Hey Jude – What It Means to be Pregnant after Loss (PAL)

Two years ago today, we lost our second baby, Jude, at 33 weeks. One year ago today, we were nursing a tender wound while also thanking God that Jude’s little sister, Eilie, our third baby, who was also 33 weeks, happened to choose December 26 to be active and to help assuage our “pregnancy after loss” anxieties.

If you’ve read Letters to Jude in the past, you may know that following Jude’s loss, I found a Facebook support group called PAL, which stands for pregnancy after loss. In this group, I joined a niche group called PAL – Third Trimester. Some of these women had similar stories to mine; others had more harrowing tales of multiple late losses or a combination of both.

 

We got pregnant with Eilie five months after we lost Jude. We weren’t trying; it just happened because well, biology, and negligent natural family planning. Speaking of biology, I run like a Swiss clock. I’m on time, all the time, every time. So, I was due for a “time” and on a whim, that Sunday morning after a particularly enjoyable night out with Sean, I took a test. I know it’s cliché, but you really could’ve knocked me over with a feather when two pink lines showed up on the First Response test.

 

My head swam. I grinned stupidly. After all, we planned to get pregnant again as soon as we could. We’d wanted our children to be very close in age. We didn’t consider any kind of emotional healing or coping, and I still maintain that there’s no amount of time that will permit you to be “ready” after a loss. Those scars will burn whether it’s been five months or five years between your loss and your rainbow pregnancy. The only thing that you need to know is if you’re “ready” to become pregnant again and to hope again. You’ll never be the same after a loss, and you’ll never be “ready” for a baby (even if you’ve never had a loss, honestly).

 

I took the test in to show a very tired Sean, who was making a sandwich.

 

“Are you freaking kidding me?” He was elated.

 

Like kids on Christmas morning, we couldn’t wait to share our joy. I texted one special friend who’d been with us the night we lost Jude, and then we told our parents…immediately. Stupid, I know. Everyone was prayerfully excited. We even told the family we were expecting (but were very early) a week later after Lillianne’s second birthday party. Consequently, we’d told them we were pregnant with Jude following Lillianne’s first birthday party. I realized that this was possibly an ominous thing to do, but we wanted prayers.

 

We talked about sharing the news on Facebook and social media early; however, we soon learned that the very real trauma of being pregnant after loss came with a lot of internal conflicts that aren’t rational or easy to resolve.

 

From my observation as well as my experience, there are many traumas and anxieties associated with being pregnant after a loss whether it’s a single miscarriage or stillbirth or multiple losses. Every time, no matter the situation, there is the highest hope paralleled by the most crippling fear. If you are newly pregnant after loss or have a friend who is pregnant after a loss, these are some of the realities.

 

You won’t know how to tell people you’re pregnant again.

We wanted to tell everyone early to ask for prayers. We thought 13 weeks was an appropriate “early” time to make an announcement about our rainbow baby. We ended up announcing at around 20 weeks, and the best way I could do it was to take a photo of Lillianne holding a pair of knitted pink baby booties (like the grey ones I’d gotten for Jude and accidentally buried with him in my grief) with a little message. We’d had so much support from everyone after we lost Jude. I felt like I owed it to them to ask for their prayers for Jude’s sister. Despite this, I couldn’t find the way or the words for over a month and a half after my originally intended announcement date.

 

Other pregnant women will upset you even when / if you’re pregnant again.

After we lost Jude, I should’ve abstained from going to Target because it’s like the Capital of Mom. It’s almost required that you have a baby or be expecting a baby to enter. I would go with Lillianne feeling raw, emotional, and listless, and I would see bumps everywhere. I was irrationally upset and resentful, and I felt terrible because having suffered what I suffered, I never wanted to begrudge another woman her baby; in fact, one of my most sincere prayers was that if statistically so many people had a stillbirth that I would be the ONLY one of my friends and acquaintances in their childbearing years to suffer the loss. Let me be the statistic, I prayed. Still, it upset me to see other pregnant women…especially very pregnant women as I looked right before I lost Jude. I averted my gaze and cried on the inside and thought they were naïve because they didn’t know how blessed they were while realizing that some of them knew just how blessed they were.

