Pregnancy After Baby Loss: What it's really like and how to navigate with hope | The Joyful Mourning Podcast, Episode 53 with Ashlee Proffitt | www.themorning.com/episode053

Episode 53

I’m getting really honest in today’s episode about what pregnancy after loss has been like for me and sharing a few practical ideas for how to fight through the difficulties and challenges a loss mama might face in this season. If you love someone who has experienced the loss of a baby and is either trying to conceive or is pregnant again, I think this episode will help shed some light on what she is feeling and experiencing and in turn help you to understand a little better what she is going through.


At the time of this recording I am nearly 34 weeks pregnant. The past 30+ weeks have held high highs that have been incredibly sweet and joy-filled, moments I will treasure forever, but I would by lying if I didn’t tell you that the majority of these past 30+ weeks have held incredibly low lows. Even as I write this I am currently poking at my belly trying to get her to move. My palms are sweaty as I write this and my heart is beating a little faster than it should be because any moment I don’t feel her move I assume she is gone. Even if I just felt her move a few minutes prior.  Most days I feel a little crazy. Most days I find myself literally saying “I just can’t do this.” And if I am being honest I am emotionally and physically exhausted from this journey — I feel like I have been fighting for hope and fighting for joy for weeks and weeks on end and I am tired. 

My husband shared on social media recently about how he feels like I am so strong — not because I don’t have fear or doubt but because I am fighting through those things. But I feel anything but strong. I feel weak. And scared.

The fear settled in as soon as I suspected I was pregnant. With my heart beating out of my chest I stared at two faint pink lines. And immediately, without warning or intention, my thoughts turned to the worst case scenarios. Fear gripped my heart. Even then I just couldn’t believe that this baby would ever be a healthy living baby outside my womb. 

There was no naive celebrations of joy and expectancy and anticipation. 

That has been taken from me. 

Joy and expectancy and anticipation are all things I now have to intentionally and willfully fight for. 

This pregnancy is my 3rd since my son Aaden died and many have asked if I felt this level of anxiety with my other two previous pregnancies and while I have a hard time remembering exact details — I am certain this pregnancy has been the hardest in terms of the plaguing and paralyzing fear. 

And that is so hard for me to say. 

I desperately want to say God has grown me over the past 11 years, that my faith is stronger than ever, never wavering. I want to say that I have seen God bring me through the worst and I believe that He would do that again — that because I have experienced His grace, His mercy, His healing power, His supernatural peace that I trust Him in a way that is steadfast, immoveable, resolute.

And yet, that would be a lie. I feel any thing but steadfast most days. I want to be farther along than the girl I was this week, the girl who found herself unable to function, lying in a fetal position and with hot tears and a knot in my throat, begging God to intervene.

Here’s what I know to be true though — God has grown me.

He is mighty. He has me even when I flounder. Even when my faith feels non-existent. His grip on me never wavers. His grip is steadfast, immoveable, resolute. Nothing can separate me from His love, not even my fickle faith. And I have experienced Him working in this season. He has given me the strength to fight for joy and fight for hope with each new day and that is growth, it just looks far weaker than I would like. It looks unstable and fickle. Anything but this world’s definition of strong.

Pregnancy After Baby Loss: What it's really like and how to navigate with hope | The Joyful Mourning Podcast, Episode 53 with Ashlee Proffitt | www.themorning.com/episode053

I imagine that for most women this journey would indeed get easier with each pregnancy after loss. But for me, I live in a reality of loss. I live in a reality that makes healthy living babies seem impossible or at best, rare, not the norm. I willingly dive into the world of devastating brokenness of baby loss. I am not a martyr or a hero, just a woman trying to faithfully walk in obedience — doing the thing God has called me to do. But this journey of knowing more than a normal mama would and living in the brokenness every day has made the fear surrounding this pregnancy much more intense than my other two pregnancies. 

I want you to know that because I don’t think every pregnancy will feel as hard as your first after loss. I do believe it gets easier as you experience a different reality — a reality where a baby cries when she is born. A reality where you leave the hospital with full arms. A reality where you bring a baby home and watch her grow into a toddler. 

I do believe it will get easier for you. But I don’t think it will ever be easy. 

