Having a Baby after Child Loss
By Lara Gillham, Jackson’s Mom
Pregnancy is thought to be an exciting and joyous time, but when you are pregnant after losing a child there are so many more complex emotions. While there are certainly happy feelings, there are unfortunately sad and confusing feelings as well. You’re not alone for feeling this way. It’s completely normal and has no bearing on the love you have for your new child. The first baby you have after losing a child is often called your rainbow baby, because it is the rainbow after the storm. They say the new baby doesn’t take away the damage the storm caused, but it provides some hope in the aftermath.
We lost our first child, Jackson, when he was 6 months old to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Seven months later we were pregnant with our daughter, Violet. Everyone has their opinions on how long you should wait to get pregnant again. Some think you should do it right away because it will ease your sadness. Others think you need to wait awhile so you aren’t making rash decisions and have time to heal. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what everyone else wants (as long as it is medically safe for you to do so). No matter what you decide, it’s your decision, and there’s no wrong answer. We started talking about getting pregnant again very shortly after Jackson died. Not because we wanted to replace him, but because we wanted a family and to be parents again. While this may sound crazy to some, I’ve actually found it quite common among other bereaved parents of infants. We chose to wait until we received our genetic test results so we could determine if there was a risk of our next child having the same condition as Jackson.
Pregnancy with my daughter was much different than my first pregnancy. With my son, I was happy, excitedly nervous, and blissfully ignorant of the fact that I could lose my child. I enjoyed every moment of being pregnant. Some of that could have been the infatuation of it being my first pregnancy, but most of it was because I cherished being pregnant, knowing I was providing life to this little boy who would soon be mine to hug and kiss. He was our first baby, and when we lost him, we also lost our parenthood. Five months after his death we found out we were expecting again. I remember thinking that the worst in life had already happened to me so surely nothing would go wrong with this pregnancy or the baby. Five short weeks into that pregnancy I had a miscarriage. I was heartbroken. I didn’t know that baby yet, so I can’t say I loved it the same as I loved Jackson, but all of my hopes and dreams for another beautiful baby, along with my desire to be a parent again seemed to be even more of a distant dream.
When we first got pregnant after Jackson died, I cried when I saw the positive test.I was elated but also incredibly sad that we did not have Jackson with us, and I was emotionally overwhelmed about having another baby. Even though we lost the baby early, we decided to name it Nova. Because a nova star grows and gets brighter until it returns to its original state, just like our baby did.
Just two months later we got another positive pregnancy test. This time was different than with Jackson or Nova. I didn’t jump up and down with excitement when I saw the positive test, I didn’t start planning for the baby’s nursery, and I didn’t assume this baby would make it. Instead, when I saw the positive result, I got back into bed and smiled at my husband with both joy and pain in my heart and softly said, “we’re pregnant.” He returned the same sentiment. We were cautiously optimistic.
As the pregnancy progressed, it looked much different than my first. I think I was around 20 weeks when I finally accepted that I was actually pregnant and allowed myself to be happy about it. However, we were still being fairly cautious and had extra prenatal tests done to make sure our daughter didn’t have the same diagnosis that our son had and to rule out any other conditions that we could find. Thankfully all tests were coming back normal.
Just as I started to relax and enjoy the excitement of having another baby, we were told that our daughter was measuring small and we needed to be closely monitored because if she was failing to grow we might have to deliver early. All of my anxiety returned. What would happen if she were delivered early? Would she survive? Would she have long term complications? What was I doing wrong that she wasn’t growing? We also had the unique situation of being pregnant during the covid-19 pandemic, which only made things more difficult as my husband was no longer allowed at my prenatal visits, which brought additional fears and anxiety to the pregnancy. Thankfully, about one month before she was due we were told our daughter was in the normal size range. We did indeed deliver a perfectly healthy 7 lb 1 oz baby girl. After she was born, we had an echo on her heart to confirm it was perfectly healthy.
There were many ups and downs throughout our daughter’s pregnancy. I was constantly concerned for her health, so I asked a lot of questions and opted for special testing to ease my mind and prepare us for any conditions she may have. There were many times I wished I could better control my anxiety because I was afraid that it would affect her pregnancy or her personality after birth. Jackson was such a relaxed little boy, and I was so calm during his pregnancy that I correlated the two. Would Violet come out colicky and anxious because of my grief during her pregnancy? Ultimately, I had to accept that I was doing everything that I could. I couldn’t control my grief, and plenty of women are anxious during pregnancy and their children turn out just fine.
I finally realized that my grief during my daughter’s pregnancy was a part of her journey as Jackson’s little sister. Violet’s life will always be affected by Jackson because he is her big brother, who we will always love and share stories of.