Braving The Storm: Pregnancy After Loss – Take Two

Braving The Storm: Pregnancy After Loss – Take Two

So things have been a little quiet over on my Instagram and Facebook pages recently (#AdventForFindlay aside), and this tiny corner of the internet has been so woefully neglected that it’s a miracle I even remembered my login details! Now, I realise that this is partly due to the fact that I am the worst blogger in the history of the world wide web, but I do have an excuse for why I’ve been MIA for the last few months.

The truth is, we’ve been harbouring a little family secret, and it’s probably about time I came clean…

Leo is officially being promoted to middle child as we welcome another little rainbow next year; a second brother or sister for Findlay, and (we desperately hope) a playmate for Leo. We couldn’t be more thrilled. Or excited. Or apprehensive.

I have struggled for some weeks with whether or not to ‘announce’ this pregnancy; such posts always sit uneasy as I know all too well the pain this news can bring for others who have suffered loss, or are dealing with their own challenges on the (often long, exhausting) road to having a ‘take home baby’. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my pregnancy with Leo, in particular the feelings of regret and sadness for how I negotiated those turbulent (and terrifying) months, and decided that this time I want it to be different – I want to be different.

The term ‘rainbow baby’ is given to a child born following miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain’ and in this case, the ‘rain’ refers to the tragic loss of their older sibling. It recognises the fact that the storm clouds of grief and trauma remain as the family learn to navigate their ‘new normal’ of life after loss, the pain can never be undone, but a rainbow gives hope that things can get better; that beauty and colour can emerge from the darkness.

I know it is a term which some people within the baby loss community struggle with, for fear that it suggests that it is their child who died who is the storm, but for me it is one which resonates and I frequently refer to Leo as our rainbow baby. I see it as a celebration of what we as a family have survived and recognition of the light and joy he has brought us.

But as well as the storm of Findlay’s death, I found pregnancy after loss to be a whole new weather front which I needed to endure. By no means as dark and destructive as the tornado of loss which ripped my life apart, but rather a low pressure system of uncertainty which swept in; the winds of anxiety buffering me throughout the weeks and months of pregnancy; even on the brightest days, the storm clouds of fear looming up ahead. It seemed as though the settled, sunshine days of ‘life before’ were a distant dream; each morning I would turn to the window and wonder what I would have to face that day. My naivety of the joys of pregnancy was shattered: I just needed to grab my coat and brave the downpour.

So that is why, to me, Leo really is our little rainbow. He was born not only out of the darkness and despair of Findlay’s death, but he also brought the colour back into our lives after 9 months of fear, anxiety and the (seeming) inevitability that once again we would be left with aching arms.

Pregnancy After Loss – Round 1

I managed my pregnancy with Leo in the only way I could, and yet my memories are tinged with sorrow. I never once allowed myself to believe that he could come home, that our journey together could end in any way other than utter devastation. I was a mother, yet my motherhood looked nothing like the ones in the magazines. Instead of piles of sick-covered muslins scattered around the house and endless hours being bound to bed or sofa for feeds, my first weeks of parenthood were spent cradling a small, stuffed bunny and tending flowers at a tiny graveside. None of this was in the baby books; it wasn’t how motherhood should be.

When we were fortunate enough to fall pregnant again with Leo, I think my brain went into ‘self-preservation’ mode. My grief was still so raw, it was a mere 5 months since we had said goodbye to our much loved and longed for little boy, and I couldn’t imagine a life or a time beyond this one. I felt as though my arms would remain forever empty, and allowing myself to hope that we would get to parent a living baby seemed too dangerous.

I vividly recall meeting a friend for a coffee one July morning; after an hour of small talk and me awkwardly pulling at my scarf she said, ‘Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room?’ The elephant was my rapidly expanding 35 week bump. Smiles and congratulations were met with a tidal wave of anxiety, a sense that indulging their excitement was somehow akin to getting carried away, like when you spend an hour searching RightMove for the dream 6 bedroom barn conversion, with an orchard and space in the entrance hall for a grand piano, which will be yours when your Euromillions ticket comes in. Comments about ‘when the baby is here’ were always immediately corrected to ‘if he’s here’ – a necessary caveat, and it was impossible for me to formulate an image of what life could look like after pregnancy.

In the final weeks, we hesitantly began the preparations: washing the baby clothes, ordering the pushchair, building the cot, simultaneously making provisions for the worst. There’s something tragic about anxiously checking the returns policy on a car seat on induction day and only buying gender neutral clothes for the boy who, you fear, may never get to wear them.

There is only one picture of me and my bump, hastily taken the morning of our induction as we scrabbled to get a hospital bag together and unwrapped the Moses basket. I look at this photograph and my heart aches a little for the frightened, broken woman standing there; her attempt to smile doing nothing to distract from the terror in her eyes; the weight of exhaustion following several days of visits to Delivery Suite for reduced movements seeping into every bone and fibre of her body. This was it; the moment of truth. I stood in that nursery and desperately tried to picture us walking back in with a pink, noisy newborn. But the image wouldn’t come.

Finding Joy in Rainbows

This may all sound like I was ungrateful for our pregnancy, something which can be hard to stomach if you have experienced loss or issues with fertility. But that wasn’t it at all. Call it depression, call it trauma, call it whatever you want: I was drowning in the weight of my grief for Findlay, and the fear that we would lose another baby was too much for my head and heart to bear. It was as though allowing myself to hope and dream would make the loss even greater and I didn’t know how I could survive it.

Of course, I realise now how ineffective this coping strategy was. This inability to feel hope about the pregnancy did nothing to alter the fact I was head over heels in love with the little boy growing inside me, and if the worst had happened, I know the guilt that I didn’t make the most of the time we did share together would have destroyed me. Losing Findlay has taught me how precious time is; the bulk of my memories with him were made in the months before he was born and, whilst they will never be enough, I am so grateful we have those. It breaks my heart to think that if Leo had died too, all the memories of our time together would be marred by paralysing fear and anxiety; it’s painful enough to recall the aftershocks which have rumbled through much of our first year.

And so I vowed that, should I ever be fortunate enough to fall pregnant again, things would be different. Whilst I knew I wouldn’t be able to prevent the onslaught of anxiety, I was determined not to let it dominate every particle of my being. The storm of grief and loss for Findlay can never be undone, the marks it has left on the landscape of my life are irreparable, but a bright and beautiful rainbow signifies hope, love, and the joy which awaits. I see now that throughout my pregnancy with Leo I couldn’t allow myself to feel that hope, the skies were too dark and the storm too threatening I just battened down the hatches and waited for the (seemingly inevitable) tempest. It was all I could do, but that saddens me.

Just as Findlay’s death, and the multitude of feelings which it encompasses, cannot be rewritten, neither can my guilt and regret at the way I navigated Leo’s pregnancy be altered. But what I can do – what I am determined to do – is to do things differently this time. This pregnancy feels like an opportunity to find ways to feel hopeful, to let the light in and feed the love more than the fear. There’s no way of knowing how this story ends: I have experienced both extremes of motherhood and am yet to see which version will come to pass this time, but all I can do is be brave and hope to see the colour shining through the clouds.

Sadly, the universe seems committed to testing this resolve, and we have already had one or two bumps in the road which have lead us back to the all-too-familiar territory of the fetal medicine waiting room, middle of the night Google searches and anxiously awaiting test result…but more on that to come.

For now we are here, edging closer to the half way line, and feeling ever hopeful that we can survive another storm, and that this little rainbow will come home.