Anxiety After Pregnancy Loss – Jackie’s Story
As my husband and I waited in the exam room at the OB’s office, I stared at the illuminated panel in the ceiling, showcasing a perfect blue sky with monarch butterflies. I know that the scene is meant to calm patients, but it did nothing to distract me from the conversation with the doctor about my upcoming delivery.
There was a quick knock at the door, and it slowly opened. “Jackie, how are you doing?”
How am I doing? Do I tell her that I vacillate between being excited to meet my daughter and terrified that she will die shortly after birth like her brother? Do I tell her that I monitor this baby’s movements several times a day because I fear I will miss the signs of distress like I did last time? Do I tell her that I don’t want her and the midwife to do yet another delivery of mine that ends in loss?
Instead I said, “I’m good, and how are you?”
Discussing Upcoming C-Section
We discussed my scheduled c-section at 37-weeks. She looked at my husband and me and said, “Last time, you had an emergency c-section. Most surgeries are not like that at all. I know that you both were scared and panicked, and everything felt rushed. This time, you will arrive at your scheduled time, and everything will be extremely relaxed. It will be a different experience this time.” She ended with a comforting smile.
With that last sentence, I knew that she was making a promise that she would deliver our daughter safely. When I scheduled my surgery, I wanted the same doctor and midwife that delivered our son, Richard. It was important to me to have them there for this next birth, to share both of our children’s births with them.
I knew that they both struggled to mentally and emotionally cope with Richard’s death. They needed to see my husband and me with a healthy baby in our arms just as much as we did.
I felt a little more comfortable to ask my next question: “I fell asleep during surgery last time and woke up in a recovery room. I don’t want to fall asleep again and miss seeing my daughter for the first time. Is what happened last time common?”
She sighed, looked at my patient chart, and reluctantly said, “The anesthesiologist gave you a sedative to calm you down, and you fell asleep. You won’t have that next time – I promise.”
Remembering Richard’s Birth
I felt my anger return and flashed back to the operating room. I was strapped to the table, trying to move my body to see what the NICU team was doing to my left. I screamed repeatedly for someone, anyone, to tell me what was going on. My husband silently held my hand as we watched the flurry of movement together.
When it was time for the NICU team to move, I told him to go with our son. I am forever thankful that he had his dad by his side.
Richard was born just shy of 34-weeks because he was showing signs of distress: lack of movement, failed NST, failed BPP, and his heart decelerated with each contraction. Despite this, my husband and I never thought we would lose him.
As we went down the hallway to the operating room, several people called out, “Congratulations, Mom and Dad!” Although we became parents that night, there was no celebration.
After an hour of fighting for his life, Richard succumbed to heart failure because of a fetal maternal hemorrhage (FMH). FMH is incredibly rare, but for an unknown reason, he began hemorrhaging while in the womb.
The placenta no longer acted as a barrier, so his blood passed into my own bloodstream.
Losing our son made me question my own body. I originally felt like it was built to create children, to house children, and to birth children.
This made me feel like it was a failure, like it only provided a pathway to death. How could I ever trust my body again?
Learning to Trust My Body Again
Fortunately, I learned to trust my body again because I realized that I knew it best. I knew that I could be my own strongest advocate. And as well as I knew my own body, I knew my baby as well. Instead of showing complacency at each appointment, I came prepared with questions, and I ensured that my OB and MFM were communicating regularly.
Rather than second-guessing my baby’s movements, I went to the hospital to be monitored. Instead of simply accepting the hospital’s policies, I joined their perinatal bereavement program as a member of their parent panel. I began to give a voice to myself, to my unborn baby, to my son, and to other parents like myself.
When the date finally arrived for my surgery, I was surprisingly both calm and excited. I chatted happily as the nurses went through their prep work, and I gave my medical history for what felt like the hundredth time.
My husband and I exchanged grins and talked about how close we were to finally meeting our daughter. But when it was time to go to the OR, my anxiety returned.
Entering the OR again brought me right back to delivering Richard, just 16 months earlier. The sterile smell, the frigid temperatures, the blinding lights – it all suddenly felt the same.
I turned to my midwife and reminded her of the promise I insisted she make to me: “Please keep me calm when my husband isn’t here. You’re my support when he’s gone.”
She smiled, nodded, and let me hold onto her waist as the epidural was administered. Then I wrapped my arms around her and pressed my head to her stomach, grateful that she allowed me to do this. I felt reassured that I made the right decision in choosing the same medical team for this delivery.
All I wanted was the same women to share both experiences with me, to watch everything come full circle, to help give my family a healthy baby.
My OB called out, “Let’s bring Dad back in and get started!” My husband returned to my side and took his place on the stool. Within minutes, he was told to get his camera ready and peek over the screen.
For the first time, we heard our baby cry. As she cried, suddenly taken from her warm home, everyone else cheered and applauded. I cried right along with our daughter, relief and happiness flooding my body. As she was brought close to my face, her tiny hand stroked my cheek, and I just thought, She’s finally here. Richard’s little sister is finally here. I said a silent, “Thank you” to our son for watching over his sibling.
Jackie Mancinelli is a high school English and ESL teacher in New Jersey. She is the founder of Start Healing Together, an organization dedicated to supporting educators experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility. Follow Start Healing Together on Instagram and Facebook, and check out their website. If you are interested in learning more about the organization or how to start a chapter at your school, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org