This blog post is part of a series of blog posts about navigating pregnancy after loss – you can read the introduction, and follow links to the other posts in this series here.
When considering trying to conceive after loss, or navigating a pregnancy after loss, the emotional layer of grief really makes the whole situation more complex. We have to battle with the fear that people will think we don’t care about our other child, that they’ll be forgotten, together with the belief at first that falling pregnant… might just bring them back. Whilst we know this can’t happen, we so desperately want our babies back, and falling pregnant seems to be the route… its all just a complex messy mess.
So, how can we balance out grief when trying to conceive again, and going through another pregnancy?
GRIEF MILESTONES WHILST PREGNANT AFTER LOSS
One challenging aspect is dealing with milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries whilst also pregnant. The emotional toll of that pregnancy can lead you to not having the capacity to approach those days with the same degree of effort as you would have previously – we have to allow this to be okay. It never means that your baby is forgotten. Depending on how pregnant you are, the timescales of it all, etc it can be an incredibly challenging thing. You celebrate your baby every single day, they are constantly thought about and always loved. If you need to adapt what your plans are, or even postpone them – allow yourself this.
It might be that you can find other, less taxing, ways to remember your baby throughout your subsequent pregnancy. Perhaps planning to take a picture of them in your hospital bag, or doing a small bit of fundraising, or a remembrance craft project at home. Or even asking others to remember your baby in some way, whether writing their name on their travels, or sharing acts of kindness. That way your baby gets a big celebration, and you aren’t putting too much pressure on yourself. One thing we did was finish the nursery – we made it Eli and Leo’s room. It was important for us to do it, and gave us the opportunity to put energy into remembering Leo, whilst bonding with Eli.
MINDSET IN PREGNANCY AFTER LOSS
The mindset in pregnancy after loss is often really dark – the previous trauma and the grief really clouds the mind with a lot of challenging thoughts. I wrote about it in detail here, and I think its important to acknowledge that this is normal, given your history.
So its also important and helpful to share it where possible with people you feel safe with. When I have spoken to health care professionals about the black and white nature of life and death in my mind – they really start to understand the challenges that we face. I think this is probably a helpful way to explain why just eliminating the previous cause of death for this baby doesn’t remove our anxieties. We understand and we have felt the fragility of life – and that transcends it all.
Because of this it can be hard to feel as though you can embrace your pregnancy or take part in things like Baby Showers or Photoshoots. Its absolutely okay if you can’t – but I would really encourage you to find a way to do things to embrace it and give way to hope. Even if only occasionally, and brief. It doesn’t need to be the traditional or Pinterest version – it can be your version, and it absolutely can acknowledge and include your previous child.
I reasoned that I knew how I felt after Leo died, and what helped me (having his room, his clothes, having bump photos and memories, etc) so if I lost this baby – those things would serve to bring the same comfort. I also acted on impulse and seized the day. I would recommend internet shopping the vast majority of things – stepping foot in a Mothercare once was less than ideal. Ordering online allows you to act in the moment of hope and positivity and then forget about it. Once it all arrives, you can put it in a cupboard, never to been acknowledge until you need it if thats what you need to do.
I personally wanted to prepare Eli’s room as I never finished it for Leo. I wanted Eli to know that we were ready for him, and that I believed in him. We included Leo in the design and decorations, and it was and will always be reflective of them both.
Hospital bags are also a very challenging thing to pack for some people (the Rainbow Clinic has pre-packed hospital bags for this reason). I approached it with the view that again, regardless of outcome, we would be going into hospital and giving birth. I would need things, and a baby would need things. If you can’t face it – please do ask if someone else to do it for you. And make sure you pack something that makes you feel safe and if you’d like, something of your previous child’s to help you feel close to them.
Pregnancy after loss is long. And if you get pregnant quickly after your loss, its going to feel even longer. All you can really do is keep clocking in those days and eventually you’ll be at the finish line. But along the way, there are things you can do to help make it feel a smidge faster:
Count up, not down. We hung a little chalkboard, and counted up the days – before long the weeks past, and we got into double figures, and so on. We actually stopped counting at 30 weeks, and it still sits in Eli’s room just like that! We added all his scans to the board and it helped remind us that ‘today, we are still pregnant’.
