Thursday, February 23, 2012

That Was Then. This Is Now.

Rainbow baby is the term for a baby after the loss of a previous child. It is the understanding that a rainbow's beauty does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn't mean that the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. 
(borrowed from Angie at Butterflies and Rainbows)

The first time I got a positive pregnancy test, I squealed and jumped up and down with excitement.  We'd made a baby!  It was like magic!  It was Mother's Day and I had already defended my dissertation and I was about to graduate and life was peaches and roses.  I knew I was lucky to have things working out so easily and so perfectly, but I was also smug and self-satisfied and delighted with my own good fortune.  I thought I deserved this happy ending.  I also thought this baby was a sure thing.

This time, I showed David the pregnancy test while still in the bathroom.  It was October 23rd.  (Happened to be my brother's birthday because evidently I like to take pregnancy tests on memorable dates).  David said, "You're pregnant?"

I said, "I guess so.  I mean, it's positive."  I set the pee stick on the sink and we both stared at it in silence for a few moments.

Finally, David gave me a big hug and said, "It's okay to be happy."  I knew he was right.  Wasn't this what we'd been desperately hoping for?  For MONTHS?  But I started crying.  Not because I wasn't happy, but because it felt so different from last time.

Last time I got pregnant on our fourth month of trying (by which I mean having unprotected sex and timing it around when I thought I'd probably be ovulating).  This time it took seven months, and hundreds of dollars spent on tests to say nothing was wrong, and some doctor-prescribed hormone supplements (an ovulation "trigger shot" -- yes with a NEEDLE) that evidently helped boost my body to do what should have been doing on its own.

Last time, I felt an excited kind of hope each month, and although I was disappointed when it didn't work THE FIRST TIME we tried, my confidence that I'd be pregnant before long never wavered.

This time, the TTC process was fraught with anxiety, grief, and a genuine fear that it wouldn't work.  It seemed to me that if a healthy, perfect baby could die for no apparent reason, then a healthy, average 30-year-old could become completely and inexplicably infertile.  The one scenario seemed just as likely as the other.  After all, the most unexpected thing in the world had just happened to me--why in the world should I expect that I'd be able to get pregnant again?

Last time I was so freaking pleased with myself that I'd achieved my "PhD and Pregnancy Before 30" plan.

This time I felt like I'd aged a decade in the blink of an eye and I was running out of time.

Last time, when I was about 13 weeks along, I sent pregnancy announcements to our close friends and family.

Oh, yes, that's right.  I mailed PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENTS.  Because THAT is how goddamn sure I was that once I got out of the first trimester, everything would be FINE.

(Sometimes I look back on that pregnancy and I see it as a horror movie, except instead of being scared, the protagonist has NO IDEA she is about to be blindsided by her worst nightmare.  I want to scream at her to STOP, to take precautions, to be scared instead of so damn naive and sure of herself.  I try to remember that since that's the only time I got with Eliza, it's good that I fussed over her and enjoyed every minute of it as much as I did.  It makes me feel foolish, yes, but it's also evidence of how excited we were and how much we loved that girl from the moment she existed.)

Last time, I arranged a meeting with a doula when I was 14 weeks pregnant.  We met at St. Louis Bread Co. We liked her.  I guess she liked us.  We gave her a $100 deposit.  She refunded it in January, with a sympathy card.

I ordered a planner from Amazon called "The Essential Pregnancy Planner."  (My OB raised his eyebrow and chuckled about just how "essential" this planner actually was.  I smiled with him, but I didn't care that he thought I was obsessive.  I was so CONFIDENT I was doing the right things.)

Last time, I beamed when anyone asked me about my pregnancy.  I flaunted the belly and grinned when someone asked, "Is this your first?"  I'm normally not particularly outgoing around strangers, but I had no trouble gushing about this pregnancy to anyone who mentioned it, in line at Trader Joe's, on campus between classes, or at my favorite neighborhood coffee place (decaf hot tea for me, please!).

I knew that everyone I knew wouldn't be as excited about my pregnancy as I was, but let's face it--a lot of people were!  Five of my friends were pregnant at the same time or had just had their babies.  Every conversation we had was a discussion of pregnancy, baby supplies, or nursery preparations.  My mom was always ready to go shopping for baby clothes, and even before I had my baby showers, we had a closet full of clothes for our Baby Duck.

