By: Brooke Taylor Duckworth
When I lost Eliza, I began reading blogs written by other bereaved parents and “baby loss mamas.” I gravitated toward those who were on a grief timeline similar to mine, who had experienced their loss around the same time I had. I also wanted to read some blogs written by women who were ahead of me on this journey, who could offer some reassurance and the hope of a rainbow baby.
Although we had conceived Eliza naturally, I worried about secondary infertility or other complications going forward once we decided we wanted to have another baby. I had no reason to expect this, but I also had no reason to expect that our first baby would die just a few weeks before her due date. Being Eliza’s mother was an exercise in heartache, but it had also shown me how much we wanted to be parents, and how much love we had to give another baby. We wanted desperately to have the opportunity to parent another child.
I was a woman on a mission, and it was a bit of a relief to be thinking about something in addition to my grief.
When my doctor gave us the go ahead to try for another pregnancy, I started with all of the natural or homeopathic recommendations for women who want to get pregnant—moderate exercise, healthy eating, no alcohol, prenatal vitamins, cutting back on caffeine. I tracked my cycle with an app on my phone. I used an ovulation kit to indicate fertility. I did acupuncture. I took mucinex. I bought special vitamins for my husband and told him to quit using the seat warmers in the car. I was a woman on a mission, and it was a bit of a relief to be thinking about something in addition to my grief. Unlike my desperate wish to bring my daughter back to life, this felt like a project in which I actually had a chance for success.
At the same time I was making every effort to get pregnant again, I was reading a blog by a woman who was twelve years ahead of me in her grief. Her blog was different from nearly all of the others I’d read because after her daughter Katie was stillborn, she and her husband did subsequent infertility treatments for a few more years and then decided to stop trying to get pregnant and to accept their life without having living children of their own.
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” -Joseph Campbell
I’ll be honest—I read her blog with great sympathy and with fear. It seemed to me that this was the worst-case example. To have your baby die and not be able to have more children felt like the most unfair experience in the world. She had a quote by Joseph Campbell displayed in the sidebar of her blog: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
This was a sentiment that made me very uncomfortable. I had no desire to get rid of the life that I had planned. My life had been planned out so perfectly that I still wanted to find a way to turn the earth backward on its axis and figure out how to bring Eliza back. My plan had been perfection and whatever life was waiting for me on the other side of Eliza’s death was not a life that I wanted to accept. I was unwilling to accept a life in which I would not have the opportunity to parent a living child.
Eventually, when my homeopathic remedies did not work on their own and it seemed that every other bereaved mother I knew on my timeline was already pregnant again, I consulted a reproductive endocrinologist who monitored my cycle and gave me a “trigger shot” to cause ovulation.
She was honest about her sadness, but she also helped me see that even if I never had a living child, even if nothing went according to plan, I could survive this loss and still have a meaningful and even joyful life.
I was lucky. Nine months later, I was holding my “rainbow baby” in my arms. We were incredibly grateful and overjoyed. Although my husband and I did not endure the financial, emotional, and physical strain of IVF, I know that we would have given it a try. We were so desperate to have another baby and we wanted so much to be parents again. Had life taken a different turn, we also would have gone through the financial and emotional strain of adoption. I’ve read enough now to know, however, that these processes are also not guarantees of parenthood.
I continued reading this blog, and while I still sympathized with the agony of her decision and the painful reality of her infertility, I also recognized the joy that she had reclaimed in her life. She was honest about her sadness, but she also helped me see that even if I never had a living child, even if nothing went according to plan, I could survive this loss and still have a meaningful and even joyful life. She and her husband were proof of this.
What I also came to recognize on my own journey is that as happy as I was to bring home Eliza’s little sister, that experience was not the end of my grief. It was simply a new turn in the path of my unplanned life.
The hard and scary truth is that getting pregnant again or even bringing home another baby does not promise us a happy ending to our tragedy. It simply creates an additional plot twist, carrying us forward into uncharted territory. Wherever we move in the process of creating a family after losing a child, we are forced to leave behind the life we had planned. We have some control over our choices, but often the biggest and most important outcomes are out of our hands.
Letting go of the life I had planned was probably the most difficult part of my experience, aside from the grief of losing my daughter. Now we move forward on a path we never expected to walk. I will always mourn the loss of my perfectly planned life, just as I grieve the loss of my perfect baby girl. The more I recognize that everyone faces unwelcome surprises and unexpected twists of fate, the more I come to see that the blogger I read and admired had already accepted a difficult understanding about life: that our planning does not always make a difference. We actually don’t have complete control over our destiny. And until we accept this lack of control, we won’t fully experience the life that is ours to live. It was a lesson that I was reluctant to learn.
And until we accept this lack of control, we won’t fully experience the life that is ours to live.
I know now that we may never get the exact life we had hoped for. In fact, it seems quite unlikely that we get the life we had planned. But at the end of the day, if we’re still standing, and if we can reach out and find another hand to hold onto, we just might find that the life waiting for us has joyful surprises all its own.