Pregnancy After Loss

In December of 2019, I sat in my bathroom staring at a little plastic stick with two pink lines. I rubbed my eyes to be sure they weren’t telling me a lie. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach. Given the events of the last couple of years, a positive pregnancy test could mean several different things: my cancer is back (the pregnancy hormone hcg is a tumor marker for the type of cancer I had), I’m having another molar pregnancy (which is incompatible with life and may lead to a new cancer), or this is simply a baby. I immediately saw my oncologist and at that appointment my HCG was 5 times higher than expected, making normal pregnancy less likely. After several weeks of uncertainty and a slew of medical appointments, we saw a heartbeat that clarified things: the pink lines were telling me that I was pregnant.

Every medical appointment has been met with fear. The day of my first ultrasound I already had a plan in place for if I needed to have a D&C later that day if something was wrong. Each subsequent appointment has felt the same: a plan of what we would do if the baby was dead; a plan of what we would do if the baby was alive but something were seriously wrong with it; a plan of what to do if my health was in danger but the baby was ok. At each appointment we braced ourselves for impact because in some ways it felt like that would lessen the sting of potential heartache. Never once did we walk into an appointment expecting to hear good news. You fear what you know and unfortunately we know entirely too much about pregnancy and child loss.

Pregnancy with a rainbow baby is a peculiar conglomerate of emotions. This child’s life would likely not have been possible if it weren’t for Ellie’s death, two miscarriages, a diagnosis of cancer, and a mandatory 12 month break from having children. So much loss proceeded this life and I feel the weight of that when I think about this child. There is also a glimmer of hope that I feel in my heart yet my mind tells me I should push it far away from my thoughts. Becoming attached to this child feels like a setup for more intense heartbreak.

Given our loss it’s nearly impossible to visualize a future with this child. How can you plan a life around a child that you may never get to meet or bring home from the hospital? It feels risky and most days I feel like I’m embarking on a dangerous journey. The heart can be so fragile and this experience exposes it the rawness that I’ve been so thoughtfully trying to protect myself from. The physical preparations for bringing a baby home also seem like a gamble. Coming from a mother who had to disassemble a crib her daughter never used, I can assure I don’t ever want to have to do that again.

This child will NEVER erase the grief from my heart nor will it make Ellie’s death hurt any less. From what I’ve learned thus far it intensifies every memory and emotion. Yet again, grief and joy are intertwined in such a way that they can’t be separated. As much as Ellie’s memories break my heart, I never want to forget a single one – even the difficult ones.

I don’t quite know how the next few months will pan out, but I’m focusing on one day at a time because frankly that’s all I can handle. Please don’t pressure us to “cherish these moments” or to “stay positive,” because unless you’ve experienced so much loss it’s impossible to fathom what our hearts are processing each and every moment.

And please do me the biggest favor: recognize this is my third child, not my second. Although Ellie is no longer physically here her presence is very much a part of our family and she will forever be my second daughter. We are growing into a family of 5.

It’s terrifying to enter into this season of waiting but we trust that God’s plan is greater than ours. We are guarded, yet hopeful. Today, I am pregnant with a precious baby boy and for that I am incredibly grateful.

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