We enrolled in Bradley method childbirth classes and I became convinced that a natural, med-free birth was the right decision for me.  I read books, articles, and blogs about about natural birth, breastfeeding, colicky babies, cloth diapering, sleep patterns, most recommended baby products and supplies.  David and I researched every single item we bought or registered for.  Crib, organic mattress, jogging stroller, cloth diapering system.  I created a baby registry on Amazon.  I decided to decorate the nursery around a quilt my Nana made that had little yellow ducks on it.  I started trolling Etsy for wall decor.

Last time I believed that my body would protect my baby.  I believed that I was healthy and strong.  I thought that every choice I made--to eat organic produce, to have a non-medicated birth, to visit breastfeeding support groups, to read Consumer Reports before registering for a car seat--was ensuring a healthy start and a bright future for my baby.  I thought I was giving Baby Duck every advantage while she was still kicking around in my belly.  I trusted myself to make the right choices, and I felt so confident in my ability to take care of this child the best way I knew how.

Yeah.  That was then.

Back then, I wanted "hands off" healthcare.  I thought my body knew what it was doing.  This was a natural, biological process.  I don't need medicine, I don't need intervention.  I just need to eat right and be healthy and prepare myself by doing lots of research.  This time I'm seeing my regular OB and a high risk maternal-fetal-medicine specialist.  The Deuce already had more ultrasounds in 14 weeks than Eliza had in 34 weeks.  This time, I'm open to the idea of being induced, of having a c-section, of frequent-frequent-frequent monitoring, whatever it takes to get me a healthy baby that I get to take home.

It's my second time doing this stuff, but I have no where near the confidence I had a year and a half ago.  I don't trust myself to know I'm making the right decisions.  I'm terrified I'll overlook something that could be the cause of another tragedy.  My research couldn't save Eliza, and my intuition sure as hell didn't tell me something was wrong.

Last time I signed up for weekly e-mails and pregnancy calendars and I could tell you at any given day how big the baby was by comparing her to a fruit (Baby Duck is the size of a kumkwat!).  This time I haven't even looked at any of those things.  I don't want to see a calendar or think about how many weeks I have to go.  The only milestones I have in my head are:

26 weeks:  viability.
28 weeks:  kick counts.
30-ish weeks:  non-stress tests.
34 weeks and 3 days:  please, please, please don't let the baby die.
(I have no idea what happens after that.  I cannot see beyond 34 weeks and 3 days.)

Last time I found comfort in statistics.  I remember hitting 18 weeks and saying to David, "Good news!  At this point, we have a 97% chance that Baby Duck is going to be okay."  This time, I know what it means to be part of the 1% of unexpected, unexplained stillbirths in this country.  And sometimes my odds feel like about 50/50 that I'm going to end up right back there again.

This time is so different.  It's harder.  It's sadder.  It's angrier.  It's also more grateful, more appreciative, more focused on what's really important.

This pregnancy is full of grief, and fear, and guilt.  It's also full of wonder and awe, and so much love and support that it still bowls me over.

This time isn't an accomplishment.  It's a relief.  It's a chance for David and me to quit feeling so frantic and scared and to try and focus on living in the present moment, savoring what we have, and not taking it for granted.

This time is bittersweet.  I'm happy and sad all at once, everyday.  I still long for Eliza, and I look forward (cautiously) to a time when that ache is accompanied by the joy and fullness that her sibling can bring to our lives.

This time is not about me getting the baby that I deserved to have before.  This time is about how incredibly fucking lucky we are to have another chance.  This time I'm well aware that so much of this is not in my control at all.

This time will never be like last time was.  There are many, many days when the storms of grief and fear are still raging all around me and within me and I can't think about anything but last time and how I'd do anything to go back and change it, to have Eliza here with us.

Often, I wish I could just catch a glimpse of how this story will unfold, wish I could just see around the next twenty weeks and know that my baby will be healthy.  Unfortunately, I can't see the future.  On those days, though, I'm at least looking forward, and that's something in itself.

Last time, at Eliza's first ultrasound, I stared at the gummy-bear on the screen, and squeezed David's hand, and my face hurt from smiling so big.  It sounds so cheesy, but I remember that it felt like our love was so magical we could make a baby with it.

This time, at the Duece's first ultrasound, which was so early all we could see was a blob and the flicker of a heartbeat, I squeezed David's hand and tears ran down my face.  I was afraid to breathe because it felt like this baby could disappear in the blink of an eye.

Last time, I thought we were looking at the baby we'd undoubtedly be taking home from the hospital.

This time, I was seeing the tiny glimmer of something that just might turn out to be a rainbow.


