Losing my daughter Sahar, was the most heartbreaking, earth-shattering, difficult thing I’ve been through in my entire life. 6 months later, I was super blessed to be pregnant again, and that… was the second most difficult thing I’ve had to get through in my life. Once that plus sign appeared on that pregnancy test, anxiety took a hold of me. So many thoughts ran through my head, but they all boiled down to one question: Will we be able to keep this baby?
I was 4 weeks pregnant at the time, so we had thirty-six terrifying weeks in front of us before we would be able to finally welcome this baby into the world. The thought of that just crippled me. 36 weeks is a long time for anyone, but for a baby loss mama, multiply that by a million and you’re not even coming close… So from day one, I knew that I was going to have to figure out ways to get through this time in the most bearable way possible.
There are a few things that made that difficult time a bit easier and I wanted to share them here with you. I can’t promise these will work for you, but I wanted to share my own experiences, and just maybe, they might help you too.
Medical checks and support
I was blessed with an incredible medical staff that were supportive and understanding – all the time -, even when I showed up at the ER for the second time that week. I could call my OB on her direct line and skip reception. I had two-weekly checkups instead of just once a month. I could call in between checkups and squeeze in another one if I wasn’t feeling well.
I think it’s important to have a good connection with your caregivers and know that you have a go-to-place whenever you need it. If you don’t have that with your current OB, hospital, midwife or doula, look for another one and change. Do anything and everything to make this crucial element of PAL a better experience. Your and your baby’s health is the most important thing.
To be honest, I didn’t go to therapy until later in my pregnancy. I thought that my anxiety would lessen once I passed the 22-week mark in which I lost my daughter. For me, this wasn’t the case. On the contrary actually, my anxiety went trough the roof as I imagined going through another loss while I got closer to my due date. My OB noticed my increased anxiety and sent me to a therapist. I had weekly appointments in which we would talk about my feelings regarding Sahar and this rainbow baby kicking inside me. He would use relaxation techniques to help me clear my mind and be positive, and he was a great support during those last 14 weeks of my pregnancy.
Look for a therapist that specialises in grief, anxiety and relaxation, as these will probably be eating you up during this PAL. Ask your OB, midwife or doula if they have any recommendations. I actually had a different therapist after losing Sahar, who I felt wouldn’t be adequate to get me through my pregnancy. Google showed me the way to a great therapist who specialised in anxiety and grief and it was a match made in heaven. It’s very important to feel comfortable, to feel a connection and confidence in your therapist, so don’t be afraid to change if you feel something is off.
I told my husband Frank my every thought and worry. I texted him throughout the day uncountable times. I told him my thoughts and feelings even when I did not want to admit them to myself, just to get it out of my system. He held me when I cried, and kissed me when I smiled. We talked about Sahar and about our rainbow all the time. My sister was my go-to person to talk about pregnancy symptoms, little pains and discomforts. She gave me advice and calmed me when I worried about the little things. I had a few dear friends at work that would get me through my working days when anxiety kept me from focussing.
Build your PAL-support network, at home, at work, and wherever you may spend your time. You won’t necessarily need an army, but you will need at least a few people on who you can always rely to listen, to give you a hug, to reassure you and to comfort you whenever you need it. People who won’t look at you like a crazy person when you’re losing your mind because it’s been more than 30 minutes since you felt your baby move. People who will hold you and hug you when you just want to cry for a few hours. People who will listen to the endless battles you’re fighting in your mind every minute of every single day. Distance yourself from people that make you feel uncomfortable or anxious. This is a time to think of yourself first.
When I got pregnant with Sahar and passed the twelve week mark, I planned out every week of my pregnancy. I had tons of pregnancy-related appointments and reminders in my agenda. During my PAL, looking forward was scary, unsure, blurry and even hard to imagine at times. When I thought of how many weeks I had to be pregnant before I could finally hold my rainbow, I would drown in feelings and thoughts of anxiety.
Instead, I tried to forget that. I tried to focus on the time that had already passed, and I didn’t think more than one week ahead. Every Wednesday was a milestone reached as another week of my pregnancy had gone by. And that’s how I lived for 36 weeks: day by day, and week by week. Even though I got all my appointments in the beginning of my pregnancy, I only added my next OB-appointment once I had left her office with good news.
Minutes take hours, hours take days, days take weeks, and weeks take months. A pregnancy can seem long for a mama that has never been through a loss, let alone for us bereaved parents. I tried to fill my days with fun things. I registered for a photography class and had a blast. Not only did I learn a lot and did something I loved, I actually helped myself through my pregnancy by occupying my mind and soul with creative expression. Obviously, once I advanced in my pregnancy, I photographed less and less since it got harder to take those truly creative shots for which you have to get down on your belly or squirm yourself into awkward positions (and of course I didn’t want to take any chances). Instead, my husband and I started puzzling. I don’t know how many 1000-2000 puzzles we made, but there were quite a few. We would turn on the music, I would sit on my yoga ball, and we would spend endless hours looking at little puzzle pieces and putting them together to create a whole.
Find what works for yourself, what makes you happy, what makes you smile, what takes your mind off the anxiety and worry, and throw yourself at it. If your hobbies are unfit to do during pregnancy, look for new ones. Believe me, I never ever thought I would enjoy making puzzles. But it made my mind go blank and time passed by, which was exactly what I needed!
These were my top 5 methods to get through the anxiety of PAL. I know from experience it’s hard to enjoy pregnancy when anxiety is always lurking behind the corner. Enjoy those moments you feel happy, and take this pregnancy, day by day. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do (not even me ;-)), find out what works for you and go with it. Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can. You can do this brave mama!