So I’m sitting here, 32 weeks pregnant, around 8 weeks away from potentially holding a healthy rainbow baby in my arms, with two conflicting thoughts running through my mind…
- How have I managed to make it through this long and tedious slog of pregnancy after loss?
- How on Earth has it simultaneously gone so fast that the end has snook up on me like a leopard in a jungle?
The last time I posted about this pregnancy journey I was 18 weeks pregnant and sharing as part of Pregnancy After Loss Awareness Week. A lot has happened since then, we have bought our first family home and moved in, and seen our baby’s face on a 4D scan, and our journey – although relatively smooth and problem free – has undoubtedly been emotional and with it’s fair share of challenges.
Physically this pregnancy has not been too different to my experience with Winter. Aside from the usual symptoms of backache and tiredness, I have managed to escape any long term discomfort or illness. If you follow my Instagram then you may know that I had a bout of heavy nosebleeds, but they came at a time when I was already feeling under the weather and some time off to rest soon solved that problem. I began to show some symptoms of SPD – Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction, a condition that usually occurs in second pregnancies onwards, and causes excessive movement of the symphysis pubis and results is sharp groin pains. However it hasn’t seemed to materialise too much and I have only had mild uncomfortable pains that have been eased by a ‘bump belt’ which straps below my bump and pulls it up to relieve the pressure on my groin. I have had repeated incidents of sugar in my wee samples and so I have been tested for Gestational Diabetes. My Glucose Tolerance Test came back as negative, although on closer inspection my midwife noted that my results were borderline and so I may be tested again at some point, however as baby appears to be growing at a perfect rate there is no cause for concern. All my cardiac and growth scans have shown a healthy baby with no heart abnormalities, and aside from swollen ankles and feet and a recent bump of iron tablets I am feeling healthy and relatively ‘normal’. All in all, a smooth and thankfully non eventful pregnancy physically. Emotionally, of course, is a whole different ball game…
When I was pregnant with Winter, everything just seemed so easy and guaranteed. Happiness, excitement, anticipation – these were the overriding emotions that I carried with me. I just sort of ‘tootled along’ in my niave and blinkered mum-to-be bubble. After birthing a healthy baby and holding him in my arms as he died a day later, it’s no real surprise that although this pregnancy has been served with a main dish of joy and hope, it also arrived with a side salad of fear, anxiety and actually quite a lot of sadness.
There are so many delicate aspects to pregnancy that appear only after a loss. Expectant mothers in these situations are faced with a whole new world of confusing and exhausting thoughts and experiences. One unexpected neonatal death and 2 very early miscarriages, and suddenly the possibility of falling pregnant seems like a mountainous feat, and growing a baby for 40 long weeks and delivering them safely Earth side seems near on impossible. I found myself asking ‘how did all these humans make it onto this planet?’. All these mothers walking around with live babies, ‘how do I get one?!’. For me personally, I have found that I was so afraid of miscarrying or my baby dying early on that I wasn’t able to plan ahead for a baby coming home for a long time. I was too afraid to make any preparations, too scared to buy another tiny baby outfit or Moses basket that would sit unused and starkly empty of life. I was 9 weeks pregnant with Winter when I purchased my first little baby item. I hadn’t even attended my first midwife appointment, my confidence of having a baby rested solely on a single positive test. Ironically it was a knitted woollen hat with a tassel that I bought from a ‘Friends Of The Baby Unit’ stand at a fayre, the very same charity that we now support in Winters memory. With this little rainbow baby I was 22 weeks when we picked up our first outfit, and as we stood paying at the till I felt as though I was leaping across a raging river, it was a dangerous, daring and magnificent accomplishment.
During the weeks of mid twenties, as my belly rounded and back gave in to pains, I also found many opportunities to master the dreaded ‘Is this your first?’ query. It is actually a question that still makes me nervous to date, I sense it’s arrival in conversation and I feel myself turning pink in anticipation, but never the less I have grown in confidence in my reply. I choose to always say it is my second, regardless of the situation or person, after all, it is my second baby so why say otherwise? And I have realised that the response from the other person depends on two things… how confidently and gently I reply, and their own emotional standing. Of course I don’t divulge my entire traumatic birth story to the 16 year old cashier at H&M, I carefully choose my responses. If the conversation takes me to talk of Winter then I do, I am just forever mindful of dropping a giant emotional bombshell and so I will say things like ‘Our first baby was very poorly and didn’t come home from the hospital, we are very much looking forward to meeting his brother or sister… Only 8 weeks to go!’ The other person has a choice of acknowledging that our baby died or taking the other thread and talking about how soon this baby will arrive. So far, bar one very early and unexpected moment, I have escaped any uncomfortable experiences… or maybe I have just been so proud that I had said my well rehearsed line that I didn’t actually notice!
At 26 weeks pregnant we moved into our new house. It is our first purchase, a beautiful 3 bed new build, and a million miles away from the tiny rented pad we lived in for 6 years previously. Leaving Winters nursery was crushing, and I’m still not sure I’ve made peace with that. Of course it is just a box in a house, and he is with us wherever we are, but that will always be Winters room to me. I wrote in length about this on Instagram so I don’t want to repeat myself, all I will say is that I am continuing to find ways to include our firstborn angel in our new home. It is, unsurprisingly, very important to me that he has a presence in this new space, and I am able to see his little face as I walk around the house. Organising the nursery here has been bittersweet. On the one hand we are carried by the love for our womb baby and on the other we are reminded that our last efforts ended in absolute heartbreak, and so we are working to find a balance of both honouring Winter in the nursery, and creating a space that is individual to our newest arrival. Originally I had hoped to use the same wallpaper as Winter, little Indian tepee’s, and I was upset when I realised it wasn’t really possible for several reasons, but now I see this as a blessing and an opportunity to give this new baby a personalised place that has been created especially for them.