  1. "It seemed to me that if a healthy, perfect baby could die for no apparent reason, then a healthy, average 30-year-old could become completely and inexplicably infertile. The one scenario seemed just as likely as the other. After all, the most unexpected thing in the world had just happened to me--why in the world should I expect that I'd be able to get pregnant again?"

    Wow. This is exactly, currently my biggest fear as I am in the midst of trying to conceive my "rainbow baby".

    I just know there will be a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow!

  2. I'm right there with you. Things are so different this pregnancy. I'm doing my best to steal moments of happiness and joy. It won't be carefree like before of course, but hopefully we will both be holding our rainbows this summer.

  3. AMEN, yes, to all of it.

    I could not have put it better myself. It's like a mirror of what I am also going through right now.

    Praying for your little rainbow.

  4. This, everything you wrote is so beautiful and I hear you. Of course our stories are different and my loss was with my second child. But I was smug because it had worked out so well the first time. I have so many what ifs, so many shoulda coulda wouldas and I'm trying to look toward the future but it's dufficult when my vision is blurred by tears. It's so important to try and love the baby you have in you, celebrate the existence of them because as we both know ... Things can change so quickly and irrevocably. I an hoping that this time it will work out, but it's hard not to question the statistics when you've been on the wrong side if them. Sending so much love.

  5. Yes...yes. I write this gently, sadly, as if we could look at each other, with complete and total understanding, no words, exhausted and scared and hopeful, grab hands, take a deep breath, and lay our heads on the couch cushions as we brave onward together. Just a week behind you, having cleared the 20 week mark and now ever-closer to getting what we want and ever-more concerned as we near that 'end date' that something will happen all over again. Because we know it can, statistics be damned.

    I thought I would feel some relief & increased confidence if our 20 wk u/s showed no anomalies. But in fact, no. My confidence in a different outcome is no better. In fact, a little worse bc we found out it's a girl again, which somehow makes the pregnancy seem even more fragile. (A strong strapping boy, a very different child, better chances of a live baby at the end. Aren't we stupid, what we'll say to ourselves to try and get through?)
    My husband and I were just talking last night about how we don't want to touch anything that would be considered 'preparation'. Birth plans, reading books about sleep schedules/breastfeeding/etc... If we get to that point, we'll do it then. If we get through those hospital doors and find out from the Doc how we're going to play this, we'll scribble out a birth plan accordingly. But not until then. Even talking names feels like risky business.

    I read Katy's comment about being 'sure there'll be a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow' and think, "I used to think that too. That everyone else's pregnancy is pretty much a given, it can't happen twice." I though I was being positive and supportive for them. But now realize I wasn't being supportive at all, really. More like I was discounting their fear and in fact throwing my own form of a pity party (no judgement on Katy at all, this is just my own experience). The thing that says 'it will work out for everyone else, of course it will, but we're still suffering and we might not ever get there.'

    Anyway. I wish I could say "I'm sure you'll get there and it'll all be fine." But I don't say that about any pregnant woman anymore. All I can say is there is a great gob of people who are rooting for you and this baby, as there are for ours, as there are for every family praying for a wriggly, healthy child this time 'round. May rainbows abound come June/July. :)

  6. It's so important to me for ppl to read and understand the definition of a rainbow baby that you have at the top. For ppl to know that a new baby doesn't erase the pain. I may need to tattoo that saying on my forehead though bc I foresee having to explain it a lot. It sucks we can't be as happy as we once were. But thankful to be here regardless.

  7. I am right there with you. Well, I'm not pregnant yet, but as we consider trying again, I too worry about infertility.

    I find it so hard to watch my pregnant friends buy baby clothes and talk about what their lives will be like after they bring home their babies. From where I stand now, it looks like arrogance. They just assume their babies will be fine. But of course it's actually innocence, something that we will never have again.

    And since you've mentioned that you like the name Genevieve, I will say that I think it would be a great name for Eliza's sister, should you have another girl.

  8. I was smug and naive the first time around as well. But seeing as though my baby died, I'm glad I was such a ridiculously happy pregnant woman with him. I'm glad that all he had was that love. I feel bad that so much of my pregnancy with Finley was plagued with fear and anxiety that the worst would happen, but it did force me to focus on what really matters. I took more pictures with him - because I was scared it was all I was going to have - and tried my best to enjoy it as much as I could, but damn, that was a long, hard 9 months.

    I sure hope what you are looking at is a baby you get to bring home. You deserve more than just that hope - you deserve that reality.

