For most people, the decision that they are ready to have a child is not made lightheartedly. It takes consideration of thoughts, feelings, and anticipated stability of multiple factors. Deciding you are ready to try to get pregnant after loss can be even more complicated. After consecutive 20 week losses and the birth of our only living child, my partner and I have been discussing when we want to move forward with adding to our family. For me, having already had a child born after loss has not made thinking about having another child any less complicated, and I have been reflecting on how this decision has felt at each point in our journey.

Our First Pregnancy

My partner and I both always knew we wanted to have children. When we met in college, our summer jobs both revolved around children. He was a summer camp counselor who was preparing for a career as a teacher, and I was a swim coach and managed a park district pool. Even at the ages of 19 and 21, it was a first-date conversation for us. It was something we connected over, and it was nice to know we were on the same page. We also are both one of three children in our families, and our parents each had at least four siblings. We always pictured our family with multiple children.

The decision of when we were first ready to have children did not seem that difficult for us.

We had been together since college, married for multiple years, and our careers were finally in a place where it made sense. We had both completed graduate school, and I was finally licensed as a psychologist. We had been talking for many years about what timing might be right for us, so when we got to that actual point, it did feel right. It was exciting.

Pregnancy After Loss Round One

After we lost our first son 20 weeks into pregnancy, it was harder for me to decide when I was ready to be pregnant again. Both my husband and I very badly wanted a baby, and at the same time we were grieving. We needed to heal emotionally and physically. There were a lot of factors to consider about trying to become pregnant again after our loss.  We decided that waiting until after our due date was right for us.

Even though this timing felt best, it was still emotionally difficult to be getting ready to become pregnant again.

I had been feeling less raw in the month leading up to that time, but as I neared the potential of actually being pregnant again, my emotions were more intense than they had been for a while. I remember questioning if this meant I wasn’t ready, but we knew that waiting any longer wouldn’t help us become any more ready.

We were as ready as we were going to be.

Getting Our Rainbow Baby

When we decided to wait to try to conceive our second pregnancy, we also had decided that if we experienced a similar loss again we would not wait long between pregnancies. We felt like we had no time to waste, and we wanted to be moving towards another child as soon as possible. However, given the fact that doctors assumed the cause of our losses was genetic, we needed to wait for more information after our second loss.

In the months after Danny died, we found out that I am a carrier of a genetic condition that affected both of our boys. Although we had not used fertility treatment before, given this information, we were good candidates for using In Vitro Fertilization with Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis to test for this mutation in embryos before pregnancy.   At this point, I remember mostly feeling elated that we found an answer and that there were clear steps to take to avoid losing babies again. We took these steps as soon as we could and about 16 months after we lost Danny, we welcomed our rainbow baby, our only living child, into the world.

Planning for Another Child

So now, here we are, with an amazing 2.5-year-old rainbow toddler, and for the past year we have been contemplating when might be the right timing to try to have another child. I have been a little surprised that it has felt like a lot to consider. I always knew that pregnancy after loss was hard, but for some reason I had expected to feel a little less nervous to begin that journey again once we had been able to bring a baby home.

Instead, trying to make this decision and taking steps toward having another child has again brought complex emotions.

After being pregnant for a cumulative seventy-nine and a half weeks over three years and breastfeeding for 14 months, my body has now finally had some time off. Parenting after loss comes with its own anxieties, but we also have gotten a break from worrying about miscarriage, stillbirth, and other pregnancy complications. Diving back into pregnancy after loss again brings up so many fears.

Contemplating all of this in a global pandemic also adds to the fears, complex emotions, and difficulty in making a decision.

As I have been considering our various experiences related to trying to become pregnant, I am acutely aware of how different it feels before having a living child and after. In our previous times, the strong urge to have a baby was propelling us forward. We knew it would be hard. The fears were all very real, but we wanted to be parents, and we were hoping to be able to do whatever it took for us to get to that.  Now, we have a living child who we get to actively parent, and she has brought us some healing. This time, the urge to have a baby is not the driving force for me. Instead, we know that our family is not complete.

I know that if we want to have more than one living child, at some point I have to make the leap back into pregnancy despite the fears.

As we have been beginning the process this time around, I also have been surprised that I feel some resentment about having to do fertility treatment. Last time, it was our miracle. It brought hope and our path towards our living, breathing baby. Please don’t get me wrong, it is still a science miracle to me, and I am very grateful for the ability to do it. It is also stressful, tedious, and painstaking at times. Side effects of medications can intensify the emotions connected with taking these big steps in your life. It is easy to feel like a lab rat or just a vessel for babies to be born or die in the process. Doing all of this during a pandemic adds anxiety and can result in feeling disconnected with less face-to-face time with providers. Navigating all these steps again when we have not done them for three years also can feel a bit intimidating. In the end, all these feelings about IVF just leave me wishing that we didn’t have to do it this way, that I didn’t have a genetic mutation that I have a 50% chance of passing onto my children. Just like in pregnancy and parenting after loss, these two feelings exist side by side.

I know so many others don’t have this option for various reasons. I am so grateful that we do, and I also wish we didn’t have to be in a situation to need it at all.

As I reflect on how I am feeling as we have been discussing the next steps for us, I wish I felt more excited. I have been reminded by others (because it is so easy to remind others but much harder to know it for ourselves), that my excitement does not need to be greater than my fear at this point. It doesn’t mean anything about the love, connection, and joy I will have for a future baby when they are here. It is hard to feel excited now because I am protecting myself from the fear.

Considering an entire pregnancy after loss and all of the emotions that come along with it is just too much to take in all at once. We have to take it one step at a time.

From the beginning of talking about trying to have another child, I was referring to the process as diving off of a cliff. It felt like I was diving headfirst into the dark waters below, and although I know I can swim, diving off a cliff into unknown waters is not a safe decision.  The people around me helped me reframe this. Instead, my husband and are beginning to walk up a mountain, together. There are trails, places to stop, and parts of the path that are easier and harder. There are some parts where the trail is different for him than for me, but we are by each others’ sides nonetheless. It is scary because we have been on this mountain before, and two out of those three times a terrible storm literally kicked us off of the mountain and sent us injured and broken down to the bottom. But here we are, choosing to begin our way up the mountain once again. Most importantly, there are others there to cheer us on – family, good friends, our therapists, and the amazingly supportive loss parents around us. None of this is something we have to do alone.  It is not diving off a cliff. We do not have to scale the mountain in one day. We just have to take the next step in the process.

Looking at the entire mountain is far too intimidating, but I can definitely take one more step.

Getting started is hard. It is scary. I wish we could just jump ahead further and not have to take all the steps. I wish there could be a guarantee in starting this process that another baby will be born alive at a safe time frame and will be healthy enough to come home with us and then get to stay with us. But I know there are no guarantees and I have no choice. Again I am at that place of realizing that I am as ready as I am going to be and that waiting isn’t going to help me feel more ready. We just have to start taking the steps.

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