Disclaimer: This particular blog is about Pregnancy After Loss (‘PAL’), so if this is not where you are right now and you would like to shield yourself, I get that. You can stop reading now.
PAL (acronym): Pregnancy After Loss
Pal (informal, noun): A friend
I have always tried to “write from the wound”, in fact, that’s probably what I’m most proud of with regards to this website, writing in the moment, from the very depths of it all. Yet, I’ve not done that for this current pregnancy – there were a few reasons why:
- I have been very adamant/aware that this is a baby loss blog and so I didn’t want to do the readership a disservice. This was never meant to (and will not) morph into a ‘traditional’ motherhood blog. And bruthfully, I haven’t enjoyed the social media accounts that have transformed from an infertility/baby loss focus into a “yay I’m pregnant! What pram shall I buy?” I didn’t want to do it, if I couldn’t do it delicately – and I didn’t know where that line was because…
- I didn’t want to sound like I was ungrateful. Pregnancy after loss, is hard. In many ways, MUCH harder than I was expecting, but I didn’t want it to sound like I was complaining about it. After all, for years it’s been the dream. In fact, I have been acutely aware that the Anjulie of last year, would have hated the Anjulie of this year (“shut up, get over it, you’re pregnant!” she’d have screamed). Since I have always written for me, I had to write for her too.
- Finally, I didn’t believe it would last. I was convinced that I would have “at least” one more loss or never be pregnant again. I didn’t want to feel stupid for having documented something in real time, which didn’t end up becoming a reality. Cowardly as that is, I thought it would be more painful to revisit the blogs of unfulfilled hope, rather than the ones of utter hopelessness (rereading the latter has been tough enough). You know the recent blog where I came clean about being pregnant? I posted it at 27 weeks, but I had it drafted from 9, I just didn’t believe this would/could continue.
So why write about it now?
It’s not quite writing from the wound or even the scar, it’s something in between because…
- I’ve come to realise how helpful pregnancy after loss literature / reading / discussion is (and it’s so sparse!). So I want to document the things that might help other people feel seen and less alone in this – you know, those classic “I felt that way too!” But I also want to list some of the things that have been helpful too. I want to be your pal during PAL.
- Since getting to 30 weeks (currently 33), something has shifted. In getting to that coveted-yet-never-beheld 3-prefix, I’ve started to think that maybe this will happen, maybe this isn’t something that my body fundamentally cannot do. Maybe anything bad that happens now, really is just bad luck.
- Maybe one day my child will read all of these blogs and wonder why I didn’t write about them. Perhaps they’ll think that I didn’t love them enough. I want them to know the truth, that it’s the complete opposite, it’s because I feel too much – and that’s what’s terrified me throughout.
So PAL, what’s been tough?
Urgh so many rough bits, particularly for the first 24 weeks…
- Scanxiety: The anxiety and build up to every single scan is horrific. Every ‘normal’ person looks forward to them, to seeing their baby, but I wonder “is this the day we get bad news again? The day it all ends?”. It’s horrible. The looming date in the diary, the hospital wait, the glances at other pregnant people (trying so hard not to do baby loss maths, and trying not to judge other seemingly cavalier couples), the sinking feeling when they call your name, the slow walk to the room with fingers crossed like you’re a child again, the desperate hope that no one says anything insensitive, the glance at your husband, the what feels like the longest wait for the confirmation, the tears of utter relief, the exhale.
- Toilet Terrors: I don’t know when I stopped checking for blood, but I know that I’m thankful that it’s no longer my first thought. For the longest time, I used to avoid using the loo. I’d wait as long as possible, and when I did have to go, I’d psych myself up: one, two, three…. Go! Even though I didn’t want to see blood, I would inspect everything. Minutely. I couldn’t help it. Every single wipe examined. Every panty liner. Every toilet bowl. I expected to see blood, the beginning of the end. Just like so many times before. It took a long time for that to pass, definitely well into the second trimester.
- The Length of a Day: Every damn day is so long. For the longest time, my first thought upon waking up, was my daily count “I’m 7+2” or “today is 13+5”. I used to count down the days between all of my (regular) scans and appointments, even though I was dreading them too. Each appointment with a good outcome offered a day or two of relief, before the worry set in again. For the longest time, I was just focused on 28 weeks. Very early on, my consultant said “Anjulie, if you can make it to 28 weeks, we can take it from there”. It was an earlier date than I was expecting, but it was still miles away from where I was or where I’d ever been.
