Guest Post by Melissa Ayala
1. You don’t sweat the small stuff.
I once heard a story about a loss mom that was pregnant again with twins. Everyone would tell her things like, “You’re gonna be swimming in diapers!” And her answer to that was, “I sure hope so!”
The first time my daughter projectile pooped and it literally went up my nose, I laughed. I laughed because this was what I had been wishing and waiting for almost two and a half years.
One of the reasons I didn’t tell people I was pregnant with her was because I didn’t want to hear things like, “Your life is going to change,” and, “You’ll never get any sleep.” Our life had already changed and not the way we wanted. We had already lost sleep because we’d be up thinking about our other baby, wondering why and how she died, and all the what ifs. Many times my anxiety would get the best of me which also caused me to lose sleep. One well-known quote in the baby loss community is “Being up all night with a crying baby is much better than being up all night crying about your baby who died.”
Of course, there are times when I get frustrated and I wish I wouldn’t. I also don’t really care when she hits milestones. It’s hard not to compare, but I’m also in no rush. What matters is that she’s healthy and happy. Now, if I feel something’s off, I take it to the other end and really really worry–probably over the top. Some loss moms will also feel detached, especially in the beginning, and I know I’ve been that way too. A good friend told me it doesn’t mean we love our babies any less; it actually means we love them SOOO much and are also so afraid. We strive to find balance, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. We have to remember to be gentle on ourselves. Sometimes having all these emotions running through us at the same time can be a bit much to handle.
2. We are so much harder on ourselves than ANYONE realizes.
As a mother you are hard on yourself already. Am I playing, teaching, reading, feeding, dressing warm/cool enough? The list goes on and on and on, and I’m sure changes with each developmental and physical age. Moms (and Dads) also feel really badly when they get frustrated or don’t have the patience they expected themselves to have in that minute or day, or just didn’t handle a situation the way they would have liked. Now, add to that the fact that we know from experience just how much WORSE it could be. We feel we should be so incredibly grateful and happy literally ALL the time, and never lose patience or be frustrated because we’ve wished for this child more than anyone knows.
It really doesn’t help when others tell us we should be grateful either. It just piles on to the guilt and leads to isolation. I’ve cried so many times, feeling guilty about how I handled a situation when I’m tired or overly stressed or overwhelmed. I also feel guilty when I’m extra sad about my other daughter who died, and I feel guilty when I feel that maybe I’m not thinking about her enough. It’s so hard, and sometimes we just need someone to listen and tell us that we are great parents and remind us we are just doing the best we can. We are only human, after all, and given our circumstances, ALL of these emotions are normal. I need to be reminded if this too.
3. We are always afraid our other children will be forgotten.
We feel that everyone thinks we are “better” now and that our arms are full. But, the reality is, we always feel someone is missing. That’s because someone is. Someone(s) that can’t ever be replaced. At holidays, vacations, in pictures. All the time. For me, I hate that I can’t see my first daughter be a big sister, and I can’t watch my younger one be in awe of her either. She would probably try to be just like her and watch her every move. Even if we have another child that gets to stay one day and see that sibling interaction, my first will always be missing.
I don’t think that many people outside of this community understand or see the depth of this loss. They wonder, “Why can’t they just be happy?” Well, if we know that one child can’t replace another, we should also know that the feelings for one can not replace the feelings for the other either, right? They are still our children, and we still want to talk about them and hear their names. We want for everyone to remember that they are and will always be a part of our families.
4. That one question is always hard: How many children do you have?
Ugh. If we answer truthfully, how will the other person react? Usually, this just turns the potential of a nice conversation into a bummer. It’s awkward. People don’t know what to say. Often, they say something to disappoint us, like, “Well, now you have this child.” Or, “They were probably sick” (maybe they were, but that doesn’t decrease our yearning for them). Or, the worst, “Everything happens for a reason/it was meant to be.” Says who?
There is never a good reason for a child to die before their parents. And, because of this, sometimes we don’t answer truthfully, and that again causes guilt. I just want to say for myself and for anyone that is reading this, if you don’t mention your child when asked this question, don’t be so hard on yourself. You know they live on in your heart and the reason you don’t mention them sometimes is because you want to protect their memory against any negative or hurtful comments. This just shows how much you love them.
I also wanted to point out that I think this makes us more aware of this talk in public. For example, I rarely ask anyone now how many children they have. And, if everybody around me is talking about their children and there’s other people that are quiet or within earshot, I wonder if they are ok. You just never know who’s dealing with pregnancy, infant loss, and/or fertility issues. This can be a triggering conversation for sure.
