“I am half agony, half hope.” Jane Austen, Persuasion
“I’ll never know, and neither will you of the life you didn’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.” Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
In the midst of, or immediately after a baby loss, a giant elephant of a question usually takes up residence with us. It tends to come with a number of spin off questions and fears.
Can we try again?
Will we try again?
When will we try again?
What will happen if we try again?
I’m afraid that’s it’s the only way I’ll feel better.
I’m scared that I’m trying to replace my baby.
Will everyone forget my last baby?
How will I get through another pregnancy?
What if we lose the next one too?
I always feel a bit startled when I to read an article or book on loss that recommends people not make any major life decisions while grieving. How might that work with baby loss? It’s not like pregnancy or infant loss comes with a fast pass to travel through grief or an extension on the childbearing window. And that baby longing probably isn’t going anywhere either.
But I understand where those writers on loss are coming from when they express this concern. There is, of course a difference in jumping to a decision immediately after a loss vs. waiting some weeks, months or longer. Waiting allows for some important processing of your feelings and I recommend giving yourself whatever time and space you can. However, my experience is that the feelings accompanying our loss will still be actively living with us when other factors compel us to make a decision about trying for another baby.
Your brain on grief may not be the best one for choosing what neighborhood to move to or what kind of car you’ll need for the next ten years. In the midst of grieving our babies, it may not seem possible for us to do a good job of assessing decisions that require weighing facts and anticipating the needs and desires of our future self. Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what we do. We have to and we do.
This is the part where I wish I had a roadmap to give you so you could know what direction to go in and feel sure that you would get there. You definitely deserve such a thing. I’d love to have a map that would guide you through the decision about trying for a pregnancy or other family building option when you are heartbroken and know that pregnancy does not always equal living baby and that sometimes things can go so terribly wrong. I would post it here, I would tell all my clients and anyone else who needed the information. But I think some places we visit in life don’t lend themselves to mapping– the terrain just isn’t clear enough for everyone to see it the same way. For that reason, this walk is less a determined march and more a humble exploration.
That said, you are traveling a road with lots of others ahead of you and alongside you. Some things are known. Some landmarks, and places to pause, have been identified and can be pointed out.
A first stop is often where you spend some time trying to understand the risk of recurrence of whatever version of pain and bad luck struck before. This may be a short visit or a long layover. Medical appointments, tests, procedures or research might all be needed or desired. And then there will be a time to stop doing those things, remembering that you can google your heart out and will still never get the specific answer to the question “what will happen if I try again?”.
Less objective is ascertaining what we are up for emotionally. Trying for a baby at any time is a leap of faith. When your previous leap has landed you face down at the bottom of a gully, it makes sense to evaluate whether you are up for trying again. The place where you examine your feelings is another stop on the road that may be approached in fits and starts and will probably take a lot out of you. It’s also one that deserves your time.
The spot where you at last make your decision may take many attempts to reach. The decision itself may look familiar or it may be brand new. You might be clear that your heart pulls strongest in the direction of trying for another baby in whatever manner you did before. As scary as this might be, it may feel very right to try again as soon as possible. It may fill you with hope. It may feel healing. The task at this point becomes how and when to best support yourself in this direction. It may be useful to remind yourself often that, regardless of outcome, this will absolutely be a different pregnancy or baby than the one that came before.
You may also decide to try in a different way than you have tried in the past, such as with assisted reproduction or family building through adoption. Trying in a different way requires learning and investment, but may be indicated for medical or emotional reasons. For some people it gives an extra benefit of a delineation of this experience from the previous one. Any direction, though, is still an adjustment from the path you were on with your previous pregnancy or baby. Any direction, even standing still, is at some point a decision.
Finally, for all kinds of reasons, you may feel that your best decision is to remain child-free or without more living children than you already have. This could be due to age, finances or the understanding that this direction can lead you to a happy and meaningful life. Finding others who have had done the same thing may help. One option is to look at the RESOLVE website for articles about living child-free. Acceptance and enjoyment of the life you have can’t be forced, but it can be found.
The decision of whether or not to try again for a baby after perinatal loss tends to be a combination of fact finding and soul searching in the midst of what can be debilitating pain. It’s often a question that stops us in our tracks with fear or confusion and wakes us up with need and hope. After baby loss we are usually keenly aware that we have not and will not be offered a risk free life. We are not calling all the shots and wherever we end up on our decision making path, it won’t end in a flag raising. But the combination of hope and intention is powerful. It contains in itself some meaning and beauty. At the end of our path, it’s our moment to pick up our dandelions, take a deep breath and blow.