Pregnancy after loss can be a generally trying time in a woman’s life. After the trauma of losing a baby and the grief that goes along with it, by the time a woman is pregnant again, there is a good chance that she is both physically and emotionally drained. The precautions that are taken and the needs during a pregnancy after loss can make a woman feel like a burden, which in turn can lead to feelings of guilt. There were a number of things that I felt guilty for during my rainbow pregnancy, and as I’ve had time to reflect on some of these things, I realize there was no need to feel guilty. After feeling heartbroken for so long, I simply needed to do what I thought was best for both my baby and my heart.
Listed below are some of the things I felt guilty for, followed by one simple reason why you don’t have to feel the same guilt that I did.
- Being less than enthusiastic about my rainbow pregnancy. I was depressed and anxious. I felt pressure to feel happy and excited, but I just couldn’t summon up those feelings. I felt guilty for not feeling the way I thought I should feel. The excitement involved in a normal pregnancy revolves around the idea of bringing a baby home. There are the clothes to pick out, and the nursery to decorate, and the celebrations to plan. But a rainbow pregnancy isn’t a normal pregnancy. It is stained with memories of trauma and flashbacks of the worst kind. There is no telling whether it will end with holding a living baby in your arms. “Are you excited?” seems to be a frequent question that is posed to pregnant women. When I answered this question with hints of skepticism I was often met with strange looks or an abrupt end to the conversation. I felt guilty for not feeling the way I was expected to feel.
- Not feeling particularly attached to my baby. There was much uncertainty around whether my rainbow pregnancy would end with a living baby, at least in my mind. I couldn’t let myself even think of what it would be like to hold my baby, see him smile, look into his eyes. While I was clearly pregnant, somehow the reality that I was carrying a baby remained in the very back of my mind. I often forgot that I was pregnant. I had stored any hopes of bringing my rainbow baby home in the depths of my mind, and the hope was difficult to retrieve. Even though I was physically pregnant, my mind didn’t register it. I felt guilty for my inability to process the fact that I was pregnant. And I felt guilty for not allowing myself to imagine a future life with my baby.
- Making my family’s life a little more difficult over the duration of my pregnancy. I remember feeling bad about all the extra help that we received from our families. Both my parents and my in-laws traveled to our home many times in order to help cook, clean, and take care of other daily duties that I was unable to manage. My husband picked up my slack and took care of our daughter and the house nearly full-time, while also working 5 days a week. I felt guilty for burdening members of my family, not only for the physical toll that my pregnancy took on them, but also for the emotional one. They were scared too.
- Not having a baby shower. Baby showers are often regarded as one of the highlights of pregnancy, but they can be a hard thing for the loss mom to get through. My answer to whether or not I wanted a baby shower during my rainbow pregnancy was always “no.” My levels of anxiety were already sky high and I new participating in a baby shower would only add to that. I didn’t have the energy to put on a smile and feign excitement when I didn’t feel happy or excited. I knew that my depressed mood would make other people uncomfortable and I just didn’t feel like there would be any benefits to participating in a baby shower. After two losses, the way I looked at pregnancy had changed. Instead of excited, I was scared and I preferred to be scared in secret. I felt guilty because it seemed like I considered this baby less worthy than my daughter – less worthy of a baby shower, less worthy of being shared with those around me.
- Not buying things for the baby or preparing a nursery. The fun parts of pregnancy often involve buying adorable baby clothes and decorating the nursery. I didn’t do either of those things. I was afraid that I would have to return any clothes that I bought and I was afraid that I would end up with a nursery full of baby items, but no baby. I felt like an outsider in the world of pregnancy as these are things that pregnant women often look forward to doing, something they often enjoy doing. But I couldn’t make myself plan for a baby who had yet to be born; a baby who I wasn’t sure would ever need a nursery. I felt guilty for making no preparations for my baby. Especially in a society that forces trendy baby clothes and images of beautifully decorated nurseries onto women as soon as, if not before, they become pregnant.
- Not celebrating this pregnancy the way I had celebrated pregnancy with my daughter. I hardly talked about my rainbow pregnancy. I didn’t share anything about it on social media. There were no pregnancy announcements, no public celebrations, and no future plans for my baby. I took just a handful of pictures toward the end of my rainbow pregnancy and I didn’t document antything. I felt guilty for treating my rainbow pregnancy as if it were less important than my pregnancy with my daughter.
But you don’t have to feel guilty about these things or anything else, and the reason is this:
You have the right to manage your pregnancy after loss in the way that works best for your heart, body, and mind.
It’s simple, I know. But it’s true. You have the right. It’s your pregnancy. It’s your baby. You don’t have to satisfy the expectations of others. You don’t have to feel a certain way or do things in a certain way. You don’t have to conform to the social norms of society. A pregnancy after loss is not a normal pregnancy and you have the right to take care of yourself in the way that best satisfies your needs.
Maybe that means keeping quiet about your pregnancy, or maybe it means shouting your big announcement from the mountaintops. Maybe it means doing things all on your own, or maybe it means asking for help. Maybe it means guarding your heart and putting on a layer of self-protection or maybe it means wearing your heart on your sleeve for all to see.
In any case, the decisions are yours to make and the feelings are yours to feel. You have the right.