5. The word Rainbow takes on a whole new meaning.
I love everything rainbow! I want to buy every outfit I see that has rainbows on it. Oh, and blankets, sneakers, boots, hats, toys, too! I know some moms whom have a child after loss don’t like the term rainbow, however, and I apologize if I’m offending anyone. I definitely don’t think of my first child as a storm, because every child is a blessing and a miracle no matter how long they were here. But again, many moms parenting again after loss like to celebrate their next child with rainbow things.
For me, it also builds a sense of community. Seeing a mom whom refers to their child as their “rainbow” ignites a sisterhood-type bond. I know that parent understands me on a much deeper level than anyone else can. They too are missing one or more of their children while parenting a new child. And, though the rest of the world may not see it, that is a courageous person indeed.
6. We are at significant risk for postpartum depression (PPD).
PPD can affect any mom, and even dads can suffer. The fluctuating hormones, lack of sleep, and sudden upheaval of your life, among other things, are a lot to deal with. Add to this the 9 months of anxiety, worry, guilt, history of trauma, and further isolation that women whom are pregnant again after loss go through, and a woman who is now parenting after loss can easily end up with PPD.
After a baby is finally born, many still experience the anxiety and worry that something bad will happen, even though there is also relief. There are so many other emotional factors. Suddenly, we are more aware of all we missed out on with our other children. We wonder if they would look alike, if personalities and milestones would be similar, and, if we were able to see our children who died, many times they do look alike. They are siblings after all. We still have bad days and triggers. We have guilt. And, what’s worse is that there aren’t very many people we feel comfortable talking about these things too.
As I mentioned above, we often feel that everyone thinks we should just better now, and we don’t want to be judged. But, it’s not that simple. Now we are navigating new territory where grief and joy coexist, adding new layers of grief, and bringing on new events that we hadn’t experienced before. And, we are afraid to talk about it. The silence of baby loss can sometimes linger on into the world of parenting after loss.
I found that talking about these feelings with trusted individuals, especially other rainbow moms, really helps. You wonder if you are the only one who feels certain things, and then you find out that you most definitely are not. I also see or sometimes just talk on the phone to a therapist who actually runs a perinatal bereavement group. I’ve also tried to do some form of exercise each day, especially take a walk if it’s nice out. Recently, I started trying to fit in 10 minutes if meditation each day, which I think is also helping so far. And, sometimes it’s not enough and medication can be helpful. What I wish for all of us is to have some sort of support network that will listen while we share our feelings about life after bringing home our babies born after loss.
7. We still will never look at pregnancy the same way again.
The other day I realized that pregnancy will never be this wonderful time where I get all this attention and plan the “whens” without constant worry and have all this fun shopping. Just because I brought a baby home doesn’t negate the fact that I never got to do the same with another. I know in the loss community, we also look at other pregnant women differently. Sometimes we worry or hold our breath hoping baby is ok. We also still feel envious of other pregnant moms when we see just how happy and innocent they are. It can be the new normal to feel a twinge of jealousy and ask ourselves, “Why not my baby? Why couldn’t we go through pregnancy and parenting unscathed each and every time?”
Regardless of how each person sees pregnancy after they have experienced loss, it is something that changes you. And, I also grieve the person I was before I lost my daughter, as well as that blissful feeling I had with her. Before I brought home my rainbow, I have to say being pregnant with my other daughter was absolutely the happiest time in my life. Not because I wasn’t happy when I was pregnant with my rainbow but because I was very scared of having to say goodbye again. And, I had a right to be. My first daughter changed me, and I know I can’t ever go back to who I used to be. Not only do I know too much now, but to go back would be to negate the experiences I had with both my children. And, that is something I refuse to do.
Melissa Ayala lost her first daughter on 11/08/15 during an emergency c-section at 26 weeks due to a possible placental abruption, and her whole world collapsed. She was told she had to wait one year from her daughters birth to try again. After one year and 4 months passed, she was pregnant again. She was terrified and over the moon at the same time. On Halloween 2017, Melissa and her husband welcomed their second daughter. Halloween is Melissa’s favorite holiday, which makes her and her husband feel that this child was picked out by her big sister. Melissa is now navigating the joy of a new baby and the grief from her first, among other “new” mom responsibilities, and wants to make sure that her first daughter is never forgotten and that this type of grief is given a voice.