Pregnancy after loss is an unusual experience
It was a hot afternoon in the summer of 2016 and I took a deep breath as I opened the door to the book store. The cool air rushed over me. I was about 6 months pregnant and sweating. Not sure what section to go to, I walked slowly around the bookstore. Self-help? Pregnancy? Health? What category does having a baby after a loss fall into? I’m not sure if it was my hormones or the sheer magnitude of the emotions I was carrying, but I started to cry. I couldn’t figure out where the magic book would be hidden. This is what I do. When I’m lost, scared, or clueless, I read. I find the book that has the answers and I am comforted. Thus far, I’d always been able to find the magic book with the answers. Someone else’s diligent research, neatly bound, waiting for me to devour in a cathartic fury. The week of Thanksgiving ’14, I gave birth to a beautiful little girl that we named, Sahaara. She had a sweet little smile on her face and she looked just like her older brother, Jayvik. Jayvik was anticipating her arrival since we told him about her. He knew he was getting a baby sister long before the tests told us she was definitely a female. The benefit of the innocent mind; flawless intuition. The perfect little girl to complete our family. So when I found myself rushing to the hospital, water broken, at just 20 weeks, I was frantic. I prayed, I begged, I pleaded for a miracle.
Losing Sahaara changed me. It changed our family. At first it was rough waters, as we navigated without a compass in unfamiliar territory. My husband and I just clung to each other searching for the lighthouse. Initially there were many people around to ask for directions, but as the waters became rougher, the people began to disappear until it was just me and him, figuring it out together. We united in a way we never had to before; willingly and forced all at the same time. My husband always tells me I’m the strongest person he knows, but he is the Rock of Gibraltar. The ever reliable safety of his arms, a place I could crash again and again, only slightly wearing away the surface each time.
A year later we were celebrating Sahaara’s first birthday at the park where her ashes were scattered. It had been a gloomy day all day, but when we arrived, something in my heart fluttered. To my right, the sun was setting, making the clouds look like tropical cotton candy. Above the sky was overcast and to my left, a break in the clouds revealed two rainbows glowing in the sky, the entire scene seemed to highlight what I had eventually come to accept; the duality of life. I could feel my little girl sending me a message. I didn’t know it at the time but blossoming deep inside me was our third child. A month later, a positive test confirmed it and in disbelief I called my doctor.
Pregnancy after loss is an unusual experience. A constant state of mixed emotions. I was so excited we were having a baby but terrified we might lose it. I felt guilty for the obsession that inevitably comes with pregnancy. ‘Sahaara I haven’t forgotten you.’ I was anxious about every little flutter and cramp but so excited to feel the pregnancy, each flutter and cramp proof that life was, in fact, growing. I wanted to jump and celebrate when we found out we were having another girl, but I was sad at the same time. ‘She won’t replace Sahaara.’ This is our third child, why won’t anyone else say that? Anger. The number of times I heard something about this little girl replacing the one we lost drove me over the edge. I tried to understand, but my grief would surface and I would feel irritated that no one else tried to understand. Why couldn’t I just be happy and celebrate this baby? Guilt. In my seventh month, it started to feel very real and I had a breakdown. ‘Everyone will forget about Sahaara once this baby gets here.’ More guilt. It went back and forth like this until one day I suddenly realized that my perspective needed to change. If I’m going to survive this, I need to start looking at this differently. It was a bit of a process but planning for my maternity shoot afforded me the perfect opportunity to switch gears.
As I planned for my maternity photoshoot, I was timid. I had been having contractions, I was dilating, and every sign pointed to our little girl showing up early. It was a high risk pregnancy after all and most of it was spent trying to keep her in. I felt like my luck would dictate this one and I would pick out all the clothes, schedule the hair and makeup only to go into labor on the way to the shoot. As we decided the outfits, I felt I needed to honor Sahaara in the shoot in a subtle way. I stood in my closet running my hand over the white dress I had worn to her funeral. I had originally bought the dress to wear to my baby shower. I didn’t wash the dress after I wore it to the funeral, which is probably against some rule in our culture but it’s what I was wearing the last time I held her. I had carefully wrapped her in a white cotton cloth, held her to my heart one last time before I laid her in her cotton lined shipping box. They don’t make caskets that small.
Although I still feel that familiar pang of sadness every day, I have finally dealt with the guilt. As I got ready for the shoot, I began to see the hope in our situation. Wearing the white dress was a way to include Sahaara in this milestone in our life. I never got to take those pictures with her in my belly, so wearing that dress really allowed me to gain some closure. In many ways, this photoshoot was therapeutic. I celebrated wholeheartedly that I had the privilege of participating in this. I planned the outfits with great care. Thought out poses and the general mood of the shoot; hope. I think as you look through the images you can feel that hope. It shines in our eyes, it’s in the light around us, and it rests lightly on my son’s beautiful eyelashes as he slept through the shoot. Every now and then he would wake up and pat my belly. You can see the strength in our bond as a family. The miracle I prayed for that day in the hospital had manifested itself now. I saw it when I looked through the final images of this shoot. We survived. We gained an angel to inspire us to live mindfully. We cannot possibly understand and appreciate the joys in our life if we do not experience the sorrow.
I never found the magical book to help me through this particularly difficult event in my life, but it pushed me to do the research myself. I allowed the pain and grief to wash over me, I felt every nuance of it and lived to tell the tale. I found the hope that lights my path every day. I have bound this research with the unbreakable strings made of a mother’s love and sacrifice. The tale inside is undulating in retrospect, made smooth with time. I speak of my experience often and without qualm so that I may share my story, let the careful research proliferate like a best seller, and pay forward the healing. Maybe my hope will light the path of another grieving mother or at least the incandescence will warm her, the glow helping her find her own way to light the path.