The title of this post is a question my husband asked me as we were falling asleep the other day. I don’t really know how to answer it, because I’m not sure what a normal response is to giving birth to a dead baby 4.5 months into your first pregnancy. I’ve never met (in person) anyone else who’s been through it. And I’m sure even if I had, their experience would have differed from mine in important ways. So how do you know what’s normal, and what’s something to be worried about?
More than six months after her death, I still think about our daughter every day, multiple times a day. I tear up most days, and sob outright once every week or two. There are still days when I can’t concentrate on work, and spend hours thinking about her or looking up information about pregnancy loss and various medical conditions on the internet. Pregnancy loss, and our lack of a living baby, is constantly on my brain.
I have trouble dealing with even oblique references to pregnancy — tonight at dinner out with our colloquium speaker, one of my colleagues was ribbing a postdoc about taking advantage of an amazing benefit that my university has for college-age kids of staff. The postdoc is getting married next fall, so this sort of ribbing is natural, but as the conversation went on and on and ended with “Well, it’ll only take, what, 19 years for your kid to be college age? And it’ll only take 9 months to get started — what are you waiting for?” and I couldn’t handle it anymore — tears welled up in my eyes and I had to surreptitiously blink them away. For some people, it does only take nine months. And for me, after two years, all I’ve got to show for it is one very beautiful but very dead baby. Earlier this week, I ducked out of a conference organization telecon early because we’d been discussing conference childcare, and the conversation derailed a little while several of the organizing committee members chirped about bringing their babies to the conference. It was too painful for me to listen to (I’d been planning to bring my baby to the conference this summer), so I just hung up early. It seems like every few days, something sets me off in a way that is disruptive to my friendships and work relationships. This is not like me — or at least, it’s not like the person I was before our baby died. But six months after her death, I’m starting to think that maybe this is just the new me.
These days I find myself wondering when things will get better. I definitely want to be pregnant again, and I know that would help in some ways (for example, removing my anxiety about whether or not I’ll even be able to get pregnant again), but it would also introduce a whole basketload of other issues — not to mention my uncertainty about whether I could handle another loss. Holding a living, breathing baby in my arms has been a goal for a long time now, but will things be better then? Probably, but I imagine that for a while at least I’ll be terrified that the baby will die. Maybe a few months after the baby is born things will be better? I just don’t know anymore. At any rate, “better” sure seems a long way off.
I’ve been worried about my reaction for a while. A couple months ago, at the suggestion of the MFM specialist, I went so far as to track down a therapist who takes my insurance (I’ve never been to a therapist before). I went to her for a couple of sessions, but it didn’t seem very useful. I was very clear about what I wanted to get out of therapy: I wanted help reducing the most disruptive of my grief and anxiety symptoms, including my early-morning awakenings that have been disrupting my sleep, and my inability to concentrate at work. And I wanted stress reduction techniques to help me manage the stress of dealing with my daughter’s death and trying to get pregnant again.
The therapist did not seem particularly insightful, and some of the suggestions she gave me felt kind of strange. For example, she told me that I should start holding lots of babies, because maybe my body would just recognize that it felt right and that would help me get pregnant again. Or maybe I should ask my doctors for things to read about my medical issues instead of seeking things out on the internet — fine, but more reading material is not likely to help me curtail or circumscribe the amount of time I spend reading. After two sessions, she gave me a little pep talk about how she didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, that I seemed like an intelligent and sensitive person who was responding normally to a really terrible experience, that I wasn’t minimizing or distorting any of what had happened to me, and that she didn’t think I needed to be seen regularly (she did tell me to check in after a month had passed, but I didn’t bother). At the time, that felt good, because it was nice to have a professional tell me that I wasn’t crazy. Now, when I’m still having trouble more than six months after my daughter’s death, I’m confused about whether I can or should seek out another opinion. It was really hard to ask for help the first time, and now that I’ve kindly been turned away I feel like it would be pushy to look for someone else. And maybe counterproductive. After all, it’s not as though I want to seek out medical care that I don’t need, and part of me thinks that I should stop looking for opportunities to dwell on my loss and just try to move on with life. I think I can cope… most of the time I’m more or less OK. But I do wonder if someone else might be able to help me more than the first woman I went to… and I do feel like I can use all the help I can get.
So, after all that… I’m not sure how I should answer my husband’s question. Of course, I reassured him that I was doing OK, and that we’d get through this. Part of the problem is that with so few people to talk about our daughter with, I bring it up a lot more with my husband than I would if I had other outlets, so he hears more about it than he otherwise would. But how do you know what’s a normal part of the grieving process, and what’s something to be worried about? When will things start to get better?