Remember how I was saying that I was going to try to be optimistic, but that I was still going to have occasional anxieties about being pregnant again? This is one of those posts.
I cannot shake the feeling that something is going to go wrong during this pregnancy. As a PAL (pregnant after loss) mom, I am all too aware that not everyone gets to bring a happy, healthy baby home. Someone has to be that person who goes home with empty arms: some people do get struck by lightning, people do occasionally win the lottery, and babies do die. The fact that it happens extremely rarely doesn’t matter to us, because we know all too well that favourable odds – even very favourable odds – do not guarantee a positive outcome. In my region, it’s estimated that 1 in 160 pregnancies end in a stillbirth, and it was me. A lot of the people in my support group share the same disbelief, even two, five, or ten years after their loss – they never stopped to think that it might be them, that those terrible odds would choose them. We hear these horror stories about friends of friends: surely, it wouldn’t happen to us.
Families who suffer stillbirths often land in one of three categories:
1) the mother or the baby had an underlying (or newly developed) condition that caused the death, such as a clotting disorder or premature labour,
2) their child died as the result of an unlucky happenstance or trauma, like asphyxiation by their cord or placental abruption, or
3) the most depressing: no cause can be found, and the death remains a mystery to parents and practitioners alike.
I am lucky to be a part of the second, where I should be able to go forward knowing that I got unlucky, and, with the close supervision I receive on subsequent pregnancies, the same thing is very unlikely to happen again. Unfortunately, after a situation like this, you become guarded. You are too afraid to be optimistic. You already got unlucky, and you therefore feel prone to additional tragedy.
Rationally, people in group two (and often group three) know that the odds of something like this happening to them again is extremely slim. But it’s that teeny tiny possibility that often manages to eat away at us.
I am afraid I am going to have trouble learning how to love this baby, simply because I am petrified by the possibility of him (or her) leaving me at any moment. I almost expect it. Every time I use the washroom and I don’t see blood, I am almost surprised that nothing has gone wrong so far. Every cramp and ache makes me worry that things aren’t going well, and a miscarriage is just around the corner. Never mind that your odds of miscarriage drop dramatically once a heartbeat is detectable at 6 weeks, and I have passed this threshold. Statistics and likelihood hold no bearing to me now, because even a 0.00001% chance is still a chance.
I worry that, if I make it out of the first trimester, I am going to be in that 0.5% of people that miscarry in the second trimester, and I’ll go in one day for an ultrasound to find out that my body has let me down again. Milestones don’t matter anymore. The ‘safe’ zone is 12 weeks, before which time more than 99% of miscarriages happen. Viability – where a baby can likely survive if born early – is 24 weeks. Full term is 37 weeks. It does not matter to those of us who have lost babies, though, because we struggle with the knowledge that every single day – every hour, every minute, every second – our new child’s heart might stop beating.
I sought support from a group recently where I received some unusual, but insightful, advice from someone: she told me, in regards to my anxieties, that it’s okay to freak out sometimes. It took a while for me to wrap my head around this idea, but I realized she is right. I don’t spend every second of every day worrying about the outcome of this pregnancy – I actually repress the anxiety much of the time – and, regardless of the probability of these fears actually coming true, it’s perfectly okay to let myself feel how I need to feel once in a while. Even the happiest of people get sad once in a while, just like people who haven’t had losses sometimes worry about the same things that I do. Fearfulness can be normal, and learning to function outside of it strengthens us. Fearing for the worst also helps me to appreciate the time that I do have, because whether or not I carry this baby to term, I owe it to them to enjoy the time we do have together… so, it’s not all bad. That’s not to say it’s a great thing, but it’s not the worst thing in the world, either.
I don’t really have a good closing thought for this article. In summary, I suppose that I’m just trying to say that it’s normal to be anxious from time to time (especially in situations like mine), but as long as you don’t let it run your life, a little worry here and there doesn’t need to be a huge deal. Often, when I am worrying about the worst case scenario, I remind myself that these things are almost certainly not going to happen again, and I try to fathom how great I’m going to feel, and how happy I am going to be, when I have my rainbow in my arms. It’s going to happen, and even if it ends up being a long journey, it’s going to be a feeling beyond compare when we finally get there.