Getting pregnant almost exactly a year behind the timeline of our first pregnancy (during which our daughter died at 18 weeks) has been surreal. Hitting milestones within days of when we hit them last year means that every milestone in this pregnancy is a vivid reminder of the same milestone we hit with our daughter last year, only to lose her just shy of the halfway point in our first pregnancy. But finally, this week, things have started to feel different.
Mid-September was rough for us, as we passed the anniversary of our daughter’s death and then, a week later, the same gestational point in this new pregnancy with our son. Now, here I am, 19 weeks and 3 days pregnant, and I can finally say definitively that some days are different.
The anatomy scan was a huge one, of course — the day before the anniversary of our daughter’s death, we went in for an early anatomy scan with our son, and instead of our daughter’s lifeless body on the screen, we had the incredible experience of watching our son wriggle and kick and listening to the sonographer check off normal anatomy point after normal anatomy point. We’d never had that experience before. It was new, different, and extremely emotional.
But now I’m hitting reminders of my first pregnancy that are less momentous on the surface, but often more poignant in a lot of ways.
I’m the faculty advisor to my university’s women in science group. Last year during our big start-of-year open meeting, just over a week after delivering my daughter’s lifeless body, I stood in front of a crowd of bright-eyed young female scientists and tried to greet them enthusiastically, all the while still deeply mourning the loss of my daughter who would never get to decide on a college major — and more alarmingly, while feeling in the middle of the meeting one of the large gushes of blood that I did not yet know heralded the retained products of conception that would require surgery later that week (I also didn’t know I had a raging pelvic infection that was in the process of scarring my fallopian tubes, which along with the blood loss probably accounted for some of the weakness and dizziness I felt). After the meeting I rushed back to my office to call one of the nurses at the OBGYN office and tell her I’d just bled through my second pad in two hours, and she told me to sit down and put my feet up and call them back if the bleeding didn’t stop in an hour. Well, that was sort of useless advice as I had to teach a class in an hour, and had a special guest coming in to do a neat demo with my class, and I had to greet him and make sure he had what he needed to set up his equipment. I walked into my department chair’s office shaky and weepy and needing advice, and he told me it was fine if I wanted to cancel the class, but I decided that I’d just sit through the demo and try to stand as little as possible during lecture. I survived and made it home, only to wind up in surgery later that week.
This week, I led that same women-in-science meeting almost exactly a year later. This time, I was visibly pregnant, and felt my son kicking while I scarfed two slices of pizza during the meeting. As I faced a room full of bright-eyed young female scientists, thoughts that my daughter would never be one of them were no longer foremost in my mind (although they were certainly still there) — instead, I wondered more about who our son might be at this age. Various other female science faculty who had come to the meeting greeted and congratulated me. I walked back to my office on a bright September day, not in panic, but peacefully. I taught my class without fearing that I’d pass out. After class, when I sat down in my office to relax and catch up on email, my son threw a dance party in my belly. It was such a contrast from the same day last year. It made me think about my daughter and remember what we lost, but it also drove home that this pregnancy is different from our first. Last year’s horrors aren’t (yet) repeating themselves (thank goodness). This pregnancy isn’t picture-perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m still a mess of anxiety, but these new experiences and the reassuring movements that I now feel every day are reminding me that things are different this time. Now that we’re past the point at which our daughter died, the differences between this pregnancy and our first are more obvious than the similarities, and that’s been an important change.
So here we are, entering the “different” days of this pregnancy. As I expected, it’s been scary being in the early days of fetal movement, since anytime I don’t feel him move for a few hours I get nervous (after all, I felt our daughter move for a few days, and then didn’t feel her move for a few days, and then we found out she was dead). Fortunately I’ve got our hand-me-down Doppler to get through the worst of those times. It also feels like the farther we get into pregnancy, the higher the stakes, since if something happened now or even closer to term, it would be all the more painful — and having barely survived the pain of an 18 week loss, I shy from even considering a later loss.
That said, the differences are also reassuring. I’ve never needed reminders that this pregnancy is different from my first pregnancy — it’s felt different from day 1. But I am relieved to have hit the end of the period of eerie similarity — of telling the same people I’m pregnant at the end of summer, of switching to maternity clothes as the semester starts, of going to the same start-of-year activities with the same burgeoning bump (just a different baby inside this time). Now the experiences feel more new, and I’m finally starting to experience parts of pregnancy that I never experienced in my first pregnancy. It leaves me wistful for what we missed out on in our first pregnancy, but mostly grateful that this pregnancy is happening and hopeful that our son’s outcome might be different. As I hit the halfway point this week, I’m thinking about February, and finally starting to imagine what life might be like with a living baby in the house.