In 2021, we were expecting our third daughter, whom my husband had named Lily. My pregnancy was unremarkable; as I told one of my doctors after the loss, “Everything was fine until it wasn’t.”

Five days after a routine appointment, I began to feel “off.” I called Jordan, one of my best friends, who is an L&D nurse. I was prepared for her to confirm that I was probably overreacting, but she encouraged me to take my blood pressure. It was elevated, and I ended up driving myself to an L&D emergency room, where it was confirmed that Lily was gone.

I called my husband, and I called Jordan, both of whom rushed (for Jordan, this meant traveling from Louisiana to Texas, along with another of my dear friends) to be by my side.

I delivered Lily at what would have been 29 weeks and 2 days into my pregnancy at 4:08 AM on November 11, 2021.

I struggled with whether or not I would want to hold her after she was born. I chose not to because I didn’t want my only physical memory of her earthly self to be so profoundly sad. I chose to think of her and grieve her in the way I wanted. Though this did not make the day any less devastating, I was in constant communication with my therapist, and she reassured me that I was making the best decision for myself at the time.

Although we were heartbroken and our family was inconceivably changed, we felt extremely supported by our loved ones.

Their support gave us the space to remember Lily through our creation of The Lillian Dowell Fund. We had been incredibly supported as we navigated her loss, and we created the family foundation to offer support for other families who may not have access to the same. We were grateful for the ability to take time off from work, to enjoy comforting meals sent by family and friends, and to have access to therapy and medical care as needed.

The Lillian Dowell Fund is a nonprofit family foundation whose goal is the provision of education, community, and financial support to people affected by stillbirth and other maternal-fetal health issues. The foundation offers a small annual gift from our family to other families affected by stillbirth, for whom those same support measures that we enjoyed are less accessible. The website also features a list of additional, more robust online resources for people affected by stillbirth, from parents to children to supporters. We’re hopeful about increasing awareness and dialogue around what is a painful reality for many people.

I knew very soon after we lost Lily that, as long as it was not medically irresponsible for me or another child, I felt strongly about pursuing another pregnancy.

I spent the months following Lily’s death in more frequent therapy sessions and embarked on what I called a “medical world tour.” I met with my hematologist, began seeing a cardiologist, and consulted with Maternal Fetal Medicine. I even went to the eye doctor in an effort to confirm that there was no medical reason for me not to get pregnant again.

Erin Dowell and her family while pregnant with her baby born after loss - Feeling Supported After Loss and During Pregnancy After Loss

Author’s Personal Collection/Erin Dowell

There was none, but my biggest challenge proved to be mental and not physical. It was extremely difficult to trust that my body would carry me and a baby through a subsequent pregnancy despite the overwhelming evidence (my two living children) that I’m capable of doing so. The anxiety was a huge weight on my experience, and its effects landed me in the emergency room when I called 911 while on a work trip.

I’m grateful to have had a group of medical providers who understood and supported me through the experience. They reassured me that I was physically in good health, they ordered additional scans and tests to ensure that the baby was growing appropriately, and by the end of the pregnancy I was much better—not perfect, but better—at working through the invasive anxiety-inducing thoughts.

Still, I carried some measure of anxiety through the pregnancy up until the moment Halle Victoria Dowell was placed on my chest at 1:12 AM on February 4, 2023.

Erin Dowell holding her daughter, Halle, immediately after birth - Feeling Supported After Loss and During Pregnancy After Loss

Author’s Personal Collection/Erin Dowell

If the anxiety was indescribably heavy and tense, that moment was an equally indescribable feeling of relief and joy. It’s exactly what the birth photographer captured during the delivery. I’m beyond grateful to my OB, Martin Hechanova, for an amazing delivery experience.

Erin Dowell holding her daughter Halle, with her husband and doctor - Feeling Supported After Loss and During Pregnancy After Loss

Author’s Personal Collection/Erin Dowell

Halle’s older sisters are in love with her and have nicknamed her Pancake.

Baby Halle

Author’s Personal Collection/Erin Dowell

One thing that really helped me during my subsequent pregnancy was the Pregnancy After Loss App.

I came across the app, as I do most things, via Google. I’m a stress Googler, so I’m sure I was up late at night googling things, and it came up. I appreciated the app’s features because, as a parent to living children, I’d used “traditional” pregnancy apps, and I knew that they didn’t cover any of the topics that would put me at ease or make me feel seen as someone navigating a pregnancy after loss. In fact, there were things I didn’t always want to see or know in the traditional apps; specifically, I found that I wasn’t always in the mood to read weekly developmental updates (“baby is practicing sucking her thumb this week!” Or “baby can recognize your voice!”) because it would sadden me to think about who my baby would be at that moment if we were to lose her.

I liked the fact that the Pregnancy After Loss App tracked the same experiential milestones, like doctors’ appointments, but provided articles and resources that affirmed that I might be approaching these milestones with different emotions than a pregnant person who has not experienced a loss. I loved that there were actionable things for me to do from week to week in the app. These things helped me to feel like I was working toward something. To my own surprise, I loved the Facebook group. I was able to post questions of my own, and to give my perspectives in a space where all of us wanted to hear those things from each other. While I have never felt like I couldn’t discuss my loss journey with my close friends, I saw that women in the group sometimes felt so isolated from their non-Facebook communities, and I appreciated being part of a safe space for others.

The App had was so helpful for me that during Pregnancy After Loss Awareness Month, I organized a fundraiser for PALS because I wanted to raise awareness for the organization and to increase the community dialogue around pregnancy after loss.

To parents who are pregnant after loss, surround yourself with friends, family, and a medical team who “get it,’ and don’t be afraid to establish boundaries with regard to anyone who does not get it.

If you can, take the time to do the things during your pregnancy after loss that you will appreciate in the moment and look back on fondly—take the maternity pictures, have the baby shower, dress the bump, buy the tiny outfits, get the prenatal massage, celebrate yourself and your body.

Pregnancy after loss is hard as hell. It’s possible for the experience to be one of redemption, not replacement, and that redemption can look however you decide it should.

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