I am a mother of four children; two of whom were live births. What I can tell you about pregnancy loss, beyond the statistics, is that it is life-changing in so many ways. I think we never quite realize how impactful pregnancy can be to our entire being, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way imaginable. One of the many challenges with pregnancy loss, at any stage, is that others who have not experienced a loss forget their own experiences of bonding with baby during pregnancy that were so pivotal for them, and somehow believe that the absence of a live birth erases the existence and importance of so many of those unforgettable moments.
Like the moment you start wondering about what it will be like to be a mom, before you’re even pregnant; the moment when you first learn you’re pregnant; moments of morning sickness; moments when you first feel your baby move; when your baby moves for the 100th time; moments you spend talking to your baby; the countless times you rub your belly; the worry you experience about whether or not things will work out. Or for some, the moments when you learn you’re pregnant and you’re scared, and may have mixed feelings, but maybe you decide to continue the pregnancy anyway; the moments you share your pregnancy with others and manage the spectrum of those responses in addition to your own, or even the moments you learn your partner may not feel the same way you do about pregnancy.
All the things that bond us to baby and the experience of being pregnant do not disappear when there is a loss. Those moments stay with you and may impact you in ways you have never even realized.
My husband and I lost our son Joshua on June 30, 2006, which was also the day my husband was promoted from captain to major in the U.S. Army. Joshua was stillborn at 20 gestational weeks, and we later learned he had an omphalocele. I cannot fully explain the level of sadness that his loss carried for my husband and me; and we still carry it. One minute, I am talking to Joshua, rubbing my belly, encouraging him to settle, and hours later I delivered him by vaginal birth. There was no crying. In fact, there was no sound at all; only silence. I did not get to see him right away, and I never got to hold him. All these moments, and countless others had an impact on how I experienced subsequent pregnancies.
Before Joshua, I had an early pregnancy loss that occurred during my last year of undergraduate study. Though I was not as far along as I was with Joshua, I was connected to my baby early in the pregnancy, as are many women. I had hopes and dreams connected to the life that was growing inside of me. This pregnancy loss marked the end of many things, including my undergraduate years and a long-term relationship. Again, all these things can further complicate a loss. The context of that loss, where you are in life, what happens in your life next; it all matters.
Interestingly, one of my close friends was pregnant at the same time, and she thankfully had a live birth. Every time her son reaches a milestone, I always think of my baby. My friend’s son is a wonderful, smart, talented young man who has graduated from college as a scholar-athlete. He has traveled abroad and is preparing for graduate school. It has been a blessing to watch him develop into a man. In my heart’s dream, I believe he would have been as close to my child, as I am to my friend. This is another example of how complex and impactful pregnancy loss can be, and how it can influence so many other facets of life, including other pregnancies.
So, my experience grieving and navigating pregnancy after both losses was complicated.
More than 10 years after losing Joshua, my husband and I are still working our way through how we connect with each other emotionally after living through child loss. Neither of us imagined the long-term impact of our loss. We are still coming to terms with never holding our baby boy and not having immediately had a memorial service for him. We still get choked up when we think of the day I gave birth; we are still traumatized. So, the range of emotions, pain, guilt, sadness, disappointment, and even anger still reveal themselves in unexpected ways and unpredictable moments. I do not think we could prepare ourselves for what pregnancy after loss would look like. That journey has been documented in my memoir, Pregnant with Promise: A Spiritual Journey of Pregnancy, Bed Rest and Childbirth, for those interested in learning more about my experience.
What I hope to have conveyed is that every mother, every parent who has experienced loss and pregnancy afterwards may experience a range of emotions, and they are all valid. We are not likely to move past them, because others (including ourselves) think it is time; grief is a process with no time limits. As we continue our journey of healing, we appreciate kindness and understanding. For even as we welcome new blessings, and celebrate the rainbows, we never forget those we have lost. My two rainbow babies, ages 10 and 12 years old, are daily reminders of God’s blessings, and I am eternally grateful.