One of the main things that I get messages about, is ‘where do you even start with navigating pregnancy after loss?‘
It was by far the most challenging experience we encountered after loosing Leo – its full of every single emotion and sometimes, they all hit in one day. Its intense, and its bloody hard. Yet, there are things that I discovered helped ease the challenge, and I’d like to share them, together with signposting to other blog posts or organisations that helped me.
Just because I’ve written it all into a blog post – I’m obviously still more than happy to receive messages about it. Pregnancy after loss, especially in the early days, is incredibly isolating – so any help that we can be, we’d be more than happy.
When I started writing this blog, I asked on social media what aspects people would like covered. And wow, I was overwhelmed and it reminded me just how vast a minefield pregnancy after loss is. So what I set out to be a short and snappy blog post, is now a series and I’m sure, in time, I’ll add to it.
This post here is just an introduction and an overview of some of the key points and I’ll signpost out to the other blog posts that go a little further into the issues discussed.
A quick fire link list for you : Getting the Best out of Your Medical Care, Caring for your Emotional Wellbeing, Dealing with Grief whilst Pregnant After Loss, Managing Life whilst Pregnant After Loss, and and earlier post on the Mindset in Pregnancy After Loss.
Just for those new to our journey, a quick recap : our first son, Leo Phoenix was stillborn at 37 weeks in January 2016. We conceived Leo through IVF and went on to fall pregnant with a frozen embryo five months after he died and sadly miscarried at 6 weeks. A few months after this, with our last embryo, I fell pregnant again, and Eli was born via induction at 36 weeks in June 2017.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CRAFTING A TEAM OF SUPPORT
Pregnancy after Loss is beyond hard. I really feel that its important to accept that and be honest with yourself that it won’t always (or ever) feel easy. That’s okay – we can’t just erase the impact that loosing our babies has had. So, because of that I think one of the things to consider (even before you fall pregnant again) is who do you need in your army of support? What does this look like for you? What particular aspects do you need to focus on? Who has helped so far in grief? Whats worked, and what doesn’t work?
This is who we had in our team of support. It was something that was starting to fall into place prior to becoming pregnant, and equally as soon as I found out. There is no need to delay – the early months are lonely and isolating. You are often ‘not pregnant enough’ for many things – but you are always pregnant enough for support.
Consider what medical support that you need, what concerns do you have about your history, is there a specialist that you can see (information on Tommy’s Clinics is here, for example), what emotional support do you need, do you need more specialist mental health support, do you need to find your tribe of others going through pregnancy after loss, what and who has helped in your grief so far and how can that support extend into pregnancy. The answers to all of these questions are so individual, they’ll be reflective of you as a family and of the circumstances of your loss – importantly, there are no wrong answers. Determine what you need, and start to pull it together.
MANAGING GRIEF WHILST PREGNANT AFTER LOSS
There were times when I felt that the emotional toll of being pregnant again felt heavier than ‘just’ the grief of loosing Leo. You are trying to manage grief together with an incredibly stressful pregnancy that is constantly placing you at the epicentre of your previous trauma and loss. That is a massive amount of hold. Its exhausting.
I also found that my grief manifested itself into anxiety, fear and trepidation. In some ways, pure grief was put on hold – which really concerned me. Would I crumble as soon as this baby was born? As always, you need to feel what you need to feel, so I’d always recommend not trying to restrict your emotions (whatever they are) but also give yourself forgiveness if you don’t think that you are grieving how you’d expect – overall seek the support if and when you need it.
Its also hard to separate the two – is this grief, anxiety or a genuine concern? Its all a massive melting point and I don’t feel its always necessary to determine why you feel a certain way – but to just acknowledge that you are feeling a certain way. Its all still worthy of support and help. Self kindness is also paramount here. We can beat ourselves up for feeling one thing, and not feeling another. Allow your emotions to be whatever they end up that day. Its okay to not be okay. Its okay to be okay.
