I remember my mom used to sing that sweet song “You are my sunshine” to my siblings and me all the time. I loved hearing her voice, expressing how much she loved me through the lyrics. If I close my eyes, I can still hear her. That memory will be engrained in my heart and mind forever. Those lyrics took on whole new meaning for me when I realized I was pregnant six months after losing Gianna. “Please don’t take my sunshine away” was my constant prayer and plea.
When I thought I might be pregnant with Lucas, I took the pregnancy test early one morning with trembling hands. I never prayed harder than I did in those two minutes it took for those little lines to appear. My mind was flooded with a million thoughts as I waited. In the stillness of the morning, all I could hear was the sound of my heart pounding within me, powered by adrenaline, excitement, and a deep, deep fear. I deeply desired to know I could get pregnant again; I was desperate to know that my future contained a child, at least one. “Please, just give me one child alive in my arms,” was my desperate prayer. I didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl. I didn’t care what it looked like. I didn’t care if it was healthy or not. Alive in my arms was my only requirement. Particularities go out the window after you bury a child. Once it was revealed I was pregnant, of course I was ecstatic. It was the answer to a million hopes, dreams, and prayers. But then, without delay, the inundation of fears, worries, and terrifying thoughts took over my mind and heart. Tears of worry and panic started to stream down my face. I so desperately wanted the spark of joy I felt to overpower the fear. I wanted joy to pin down all my anxieties and declare victory! But in that moment, it was unfortunately losing the fight.
Pregnancy after loss was far from exciting and joyful. It was nerve wracking. It was anxiety producing. It was extremely scary. I’ve experienced both an early pregnancy loss and a perinatal loss so I didn’t feel safe in any stage of pregnancy. And after going to a number of baby loss support groups, I was very well aware of the numerous complications that can occur in pregnancy and birth besides the ones I experienced.
Life is such a beautiful gift. To have life growing within you is a miracle. Yet when you’ve experienced how fragile it is and how it can end in a split-second tragedy that destroys your world, it was scary to open our hearts to the possibility of that happening again. I think when you’ve experienced baby or child loss and you have now become a “statistic,” you don’t feel immune to bad things happening anymore. My thought was if the worst has already happened to me, why wouldn’t it happen again. My innocence and naiveté died with my daughter. I knew that at any time something could go wrong. I almost expected it to go wrong because that is all I knew. Although I did have moments in which I experienced gratitude, joy, and excitement, those emotions were normally overridden by fear. And practically my entire pregnancy with Lucas was consumed in trying to keep my fear at bay. Here’s what helped.
My top priority was finding an OB/GYN that I felt comfortable with, who understood our story, and who was overly reassuring that he would do everything in his power to keep my baby safe. I “shopped around” for a while until I finally found what I was looking for. He was fine with me asking for an ultrasound last minute or coming in every week just to hear the heartbeat. In my last trimester, I came in every week for a stress test. I simply needed reassurance that everything was going okay and I knew he (or any of the staff members) wasn’t annoyed with me. In fact, he treated me with so much compassion and understanding.
Secondly, I went to a weekly support group for women who were pregnant after a loss. It helped so much just to normalize what I was feeling and thinking. I didn’t feel strange for having so much anxiety because everyone else felt the same. I also belonged to an online Facebook support group. I highly suggest joining an online support group if you cannot attend meetings in person. Getting support and reassurance from your peers is invaluable during such a vulnerable time.
Thirdly, I went to therapy weekly. I needed to process my emotions. I needed to learn how to handle my flashbacks and PTSD symptoms, which surfaced especially during the pregnancy with Lucas. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because my flashbacks would happen mostly at night. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because my anxiety was so great. Talking about what I was experiencing and learning techniques to cope helped me immensely. Also, my therapist was able to reach out to my delivery team of nurses so they already knew my story when I arrived for Lucas’ C-section. That way, I didn’t feel pressured to explain why I was so emotional during my hospital stay. She also helped prepare me for delivery but suggesting I take a tour of the hospital beforehand and take photos of the floor where I would deliver and stay for the week. From time to time, I would look at the photos and prepare myself mentally for delivery and recovery. This preparation made me less susceptible to panic attacks while in the hospital.
Fourthly, self-care. I knew I was in very fragile state. My worries and anxiety drained me so I took time to replenish myself on a daily basis. At the time I was pregnant with Lucas, I didn’t have any other children nor did I work, so I had an unusually large amount of time to focus on myself. I made sure I ate well, exercised regularly, and got out in nature with my dog as often as I could. I tried to treat myself with kindness and didn’t put too many demands on myself, knowing that I was going through a particularly trying time with very little energy to spare. I tried to use and spend my energy wisely.
Lastly, I would pray to my Gianna Rose. A lot. I would talk to her about my worries and ask her to protect her sibling in utero. I am sure she heard me and guided my footsteps during that scary time, as she still does today and everyday. More than anyone else, I thought that she would want her little sibling to be healthy and safe. I imagined her working overtime from above to guide and protect us. I felt her very present during my pregnancy with Lucas and am confident that her and Lucas have a special bond because of that reason.
I think it is also important to note that not everyone understands how difficult it is to be pregnant after a loss (nor how difficult it is to lose a child). Personally, I didn’t have the mental nor physical energy to keep up with all my friends because I was busy “just surviving” and literally trying to make it through the day alive. Not everyone understands or “gets it.” Some friends did drift away during this time because of this reason, which is sad. But the friends that do remain in my life are genuine and unconditional and for that I am grateful. As I get older, I realize it is quality that counts, not quantity.
There is tremendous beauty in opening yourself up to life again after tragedy wrecked everything you had. There is immense strength is becoming vulnerable again when you have been destroyed. For some that means having another child. For some that means moving on with life and trying to find happiness and peace again. Whatever the path you choose to take (or life chooses for you), there is no doubt your sweet angel babe is with you every step of the way.
Having a child after loss is no easy task but I don’t regret my decision to bring Lucas into the world for a second. He brings more joy and happiness to my life than I ever imagined possible. And I know that is all Gianna wants for us, her parents: to live this short life to the fullest, until the time comes to be reunited together.
To live passionately. To live joyfully. To live freely. To live loving.