When my son was born, and placed in my arms, I was mesmerized. He was nine pounds, with a full head of hair, and gorgeous eyelashes. In the warm light of the late afternoon, he glowed, and it seemed impossible to understand that he wasn’t just sleeping. And in these moments, I knew my life would be forever changed.
After the loss of my first child, Adrian James, at term, I was both terrified and driven to try for a subsequent child.
These are the things I learned in the process.
Grief is important…and permanent
I was still in the hospital, awaiting induction to go into labor with Adrian, when the midwife mentioned the possibility of trying for another child. And suddenly, it was all I could think about. I needed the thought of a living child in my future. I needed to know it was possible. And I think I thought, in the beginning, that having another child would make it possible to bypass the grief.
I know now, this is not true.
Grief is important, because our children are important. All of our children, even those who don’t live. I love my son because he is part of me. And as I’ve seen said in many other places, grief is the price of that love.
I left the hospital, overflowing with tears, and I planned a funeral, and I honored my son. And yes, I do have a living child today, and yes, I also still grieve.
There will always be questions about the death of your child…And answers may not be comforting
When I first started thinking seriously about having a second child, one of the biggest things I worried about was losing her too. My providers had run several tests after Adrian died, but all were inconclusive. His cause of death was originally ruled, “unknown.”
It wasn’t until I was finally pregnant with my daughter, that the perinatologist consulting on my pregnancy was able to review my past records and confirm what I suspected–I had had undiagnosed preeclampsia with Adrian, and my symptoms had just been too minor for my providers to be concerned.
And this is one of the hard parts about pregnancy after loss. Because no matter what happened with your first child, you are always going to wonder if it’s genetic, or somehow your fault. And no amount of study of statistics or your own health factors is ever going to really reassure you. Because the truth is, we never know for certain, and even if we do, information can be both a blessing and a curse.
There is no such thing as ideal timing
Another factor you consider in planning a pregnancy after loss is timing. And as I said, I wanted to become pregnant again almost immediately. The thought of a living, breathing child is a powerful motivator, and many families go on to get pregnant with the very next cycle. In my case, though, I am glad I didn’t.
I personally needed time. I needed time for my body to recover. I needed time to prepare myself for the reality of a new pregnancy. And most importantly, I needed time to take care of myself, and allow myself to grieve.
And when I was ready to try, almost nine months later, I thought about another factor. My son’s birthday was emotionally difficult for me, and I didn’t want my second child to bear any of the burden of his due date or birthdate. Some people feel differently about those factors, and I think it is really individual. But for me, I planned to avoid conception on dates that would cause the two to be aligned.
Hope can be powerful…and also painful
When I was planning for pregnancy with my son, I knew the odds indicated conception could take several cycles, but I was successful on my very first try. It felt a bit like kismet, then. (It feels a little different, now).
But because of my previous experience, when I started trying for my daughter, I think I assumed it would happen equally easily. It felt like a small piece of good fortune I “deserved” after my loss. Unfortunately, my first try for her ended in a failed implantation, and although I knew the statistics, it still broke me. And combined with the nearness of Adrian’s first birthday, I had to take time, again, to mourn. I didn’t try for a second cycle for the next five months.
When you do get pregnant, you feel echoes and complicated feelings
And maybe it was kismet, again, but that next cycle was successful. My early symptoms were so crazy, I tested after only nine days. And when the test was positive, I almost couldn’t believe it. She was real.
She was real.
And suddenly, reality became quite scary.
I know that up to this point, I have referred to my second child as female. There wasn’t any reason, but when I thought about her, before I was pregnant, I always pictured her as a “she.” And I think part of it was that I was hoping she would be a different gender than my son. Not because there is anything wrong with boys, but mainly because I was scared that if I had a boy, I would treat him differently, because of how much I missed his brother.
I’ve seen this come out in other families in different ways. Some bereaved parents prefer the opposite gender, like I did, while some hope for the same gender as the child they lost. And I don’t think there is any one “right” way. But if your subsequent child is a different gender than you were hoping for, it becomes one more layer to your grief. And then you find yourself feeling badly about that, too, because of course you love them no matter what.
So while I am thankful my daughter is a female, I want to say I also understand anyone who feels differently. And while I didn’t personally experience disappointment in this matter, there were still so many other echoes of things from my first pregnancy. And it is all complicated, and hard.
Pregnancy is still difficult
This part was especially hard for me. I think when you are pregnant after loss, there is this unspoken feeling that everything should be easy, and you should be (only) thankful for everything. And yes, I was and still am so thankful! I also have to say that pregnancy is still hard.
