The positive pregnancy test sends shivers down your spine, and immediately the tears start to fall. Your partner reacts similarly—excited, and that emotion quickly gets tempered. This is a fairly typical reaction to a pregnancy after loss (PAL). What had previously been experienced as excitement (maybe mixed in with some fear of the unknown) has now shifted to fear if the pregnancy doesn’t work out again, and maybe a small twinge of hope that it will be OK.
A subsequent pregnancy after loss has its hallmark as mixed emotions. For many people, it doesn’t mark the end of their grief journey, but a new complex beginning of it. Each step beyond when the previous loss had occurred marks the hope that things will be different and the concern that this baby will also be elusive. It marks the first of many steps that this subsequent baby (and parents) will see what were missed the previous time. A pregnancy after loss can be caught up in many iterations: for some it can be redemptive in the sense that their body can now accomplish carrying a baby. It can fill a sense of need for identity, specifically as a mother. It can restore trust in one’s body.
These are some big tasks for a pregnancy to carry out, and many women don’t realize that their PAL is marked with additional meaning for them. It might mean simply fighting the daily fear that something will go wrong or trying to build a relationship with this new baby while not building up too much hope. A PAL is balancing attachment and protection. For those in the pregnant mom’s support circle, there is the hope that this new pregnancy will undo the grief that the previous pregnancy brought with it. The fantasy is that once a healthy baby is born, the mother will no longer yearn for the one(s) that weren’t. This new baby will only bring happiness to the family and will symbolize a new chapter and healing. Again, these are lofty goals to put on a baby.
Many women grieve more once their subsequent child is born for the child who was lost, because only now do they have a full understanding of all that was previously taken from them. These women, while celebrating firsts, might also simultaneously mourn those firsts that were never seen with the child that was lost. This can be confusing to family and friends, as the birth compounds the mourning. Some new moms might have difficulties enjoying the experience of motherhood as the fear looms that this baby will also be taken away.
There is a constant balancing of emotions during and after a pregnancy after loss, the the cycle of grief changes and evolves with a new baby. Expecting and being able to embrace the seemingly contrasting feelings (that sometimes choose to exist simultaneously) has no magic formula to follow. Each woman absorbs the ebb and flow of these feelings in her own way.
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