Category Archives: Hope

Thinking About Trying Again

“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.

Preparing for Take Off


“The Guide says there is an art to flying,” said Ford, “or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything 

“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.  Coming down is the hardest thing.”  Tom Petty Learning to Fly

The pilot in my life has tried, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to teach me the physics of flying.  So far there is only one fact that has really stayed with me.  It’s this:  after we have put fuel in the plane, ensured all the parts are working, buckled in, started the propeller, communicated with the tower, moved the throttle, flicked lots of switches and gone skittering down the runway in that wonderful, jerky fashion of small planes, after all of the steps and effort are made by the pilot to leave the solid surface of the earth, it is the air flowing over the wings that pulls the plane off the ground.

This piece of knowledge is remarkably unhelpful in moving me toward my goal of being able to land the airplane in an emergency, but it does help me make sense of some other things.  It’s a great reminder to me of how our piece of an endeavor may be big, complicated and important but, ultimately, not the whole thing.

Sometimes when the pilot and I intend to go flying we are stopped by clouds, wind or VIP events declaring jurisdiction over the air we wanted to travel through.  Once, we got in the plane, did all the steps to run up and were sitting on the runway when it became clear that an instrument wasn’t working properly.  Uncertain of the cause, we had to scrap the flight.  The last time we planned a weekend trip, changing weather forced us to decide against three successive destinations and we ended up driving to a nearby town instead.  Being a small aircraft pilot is both powerful and humbling– you get to do big things much of the time but are also always at the mercy of greater forces.

As a clinical psychologist, I feel that I have an honorable and important job.  I spent many years learning about human behavior and theories of how to help people.  Psychotherapists are given trust, privilege, and responsibility as we sit with people and look into their lives with them.  We are capable of having a great deal of influence over others and the results can be life-changing.  But the impact of our work is still limited by multiple factors.  Timing, skill, communication, chemistry, intention and motivation and other issues between a client and therapist might affect how things progress in a given moment or session.  For better or for worse, the result can never be entirely in our hands.

After baby loss, people are always trying to do something.  It’s usually a big thing, even if it doesn’t appear that way to others.  Sometimes it’s a bunch of big things.  It may be letting themselves feel more pain than they have ever felt before.  It may be trying to find a way to get through much of the day without crying so that they can return to work and keep their job.  It may be walking into an AA meeting for the first time, because the way they have been trying to cope isn’t working.  It may be sitting with that weighty decision of whether or not to try for another baby.  And whatever they are trying for may or may not take off.  Chance, effort, ability, help from others, and grace may all factor into the final result.

Living after baby loss, like living the rest of life, is about trying for the things that matter to us.  It just tends to be a hell of a lot harder than most of the other chapters we’ve lived.  We don’t know if we’ll get what we’re trying for, we just get to do the part that is ours to do.  We can only try to be there in the right position, moving at the right speed and holding on tight.


More and Less than Hope

Some of the time the future comes right ‘round to haunt me

Some of the time the future comes ‘round just to see

That all is as it could be

Like it’s there to remind me

We’ve got to wait and see. –Beth Orton, “Conceived”


dahlia-dahlia-174239_640“No one knows anything.”

That’s something I thought and said over and over after my first loss.  No one had known that anything was going wrong in my pregnancy, no one knew afterward exactly what had happened (some of the medical evidence was conflicting) and I was very sure no one knew what would happen next in my life.  My general understanding of how the world worked felt extremely challenged.

I also started having an ambivalent relationship with the word hope.

Merriam Webster gives us the following definition of this four letter word:

HOPE -Noun:  the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen : a feeling that something good will happen or be true

Hope is something others usually want us to feel after our loss.  It’s an understandable and generally well-meaning desire.  We, however, may struggle with the concept.  It’s not like we want to feel hopeless.  It’s just that what we are hoping for- to stop feeling so sad, to have another pregnancy or baby, or to back up to some pre-loss point in our lives- may feel outside our grasp.  We desperately want to feel better but don’t know how or if we’ll get there.  Statements of hope may feel like someone telling us to go swim across the ocean- unreasonable and frustrating.

In my office, I’ve heard of many well-intended statements said to grieving people and their internal responses to the comments:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Really?  Do you know the reason my baby is dead?  Because there can’t be a good enough reason.”

“You’ll have more kids.”

How could you possibly know that?  And even if you are omniscient, do you think this loss will ever be erased or become a non-event in my life?”

“Time heals all wounds.”

What kind of time are we talking here?  Because I don’t know how long I can stand this.”

Rather than hopeful, thoughts after a loss are often along the lines of the following:

-Everything has gone wrong and it’s hard to imagine things changing for the better.

-Even if statistics show a likelihood for something good to happen in the future, it’s hard to forget being on the bad side of statistics in the past.

-Hope feels like a set-up for being sucker punched again.

-Superstitious beliefs make as much sense as anything else, and hope might bring about something bad.

-Positive feelings seem like a betrayal of the baby.

-The big good thing can’t happen.  The loved and lost baby can’t come back,  and therefore nothing else can really be OK.


So how can we possibly feel that something good will happen in the future?

Maybe the obstacle is seeing the “something good in the future” as an outside thing or event that we need to have happen.  The quick physical recovery, a different reaction from our family or friends, another pregnancy, etc. all may or may not  happen.  Additionally,  all of these ideas are likely to be pretty emotionally loaded.   Hope within that framework becomes a tricky proposition.

There is another possibility, however, that is easy to overlook while grieving and waiting to feel hopeful.  It’s that the positive, wished for thing that’s coming is you.  And you’ll show up when you’re good and ready.

Most of us are just not wired to sustain misery indefinitely.  I also don’t think we can (or should try) to snap back out of a loss of someone to whom we were deeply attached.  For myself, I know that I couldn’t feel better until I had thoroughly explored feeling terrible.  It was too big of a loss for me to not feel deeply about.

But I do remember one day driving a familiar route and wondering how a mountain suddenly appeared in the distance.  It hadn’t been noticeable to me for the past few weeks when I had been driving on that same highway in the same direction.  Suddenly, it was impossible to miss and I couldn’t figure out how something so beautiful could have ever been invisible.

Elizabeth McCracken speaks to this concept in An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, a memoir of her life carrying and grieving her stillborn son:

“Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds.  No it doesn’t, but eventually you’ll feel better.  You’ll be yourself again.  Your child will still be dead.  The frivolous parts of your personality, stubborner than you’d imagined, will grow up through the cracks in your soul.”

As I look back, I think there was something that would have been worth betting on in those early, dark days.  There was reason to think something positive would happen.  The good, wonderful thing that I could have hung my hat on was that I would eventually be able to see things differently and feel happy again.  Not because I have psychological training or because I’m so wonderfully resilient, but because, like most people, I am especially human.  And humans are quite adept at waiting out the pain and eventually attaching to other, good parts of their lives.

So maybe you’re ambivalent or resentful about hope and maybe that’s fine.  You might just want to experiment with the possibility that there is something waiting in you that is stronger than your fears and respectful of your pain.  It won’t come as fast as you would like, and I am truly sorry for that.  But if you can begin to consider that something in you can and will shift, there may come a day when you find yourself with a glimpse of something brighter again.  Anyway, it could be worth hoping for.