Guilt. It’s the hardest part of the grieving process after losing a pregnancy. I remember wondering what I did wrong and knowing it was all my fault. I told people that. My baby was completely healthy. I was the defective one. It was my body that failed her. My body that couldn’t keep her alive.
So how was my body going to be trusted to keep another baby safe?
I didn’t find out about my uterine abnormality until I was already 8 weeks along in my first pregnancy. “Bicornuate uterus” the doctor pronounced upon seeing my ultrasound. A congenital defect I had from my own embryonic development. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it. It’s just something I was born with.
It also meant that I was at risk for an incompetent cervix. My cervix could prove to be too weak to carry the weight of the pregnancy. It was really unknown whether my first pregnancy would succumb to that – some women go on to have perfectly normal pregnancies. Never during the time I was pregnant with my first child did my body present a “textbook” case of something going wrong. So, when we lost our baby girl due to incompetent cervix on Mother’s Day 2010, I immediately asked what it was that I did to deserve this. “Nothing” was the answer given to me; the answer I would nod in agreement to, but deep down I know there was something.
Six weeks later at my postpartum appointment, I had a list of questions for the doctor. Questions that would point to an answer to why I lost her. In the end, there was no “superfood” I could eat to help; no exercise I could do to strengthen my cervix; and no amount of weight to lose to help ease the load off my cervix. It was just bad luck. And despite knowing that when we would try again, there would be medical interventions available to help keep me pregnant longer, there was one truth I couldn’t get past:
My body was defective.
I remember apologizing to my husband. I felt awful that I deprived him of the chance to parent a child. I was sorry he didn’t know that before he married me. If we had been able to “check under the hood” before sealing the deal, then maybe he would have been spared the heartache too. (But then, as he emphasized to me, he wouldn’t have had Lily; something he would not have wanted to change either.)
It was so hard going into my subsequent pregnancies knowing that my body had failed me previously. It was so difficult to learn how to trust my body again and love the process that it takes to bring home a baby. It was hard every time.
I had a lot of work to do to love myself again and regain a sense of body positivity to help me through my pregnancies after loss. I went to therapy, had honest talks with my medical team, recited affirmations daily, and utilized whatever coping strategies were presented to me. But there were core things I needed to do to really move forward through these subsequent pregnancies.
And, while I’m no expert – I’m always working on this – here are my tips to work towards loving yourself and trusting your body again in pregnancy after loss.
1. Forgive Yourself
Forgive yourself for not being able to control what is out of your control. You did everything you could to help you and your baby have a healthy pregnancy. You did. Really. And if there was something you could have done further, you would have. But sometimes, it’s just out of your control.
Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know before you knew it. If you had known something that could have made the difference, you would have done it.
2. Allow Yourself to Feel the Negative Emotions
Don’t try to suppress emotions that you perceive to be negative. Your feelings are valid. Allow yourself to feel them and then let them pass. Don’t judge yourself for having them. The more you allow yourself to acknowledge negative feelings and the more you are able to neutralize them, the less power they will have. So let yourself sit with them, but then move forward. If you’re finding it hard to do this, find someone to talk to about it. I promise you, you’re not alone.
3. Learn to Breathe and Relax
Our breath is a powerful thing. It’s also one thing during pregnancy we can control. Learning to breathe and relax during pregnancy will also help you through labor and delivery (and to be honest the postpartum period!). Deep breaths help slow your heartbeat and lower blood pressure. This will help lower your stress and anxiety. In turn, practicing breathing exercises will help through labor which is a stressful situation anyway, but made more so by your previous loss. Learning to control your breathing will relax you, reduce your stress, help release endorphins and other pain-relieving hormones, as well as provide needed oxygen to you and your baby.
I can’t emphasize enough how much taking a moment to slowly inhale and exhale helped me calm myself when I was really anxious – during moments when I swore I couldn’t feel the baby move, or when I was nervous going into an ultrasound room.
4. Celebrate What Your Body is Doing Right
There will be many times during your pregnancy where you’ll get a chance to see your body prove that it can grow a healthy baby. Celebrate all the little things showing that your body is able to produce life, protect your baby, and help guide you to a healthy delivery. That first ultrasound? Revel in that heartbeat. Normal results after genetic testing? You’re one step closer. The 20-week ultrasound? Celebrate all the little parts of your baby that are taking shape to be the parts you’ll never get to kiss enough once she’s here. Those little feet; those cute cheeks; that button nose. Any growth ultrasound or non-stress test? When the baby shows amazing growth or passes the test, it’s just a testament to how strong you are and how amazing your body is. After delivery, believe that you’re a superhero. You accomplished the hardest thing you’ve done since burying your baby. You did it. You’re basically superhuman.
4. Remember the first baby who loved her first home
When I try to be more positive about my body, during and after pregnancy, I remind myself of the time my first son touched and squeezed my squishy, stretch mark filled, still protruding belly, and said he loved it. “It’s so warm, cozy, and soft, Mama.” And that’s what you should remember when trying to love yourself and trust your body again in pregnancy after loss:
In the end, your body is the same vessel that grew and carried the baby you lost. It’s the only home your sweet child knew – and all your baby felt was warmth and love. If your baby loved it – you – that much, then so should you.