This is pregnant life after loss

As I sit here, I am 16 weeks pregnant with a baby girl. Even with these last few months of all the pregnancy feels- all day sickness, food aversions and bathroom runs every 20 minutes, my emotions or reaction to being pregnant still fluctuates. I am overjoyed, anxious, ebullient and terrified that it’s fleeting. I am in a bit of disbelief, even with a growing belly, and the disbelief  borders on disconnection from what is happening inside my own body.

Will the connection bloom and grow as ultrasounds deliver good news time after time? Am I protecting myself from feeling connected? The answer to both of these questions is probably. This is pregnant life after loss, after all. I can recognize now that my pattern with struggle, with pain or with disappointment, is to put up a tough emotionally resistant wall. It has not mattered if this is at the hands of another or my own body, my reaction is the same. In studying my first marriage and its aftermath, the miscarriages and losses, even my lack of relationship with my father… I have erected hardened, emotional walls for protection. Shut it off so you feel less or hurt less, has been my unhealthy mantra and modus operandi in my life. Breaking or shifting that pattern feels hard and it is my new hurdle to surmount.

Then there is this term rainbow baby being thrown around. The term itself frankly does not sit well with me. It’s a nice concept, I guess, something bright and colorful that follows a storm. Shining light following something dark and scary. In fact, there are currently 700 drawings of rainbows in my house as Landon is deeply obsessed with them. But with fertility, it also implies that once you get pregnant with this rainbow child, that it’s all sunny and literal rainbows… and it means you’ve left your storm completely. As we all know, life is not that simple. As many women who have experienced loss or multiple losses will tell you…  fear and grief for our losses, escape from a newly constructed protection wall…  these things do not vacate your body just because a baby has moved in.

The rainbow concept, as nice as it is, implies that this pregnancy papers over the past with some rainbow bright sparkling light… and I don’t want it to. I want to remember those losses because they taught me what self care really means. I want to remember them because they each had their own name lists and entries in pregnancy apps and due dates. Our losses made me slow down, adjust my life and welcome balance. They allowed me to set priorities that include school pickups mid-afternoon and cherished playground time before dinner. Never before have I advocated for myself… not really, and I finally feel in the driver’s seat.

I do feel I am on the brink of excitement. We have heard her heartbeat three times, seen her little image, we have also dreamed up the perfect name… yet the unbridled elation, the deep love without fear, and all-consuming baby-baby-baby mentality I had when pregnant with Landon and with our first pregnancy, it has not come yet. I am very happy, but I do recall an otherworldly obsession in the past. That kind of unbridled joy that can exist when you fully release fear of being hurt. It is something I have felt before, but not yet and maybe never with this one. And that is OKAY. When discussing our expecting with people, I find myself faking it a little with my answer to “what a blessing, you must be beyond thrilled!” The only answer is “YES!” To give the answer “well, with my past, I’m working on bringing down this emotional wall I’ve put up”… talk about a Debbie Downer.

This child…  she will be loved, doted on and cherished. I do not worry or doubt that. But I recognize that my journey into motherhood again is paved with well-worn experiences. My eyes are wide open, recognizing all of the miracles that have led us here. I can see the emotional wall being built, and I have never acknowledged it before. I see it as one of the monuments being built that I used to visit as a child growing up outside of D.C. Shining stones being place carefully atop one another, inscribed with what I have seen and felt before. As I work to remove one at a time, I do so without judgement… without the guilt. I have never before felt more like a mother warrior- aware of where I have been yet looking into the future with hope that I can change my patterns. And I will eventually move passed this phase and into accepting joy without fear. It just takes time. And again, that is OKAY.

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We can do such hard things, us mothers… us women… and pregnancy after loss is only one of them. I am here to say to you today… let us not go into this complex time pretending we are fine. What if we didn’t settle for fine but strive for great?  All of our experiences with loss are rainbows that have dimmed, and a new child does not heal us. Those memories and experiences are important for us to remember and carry with us. Everything we endure in life teaches us something if we let it, and they map where we are going next. I think there is immense power in accepting that and studying how that makes us feel.

With incredible love-

Xoxo

Eloise

 

A letter to my pregnant self

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I found this photo this weekend while going through my hard drive. I have not seen this since I wrote Landon’s birth story, I don’t think. Looking at this picture is equal parts delightful, nostalgic and also very painful. Painful for what this girl doesn’t yet know, and what will inevitably tear her heart in half. 