- The Jinx: Every time I told someone the news, I was worried I was jinxing it. I was terrified I’d have to take it back, to untell them. So we didn’t tell people, until we had to – mainly when we saw them. I recall carrying a box of crosstown doughnuts into work at 16 weeks, I had to tell my colleagues – I was starting to show and the people I needed to tell would be off on holiday soon. I walked into the building muttering “I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it” out loud. After the email was sent, my first thought was “please give me a couple of weeks, before I have to untell them. I will feel so stupid if this all goes wrong – I’m jinxing it”. The first colleague who approached to congratulate me, bore the brunt of it, my incoherent “yeah, thanks, congrats? I’m trying not to get excited, you know, terrible history” it was so awkward – poor woman.
- Previous Milestones: I’ve come to call these “the echoes” – the reminders of events which have gone before, that I should have been happily pregnant for, but wasn’t. For this pregnancy, similar events would go in the diary and I’d start to see them as bad omens, so it wasn’t just a case of getting through to 7 weeks, 10+5, 12 weeks, 16 weeks, 19 weeks, 19+5, 20 weeks etc (my personal baby loss milestones), it was getting through all the other stuff too. For example, twice I had applied for my medical exemption card, only for them to arrive when I was no longer pregnant. I’d previously had a miscarriage followed by a positive IVF announcement from a friend a week later – and this time round another friend was doing an IVF cycle during my first trimester. I had previously been looking forward to being pregnant at a godchild’s baptism, but when it came around, I wasn’t – would it be the same for this new baptism in the diary? We even had a religious Indian event to attend, but the last time I went to a similar one, I was bleeding. On and on these events – these “echoes” went – I made a note of them on my phone and have been ticking them off slowly. I tried to tell myself “maybe I’m owed these events back, I didn’t get them the first time around, but maybe this time I will?” I now only have one echo left – my baby shower.
- Every Little Twinge: In my previous three pregnancies, I bathed every twinge in optimism (“this is probably normal”) but nope, not this time. This time, every twinge has been amplified in pessimism. There’s no nice way to say it, but every time I got a twinge, my brain would jump straight to “the baby’s died”. My brother was over one evening and I was in floods of tears, I said I was worried that the baby’s heart had probably stopped. He was so shocked, I can still see his face. He knew I had always been cautious about this pregnancy, but until that moment, I don’t think he realised just how much I legitimately lived in the fear/belief that something would go terribly wrong.
- Lack of Bonding: Try as I might, the most unexpected thing for me, has been the lack of bonding, which only brings guilt and sadness. I wasn’t expecting this at all, I had always loved being pregnant, from the off. But I’ve come to realise that you can appreciate things, but still not believe them. If the mental bubble wrap weren’t so guilt-inducing, I’d find it impressive. In many ways though, it legitimises what I’ve been through – all that pain and trauma, I wasn’t milking it or making it up, it was real. So much so, that my brain’s been in protection mode, anytime I tried to daydream or force myself happy, it’d be like “sorry lady, we’re just not going there, we’ve done that before and we just can’t come back from it again”. It’s improved as time as gone on, but it’s still not the same.
- The Comparisons: Although my medical care has been exceptional for this pregnancy, I couldn’t help but feel bitter at times. Because I have had the “magic” number of three losses and the subsequent, much-coveted referral to the recurrent miscarriage clinic in London, people are now taking me seriously. The team care about the past, they talk about my mental health, acknowledge the anxiety. Though this is a positive, physically there’s been nothing wrong with this pregnancy, so I can’t help but feel they’re rolling out the red carpet for a “normal” pregnancy, yet the NHS were so comparatively dismissive all the times before, when I had actual physical issues. It does make me feel bitter regarding Summer. It’s like I’ve woken up in Saving Private Ryan, “oh gee, lady, we can’t have all of your children die, we’d better bring one back safe for you now”.
- Other People: Some of the things that people have said to me! I know they mean well and they’re also worried, but come on! The rough rule is: don’t say to me, what you wouldn’t dream of saying to another ‘normal’ pregnant lady! I get that you’re being cautious, but don’t project that on me. Someone asked me if I was sure I wanted a baby shower, as wouldn’t that be jinxing it? Another person said they were holding off buying me anything or believing in this baby until I got to 6 months. Wowza, well that’s one way of telling me you don’t believe I can do this. You just made a difficult time, that little bit harder.
- The Crippling Thoughts: I can more easily imagine a bad outcome for this baby, than a good one. Fact. But that doesn’t mean I’m attracting bad vibes (as I was also told). Do you know how I know that? Because I was positive for three babies and they died. Yet, I’ve been so pessimistic for this pregnancy, and this one just keeps surprising to the upside. At around 16 weeks, I had a cervical stitch put in. Pre-surgery, the doctor asked me if I wanted to receive blood if anything were to happen. I said “this is very important, if I need blood, please check the baby. If the baby is alive, then the answer is yes. If the baby dies, then I don’t want any intervention for me”. He nodded and asked why? “I can’t do it again”. Do what? “Live”. The crippling thought is that I know, better than most, that whatever happens now, I will have to meet this baby. Dead or alive. And seeing his/her face, will change everything.
