A miracle baby... the pregnancy after a loss. Helping parents heal from their loss. It's true, realizing a pregnancy is possible after a loss is healing. But when we think about our children and each of their individual personalities and reasons for being in our family and on this planet, is it fair to draw their identity from the successes or failures of the other siblings? Can their entire being start or come from the results of the prior? They are an entirely new entity, deserving their own light to shine in, right? Is it partially inevitable that they are born in the shadow of the prior loss? Yes. They will inevitably feel the pain and reservation the parents may be feeling as they attempt to bond with a new baby after their hearts have been broken. There's no changing that. But it feels a bit much to say that a baby's identity is entirely connected to the loss of the prior sibling.
The new baby cannot fill the void of the baby that was lost... It creates a new pocket in the heart of the parents, just like each new child does. they create a new space, a space to call their own.
So how do we walk through this pregnancy after a loss? With a lot of grace and gentleness... and a sprinkle of hope.
2 Months Pregnant
There were so many emotions early on.
Sureal. Could we REALLY be pregnant again? Would we REALLY have a baby join our family?
A little excited to "move on".
Hopeful. that Leaf wasn't the last baby we'd have
Fear. Of losing this baby too. Hesitant to really commit or connect.
Bravery. Deciding to trust the birth process again. We would meet with our same home birth midwife
Preoccupied. Master's classes as an attempt to avoid some big feelings
Grief. Realizing I still had a lot of grieving going on inside of me, triggered by the current pregnancy
"Ultimately, meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you're moving forward with your life." - David Kessler
3 Months Pregnant
When I started to show more, the pregnancy felt a little more real. It felt surreal until then. I'm not sure I knew it at the time, but I was hesitant to bond with this baby. When I was pregnant with Cord, I was elated and naive. With Leaf, I was more confident and excited, lacking any reservations. Logically, I knew Leaf's Trisomy 18 diagnosis wasn't inheritable, so I didn't think we were in danger of it happening again, but on a heart level, I was afraid. I had started my master's classes and it was easy to focus on that and fill my time with goals and something tangible I could control since I obviously couldn't control things. I decided it would be a good idea to start seeing a counselor. It was the best decision I could've made for myself and for my little family. I probably should've started sooner.
We started seeing our midwife- she's was the best, and we loved that she already knew us, our history, and preferences. She was required to have us submit a genetic test in order to do a homebirth with her because we were now apparently "high risk". I knew we weren't "high risk" because of this prior diagnosis, but in order to stay with this midwife, we did the genetic test. I did ask the results be sent to my midwife, as we didn't want to see them (the results are not diagnostic and we'd then have to worry and wonder, to then have to get a diagnostic test). No thank you.
*If a prenatal provider suggests you may risk out of midwifery care or "out-of-hospital" birth because of a past diagnosis of trisomy, anencephaly, or another lethal fetal diagnosis that wasn't determined to be an inheritable diagnosis, it's ok to ask more questions. They/you may have to jump through some hoops like:
Sign a waiver
Provide genetic documentation from your testing in your prior pregnancy
Do genetic testing (blood test)
These options require minimal effort.
7 Months Pregnant
This was the point in our pregnancy with Leaf when we were flown to Denver, and our world turned upside down. Luckily, all was going well with the current pregnancy, the midwife was amazing as always, and we were feeling hopeful. Cord was three and a half and bursting with such a fun personality. I found such joy in our relationship as he got a little older. We all loved the spring and got out as much as possible. I finished my first semester of school and loved the break it gave my grieving mind. I continued my counseling sessions religiously and worked through things that did and didn't relate to losing Leaf. Maybe I was working on childhood concerns to avoid talking about the more painful, more recent thing, Leaf. But I kept going and it was lovely.
This month was the time we'd lost Leaf, at 35 weeks. My belly was not nearly as big or firm as it was with Leaf. That was a good sign. We started to make birth plans because we had Cord at 37 weeks. We were probably eager to have this baby in our arms too, proof that she'd survive and join our family. I was in for a long haul though, and probably should've focused less on 37 weeks, and more on 40+ weeks just to be safe.
As a midwife, I usually advise moms to identify with the "birth month", not the due date, but also, think about week 40, not week 38. This can set the mom up for such frustration if the weeks just keep ticking by... the discomfort and the expectations can be unbearable, especially in the situation of having lost a prior baby.