What would I tell this girl if I had the chance to speak to her? I see the innocent, genuine happiness on her face. I see her anticipation of what she’s wanted for so long… a baby. A family. I see and can still feel the hope she had for this family… of finally putting the past behind her and having a fresh start.  

If I were to write her a letter now, after what I know, here is what I imagine I’d say.

Eloise…

My dear, you might want to sit down. There are some wildly wonderful yet terribly terrifying things about to occur in your life. In just a short month and then a crazy quick two years, what you envision, how you imagine your life unfolding, and the safety you so badly crave is just not going to be.  

At this moment in time, in this photo, you’re worried about how swollen your ankles are starting to get, how unbelievably large your ass has gotten and you are so stupidly worried you’re not beautiful anymore. How I wish I could change those unhealthy thoughts. It’s not that you won’t still struggle with similar thoughts in the future, but my goodness… this is a time when you should feel your most beautiful. 

You are still struggling with your greatest fear being realized by the one person you thought wouldn’t hurt you. You are still convinced that if it happens again, you’ll just fall down and die. Like many others, the promise of a baby quells those fears. As if the concept of family could truly fix a couple’s problems. On top of that you have also been thinking about what would happen to you if something were to happen to your baby. You’ve been reading the tougher, less talked about chapters of your baby books about “the syndromes.” But.. you have also quickly diminished your fears because your numbers are good, and the baby’s sonogram pictures look so perfect.

I guess it’s time to tell you that both of these fears, your worst kind of fears, well… they are going to come true. Before you start freaking out, let me make sure you understand you’re going to be fine. You’re also going to actually be happier than ever before, but not before your heart breaks wide open. You will hit rock bottom, but you’ll make your way back up again. It’ll take time and there will be days and many nights when happiness or “normalcy” seem far away. 

As for that bundle who is about to be born… you’re going to love this child like no one else ever could. SHE (yes it’s a girl) is going to shock you with how brilliant she is, how capable of learning, of speaking, of laughing she will be. You’ll worry before you even open your eyes most mornings. That worry will pay off though when you will inevitably know more than some specialists as well as therapists. You’ll feel often that you’ll never know enough, never understand all you should to be her mother. But… my dear… you were born with all you need to know to be her mother. The rest is just additional knowledge you’ll gather over time. Patience… 

You are going to have to learn the definition of advocate. That will mean countless hours in waiting rooms, time spent on the internet in the middle of the night, of following up when you will not hear back. You will have to rearrange everything- work, friends, your life, your sanity.  It will mean leaving NYC and the comfort of having access to the world’s best doctors. You’ll leave to try to build the family you have always hoped you’d have. But that too will not end up looking like you had envisioned. 

I am so sorry, but you will also lose a pregnancy. A baby you hadn’t planned for, wasn’t sure you wanted yet, will be gone at the same time you realize you want nothing more than to be a mother again. The intense pain from the loss will be deeper because you will recognize what else will soon be lost – your marriage. The past pain you felt many years ago will return. Your greatest fear will be realized. You’ll feel like an idiot, you will feel like you had also known all along this was coming. And you will know what to do. It is actually going to surprise you how strongly you handle it, but it certainly will hurt. Of course… it will hurt like hell. But your past pain will serve you greatly. It will remind you that you are crazy strong. One of your songs will remain true “but the fighter still remains.” You have fought for Landon, now you’ll fight for yourself. 

You’ll have to get comfortable with those who want to stare. Children and adults will stare at Landon’s hearing aids, her eyes, and sometimes her ears. Adults will stare at you.. now a single parent and wonder what your story might be. They’ll feel pity and you’ll see it in their eyes as they glance at her, at you, and your empty left hand. Smile back because your true friends, your tribe, will love you both unconditionally. 

Those years you were taught mental toughness by coaches in high school and college will pay off. The determined lacrosse player in you will resurface. You will persevere. And you’ll have to remind yourself you are capable… often. Some weeks will be easier than others and the same goes for days or nights. This roller coaster that has defined your last decade will continue. That’s just how it goes, honey, so settle in for the ride. And be patient when the pain returns, it means that you aren’t done learning from it yet.  

You’ll find great solace through moving meditation of yoga and running. Go forth and make sure you do what’s necessary to breathe light and love into the pain. And you will start to leave it behind. 

My dear, you are capable of great things. Of great love, of compassion, of forgiveness. Don’t hesitate when all three enter your heart. 

XOXO