“Don’t let your struggle become your identity.” -Unknown
Back in the Fall, I attended a support group for pregnancy and infant loss called SHARE. It is sponsored by the hospital where I delivered. It took me nearly a year after losing Nelle to go to my first meeting. Each woman (or couple) introduced herself and talked about losing her baby. By the time it got to me, I could barely speak. My voice was shrill and unsteady. I looked around the room at some, further out from their losses – sometimes years – and thought “Some day, maybe, I will be that composed. Some day I will be able to provide support to a mother who has just lost her baby, and be the voice of experience. But not today.” The entire evening drained me, and I did not go back. I am in a private Facebook forum for the group and participate there. By December, I was pregnant anyway.
There is a companion group called Sharing HOPE for parents who have lost a baby and are either pregnant or trying to get pregnant. HOPE is for “having optimistic pregnancy expectations.” Last night, I went to Sharing HOPE. The group was much smaller. I still found myself crying through most of the two-hour evening.
I found myself struggling through the group. There was talk of looking forward to the birth of babies, baby showers, repainting nurseries. Even though all of us were traumatized by what had happened to us, they were hopeful about the outcomes of their pregnancies. Optimistic. I do not have that. The moderator asked if I was finding any joy in my pregnancy, and I gave a fairly decisive “No.”. At one point, another woman said to me that she felt for me, because she could see how much I was struggling. On the one hand, it made me feel like an outsider, even within my own tribe, that I was having so much difficulty with being pregnant again. On the other hand I thought, “well, at least I’m not hiding anything – I’m up front about how I feel.”
I have heard all of the statistics about how pregnancy loss, especially after the first trimester, are rare. I have thought “Why am I part of this statistic?” But in that room, we are 100%. Everyone in that room has experienced loss. It brings hyper-awareness to everything that could possibly go wrong. Mine was the great unknown: no explanation, therefore no assurances. No comforts. Milestones are just check-marks on the list.
We spoke of self-care, and I acknowledged that I do try to take care of myself. I take a bath every night. I go to therapy. And I write. I can’t bring myself to go to prenatal yoga, remembering the classes I took while pregnant with Nelle, but hope to start walking as the weather improves.
I spoke to my therapist today about how much I struggled in the meeting. How different I felt, even if it was only my perception. Some women said that, if they were to become pregnant again, they would enjoy their pregnancies so much more – read to their babies in utero at night, recognize that every minute is precious, take nothing for granted. I was further separated by the fact that I want nothing to do with that. I can’t bond, I can’t connnect with my pregnancy or my baby. I have to do something to protect myself, and tell myself that if my baby is born, I will spend a lifetime bonding after. My therapist gently pointed out that I am bonding in a different way: I have the heart rate monitor. I listen to the heartbeat, to make sure that it is still there. She said that I have likely had fleeting thoughts of planning, even if it is only in my head and nothing that I have discussed or written down – it is there. And to acknowledge the small moments.
I listened to the heartbeat right before I left for the meeting. I had only a few minutes before I needed to leave the house, but felt compelled to have that one last assurance before walking out the door.
However, I came home from the meeting completely worn down to the last strain in my eyes. My nose was congested from all of the crying, making it difficult to breathe. I lay in bed, desperate to sleep and unable to calm myself. Finally, I forced myself to get up. Part of my self-care lately has included using the beauty products that I love so much, but have been neglecting. Lying in bed and skipping that part of the routine would mean not taking care of myself. Letting the struggle win. So I got up, put the nighttime oil on my face and the avocado cream under my eyes.
I still did not sleep well. So the benefits of the group for me are still awaiting a verdict. Does being around the women who understand offset how drained I feel after, how much emphasis is put on my struggle?