My dog, like many, is afraid of fireworks. In the UK, we have “Bonfire Night” in November, which used to be fairly reliably confined to a few locally organized fireworks displays on November 5th. These days, however, fireworks are readily available to buy, meaning every other household in the neighborhood can do their own mini firework display, seemingly every single night in November. This makes it harder for a dog who curls up shaking after the first bang, especially when that bang is only coming from a few houses down, and refuses to move for the rest of the night. We can usually manage this by having music or the TV on loud enough to cover up the worst of them. But sometimes we make mistakes, like the time we took Millie for a walk in early November at about 4:30 PM, when it was just dark, thinking we were early enough to beat the fireworks. Only for one to go off as soon as we were outside the house. Cue: a very terrified dog.

Blocks spelling "fear" - Issy's Bump Day Blog, Week 18: When Fear Feels Rational

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For the next few weeks, Millie was scared of the dark. Not only would she flat out refuse evening walks, but as 4:30 PM and the impending darkness got closer, she would find a corner and hide there, unwilling to move for several hours – even for her dinner. We had the curtains drawn and the lights on, but she knew it had grown dark outside, and she knew that darkness is when the scary bangs begin. Even weeks after Bonfire Night, when the fireworks had finally died off, she remained scared of the dark.

And really, can you blame her? Animal brains work on instinct and association: darkness is when the bangs start, so darkness is scary. It’s sensible, it’s rational, it makes sense. There’s no feasible way for us to explain to Millie that the fireworks have stopped now. We just have to wait for her brain to experience darkness without bangs, and the fear eventually subsides.

I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this. I don’t think my brain is all that different from Millie’s.

I got pregnant, carried that baby for just over 37 weeks, found out that she had died, gave birth to her silently (her, not me), and planned her funeral. Now I’m pregnant again. How is my brain supposed to expect anything different this time?

In my last blog, I mentioned some family members innocently asking questions about plans for the birth of this baby. It’s hard for me not to get upset at the way they can talk, as if it’s a given that everything will be okay. I want others around me to understand my fear. And while I think this is fair to expect, it occurred to me this week to think about the trauma of pregnancy and infant loss: my brain is changed, altered by the events of what happened to us, and this simply isn’t true for others around us, unless they’ve experienced the same thing.

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced the trauma of this type of loss can understand the utter conviction with which my brain tries to convince me that this baby will die, too. That all my babies will die, that this is how it works for me. That I get pregnant, then I plan funerals. I don’t think they understand why I don’t want to talk about plans for the summer, or when we want our furniture back, or why I don’t want to hear their congratulations.

Even though I know, rationally, that Dottie dying was a “lightning strike,” a rarity, a random event that is unlikely to happen to us again. I understand that other people are trying to cheer us on because they know the objective truth that most pregnancies result in living babies. But my brain is a wounded animal, who’s learnt that the darkness is scary because that’s when the bangs start, and I cannot fully separate the idea of pregnancy from death.

I know that there is value in choosing hope over fear. But I suppose I want to say that it’s okay if you can’t do that yet.

There’s a quote from the film Clockwise that I heard once and has stuck with me: “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Hope is scary because it puts you in a position to be let down again.

I want to tell you that your fear makes sense. That not being able to think about the birth of your baby with excitement is understandable (but is not predictive of the actual outcome). Even if the well-meaning people around you can’t understand it. Your brain is trying its best. Go gently.

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