When I was pregnant with Adrian, I literally broke down in tears one day because I was so tired of feeling nauseated. And as thankful as I was to be pregnant, side effects like morning sickness still zapped so much energy out of me. And while pregnancy after loss is often portrayed as such a beautiful and healing experience, I was almost surprised at the depth of my morning sickness with my daughter.
So I guess one of the more surprising things I learned is that all of the normal aspects of pregnancy still exist, and you don’t get a pass just because you’re also thankful.
You celebrate everything, because nothing is guaranteed
When I was pregnant with Adrian, I was so excited, I tried to schedule maternity photos at five months. My photographer talked me out of it, because women usually wait until they’re further along, to be able to show off the huge bump.
And although Adrian didn’t die until the end of our term pregnancy, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I scheduled maternity photos at only 18 weeks! Part of it was because I was traveling in a beautiful place, but part of it was because I wanted to celebrate her while she still existed. Not because I anticipated losing her, but because I knew how quickly and easily life could change.
I also celebrated her in other ways. I told people about my pregnancy almost immediately. I started writing letters to her, just as I had written to Adrian during our pregnancy. And I actually bought her first rattle and blanket before I was even pregnant with her. Because I remembered how much holding onto Adrian’s things had been comforting to me, and also because I was already making memories. I was celebrating everything, and living in every moment, because I knew nothing was guaranteed.
You also question everything
When I was pregnant with Adrian, I was a first time mom. And although I read all the pregnancy books and took all the classes, I put primary trust and faith in my providers. As the professionals, I trusted them to take care of my child and me–and they failed. They failed to identify what I now know are fairly obvious symptoms, and they are part of the reason my son died.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, as much as I wanted to trust my providers, I realize my experience made me wary. And in the intervening time, I had done so much reading, and I felt more informed and more prepared to advocate for the care I needed. I am thankful, today, that my OB was open to listening to me. He sent me for a lot more testing, and conferred with specialists, and anytime I felt “off,” for any reason, he was available. All of this helped me feel more reassured. This is the type of provider I needed.
And looking back at this pregnancy, and the recurrent preeclampsia he identified before it could hurt my daughter or me, I am just thankful. He saved us. He is what a provider should be.
You learn about the importance of hope and the flaws in pure positivity
When I was pregnant with my son, I was the most positive person possible. I wrote to him, and talked to him, and I made so many plans. I even bought toddler furniture and toys he wouldn’t need for several years! (My daughter uses some of these things today). It literally did not exist in my realm of possibilities that he was anything but inevitable; that anything could prevent him from coming home with me.
Because of this positivity, when the doctor told me he was gone, it took several long moments before it even registered with me. It made no sense. These things don’t happen. Sometimes, even today, it still makes no sense to me.
But beyond that, the shock of it was part of what broke me. I didn’t know it was a realistic possibility that my very much wanted and planned for child could die. I didn’t know stillbirth was something that happened in 1 out of 160 pregnancies. And my planning, and my love for him, and my positivity–none of this saved him. And all of it left me very much unprepared and alone.
Throughout my pregnancy with my daughter, I still looked forward to a future with her. I wrote to her, and bought her things, and I prepared for what our life would be. And all the while, I also prepared for the things I feared. I made sure I had support and people who checked up on me. And I made plans for who would care for me if she were to die. Not that I wanted these things to happen; not that I planned with only them in mind; more that I understood what was possible. And I was looking to the future with hope, while holding space for all possibilities.
The scream of your child comes as a surprise
When Adrian was born, although he had been deceased for more than a day, and although the midwife warned me, I still waited to hear him scream. The silence at his birth is still the loudest sound of my life.
And although my daughter was living, and healthy, and although I knew with every fiber of my being that she was going to be okay, her loud, indignant screaming was still a beautiful surprise. And they handed her to me, and I looked at her in awe and thankful disbelief. And I realized, finally, she was real, and alive.
It’s been fourteen months since my daughter was born; fourteen months of joy and grief. And every day I love her, and I am still thankful. And every day is still a beautiful surprise.
If you found this post on Pregnancy after Loss helpful, please share it on Pinterest or Facebook
Miranda Hernandez is a writer and mother to two children: Adrian James, who was stillborn at term, and his living sister “Peanut.” Miranda writes about stillbirth, pregnancy after loss, and normalization of grief at https://adrianjameshernandez.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Photo Credit: https://www.lunakaiphotography.com/