I talk a little more about the challenging emotions of trying to conceive again whilst remembering your baby, and the impact grief and anxiety have on bonding and preparing for a new arrival, and the anxiety in parenting after loss in a separate blog post as part of this series, here.
LEARNING YOUR NEEDS AND COMMUNICATING THEM
As within grief, I feel its important to be self-reflective and learn how you tick and what you need. You can do this through journaling, blogging, talking or even just taking time out on your own for a long walk. People will struggle to know how best to support you, if you aren’t sure yourself. We don’t always know the answers, but I found through my journey in Eli’s pregnancy I was able to learn how to ease the struggle if I stopped, reflected, and determined what worked and what didn’t work at each scenario or crisis. We’d often reflected on situations with our counsellor or just together once the emotions had been felt – Could we work better as a team, had I communicated early enough, should I have just gone to the hospital sooner, did I need something else from the hospital, did I need to speak to someone else, is being at work helping me, what triggered that massive anxiety crash, will going to this event be a good idea, how do I feel about this, or that, what did I learn last time…
Once you know more about yourself, you are in a far better position to advocate for your physical and emotional needs. Communicating – whether to those closest to your or your support team – is crucial in easing the challenge of pregnancy after loss. Again, whatever helps you in your grief will probably work to help you during pregnancy.
You are unlikely to be offered every single available thing from your hospital (pregnancy after loss care pathways are fairly rare), but that doesn’t mean things aren’t available to you. And sometimes, its the smallest adaptions that make the biggest impact. Its up to us, as hard as it is, to try and shape the care package to suit our needs. Your consultant (or midwife, or counsellor etc) won’t know that their plan isn’t working for you if you don’t tell them. It doesn’t mean to say that they’ll be able to create your perfect scenario, but they will be in a far better position to try if you can communicate your needs, your concerns, and your emotions to them.
I talk about this more in a dedicated blog post on shaping your medical care package doing pregnancy after loss, here.
Pregnancy after loss is full of anxiety, and it doesn’t just relate to the circumstances surrounding your previous loss(es). Your eyes are opened. And every small things, every twinge, can send your mind racing… and heading to Google. Because of this I would always recommended (in any pregnancy) to find trusted sources of information and use them exclusively – try not to stray into unknowns online. You want consistent, up to date and accurate information and you need to know how to find it quickly in those moments of uncertainty.
Unfortunately, advice varies from country to country and if it isn’t updated and accurate, you can find yourself unknowingly reading information that isn’t ideal for you to read. It is also important to speak to your midwife and #AlwaysAsk about any concerns as your own history may impact the advice given.
Google can lead you into a rabbit hole – forums have a place in pregnancy after loss – but I honestly don’t feel it advisable for medical concerns. You can exacerbate your worry very quickly – you are always best just dealing with it head on, utilising trusted sources of information for advice, and speaking to your health care team.
BE BEYOND KIND TO YOURSELF
Self care is crucial. Be kind to yourself physically and mentally. Feel what you need to feel. Do what you need to do. Advocate for your own needs. Don’t suffer in silence when someone can help you. Address anxiety before you fall. Don’t apologise. Be assertive. Do things to remember your missed baby. Give yourself permission to do what helps, regardless of what other people think. Bail. Say no. Have a lie in. Modify your work pattern if you can. Go on Maternity Leave as early as possible. Share. Don’t share. Talk. Communicate. Binge watch TV programs (Orange is the New Black, Gilmore Girls and The Crown where mine). Colour in. Have a bath. Or two. Be honest, even if its brutal or shocks people. Stop being a people pleaser. Reward yourself. Count up, not down. Risk a parking ticket to avoid hospital car parks meltdowns. Eat flapjack. Internet shop for everything, including food. Talk.
Grief is stressful. Pregnancy after loss is stressful. You can only manage so many stressors at once. Find a way to make sure that the balance you have doesn’t create unnecessary extra stress.
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 :
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”