Pregnancy After Loss
In the weeks after losing Olivia the gaping emptiness left within me stayed brutally apparent. Time and time again, Jonathan would ask how I was doing, and all I had to say was “I just want my baby back.” And I did. I do, I suppose, although I’m acutely aware that having her back would mean not having this baby growing away within, and I don’t want that either. I love this baby just as much as I love Olivia, neither is comparable to one another. Every life is as precious as the next.
We had decided to try again as soon as I was physically able to do so. Following the medical management, though Olivia passed from me that same day, the miscarriage itself lasted for a little over three weeks. A week later and I got my first menstrual cycle and, annoying as it was to have had only about five days without a bleed, I was grateful to my body for beginning to return to normal so soon. I have known friends who have miscarried and still been without a regular cycle six months later, only compounding their pain, denying them the chance to try again.
Though regular in length my first cycle wasn’t entirely ‘normal’ lets say, so we held little hope for a positive test, but were at least once again grateful when twenty-eight days later the next cycle began. Three weeks later and I knew it was silly, it was too soon to know, but when I first woke up I took one of the many, many cheap tests I had stockpiled ready for my impatience then brushed my teeth, certain I’d be dropping a negative in the bin in three minutes time. I finished up and looked at the test. There they were, two lines, one significantly fainter than the other, but still visible. Still clear. Pregnant again.
This time though I am experiencing pregnancy through a different lens. I am excited, I am grateful to have fallen so quickly, I am madly in love with the life growing inside me, but this isn’t the same as Harry or Olivia’s pregnancies; this is pregnancy after a loss. I don’t for one second assume I am alone in the feelings, the fears, the anxieties I am experiencing in this third pregnancy. After all, when one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage there are plenty of other women out there in my position, and that is exactly why I want to talk about it, to write about it, to normalise the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with being pregnant again following the loss of a baby.
Pregnancy after loss, for me at least, is scary. My anxiety rolls and crashes like waves. I can be calm and confident for days or weeks and then, as quick as the turning of the tide, it’s gone and I am terrified. For me this fear manifests in obsessive behaviours. After my early pregnancy test I continued to take tests daily until I reached the point I would have missed my period. I watched the line get darker, more solid, and with it I relaxed a little. A week or so later I took a clearblue digital just to make sure that it had gone from saying 1-2 weeks to 2-3. A week later I did the same again, making sure it had gone to 3+ weeks. I knew each week this was not ‘normal’ behaviour, but it gave me some reassurance, kept my anxiety at bay a little longer. But that’s it, beyond that point it just says 3+ weeks and there’s no way of checking your hormones are increasing. There’s no need, in reality, but that’s easier said than believed when you’ve lost your much loved baby.
I took cheap pregnancy tests too, maybe once a week, all the way through to about nine weeks. I know deep down this was a fairly pointless exercise. When I lost Olivia and then developed the infection in my womb I was told to take a pregnancy test to see if all signs of the pregnancy had gone. A week and a half after the medical management of my miscarriage – a suspected three or four weeks after she had died – and I got the strongest line on a test that I had until that point in my life ever had. So in reality my continuing to take pregnancy tests was utterly pointless, but nevertheless eased my worried mind a few days.
Pregnancy after loss in my case is not rational. We booked a scan privately so that Jonathan could come with me. The idea of lying on my own whilst being scanned gave me palpitations; last time I’d been alone for a scan I watched my baby lying still upon the screen and was told what I already knew; the baby I’d seen alive, heart beating, a few weeks earlier was now dead. I could not shake the image every time I thought of my scan; despite my sickness, my tender breasts, my rapidly growing bump, I felt so sure it would happen again, and I couldn’t bare to be on my own when it did.
