Pregnancy After Loss:
Surviving a Subsequent Pregnancy
By Ann Douglas
Fear, worry and anticipation go hand-in-hand when we are expecting. For those of us who have experienced loss or a series of losses, anxieties are usually heightened, often for the duration of pregnancy. Here one mom shares her experience with pregnancy after loss and provides tips to help moms stay sane while surviving this emotional and stressful time. Ann Douglas, author of The Unofficial Guide to Having A Baby (Macmillan, 1998)., has some thoughts to share.|
In October of 1996, my life changed forever. Twenty-six weeks into my pregnancy, I gave birth to a stillborn baby -- a tiny 1 lb., 1 oz. baby girl named Laura Ann Douglas. The reason for her death was cruelly obvious: My otherwise perfect baby had a knot in her umbilical cord.
Laura was my fourth baby, but I knew as soon as I lost her that she wouldn't be my last. I needed to have another baby in order to heal my broken heart. A few days before Laura's due date in early January -- a milestone that I had been dreading -- I was both ecstatic and terrified to learn that I was pregnant again.
Here's what I wrote in my journal shortly after the home pregnancy test came back positive:
"I've already done two pregnancy tests and they were both positive. Other than feeling tired and a bit of breast tingling, I don't have a lot of symptoms. (Other than sheer panic, that is.) I'm about 6 weeks pregnant. This morning I had an appointment with the midwife. I suggested that she stamp every page of my file with the words 'headcase.' (Thought it would save her time later on, since she wouldn't have to write the same word over and over after each visit.)"
Afraid to be Happy
Two weeks later, I was still second-guessing whether my pregnancy was for real, and wondering whether I should dare to get excited about it:
"When will my heart and mind relax and let me 'enjoy' this pregnancy? Every time I get excited (and I really am very happy to be pregnant!) my mind says, 'Cool it. You don't want to get too excited because this could end, too. And then think how awful you'd feel.' The other part of my brain says, 'Enjoy it while it lasts. If it only lasts eight weeks, you might as well make it a happy eight weeks.'"
I was tremendously relieved when I reached the end of my first trimester-the peak period for miscarriages -- but my relief was short-lived. Instead of checking for bleeding every time I went to the bathroom, I began to fret about whether my baby would manage to tie a knot in his or her umbilical cord.
Draining Reserves of Emotion
I had five ultrasounds during my pregnancy and about five extra prenatal visits, all ordered because of my need for reassurance that all was well with my baby. Somehow, I managed to make it to my due date without completely losing my mind-but there was still no baby.
Here's what I wrote in my journal while I was waiting for my baby to arrive:
"My baby is now three days late, and I'm fast approaching the end of my sanity. This pregnancy has been so long and so stressful that I really don't have very many emotional reserves left at this point. I just want the baby to arrive safe and sound and soon. I'm spending every waking moment looking for movement, and when the baby is quieter than I would like, I go into panic mode. All anyone has to do is ask me how I'm doing and I burst into tears."
Peace at Last
Nine days after his due date, my son, Ian, made his much anticipated entrance. His labor was far more difficult than the ones I had experienced when giving birth to my first three children. I was tense and worried about his well-being throughout the delivery and consequently unable to rely on any of the relaxation techniques that had served me so well the first three times around .
When it finally came time to push, I didn't care if I ended up with a ten inch tear: I wanted him to have him safely in my arms . He took his first breath and made those precious newborn snuffling sounds. I thought I would cry, but I was strangely numb-exhausted not only from the delivery, but also from the nine months that preceded it. It wasn't until a few hours later when he and I were finally alone that I was able to celebrate his safe arrival with tears of joy.
How to Stay Sane
If you've previously lost a baby, your pregnancy may not feel like nine months; it may feel like an eternity. Here are some tips on staying sane from the time your pregnancy test comes back positive until your baby arrives.
- Find an extra-supportive caregiver:
Make sure that your doctor or midwife understands that you will need extra reassurance-and perhaps even extra prenatal visits-during your subsequent pregnancy. If your caregiver doesn't appear to be particularly supportive, consider finding a new doctor or midwife.
- Acknowledge your feelings:
Be prepared to experience a mix of emotions-joy because you are pregnant again, guilt because you are feeling happy about being pregnant rather than continuing to grieve the loss of your previous baby, fear about losing another baby, anger at people who minimize your previous loss and/or make insensitive comments, and so on. These emotions can be difficult to sort through on your own. Consider joining a support group for women who are experiencing pregnancy after loss or seeing a therapist who specializes in grief support.
- Join a discussion group:
Consider joining the Subsequent Pregnancy After Loss (SPALS) support group-an e-mail list for women who are contemplating pregnancy after loss or who are currently pregnant after losing one or more babies.
- Take things day by day
Purchase a pregnancy calendar or a copy of A.Christine Harris' excellent book The Pregnancy Journal and mark the passage of each day.
- Consider your birthing location:
If you will be giving birth in the same hospital where you lost your previous baby, find out if it would be possible to schedule a private tour of the birthing unit before you go into labor. If you have particularly strong feelings about wanting to give birth in the same birthing room or a different birthing room, put this information in your birth plan and/or have your caregiver note it in your prenatal records. While it may not always be possible for the hospital to accommodate your wishes, it doesn't hurt to ask.