By Jessica Zucker
When you imagine pregnancy—according to the way mass culture packages it—you likely picture a robust belly. Perhaps there is some morning sickness, a bit of swelling, maybe stretch marks too. You might start nesting soon after you see the results of the positive pregnancy test, as you begin to envision this little being—their sex, their smile, their smell. And though you might have a vague understanding that fetal development is incredibly complex—and that things can go wrong—your focus remains on relishing the here and now, as well as on your future with a new family member.
This is one version of the journey through pregnancy.
This is what my first pregnancy looked like. We traveled the world. We plotted, we planned. We didn’t hold back.
Four years later, we decided to expand our family.
Sick as a dog all day everyday, I began spotting at 16-weeks along. Within 48 hours, my baby arrived. The trauma of my miscarriage simultaneously instilled trenchant fear while also opening up my heart so wide I couldn’t help but be transformed. The subsequent days were dark. My mind slowed while my body quickened to produce milk for a baby that wasn’t.
Time went by, as it does. My head hung. I showed up. I mourned. I unwittingly became educated in the circuitousness of grief, more than I ever imagined knowing in my lifetime. I mothered my son.
A few months later, when the test revealed two dark pink lines signaling that we were entering into pregnancy again, I was flooded by the whole gamut of emotion. Invariably, this pregnancy was fraught. Anxiety percolated and with it came unanswerable questions like, “What if I lose this pregnancy too?” and “How can I embrace this experience if I don’t know what the outcome will be?” The “What ifs” played on a loop, until they couldn’t anymore. Pregnant while grieving and gutted by fear, I gingerly began to believe that this pregnancy would last.
My daughter was born days before her due date. As she breastfed, I drank in the enormity of this milestone and studied her every crevice. Soon, there was a release of the tightened grip held through all the months of pregnancy. The fear dissipated.
Here’s what I’ve learned about pregnancy after pregnancy loss: it can feel layered in complication. Concern might constantly be present, or maybe it won’t. It takes a lot of courage to navigate pregnancy after experiencing a loss. Equally, it takes such strength to determine when enough is enough—to embark on building a family through alternate routes or to decide not to. Grief doesn’t necessarily evaporate upon getting pregnant again or even after the baby is born. Loved ones may not know exactly what to say during your post-loss pregnancy.
I’ve learned that Google is not a doctor—reach out to your healthcare provider if you have concerns. Bonding with baby in utero may be different this time around and that’s okay. Getting triggered by the previous due date, the anniversary of the loss, holidays, and/or other days is common. You don’t need to “get back” to who you were before: grief can change you. If approximately 20% of pregnancies result in loss, that means there are countless women around you who are pregnant after loss: you are not alone.
Though I wish I didn’t experience miscarriage, pregnancy after pregnancy loss imbues a sense of sagacity previously undiscovered. A sense of fortitude I didn’t know before—I didn’t know was in me.
This piece is part of the next installment of Jessica Zucker’s #IHadAMiscarriage campaign, which originally launched in 2014. In 2015, Zucker created a line of pregnancy loss cards. This year, she has added t-shirts and totes. All in an effort to: de-stigmatize, de-silence, de-shame miscarriage; promote support, connection, community; foster conversations about this taboo topic; own our stories and, ultimately, change the culture surrounding pregnancy loss.
Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a psychologist and writer based in Los Angeles, California. She is the creator of the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign. She curates a series about loss on Instagram: Stories from around the world. Feel free to submit your story: @IHadAMiscarriage.