At 32 weeks, I am now arriving at the part of pregnancy where ‘preparation panic’ sets in. I remember it well with Winter, you’re there just floating along, buying baby clothes and smiling as strangers admire your growing bump, when suddenly you’re 30 weeks deep and the finish line is in sight. With Winter I was panic buying breast pumps and fretting over how to change a nappy, but I was also quietly self assured about my labour having read various hypnobirthing books and I had more free time for yoga and baths and self care. This time I am not only amidst the wreckage of a recent house move, but I am also facing an entirely more frightening prospect – labour and delivery of a healthy baby. My midwife appointment at 29 weeks awoke this fear that I have happily left in slumber for the majority of my pregnancy. So focused on staying pregnant, the realisation that I have to face the other major fear of actually birthing this baby is something I had reserved for the future. Now the future is here and I have to actively take control of this anxiety and steer myself towards a relaxed and healthy labour. Whilst my actual birth with Winter was really quite uneventful and smooth (read my birth story here), he stopped breathing shortly after I delivered his placenta and he was taken out of my arms to be resuscitated. My memories of this moment are of pure panic and terror. I cannot forget the nurse looking at me and saying ‘I need you to know that your baby might die’ – and of course, he did. For me, this experience can’t be separated from my labour, it is merged into one deeply traumatic memory. Is it any wonder that I am frightened this time? What greater fear is there than a tangible reality that your child could die before, during or moments after birth? Whilst my scans have reassured me that this baby is so far thriving, I am also hyper aware that Winters condition that ultimately caused his death would not have been detected on any scans. He suffered from PPHN, which is a functional failure rather than a structural failure, in other words it was something that went wrong in that moment, rather than something inherently wrong physically. After being tossed into the baby loss world, I am naturally also more aware of all the million ways that a baby can die at labour. It is of course both a reality and an entirely skewed perspective. My main job now is to overcome this fear and gift this baby the best birth possible. My consultant offered me the choice of elective C-section to alleviate any anxiety, but I already stand firm in my decision to labour as naturally as possible and to have medical intervention only if and when it is needed. If baby becomes distressed or ill then it goes without saying that I will do whatever is necessary to bring them safely into this world, and I am also considering the possibility of induction if my anxiety sky rockets if I happen to go overdue, but generally I am putting faith in my body as much as possible and using these last weeks to prepare myself mentally. The phrase ‘mind over matter’ could not be more relevant right now.
Alongside the fear, there is the sadness. Growing this baby is such an amazing stroke of luck and everyday I am thankful for my occupied womb, and by admitting my undercurrent of sadness I feel as though I am letting this baby down somehow, or for those women still desperately trying to conceive, I may come across as ungrateful. But here I am confessing that although there are many moments of highs, there are also my moments of lows. I have lay in bed feeling wriggles and kicks, with both a smile on my face and tears on my cheeks. Every time my heart grows to house the extra love for this baby, it also exposes another crack. ‘Bittersweet’ is absolutely the word that summarises my experience of this pregnancy. I love this baby so much, and I love Winter equally. One will hopefully make it safely into this world and grow and bloom into a kind and loving being, whilst the other remains eternally out of my reach and his growth and bloomability exists only as a figment of my own starved and grasping imagination. Is it ok to admit that this pregnancy hasn’t bought me purely a peaceful satisfaction? It feels so wrong to say that I have sat and cried whilst carrying my much wanted and already much loved baby, but it’s the truth. Expecting a baby after losing one is simply not the easy breezy, picture perfect journey that we project pregnancy to be. It isn’t the catalogue photoshoot of a couple smiling and choosing nursery décor. It is highs and lows and highs, it is jumping from the penthouse suite, hitting the concrete at full force and somehow clawing your way back up to the top. It is gratitude and hope and joy, and being forced to face your ultimate fear of another baby dying. It is a raw, conflicting, emotional and valid happysad journey that takes courage and a huge amount of mental strength to navigate successfully. Babies die, and rainbow babies die too. Whilst tiptoeing along this wobbly path, three of my fellow loss mother friends have been confronted with the reality of their rainbow dying. To say my heart breaks for them is an understatement. Alongside their pain I have also seen rainbows lost to early miscarriages and failed IVF attempts. We are a crowd of desperately longing mothers, beginning our own weighty journeys, each carrying a tiny egg and a heart full of hope, dragging with us the weight of grief, crawling in a muddy field as snipers open fire to snatch away our dream, and we are all desperate to make it to the finish line with the ultimate prize… a healthy live baby to bring home and keep forever. I wish for us all to achieve that dream, I know that in this world of child loss and trying to conceive, I am actually one of the lucky ones, a feeling that comes loaded with both gratitude and guilt.
And finally I would like to end on a note of hope and excitement. This pregnancy has been so very difficult at times, and yet here I am, embracing it as much as possible. I am now emotionally self assured enough to buy clothes for this baby, and today I was excited as our car seat arrived. Little victories. The fear never stops, the longing to have Winter here is forever overwhelming, the voice in the back of my mind that whispers ‘what if…‘ is excruciatingly present, but we have made it this far and despite it all I love being pregnant and feeling this new life blossom inside me. We simply can’t wait to meet our rainbow. I have been sure to capture memories and enjoy the rolls and kicks, after all Winter taught me that life is too short to not count our blessings at every possible opportunity.
If you would like to have a guess at our rainbow baby’s gender, due date and weight with the chance of winning a prize, then you can take part in Winters Rainbow Fundraiser by clicking here and leaving your guess with a small donation and your contact details. My official due date is 19th August… good luck!