Pregnancy After Loss: How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?

With March being Pregnancy After Loss (PAL) Awareness Month, it has me thinking back to my most recent pregnancy (which seems like a lifetime ago). I had a healthy baby boy via a planned Cesarean in September 2020, and it made me realize I underestimated how much my soul needed another child to physically care for. And also, how much it would still ache for my child I never got the chance to.

The following is what I captured during summer 2020 when I had 10 weeks of my pregnancy to go.

So far I am at 26 weeks, but my record is 39. Pregnancy after loss is really hard. You kind of know what you’re getting into, but when you’re in it, you wonder how you can make it months without having some sort of emotional breakdown, or worrying yourself into the hospital. Because you know all too well that you can do everything right, and still lose your baby.
In general, I have no idea what it’s like to get pregnant right when you start trying (or when you aren’t even trying) and then have an uneventful, successful pregnancy with no risks or complications. To never know loss, to never know disappointment. To never hear the words, “I’m so sorry but your daughter didn’t make it,” or, “I’m so sorry but there is no heartbeat,” or “Many people experience infertility…it could be months or years before you even get pregnant,” or “Miscarriages are very common and most women go onto having successful pregnancies after.”
When people say it’s hard for them to relate to me or they “can’t imagine” my experience, I often feel the same way about them and theirs. I don’t know what it’s like to only have happy, exciting memories of pregnancy and birth. Or those movie-like scenes where you have a vaginal delivery (and it’s usually semi-comical with a screaming mom and a panicked dad), they hand you your baby, you and your spouse kiss, and it’s all so magical and predictable. Does that really happen? It must, because it’s in every movie and every commercial, ever.

The Unexpected

Even my experience with my first child, who was born living and healthy, was far from what I expected. It took almost a year to conceive following a miscarriage. Then I experienced a high risk pregnancy with numerous medications, appointments, infusions, an unsuccessful induction, an unplanned C-section, and unplanned transfusions after an unplanned horrible physical and emotional recovery. He was a baby who puked constantly (so much that I rarely brought him anywhere) and still 3.5 years later doesn’t always sleep through the night (which I’m actually ok with, because at least I know he is still alive when we wakes up crying).
Well, little did I know after my experience with my son that it could get worse…a lot worse. I lost my second child, my daughter, unexpectedly and traumatically at birth. And I would take 1,000 C-sections and sleepless nights the rest of my life if it meant changing the outcome. I would take a “whoops” pregnancy over no pregnancy. Overall, I would do pretty much anything to get her back. And now, to ensure the safe arrival of this new baby.
I am beyond grateful for my son and love being his mother. He has never been “easy,” from conceiving to pregnancy to delivery and beyond; but he is literally the joy and light in my life. Being able to care for him saved me from staying in a really dark place after the death of my daughter. I recognize that I am lucky to have a living child who kept me up at night and puked on everything and throws tantrums. I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to parent a living child. And I will never take that for granted.

Loss of Control

I have learned the hard way that I have little to no control over what actually happens. And that is really hard to accept for a Type A control freak mom who has lost a child.
I have less than 10 weeks of this pregnancy left if all goes as planned. And in these next 10 weeks I will have to purposefully shift my focus away from the negatives. A lot. I have about a 94% chance that everything will turn out just fine. That baby and I will be ok. But I also know, that when it’s all said and done, the odds don’t really matter. There are no guarantees or assurances anyone can give me that will put my mind and nerves at ease.

Trying to Catch My Breath

The thing is, I’ve never truly been able to catch my breath since losing my daughter. I’ve been in a constant state of struggle for years. Maybe, in 10 weeks time, I will feel some sort of relief; some sort of calm. No struggling. No panic. I will be holding a living child in my arms. A child I can physically parent. A child I don’t have to pick out a casket for. A child who pukes on everything and keeps me up at night.
That is what I’m hopeful for. And until then, I’m thankful for those who give me oxygen until I can truly breathe on my own again.
If you have experienced pregnancy after loss and are in need of support, check out the Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS) website for more information or the local Haven Midwest. 
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Nikki Hillman
Nikki is a mom to five (two living, three angels), wife, educator, library media specialist, high-school coach, writer, church go-er, and beer drinker. Born and raised in western North Dakota (where the buffaloes literally roam), she now lives just outside of Horace, ND. Nikki will always be a small-town girl at heart, but loves experiencing Fargo area events; including sporting events, bars, breweries + wineries, restaurants, and shops.


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