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by Wendy Jones
"How many children do you have?"
She asks the question innocently, never imagining the sorrow it will evoke. I sigh, wondering how to answer this time. In my heart, I know I cannot make her understand, for she is already a mother. She cannot be blamed for her naiveté, for there was a time when I too believe in the fairy tale that all couples are able to bear children. But that was long ago.
As she patiently awaits my answer, my thoughts slowly drift back to a time when my husband and I believed we were going to become parents. Those days are shrouded in a haze, as though they never really happened. I remember that, even though the news took us by surprise, we were overjoyed. A baby! We were going to be parents.
We immediately began making elaborate plans for the arrival of our child. Night after night we would lie awake and contemplate the future. Would we have a boy or a girl? What would we name him or her? Whose eyes would he or she have? We amused ourselves by browsing in baby stores, shaking rattles and gazing at tiny but costly baby sneakers. Those fleeting weeks we lived in a dream world.
We told everyone the joyous news. Our parents were as enthusiastic as we were. My mom proudly informed all of her friends that she was going to be a grandmother. My mother-in-law made sure I was taking care of myself appropriately. My father made plans to take his grandson (for he was certain the child would be a boy) to a Cleveland Browns game. Already he was searching local stores for baby Browns-wear. My father-in-law, not to be outdone, was searching for Pittsburgh Steeler clothes.
Then came that fateful morning when I awoke to painful cramping. We knew at once something was terribly wrong. My husband rushed me to the doctor’s office. There our worst fears were confirmed: we had lost our baby.
To add to my pain, my doctor nonchalantly asked, "Why the tears?” leaving me with a feeling of utter confusion. Was I wrong to mourn our loss?
In the coming months I experienced extreme emotional lows, intense grief, and an acute sense of emptiness and loss. There was no comfort, only misery. No one could speak words to make me feel better. Sentiments intended to bring comfort and reassurance instead brought anger.
Now, when I should have been pondering what our child’s name would be, I was instead asking questions for which there were no answers. Why me? What was wrong with me? Am I somehow defective? Will I ever be able to bear a child? What did I do to cause this?
As if searching to answers for my own questions weren’t enough, I was confronted with a barrage of well-meaning inquiries from friends and family. "Did you exercise too much?" "Did you ask the doctor why this happened?" "It must have been God’s will." One person even blurted, "What are you so upset about? You’re still young and you know you can get pregnant. Quit complaining!"
Even now, after much time has passed, the sorrow lingers. I am painfully aware that most commercials on television during the day are geared toward new mothers. I am constantly invited to baby showers, which if I were to attend, would only add to my anguish. Even at work, pregnant women surround me. Day after day I must smile as they recount tales of baby movement, nursery painting, and ultrasound checks. I must pretend I am happy for them when they tell of how their husbands are going to make wonderful fathers. While a part of me is happy for them, I cannot help the feelings of bitterness and resentment that overwhelm me for the loss of my own child.
Her voice jolts me back to the present. "How many children do you have?" she politely asks again. I rub my hands over my face in a futile attempt to eradicate the memories. "None," I whisper, and smile. "None yet."
Wendy went on to have two healthy baby boys, though she experienced some complications in her pregnancies. She spent several months as our Sidelines Ohio Coordinator, and now works fulltime at a shelter for battered women.
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by Ann Douglas
It takes courage to try again when your previous pregnancy has ended in miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant. You know that there's a chance that you may experience another loss, but you're willing to risk it all for a shot at the ultimate prize: a healthy baby that you can call your own. As committed as you may be to having another baby, it's perfectly normal to feel a bit nervous about planning another pregnancy. After all, you already know that not all pregnancies result in picture-perfect happy endings. Like it or not, the innocence that you enjoyed when you found yourself pregnant for the very first time is gone forever. You can't get it back.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself experiencing a smorgasbord of different emotions when you first make the decision to start trying to conceive - everything from joy to worry to outright panic. Some days, you may feel convinced that becoming pregnant again is the only thing that will bring joy back into your life. At other times, you may wonder if you're crazy to even think about exposing yourself to the possibility of heartbreak again.
You may also find that your partner has mixed feelings about trying again, whether or not he's actually willing to express these emotions to you. After all, he's not just worried about the well being of any future babies you may conceive: he's also worried about the impact of any subsequent losses on you.
If you're having difficulty deciding whether or not the two of you are actually ready to embark on another pregnancy, you might find it helpful to consider the following questions:
- Have you had a chance to work through some of your grief for the baby or babies who died? Grief can be an exhausting emotion - one that demands far more of your time and attention that you want to give it. If your baby died recently, you may still be going through a very rough time emotionally and you may not be able to embark on another pregnancy just yet.
- How would you cope if you were to experience fertility problems? If you don't think you'd be able to weather the emotional highs and lows that couples typically experience when they are having trouble conceiving, you might want to postpone your baby making plans a little while longer. While the fact that you managed to conceive in the past means that you have an excellent chance of conceiving again this time around, you have, at best, a 20% chance of conceiving in any given menstrual cycle. That means the odds of being disappointed during the first month or two of trying are extremely high. Are you emotionally strong enough to cope with that disappointment?
- How would you cope if you were to experience the death of another baby? While you may not want to even consider this possibility, it's important to go into your subsequent pregnancy with your eyes wide open. If you're still feeling emotionally fragile, it may be too soon to jump back into the fire again.
- How would you cope with the stress of a subsequent pregnancy? The worry doesn't end when you manage to conceive. If anything, it's just beginning. That's why it's important to be sure that you're up to coping with the stress of what could very well be the most nerve-wracking 40 weeks of your life.
- Are you expecting too much of your subsequent pregnancy? If you expect a new pregnancy to wipe away the grief you are feeling for the baby or babies you lost, you are setting your expectations too high. No other baby can possibly take the place of that other baby in your heart.
While there are a lot of factors to weigh in deciding whether or not you're ready to start trying to conceive again, your best bet is to listen to your heart. Most couples instinctively know whether they're ready again or not. Consider these words of wisdom from Cynthia, 35, who experienced a series of miscarriages before giving birth to her second living child last year: "If you have to consciously decide, then it's probably the wrong time. It's kind of like being in love. You always wondered how you would know when you were, but when you were, you just knew it. I think it's the same. When you're ready to try, you'll want to try. It's really that simple."
Ann Douglas is the co-author of Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss (Taylor Publishing, October 2000) and The Unofficial Guide to Having A Baby (IDG Books, 1999). She is the mother of four living children as well as Laura, who was stillborn in October of 1996 as the result of an umbilical cord knot. She can be contacted via her web site at http://www.having-a-baby.com.