Registered Marriage + Family Therapist
By Shannon Golletz M.Sc.
You may have lost a pregnancy, but you haven’t crossed over that threshold empty-handed. A miscarriage, among other things, forces you to become a veteran of loss. An experienced griever. You may not realize it but you’re carrying necessary baggage, equipment, that for better or worse, will help you along the way. Think about it: You have seen things and done thing you’d never thought you’d be ready for, and you’ve come through. Maybe not healed, but stronger. Maybe even reluctantly wise. There’s power in understanding that the journey to parenthood is not always a steady curve, there are no guarantees, no shortcuts, no shelter from the volatility and harshness of nature.
With that in mind, you ask yourself, am I ready to do it all again? To walk a path that could lead to a miraculous new life, another chance, or possibly, tragically, in the same familiar territory of loss?
There will be other questions, too. Is your partner on the same path? How will you endure the ominous clouds still passing? Will the horizon always look so dark?
Here I dig into some of the issues women and couples encounter as they make decisions about trying again. Because even when we’re on the right path, getting started can be difficult.
After a loss, the immediate waves of pain and grief are earthshaking. They are often specific to that pregnancy; specific to that embryo; specific to that baby. There is a devastating finality in knowing that unique combination of DNA is never to be repeated; that specific due date is unlikely to be charted again. The magnitude of loss is so high because you had not only already attached to the spark of life that was growing, but had also embraced your evolving identity (mother, father of two, etc.).
After the initial, strongest waves of grief pass, however, many couples find that the loss of their pregnancy did not destroy their dream of growing their family, but solidified it, strengthening their resolve to keep going, more sure than even that this is what they want.
Although your grief may have lessened, it still remains —and will, for a long time. Maybe forever. If you’re waiting for it to subside completely before you try again, well…let’s just say it’s not always easy to know what “ready” feels like. Or for that matter, “recovered.” Just remember, grief is tucked inside your suitcase, it’s going where you go, but it can guide you instead of weighing you down.
It may take a single cycle or it may take more than a year but once you’re ready to try again, you’ll quickly realize the path isn’t as clear and smooth, and may not take you directly to where you want to go.
NOT SO FAST
For many couples trying again will mean having good, old-fashioned unprotected mid-cycle sex. But for others the process of trying again may not be as straightforward. Trying again may signal the next round of appointments with fertility specialists and a sobering review of your line of credit. Trying again may mean pausing while physicians draw blood, order tests, and interpret results. Trying again may mean staring down dismal odds and depressing predictive statistics. For couples that feel emotionally ready to proceed but are paused by finances, medical testing, or other external factors, this waiting may lead to additional feelings of loss and worry.
And what if you and your partner feel differently about when or even if to try again? It is common that partners reach the stage of “ready” at different times. After all, you are unique creatures entitled to your own schedule of grief and recovery. In addition to grieving time, there are many reasons why partners may wish to commence or delay the next pregnancy. Some look to the calendar to try to avoid dates of past loss(es) or to avoid duplicating a lost due date. Others will be influenced by changes to work, family, or health.
For lost pregnancies that came unplanned and early in a relationship one partner may feel strongly about delaying the next pregnancy until the relationship has had more time to develop or other factors in their lives have changed. Yet the split vote can be especially hard to accept when the lost pregnancy, for the duration of its existence, was mutually wanted and celebrated.
For many women a great deal of psychological recovery comes by way of a future full term pregnancy. In circumstances where she feels ready to try again and her partner wishes to wait there may be a part of her that begins to feel like she is in a frozen state of grief; waiting restlessly until she can welcome her next pregnancy.
For an unplanned pregnancy (following sterilization for example) a miscarriage may come as relief to one partner and a revelation of desire to have (more) children for the other. While both partners may feel grief for the lost pregnancy there may be additional relationship stress while negotiations for a future pregnancy are under way. Clearly letting your partner know your hopes for moving forward (trying again or not) may help but ultimately fertility is a matter of self determination. In this circumstance grief for the lost pregnancy may be compounded and intensified by knowing that you will not try for another baby. While finances, medical diagnoses, and bad luck feel like forces outside of your relationship, accepting that there will be no “future baby” because of your partner’s decision can feel especially heartbreaking and, at times, impossible to accept. But sometimes our paths diverge for awhile. And, walking alone is hard; especially, when there is unrest in the sky. Keep looking for ways to find each other out there.
Let the 28 day odyssey begin! And end [sigh]. Hello period [sniff].
Ah periods. Your monthly cycle of hope and loss. If you’ve struggled to conceive or you’ve lost multiple pregnancies you already understand this cycle. When you are trying to conceive the arrival of blood can suddenly be a harbinger for feelings of failure and loss. Secondary waves of grief crash in on a monthly schedule. In fact, following your miscarriage you may find the appearance of menstrual blood to be a powerful trigger. You may find yourself reliving some moments of your miscarriage(s); you may be flooded with memories of blood, clots, and tissues. You may find yourself thinking about the demise of yet another egg. Loss can break your heart wide open and periods may now be a reminder of one of the most heartbreaking experiences of your life.
The “hope” part of your menstrual cycle is the enjoyable counterpart to your period. Estrogen rises then soars during your early and mid-cycle. The world is bright again, and the possibility of conception is anew. Enjoy the surge of lady hormones. Estrogen is your friend in fertility; she really wants you to have lots of great unprotected sex. Your job is to introduce egg to sperm. And after that, let your body take over the quest for conception.
And then what? Your mind coasts along to day 28 in a state of calm acceptance? Sounds nice but following a loss or any prior experience with infertility the “waiting phase” (mid to end of cycle) can feel like a nerve-racking time warp. Fourteen days may feel like an eternity to find out whether joy and celebration or loss and worry will be on day 28’s agenda.
ALONG THE WAY
Following pregnancy loss and subsequent cycles of trying again, “feeling all the feels” is exhausting. Grief, guilt, fear, and worry lay claim to your emotional world. These emotions weigh a ton. Without some strategic maneuvering you feel like you are buckling. It takes work to place them aside (even for brief moments at a time) to give your body, brain, and spirit some relief. Through this time of loss many of us have to work extra hard at relaxation. Sound like a contradiction? It’s not. So how do you find your own calm place in this world?
Netflix and chill? ;-)
Yoga class? Why not?
Roller derby? Go girl!
Dinner out? Bon Appetit!
Write in a journal? Sounds perfect.
Mani pedi? Book it.
Therapy? Of course!
Date night? Do it!
Repaint the kitchen? I’ll tell Home Depot you are on the way!
Women are diverse.
As a group we need dozens (if not hundreds) of pathways to peace and relaxation. At the individual level the task is figuring out what really REALLY brings your mind to a lighter place. What makes your body feel its best? What helps you have a peaceful and accepting outlook on your life? And whatever combination of things come to your mind? Do them. Take the best care of yourself you can. Work hard attending to your physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being (even for brief moments at a time).
New journeys are exciting and daunting. As veterans of loss you stand at this new place with a broader view of what lies beyond. Some will find the courage to try again despite knowing how precarious the path to parenthood can be. Some will find the strength to wait a while longer until hearts, minds, bodies, and bank accounts have more time to heal. And some will be brave enough to forge ahead in an entirely new direction. So with courage, hope, and grief in tow I wish you all the very best on the path that lies ahead.