These are a little miscelaneous in nature, but they're
issues you may confront from time to time during the pregnancy.
Don't worry if some don't apply to you.
Let's play a game of pretend. Pretend Superman exists. He's
out minding his own business when a school-bus full of kids topples
off a bridge, and he catches it. No problem. Then a Buick falls
off the bridge, and he catches that too. He starts bringing them
back up to the bridge when Spiderman swings by and says, "Hey,
man, can you hold my sandwich?"
He can't do it. Not because he can't hold a sandwich, but
because he's run out of hands. This is basically what living
every day is like when you're grieving. You've got both hands
full of the weightiest object you've ever carried, and then you're
supposed to go grocery shopping on top of that? Or pay the bills?
Or cook dinner? Or vacuum? How can you be expected to carry on
with--or even to care about--all these stupid little minutiae?
Be gentle on yourself. If you find yourself ordering take-out
every night for a week, don't worry. If you haven't washed the
bathroom in a month, it'll probably take about as long to clean
it when you do have the energy. Maybe the lawn is tall enough
to film The Oregon Trail. It doesn't matter. What matters now
is your baby, and your energies are necessarily diverted elsewhere.
If it gets to you, surprise one of those ubiquitous people who
says "If there's anything I can do--" and hand out
sponges and scouring powder.
I will be honest: after we got the diagnosis, I was not fit
to drive (I had tried to put my husband's coat on my son, for
starters). Neither was my husband. We'd gone to the ultrasound
appointment in two separate cars. And yes, we both drove our
cars home. I pretended I was driving in blizard conditions, keeping
exactly to the speed limit and about 30 car-lengths between me
and the poor souls ahead of me. My husband says he simply drove
home like a maniac. A friend gave me a well-deserved yelling-at
for that little stunt.
There were other days I was not fit to drive, and yes, I drove
anyhow. It's only by a miracle I didn't kill anyone. If you're
in the same position, please consider not driving. If doctor
appointments throw you for a loop, maybe a friend can bring you.
Maybe it would be worth the cab fare. There will be some days
when the attention drifts, or when you find yourself crying too
hard to see. I know it's difficult because I never backed off,
but there's no shame in admitting you can't drive on some days.
But wrecking your car or hurting someone else because your life
is a wreck of its own..that would be a shame. Please be careful.
The Next Baby
You don't need to make the decision now, but you may want
to ask your spouse what he/she thinks is an appropriate period
for waiting. (Your doctor can answer when you will be physically
ready; only you and your spouse can gauge emotional readiness.)
This may seem like jumping the gun, but if you get yourself through
this pregnancy by thinking of another pregnancy six weeks after
delivery, and your spouse is thinking eighteen months might be
just about enough of a wait, you'll clash when you can least
afford to be divided. It's worth it just to know where one another
stand. The one with the shorter time-frame could probably get
what he or she wants, but at the expense of marital trust and
intimacy. Pick a time-frame you can both live with as a time
when you'll discuss it "for real," and reserve the
right to change your mind. I know my desire for another child
would rapidly fluctuate from "Now, I want one this second"
to "Never again in my lifetime."
I find myself chafing when people talk about "Trying
again." Using the phrase "try again" implies that
we failed the first time. We didn't fail. We had a beautiful
baby who happened to have a birth defect that killed her. That's
not failure. Loving Emily was a success of a very different kind,
and I was glad to have the chance to do so. Her life increased
my conviction that children are a gift from God, and that I wanted
lots of them. After her death, though, I discovered in myself
a desire to let Emily be my "youngest child" for a
bit longer than I had originally planned.
A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 1999;318:1721-1724)
showed that women who conceive within a year of a miscarriage
or stillbirth show more depression and anxiety in the third trimester
and one year postpartum than women who wait a year. I would assume
the same holds true if your child lives only for minutes or days.
This increase in depression and anxiety probably happens because
grief itself takes eighteen months to two years to run its course,
and if a woman conceives before nine months pass, she may be
dealing with grief on top of depression, worsening both. This
single study may not be a reason to postpone conceiving; women
should be aware of the possibility after delivery, though, and
be extra-vigilant about their mental state.
