On December 17th, 2016 we got the most wonderful yet terrifying news that we were expecting again after losing Jacob just 5 months earlier. My doctor had cleared us to start trying in December, but we were far from confident that we would be blessed so quickly with another little one, and we were surprised to say the least when the pregnancy test showed positive. We had been saying for months that the next pregnancy, our Pregnancy After Loss (PAL), would be the scariest 9 months (God willing it would last that long) of our lives, and here we were, standing at the precipice.
There were immediate causes for alarm, too. I was just getting over a very bad bout of either food poisoning or a 24 hour stomach bug, complete with fever and chills, and I was terrified of what that might do to the baby that was currently in its most vulnerable stage. It was followed soon after with a bad cold while on a family trip to Canada for Christmas. Not to mention I had experienced losses at both 8 weeks and 39 weeks, so every stage of pregnancy felt (still feels) exceedingly dangerous to me.
On the lighter side, when I say we were surprised, I mean we really couldn’t believe how quickly, immediately even, this happened for us after being cleared to try again – emotions ranged from extreme gratefulness and joy to intense feelings of unpreparedness and fear. But the funny part is we kind of weren’t surprised because there had been several signs in the days leading up to the positive test that clued us in that there might be something going on. The first one was several days earlier when one of our cats (Cato, Erik’s cat from before we met) who really doesn’t care for me except when I’m pregnant (and he is obsessed with me, read: the baby), jumped up on my lap while I was reading on the couch. This cat basically doesn’t come near me except when I am pregnant, so I am beginning to think he is more reliable than First Response (and apparently provides earlier results!). Since then he sits on or next to my lap every chance he gets and if there’s a period of time where I’m sitting and he doesn’t join me we start to wonder if something is wrong with Ella Jane (sounds ridiculous I know, but this is the reality of PAL brain). Next, a few days after the cat incident but still a few before I could take a test, my dad stopped by to drop something off to me, and I said “Dad you smell really strongly of oranges.” His only explanation was that he had some one in his pocket earlier in the day but he had already taken it out….hmmmmm. Then there was opening a can of cat food and almost vomiting from the smell. Truly I’d almost recommend anyone trying to conceive just get a cat rather than a bunch of pregnancy tests…but I still think the cat ends up being the more expensive option in the long run ;). So when that second line appeared on the test, I was somewhere between “see, I’m NOT CRAZY!” and “NO WAY this cannot be happening I was sure I made it all up in my head.”
Once the initial shock/excitement/fear dulled a bit, I entered a phase of several weeks where I felt kind of numb to being pregnant again. I barely thought about it. I think this was a form of self-preservation knowing anxiety and worry were inevitable later on, and that at this point, if something were to go wrong, there would be nothing that could be done by me or by any doctor.
Initially it was hard for me not to tell everyone. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops…after all, I knew now that no stage of pregnancy is “safe” and I wanted to celebrate this little one for however long I could. However, as time went on, that urge dulled too. When 14 weeks rolled around, which is the time Erik and I agreed we would start sharing with close friends and extended family (we did tell immediate family right away), I was extremely uncomfortable doing so. I had to psych myself up for it, and for most people, I told them by text or email because it was just easier not to deal with the emotions of telling people face-to-face and trying to explain that although I was grateful and happy, I was almost even more afraid and anxious. Each person I told felt like another person I would have to “un-tell” if something went wrong, and that was a difficult feeling to overcome to say the least.
In the meantime, I basically lived for doctor’s appointments to confirm baby was still alive. It was really hard for me, having just been full-term pregnant 5 months prior, to wrap my head around the fact that I didn’t have a big belly and constant kicks to re-assure me of my baby’s well-being. Thankfully, my doctor has been extremely compassionate, and she was willing to see me more often than typical in early pregnancy. I did have to wait until 8 weeks for my first appointment, because that is when there is the best chance of seeing a heartbeat and having statistical reassurance that baby is sticking around. The wait between 4 weeks when I got my positive and 8 weeks when I got to see baby’s heartbeat was absolutely the longest month of my life. We had another quick ultrasound at 11 weeks to confirm all was still going well, and I continued to be seen about every 2-3 weeks after that to listen to the heartbeat with the doppler. That reassurance was critical, because I didn’t feel baby move until 18 weeks (later than when I first felt Jacob), and I made a decision not to purchase a home doppler.
