I will say, this month has been a welcome distraction from the pregnancy. I haven't had as much time as I usually do to obsess over my next doctor's appointment and compare each and every symptom to my pregnancy with Lily. But, now that things are settling down, I know what's coming. I'm in my 18th week of this pregnancy. Why is that significant? We found out around 19 weeks at our anatomy scan that Lily had died, but she had died at least a week earlier. That means the baby growing inside me right now is exactly the size that Lily was when I held her in my hands for those two hours on Father's Day of last year. This baby, right now, has the exact same sized feet and hands and little lips that Lily had when she came into and swiftly left this world. If I could peer into my tummy and look at this little one, I would see little difference between him or her and the images I have of Lily in my head.
Knowing that brings a whole host of other worries. If Lily died at this point in my pregnancy, maybe this baby will die here too. Maybe they were wrong, and it wasn't a freak cord accident, but some genetic defect that showed itself at 18 weeks and this baby has the same issue. Maybe at this point in the pregnancy my body turned on Lily and is getting ready to turn on this baby too.
Not only do these worries fill my head and my heart, I can't stop myself from comparing this pregnancy to Lily's in every way. Am I showing as much as I did with Lily? I never felt her move, not once, and I still haven't felt completely sure that I've felt this baby move either. Why is that? The other moms I've talked to have definitely felt movement by this time. What's wrong with me? What's wrong with this baby? I try to remind myself that I didn't feel the twins until I was around 22 weeks, and good grief there was two of them in there, but still, I can't help but worry about it.
I remember in my last two weeks or so of my pregnancy with Lily I noticed one morning that I hardly looked pregnant at all. I had been steadily growing a nice little baby bump with her, and I remember very suddenly one day that it looked less prominent, as if from then on, I just stopped growing. Well, Lily had died and had in fact stopped growing, but last night I looked in the mirror and thought to myself that I didn't look as pregnant as I did the day before. I immediately had a minor mental freak out and ran to get my Doppler and find the baby's heartbeat, even though I had checked it and it was fine only hours before. Sure enough, the baby was still alive. But every time I find the heartbeat, every time I think, "The baby is still alive," it is immediately followed by "for now".
This is what pregnancy after a loss, or in my case, multiple losses, is like (for me anyway). It is plastering a smile on your face when people ask you how things are going and saying, "So far so good". While in your head you are thinking, "I think. I mean I haven't checked the heartbeat since last night so for all I know the baby is actually dead right now but you probably don't want to know that."
It is thanking God every time you puke your guts out, even when you are far past the point that you should be puking your guts out, because at least that means things are still progressing. It is also having the realization that you puked every single morning up until the day you gave birth to Lily, so maybe it isn't as reassuring as you thought.
It is sobbing in the doctor's office when she used the Doppler for less than five seconds and couldn't get a read on the heartbeat so she decides to pull in the ultrasound machine "just to give you peace of mind". The sobbing comes from a gripping fear that maybe the baby died in the two hours between you checking the heartbeat at home and her checking it right now. It also comes from realizing that you will never, ever be able to enjoy these moments in pregnancy like other women and you are certifiably nuts for sobbing because the doctor tried for five seconds to find the baby when you know the baby is much higher up than where she checked.
It is holding your breath each and every time you go to the bathroom, hoping you don't see blood or something equally terrifying. It is never getting to a point where you don't expect to see it, even when you are past the point where it would be a sure sign of miscarriage.
It is trying your very best, but failing miserably, to not bond with the baby growing inside you. It is refusing to know the sex of the baby, refusing to think about names, not daring even for a moment to include the baby in your plans past your due date. It is forcing yourself to buy maternity clothing even though every fiber in your being is screaming at you that it is a huge waste of money if you won't need them anymore in a week or two.
It is not trusting your own body to care for the baby inside you, and feeling completely betrayed by it for not being able to carry your other babies to term. It is having no idea why you were able to have healthy babies at one point, but not anymore, and wondering why you seem to be incapable of doing what every woman is supposed to be able to do, keep her babies alive.
It is lying on your back and prodding at your belly praying that you will feel something to reassure you that the baby is alive and well in there. It is feeling something that could possibly be the baby, and immediately talking yourself out of it because your heart won't even let you go there.
It is giving up on the hundreds of "pregnancy no-no's" that the world has come up with in the seven years since you've had a healthy pregnancy because you didn't even know you weren't supposed to have lunch meats or soft cheeses or caffeine or soft serve ice cream for goodness' sake when you had your healthy babies years ago, but followed every rule in the book with your other pregnancies and guess what? The babies died anyway. It is eating a turkey sandwich with a bleu cheese side salad and washing it down with a coke and an ice cream cone and knowing that you have little to no control over whether this baby will die or not, and you wish you could go back to a time where you thought not doing those things would make a difference.
It is watching your daughter kiss your belly and talk to the baby and being torn between feeling absolutely touched that she cares that much and absolutely terrified that she does. It your children asking, "Is the baby still alive today?" instead of "How's the baby?" because they just know too much.
