Note: I wrote the bulk of this post a week and a half after Hope was born. It didn’t seem finished or ready to share at the time, so I saved it until now and have made minor adjustments. I left the perspective of time as if it was written back then. Sorry if that’s confusing. The feelings described in this post aren’t as acute now as they were then, but they’re still there and they are no less of a real part of my experience just because Hope’s due date has come and gone now.
Trigger warning to parents who have lost children. This post is about a different kind of loss, and while I am in no way trying to compare or belittle anyone’s experience of grief or loss—just sharing what I have felt lately and trying to process it—I realize that my words may bring up strong feelings in some of my readers. So please skip this one if you need to (as if anyone ever has to read my posts… Other than my husband and mom).
A day or so after Hope was born, a family member asked me how I was doing emotionally, how I was feeling about having two daughters, and some other related questions about my feelings. My honest answer at the time was “I have no idea.” I hadn’t had time yet to think about how I was feeling. It may have actually been a whole week after having Hope before I cried (though there were many tears over my situation during my hospital stay before she was born). Figuring out NICU life plus home-with-a-toddler life was such a whirlwind that my feelings were deposited in some unknown place at first and then started to leak out gradually. I’m so thankful for this. If I had been slammed with a wall of emotion (like I was after having Ella, lots of good and also some bad due to the shock of not having her with me constantly in the hospital), I don’t know how my family or I would have coped. The very slow realization of my feelings over these last (almost) two weeks has been so helpful in allowing me to process things one at a time. I can talk more in another post about how strange yet lovely it is to gradually fall in love with my newborn baby rather than experiencing mega bonding feelings right away like with Ella. This post is about the surprise of an entirely different emotion.
I was shocked at the beginning of this week to find that putting on a pair of pre-pregnancy pants made me weep.
What is this about? I asked my hormonal self. Over the next couple of hours as I headed to the hospital and pondered that moment in my bedroom, tears came to my eyes again and again until I put my finger on it: I was/am grieving the loss of my pregnancy. I know that might sound totally crazy, because my pregnancy ended with the birth of a more-or-less healthy baby. Small, yes; underdeveloped, yes; but healthy, given her circumstances. And alive. That’s the most important part. She cried right away. Her color was good. She has made rapid progress and has astounded me daily with what she is already capable of (rooting, crawling up my chest, lifting her head, looking around, sucking her fingers, the list goes on). I am grateful for and happy about so much of this experience. Really, I am. But there’s still this heaviness that comes over me when I least expect it.
My pre-pregnancy pants fit me already. Even typing that brings tears to my eyes. It’s as if I wasn’t pregnant at all, like those months of growing a human inside me never happened, as far as anyone can tell just by looking at me. As I tried to figure out how to share how I’ve been feeling with my husband, who I can tell anything to without expecting judgement, I felt silly and selfish. Our baby is alive and thriving; what right do I have to feel any sense of loss? Just because I don’t get to finish out my pregnancy to full term? But the premature ending to my pregnancy truly is a loss to me. I love being pregnant. I am so sad that I don’t get to have a great big pregnant belly this time. I see other people’s hugely pregnant pictures on social media, and I’m actually jealous. I think hugely pregnant is utterly beautiful and glorious. I don’t have any stretch marks to show for carrying this child. Just bruises from all the blood draws and Heparin shots I received in the hospital, and those are almost gone already. I don’t have any great big belly photos. I never got to take official maternity pictures this time, and I had so looked forward to special photos that included Ella. I never made it to the waddling stage or having my knees bump the underside of my belly when I climbed stairs or having to pee three times in the night or needing help getting up from lying down. I didn’t get to nest before Hope was born. She’s here already and I still have months to go before I’ll need to do any newborn laundry or set up a bed for her at home. By the time I delivered Hope, people were still assessing my belly with disbelief and asking, “You’re pregnant?”
Now, when people who knew I was pregnant see me, their first comment is almost always something like “You look great!” or “You don’t even look like you had a baby!” Luckily I’ve only been an emotional wreck in private so far, otherwise receiving this “compliment” over and over would bring me to tears right there in front of whoever meant well. I know they really do mean well, but being told indirectly—and repeatedly—that you can’t even tell I had a baby (because that’s what people mean; they’re pointing out my lack of a baby bump as a good thing) is so disheartening. I don’t want to be reminded over and over how un-pregnant I look and am. It doesn’t make me feel encouraged or pretty or great to be told with enthusiasm how quickly what little bump I had has disappeared.
Putting pre-pregnancy pants on and being able to button them is a disappointing reminder that I expected to still be expecting at this point, and I’m not. I don’t want to have a flat stomach right now. I don’t want these pants to fit. I want to feel little flutters and rolls and kicks inside of me and have to wear my husband’s sweatpants when all of my maternity-wear is in the dirty laundry.
I’m so glad Hope is doing so well. I feel like I have to emphasize that because even admitting any sense of loss to myself, much less to other people, seems sort of selfish. Part of me expects parents who have suffered the actual loss of a child to be bitter at me for feeling this way, to judge that I don’t have the right to feel loss since ultimately I will be taking my baby home. On the flip side, I’m pretty sure most people would never actually think someone else doesn’t have the right to feel what they feel. This conflict over what people would think of my feelings made me hesitant to share, but I think it’s important to give voice to the different shades of loss that occur. There are so many reasons for grief, and this experience has made me realize what a wide spectrum the word “loss” encompasses. It has made me realize there might be a lot of women like me who have gone through something hard and feel like they don’t have the right to be sad over it because ultimately things turned out just fine. I’m sharing what I’ve been feeling so that other women reading this feel less alone and feel more permission to feel what they feel and talk about it.
My overall mood about this whole situation is a happy one. I’m glad Hope is here and that she is healthy. I don’t begrudge her showing up early in order to be ok. I just feel like I lost this last quarter of my pregnancy, and I miss it, and I didn’t miss my old jeans yet. I can’t say that I’m happy to have unpacked them from the box in the attic, and I’d prefer if you don’t comment on my very un-pregnant appearance the next time you see me. Ask about Hope’s size instead. I’m proud of her size. I’m still coming to terms with mine.
(Photo Credit Micah Shumway)