's strangers who don't know my story. This is weird when it's people who who know me well and who would have been part of Donovan's life. Our biggest fear from day 1 of losing Donovan, is that people will forget about him. When someone tells me where the labour floor is, or what contractions feel like, it sure sounds like they've forgotten about my son. That makes me very very sad. Several people have reminded me to "take the virtual tour" of the labour ward online. I hesitate to say anything because I don't want them to feel badly (yep, bereaved parents spend a lot of time protecting other people's feelings). Sometimes I will gently mention "Yes I remember what it looks like because Donovan was born there." And then it DOES make people feel badly, and then I feel like a jerk for saying something I KNEW would hurt them and then we all feel badly. I know that no one intends to hurt me with their comments. Everyone means well and is excited for me so that's why it seems like there is really no good solution when this happens.
The best things that anyone ever said to me when I announced my pregnancy is "Wow, congratulations, that is such wonderful news! You must be terrified." I laughed at how refreshing his statement was.
I think some of the best things to say to someone who is announcing a pregnancy after loss are things like:
"I'm so happy for you...hope everything works out well"
"Congratulations, I'll be praying for your baby"
...or congratulate them and simply ask them how they are feeling about being pregnant after a loss! It truly is okay to ask. Better to ask then to assume. Maybe they are not terrified. Maybe they are not joyful. Maybe they can't feel joy yet and feel guilty about that because they feel pressured to be joyful like everyone else is. Maybe.
Lastly, a common assumption was that once I passed 21 weeks (the stage Donovan was born at) that I was all fine and had no worries in the world. Well once you've had a loss, you hear about other types of losses and soon I knew about 35 different ways babies can die (partly thanks to the tooth cleaner). Plus, once something horrible happens to you, it is natural to feel vulnerable to all other kinds of horrible things. I was nearly as fearful of the things that have happened to other people (cord accidents, infections, etc). So no, passing 21 weeks did not relieve all my fears. Some, but not all. Overall we have done a spectacular job of letting the joys out weigh the fears, if I may say so myself. It took great effort to do so. My smart (and handsome) husband wisely pointed out "If things go badly, we'll have lots of time to feel sad later. This is the happy part, let's do our best to make the best of the happy while it's here."
Geeez, every time I think I'm just going to write a brief blog entry, it ends up being long anyway. Thanks for hanging in there with me. We have been overwhelmed and so moved by the outpouring of support and love people have for this baby already. We know you've felt our hurt, we can tell that by how much you share our joy. This is a special baby. A welcome addition to my special family.