During the earliest days of my grief journey there were moments when I had all but convinced myself that life would be okay again as soon as I had another baby in my arms. I had visions of myself surrounded by family and friends in the same hospital room where I stayed with Leah, only this time there was a purely celebratory atmosphere as we passed the new baby from one pair of loving arms to the next with no thought of saying “goodbye” in sight. I was quite taken aback by how quickly the urge to conceive again overcame me. I physically yearned to feel soft newborn skin against my chest, and my arms literally ached from their crushing emptiness.
I believe this irrepressible urge is biologically instinctive in the most profound sense. I had given birth to Leah and bonded with her. For 33 hours I held her, smelled her, fed her, and took care of her after carrying her for nine months. Suddenly I found myself at home with no baby, and it seemed like my body was not able to comprehend or accept her sudden, unnatural absence. During those early days my need for her was deep and primal; I spent countless hours curled into the fetal position on by bed, clutching my soft postpartum belly and whimpering her name like the wounded animal that I was.
On another level, this urge is also likely motivated by the fact that I am a borderline-obsessive planner, which is common among anxious types like myself. Even though my pregnancy with Leah was a surprise, I maintained my locus of control by planning around her unexpected presence in my life. For the next nine months each decision, whether it be about work and finances or simply what to eat for dinner that day, was made with her in mind. My life was still moving forward with the understanding that Leah would be a fundamental part of my present and my future.
But when she exited my life just as abruptly as she had entered it, my world came to a screeching halt. Despite my anxious propensity to hope for the best but expect the worst during my pregnancy, I could not possibly prepare myself for my daughter’s death. Suddenly I was stagnant; I could not turn back the hands of time and get her back, but I also could not move forward. I had planned for a baby. I had a baby. I had a bedroom full of baby gear and an entire summer ahead of me during which I had no plans beyond caring for my daughter. It didn’t take long for my anxiety to begin shouting its directives from the depths of my mind, desperate to regain some semblance of control:
“Have another baby!”
Of course! It was a brilliant plan. My OBGYN had given me the go-ahead to conceive as soon as my postpartum bleeding ended. This meant that if my menstrual cycles resumed by the end of the summer, I could theoretically be pregnant again in the fall and be holding Leah’s brother or sister this time next year. Certainly I could hold out for one more year and everything would be back on track. I clung to this assurance for a brief period of time before my anxiety intervened (again) and began generously offering numerous “what if” scenarios to consider:
What if you cannot conceive now that you will be actively trying? What if you experience Unexplained Secondary Infertility? What if you get pregnant but you have a miscarriage? And then another miscarriage? And then another? What if you experience another Fetomaternal Hemorrhage in the second or third trimester? What if your baby is stillborn? What if the baby is born with unanticipated complications and dies in the hospital? What if your baby seems okay in the hospital but dies of SIDS or illness at home?
And on and on it goes. Yet every now and then I am able to put my fear of future losses aside and imagine a positive outcome. I consider the absolute best case scenario that could unfold from here: I get pregnant soon after I start trying. I have a healthy, complication-free pregnancy. I hear a strong cry from Leah’s brother or sister after they are birthed by repeat cesarean section. I find myself at home a year from now, doing everything I imagined I would be doing with Leah, but with a new baby instead.
I allow myself to imagine these positive outcomes from time to time, but inevitably the tears still flow. A more nuanced clarity has emerged since my first days of grieving and I now understand that having another baby will not mend the loss wound that Leah has left in my life. Yes, perhaps I could get pregnant again quickly, but Leah won’t be the one performing acrobatics on the ultrasound screen during my prenatal appointments. Maybe I could have a healthy baby that makes it to the second trimester, but it won’t be Leah’s kicks that I feel against my ribs each day. Perhaps another baby could make it to the end without experiencing FMH or a different complication at the eleventh hour, but it won’t be Leah who is passed from one family member to the next in a hospital room where joy is not mitigated by sadness.
With each passing day I become more painfully aware that there is no simple way forward from here. I know that having another baby will complicate my ongoing grief journey, rather than alleviate it. Having another baby will not give Leah back the life she never got to live, nor will it erase the struggles she endured. Still, these days the most comforting thing I can imagine is sitting with another wee daughter or son and telling them all about their beautiful, strong big sister. It allows me to smile every now and again when I am tempted to shrink away from the bittersweet road that lies before me. It does not take the pain away, but it does allow me to hope.