For many parents who have lost a baby, the experience of a positive pregnancy test fills them not with excitement and happiness, but a sense of foreboding and dread. Across babyloss parents, there is generally an intense focus on simply trying to get pregnant again, avoiding feelings about what will happen when those two pink lines or positive sign shows up in the pregnancy test window. And for some, because getting pregnant may take several tries or even the assistance of Reproductive Endocrinology specialists, the idea of truly achieving a pregnancy may feel almost unattainable. So, if instead of celebrating a positive pregnancy test, you want to crawl into bed and hide from the world, this is truly a normal reaction. Though it may be hard to explain to friends that now you feel a new sense of dread, other babyloss parents have experienced the exact same reaction.
Part of the challenge of becoming pregnant after a loss is the lack of medical support that is available when you are very early along. The benefit of fertility treatments is that there will be increased monitoring and regular appointments in the subsequent weeks to ensure a new pregnancy is proceeding safely and in good health. However, parents who conceived without assistance may find themselves in a “purgatory” of waiting until their obstetrician can see them to confirm the pregnancy at all, and this may not even be until after 9 weeks. The anxiety and fear can feel overwhelming as a newly-pregnant person may fear a loss before they can see their provider, checking toilet paper for blood every time they use the bathroom, fixating on whether they feel morning sickness, and truly becoming hyper-aware of the fact that they are pregnant, but feel as though they may lose the pregnancy at any time.
What can newly-pregnant parents do after they have experienced a loss? Below are a few practical guidelines:
- Focus on what you can control. The experience of losing a pregnancy is truly a lesson in loss of control. Therefore, becoming pregnant again presents a parent with extreme feelings of vulnerability, like walking a tightrope without a safety net. It is helpful during this time to focus on elements of your life that you can plan and control. This may include transitioning to healthier eating plans to ensure your body is equipped with nourishment to support your growing pregnancy, in addition to taking regular prenatal vitamins. This is also a good time to invest in your mental health. Because the experience of pregnancy loss is often disenfranchised, some loss parents truly feel they are unable to find a safe place with friends and family to discuss their anxiety. Rather, they may feel alienated when they are subsequently pregnant, as individuals in their support system expect only happiness in a subsequent pregnancy. There may be no room for darker, anxious thoughts, that can be normalized and accepted in pregnancy. If you aren’t ready for therapy, it can be useful to keep a journal recording your experience, having a safe place to put your thoughts.
- During this time it is helpful to critically examine your thoughts. First, expect irrational and frightening thoughts to arise. In an odd way, these thoughts are trying to protect you from experiencing the trauma of another loss, but they are unproductive, because they only serve to make you more anxious. So, try to first accept that unpleasant thoughts will arise, but you can also challenge them by using tools from cognitive behavioral therapy. Usually, thoughts about losing a pregnancy in the early days are fueled by emotion and not rationality, and it is easy to assume that you will lose your baby again because you lost one before. However, past experience does not predict future outcomes, and it is important to recognize that each pregnancy is biologically unique. Avoid googling statistics on pregnancy loss, instead, focusing on your own individual experience. Stayin in the moment, with mantras like, “Today, I am still pregnant”, can help you practice gratitude for what currently is, and not what might be. Remember, while you cannot control the future, you can control how you respond to what is happening in the present moment.
- Make a case for earlier intervention. If your OB will not see you until later in the pregnancy, be sure to let the receptionist know that you have had a prior loss and would like an earlier appointment. Be sure to be your own best advocate during medical care. Staff answering the phone usually encounter pregnant people who have had successful, healthy pregnancies, as these are the rule rather than the exception. Therefore, though it may be difficult and you may feel you might cry, try to let your OB’s office know that you are incredibly anxious. If you feel comfortable, ask to see any provider if you belong to a group practice, as there may be earlier appointments with other OBs. This can be a challenge in itself as you may be very attached to the provider who supported you during your last pregnancy. So, decide if being seen sooner rather than later, but by a different OB, might help to ease your anxiety. If your doctor’s office has a patient portal where you can send a message explaining your situation, this can be helpful. You can even ask the receptionist to pass a message directly along to your provider. Feel entitled to ask to speak directly with your doctor if you can. Simply connecting with your OB on the phone can be helpful and calming for you.
- During this time, it can be helpful to keep a list of questions that you want to ask your OB. These may be related to the timing of certain prenatal tests, referrals to specialists, concerns about your diet, or other elements of a rainbow pregnancy that will be helpful to know. You can then ask the receptionist to pass these along or ask them to your provider yourself. Try to narrow it down to 1-2 questions that will ease your mind the most during this time.
- Stay connected with your first pregnancy. When babyloss parent become pregnant again, sometimes they worry this means that they must move on from the baby they lost, as if they are betraying that pregnancy or child they once dreamed of having. Know that you are not a bad parent for getting pregnant again, and your loss will always be with you. In fact, trying for another baby extends your loss baby’s legacy, as fetal cells remain inside their parents even after that individual organism is no longer there. You will pass along these cells to your subsequent, hopefully healthy, baby, and in this way, the life of the baby you lost continues. Give yourself permission to continue to grieve in this subsequent pregnancy. Don’t tell yourself you “should” or “must” move forward. Similarly, it is appropriate to start to shift your attention to the new pregnancy as well. Again, like that tightrope walker, you will find yourself engaging in a delicate balance: on one side of the pole is your loss, and on the other, your new pregnancy. Both need to be in alignment and supporting you moving forward.