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.
*For those still struggling with infertility or are early in their pregnancy/infant/child loss journey, please know that this post contains information about a new pregnancy and ultrasound pictures.
Today is a very important day for us, a milestone day. Six weeks ago we announced to our Facebook tribe of friends, family and colleagues that we are expecting a son this year. In a few short sentences we tried to express that this little boy was the remaining embryo from the IVF that gave us our twins. The announcement came one day before he reached the same gestation that we lost them … unplanned but significant I suppose.
It’s significant because this little boy is being carried after a loss - a major, life-altering, still aching loss. And while we don’t identify with the term ‘rainbow baby,’ because he was created with the twins before they were gone, it is the current cultural term to describe a pregnancy after loss – a rainbow pregnancy.
I’ve written a few posts to try to describe pregnancy after loss, each one rambling longer than the next, before I realized I don’t know how to describe it just yet. There is a powerful colliding of emotions, a squishing of contradictory feelings that ruminate daily in my heart. I’m sorting it out. Living it now. That’s why I haven’t posted in several months. I’ll save the ramblings to sort through later.
This was what our FB announcement said: "We are cautiously excited to announce that we are expecting a baby boy this June! This little guy is Finnian and Maisie’s triplet, our frozen miracle of science and prayer. We are so hopeful that we get to hold this extra special baby and believe he is already carrying the spunk, spirit, and love of his brother and sister. We will take all the prayers, positive energy, or any way you might lift us up for a safe pregnancy. Come on 2017, we need a win!"
In addition to learning how to navigate the roller coaster of a rainbow pregnancy, we are in the midst of a very complicated high-risk pregnancy. For all the mamas out there who managed through high-risk pregnancies – I salute you. No, that’s not enough - I admire the hell out of you. Because a high-risk pregnancy has it’s own colliding, squished emotions that pull you outside the normal pregnancy experience and force you to quietly fight for the life your body is just supposed to know how to grow.
We have been on careful watch this pregnancy since it still incredibly unclear why our twins were born early. We knew I went into pre-term labor because I contracted and delivered, but we have no idea what exact sequence of events led us there (we have great doctors though and have been working off theories to manage the care of this pregnancy). Our first trimester was riddled with episodes of bleeding and threatened miscarriages due to a hematoma. Our second trimester began with the revelation that I have an irritable uterus that painfully and frequently has spells of pre-labor type contractions. We have been attending weekly doctors appointments and ultrasounds to check that these contractions do not cause my cervix to begin the labor process. Two weeks ago, my cervix did shorten and we wasted no time getting in to surgery and sewing it closed.
So why is today a milestone? A big, important day for us? Because today we have reached medical viability at our hospital. Some hospitals require 1-2 more weeks of gestation, but we picked the one with the most advanced NICU. We picked the one that has the knowledge, equipment and resources to take a baby born 18 weeks before their due date.
Today, if my son is born, they will try to save him. He is considered “viable” to live outside of my uterus. This moment washes over me with immense relief that collides and squishes under the weight of losing our twins so early. When they handed me our daughter, Maisie, she was alive. I stared at her heart pounding, knowing she wanted desperately to take a breath. And I searched the room for anyone to help her and they could not. They could not because she was too early to survive without me. No equipment could help her fragile lungs.
It was this moment that I recounted while I laid on the surgery table for my cervix. Numb from the waist down and exposed to a room of scrub-clad doctors and nurses, I told their story. I let the tears slide down my cheeks and puddle by my face while I begged them to please get me to viability. I tried desperately to impress that this little boy that I am carrying is more important than any other baby because of what we went through with his brother and sister. My medical professionals were fighting for me … but I needed them to know what the battle was for and why. I needed them to know that I am willing to do absolutely anything I can to get him here, and I need their help.
We are here now. 22 weeks. And the reality is, he needs a lot more time. We are still hoping and praying he makes it a lot longer. But we are also realistically preparing for what happens if he comes prematurely. Each week is a new goal. Each week increases his survival chances and decreases his risk of long-term health struggles.
Each day I feel him kick more. Each week I see him on the ultrasound, perfectly formed, happy and heart-thumping. Every time I am filled with immense joy and love for this little boy. Every time I imagine the twins reaching the same moments. It’s messy.
I’m laying on the couch with my feet in the air the majority of the day just to keep him in. Often perusing Facebook to see how my friends are tackling their careers, advocating for political change, nurturing their young families, and advancing their studies. And I put all those things on hold for myself. Because right now, feet in the air, I am fighting the hardest battle I’ve ever fought and he is so worth it. He has always been viable to me.
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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