It is people asking you if you're having a boy or a girl, and if you have a preference, and you answering, "Yes. I prefer that the baby be alive when it's born." And them looking at you like you're joking, but you aren't, even a little bit.
It is still having the mentality of a woman who can't carry a healthy baby to term, of a "baby loss mom" but suddenly not "belonging" to that club anymore, because you are, in fact, carrying a seemingly healthy baby right now. You still feel all the same emotions and struggles as you did before, but it is as if you're no longer welcome to express them to other women experiencing loss or infertility. Because now you're one of those women. The pregnant ones who can't possibly know our pain. Who surely instantly forgot what it was like to lose pregnancy after pregnancy and bury a tiny dead baby and grieve her every day just because now she's pregnant again.
It is looking at a healthy pregnant woman and feeling jealous of her. Actually, truly, really jealous of her, and then realizing that you are pregnant too, and you are absolutely insane for feeling that way. Maybe it's because you know you'll never be a healthy pregnant woman again, ever. You're far too damaged.
It is not talking any photos of your growing belly because you're afraid to somehow jinx the pregnancy. It is mustering up the courage to take one picture of your new pregnant profile but instantly regretting it for fear that it will be the last one you ever take.
It is realizing yet another year has gone by, and you still do not have the baby you started trying for years ago. It is someone commenting that there will be "quite the large age gap" between your kids and you wanting to smack them and say, "I DIDN'T PLAN FOR IT TO BE SO BIG!!!"
It is getting to a point in your pregnancy when you realize that the baby has grown to a size that you will now be forced to deliver it if it dies. That you are past the point of being put to sleep and having things taken care of for you, now you will want to hold that baby and see what they look like and bury it in a tiny little casket. It is wondering if there is room next to that other tiny little grave for one more, and wondering if you even have the strength necessary to do that all over again.
I think there is a great misconception that once a woman gets pregnant after experiencing miscarriages or stillbirth or an early infant loss, that she must be overwhelmed with gratitude that she "has another chance" at getting the baby she's longed for. This is just not accurate. What people don't understand is this: She had the baby she's been longing for. It died.
Pregnancy after a loss is not a replacement, it is not a second chance to get what you tried to get the first time, or the second time, or the third time, or in my case, the fourth time, it is simply another chance to lose. To lose another piece of you that you'll never get back, to lose another baby and add another charm to your necklace, to have your heart shattered once again after gluing it back together so many times before. It is a dark cloud that holds looming possibilities, and only a glimmer of hope that things will go your way.
At least that's what it is for me.
Let's make no mistake. I am so thankful that God has blessed me with this pregnancy, despite my gripping fears and damaged heart. In the rare moments when I let my mind wander to the possibility of one day holding this baby and laughing through my tears at their beautiful face, when I think about who they might look like and how it would feel to finally take a baby home to Jake and Eisley, I plead that the Lord will allow that. But those moments are short-lived and are very quickly swallowed up by the reality of my past.
As the weeks progress, it has definitely gotten a bit easier. The first few weeks and months were, as I've mentioned before, filled with denial and fear. Those emotions have given way to cautious optimism, but the emphasis is heavily on the cautious. But as this baby continues to grow, as I continue to grow, I am being forced to accept the fact that this baby is here. There is a little person with me every day, that I am going to hold and kiss and love completely, whether they are born crying or still. I might as well accept that fact.
Every once in awhile, when we're lying in bed right before falling asleep, I will ask Josh, "Do you think this baby is going to make it?" He will answer me, "I hope so." The other day he put his hand on my tummy for the very first time, and I almost started crying because I realized that he's going through the same things I am. He's trying to protect his heart too, and wrestling with the emotions of knowing there's a baby growing in there and not wanting to get his hopes up too much. But in that moment, he pushed his fears aside and let himself accept it.
We're having another baby, it's happening. We don't know if this baby will be born alive or not, but it will be born. We will hold it, we will love it, we will welcome it into our family and into our hearts. Knowing that fact honestly makes it easier for me to bond with this little one, knowing I will hold him or her, no matter what, and see what they look like and who they look like. That might sound completely morbid or backward or whatever, but it is what it is. We're dealing with all of this in the best way we know how, and we are working hard to give our fears to the Lord and allow Him to work on our hearts.
People tell me all the time that the Lord will not give me more than I can handle. A friend of mine reminded me the other day that she didn't think that was true actually, that the Lord absolutely gives us more than we can handle at times, so that we are forced to lean into Him and allow Him to help us with our load. I have to completely agree. This pregnancy is more than I can handle. It is more than my heart can accept and more than I can deal with emotionally. And sure enough, I have no other choice but to give it to God and let Him work on my heart and help me carry the load. The alternative is cracking under the pressure of it all and completely abandoning my faith and what I know in my heart to be true, that the Lord loves me and wants the best for me and my family, that He has a greater plan than what I can see right now, that He wants so desperately for me to be a part of His will and all I need to do is follow Him. I have absolutely no desire to walk this road alone. That, to me, is far more terrifying than facing what's in front of me.
So we face it, but not alone. Never, for one moment, alone.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them:
I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.