Bringing home a baby after your previous baby died is a unique experience that is difficult to prepare yourself for. Here are 14 things no one told me, and I want to share with you to better help you prepare.
1. There will be triggers
Your new baby will be a trigger. I still have nights where Zoe, my baby born after a loss, falls asleep in my lap. With her closed eyes and peaceful stance, she looks like her sister who never opened her eyes – just for a millisecond. It’s terrifying and reassuring all at the same time, and it’s a trigger. There are other things that might trigger grief bursts too.The old clothes given to you for your deceased child now reused for your living one. The car seat never use now strapped in with a baby in the back of your car. The hardest of all is the things you missed and never got to experience with your child who died and are now before you with this child. It can seem unfair at times.
2. You will second guess everything
You might think, “Do I have a ‘right’ to this baby when my previous one died?” Thoughts like, “Why do I get to keep this one and not her sister?” may creep up on you. Also, feelings of guilt for loving your living baby may come up because you are feeling like you are betraying your child who died by loving a new baby. These thoughts couldn’t be farther from the truth. You deserve this baby and the life that comes with her, even if at times your mind might tell you otherwise.
3. It will feel empowering once you leave the hospital
I once left a labor and delivery room without my baby. It is one of the worst memories I have in my life. To be honest, the day my subsequent daughter was born was not the best day of my life as one might expect. It was terrifying and overshadowed by the memories of the death of her sister. The best day of my life was the day we left the hospital with baby in tow to go home and start our lives together outside of the womb! It was the most exhilarating feeling. BEST. DAY. EVER!
4. It will feel scary
Pregnancy after loss (PAL) is no easy feat, and neither is parenting after loss. Bringing a baby home after one has died can be overwhelming and scary for some. For me, my anxiety was so high I couldn’t sleep at night if she was sleeping. I feared that if I wasn’t watching her breathe, I might miss something and she might die. Things that may help some parents are special baby monitors, extra support from family, or, for me, to be honest, it was anxiety medication and therapy. Whatever you chose is right for you, but realize that some anxiety after bringing a baby home after a loss is normal. At other times you might need outside support.
5. You will weep over your baby in your arms
Bursts of grief will find you during this time. You will purge tears of “if only” and “it should have been” over your baby who lived while thinking of your one who died. It’s called re-grief, where your grief rises again as you see everything you missed with your child who died now in sitting in your arms. There were many nights while breastfeeding our daughter, my husband would find me sobbing over our beautiful bundle of joy as she peacefully slept in my arms as my tears rolled into her soft forehead. Out of concern, he would come in, sit down gently besides me, and quietly whisper, “Nora?” and I would only be able to nod my head through the tears. It was healing even when it hurt.
6. It will be hard to let others hold your baby
I have read this is a common experience of all new moms, regardless of having a previous loss or not. But the mama bear instinct of a loss mom is FIERCE, and it’s okay if you don’t share that baby with others right away. Just take your time, and let others know what you need.
7. At times it might be disorientating and confusing to look for your child who died in your subsequent one
I did this! It’s ok! The minute they placed living, breathing Zoe on my chest, I searched her face in hopes that Nora would be there and had come back to me. Now, I know Zoe is not Nora, and I would never want her to be. Still I had that feeling for a fleeting second. It was confusing. I needed to work my way through it and to make space in my life for all the beauty Zoe brings to the world without thinking that she is here to replace her older sister. It only took a second or two.
8. You might call your subsequent child by your deceased child’s name
My husband and I did this a lot in the first months after Zoe was born. At first I would feel bad about our slip ups. Nick would say, “Do you want me to get Nora?” I’d stare at him blank faced and quizzically and say “You mean Zoe?” At which my husband would blush too. However let’s put it in a different perspective and think of it like this: if Nora had lived, and Zoe was born after her, we would still slip up their names now and then. It’s only natural. I mean two years later, I chase Zoe in her pink dress running around the grocery store yelling, “George, George,” which is the dog’s name. So please don’t feel bad if you slip up your deceased child’s name with your living one. At least it’s not your dog’s name!
9. You might experience postpartum depression and anxiety
Know the risks. PAL moms are at a greater risk for experiencing anxiety and depressive symptoms during and even AFTER the birth of a healthy subsequent child. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consider checking in with your health or mental health care provider to see if added support could benefit you.
PS. I had postpartum anxiety BAD, and I am not afraid to admit that getting help from an individual therapist and taking anxiety medication helped immensely during my postpartum period. There is no shame in asking for what you need.
10. You will grieve again for all the things you missed
This was mentioned earlier but it’s important to point out again. You will not just grieve after you bring your baby home from the hospital. You will grieve for the rest of your subsequent child’s life. Birthdays never to be had by one child but met by another. Milestones achieved by the living baby but never to be achieved by the deceased. An empty chair beside your living child that should be filled but never will be. It will always be present and a part of your life.
11. You may feel detached or overprotective
Research shows that it’s common for PAL moms to have complex feelings after a subsequent baby is born. At times you might feel overprotective of your little one’s safety while at other times you might feel detached at first, still afraid of losing this baby too. Realize that gradually these feelings of detachment will fade. The feelings of over protection may take a little longer to dissipate, but they will decrease too.
12. You may feel isolated or alone
Know you are not! New moms often feel isolated and alone during the 4th Trimester due to our culture. We just don’t treat new moms they way we should in our current times. Unfortunately, it sets up loss moms who bring home a new baby after a previous one dies to feel even more alone. We still feel like we don’t belong in new mama’s groups because we aren’t really new mamas. We have other children. Unfortunately they have died, but we are already moms. Even if you feel alone, please know you are not. There are online groups and other courageous PAL moms at Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS) waiting to connect during your journey through parenting your subsequent child after loss too including PALS’ Parenting After Pregnancy or Infant Loss Support Group.
13. You will feel joy
Yes! Yes! Joy will find you again. You will smile. You will laugh. You will love. It will all be there. You have overcome some of the hardest things a woman could ever have to go through and during this time with your baby, you deserve to enjoy any moment of happiness that comes your way. It will come.
14. You will still remember
A baby born after the death of a previous baby does not replace that child. Don’t worry. You will not forget your child died. You will never forget. You will always have a place in your heart for your baby who died. They are always with you. If it’s in the way the light glistens and dances on the fresh morning dew, a way your subsequent child smile, or just whispers of them on your heart, your baby who died is ever present in your mind, body and soul. You will always remember.