  9. The happy and sad unfortunately does not end with pregnancy, that is really our new normal now, though I have got to say that there is more and more happy than sad most days.
    (This is also why, in hindsight, I am grateful that it took awhile to get pregnant with Lucas, because I think "rainbow" pregnancies are hard enough without the grief being so so fresh. I wasn't grateful for it while we were TTC, though.) I wish I had spent more of my pregnancy with Lucas just enjoying him and less worrying, but I'm not sure if that's possible.
    Anyway, hang in there, one day at a time.

  10. Yes to all. I was so smug the first proud on how I had done everything in my life exactly as I had planned. I felt I was owed this for doing everything "the right way". I lived in a world where good things happened to good people and now that I know better, I just hope like hell that even though this world is beyond unfair that somehere life feels happy again. Always going to feel bittersweet, but I will take bittersweet over just plain bitter.

  11. Yes, to all of this. Keeping you in my heart and hoping hard for you, and wishing you lots of sweet to temper the bitter.

  12. Brooke,
    You wrote exactly how I have been feeling. The same thing at our ultrasound. I had two babies, I never thought once we made it past that first trimester that we would lose our boy. This time it is all so different. My eyes are wide open. Bitter sweet. The joy when you feel the movement but the fear of another loss that might just break you for good this time.

    Here is to making it all the way to the summer with our mental states still intact. One day at a time.

  13. "It felt like our love was so magical we could make a baby with it". This, this is exactly what I believed.

    I'm glad you were so happy during your pregnancy with Eliza, I'm glad (just as Caroline said) that all she ever knew was love and hope and plans for a wonderful life together... Even if it couldn't ever be here on Earth, I'm glad you got to experience that with her.

    I remain optimistic these pregnancies will work out and a living baby will result. I realize we have no more of a guarantee THESE outcomes than we did during prior pregnancies, but I have to hope hope hope these rainbows are for keeps.

    ps. Such beautiful writing.

  14. Hang in there, Brooke. You can do this. xo

  15. i can relate. i thought i was doing everything right last time for Julius. i had my natural cb, i cloth diapered, i exclusively BF, he was in a home daycare. i was so protective of him, and in the end it didn't matter. all of those right decisions didn't save him. it sickens me to think how seriously i took myself thinking that what i did could guarantee a healthy babe that would outlive me.

    this time was full of anxiety too. i can honestly say that while i was so happy to have had the opportunity to be pg again with my rainbow (and beyond thrilled that she is here), i didn't "enjoy" my pg. i was too grief stricken and worried. it was an incredibly long emotional pg. on one hand i feel like a huge weight is lifted off of me having her here. but i'm freaking out again as we progress towards the milestone of Julius' bday and the age he was when he passed away. in my head it feels like i'm counting down to the time when she will be leaving us too. i hate that feeling.

    i'm rambling. but i said all of that to say that you are not alone. i do understand how you feel. and i will be continuing to keep you and Deuce in my thoughts and prayers.

  16. Wow. Yes. All of this. A huge resounding, yes.
    We're here for you.

  17. Wow, I can really relate to all of it. I've especially been thinking about how "hands off" I was last time when thinking about labor and birth and like you, now I have no expectations...I just want my baby!

    But I'm glad I did all of those fun things when I was pregnant with Kayla, it created some good memories and now that's all we have. I don't feel guilty about not doing those things this time around, because (hopefully!!!!) we will have plenty of time to make good memories once this baby is born.

    Keep writing, for all of us!

  18. What a nice way to capture your journey Brooke, the before and the now. What contrast. And truth. There is a whole mess of truth here and I'm glad you captured so perfectly what a subsequent pregnancy is like.

    I literally just told Kari two nights ago: I know the odds are 99.5% right now, that he'll make it, but deep in my gut I still feel like it's 50/50.

  19. Oh dear...I can totally relate. My husband & I have often said that once you're on the losing end of statistics you never can really take comfort in them again. I also lived in constant fear until I got to about 26wks in my second pregnancy and even then I was still scared. It's impossible not to worry once you've experienced the worst case scenario, the key though is continuing to cling to those glimmers of hope that this time things will turn out differently. Thinking of you ((hugs))

  20. Oh, my friend. I completely understand. We drove to the hospital for my induction and I still refused to believe this journey would actually end in a live baby. And it almost didn't. We'll always be jaded, but hopefully that color will fade just a bit and allow us to enjoy parts of our lives that are yet to come that WILL be magical.

    We hope.