***TRIGGER WARNING*** Mention of pregnancy & pregnancy after loss
“You’re not enjoying your pregnancy enough.”
I stared at her blankly, unable to wrap my head around the words coming out of her mouth. She knew my story. She had my medical chart. She and I had been over and over and OVER my loss history. She knew it all; and yet, here she was, with her white lab coat and sunny disposition, heaping loads of fresh judgement and exasperation on my already weary shoulders.
I was eight months pregnant with my rainbow baby at my OB’s office and she was asking me how I had been feeling. “Anxious,” was my response. It felt justifiable, honestly. Four losses, three early and one the day before he was to be born. FIVE YEARS of trying for another baby to no avail. Secondary infertility on both sides. Two adoptions. One grandchild. And a surprise pregnancy after coming to accept that I would never carry a baby who would be born alive, myself. Anxious was the most overarching descriptor I could come up with to avoid verbally vomiting every fear that had been running through my head for months.
Her eyes narrowed and levied her sweeping judgement in one simple sentence: “You aren’t enjoying your pregnancy enough”.
Her words sliced through me like a knife in hot butter. How does one enjoy a pregnancy “enough” after experiencing the horrific trauma of losing babies? Seriously. It wasn’t a lack of gratefulness or enjoyment of pregnancy that caused me to lose my babies. It was a cord accident. An undiagnosed thyroid condition. And who knows what else.
Don’t get me wrong, I was THRILLED to be pregnant. Shocked, for sure, but thrilled! Also terrified. Also convinced that he wouldn’t survive, every moment, of every day. I used the term “if” he was born alive throughout my pregnancy; it made people uncomfortable. I understand that, I do, however it’s all I’ve ever known so it was my reality.
Sweet friends of mine who lost two babies at full term, a year and a half apart and with no explanation as to why, got pregnant with their third baby and I vividly remember how palpable their fear was every day of that pregnancy. Every. Single. Day. It permeated the room like humidity in Mid-July in the South. They used the term “if” the baby was born alive. A lot. They went to therapy. A lot. She went to yoga. And guided meditation. He got deployed and came back. She refused to buy anything for the baby until she was born alive. They refused to apologize for how they reacted to the fear over those nine months and told anyone who questioned them about it, judged them about it, or had an opinion about it, to go to hell. It was their reality and their refusal to bend to other people’s opinions inspired my people pleasing self.
What I remember being struck by most, however, is her constant need to express gratitude for being pregnant. It was incessant. She would express a fear and then express her gratitude for her pregnancy immediately following. She never, for one single moment, wanted it to appear that she wasn’t grateful. At first I thought it was because she didn’t want other people to believe she wasn’t grateful enough. My friend is the queen of boundaries and of not giving one single eff as to what anyone thinks or says about her. It didn’t make sense to me that this boundary GODDESS would try to appease someone else’s opinion. After more time passed, and her grateful expressions continued, I realized that she was putting it out there in an effort to circumvent the universe’s seeming desire to take all of her babies from her. She seemed to have a core belief that if for one second the universe sensed she wasn’t beyond grateful for her third baby, she would be taken from her too.
I didn’t understand that… until I did.
“You act like you think he’s going to die,” a friend told me over dinner one night. “I do.” I told her, flatly. She was horrified. I felt bad for upsetting her, however, I was convinced that if I said out loud that I believed this baby would be born alive, he wouldn’t be. So I operated under the assumption that we would lose him too. I chose a similar, yet opposite, approach to my friend who expressed gratefulness. I expressed realism. Much to the discomfort of pretty much everyone in my life. Except for my friend who was grateful and ended up having a healthy, beautiful, LIVING baby girl. When she would ask me about my pregnancy and I would express my fear in that this baby may not survive either, she nodded somberly. Knowingly. Lovingly. She knew the feeling of being convinced that, once again, tragedy would find your family.
How, then, do you go about trying to enjoy your pregnancy all the while balancing the what if’s, the judgement of others, and the well-meaning hovering of your husband making sure you and the baby are ok because he has zero control over anything? Add to that the crippling anxiety that you’re willing away because you’re worried about what the stress of it all is doing to the precious, tiny, babe inside your womb?
The short answer? You can’t.
I wish I had a magic formula or a definitive answer to this precarious question. You can enjoy being pregnant, you can feel grateful for every moment, but you will never live up to what other people think you should be doing or feeling during pregnancy after loss. The expectations placed upon you, most of which aren’t malicious or even realized at times, will feel exhausting. You’ll never meet them. Dear ones, hear me well – you will never be able to meet their expectations – despite your valiant efforts to do so. My only advice to you: don’t even try. That’s not your job. Your job is to take care of you and to do what feels right for you to survive those nine months.
I pissed off my OB with my realism. I mortified everyone I know when I would say “if” he was born alive. I lived every day in joy and fear and tried to soak up every moment I could, frightened that it may be his last. Being pregnant after loss was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life but also one of the most freeing. “You’re not enjoying your pregnancy enough” was my realization that no matter what medical facts are in front of them, stories they are aware of, or families who have experienced loss that they know, they will simply never get it. That phrase burst the dam inside of me that was desperate to ensure people understood why I was the way I was. It was a gift, really, of freedom from other people’s nonsensical judgements.
My OB, my friends, even my family didn’t have to live my reality. I did. My husband did. And that’s all, folks.
To hell with anyone who tries to tell you how to do pregnancy after loss. Seriously. Just like grief, it’s unique to the individual and they aren’t living your reality; you are. You are a warrior for trying again. For putting your heart and soul on the line, again. For facing the daily battles of anxiety, judgement, and fear, again. Hold your head high, Grief Warrior. For you, my darlings, are fighting battles no one can imagine. And you’re winning; even when it doesn’t feel like it.