Friday, November 30, 2018

Thoughts on Pregnancy After Loss {Grieving Together}


When I first saw that Laura Kelly Fanucci and her husband had written a book on their journey as a couple after infant loss I was so happy. I was pretty fresh off of my third early miscarriage of the year and I could not wait to read it, I only wished it would have been in my hands after my earlier losses. I wrote to Laura and asked if she needed any help spreading the word about her book because I was so excited to read it and she was so gracious and promised to send me a copy once it was in print.

Fast forward a few months and suddenly and rather unexpectedly I was pregnant. It was unexpected because after so many months of trying to conceive and trying to make my cycle go back to normal and failing at both I had given up hope for more kids in the immediate future and I was even getting to the point of being at peace with it.

The book came out during my first trimester and once I had it in hand, I was utterly terrified to jump into it. I was still so thrilled it was out and that I would be able to read at some point, but I wasn't ready just yet, even looking at the word "miscarriage" filled me with fear. That's the thing about being pregnant after losing a baby (or babies), any and everything can trigger massive anxiety and overwhelming emotions over the little one you lost and going back to that place of thinking of your losses can really make you spiral into fear over the loss of the one you have.

I've gotten to the point where I've been able to read through the book, which is wonderful, but I've mostly focused on the part of the book that is most applicable to me currently: pregnancy after loss. This has been a whole new ball game than any of my other pregnancies and it's been a huge learning experience for me with regard to how I deal with my anxiety over another loss. Here are some things that I've done that have helped:

1) I go to my spouse. This is why I was so excited about Laura's book- it addresses this so specifically and practically in so many places. There is so much opportunity for growth in the midst of grief within marriages, but I can see how it could potentially be missed or the opportunity be lost due to a lack of communication. There were times after our different losses where Mike and I struggled because we were on different pages with grieving, but even just communicated where we were, knowing full well that the other person was not in that same place, helped us tremendously to be understanding and loving in the midst of our shared but different experiences. It has been very similar with pregnancy after loss. It is definitely the case that my experience this pregnancy has been worlds different than Mike's. I have dealt with levels of anxiety over losing this baby unparalleled since getting married. But Mike understands, and he is the absolute best person for me to talk to when I am really struggling. So much of the time I am not seeing the reality of the situation because my mind is clouded by the past and the fear of another potential loss. The first trimester was especially full of so many moments of me "knowing something was wrong" (when everything was fine) or trying to "prepare myself for the worst" (when no one can ever truly be prepared for losing a new, unique soul). Mike understood like no one else could and validated all of my concerns and fears, while also speaking truth and hope to me, that gift is invaluable.

2)  I had my progesterone checked. With the 5 children I've given birth to I never once had my progesterone levels checked, not even after my first miscarriage 7 years ago. After our 3rd early miscarriage this past year I decided to see a Creighton doctor who actually checked my levels before I was pregnant and discovered they were low after ovulation, which may have accounted for my body not being able to sustain the pregnancies earlier in the year. I began taking oral progesterone post-ovulation so that in case I conceived my levels might be high enough for the pregnancy to continue. After I found out I was pregnant the progesterone dose doubled and once I hit 12 weeks that doctor's protocol was to take me off of it, their office just simply does not do progesterone past 12 weeks. I begged to have 1 follow up lab test done to see if my levels were rising enough with no progesterone supplement and when they came back they were dangerously low by Creighton standards. I have since found another doctor and am now on progesterone shots, which I am assuming I will need most of the pregnancy because my levels just aren't rising on their own.

I realize this is not normal protocol in most doctor's offices, but it has given me a great amount of peace of mind and it may even be the progesterone treatment that helped us to keep this little one initially. If you suspect that hormone levels may play a part in your issues, I would definitely say it is worth pushing your doctor to test your levels and/or trying to find a doctor that will be attentive to that for you.

