To my PAL Moms

What is pregnancy after loss?

I’ve had this marathon analogy in my head. Which is kinda ironic because I’ve never actually run a marathon. But to me pregnancy after loss or “PAL” (there’s an acronym for everything) is like this…

You trained for your first marathon (months and months of training) – midway through the actual race you trip and fall and can’t finish. You’re injured. In pain physically and mentally, so incredibly disappointed that despite all that prep and getting halfway through it, it all went to shit. You’re left thinking…”where did I get wrong?” but the loss goes deeper than not finishing the race. You feel sad, angry, defeated. So many other people finished, why not you? You try to pick up and move on – but the moments surrounding your injury haunt you. You tell yourself you will run a marathon again but now there is something in the back of your mind saying, “but will you ever finish?”, “will I always come up short?”, “what if I get hurt again? I don’t think I can bear more pain.” To say you’re unsure of yourself is an understatement.

Somehow, after some time of healing, you get back on the road. You’re starting from ground zero. Your body is tired. You haven’t run a mile in months, let alone multiple miles. Your body feels slow and uneasy. You try to focus on what’s right in front of you. You try not to think about the “what if I fail” thoughts – but they creep up. It’s literally the mental battle of your life. Physically, you’re impressed that your body can endure so much but mentally, you wonder if you can take anymore. But you do.

Ok, so this is my analogy, you get it. I guess it’s pretty clear…at least to me.

After we lost Charlie, I took some time (6 weeks) off of work – during this time I planted some wildflowers with my Dad. When they finally bloomed, it brought me some much needed joy. I’m planning to get a small wildflower tattoo one day and now you know why.

Being pregnant after we lost Charlie was hard. And actually, getting pregnant again wasn’t easy either. We ended up doing a round of IVF to have Calvin. Which is a whole journey in itself. And super f’n ironic considering we got naturally pregnant with Charlie.

Once we were pregnant, I was “happy” yet terrified. It was a day-to-day thing, sometimes hour to hour. Including telling myself often “you are pregnant right now. Everything is ok.” That was an important mantra.

The scans were the hardest. If you know our story, you know the floor dropped out for us at our anatomy scan. To this day, I do not enjoy ultrasound pics – so if you show me one, I’ll feign delight but secretly coil inside. Our 16-week early anatomy scan with Calvin was the biggest – as this was the point where the doctors said they’d be able to tell if anything was going awry but at least this time it’d be 4 weeks earlier. I could barely speak in those scans. Thankfully, I had the same wonderful tech for each of my scans {her name is Amber}. I remember one scan – she seemed a tad quiet, and I thought “he’s dead, isn’t he?” how’s that for a horrible thought? But once the floor drops out, it’s hard not to think of the worst-case scenario happening again. I was often preparing myself for the worst. When a scan went well, I’d marvel that the drive home felt like such an ordinary day. Just another day after an appointment which was such a stark contrast to that one appointment now almost 2 years ago when a seemingly ordinary day turned extraordinary in a blink.

It was a blessing in disguise for me that I was pregnant during the pandemic – I was able to hide my pregnancy for quite some time. I didn’t need to travel for work. I could lay low. I went to every appointment alone – which I know is actually awful for most pregnant women but for me, I had tunnel vision – I was ok being alone if it meant my baby was ok. I was ok if my MFM (maternal fetal medicine) doctor was there by my side. His name is Achilles and he’s truly an amazing human. The gratitude I have for his care cannot be properly put into words.

Telling a pregnant woman (or partner of a pregnant woman) after loss that “everything will be fine” is hardly a helpful statement. I get it. I get the power of positivity. But the fact is, that’s simply not how it feels after you’ve been through a loss. What is better to say? How about: I am here for you. I am saying prayers for you and your baby daily. Something to acknowledge that it’s not easy but you are there with them regardless of outcome (which is ultimately out of anyone’s control – no matter how many people might think or tell you otherwise).

People often call me strong. On one hand, I appreciate it – I mean, would I rather be called weak? Obviously not. But once you’ve been through a trauma, the “you’re so strong” phrase can be numbing. What choice do I have? One of the hardest things about loss is that the world keeps on spinning while you’re practically frozen in time. The carousel of life keeps turning and you’re literally like, “wait, can we just pause for a minute? Something profoundly awful has happened.” But that’s not life.

This might seem like an oddly joyful pic given the above paragraph – but I often think of this photo with the whole carousel analogy. The summer after we lost Charlie (the summer I should have been in my 3rd trimester heading towards his due date in early Aug), we tried to “make the best” of things. We made a trek to Storyland in NH. Although so much felt so heavy, we had a great time. That’s Nick (my husband) on the carousel – behind him, is my Dad holding Ellie as she sits atop one of the horses. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard to carry on, but we did, and we made some amazing memories that summer that I will always cherish.

I’ve been able to be strong because of the many resources I have access to. You can call this privilege because it is. Good insurance that afforded me therapy, medications to better cope with the trauma. An incredible network of family and friends who have held me up. Financial means to take time off of work after my loss, as well as afford IVF (with some insurance coverage). Believe me, I don’t shortchange myself and my efforts but I can also recognize where I am fortunate based on where I live/who I am. This is why I share my story, why I push for people to share (if they want), because it raises awareness and reduces shame/secrecy around an all-too-common situation. I believe it will help in a bigger way.

I am here on the other side of PAL – with a beautiful baby boy (and another beautiful baby boy forever in my heart). In many ways my heart is stronger and more grateful than it’s ever been, but it is also different, and I still deal with the aftermath of our loss. It is imprinted in me and that’s ok. To my fellow PAL Mom’s, I see you. You’re not alone. We are stronger together.

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