I know there has been a little scuttle of controversy over the term Rainbow Baby lately but I am all about it and just love the visual it creates for the brightness after the storm. You can bet if the term was popular 21 years ago when Miss Madelyn was born she would have been in one of these beautiful photo shoots. I mean I just can't even with those pictures. This photo (The photo on the blog post) is courtesy of Love What Matters- Be sure to check out their website to see all the rainbow baby photos and check out the great work they're up to. I'll be sure to link it in the show notes in case you're interested.
I'm not going to discuss all the common sense stuff about getting ready to be pregnant again, Heck, by the time you read (hear) this you may already have a bun in the oven, and everyone knows that to prepare you should eat right, self-care, exercise, get your sleep...blah, blah blah. I mean I think those things are optimal but, if you are pregnant again with no preparation ( like I was!) I want to work on getting your mind prepared. That's the hard stuff.
I'm convinced that there's no bigger conflicting feeling in your life than when you are pregnant again following a loss. If you remember the picture of Homer Simpson that had the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other bickering back and forth, that's pretty much what the whole experience feels like.
If there's one word that sums it up = Cautious
The minute you find out you're pregnant again the excitement (maybe even relief?) floods over you. And immediately following is a recipe of terror. Remembering what you experienced last time plus the fear that it will happen again equals hope that this time will be different. How do you combat all of these opposing feelings just at the moment your hormones begin to ramp up? Well... that's where the mental preparation comes in and the sooner you can focus on it the better.
Realize that you will still have grief
It's still there. And whether you are pregnant again right after your loss or it has been 10 years there will be triggers popping up everywhere. I hated the radiologist who gruffly entered the room and told me "they're dead, there's nothing we can do about it" when my twins were stillborn, but guess who entered the room for my first sonogram with my rainbow baby? Trigger the grief. Grief doesn't magically go away because you now will get to have what you wanted in the first place. Accept that there is a part of you that is going to be grieving in some way shape or form forever, It's there because it should be, but acknowledging its place and not letting yourself feel guilty for it being there is a huge step in calming it down and keeping it manageable. Don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't feel any sadness now that you are pregnant again because it's just not reasonable for that whole experience to be erased from your mind. It is possible to feel happy for the new baby and sad about the one you lost all at the same time without feeling guilty. Think about all the other places in your life that happen where you hold two or more emotions at a time over the same thing. Then take a deep breath. It's completely normal.
Pregnancy will never be the same as you knew it
The innocence is gone. Things will never again be quite the same. My doctor told me "your pregnancy will never be the same again after you've lost a baby" Yes- I'm surrounded by people who tell it like it is. But no truer words were spoken. It's normal to worry and the best blessing is to have a great relationship with your doctor. Mine invited me to come in anytime I needed for a quick heartbeat check or scan to put my mind at ease. I didn't do it often but a few times helped me get through the day. Recognizing that even if you have had 8 super easy full-term births before your loss, this first one will have you walking a tightrope and it is perfectly normal. Sometimes the only thing that helps is the passing of the milestones and they should be celebrated along the way. Each successful sonogram or dr appt visit but the best one is when you get past the time of the loss. It allows you to start taking breaths slightly again and build momentum with each week that passes uneventfully.
Self-talk your way through it
Self-talk is one of the best ways to quiet that devil on your shoulder. It's not possible to knock him off completely and he actually does serve a purpose in keeping you safe but you are going to have to learn to manage the chatter in order to find some peace during your pregnancy. Ask yourself the following questions whenever a negative thought pops into your mind:
Is this true?
Is this helpful?
Is this kind?
For example when a thought comes up that says "You're going to lose this baby just like the last one" start by asking yourself "is this thought true?" Chances are it is not but if it is- what evidence do you have as proof of it? And is there anything that can be done to change the outcome that is within your control?
Let's take the same question and ask "Is this helpful?" I would say definitely not on this on this one. Even if there is truth to it, it is destructive and not something that would leave you feeling good or at peace in any way.
So here's the real meat here- "is this kind?" Kind to yourself. Why would you say something that is unkind to yourself and more than likely not true? But we do these things to ourselves all the time!
Think about the things you are telling yourself. It makes sense that you're scared and it makes sense that you are afraid to let your guard down in case there is a repeat of the last time, but telling yourself awful things as a way of protecting yourself is just making you feel worse.
Gather your tribe
Find other women who are in the same situation. PS there are lots of them! And connect with someone with who you can share your concerns and fears and who can cheer you along. Go to a support group, find a Facebook community or hire a coach to see you through it. It will be so much easier than trying to go it alone. The clients who work with me throughout their pregnancy after loss say they can't imagine doing it on their own because there are so many times they just needed a quick word of encouragement or someone to listen for a minute because they didn't have anyone else available who could understand. It truly can make the difference between having (at least trying to have ) a peaceful, calm pregnancy vs one that is filled with constant fear, anxiety, and stress. It's definitely something worth considering.
Talking it out
My sweet husband, sisters, and friends all deserve medals for hanging with me throughout my rainbow pregnancy. I can't imagine the Jekyll and Hyde scene that must have played out in every conversation but as I said earlier- we can hold two emotions at once and do it all the time. We hate to pay for that new handbag but love the feel of it, or we are sad to say goodbye to a beach where we just spent a week-long vacation but are excited to sleep in our own bed. I have no doubt every conversation with my husband (who is a medical professional) sounded like: "I am so excited to hold a baby in my arms again but I'm afraid the same thing will happen as last time" to which he would reply "You have no reason to think that it's going to happen again. Things are different this time" Prepare those in your close circle to say things that are uplifting and helpful by stating the facts and not just what they hope to be true. Loss mamas are gun-shy about believing in pipedreams so we need our people to tell us things like " You've already made it past where you were before" or you are healthy and strong and your doctor thinks everything is normal. We need reminders on a daily and sometimes hourly basis that this baby has a good chance of arriving safely.
Preparing for your rainbow baby takes as much or more mental preparation as it does physical preparation, and the ability to keep yourself on track. Realize that this is a new experience and that means the outcome can be completely different than last time, but for some of us, it is our last pregnancy experience so if it is- try to enjoy it as much as you can knowing the reward will be better than you ever imagined. Envision what it will be like and what you will say to this sweet new bundle when it arrives. I remember telling Madelyn the first time I held her that "mommy has been waiting a long time for you". At that point, I had been pregnant for the better part of the last year and a half and her arrival seemed long overdue but definitely worth waiting for.
A Word of Awareness:
I was going to say caution but that seems too alarming. Here is something I learned after the fact that I wish I had known so I could be aware of it: Women who have experienced a loss often times have difficulty bonding with a new baby. It's almost like we can't believe they're really here and get to stay. It may take a little longer so know that it's normal and OK and don't feel guilty if it takes a little longer.
To recap what we've discussed today I want to just reassure you that the anxiety, cautiousness, and even fear that your feeling is normal and understandable but give yourself grace knowing that you are still a grieving parent. This new baby will bring joy to your life but it won't take away the fact that you are still mourning the loss of a child. Be gentle with yourself and know you can hold more than one emotion t a time. When scary thoughts creep in ask yourself- "Is this true, Is this helpful, or is this kind?" Chances are the answers are no and can help lower the temperature in a hurry. And definitely talk about what you're feeling as much as you can. There are a lot of emotions and hormones raging so it is necessary to process them as quickly and efficiently as you can so you can move through your grief.
I hope these suggestions were helpful and you are able to use them if you are or become pregnant again in the future. As always, I would love to hear any input you have on this topic or any future topics and you can contact me on my website at jennifersenn.com.
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