Having a Baby after Losing a Baby: The First Month of Life
I made it through! I have now had a baby after losing a baby. To even write these words is surreal; a miracle.
I spent the nine months pre-birth engaged in a labor of a different sort; I allowed myself time to grieve and process this ‘new normal.’ I intentionally searched within myself to find healing and happiness. It was not an easy road; the path bumpy and winding – yet worth every ounce of effort. I cannot imagine having had my child without this self-nurturing and reviving process.
My son Eden was born a month ago and since then I have been whisked into the cycle of short days broken up by feedings and the total adjustment of every aspect of life that a newborn brings. What I focus on is my positive delivery and the good health of my child. I cannot express how thankful I am, what an abundant blessing and gift his life is for me and my family.
I have been surprised by a number of events and revelations at my son’s birth and in the days that followed:
1. No matter how much you prepare to have your next baby, triggers of your deceased child will confront you when you least expect them.
Despite denial on my part that labor was beginning, even in the face of close contractions, my husband sped us to the hospital where we were admitted – to my complete shock. As the nurse filled out a chart for me, the big trigger hit, POW! I did not see it coming.
The nurse first asked, “What pregnancy is this for you?”
“Third,” I responded.
I did not anticipate her next question: “So you have two healthy children at home?”
KA-POW! I was floored. Weeping, I gestured for my mother-doula to fill in the nurse while I sulked in the bathroom. I couldn’t bring myself to discuss my much loved son Zachary on the cusp of my next child’s birth.
I have talked about Zachary non-stop to whoever would listen since his birth and death right through my pregnancy with Eden – but being asked these questions in the very presence of labor and delivery was too much for me. I am so thankful that I had my mother and my husband there to act as a buffer for me in terms of answering these types of questions.
2. When your child is born, the emotional relief mirrors the physical relief.
In the last few weeks before Eden was born, I experienced extreme pressure on my lungs and skin. My stretch marks revolved all the way around my protruding bellybutton and I struggled to take deep breaths, not uncommon for a full term babe weighing in at over 8 pounds.
When I did my final push and Eden fully emerged from my body and was placed on my chest, the physical pressure was instantly relieved. At the same time, the pressure on my soul was given way to a different type of relief but one even greater than the physical I was simultaneously experiencing.
The relief that my son was born alive and healthy was the deep breath that my heart needed, perfectly coinciding with my actual lungs filling up. That was the moment I was waiting for with trembling sobriety in the knowledge that life does not always unfold the way we expect. I have experienced the worst case scenario and it did not happen to me again. The sigh and relief were palatable.
3. Baby’s birth is not the end of your healing story.
While I tried to savor every moment with Eden after his birth, I did experience a fear I had not anticipated prior to delivery. Once we were all settling in at home, I experienced vivid nightmares all culminating with bad things happening to my baby boy. I do not care to recount these horrible dreams, but what I realized was that my subconscious was revealing the fear that I still could not rest easy. My brain ran wild with worst case scenarios of infant death post-partum. My son Zachary had died at birth and while Eden was born healthy I still worry that his precious life will be stolen from me while I sleep.
This fear led to a sleeplessness that was in itself a form of torture on my weary brain, no doubt leading to more stress. This brings me to surprise no. 4…
4. Your healing story continues on.
Before Eden was born, I was intentional about resting and sleeping, I focused on doing the work of grief, practicing positive self-talk, visualization, and mindful meditation. These practices carried me through an anxiety filled pregnancy.
Once the nightmares began after Eden was born, my epiphany was clear: I can’t stop the habits that helped me survive pregnancy, I must continue to employ these tools in my new life with my son. Where I had expected healing to be instantaneous and complete with Eden’s birth, I did not realize the greater truth that life after the loss of a child is a life forever lived in the shadow of mourning. This reality does not have to be grim; I choose it to be a gentle reminder of my child and the new person his presence has fashioned me to be.
5. Each day does get easier.
I have found that with the passing of each successive day, my sleeping has become sounder and my fear lessened as my state of anxiety is given over to surrender. What can I do? – only the best I can each day. That is all. Even in the face of my continued fear that something bad will happen, I realize that worrying solves nothing. Eden is thriving, as health professionals put it. I need to find rest in this assurance.
I used to be unable to picture having a positive delivery and a healthy child. After Zachary passed away my experience with him became my norm, my strongest held memory even though I had a healthy child before him. Now, Eden’s birth and each healthy day become my new standard of judgment. The clearest picture in my memory of birth is his and I cannot imagine my life without him. This is good news. I believe it is a sign that our minds can heal and re-write our expectations, that happiness is possible and healing can penetrate deeply enough to affect our very synapses.
6. Having a healthy child and seeing them grow reminds you of the monumental loss of your deceased child.
While I thank Mother Nature / God / fate / genetics / randomness every day for Eden’s life, I am also reminded of the great loss that our family knows in the absence of Zachary. As Eden achieves small milestones; his first smile, cuddles with mom during feedings, longer stretches of sleep, time spent with his devoted sister – these beautiful moments remind me that Zachary will never share these things with our family.
I am saddened by this but at the same time believe that Zachary opened up my capacity for love and appreciation, bursting forth in strength like water from a once harnessed dam. I am not the same woman I used to be. Each day with Eden is a miracle of which I cherish solidly within my heart because I know without a doubt how precious and beautiful life is. This knowledge sustains me. This love grounds my family and allows us a rich and grateful life.
I hope that these surprises can encourage and prepare those trying for or expecting their next child after loss. The journey is challenging but the reward is great. Put in the effort to work through the grieving process, search diligently for healing and have hope.
Love and blessings to all.