Mothering After Loss
In December 2011, we lost our first baby to a missed miscarriage. We fell pregnant in September and were elated at the news. We had just surprised our families with the arrival of a new baby when our ultrasound revealed there was no longer a heartbeat at 13 weeks. I remember feeling like my heart had fallen into my stomach and I wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there so I didn’t have to face the world and tell everyone why I was no longer pregnant. It was a mix of disbelief and heart-crushing pain. I didn’t know anyone who had experienced loss and I felt so alone. The miscarriage had left me feeling empty and had me questioning my body’s ability to ever carry a baby. I laid awake every night wondering how my body would release my baby that no longer lived. The anxiety of the unexpected was crippling. We decided after a week to go ahead and schedule the D&C procedure so we could move on from what felt like a nightmare.
What felt like an eternity but yet, just three months later, we found out we were pregnant again. This time was different though. I was terrified to announce the news in case something happened. I started to research all the ways I could protect this pregnancy, as if my body had failed me previously. I thought once I had heard the heartbeat that the anxiety would go away but it had only intensified. I became consumed with monitoring ingredients in food and all the things I should avoid. At the time, it didn’t feel like a problem. Pregnancy after loss probably always feels like this.
Our beautiful rainbow baby boy was born almost a full year to the date of our first loss in December. We were overcome with a rush of emotions; relief, joy, fear, victory and so much love! We struggled with breastfeeding, colic, sleep but each month that passed got a little easier and easier. After a few months, anxiety started to creep up on me again. I started to question my ability to keep my child safe, I worried that I was going to die and leave him behind without a mother. We started to avoid anyone who could be sick, indoor play places, play-groups and anything else that made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t trust anyone with my baby and the intrusive thoughts I had about something happening to him when he wasn’t in my care were intense. I started to sink more into isolation. When my son was around 15 months, I went back to work. My job allowed me to work from home so I attempted keeping him home with me while I worked tediously during naps. It was around 18 months postpartum while I attended a work meeting downtown that I experienced my first panic attack. I had chest pain and felt short of breath - immediately I thought I was having a heart attack and asked to see my doctor right way. I sat across from my doctor as he told me that I was having a panic attack and most likely struggling with postpartum anxiety. The loss of our first baby had brought with it so many realities of life and death and without seeking the proper support, it left me in a constant state of fear. I sought out the support of a counsellor and all sorts of modalities. I started to realize that I needed to talk to mothers who had similar experiences as mine. I found solace in peers who listened with open hearts and validated my feelings with head nods and stories of their own struggles. I started to work with new mothers in their homes, providing them postpartum support and helping build their support networks. Over time, I felt resentment and fear subside a little and one day I realized I wasn’t as anxious as I had been before. I started to lean on more people for support and set boundaries for self-care practices around my partner and family. I started prioritizing sleep and trying not to stay up so late. When my son had turned two I felt like we were ready to add to our family. We found out we pregnant about 6 months later and I was determined to set the proper support systems in place. We hired a doula and midwife to get consistent support through the birth and postpartum. My husband planned to take time off and we also set up family support in the home to help with our oldest. The transition from one to two children was smooth overall and I credit that to the difference in my birth experience, confidence in mothering and my immediate postpartum support. The anxiety has subsided but it can still be triggered easily and creep up on me. I have more coping mechanisms and a mental health toolbox that I can reach into when I need it. Simplifying my life in terms of scheduling, clutter, and relationships has improved my mental clarity and allowed me to focus on the things that really matter. Looking back, so much of the anxiety I struggled with manifested as irritability and anger. A deep seeded rage. It took me a long time to figure out that I needed to process some deep, vulnerable feelings that were coming up in Motherhood. Someone told me that motherhood is a series of births. It’s like peeling back layers of an onion over and over again until you are exposed as your true self. I believe this. Through every season of Motherhood, I discover something new about myself. My journey through postpartum has made me resilient and self-aware of my limitations. It’s work in progress and I continue to find so much strength and healing through the women and mothers I work with every day.
❤︎ By Jennifer Hammer
PCD (DONA), CLE, SBD