Many loss moms swear by having a doppler at home to listen to their rainbow baby’s heartbeat and feel reassured when doubts arose. However, I had heard many stories of how heart-wrenching and anxiety-provoking it could be to struggle to find baby’s heartbeat (because dopplers really aren’t all that easy to use, especially early in pregnancy). Even when it was found several minutes later, those several minutes were unbearable for those PAL moms, and I didn’t want that experience. I weighed the pros and cons and how I thought I would react if I had trouble using the doppler, and decided that for me, it would cause more anxiety to have it in my house than not. Also, being blessed with a compassionate doctor, I knew that if I was having a day of extreme anxiety, I could call and have her or a nurse use their doppler skills to reassure me. Somewhat surprisingly, through prayer, meditation, yoga, and therapy, that actually never happened that I called the doctor just to go in for a quick HB check.
I think the biggest trial of the first trimester was the wait for each doctor’s appointment and the nerves leading up to them. Without feeling movement yet, I never knew whether I might get the worst news each time we went in. Unfortunately, I also never felt as re-assured as I hoped I would after the appointments either. Although my doctor was very positive about how things were developing on the ultrasound and baby’s heartbeat always sounded strong, no one could convince me that it couldn’t change in an instant. I guess this is why the numbness set in a bit…looking back, that was probably the only way through those difficult first 14 weeks.
Toward the end of the first trimester, we did genetic testing and found out we were having a baby girl!! I had thought a lot about whether I had a gender preference before we got our results. My #1 goal was a healthy baby, absolutely. I didn’t have a true preference, but I did have a strong sense that (a) I was all prepared for a baby boy before, and I am crushed to not have my baby boy, so it will be hard to re-adjust for a different gender in the pregnancy, AND (b) It would be emotionally easier to separate the two experiences in my mind if I was having a girl, and I was worried if it was a boy it might get a bit muddled emotionally (I didn’t want to feel either internally, or have others feel, that this baby could somehow replace Jacob, and that was more likely to happen if it was a boy). So, not really a clear answer there.
When I actually received that news, I was again a bit numb. It took a while to sink in. Once it did, my emotions ranged from excitement over buying cute girly things (which surprised me a little) and having a daughter to bond with as she grew up, to being even more terrified than before of losing her because it felt so much more real now. We had already decided on the name Eleanor Jane (calling her Ella Jane) as our girl name while I was pregnant with Jacob, so we almost immediately started using that name when we thought and spoke of her. I was terrified about that too. I was afraid we would again use a name we loved to name a baby who would die. Now I know it’s not the “loss” of the name that I really grieve, it’s the loss of Jacob, my son, my baby, my firstborn, but my brain doesn’t control my heart, and that fear of calling her by a name we loved and then losing her was very real for some reason. Probably it was that calling her by name naturally stripped away some of my numbness and made me feel increasing love and affection toward her that I couldn’t deny would be devastating to lose.
Looking back, that first trimester was incredibly difficult. I remember thinking at the time that it might be the easiest part of this pregnancy, because I was sure my anxiety would peak in the third trimester. While that may still be true, it is not lost on me in hindsight that the first trimester was more of an emotional rollercoaster than I expected. And in general, time moved much slower during that phase than it seems to be moving now that I have her squirming and kicking in my belly and the ultimate goal of a healthy delivery is in much closer range. I am so thankful to have come as far as we have today, and for each little movement, moment, hour, and day that I know she is alive and with me still.