The Myth And Reality Of A Rainbow Pregnancy

by Till Heike-Woods
Till Heike-Woods

Trigger warning: stillbirth

Being pregnant again after stillbirth isn’t about baby showers and gender reveals, it’s more 2 a.m. hospital visits and crying on the shower floor.

Should we conceive again?

After our daughter died from unexplained stillbirth, we took some time out to decide if we would try to conceive again. We already had two beautiful living daughters and were adjusting to the heartbreak of losing our third daughter, Claudia. We had all been through so much as a family that the decision to try for another pregnancy was not a forgone conclusion.

We knew another pregnancy would not be like any previous ones, this one would be fraught with anxiety, the full-blown fear that only occurs after experiencing the death of your own baby. Little did I realize just how gripping that fear would be.

Early in the pregnancy, I was cautiously happy and able to contain any niggling fears. However, all it took was eight months to go from a normal well-functioning optimistic adult to an explosive mess of fear and anxiety who couldn’t trust her body to keep this baby alive.

When I hit eight months, the gestation our daughter died at, I was shocked at how much I fell into the fear.

It engulfed me, slowly choking me. It toyed with me and fed into my ever-present anxieties. As my baby became more “real” to me, so did the fear of losing this child as well. The fears swarmed, and the continuous chorus of doubts became louder. “Can my body do this? You know that they can die at any time: It’s happened before, it can happen again.”

Just promise me the baby will be alive.

The truth is I didn’t want to be pregnant; I just wanted the baby at the end. I had learned in the worst way possible that it isn’t a forgone conclusion to get that. I was acutely aware that shit could hit the fan at any time, and as the pregnancy progressed, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Don’t get me wrong, there were moments of absolute joy, and there was definitely always love: love for the growing baby inside me. It was just the fear was so ever-present that it almost seemed a caveat for the entire pregnancy. The fear reminded me that, yes, you can enjoy it and love it, but you know it can stop at any moment.

This was a pregnancy not full of baby showers and gender reveals or even the simple pleasures of putting a nursery together. It was a pregnancy of 2 a.m. calls to the maternity ward, ECGs every second day, nighttime travels to the hospital, and crying with the midwives about how I could possibly last to the due date.

Each day, I am pleading with my own sense of self to not crumble, not be too stressed for the baby. I constantly second-guessed myself every time I went to sleep, hoping that we both would be here in the morning. From the point of passing the gestation Claudia died at, it felt like borrowed time. The ticking clock was a time bomb. The fears ramped up exponentially.

I was sick of this pregnancy, sick of how stressed I was. I just wanted my baby here in my arms safe and sound. I felt with our baby here I could finally move forward. Move forward from the eternal pregnancy that I seemed to be stuck in; after an ectopic, a third trimester stillbirth, and now this third pregnancy coming to term, I was sick and tired of being pregnant! My body and mind were tiring.

I was done with hearing people say: “It can’t happen again.” By now I knew too much — though unlikely, it could still happen.

I was sick of smiling through a response when “You must be so happy” came up. I was happy, but I was too gripped in fear to enjoy the happiness.

“You deserve this, after all you’ve been through.” I wanted to shake them for being so naïve. Bad things happen to good people. This is not about luck.

And of course, “You can relax now” Truthfully, I could do anything but.

We are one of the lucky ones. We delivered a healthy baby after loss.

I was inducted at 35 weeks because of the stress I was having. Within the last two weeks, I was at the point of seeing the doctor every second day, and being hooked up to the monitors. These visits, I joked with the midwife were my “mental health” visits, but joking aside, it was exactly what they were.

With my husband working away, and two children to still look after, the stress was catching up with me faster than I could run away from it.

My doctor was happy that our baby was healthy, and we proceeded to plan an induction. I cried that I finally had an end date, then I cried even more because I couldn’t last to my due date to guarantee the best health of my baby. I felt so guilty. I felt so shattered. I was a mess. I knew my mental health was in the balance and this was the right decision, but it didn’t make it any easier.

To even think of not giving every possible advantage to our baby left me guilt ridden. I hung onto the small thread of sanity left in me. I knew our baby was okay. This one is alive.

Our son was born healthy.

He was never delayed in his development and caught up in every way. Had he not been so strong, my guilt would have been unbearable.

At times, it was hard to separate the grief around Claudia’s death and enjoy the connection to our new son, Luc. I didn’t celebrate the pregnancy because I was always so scared this baby wouldn’t make it home.

I felt guilty because how our son was born was directly affected by the loss of his sister. He came out early because I couldn’t stop the worry. I loved this baby as much as Claudia, but I got to keep him and not her. I felt guilty that my body didn’t keep Claudia alive like it did for him. I continuously felt that we were pushing our luck or playing with fire to even be pregnant again.

Most importantly, we knew our son was never a replacement for our daughter.

If bereaved parents choose to conceive again, then understanding what is normal during this time can be of great comfort.

My advice from having gone through it is to take one day at a time, take care of yourself, be honest with your family and medical professionals, treasure the little things, enjoy the calm when you get it, and keep putting one foot in front of the other — you’ve already proven how strong you are.