Take things day by day. I found it hard too think too far ahead – it felt huge to consider being several months down the line. Focus on that day, maybe tomorrow and eventually the days pass. Give yourself a small aim each day to focus on you – maybe some yoga, a bath, or a walk.
When you do have to plan things ahead, I found it helpful to quietly work out how many weeks I would be, and then focus on that timescale in relation to the event. Then aim for the event, not the weeks. As the event got closer, it made the time feel as though it was passing quicker.
Celebrate milestones. Double figures, 24 weeks viability, 30 weeks, term. Whatever your milestones are – do something to acknowledge them and celebrate. It doesn’t have to be huge, but often those milestones feel like a burden or impossible on the approach. Its important to find ways to feel positive about your progress.
This approach was really helpful for when I made it to 6 weeks and 5 days – one day past our miscarriage point. I knew we weren’t suddenly safe, but I did feel we were making progress. In regards to Leo’s point of loss (37+1) I knew that I would really struggle, so made sure I communicated that to my consultant in regards to birth planning. As our point of loss was at term, it became relevant to our birth planning. However with earlier points of loss I think its important to acknowledge that this may be a challenge for you, and to communicate options surrounding those dates (more appointments, a scan) or to mark it in some way to note its significance. And going back to basics – day by day, counting up, self care.
DEALING WITH ANXIETY IN PARENTING AFTER LOSS
One of my concerns was always struggling with anxiety in parenting after loss. Whilst it really hasn’t been as intense as during pregnancy, it is still there – and its a feeling echoed by many.
Have an antenatal Health Visitor Appointment. We had a really good Health Visitor who met us antenatally, and we were able to discuss Leo and our concerns. It meant that she could meet us (before we were sleep deprived and struggling with a newborn!) and understand who we were and what support we might need. Being open and honest can really help them be prepared for any issues that arises post birth, and means that the dialogue is already open. You can also get Parenting After Loss Stickers for your Red Book, here, from Michelle at Dear Orla.
Stay informed. As with in pregnancy, having consistent and accurate sources of information can help you feel in control of your decisions and keep anxiety at bay. I would always recommend utilising the safer sleep guidelines from The Lullaby Trust, using the NHS website for advice, and downloading the Baby Check App as a way of determining whether your baby is unwell, and if you are able, booking yourself onto a baby first aid course through the Red Cross, Daisy First Aid, NCT or other organisations. Its all about equipping yourself with confidence, to minimise anxiety.
Utilise the Birth Reflections Service. Labour post loss can be a fantastic, reaffirming experience with a lot of redemption. It can also be quite stressful. If you feel you need to discuss your labour to understand what happened, and ask the questions that you need to, utilise the Birth Reflections service. I did this for my labour with Eli and it was so helpful. Trying to piece it all together in those early days is hard – but a birth reflections service allows you to chat through your notes and birth with a specialised midwife.
Side Note : I’d also recommend seeing if you can do this for your previous birth(s) should there be aspects about them that is troubling you at any point, or during a subsequent pregnancy. It could really help to shift your mindset on some aspects, and help free your mind whilst preparing for another labour.
Say it out loud. Communication is always so key – especially in a sleep deprived, newborn haze when communication tends to fall apart. If you are anxious, say it out loud to your partner (or anyone you feel safe with). Verbalising it can help them understand what you are concerned about and together you can come up with strategies to help. Be patient with yourself, and if you feel you are unable to manage with the anxiety – seek more help.
IN CONCLUSION… be kind to yourself, take it day by day, celebrate when you can, seize the day, and as always – communicate!
I really hope that this series of blog posts is helpful – if you are considering a pregnancy after loss, or are pregnant after loss, you are never alone. Whatever you feel, others have felt it before.
Carry on reading here :