This morning I read 2 Corinthians 5:7 which says: “Walk by faith, not by sight.” Isn’t that what pregnancy is? A walk of faith. Sometimes a crawl. Sometimes being carried. But it’s all done in faith. Whether our faith feels strong or not, the sheer act of moving forward, even if its 2 steps forward and 1 step back, is an act of faith. 

That verse in 2 Corinthians was originally written in the Greek language so I looked up what that word ‘walk’ means and the definition is helpful and freeing — for those of us who feel like walking forward in the unknown of it all just feels impossible, the word there for walk simply means to live

Simply living is an act of faith. For we cannot see beyond this moment right now. And we, as loss moms, know better than anyone that we have absolutely no control over even the next moment. BUT we choose to keep living, to keep waking up every day, getting out of bed, and taking the next step, to keep hoping, to keep looking for joy, keep pursuing after a God who has us firm in His grip.  

I wanted to share a few very practical things I have done throughout this pregnancy that have helped with this day to day living by faith, just the simple and the ordinary things that have helped grow my faith and calm my heart this pregnancy. They aren’t perfect remedies that will instantly take away all that hurts but they have helped me in this sheer act of living by faith. And my hope is that some of these things will help you continue living by faith too — to keep getting out of bed each day, to keep moving forward, to keep fighting for joy and hope, to keep seeking after a God who we know and believe has a firm grip on each one of us.   

COUNSELING

First, let’s caveat with I am not a doctor or psychologist or counselor. However, many of the practices I will mention have been recommended to me by any number of trained professionals. With that being said, my first bit of advice would be to seek out counseling about these things. No matter what kind of loss you have experienced your mind and your heart have been exposed to a trauma and it is beyond helpful to talk to a trained professional about all the things you are feeling day to day. To give you tools for coping and to remind you that you aren’t crazy.

When we isolate and keep our fears to ourselves, not talking to anyone about how we are feeling it becomes very dangerous for our mental health and well being. So talk to someone. And a trusted, reputable, trained someone would be a great place to start. If you are unsure about where or how to start looking for a counselor that you can trust, check out the show notes for this episode where I have a few reputable sources listed. This list is not exhaustive but it is a great place to start. 

FRIENDSHIP & COMMUNITY

On that note of not isolating and not keeping all this to yourself — find at least one friend that you can talk to. A friend who is patient and will not try to fix you. This isn’t something that is necessarily fixable. Even having 2 healthy pregnancies after my son died didn’t fix this in me. I am still a ball of panic and nerves this go around. But having a patient friend who you can call or text and say “I’m having a hard day, will you pray” is incredibly helpful.

And while having a friend who understands the full depths of this kind of fear can be helpful, a friend who has experienced a similar loss, I don’t think it’s necessary. My closest friends have not themselves walked through baby loss and yet they have wept with me and prayed with me and reminded me of God’s goodness when I can’t see it. Those friendships might take longer to develop and require more communication on your end, helping them understand what you are feeling and why but in the end it’s worth it.

Knowing there are people praying for me in those moments when I don’t even feel like I can pray myself is incredibly comforts and brings so much peace. And believe me, I sent a few of those desperate texts this week — texts that went a little like this “Will you pray? I’m having a really hard time. I’m so scared.” I always include a little “i’m sorry i’m so needy. Sorry I’m the sad friend who is seemingly faithless.” I tell you that in case you think you are the only one insecure about how needy you might feel. You aren’t the only one. And your friends love you, they don’t see you as needy or annoying or beyond the scope of God’s great grace. 

KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS

Knowing what triggers your anxiety may be helpful at catching it before it takes over. I know that some of my triggers are the doctors office and our birth class that was painfully 6 weeks long so every Tuesday for the past 6 weeks I am a wreck before and after. Knowing that these are triggers for me but triggers I cannot avoid has forced me to be a little more intentional with how I am taking care of myself physically before hand. I’ll talk about that more in a second but for example, it’s important that I haven’t had caffeine before a doctors appointment otherwise it is quite possible that my heart will actually beat right out of my chest. Also, for those triggers I can’t avoid it’s an opportunity for me to ask for prayer from my friends. I did that this past week. “I’m heading to birth class will you pray for me?” And they did. And then they checked on me.

