Parents who have lost a baby or a child during the pandemic, I have been thinking about you.

As we have passed the one-year mark of living in a global pandemic, people have been reflecting on what things were like one year ago, sharing pictures of the last events they attended in the pre-pandemic world. These reflections on life before the world changed have left me reflecting on those of you whose world has changed during this time because of miscarriage, stillbirth, TFMR, or the death of an infant or child.

Many loss parents talk about their life being divided chronologically by the experience of this traumatic grief. It is as if they were one person before this loss and a different person after, changed forever.

Every loss parent has pictures of those final months or days before their world changed. I imagine you do, too.

For me, one of those pictures is from the last trip my partner and I took before we started trying to get pregnant. It is one of my favorite pictures of us. I see such joy and excitement in our eyes, but I also feel sorrow. When I look at this younger version of ourselves, I shudder at the realization that they don’t have any idea of the pain that is coming and the path that lies ahead.

couple on beach - Before and After: A Letter to Loss Parents During the Pandemic

Author’s Personal Collection/Kasey Schultz-Saindon

In some of my “before” photos, I am 20 weeks pregnant. In these pictures I see us enjoying the final few days before our world would be shattered. We had no idea that our son’s heart had already stopped beating a few weeks prior.

For you, the before and after of the pandemic has coincided with these before and after moments of losing a child.

You may have also experienced the emotions of trying to conceive after loss or the before and afters of pregnancy after loss and parenting after loss during this pandemic.

As the whole world reflects on the way the pandemic has changed the world, you are reflecting on how much your life has changed during this time and thinking about how difficult it was to experience a loss while also experiencing the stress and isolation of a pandemic. Perhaps you are reflecting on how your life didn’t change in this time in the ways that you expected and hoped it to.

Passing this one-year mark may bring another degree of sorrow for you, as it causes you to reflect on the before world in which you had not experienced pregnancy, infant, or child loss.

In the current state of the pandemic, we are in an after of some sort. There is a clear before, and there is a clear after in terms of social distancing, lockdowns, and mask-wearing. But in many ways, we are still in it. It is as if we are in the immediate aftermath of the grief. We are still tending to our wounds.

We don’t know exactly what life will look like going forward. It feels like we are still in the storm.

And if this is where you still are in your life, too, I know how hard that is. Being still fresh in your grief and still navigating the path of trying to bring a baby home after a loss is incredibly painful. To be doing this at the same time as the storm is still going on in the world is extra hard.

As I think back on the journey of growing our family in the past 5 years, I see the clear before and after that I mentioned earlier. There was a before in which I did not know what this loss felt like, before I had heard those dreaded words, “there is no heartbeat.” There is an after in which I have held my dead child in my arms and had to leave the hospital without him. In this after, I can no longer pretend that “I can’t imagine” what it is like to lose a child. I know it. I feel it. Hearing about others losing babies and children takes me right back there.

I will always be in that after.

And at the same time, when I look back now, I see that there is also a different set of these phases. A “before,” a “during,” and an “after.” In the “during” phase, I was pregnant with our second son, and we didn’t yet know that the cause of our first loss was genetic. We did not know that we had a 25% chance of losing each baby in the same way. We thought we had already been through our storm, but we were still in it.

Even the steps that occurred after our second loss – finding a specific cause, being able to use IVF with genetic testing, and navigating the anxiety and hope of pregnancy after loss again – they all were steps amid the struggle to bring home a healthy baby.

Wherever you are on your journey, I want you to know that there is more to come.

If you are still in the thick of your grief, deciding about trying to conceive again, taking steps down that path, or already on a journey of pregnancy after loss, there is an “after” ahead of you. I know I can’t tell you exactly what this after will look like. Maybe it involves bringing home more living children. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, there is an after. It will come. You will have points of arrival. Of having gotten to a place that you worried you would never get to.  Of smiling, of laughing, of feeling joy, and of loving the children in your life.

For me, this feeling happens in small moments, such as seeing my child’s shoes lying next to mine or watching her hug our dog, play with her cousins, and bond with her grandparents. I feel this different kind of “after” when she sings with her dad, when I hold her close for a few minutes before I lay her in her crib at night, and when she tells me that she loves me. It has come in the smiles, laughter, and new memories. It has come in finding ways to talk to her about her brothers who never got to come home with us and in hearing her say their names.

This past week the sense of arrival at my “after” came as we were on a trip with our 2-year-old, 4 years following the trip we took to mark the due date of our first son. Four years ago we didn’t know what road we would have to go through to get to these moments. I wouldn’t wish that road on anyone, and I am so glad that our daughter is here now. I am glad we made it through that part of our journey.

I hope you can make it through this part of your journey soon. I know there is an after for you, and I hope it is as smooth of a road as possible. Know that although it may feel like it at times, you are never alone on your journey after loss.

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