 

Previously innocent questions about your family will seem cruel.

If you have one child, many ask, “Will you have another?”

 

If you have no children, many ask, “Are you planning to have children?”

 

If you have two children of the same gender, many ask (as we’ve now experienced), “Are you trying for a (gender) baby?”

 

This ruffles a lot of PALs’ feathers. I mostly take it with a grain of salt. Of course, I was caught off-guard when I was first asked if Lillianne was my only one. I was checking out at Target (because, Capital of Mom) when the cashier conversationally asked the poisonous question. We’d just lost Jude. I froze, said yes, and felt so painfully guilty on the way out of the store. Sean, who was with me, who’d taken the month off after we lost Jude to cope and to heal with Lillianne and me as a family, assured me it was okay to tell the truth…that no, what wasn’t my only one.

 

After that, I readily told anyone who asked that I had two…one here and one in heaven. Reactions to this honesty varied. Some people were crushed on my behalf. Others shared their own losses. Still others acted completely unaffected (“Oh, I’m sorry,” (checks nails)) and would probably have been more upset if I said I lost my iPhone.

 

I also felt weird –after telling people I’d lost a baby—not being super emotional. First, I don’t get publically emotional often. Second, I’ve accepted what happened. Third, I have faith that’s helped make losing Jude something that’s made me stronger and more joyful as a person; he’s still with me. He’s not here, but he’s with me. I can’t explain this other than to say it’s part of God’s power and mystery. So, I can speak with calm about my son without falling apart.

 

Anyway, I digress…the questions come often. Now that we have Eilie, a lot of people seem to think that my life won’t be complete until I have a boy (mind, these are strangers). I have a boy, thank you. I’ve also reconciled that I may never have a son on Earth to raise, and honestly, I’m okay with that. Really. I’m okay with it. I was disappointed when we found out that Eilie was a girl because I really wanted a boy. It was irrational, but I did. I knew he wouldn’t replace Jude, but if the baby was a boy…then I wouldn’t have a box of baby boy clothes and hopes and dreams to quietly collect dust in a closet for the rest of my natural life. Alas, though, the baby was a girl, and she’s a joy.

 

You will constantly worry about the worst thing happening.

When we lost Jude, it was after diminished fetal movement. There were no other signs or indications of problems. He just…wasn’t as active. Before I could feel the baby move, I took pregnancy tests because I wasn’t nauseated (other than that one day), didn’t have swollen painful breasts, didn’t feel crappy, etc. like other women in their first trimesters. I was tired, sure, but I also worked until one or two in the morning and woke up when Lillianne woke up. I was already tired. How could I tell the difference?

 

Eventually, I started to have a bump, and eventually, I started to feel movement. I was obsessed with the movement. I knew Eilie’s patterns like the back of my hand. She was super active, which was very reassuring. Then, there were times where she wasn’t super active or where she wasn’t as active, and I nearly lost my mind. My chest tightened, my breathing was restricted. I poked and prodded and panicked. There were countless nights at 3 a.m. when I was awake obsessing over baby movements, fastidiously ensuring I was laying on my side, and praying the baby would move, so I could go back to sleep.

 

One day in late November, Eilie was conspicuously still. I finally, calmly yet fearfully, called and asked to be seen by the high risk doctor. They suggested I call my regular OB and go get put on the monitor there. After what happened with Jude, I flatly said ‘no’. Jude’s ultrasound had been misread. Jude died at that hospital. If he’d have been born, he’d have been rushed to USA Women’s and Children, away from me for days. If I went in and lost this baby…or if she was born and taken away from me…. No. Just. No.

