pregnancy

How to survive the 40 weeks of stress that comes with falling pregnant after infant loss.

Content Warning: This post discusses pregnancy loss and may be upsetting to some readers.

In this age of frequent fertility problems, where many women seek assisted reproductive methods such as supervised cycles and IVF, the internet abounds with advice on surviving the “two week wait”, the time between insemination and discovering whether the cycle has been a success. Having experienced this two week wait many times in the past, both with and without health professional involvement, I am relieved that such support exists. Indeed, some of it served to preserve my mental health at a time that it’s quite easy to go a little crazy.

Since the death of my three-week old premmie baby and my subsequent high-risk pregnancy with #2 however, I’ve noticed that there isn’t a great deal of guidance for loss mothers on how to survive the potentially 40 weeks of anxiety, stress, impatience and renewed grief that follows the initial news of a new baby.

Yes, there’s a fair bit of information on what to expect from a pregnancy after a miscarriage- which is not a lesser loss by any stretch, but simply different from that of a stillborn or a neonatal death. Those articles tend to focus though on how you might feel, encouraging you to accept that those emotions are normal and common. What I have truly felt the lack of though, is ideas on what to do when you want time to move faster, when you only want to be looking back with a knowing smile, considering how it all went well after all.

The point blank truth is that not everyone’s post-loss pregnancies will go well, and all parents (though I speak particularly to Mummas) need some plans for how to tackle this slowly-creeping time in a way that will assist them no matter what the outcome. These methods won’t work for everyone, but I think it provides a starting point in considering how to deal with the excruciatingly lengthy unknown.

Midwife Melissa Pearce on the guilt that comes with pregnancy loss. Post continues below…

1. Spread out your weekly pregnancy updates across a few days

Every new week of pregnancy was initially like water-torture for me; the days would move ever-so-slowly while I wondered whether my baby would make it past that particular number. Eventually, I signed up to four pregnancy information websites/apps/YouTube channels and structured my viewing so that there was something new and interesting to learn about each day. “What to expect when you’re expecting” was my first one with a lovely video on Monday. Tuesday gave me BabyCenter, where the baby information was less, but there were pictures of other womens’ bumps to compare with. Wednesday was ChannelMum on YouTube where the woman chatted for a minute about her personal experiences compared to the textbook. Thursday, ‘The Bump’, showed me beautiful artistic pictures of the fruit and vegetable size comparisons. Friday, was usually the surprisingly good Huggies website where I always found some interesting nugget of extra information. Saturday and Sunday I tended to look for more general articles.

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This spreading out of weekly pregnancy news gave me something to focus on other than the fear, and allowed me to keep thinking of the positives. It helped me to enjoy my pregnancy a little more.

2. Treat your body like a science project and study yourself

Some days I was almost able to convince myself that, after baby-loss, I had become neurotic and invented my pregnancy. Other days, I thought that if there were no symptoms, then maybe the baby had slipped away. After upsetting myself by Googling ‘missed miscarriage symptoms’, I decided to immerse myself in every symptom I felt. Yes, even the nausea.

Nausea and food aversions for me became a support; every gross feeling helped me to feel secure in baby’s health and wellbeing. I have always hated that vomity feeling and never managed it well, but I revelled in nearly hurling on the train. I gave myself full melodrama permission, and waxed lyrical about my gag reflex, my unreasonable hatred of kale, my urge to empty my stomach contents onto anyone’s nearby bacon. I moaned and groaned about my lack of camembert and soft-poached eggs – never forgetting to tell everyone that it was immensely worth it if I could have a healthy baby.