For triggers you can avoid, avoid them. Without feeling guilt or shame over that. There are enough triggers that you won’t see coming or triggers you can’t avoid to willingly enter into something that is going to increase your anxiety. For me social media can be really panic inducing so I have to be very mindful about how much I allow myself to go there. Think about the past few weeks and when anxiety has plagued you, was there anything that set it off? If so, consider how you can either better prepare for that trigger or avoid it in this season. If something is causing you pain it may be best to let that thing go for awhile.

PHYSICAL BODY

Like I mentioned caffeine intensifying my anxiety, I wanted to share a few physically practical things as well, stay with me here. You might roll your eyes at me — “oh ashlee she’s just one of those crunchy granola hippy moms” BUT you live long enough with debilitating fear and anxiety you will try just about anything. So I wanted to give a few tools and a few precautions for helping to alleviate some of the weightiness of the day to day anxiety:

  1. FOOD MATTERS. Take note of days that you feel especially anxious and think back to what you ate the day prior. For me, sugar and gluten wreak havoc on my hormones and therefore make me unstable emotionally and mentally. So, just be mindful of what you are putting in your body. It really does matter. And I know this is especially hard when you are anxious, you just want to feel good and sometimes the worst things for us feel good in the moment but in my experience it just tends to make things worse in the long run. The other thing to keep in mind with food is not just eating the right foods but also eating them at the right times. When your blood sugar drops that can also wreak havoc on your emotional stability. In non-anxious people we call this hangry, but for those of us who are fighting against these anxious tendencies lack of food or inconsistency with eating can cause emotional turmoil turning a stable day into an unstable day. Just something to be aware of.
  2. SLEEP MATTERS. I know you know this. There is so much information on the value of sleep especially in regards to mental health. BUT I also know from experience how elusive sleep can be when you are anxious. If good, peaceful sleep feels impossible to you right now, I have a blog post on themorning.com with specific tips for getting better rest and sleep when you are grieving that would be perfectly applicable to a season of anxiety. You can check that out at themorning.com/sleep. A few of the tips you will find there include: 
    1. Create a bedtime routine that helps you relax and stick to a specific bed time (I know this is so hard when you are fearful of sleep, believe me, I’ve been there BUT if you can create this discipline it will go a long way in helping relieve some of the overall anxiety you are experiencing day to day) — some bed time routine ideas include:
      • Take a warm epsom salt bath, actually promotes deep sleep
      • Drink a caffeine-free herbal tea, something with chamomile will actually help you have healthy sleep
      • Read
      • Journal your thoughts before going to sleep
      • Meditate on Bible Verses specifically about God’s care for you (there are printable verse cards in the blog post at themorning.com/sleep specific for this)
      • Pray; if you’re married, ask your spouse to pray with you or for you before falling asleep
    2. Ensure your room is dark as even the smallest, seemingly insignificant light inhibits deep sleep
    3. Try utilizing white noise (this sound machine would work great or search for an app on your phone)
    4. Put your phone in another room while you sleep or at the very least, the furthest end of your room
    5. Valerian Root via Tea, Capsule or Tincture promotes relaxation and is a natural remedy for anxiety — My midwife recommended this to me this pregnancy and it has been helpful!
    6. Magnesium can help decrease cortisol, the “stress hormone” that can keep you up at night. It also helps muscles relax. (You can add magnesium powder to a glass of water before bed or add epsom salts to your bath and your body will absorb the magnesium from the salt.) I drink magnesium every night before bed at the recommendation of my midwife and since doing so I have legitimately slept better, more deeply and peacefully.
  3. CAFFEINE MATTERS. Limit the caffeine intake. This is probably obvious because if you drink it you know what it does to your body — but you don’t need anything else to make your heart speed up, you are probably already operating with a high level of adrenaline, you may not even realize it because it’s become your normal, at least that’s the case for me — so you don’t need anything else to make your heart or mind race.
  4. EXERCISE MATTERS. Nothing high impact. Just a walk or a bike ride. Something simple to get your body moving. Did you know that even the simple pattern of moving your feet right left right left physically helps our brains to calm down. There’s a super scientific reason as to why, something about our right and left brain, far above my pay grade, but try it the next time you are feeling anxious and see if it doesn’t help.

So on a really hard day you can practically ask yourself: Have I eaten? Have I slept? Have I had too much caffeine? Do I need to take a walk? Those steps would be a great place to start. 

