My body has been through a lot this past year: two pregnancies, two surgeries with two rounds of general anesthesia, a lot of blood loss, 10 days of broad-spectrum antibiotics, and the profound grief of losing a child. Any pregnancy is draining on the body, and even though I’ve been so diligent with nourishing my body for many years now, such physical and emotional hardships take months and even years of a concerted effort for deep healing to occur. Add to that the unique challenge of pregnancy after loss and it’s no wonder things are just a bit more difficult this pregnancy than last. But, I have to remember that I am doing the best I can, and bodies are not, and never will be, perfect.
So much of this journey has been about accepting my body for what it is, that it really is just trying to do its best.
It can be so easy to get trapped into thinking, “My faulted body caused my baby to die, so how could I trust it again?” Still, even though my uterus is “fixed”, I find myself wondering and fearing the worst. One thing pregnancy loss does is alter our confidence in our own ability to support and bring life into this world. Even if logically and statistically our bodies will likely produce healthy life this time around, we have seen the other alternative. We have felt what happens when nature veers towards death, and we have experienced being on the “wrong” side of statistics. With every twinge and ache, a small voice inside questions, “Is this the beginning of the end?” I check my underwear approximately eight times a day, in addition to the times I check when I pee, searching for blood. I cringe inside when others ask when the due date is, because not all babies make it to full gestation, not all babies make it to birth, not all babies make it.
In these moments of doubt, I call on the strength of those that came before me: the women in my family who have endured hardships of many types, whose courage has been passed down to me in my genetic code.
The many generations of women in my family who have been shamed and tossed out for conceiving children out of wedlock. The women who had to leave their homes due to war, famine, economic disparity, and violence. And the women who have lost children, whom I only recently learned about after losing my own: my great grandmother Filomena Papa, who lost her infant son Rocco and named her next son Rocco in honor of him; my great grandmother Margaret Kennedy, who lost her child in pregnancy and went on to have a healthy rainbow baby, my grandfather; my dad’s cousin, who endured a stillbirth, a mid-trimester loss, and one or more miscarriages.
The awful tragedy of losing children is a part of my ancestry and it’s probably a part of all of ours. And likely, it will still be a part of our descendants’ life stories. As horrible as it is to say, losing children seems to be an inescapable reality of being human. My heart hurts for those who are and those who have yet to be participants in this journey of child loss, sometimes more so than the pain I carry for myself. As my mother said in the midst of my loss last November, “The only thing worse than having a pregnancy loss is watching your daughter go through one.”
But the other reality of being human that we mustn’t forget: our resilience.
Our courage, bravery, strength, vulnerability, determination, soulfulness, and grit. It’s written inside of us that we can rise up, love and honor our dead children, and try again, make new life, continue mothering. We all come from survivors, that’s how each of us is here today.
I dearly hope that one day I, too, can be one of the ancestors that my kin looks up to for guidance and courage.