So PAL, what’s been helpful?
So I really don’t want to just concentrate on the negative, because some stuff has helped…
- Separating Thoughts: Some of the best advice I received was to separate the thoughts of Pregnancy Vs Baby, Intuition Vs Grief. All of the fear was about the pregnancy, the love and hope for the baby. And though we’re so often told as pregnant ladies to “trust our instincts” it’s just as important to remember that grief does not equal instinct. All of my grief was telling me that my baby had died, not my mother’s intuition. Grief’s actually more prevalent.
- Pregnancy After Loss App: I’ve always wanted to track my pregnancy, but I couldn’t bear to use the apps I’d used previously, and then I found the Pregnancy After Loss app – an absolute game-changer. None of this rubbish naïve pregnant bliss. Instead, it’s sensitive, cautious, just pure lovely. The app has daily affirmations, meditations, helpful blogs and quotes – you’ll still be told that your baby’s the size of a bell pepper or sweet potato or whatever, but it acknowledges how tough this pregnancy might be too. It even asks you to put in the dates and names of your losses. Unexpectedly, it’s also the “best looking” baby app I’ve seen, no ads or annoying rubbish, just a lovely curated interface – and it’s FREE. I would not hesitate to recommend this one.
- Regular Scans and Monitoring: I thought Summer was the most scanned baby ever, but it turns out her sibling has stolen that title. The monitoring of this pregnancy has been incredible. Starting from 5 weeks, I had fortnightly scans for months. This recently moved to 4 week checks, but I’ve still had Doppler monitoring and cervical stitch appointments, which means I’ve had extra little checks/looks at the baby. We’ve also had growth scans thrown in for reassurance (given our history) so we have lots of lovely photos, including our first 3D one – who knew the NHS even offered that? The medical reassurance really has helped.
- Feeling Movements: It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. My consultant told me that I’d feel more reassured when I felt movement and she wasn’t wrong. My placenta sits at the front, so I feel a lot less than other pregnant women (great, less reassurance for me), but as time’s gone on, I’ve felt plenty! I never felt movement with any of my previous pregnancies, but the first time I did with this one was at 19+6… officially the furthest I’d ever made it in pregnancy and it was on Summer’s due date to boot. It felt really special. Since then, I’ve felt movement every day, which has been incredible. This baby absolutely loves food and late nights – very mini me.
- Taking it Day by Day: Although every day is so long, it does help to tick them off. So I’ve got a little desk calendar and I add a sticker for every day I’ve got through. The other thing that I’ve liked using, is this page a day pregnancy book. I’ve wanted to engage with this pregnancy and to be in awe of it, but it’s hard to go all-in. So one page of info a day, has been perfect. It’s an amazing feeling to keep turning those pages – for both my desk calendar and the book.
- Stories From Other Women: As always, chats with the baby loss community have been invaluable. Not just chats with those who have experienced loss and gone on to have a child, but women across the spectrum – those who are still struggling with (in)fertility, and those who are pregnant alongside me. You women are incredible. The best team of cheerleaders a girl could ask for. I was also lucky, as very early on in my pregnancy, I was asked to proof-read this book. The timing of Sheila’s email was absolutely perfect. This book is a great read for those experiencing PAL, so check it out.
- Talking and Counselling: I’m so lucky in that I have a great group of friends still standing, who I’ve been able to be completely honest with. It was so lovely telling them I was pregnant (I did not expect so many tears! It turns out there are a lot of people genuinely invested in our family!) and so being able to be honest, without judgement, but just reassurance has been incredible. This has been a tricky time and they’ve been wonderful at helping me navigate that. The same can be said for the ongoing Petals counselling sessions received during this time.
- Affirmation Cards: These are actually one thing I didn’t have, but would have liked. I looked at them time and again, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. I also wanted some pregnancy milestone cards, but didn’t want to jinx myself. I did eventually buy myself the latter, but only from 26 weeks. I do regret not having them sooner, but I just couldn’t do it. I secretly hoped someone would get me some, but who would? It’s pretty bold! In fact, that’s what I now hope to do if a baby loss friend goes through PAL – I will buy these for them, holding hope for them when they’re not quite able to themselves.
So that’s me done. A total, utter brain dump. The longest blog I’ve ever written, but so important. Writing this, it’s made me realise that I want to write to my baby. I have never written directly to any of my first three since they died, but I feel this is something I want to do for this current baby – s/he is so unbelievably special and wanted too, so I guess I need to tell him/her that in some very definite written words, though privately this time.
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