Allowing the Experience of Joy after Loss
“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”
~Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
I have given birth to three babies, and I have lost three babies. For a seventh time, I am pregnant. I have just entered the third trimester and this is the first time I am acknowledging my pregnancy in an official way. Yes, those who see my ripely pregnant belly know I am expecting. But this time around, I have made every effort to be nonchalant about the fact that by the end of October, I might be holding a new baby girl in my arms.
One can easily assume my avoidance is predicated on the fear of explaining another loss. Yet this is not the case. When I have been open honest about my losses, I have found an abundance of women who have been there too. Since the courageous woman who shared her miscarriage experience with me when I was first grief stricken three years ago, I have known I am not alone. Besides, no one could possibly be a harsher critic than I have been on myself. I am very familiar with the shame and blame game, but after grieving each loss, I made the choice to move on. There are so many unknowns surrounding pregnancy and it is rare to ever know for certain what causes a loss.
At least this is what I was told by my doctor who had to console me after I lost my last pregnancy in the second trimester. This is the doctor who gave me the green light to finally celebrate because the ominous blood clot had passed without harming the pregnancy. After seeing a perfect baby dancing on the sonogram screen, my husband and I acknowledged our supressed excitement about the fourth baby we always dreamed would complete our family over dinner at our favorite restaurant. This celebratory experience made the pregnancy real and our emotional attachment more vulnerable. I wonder if the joy we so recklessly shared is what made our trip to the ER a few hours later so painful. The taste of delight still lingered in our mouths, yet our hearts were in ruin. We discovered we were having a boy when he slid painlessly out of my body into the palm of my hand at home. I pleaded with my doctor to understand why our baby was no longer thriving in my womb and instead lifeless in an old cigar box on my lap. His tone was full of compassion as he explained, “Alicia, as doctors we hate to admit it, but there are so many unknowns in obstetrics. I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry I mislead you and that I don't have the answer to why this happened.”
In a world of uncertainty, I am hesitant to share my good news because I am afraid of experiencing joy and therefore becoming vulnerable to the devastation of loss. Posting a sonogram photo will evoke your excitement. Your congratulatory remarks will remind me that underneath my armor of hope and optimism which proclaims, "regardless of what happens, I will find my way to growth“ is an irrational and undeniable attachment to this baby. Not only for me, but for the sake of my daughter, I want this pregnancy to have a storybook ending. She is old enough to understand the disappointment of loss and tells me often, “I really hope this baby wants to stay and be my sister.” Those of us who have lost babies and are stronger because of what we have endured don't want to be. I don't need another story to tell and I most certainly don't want to answer Catherine’s questions about why our babies are angels in heaven. Further, I am terrified of physically recovering from another loss because the last time I had two surgeries and eventually a dose of chemotherapy to rid the remains of the pregnancy. They suspect it was Placenta Accreta but all they tell me for certain is that I am lucky to have come through it all with my uterus intact.
Why on earth would I try again, you wonder? After all, I have three healthy children to hold and be grateful for. My dear girlfriend asked how I found the courage to do this again (a kind way of relaying her fleeting thought that I am certifiably insane). To this, I answered, “Though it was an incredibly painful experience, it was beautiful too. Even if only for a moment, even if he was too tiny to live outside my womb, I held my baby boy. If I erase the pain, I lose out on a beautiful lesson about hope. I am more resilient because of his brief presence in my life.”
Daily, I must remind myself that from my adversities I have grown and because of the women who have shared their painful stories with me, I have endured. Therefore, it is time for me to be honest and open about both my fears and my joys - not only for my own wellbeing but for those who are walking the journey of pregnancy after loss along with me. I suspect that if this all ends badly, it will be painful whether or not I acknowledge my joy. But if in October, I am awake in the stillness of the night nursing my baby girl, I will want to reflect upon the magical experience that pregnancy can be. Knowing this is my final pregnancy, I will wish I had savored the miracle of life dancing within my womb.
So in a moment of vulnerability, here is the sonogram photo of my baby girl and the public declaration that even if only for 28 weeks, 5 days and a few hours, there has been life in my womb. For this, I am filled with gratitude and yes, joy. Your congratulatory remarks are welcome, because I am finally open to the experience of joy again.