Being Pregnant After A Miscarriage Or Later-term Pregnancy Loss Can Be Complicated Emotionally
While miscarriages and pregnancy losses rarely get addressed as much as they should, the complex emotions around being pregnant after these early, late-term, or stillbirth losses are also frequently overlooked. In order to make it less intimidating to talk about these experiences, I participated in the second episode of Off the Mat with Nicole Katz’s two-part series on miscarriage misconceptions, joining Amanda and Jack who both had rainbow babies–a term Nicole and others in the motherhood community utilize for a pregnancy or baby after an early or late-term loss (or multiple losses).
Like the first episode, I want to extend the conversation here since women, their partners and their families’ needs so often go underserved during and after these losses:
Your Feelings About Your Pregnancy After A Pregnancy Loss May Be Messy: And That’s Okay
An important point made in the episode is that there is no right way to feel about being pregnant after a pregnancy loss or miscarriage. Both Jack and Amanda powerfully explain the wide range of responses they had to being pregnant again, from anxiously “waiting for the other shoe to drop” to enjoying pregnancy.
This is normal and understandable, although not always shared publicly. In our culture, we expect women, their partners, and their families to be overjoyed and hopeful when they get pregnant again. While joy and hope may play a role, it’s usually more emotionally complicated with a mix of anxiety, worry, fear, pain, loss, and grief. And women, their partners, and their families can sometimes hide these feelings out of fear of making others uncomfortable with their messiness.
However, your feelings about your pregnancy are allowed to be complex and they very likely will be. Grieving the pregnancy loss during a pregnancy with a new baby is usually unavoidable. You and your partner are facing two difficult experiences simultaneously or in parallel: your loss and the new pregnancy. Loss itself can be messy and unknown until we go through it.
Having A Baby After Pregnancy Loss Also Means Deeply Grieving And Processing The Pregnancy Loss
For many, having a baby after pregnancy loss isn’t about finding a silver lining, but grieving and processing the prior pregnancy loss. No matter how long you were pregnant, you carried that baby, and chose to have and want that kid (even if the pregnancy was unwanted, it can still be deeply felt). Having a rainbow baby means being conscious of and acknowledging that there was a baby before that you lost. Ideally, you can go through your own unique process of accepting what this loss means to you before the new baby gets here.
It’s also essential to let this process take the time that it takes. One of the biggest parts of my therapy with patients who are having this new baby is giving them space to not hide their messy feelings. I can hang with the loss and the grief, what the new pregnancy brings up from their past and current experiences, their hopes that have now changed, and the ways that innocence or joy were ripped away or side-stepped with the previous miscarriage or loss.
I also want to debunk the myth that this is going to feel good. It’s going to feel like a lot of things at once; at times, this may be the opposite of good. Processing loss is tough, complicated, and vast. Rather than needing it to feel good, allow yourself to feel all the things you’re feeling, thinking, and experiencing in order to accept the loss and the new baby.
When Pregnant With A Rainbow Baby, Do What Will Care For You
When working with patients who are pregnant after a loss, I frequently ask (as I mentioned in the episode): what will care for you, both logistically and emotionally? What do you wish you could have and what do you need? I realize when I ask that they may not know what they need and it will be my job to help plan that with them.
Maybe you need time and space to fall apart so you can process the loss and build back up (losses tend to add up when we don’t process them). Maybe you need a support team of family, friends, and your partner to watch the kid or kids you have so you can do yoga, go on walks, stare at the wall, or cry a lot. It may also be thinking of ways to feel useful, while also not avoiding pain. Perhaps you, like Jack, need to take a year off from trying to get pregnant to go to therapy with your partner and mourn the pregnancy loss. You also may not be ready to deal with this loss until the new baby is here and that’s okay too.
One way to care for you that came up in Off the Mat is navigating telling people about your pregnancy in a way that works for you. Both Amanda and Jack speak to the challenge of sharing the news about a pregnancy, which can be anxiety-producing after a previous pregnancy loss. Some, like Jack, decide to share the news early (“If all goes well, I want you to celebrate every week with us. If it doesn’t, I’ll need you anyway.”), while others, such as Amanda, are hesitant to mention it at all.
Echoing what Amanda says, women and their families should do what feels right in the moment. This can be different for every woman, every pregnancy, and even, every day. It’s okay to experiment with telling (or not telling) people and see how it feels, as well as be open to changing your approach if it doesn’t seem right. We often have a culturally prescribed way of doing things such as announcing pregnancy after twelve weeks. Experimenting allows us to pay attention and learn what we need moment-to-moment rather than performing in ways we feel we should.
Reaching Out For Community And Connection, Including Through Therapy, Can Help
Even though we’re more isolated during the pandemic, finding social connection, even remotely, can be a way to get the care you need when having a rainbow baby. Grieving in community is age-old. Most cultures have rituals for grief, but in our contemporary society, we tend not to lean toward this. However, one of the biggest concerns is isolating and hiding the loss in order to make it easier on others at the expense of your own feelings.
Whether a “judgment-free zone” supper club of women who had a miscarriage, pregnancy loss, or other fertility challenges like Jack created or connecting with people over Zoom or on social media with similar experiences, creating community around a loss or birth is a ritual where people can be with others that understand. Community helps normalize what is happening and has happened, lets you receive the warmth you need, and allows you to be messy or not have it all together.
Reaching out for therapy can also be a powerful and vulnerable way to find connection and be honest about what you’re feeling. Often with patients having a rainbow baby, we mostly talk about the pregnancy. It feels like a critical part of the work to help them tolerate that they have to talk about it that much, especially since this is an experience and loss that our culture often doesn’t want to touch. Therapy can be both a container and a place for emotions to not be avoided or snuffed out. As I said on the episode, “When in doubt and you’re worried about connecting to someone about the feelings you’re feeling, the experience you’ve had, whether or not it was trauma, or whether or not it’s been too long, reach out.”