“I hope you don’t mind, but I shared your story and your blog with a friend of mine. She and her husband just lost their baby (are looking to adopt. are pregnant again after loss). I want to help, but I don’t know what to do. Can I give them your contact info?”
At least once a month I get this call, email or text. My answer is always yes—usually before they can even get the question out. I cringe to say I’m “happy” to talk with them, as that doesn’t seem like the right word or feeling for that matter. The truth is, I’m honored. I am honored that they’re willing to be vulnerable and share with me about the child they lost. And I do it in honor of my children—both living and passed. Overall, I’m glad they’re reaching out so they don’t feel like they have to face this alone. And I’m glad that I can keep telling my story. Because all these years later, I’m still working through it.
It takes courage to reach out, and it takes courage to give back.
I know I’m not alone in needing to be open with, and give back to this community. For me, it stems from not knowing that there even was a community during my first four losses. I don’t want anyone to suffer the guilt, shame and loneliness that often accompanies baby loss. It is invaluable to share stories of our pain along with stories of our hope. Finding my people, and organizations like Pregnancy After Loss Support, were instrumental in my healing and pushing forward toward our living children.
Even after 7 losses, there’s still so much I don’t understand.
In speaking with these other loss moms (and sometimes dads or grandparents), I’m careful in what I say. Not about my story, as I’m an open book when it comes to that. Rather in how I react to theirs. While I understand what they’re going through, I can only do so from the lens of my experience. Of course there are plenty of similarities, but everyone experiences loss differently. Each of us process grief in our own ways. It is so important to listen. To acknowledge. And to validate each experience as its own.
When it comes to pregnancy after loss (PAL), there’s no one way to handle it. With our older son, we didn’t tell anyone outside of our parents until the adoption papers were signed. I was “in hiding” for the first 24 weeks of my first full-term pregnancy, and there were some who didn’t know I was pregnant until after my son was born. And with my youngest son, I didn’t have it in me to hide. I “came out” early and in doing so, let people know that we needed their support, not their comments, questions, or worried glances.
Friendships were lost, and dynamics changed.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. PAL can be rough. For so many years, I only knew how to do loss. And sadly, I got good at knowing the steps, and how to handle it. I didn’t know how to do a textbook pregnancy. And while I didn’t know how to fully give in to hope and faith, I did know that I needed to rely on my tribe. So I surrounded myself with the family, friends, therapists and medical teams who would both support and push me. I learned to advocate for myself, and trust my instincts (even if they were thinly veiled as panic, in need of reassurance). And I focused on the day-to-day (and sometimes minute-to-minute) with an eye on the next milestone victory. My mantra was “Just breathe,” and every once in a while, I was actually able to enjoy moments during my last two pregnancies.
All that I know and still don’t understand.
As my living children now range from nearly 6 to 18 months, I’m a ways out from my PAL journey. I’m even further from my experiences with loss. Yet, they all remain within me…something I suspect is always going to be the case. While I will never fully understand the why of it all, there is much I take from each experience for my day-to-day approach to life, and especially in parenting after loss. For worse and for better, these experiences are my story. So I’ll continue to share that story each time I get the call to connect with someone new. And hopefully in doing so, that same story will continue to help me too.