Well, June in Colorado is WARM... I thought we'd be in labor by July 4th. Nope. Surely by my due date. Nope. I had regular contractions, every day, a dilated cervix, but didn't go into full blown labor for 3 weeks! This was some sort of torture. It has a name; it's called "prodromal labor". I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Then I got my first stretch marks. This had gone on long enough- ha! Who would've thought...? Well, ok then. My midwife thought I wasn't going into labor because of my past with Leaf. Maybe she was right. My naturopath said it was because I was more healthy than I was in my first pregnancy. What I know now is that fear will for sure prevent the labor hormones from activating dilation, labor and birth (nature knows when its' a safe environment to go into labor). Or maybe the baby's head wasn't engaged properly. Who knows.... So we kept on.
August 1 (40 weeks)
And then one day, we put some magic tricks (breast pump and uterine tonic) together during the run of daily, painful contractions, and boom, "real labor"!!! All was going well. A friend came and got Cord, my angel of a midwife arrived, Brian and I were in the birth tub, and everything was progressing well. Out came a little head... then nothing. We were still under water, so baby was still "safe", but after what seemed to me like an unimaginable amount of time, still nothing happened. My midwife who is usually as calm as a clam had me stand up and her voice quivered a tad. She said something to Brian, and he started to cry. I knew something was wrong. I stood up out of the water, "hung" my arms around Brian's neck, and completely relaxed the lower half of my body, releasing any tension.
Out of me came a massive lion's roar, and down plopped our little peanut. Well, not a peanut, she was nearly 10lbs. The midwife caught the baby (literally) and had to give her a few breaths of air for what seemed like eternity (10 seconds). Our hearts stopped completely, tears streaming down our faces. "For heaven's sake, please don't take our baby..." I thought to myself. All was well though, she breathed... actually she screamed for a really long time. We sat down in the tub. We just cried and stared at our new little girl in our arms. What a little piece of perfection... could she really be ours? What a precious gift! I will say, I did dislocate my symphysis pubic (the pubic bone in the front) and couldn't walk for weeks. My midwife had no idea what was wrong with me, neither did my dear chiropractor. Weeks later, a seasoned chiropractor successfully adjusted me (yes, my pubic bone). It was awkward, but not painful, and oh so relieving. Our bodies are so perfect. My pubic bone separated just enough to allow the baby's shoulder to come on through, and then it healed perfectly after a few months (yes there are side effects of having symphysis pubis pain in future pregnancies).
I do think our baby should've been born earlier, based on: 3 weeks of prodromal labor, weight of 10 lbs (compared with Cord 7.5lbs). I do think our mental state, as moms, has a huge influence on the progression of dilation, progression, and birth. Knowing my past, maybe I could've better prepared mentally. Some visualization exercise might've been helpful, or some peaceful meditation or prayers. I could've journaled to Leaf or the new baby coming, or even to myself. Some other options would've been to see a counselor, had more confident that I KNEW something was wrong, and been more proactive. Unfortunately, I wasn't confident in my self-prognosis. I was stuck in fear, but didn't realize it.
The relief washed over us the following day. It felt unreal to be holding a new baby in our arms. We were thankful for the privilege to have another baby, to have a sibling for Cord. We were grateful to move into a bit of "normal -ness" and move on "past" the season of losing Leaf and being able to be in utter bliss with this new little perfect gift. Leaf had a perfect and beautiful time in our lives here on earth, but it was short lived (in our opinion, not God's). This little one, I was excited to say, was a join-our-earthly-family, kind of baby. Both amazing... and perfectly perfect.
The early days
Such sweet moments... Such relief, such awe and adoration.
A few days after we had this little angel, we were sitting on the side of the bed and looked out the window. What to name this little precious girl... (yes, nearly 2 weeks without a name and the midwife was starting to get annoyed). The aspen trees called out to me, as trees often do (Cord, Leaf...) but they did not say, "Aspen", as they had in the past. They said, "Arbor". We loved it! "Arbor what?" we asked. We toyed with some names from the list and decided on Arbor Jade. Our newest member of the family had a name, and she was as sweet as could be. Filling a new pocket of our heart we didn't know we had. It didn't fill Leaf's void, as many assume happens, but a new space, her space.
"People often think there is no way to heal from severe loss. I believe that is not true. You heal when you can remember those who have died with more love than pain, when you find a way to create meaning in your own life in a way that will honor theirs. It requires a decision and a desire to do this, but finding meaning is not extraordinary, it's ordinary. It happens all the time, all over the world." - David Kessler