 

I advised the high risk clinic receptionist I’d be checking in at W&C ER and going from there. I texted my regular OB who I have the utmost respect and appreciation for and let her know what was going on (she wasn’t the OB on call when we lost Jude, and honestly, she had no signs…I don’t fault her an iota).

 

We arrived and were checked in. My dad stayed with Lillianne for over two hours while I was monitored. An ultrasound and non-stress test showed a “perfect” baby but that I was having contractions (though, they eventually said perhaps it was just the baby moving as late November was very early for contractions).

 

Your loss date will be a milestone, but it won’t make the anxiety stop.

I had a unique (though not exclusive) experience in that Jude and Eilie were both the same age on Jude’s loss date. For most PALs, the date of their baby’s loss is a significant date, and the date in which their rainbow is the age of their angel baby is a significant date. These are very hard days for a PAL because we are reminded so much of what is missing and what is at stake on these days.

 

What’s more, there’s always the fear of the same occurring again. While I shadowboxed my way through Eilie’s pregnancy (guessed at what was wrong, tried to do everything differently during Eilie’s pregnancy from wearing compressing socks to exercise obsessively), there are many PALs who know why they lost their rainbows (cord complications being a top cause). Here’s what sucks. There are literally tons of things that can go awry with a pregnancy. PALs will look out for the thing that went wrong like hawks. I was OCD about diminished fetal movement even though I realized that anything could’ve gone wrong, and if you read the first story from Eilie’s birth, you’ll know it almost did.

 

I had such a thin uterus that it was admitted after Eilie was born that had we persisted in the pregnancy before the spontaneously decided delivery date, rupture and possibly tragedy would’ve been eminent.

 

Against all logic, we plan to “try for another one” and when I say “try”, I mean we will just become really bad at NFP again. With Jude, we tried with deliberation to get pregnant. Eilie and Lillianne were happy accidents. I recognize that I’m already taking psychological steps to avoid taboos.

 

No PAL wants to repeat anything they did with their losses. They also don’t want plucky encouragement. They don’t want you to tell them to be happy they can be or get pregnant again.

 

As one who is quite capable of becoming pregnant, I respect that there are many women who can’t or for whom this journey is much harder. Please don’t diminish a loss by telling a pregnant woman to be happy she is pregnant. You don’t know how hard she struggled to get there or what it cost her emotionally. There are some women who are softer than I am, and for these gentle creatures, they bleed with all their hearts. Questions about their families or fertility, lack of sympathy, neglect over the special days by family members and grandparents….that cuts these women to the core.

 

For me, we remember Jude all of the time. I think Eilie looks the way he’d have looked in many ways. Sean is my partner in this journey. His grandparents miss him. My beautiful friend, Rachel, who was there the night I lost Jude, who learned of Jude’s passing in the wee hours of a Saturday morning and who visited me every day, and who I first told of our rainbow bird’s expectancy, has sent flowers for two years in love and honor of our son. My precious friend Courtney sent thoughtful gifts on holidays for a year for Lillianne and Jude (obviously, for me, but for him) (and Eilie shortly before we had her) (the lanterns we have were from her, and I think of her whenever we send one to heaven for Jude). My best friend who dropped all to come hold my hand when we lost Jude and who never fails to contact me on the important days. I have so much love. I still think fondly of everyone who came to Jude’s funeral that New Year’s Eve…of Laura who not only gave me the opportunity to work from home (whether she realizes it or not) but whose beautiful offering of sympathy was the first thing to greet me on the doorstep when I came home from the hospital, of my dear friend Jeremy, who brought food and compassion, and Kat, who also brought food and her love, and to others who sent flowers again…who showed up.

 

Sometimes, just showing up and trying to understand is all a PAL needs. As a mom who’s lost a baby I pray that you never experience this if you’re reading it, but if you have, please know that there are communities of fellow parents out there who do understand and who can help to hold your hand. Please know that when your parents or in-laws or others say stupid and rude things, they don’t mean to be rude and stupid. They just don’t understand.