Everyone reacts differently to stress, and of course this
is (hopefully) the most stress you'll ever have to handle. Some
problems are almost universal in response to stress, though,
and I thought I'd make mention of two of them:
- Colds. Most people find their immune system compromised as
a result of high stress. Personally, I contracted long-lasting
wicked colds two weeks after Emily's diagnosis and two weeks
after Emily's death; when I say long-lasting, I mean three to
four weeks apiece. If your doctor approves of echinacea or zinc
or vitamin C tablets, you might consider taking them to build
up your resistence. On the non-medical side of things, learn
to make a really strong chicken soup (and freeze half of it--see
below). You'll thank yourself later for it.
- Teeth-clenching. This doesn't affect as many people, but
it's a doozy. Some people tend to clench their jaws under stress,
creating massive headaches, neck cramps, tooth pain, and stress
fractures in the tooth enamel. Don't change your dentist's income
tax bracket. Just being aware that you might be prone to clenching
your jaw helps you stop it before it hurts you. As a plus, learning
to relax the jaw muscles theoretically helps a woman relax the
perineal muscles during childbirth.
Be prepared for any reaction in this area. You may find nothing
has changed. You may find nothing works. You'll probably find
something in between those two. All I can suggest is that you
and your spouse spend a lot of time talking in a non-threatening
place and a non-threatening time (where neither of you is expected
to immediately act on what's being discussed) and use a lot of
I-feel statements and three-part sentences ("When you X,
I feel Y because Z.") Restate what your spouse says to make
sure you understood correctly. Every couple will work out something
individual to themselves, so all you really need to do is make
sure you're both communicating what you want and expect from
and for each other.
Cooking for Two
Two meals, that is. In the month or two immediately following
your baby's birth, neither parent is going to feel much like
preparing a meal. In the last month of pregnancy, I found an
article about cooking for one month at a time, and I had two
thoughts: a) these people must have huge freezers; b) there's
nothing to stop me from cooking two meals at a time and freezing
the other half. That was what I did, and I learned that in my
case, preparing twice or three times as much food took a lot
less time than cooking the same amount of food in separate batches.
After Emily died, all I needed to do was take a pre-cooked meal
out of the freezer and get it to an edible temperature somehow.
This preparation took a lot of strain off me, and that's why
I pass it on.
Here's a tip from a friend: "I would add that times
of trauma are the worst times to make major life decisions. People
tend to do things on the spur of the moment when they are in
crisis and then regret them later. Even if these things seem
unrelated, it's best to stick to the status quo unless it's either
essential (like quitting smoking) or very easily reversable (like
deciding to read stacks of trashy romance novels.)"
I thought the Abiding
Hearts website was kidding when I read that I should keep
current on all my hobbies. I did it anyhow, and now I'm glad
I did. Every so often it helped to take my mind off things. I
also started a new hobby, guitar-playing, and found I was able
to channel some of the pain into learning. Guitar lessons cost
$15 for half an hour a week; a therapist would charge me $70
at a minimum, and I wouldn't have a useful skill at the end of
They can't be prepared for by their very nature, but little
unexpected details may set you off and bring the whole situation
to the surface. For me, it happened while grocery shopping as
I reached for the milk: I realized the dairy products were going
to expire after my daughter did.
Little reminders are often worse than the big ones. You can
steel yourself for a visit to cousin Thelma and her newborn.
You can't steel yourself for every aisle of the grocery store,
every shop in the mall, every headline in the paper... I finally
gave myself permission to cry or just feel rotten. It's one more
unfairness in a gut-wrenching situation, but it's a part of who
we are as mothers and fathers.
Grocery stores and shopping malls seem to be baby-havens nowadays
(when you can't remember seeing a pregnant woman or a stroller
before.) Moms with kids tend to do their shopping during school
hours, when the older kids are occupied. You're less likely to
see the babies-on-parade if you shop during dinner hour or in
the evening. Also about shopping: you're guaranteed not to see
babies if you order online!
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