You need to be careful; these conversations should never be had in the vicinity of other women with fertility challenges or fellow loss mothers without living babies. What this did though, was to help me to live in the moment of my pregnancy, and not think too far in the future, or perseverate on my past. It also took my mind off of the baby a little, redirecting it onto me.

coping with pregnancy after miscarriage
"Some days I was almost able to convince myself that, after baby-loss, I had become neurotic and invented my pregnancy." Image: Supplied.
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3. Facebook unfollows: Nicer than unfriending

Life goes on for everyone around us, even while time seems to stand still for us. Our friends and family are still posting their daily updates on Facebook, and some of them hurt. For me, it was the second and third pregnancies that really hurt. Some part of me irrationally felt that they were being selfish, making new editions to their families when I didn’t even get my first living child yet. While I absolutely knew that these thoughts were not useful, I couldn’t help it. I felt as if people were rubbing their baby moments in my face and I became dangerously close to saying something nasty.

The problem is that time moves faster when you look at pointless social media posts, and so I didn’t want to give myself a Facebook detox and make myself face my own mind more than I had to. I also didn’t want to upset people by unfriending them. So I ‘unfollowed’ their posts. They don’t know that I’ve done it (well, perhaps they do now…), and I can undo it when and if I have a beautiful healthy child of my own. It allows me to browse puppy pictures and angry political posts, while avoiding the painful heart-stabs that I was receiving daily. I also now have plenty to catch up on when I do see those people in real life.

4. Don’t lock yourself in to just one neurosis

When something happens to you that’s completely out of your control, it’s amazing how superstitious you can become. Loss parents are no exception. I’ve read about many loss mothers who will not buy anything for their baby until it arrives, just in case that ‘jinxes’ the pregnancy. Conversely, some women need to ‘show the universe’ their trust in a positive outcome, by preparing themselves fully for their baby’s arrival. I’ve felt both, and it changes on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis.

This flighty superstition was difficult to manage at first, but now I’ve got it in stride. Some days, I go out and buy a onesie to show that universe I know what’s coming. Other times, I refuse shopping expeditions for car seats and strollers, letting my family know I’m just not ready. More often than not, I satisfy myself with something in-between: Internet browsing. No one has ‘window-shopped’ more maternity and baby items online than me, and almost none of them get purchased. Browsing allows me to immerse myself in my pregnancy experience, without tipping off the universe one way or another.

A very raw Monique Bowley speaks about miscarriage, grief, and how friends and family can help someone who is struggling. Post continues below...

5. Stay in the moment

Netflix and social media binges aside, the most useful piece of advice I have ever received was this: No one can take this moment away from you, no matter what happens in the future. I used that advice to bond with my ‘theoretical baby’ in my first pregnancy during that initial 2 week wait, I used it to bond with her while I was on strict bed rest and expecting to lose her, I relied on it during the long visits with her in the humidicrib in the NICU and it was my lifeline when I held her lifeless body. These moments were mine, and they could not be stolen.

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In this pregnancy, I initially struggled to bond with the baby I was so scared to lose. Even when I decided I was ‘all in’, something held me back and only wished for the days to evaporate, to fly forward to a time when this little man would be safely in my arms. Ultimately, when events started to become scary and he looked as if he might follow his big sister into premature birth, I realised though that I might lose all of this in an instant. I could lose the tiny kicks, the burgeoning bump, the hopes and dreams. At that point I knew that I wanted to hold onto every second of this pregnancy that I could, just in case he was later gone and this was all I could have of him. Even when I was afraid I wasn’t bonding with him, I pretended that I was until suddenly it was true.

coping with pregnancy after miscarriage
"No one can take this moment away from you, no matter what happens in the future." Image: Supplied.

So now, with my Schrödinger baby who is both living and not living at 40 weeks in my mind’s eye, I focus on the now. I sing the songs to him that I used to sing my daughter, so that I can tell him what they shared. I tell people (interested or not) about his internal acrobatics. I chat to him about his big sister who paved the way for him, and about the family who is waiting to meet him (very patiently – please don’t come early). I pour over ultrasounds of them both and talk about how he doesn’t look like he has his Mumma’s nose or his Daddy’s tall forehead – and try to interpret what the cryptic pictures could tell us about his features. I sit in this moment as much as possible and try to enjoy that I have a son. Just like my daughter Emily, I will always be his mother no matter what happens and no one can take that away.

And if all else fails, a Netflix binge can pass the time like nobody’s business.

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637.

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