“Is this your first?”
This seemingly benign question throws me for a loop every time. One in four women have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss so I’m in good, although mostly unspoken, company. A brief back story: we lost our baby girl named Gabriela during our first pregnancy, at 22 weeks gestation. That’s right. We knew she was a girl and we gave her a name. People always seem surprised by that. I suppose it is because everyone grieves differently. I imagine some people want to forget the whole thing ever happened…not me. I’m exactly the opposite. She was and still is so important to me and that’s why “Is this your first?” is such a complicated question!
I was fortunate enough to find myself pregnant again fairly quickly. About the time my baby bump became apparent is when the uninvited questions from strangers and acquaintances start rolling in. “Is this your first?” was a frequent inquiry. I always paused and offered a reluctant “yes”. Inevitably, my hesitation was noticed and followed by a laughing, “What, you don’t know?”. “It’s complicated”, I’d say. (Thanks, Facebook!) What people were really asking was whether or not I had any other children. At that point, I didn’t but my second pregnancy, with Evelyn, wasn’t the first time I had felt a baby move inside my belly. It wasn’t the first time I’d put together a nursery or the first time I’d done research on car-seats and strollers. It wasn’t the first time I had thought of my future as a mother and dreamed of what my daughter might be like. Having to answer the question “Is this your first” is a unique dilemma that accompanies pregnancy after a loss. I never knew whether to respond with “Yes, this is my first.”, forsaking Gabriela, or to say no and open up the door to more uncomfortable questions. No, this wasn’t my first pregnancy. That was the answer tugging at my heart and the reality of my situation…even though it could potentially make a conversation very awkward for the person I was talking to. Why did I seem to care about someone else’s awkward feelings more than my own? Gabriela was and very much still is my daughter and nothing could ever change that.
Pregnancy after loss is so different than a primary pregnancy. At least for me, it was. It was never as excited about the journey the second time around, but more focused on the finish line and the prize. My first pregnancy was a constant state of bliss and excitement and, from my perspective, my body was doing exactly what she was supposed to…until she wasn’t anymore. My body had always done everything I had asked of her. She had varsity-lettered as a Freshman in two sports. Then, she betrayed me and grew a baby that was incompatible with life and that was the root of the anxiety that I experienced during my pregnancy after a loss. It was as if I could no longer trust myself. I was emotionally unavailable to bond with my unborn child because I had been there before. With Gabriela, I had only the anatomy scan and opted out of other testing but with with Evelyn, we tested everything. We hired a perinatologist in addition to my regular obstetrician and I had an appointment every 2 weeks because it was my threshold for inner calm. Inevitably, around 12 days after each doctor’s visit, I found myself no longer able to combat the feelings of doubt and suddenly needed someone (a medical doctor) to remind me that everything was still okay.
I didn’t enjoy pregnancy small talk with other expectant mothers and I quite impatiently awaited becoming a mother myself. My birth plan and preferences drastically changed between my first and second pregnancies. The first time, I had imagined joining an ancient sorority of women who experience birth completely naturally but with my second, I had mounting feelings of doom as I approached and then passed my due date. I couldn’t trust my body to take care of the baby she was growing and couldn’t calm the irrational thoughts, so I opted for an induction. I know induction isn’t some women’s ideal birth experience. From my perspective, though, I had the perfect birth which resulted in the perfect baby for me.
“Is this your first?”
Now I can answer this question with confidence. Yes, this is my first. This is the first baby I have had the pleasure of intimately bonding with through breastfeeding. This is the first time I have cared about the color and frequency of anyone’s bowel movements. This is the first baby I’ve rocked in my arms. I’ll make all the silly mistakes other first time moms do because she’s my “first”, but…Gabriela was the first to make me a mom.
Gabriela Brake – 8/06/2013
Evelyn Marie Brake – 6/26/2014
Lindsay is from East Lansing, Michigan and moved to Beaumont in 2012 when her husband accepted a job at Lamar University. She has two Golden Retrievers, an orange kitty and a daughter born June 2014. Lindsay is looking forward to raising her daughter to be a strong, educated and compassionate woman with help from the WMC community.