The scan went well, as you all know. There it was, baby number three, heart beating away happily, bigger than we had predicted. The sonographer was happy, we were happy, I was relieved. This relief lasted a week or so, as the anxious part of my brain reminded me we’d had a scan with Olivia, she was fine too. And then she was not. Maybe the baby’s heartbeat was too slow this time and the sonographer chose not to tell me? Something I recognise as highly insulting to the professionalism of the sonographer who I am sure wouldn’t do this, but then intrusive thoughts are rarely sensitive to anyone.
I don’t believe for a second any one type of miscarriage is more painful than the next. They are devastating, cruel and I feel like unless you have had one it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of the loss. People who haven’t had one I think often judge their severity by how far along the pregnancy was which, I think, once you get into the realms of a stillbirth I would agree is likely ‘worse’ given the necessity for a full labour and the fact your baby should live at this point, regardless of what happens; there is absolutely no expectation of death like in the early weeks and it’s a pain I only hope I never know first hand, no parent should have to. But in terms of miscarriage I don’t really see it that way; pain shouldn’t be compared. Why would someone who lost their baby at six weeks not have their pain recognised in the same way mine was? My pain is not ‘worth more’ than theirs, just because I’d had scans, just because I got to hold my baby when she came out. In fact sometimes I think I would have struggled more not being able to hold my baby. I got closure from the hour I spent with her in my palm, stroking her tiny body, telling her my thoughts. The be all and end all for every miscarriage is a mother, a father, a family, has lost a much loved child. Not a six week, or twelve week, or fifteen week old fetus; they’ve lost the lifetime they planned for their child, the future they envisioned, and that’s the same for them all.
This being said, I do wonder sometimes, had I had a ‘conventional’ miscarriage, rather than a missed or silent one, would my anxiety be more manageable this time around? If I had miscarried Olivia through spontaneous bleeding then I would no doubt be worried this pregnancy, I would be checking my tissue for blood every time I went to the toilet just like I do now, but would I get comfort from the lack of blood that eased my mind? Would I get comfort from my strong symptoms, the sickness and tender breasts? Because these do not help. The lack of blood does not tell me my baby has not died. The sickness does not tell me my baby has not died. My aching breasts do not tell me my baby has not died. Because I had all these things last time. They remained, as my baby passed and beyond, and now it seems my anxious mind is adamant I will not trust my body to complete the task at hand.
Pregnancy after loss is exciting. Pregnancy after loss is a blessing. Pregnancy after loss is terrifying. Pregnancy after loss is taking too many pregnancy tests. Pregnancy after loss is irrational thoughts. Pregnancy after loss is constant photos of my stomach to compare with previous ones, desperately trying to make sure it isn’t shrinking. Pregnancy after loss is inspecting the tissue for blood every time I wipe. Pregnancy after loss is what feels like agonisingly long waits between scans.
Pregnancy after loss is, importantly, not a replacement for the lost baby. Our new baby is loved and wanted on its own. Our new baby does not negate our grief for Olivia, nor does it replace her. A person is not replaceable. But that does not mean we are not overjoyed at the impending arrival of baby number three. It is a conflicting feeling, as I said previously, knowing without the grief for Olivia this baby would not exist. But we know she is not coming back, and so at this point I do not wish for her back anymore, but wish instead for her to always be remembered. She will always be part of our family, and a new baby does not change that fact. I can only wish, and hope, that this baby remains safe in my womb and then, when it’s fully grown, I can deliver it safely into my arms. Our third baby will always be our third baby. Not our second. Harry will always have at least two younger siblings. Olivia, and baby number three, are as real as Harry, regardless of how long they live. As the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit so aptly put it, “once you are real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
This article was originally published on Rosie’s personal blog, Words for Olivia.
About the Author
Rosie is 28 and lives in Oxford with her husband, son Harry and their dog, Nigel. She is mother to three children, Harry who is now three, Olivia who they sadly lost in March of this year and their third baby who she is busy growing. Rosie has a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and has always enjoyed writing. Since losing Olivia, Rosie has found it incredibly therapeutic to write and talk about the reality of miscarriage in the hope of supporting other women who have experienced the same thing.