Mothers and babies during pregnancy are intertwined in a beautiful, intricate way. The flipside is that when something is going wrong with mom or baby, the other can be greatly affected.
I was not considered high-risk during my first pregnancy.
I was 30 years old and healthy, running six half-marathons in the previous two years. I had a very low baseline blood pressure but that masked its slow rise, and unfortunately protein in my urine was missed by my OB’s office at 20 weeks. I found this out later in my medical records.
During my pregnancy I had called my OB often with concerns of not feeling well, but that was still the ‘before.’ The naive, trusting before. I was told to put my feet up and to stop worrying, thought to be just an overly anxious first-time mom. Because of my phone calls, though, my 25-week appointment was bumped up to an earlier date by a week.
At that appointment, my OB couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat.
I had suffered from undiagnosed early-onset severe pre-eclampsia and had had a complete concealed placental abruption. My son was gone and I would have been next.
At the hospital, the doctor told me that if I hadn’t come in for that moved-up appointment when I did, I would have come in through the ER instead with seizures, stroke or worse. I was induced that night to deliver my son.
If, in an alternate universe, I was 24 weeks pregnant and my baby had died and I just went home to grieve that fact alone, it would have been devastating enough by itself.
But there was more – the baby needed to be delivered.
Add to that, my health was on the line. After a chaotic induced labor, a too-quiet delivery, and my husband and I spending time with our son in the hospital, the harsh reality of it all started to set in.
I was grieving this baby who should still be growing inside me, who should have joined our family months from then. And I was also grieving a misguided invincible feeling I had had about myself prior. Untreated severe pre-eclampsia can be life-threatening, and that could have been it for me. Mine happened to be caught by chance – just in time for me, too late for my son.
In the months that followed, I tried to process everything the best I could.
I told one of my friends that I had been combing through my medical records and even medical journal articles, trying to figure out the details of exactly when and exactly what went wrong. I became obsessed with the details; were there any points in time where there would have been a chance for my baby to survive this? She told me to stop and to slow down. She said my body knew what it was doing.
The pregnancy, for whatever reason, was not going well and my medical team, for whatever reason, hadn’t picked it up. My body, despite what I had envisioned a mother does to protect her child, had preserved itself instead. It cut him off from everything he needed, which is really hard for me to admit because I think I would have done anything to save him. In a way I felt survivor’s guilt; we had been in this together and now here I was, just me.
At that point, in those months post-loss, I was operating on something other than logical thought. Logical thought would have said, “You have had zero out of one successful attempts at pregnancy, and your health was in danger as a result of it.”
Yet as painful and scary as my motherhood experience had been so far, I yearned to do it again. I felt like a mom without a child. I wanted another chance.
We were fortunate to conceive our first rainbow four months after we lost our son. Gratefully I had a different, amazing high-risk doctor for both of my rainbow pregnancies and now have a healthy 3-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son to pour that mothering energy into.
But pregnancy after loss with those giant questions: “Will this baby or babies be born alive? Will I survive to care for them?” is a gigantic leap of faith. It’s scary as hell and not without reason. It’s tangible hope when hope can seem scarce. It is not for the faint of heart but for the very brave.