How to Survive Pregnancy After a Loss
Babyloss -- the death of a baby before, during, or shortly after birth -- is shockingly common. One in four parents will have their babies stolen by miscarriage, stillbirth, chromosomal problems, heart defects, SIDS, and more. I am one of those parents -- our first child died, suddenly and without known cause, at 31 weeks of pregnancy. And just a few months she died and was born, my husband and I tried again for another baby -- and succeeded.
The brutal truth is that when your baby is ripped from you -- an unnatural loss that no parent expects to have to endure -- fear enters your life. Suddenly you are forced to see just how fragile all life is. And while a subsequent pregnancy after a loss (dubbed a rainbow pregnancy) is often incredibly healing, fear is a very real challenge. You know that lightning does strike twice, and that you are not exempt from more heartbreak.
So how is a bereaved mama supposed to survive a subsequent pregnancy? Here are my tips from the trenches.
Online Support Groups
I believe that every woman who is pregnant again after a loss should find herself a strong base of support. Tell trusted friends and family about how you're feeling, and ask for prayer. During my own rainbow pregnancy, I found it very difficult to pray because the fact was that I had prayed for our daughter and she had died. Fear held me back from my own prayers, but knowing that many of my loved ones were praying for me and were there to listen was an incredible comfort.
However, many bereaved mothers do not have loved ones who will be gentle or understanding with their fragile hearts. Thankfully, there are many online support groups (see links in the sidebar for recommendations) for pregnancy after a loss. I joined one immediately upon discovering I was pregnant again, and to this day (five months postpartum at this writing) the group remains a source of nourishment and care for me. In these private groups members can share the fears and emotions which are so normal for rainbow pregnancies that may be misunderstood by women who haven't been through a loss.
Recommended Books on Pregnancy After a Loss
Tell Your Doctor What You Need
Going into my rainbow pregnancy, I knew that going a full month between OB appointments in my first two trimesters would drive me out of my mind with worry. So I told my doctor that I needed more appointments, just to come in and listen to the baby's heartbeat. She was understanding, and said that I could come in weekly. I ended up coming in every other week, and then weekly during my final trimester. I also had a few extra ultrasounds, and weekly non-stress tests (NSTs) in the third trimester. The nurses at labor and delivery didn't understand why I was coming in so often for NSTs, but it didn't matter -- my doctor was behind me, and it helped me stay sane.
Tell your doctor how you're feeling about this pregnancy, and what will help you get through it with the least stress. If your doctor is not accommodating or supportive, find one who is. You are paying her a lot of money to not only deliver a healthy baby, but also to give you the care you need. You are not putting your doctor out by asking for a little extra attention.
Also, don't be afraid to call your doctor or go to your hospital's labor and delivery if you have any concerns about your baby. It's better to be extra cautious, both for your sanity and the health of the baby, than to do nothing because you want to save face and then have the worst happen [again]. My third trimester felt extremely stressful, and in the last few weeks of my pregnancy I was at labor and delivery every other night because of concerns.
Don't worry that you're putting anyone out. You're not. It's their job to address your needs. So take full advantage of your healthcare providers and ask for whatever you need to feel okay.
Count Kicks in the Third Trimester
Every pregnant mama should be doing daily kick counts during her final trimester -- but it's especially important for loss mamas to be doing them. Counting kicks can alert you to any problems with the baby, and it can also reassure you that your baby is alive and well. I ended up counting kicks twice daily, during times in the morning and evening when my baby was normally active. Please visit Count the Kicks for more information on how to properly count your baby's kicks.
Celebrate What You Can
When I became pregnant again with our son, I was concerned that my rainbow pregnancy would be a dark time, that I would not come away with any pleasant memories, and I didn't want that for either myself or my son. So while I definitely was more reserved with my heart, I tried to celebrate what I felt able to during his pregnancy. I purchased a few pieces of clothing that I really liked, and I had maternity photographs taken. I invited our friends and family to our house to celebrate a healthy mid-pregnancy ultrasound and gender reveal. I took a picture of my growing belly every week. I had a small, gentle mama blessing ceremony in place of a baby shower. I did what I could, what felt nourishing. If it felt like too much or too scary -- I didn't do it. Go gently, and celebrate what you can -- but if you can't, it's okay and very normal.
Be Gentle With Yourself
I knew that being pregnant again was going to be stressful -- but I didn't realize just how stressful. It was a huge effort to not give into the fear, to stay sane each day for nine months.
I hope that your pregnancy is the exception, that you are able to leave fear behind and live in trust and peace. But if you're not -- know that it is okay. It is normal, even. You've been through hell with your loss, and you've learned the hard way that getting a positive pregnancy test or getting through the first trimester does not always end in taking a baby home to raise and nurture. You know that there thousands of things that could go wrong, things that you have no control over.
So go easy on yourself. Don't think you "should" be doing anything in particular. The only "shoulds" in a rainbow pregnancy involve taking care of yourself, your body, and your mental health in whatever ways you can manage to. You don't need to decorate a nursery, or buy baby clothes, or have a baby shower.
Be gentle with yourself, with your fragile heart. You deserve it.