For the past seven months, I have been meaning to write about what it is like to be pregnant after neonatal loss, yet every time I have tried, I have come up blank. Perhaps I am not really processing what is happening to me, since there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive way of making sense of this journey I am on. I suppose it is impossible to fully process and understand events when you don’t have any confidence in where they will lead. In that way, I feel like Mary, treasuring up memories and pondering them in my heart.
So right now, my pregnancy after a loss is like an old chest that I found in an attic that is full of interesting moments that hint at a larger story but don’t fully reveal it.
Some of the moments treasured in the chest are joyful, like seeing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, choosing a name, making it past the limit of viability and listening to my oldest daughter sing “Yes, Jesus loves me and you!” to the tiny brother she has yet to meet.
Other moments are tinged with sadness, like when strangers see my belly and ask how many other children I have or when someone says how lucky we are to have a girl and a boy. “No,” I think, “We have at least three girls and a boy, the others just aren’t here with us.”
There are also hopeful moments: when I feel brave enough to pick out a coming home onesie, wash the baby’s baptism outfit, or print up pictures for the nursery. There are those few moments every Sunday morning when I think, we made it another week, we might actually be able to do this! And there is the moment the nurse said, “I really think we are going to get you a full-term baby. You’re almost there we just have to get you over this last hump. And I will be so happy for you.”
Sometimes the moments are frustrating, like when I have to choose between going to the hospital again and risking the potential adverse effects of even routine medical interventions, or staying home and risking missing a problem and not making it to the hospital on time to save the baby. In some of those moments I am frustrated with myself, in others my husband is frustrated with me, and in still others I worry that I will make people frustrated with me. In all of them it is my body and my fear that causes the frustration. Which is probably why so many moments also contain guilt – guilt about letting the doctor talk me into doing something I was afraid might hurt the baby, guilt that the house is a mess while I follow the nurse’s instructions to rest, guilt that I can’t do many of the things I love to do with my daughter.
Most often, though, it seems like there are terrifying moments such as going for an ultrasound before feeling regular movement, seeing the tip of the amniotic fluid swab turn a positive blue, and, after what feels like hundreds of false alarms, being told “Your husband needs to be here this time. Have him come now.” Even the benign things that never would have terrified me before now do because they remind me of how we lost our daughter.
Finally, there are those moments that I am too afraid to live yet. Its not a superstitious fear, its a fear of what it will feel like if I embrace certain moments and the baby dies. Some of these moments that are still waiting to happen include the joy of looking around a finished nursery, the excitement of getting to unwrap the crib mattress and carseat, and drifting off to sleep while I imagine my baby being born and hearing his first cry. They also include moments of really bonding with my baby. For the first time, my husband seems to be closer to out unborn child while my relationship with him is on hold.
Perhaps I will reach a point where I am sure enough that my baby will live that I can make sense of all of these moments. Perhaps I will finally be able to imagine him in the clothes I am washing, envision him playing on the floor with my daughter, anticipate hearing his laughter. I had hoped that by 32 weeks I would be able to do this. However, when a baby is lost around the time of birth, it seems that the darkest, scariest time of future pregnancies is right before the hoped for safe delivery, so I may have to wait a while longer.
For now, I will just keep stumbling along, drinking my daily doses of cranberry juice and kefir in a not evidence-based attempt to ward off infection, and trusting God to bring me through to the end. I would like this trust to be voluntary and strong but it is neither. Instead this pregnancy after loss feels as if I am in complete darkness and the only thing that I can do is to cling to the One who claims He can get me to safety as He drags me through the darkness. Still, I am so grateful that I have Him to cling to.