This guest author is a teacher and ranch wife who spends her days wrangling calves and kids. This is her second guest post; she also authored Celtic for Sorrow.
October is infant and pregnancy loss awareness month.
And I hate it.
Some women embrace the month and its dedication to the memory of their children: unborn or lost soon after birth. It gives them a connection to the families that they dreamed to build and a chance to share their story, if they choose, or at least take some comfort in the knowledge that the world recognizes their grief, even though it can’t help with it.
But to me, October brings full circle the small, quiet thought that the memory of my lost child always brings into the deepest corner of my heart: “You’re a failure.” My close circle of friends, each aware of our loss, and most of them struggling with their own battles, tag me and reach out to me….and all I want to do is bury myself away or shout to them, “Why are you reminding me?! I’m not a mother; I’m a failure.”
I know I shouldn’t feel that way. As a scientist and a teacher, I’ve read all the research that says most of the time there is no valid reason for the loss of a pregnancy or for infertility or the death of a new child. I know it; I teach it (I’ve decided it’s one of the levels of hell, teaching teenagers–with their multitude of questions–about pregnancy and complications associated with it in their various forms).
But I do feel like I failed. Every time I visit the gravestone of my infant daughter. Every time I hold the hand of a small child. Every time someone asks if we’ve considered having more children or when we’re planning on it, thinking more than a year later the wounds have healed. Every time we ask ourselves if we’re planning on having a child.
I’m a failure.
It really shouldn’t feel that way. A year and a half after the loss of our daughter, our lives are back to normal—on the outside. I finished a Master’s degree, my husband got a promotion, we went forward with plans to build our home and broke ground…life’s moved on. But that feeling still lingers. And it’s like a sickness, invading the corners of my life.
When we lost Deirdre, we had the two week follow-up appointment. Most couples bring in their baby for a wellness check. I came in alone and sat, waiting for the doctor to call me, in a room full of newborns. Finishing the exam, she told me we could try again for a child in as little as a month, that there should be no complications.
Before we had our daughter, we had planned to remain childless. We both like children, but when told by doctors that my PCOS would be an issue, we accepted it for what it was and embraced the life we were given. During my follow-up, the doctor explained to me that our unexpected, unplanned, unlikely pregnancy had reset my body and made future pregnancies easily possible. The loss of my child had made possible future children.
I left the office stunned. Everything was different. We could have children. We could try again. Could it really be that simple? That in a month, we could try to build a family we’d never thought possible?
They don’t tell you the thought process people struggle with when choosing to try for a child after a loss. For us, we alternated between our original decision to not have children and trying again.
My husband, strong, masculine, big man that he is, was terrified. The idea of possibly losing another child, mixed with not only the memory of our stillborn daughter but also seeing me lying near death in a hospital bed, made his decision for him: No. Less than a week after we buried our daughter, I listened to my husband tell his closest friend while I slept nearby, “We could have another child. But I can never find another her. I can’t lose her.”
And I understand. I remember the fear on his face. I remember the months of struggle that it took before I could even carry my own bag to the car. I remember the doctor explaining that if my kidneys didn’t start working in two hours I would be dead.
But for me, there is more. For me, there is the little voice whispering in the back of my mind, “Failure….” This could be a chance–a chance to prove that I was not a failure, that I could create a beautiful child and protect it this time, that after feeling the world end, we could still have the happy family.
It’s not a decision to be made in a month. It took us over a year to decide that we might be ready to make a decision. As we moved on with building our home, we planned to try again, quietly, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. We got prepared: ovulation charts and kits, proper vitamins, timing, planning. A month into trying, I felt sick: highly sensitive to smell, nauseous, no period after months of clockwork flow. Could it have been that simple? Really?
Two weeks later, my period came. And with it, all the indications of a pregnancy lost in the first few weeks. There are no words to describe the emotions I felt, or maybe there are, but none that I can find to share. I was back on the rollercoaster of grief and sadness that I thought I was finally done with. And so I wait. I wait for time to heal my wounds enough that I’ll be okay, and that I can imagine trying again, setting myself up for the pain, again.
When we shared our story, somebody asked what the journey is like after the loss of a child.
This is life after child loss. It is confusing. It is overwhelming. It is heartbreaking. You alternate between wanting to share your story and be comforted and wanting to hide away and be left alone. You have good days, and now they outnumber the bad. But you still have nights where you crawl into bed and quietly whisper, “Today was a bad day.” You still doubt yourself.
But you keep going. You push through to be the person you were before, or as close as you can be. You make the choice to try again because you hope for your shot at happiness, your rainbow in the end, all while struggling to keep your head up and convince yourself, and everyone else, that you’ll be okay, and you’re prepared for the next step of the journey.