Jenny Albers has not only walked the excruciating roads of baby loss and miscarriage, but the road of pregnancy after loss and miscarriage. Sometimes called a rainbow pregnancy, a positive test doesn’t mean being pregnant again will be all rainbows. We’re honored to have Jenny share her story today of carrying a baby and grief when you’re pregnant after loss or miscarriage.
Grief isn’t typically associated with pregnancy. Instead, we tend to associate the desire to become pregnant followed by a positive pregnancy test with excitement and joy. Pregnancy announcements are met with congratulations and anticipation of the birth of a sweet new baby. And rightfully so.
But for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, becoming pregnant again involves carrying grief along with a baby.
When I became pregnant after experiencing first an ectopic pregnancy, then a stillbirth, joy and excitement were not at the forefront of my pregnancy. Yes, I was happy to see two pink lines on a pregnancy test. I wanted to become pregnant. I wanted to grow our family. I wanted a baby. But after two losses, the way I viewed and experienced pregnancy had changed.
No longer did I assume pregnancy guaranteed me a baby to hold, feed and rock in the middle of the night.
I felt a societal pressure to “just be grateful,” but I was deeply afraid of experiencing another loss. I was afraid of finding blood when I used the bathroom or having to be rushed to the ER or giving birth to another baby who didn’t have a heartbeat.
Becoming pregnant after loss is of course a gift in many ways. But it can also be a season of heartache and struggle that is overlooked in the name of gratitude and joy. Though it can feel heavy with grief in many ways, I’ve chosen five to discuss here.
1. You grieve the baby you lost.
Losing a baby is both heartbreaking and traumatic. It’s a life lost along with a piece of one’s motherhood. Pregnancy loss often involves uncomfortable doctor’s visits and painful medical procedures. It feels devastating to lose a baby you were looking forward to holding in your arms and raising into an adult. The grief doesn’t automatically go away when you become pregnant again.
When I became pregnant after my losses, I couldn’t forget that I was already supposed to have a baby in my arms. I had assumed I would be nursing and rocking and changing the diapers of the baby I ended up losing. I was still grieving that loss even though life was slowly blooming inside of me again.
2. You grieve the loss of an enjoyable pregnancy.
While there is certainly joy in becoming pregnant after loss, it is often diminished by fear and anxiety. I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy, but there were too many unanswered questions, too much hurt and too many uncertainties.
The mental load was exhausting. I knew things could go wrong at any time. The second and third trimesters were no safer than the first. It seems awful to think about your baby’s heartbeat coming to a stop, but that’s the reality of pregnancy after loss. It’s something I thought about constantly, always wondering if my baby was still alive. The joy and excitement I wanted to feel was often replaced by hard “what-if” questions. What if this baby dies, too?
3. You grieve for what you thought growing your family would look like.
We like to think that once we decide to have a baby, we’ll have a baby. But that’s not always the case.
After having a normal and healthy first pregnancy, on my terms and timeline, I figured future pregnancies would also go as planned. I wanted three kids, three years apart. But that didn’t happen. My plans crumbled. It was so painful to watch other families grow while mine remained stagnant. Seeing pregnant women and babies was a reminder of what, or rather, who I was missing.
4. You grieve the loss of a normal pregnancy.
Even when pregnancy after loss progresses well, it still doesn’t feel like a normal pregnancy. In many ways, it feels nonsensical to plan for a baby to come home because you know there’s a chance that might not happen.
Typically considered normal parts of the pregnancy experience, things like a baby shower, decorating a nursery, stocking piling diapers and onesies or installing a car seat can induce fear during pregnancy after loss. What if the gifts never get used? What if there’s a closet full of diapers and clothing, but no baby? What if the crib remains empty?
During a normal pregnancy, you expect a baby to come home. But during pregnancy after loss, you aren’t sure what to expect.
5. You grieve feeling seen and understood.
The complexities of pregnancy after loss are often invisible. Outsiders see a pregnancy, but they don’t see the losses that came before. Those inside our circles may mistakenly be under the impression that becoming pregnant again solves the problem of grief and loss.
In my experience, many people like to assure women who are pregnant after loss that “this time will be different.” But the painful truth is that it might not be. The grief for the babies I lost and the anxiety surrounding the possibility of losing the baby I was carrying were often dismissed. I didn’t fit the mold of what a pregnant woman was expected to be—glowing and excited. Because of that, I felt alone and misunderstood. To have my experience and my feelings validated would have gone a long way in helping me feel supported.
While this is not a comprehensive list, these are the primary ways in which I experienced grief during pregnancy after loss.
After losing two babies, my subsequent pregnancy was the hardest experience of my life. Most days felt too daunting to face. But God. When it all felt too hard, I reminded myself that nothing is too hard for Him. And I spent a whole lot of time in prayer. Were these things a magic solution to my grief and hardship? No. But they reminded me where my hope comes from. For as difficult as pregnancy after loss can be, my faith reminded me that hope lives right there amid the grief.
Jenny Albers is a wife, mother and writer. She is the author of Courageously Expecting: 30 Days of Encouragement for Pregnancy After Loss and the founder of the Still Loved baby loss community. You can find Jenny on Instagram and her blog where she writes about loss and grief, motherhood and faith. She never pretends to know it all, but rather seeks to encourage others with real (and not always pretty) stories of the hard, heart and humorous parts of life.