 

Here’s what I think we, as PALs, can and should do for others. We should help educate them.

  1. Please do not ask a PAL if they want a certain gender of baby.
  2. Please do not ask a PAL to be happy with what they have. They are happy, but one can be happy and grieve at the same time. It’s not our fault you’re uncomfortable with grief. Maybe you should see a therapist to figure out why you have that problem.
  3. Please do not be offended if a PAL cannot or does not want to host or attend your baby shower. (I attended one shower after I lost Jude…my best friend’s. She was having her first baby, and she was like my sister. It was an honor to do her shower, and consequently, that shower took place on the 26th of September, and I missed Jude’s story that month; however, it was a joy to do that and to be there for her. If it wouldn’t have been or if I couldn’t have done it, I know she would have understood it had nothing to do with her or her beautiful baby.)
  4. Please understand if they don’t or cannot have a shower (or do not want one). (I never dealt with this as my first was born living, and I’m a firm stickler for one shower. I never saw a need to have a shower for every baby I had, so I didn’t have one for Jude nor did I have one for his sister; however, some women lose their first and the idea of a shower for their rainbow is agonizing. Please respect their anxieties and wishes. It’s VERY hard to prepare for a baby and to celebrate hope after a loss.)
  5. Please understand how staggering it is to set up a nursery or to take one down. We never set up Jude’s nursery. It was on the to-do list, but it never happened. I had a closet of clothes to box up (I wept as I did so), but I didn’t have an entire room to change. When we found out Eilie was a girl, we painted the beige room yellow and I pulled some of my favorite sleep sacks that were to be Jude’s for Eilie’s. I still have one outfit that was to be Jude’s hanging in her closet.

 

Honestly, I don’t have any more rules. I just have my experience. I’ll always miss my Jude. I’ll cry at weird times over him (or so it seems). Some women are more emotional (from what I’ve read) than I am. Some women are more easily wounded by questions and comments than I am. I sometimes wish very much that I could cry and let my emotions bleed from my eyes more readily and often. I think it would help, to be honest. Alas, I can’t, and I don’t. I cry over commercials or moments in shows that remind me of Jude. I miss him.

 

At the end of the day, what I’d like to suggest if you have a friend who is childless, who has miscarried (many, many women miscarry in complete secret), or who has suffered a stillbirth or God-forbid, a later loss, please keep in mind that we all have grief or pain. These are hard times and questions. Please just show love and compassion and sensitivity to the best of your ability. Respectfully, I know you can’t please everyone, but do try to keep in mind that the lady who works at the grocery checkout has a baby who died after a few days old or the lady you’re sitting next to at Barnes and Noble while your kid plays with the Thomas the Tank train set had a stillbirth right before her due date. Oh…you didn’t know that? No…I didn’t either until I shared my story, but if you don’t have my story, then you may never know theirs. So, I implore you now of two things:

  • If you’ve had a loss, please share it. Mothers of miscarried babies, please stop hiding behind statistics. You deserve to air your grief. You hide too much. You’ll find so much support if you just step outside of your bindings.
  • If you’ve not had a loss, please let others know you’re open to hearing their stories. Few things are more agonizing than sharing our stories to be dismissed or hushed because others are uncomfortable with our truth. We aren’t looking for shoulders to cry on; we’re just telling you about our family; it so happens, our families have angels in them.

So, I pray you all have nothing but health, love, and happiness in your families. I pray you show love and tenderness and understanding to your friends and family who have suffered losses.

 

To myself on this night, I say to my Jude, I love you, sweetheart. I can’t believe you’re two. You’re growing so beautifully, and you’re helping my faith so much. I couldn’t ask for a greater blessing than you, Jude. Please, darling, continue blessing us and the world and your sisters with your guidance. Please touch your sisters with your presence and the love of God.  Bless you my son; I do miss you so much. I pray these wishes are granted. Amen.

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