Two years ago, we experienced the heartbreaking death of our second child, our little girl Willow. At our 20-week anomaly scan, the sonographer confirmed our baby’s brain was not growing properly. Doctors diagnosed ventriculomegaly. Cerebral spinal fluid was restricting healthy brain growth. Fluid that should be draining was only medically treatable until birth if we made it that far, and in the meantime, increasing fluid would continue to impact brain growth.
Through teary eyes, Fetal Medicine specialists confirmed that our baby, who was kicking inside me, visible on the screen, may not survive.
If they did survive, they would need a permanent shunt to live. A shunt prone to infection and failure. Failure which could lead to seizures, setbacks, or death. If our baby survived, if their brain grew enough to have any kind of life, they would likely face devastating life-limiting conditions. If we continued the pregnancy, we’d have close monitoring through the Fetal Medicine Unit.
The limbo between hearing the words ventriculomegaly, amniocentesis, and termination for medical reasons, to signing papers, taking pills, being induced, and holding our baby as she took her last breath, was utter torture. The idea of future pregnancies, of pregnancy after loss, was lost on me. How could I ever put myself, my husband, and our family, through the emotional turmoil of carrying another pregnancy knowing what I now knew? Knowing that 12-week scans and cleared NIPT tests aren’t a magic safe zone. That late miscarriage and stillbirth happen without any warning. That terminations for medical reasons might be a choice we’d have to face again.
We had been blindsided halfway through what we thought was the final chapter of growing our family. Naivety shattered. Our hearts shattered. No answers offered any ease if we chose to try again.
Somewhere in those early months of grief, of acute sorrow, when hoping for another baby was the furthest from my mind, I found Pregnancy After Loss Support on Instagram and read there was an app. I think I even downloaded it. I shared it with other loss mums who announced they were trying to conceive or wanted support navigating another pregnancy. A year after having Willow, my husband and I received genetic carrier screening results. Tests that two months before gave me a sense of control. The results gave no real comfort. What happened to our daughter was unexplained. There were no markers between my partner and me for conceiving a genetically healthy baby. We had done it before, after all.
One year of dates and milestones never reached. Of therapy with Red Nose. Meditation, massage, kinesiology. Of memory-making, writing, changing jobs, and finding myself again as a wife and mother.
It was now or never, and I wasn’t ready to say never. To clear out all the things I’d stored for four years from our first born. Neither my husband nor I wanting to say, “let’s try.” To say those words and commit to trying to conceive again. I had told my husband that if I ever asked to try again, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. How could I be? To knowingly walk back into the flames. But my husband had also once said that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Pregnancy after loss was about accepting grief. Accepting all that is out of our control and finding courage moment by moment, day by day. So, we decided together. We wanted a living sibling for our son. We wanted to bring home a baby. Just months later we were pregnant again.
On the anniversary of Willows’s 2nd due date, we confirmed we were pregnant. Due right around the 2nd anniversary of her birth and death.
Choosing to carry the fragility of life again, I chose to be present. To celebrate and share each moment that I was able to hold life inside me. I journeyed through pregnancy with Zoë Clark-Coates’ journal Pregnancy After Loss* and Justine Zappa’s Birth Book. With the same specialist who held space for us as we made the devastating decision to set our daughter free, we now had scans with this baby. All of us breathing relief as each scan resulted in beautiful healthy measurements. The lead-up to NIPT results and 20-week scan were anxiety-fueled, as I knew they would be, but the weeks beyond were even more daunting. The closer we drew to the due date, the harder it got. Going past it, I second-guessed not requesting an early induction date.
Thankfully, at 9:30 PM on February 7, 2023, labor began.
I was in denial. Even after my mum arrived just in case, urging us to go to the hospital, I was sure I was in early labor and in for a long night. By 10:30 PM I had my TENS taking the edge off. Swaying. Breathing. Talking. The next hour flew past, and by midnight, I agreed it was time we went to the hospital. I had typed and printed a beautiful birth plan – courageously delivering after loss in reflection of Jenny Albers‘ book Courageously Expecting. After arriving at the hospital, I breathed through contractions, talking through our history and hopes for delivery. Desperately awaiting the birth pool to fill up.
Before monitoring or blood could be taken, my waters burst. The first time naturally for me. Still, I didn’t believe the downward pressure was strong enough – until suddenly it was, and finally, the pool was ready. I waddled myself over, my husband removing the TENS machine. Barely in the water, I felt the need to roll belly down. Legs stretched out like a frog. Not the romantic image I’d drawn reminiscent of previous births. I felt an urge. A primal sound left my body. Our baby’s head opening me. I swore. It was happening very fast. I heard the voices of the midwife and my husband telling me to go slow. I felt my body listen.
In the brief spaces drawing breath, I heard my fears that something had been missed. That something could still go wrong. Then I breathed out, knowing it was out of my control. With the next contraction, I breathed our baby down, feeling the head now born. With the third contraction, baby slipped out before I could repeat mantras written. I reached into the water for our baby. Our midwife assisted to remove the cord draped around the neck. With bub against my chest, I heard a cry. Our baby was alive. My husband spotted we’d had a boy. A brother to Xavier and Willow. I looked down in disbelief that this baby was here. Delivered already. Our little boy, Isaac, looking up at me, his mama.
We did it! He was here. Ready to be nurtured outside of me.
The overwhelming emotions I expected were overridden by pure disbelief. Our baby was here. Four days late. Arriving in his own time at 1:04 AM on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. Our last pregnancy. Last birth. Last baby. A bonus family member we didn’t believe we’d ever have the courage or fulfillment of having.
- Why Becoming Pregnant After Loss is Courageous
- Will I Ever Feel Ready? 7 Things to Consider About Trying to Conceive After Loss
- “In This Moment, Everything is Okay” and other Helpful Pregnancy After Loss Affirmations
- 14 Things No One Tells You About Bringing Home a Baby After Your Previous Baby Died
- Books to Guide You Through Pregnancy After Loss
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