I apologize in advance if this post is somewhat disjointed. I have been dealing with serious pregnancy insomnia complicated by heartburn, racing thoughts, and a desperate need to be doing more. BUT, I will take all of this because I am still pregnant. Certainly pregnancy is rough anyways, but these ‘normal’ symptoms make we want to scream in triumph because everything before this – infertility, loss, and threatened loss – is way worse, way way worse.
We have reached another pivotal milestone in this pregnancy – we are officially in the third trimester! Not only do our son’s survival statistics improve at this point, but the likelihood that I will carry him closer to term increases as well (thanks to shifting pressure). Additionally, I am getting the go ahead to slowly start increasing activity. Something that I believe will help work out some of the lingering anxiety.
This is a huge celebratory moment and I feel wholly present in it. I feel excited for him in every inch of my being. With lots of laughter and tenable joy I am preparing for him with oppenness and immense love. It is important to note this before I go on.
As March comes to a close, I am also viscerally reminded of the constant teetering between two worlds that I have become accustomed to. April holds another milestone, a dreaded marker of the time lapsed since I last held Finnian and Maisie. In sixteen days we will have lived one year since their birth.
We are still in the first year of grief, despite the joy that we feel for the new life coming, there is an undeniable weight of the first year after loss. A weight of sorrow, confusion, longing, disbelief, and ultimately reckoning with what life could, should, and does look like. I can’t look past this, because I can’t unlive it. As much as people close to me would love for me to focus solely on the woman excitedly preparing for her baby boy, I can’t deny the other woman I am. I feel their absence in every inch of my body. I feel longing for them in every second of my life. I can’t pretend that I am not wholly her too.
At times it completely confounds me how I can feel two opposing emotions so strongly. But perhaps it’s because they aren’t opposing at all, perhaps it is because joy and grief are from the same cloth. Because they both wrap around the heart and stem from the same place, because grief is simply the expression of love in absence and joy is the expression of love in presence. And I have both right now. I have both equally.
April opens up both sides of things for us – celebratory joy that we are in the third trimester with our new baby boy and intensifying grief that Finnian and Maisie are not here to smash a cake. We have some ideas swirling about how to memorialize them on their birthday. A brief pause in all the planning and counting down for Baby L’s arrival to prepare for memorializing our other babies. D and I have talked and we still want to celebrate them, to remember just how much joy and love they brought us, to recognize that four short months was enough to change our hearts forever. Right now we plan to have cake, to light candles, and to make a donation in their name (perhaps I will write more on this later).
Milestones and memorials. My life seems to be marked in countdowns lately. As I go through these new experience and grapple with what this kind of loss and life looks like, I continue to share bits here in hopes that it will help someone like me or someone that is supporting another woman in similar shoes.
It’s important for anyone that may be supporting a mother pregnant again after loss to know that she can feel wholly and completely happy and be intentionally bonding with her new child, while still experiencing full and total brokenness from her grief. The two emotional worlds of pregnancy and grief overlap in confusing ways. Her days are filled with equal parts love, fear, hope, and pain.
There is often a subtle shaming that many pregnant women receive about how they should feel, what they should be doing, how they are or are not appropriately managing emotions and how that will effect their unborn child. And while there is some research to indicate consistently higher levels of coritsol can impact the unborn child, it is helpful to remember in these cases that this is also a grieving person. And likely, a person who is doing more than you could ever imagine to manage the balance. Save the advice and direction - all she really needs from you is grace and acceptance and probably some chocolate.
We live in a “move-on” culture. But I don’t buy that philosophy. I don’t believe that healing has to include releasing, forgetting, leaving behind, and moving on. I do believe healing requires moving forward, shifting, opening, and redefining. And as this little boy’s foot jabs into my ribcage, as I feel him roll inside me, as the joy of his life vibrates in my core, I know for certain that I am moving forward.
I take in a deep breath, equal parts relief, excitement, and longing as we enter the third trimester and we approach the year mark of our loss. I shift expecations to embrace a different kind of yearly celebration for the twins. I open my heart and my soul to embrace the love and joy of their brother’s life, knowing the interconnectedness that exists between them all. I move forward gently and with internal grace that my feelings are okay – that I can love them all completely, totally, un-abandoningly, without taking anything from the other.
I redefine myself as a mother. And will probably do so again, and again, and again.
People who parent after loss are heroes. Some already had children that they continue to care for and others go onto have children after their loss. Either way, I look at the bravery it takes to put one foot in front of the other, to love with your whole heart even when it is broken, and to be completely vulnerable again.
Children make us vulnerable in ways I couldn’t understand before going through the process of pregnancy … and loss … and pregnancy again. They stretch our human capacity for love to its limits, showing you what it truly means to love someone so much more than yourself. Someone who is their own person and will (hopefully) go on to live their own lives full of adventure and people. Or, as is my case and many others in the perinatal loss community, someone who wholly and completely steals your heart but whose life is out of your hands.
The utter vulnerability of it all can be terrifying. And yet, this is the human experience. Love and community and heartache and repair and repeat, repeat, repeat. Any loss mother I have talked to has told me the same thing, “I would do it again just to be able to love him/her.” I think that speaks to the power of the love over the loss' crippling pain.
Tomorrow I will be 25 weeks along with our son. He’s been kicking more noticeably lately. Swishing around alive, completely alive. We’ve had two growth scans so far to check on his progress and he remains on the big side (97th percentile!), which is a blessing in case he comes early. Each day that passes at this point adds an additional 3% survival rate. I celebrate him daily. I take moments throughout the day to really focus intention on my gratitude and joy about his life.
And now, as we pass more milestones of survival chances, the idea that I will get to parent him, actually parent him, becomes more and more a possible reality.
It’s this reality that has me looking around at all those parenting after loss. At the way they handle the biggest job in the world even when they’ve already lived the biggest fear in the job.
I was speaking with a mother who very recently lost her son midtrimester about how she was coming a long in these first months. Everything is jumbled and messy for her – when to take time to grieve, how to take care of her other daughters, how to move forward or not move forward. The familiarity of her grief is potent to me. But she also said that when her daughter is scared, she reminds her that her brother can help her be brave because she gets to do all the things he didn’t do. He will be there for them. He has not disappeared. He will be a reminder of grace and strength and bravery. Her ability to seamlessly blend this into conversation with her girls impresses me beyond end.
Another dear friend of mine lost a son midtrimester a year before our loss. She now has a second young son. Every time I see him he fills the room with joy. He is immeasurably joyous and adored. He shows the face of a child that comfortably knows his parents love him. And yet, my friend still yearns for her first son. She still wonders daily what it would be like to have them both. Each time she puts an outfit that she had purchased for him on her living son she tells him it is a hand me down from his brother. I love this. I know that one day she will run out of hand me downs, but the conversation will have been started. In a small way, the boys will be allowed to be siblings regardless of the distance between them.
I find these simple acts heroic. In the face of the greatest grief, with courage and humility and love, they continue forward. And not by replacing or forgetting or denying but by integrating and allowing space for their children and still feeling both sides of joy and pain.
I'm still thinking of ways to tell our son about his brother and sister. I’m still working through how to describe his mom’s ability to be completely in love with him and completely yearning for them. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that he will not live as the youngest of three but an only child or the oldest (possibly). I’m still picking up the broken pieces of my heart so they don’t fall into his lap.
I can’t wait to meet him. Part of me believes that when I do, I’ll know better how to be the parent he needs. When I see his face, I’ll know how to do these things too. Because I will be their mother and his, and he will need different things from me. And I’ll use every bit of me to be the best for the three of them.
This is not the story I imagined for us. But this is our story.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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