3) I read the Pregnancy After Loss section in Grieving Together. Even if you are in a similar place to me- pregnant again after a miscarriage- and don't feel like you can dive into an entire book on miscarriage, Laura's chapter What Comes Next, and the sections within it, have so many practical tips on navigating the waters of grief as you go forward and specifically as you potentially prepare to welcome another new life into your heart and home.

After my very first miscarriage we conceived immediately and, while their was some fear, there was more hope than fear that things would go right and they did. After this year that sort of hope was gone. What used to be a predictable and normal looking cycle was gone and I knew things were not right. It was so cripplingly discouraging to have back to back to back miscarriages- once we conceived I was certain we would miscarry again.

 Pregnancy after loss means there are no guarantees. Spiritually the invitation is to trust. The loss of a baby disrupts the natural order: you expected that your children would outlive you. After miscarriage, you no longer assume anything about how your life or this new child's life will turn out.

But trust is not a one-time decision. With God's love and guidance, you can learn to believe in life's possibilities in new ways.

-Grieving Together, 157-158
 
As I read the words of this part of the book I felt like I was reading my own heart, it is so good to have a resource to go to with these fears, to receive such encouraging and practical advice and to know I am not alone. 

4) I've tried to go easy on myself and just do what I need to do. I will admit that my fears of another loss are irrational (i.e. when I got the book Grieving Together in the mail, I thought it was a sign from God that I was going to miscarry... um, not how God works) but fact is there were times where the anxiety was not going to go anywhere until I knew that things were ok. I had at least 2 doctor visits in the first trimester just to reassure myself that I had not miscarried, and once I was into the second trimester I bought an at home doppler** for peace of mind going forward since I often don't start feeling much movement until well after 20 weeks.

5) I have brought it to prayer. I realize that this should be the first one on the list and probably should be the only one I actually need, bu the reality is that I need the prayer and I need the practical. I have had to retrain my brain in prayer with regard to how I processed a lot of the grief. After our losses I told myself (falsely) that I must have miscarried because God knew I couldn't handle another child, or because I haven't been a good enough mother. As I have gone to prayer with all of my fears and anxieties I have had to face those very false ways that I think of Our Lord and how I think He views me. We did not miscarry because I am a bad mom and while it was all a part of God's plan, it wasn't just because He thinks I can't handle more. God loves me and wants good things for me, He is pleased with me and with my efforts at being a wife and mother. Loss is a part of life and it is a true sharing in the sufferings of Christ, which is itself a gift.

**I am not advising the purchase of an at-home doppler, I am just saying this is something that has been a good thing for me.

Other resources for those suffering the loss of a child:
Our Sunday Visitor created a free e-book with excerpts from our book, "How to Support Parents who have Lost a Child"

Laura and her husband did a free webcast to share more about their story, the book, and how we can all support couples who are grieving. You can watch it here.

4 comments :

  1. Another great book is by my friend, Jenny Schroedel and is called Naming the Child. We contributed to the book after the loss of our first son, Philip, and Jenny has a lot of practical advice about baby loss, and what comes next.

    I also had progesterone issues with several of my pregnancies and needed supplements (they were awful, but I have living children as a result, so I'll take it); I'm approaching 40 now, and my childbearing years are likely behind me, but I will say that my cycles have gotten better in recent years. I can't say why, but I will say having some space for my body to heal (i.e. not pregnant or nursing for more than 6-9 months) has helped a lot.

    I'm well acquainted with the anxiety that proceeds after baby loss. I felt that my innocence about pregnancy was destroyed when Philip died. I no longer trusted that things would just turn out, because they had gone so spectacularly wrong. I learned that it is better to announce baby news earlier so that people are on the journey with you in case the worst happens. I learned that grief is terrible, and soul-splitting, but that there are many sides to it, and that the quality of it changes with time. You learn to live with the joins on your soul, with the absence of the child who isn't there. That empty space inside you remains, always there, but in time, and with grace, other things come along and give strength to live life.

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  2. So beautiful and so spot on. I'm so sorry about the loss of your son but thank you for your words of wisdom.

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