Thursday, October 29, 2020

Living with Pregnancy after Loss

We went to Descanso Gardens for a walk the week before my 31st birthday.  It is always really sweet to find ourselves there, since it's where we got married in 2015.  It hits me every time we come here how time flies so quickly, and this time the feeling was even more poignant.  Another year around the sun, another life ready to enter the world, another five years since we said, "I do."  We've grown a lot, and yet we still have so much left to experience together.  I've taken some time to reflect on where we are in our lives right now and how to make the most out of this waiting period.  

First of all, I can’t believe that we’re in month 6 of this pregnancy.  With the trauma of recurrent pregnancy loss, I'm still afraid that I'll never get to the finish line, but looking back, I see that we've gotten through two-thirds of the course and everything has been fine.  Pregnancy felt dangerous, emotionally unbearable, and unreal until more recently.  I’ve been disappointed with pregnancy in the past, so it’s been difficult to relax and rejoice like how glowing mothers-to-be are commonly (and probably inaccurately) portrayed.  I've been impatient and often doubtful more than I've been happy and hopeful, though I can attribute some of those sentiments to the pandemic.  I desperately want to know that things are going to be okay this time and that we’ll get to meet our kid for real.  I find myself wishing that I could just fast-forward to when the baby's out and we can start our family life. 

The days feel long and the countdown seems endless, even now.  The pressure to carry this one through is definitely strong.  I am slowly checking off milestones though, week by week, and realizing that there must be a reason why humans carry for 40 weeks—it gives us time to reevaluate, to reflect, to revel, to rest.  For me, I needed to sort out why I was still clinging to negative emotions in what should really be a time to be hopeful.  After listening to a really moving meditation on change, loss, and timeless love by Tara Brach, I realized that everything I had been doing up to this point has fallen squarely the five stages of grief in the Kübler-Ross model.  But what was I still grieving?  I had accepted that the miscarriages had happened.  It was the innocence that I had lost along with them that I was still not over.

The first time we conceived, it was within the same month as moving into our new house.  I took a pregnancy test in secret and when it came up positive, I made a plan to surprise Wes on our anniversary, which was only a few days away.  It all seemed to work out so perfectly.  On the day of our anniversary, we went to Descanso Gardens and I gave him a hand-drawn card while we were walking around the Oak Forest, which is the site of our wedding ceremony.  I felt butterflies in my stomach when he opened it and read to the bottom, where I revealed in words that we were expecting a baby in April.  He looked up at me and actually was wiping tears from his eyes.  He didn't even cry on our wedding day!  Of course, we never got our happy ending to this beautiful beginning.  We lost that one, and I remember that the part that bothered me the most was that Wes had wasted his tears.  The second time we got pregnant, I never even entertained doing anything special, but I remained cautiously optimistic.  And when that one ended too, I was crushed.  All of the magic had been completely extinguished from the idea of pregnancy.  This is the part that I had not come to accept.

The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.  Denial—I was in denial of being in a healthy pregnancy right now.  I was using this as a way to protect myself, in case something bad happened again.  Anger—I would lapse in and out of being angry that I wasn't able to have a "normal," happy pregnancy.  I was angry at myself for still being anxious and would inwardly feel angry at people who were giving me well-intentioned advice about not worrying, or telling me to "enjoy" being pregnant.  Bargaining—I was telling myself, "It'll be safe to act like a 'normal' pregnant woman after the next ultrasound."  But never was there a milestone that was truly a dealbreaker.  Depression—this phase occurred during the miscarriages in full force.  Fortunately, I haven't felt depressed this pregnancy, but I've definitely felt an irrational sense of anxiety and paranoia.  I think it's because I am so afraid to be in that dark place again that the thought of being depressed again made me anxious.  I'd come to realize that after all this time, I was still very much resentful of the past and I hated so much that it had so much power over me, yet I didn't know how to break free.  Though I've learned really important lessons from the miscarriages, I felt that they were taking away from my maternity experience, which is supposed to be such a special time.

While it is really important to have grace with myself and to realize that this is the reality of pregnancy after loss, it is also crucial to realize that I’ve been resistive to the opportunity to grow and to see who I am beyond the scars left by two miscarriages.  I have been guilting myself out of trusting myself.  I thought that getting pregnant would make me feel whole again, and that I could finally start to visualize how motherhood will be, but the mental block was stronger than bodily evidence.  Until I could free my mind from the unhealthy thinking patterns, all of the physical proof in the world wouldn’t be enough.  Shifting perspectives has not been easy at all, but here's a quote that I read somewhere that I love:

"No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future."

It’s taken me 25 weeks (or, let's say almost 31 years) to come to terms with the fact that it isn’t useful to live in either the shadow or the fear of regret, even though it somehow feels smarter, safer, and weirdly more noble.  I'm not saying that I've overcome this yet, but being aware of this is the first step to improving my relationship with myself in general.  Tensing up gives me the illusion of having the sense of control that I desire, but it's actually very shallow.  Though it’s a coping mechanism that sometimes has worked in my past, it isn’t sustainable anymore, especially not for a pregnancy, not for parenthood.  Deliberately saving myself from getting hurt again prevents me from being present, from showing up for those around me fully, including the baby and Wes.  

When I think back to that exciting time when I first surprised Wes under our favorite oak tree, I really treasure that memory and I can still relive it clearly.  Yes, we were naive and unsuspecting, and we ended up being so disappointed and sorry.  But nothing can tarnish the purity of that moment, because we were both 100% there for it, with no reservations.  Now, we have new memories to make, like thinking of a name, shopping for baby stuff, taking maternity photos, feeling the baby's kicks, and all.  We've wanted to be in this time for so long, and now it's actually here.  If something horrible shall occur later, it should have no bearing on how special we can make these moments.  Someday, I still would like to have memories from this pregnancy to look back on with as much joy and appreciation as that sweet moment under the tree.  

Wes has been a steadfast and positive energy throughout everything.  I know that I can count on him to bring me back to the present when my mind wanders into the past or the future.  It's both nice and annoying that he knows me so well and can point things out.  The most important thing is that he has never judged me for my issues and is loyal and loving as can be, despite being the voice of reason and the one who needs to snap me out of my cycles.  I can confidently say that he's going to be an amazing counterpart to me when he becomes a father.  Wow, eek, "father and mother"'s all starting to sink in now, but I won't stop it anymore.

I still will always grieve what happened in our past, but it is true that time and meditation heals.  I'm realizing that in the absence of control, I can cultivate the presence of mindfulness.  While it isn't possible to have the control that I wish to have, I can be mindful of how disappointing things affect me and how I choose to respond.  I can notice the emotions, make sense of them without judgment, remove myself from attachments, and move forward without shame.  I know that I have a long way to go--that part of me that wants to have control and perfection has not been totally silenced, but it has been softened and redefined.  I'm actually thankful for the long and twisted path to becoming a mother; it’s given me the time and courage to lean into my relationship with myself before facing the myriad of unpredictable challenges ahead.  I couldn’t be more honored to be on this very profound journey, the learning experience of a lifetime.  There are but three months left, and I have a sneaking feeling that they will fly by.  This baby may not be born yet, and my maternity experience may have started off rocky, but this little shoulder season of life has already taught me so much.

Props to Wes for all the photos, too!

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