Two more thoughts on the physical body one, I would recommend having your vitamin d levels checked. Recent studies have shown that the majority of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D and that deficiency can contribute to anxiety and depression. My midwife checked my Vitamin D recently and they were in fact low, she recommended a specific amount to take every day and I think that has helped.

Again, these aren’t tips and tricks that will fully eliminate the pain or the anxiety but I do think that collectively they help to give you a reprieve. And I am willing to try just about anything if it will lessen the intensity of my fear so if my midwife makes a recommendation I am all in. So, consider talking with your doctor, midwife, or counselor about having some of those levels checked — to see if there is anything that might be physically contributing to the anxiety.

And two, my midwife recommended a specific tincture called Motherwort. It tastes as bad as it sounds but it did prove helpful at calming my nerves. An herbal tincture is just a concentrated liquid form of one or more herbs. In this case Motherwort is calming but does not cause drowsiness and helps to restore emotional balance. *Always talk with your doctor before taking any medication or herbs.

Ok, call me crazy if you want, but don’t knock these ideas and tips until you have actually tried them. Like I said before I hate feeling this way all day every day. It impairs my ability to parent my children, love my husband, do my work, invest in my friendships and to just do life. So if a gross tasting herb and a walk will help even a little I am here for it.

Ok let’s shift a bit into a few more practical ideas but these are more mental and emotional rather than physical. 

There are some obvious things that are helpful — journaling, praying, spending time in God’s Word. 

JOURNAL

At the beginning and throughout the 30+ weeks that has looked like journaling out my fears. I couldn’t even pray for this baby at the beginning — I was so scared I didn’t know what to pray but I believe Romans 8:26-27 that says “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” so even when I didn’t have the words to pray I believe the Spirit was interceding for me on my behalf. But getting all those thoughts and fears out onto paper has been incredibly helpful. The pages are tear stained and the words a jumbled mess but God doesn’t need perfect words or perfect prayers in order to answer my cries for help.

READING THE BIBLE

Spending time in God’s Word reminds us of who God is, correctly shifting our gaze from ourselves and onto Him. We need this reorienting often because fear so quickly turns our gaze inward. It makes it hard for us to think about anyone or anything else.

In Episode 024 I talked about Pregnancy After Loss — I was not pregnant at the time and it had been a long time since I had experienced all of the emotions, the plaguing fear and anxiety we have talked about today so this episode feels a bit more real and honest about what it’s really like; but in that episode I talked about the value of pursing God in seasons like this.

In Tim Keller’s book Walking with God Through Pain & Suffering he says in response to the question “what do you have to do in order to grow instead of being destroyed by your suffering: Walk with God.” This means, speak to Him, pour your heart out to Him in prayer. Spend time in His Word. You may think that’s a cliche answer. You may be very angry at God right now. You may not even believe any of this God business to be true. BUT if you’re stomach is in knots and your heart feels consumed by fear I think this is worth trying. Remember, sometimes we move toward obedience and then God does the heart changing.

So, even if that feels like a cliche answer or you don’t feel like opening your Bible or you’re too angry to pray to Him or you aren’t sure if you believe in Him, try opening and reading your bible.

Psalm 34:17-19 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” and Hebrews 4:15-16 says: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence (boldly!) draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

  1. And “drawing near to the throne of grace” simply, but profoundly means you have access to God. So go to Him and find help in your time of need. Open the bible. Journal your thoughts, your fears, write down your prayers. Or say them out loud. Whatever works for you, just make an effort to do this — if you aren’t sure where to start on the “open up your bible” step, I would recommend the Write the Word Journals!
  2. Start with these 5 passages:  
    1. Isaiah 55:8-12
    2. Psalm 34
    3. Psalm 23
    4. Colossians 3:1-17
    5. Isaiah 41:10, 13, & 17-20

One of the hardest aspects of pregnancy after loss is now having experienced the pain of losing a baby we are afraid to love like that again — knowing the potential of experiencing that kind of pain again. We try to protect ourselves from experiencing the joy of this baby because we believe at any moment it will be stripped from us. 

FEARFUL OF THE FUTURE

For me this has played out in a few different ways, the first being looking forward to the future. I find it incredibly difficult to make future plans. I currently feel like my life is on hold. Waiting for the inevitable bottom to drop out. Always fearing and assuming the worst and not really allowing myself to experience the joy of this moment and dream of the joy to come. This is a common thing I have battled since my son died. We had so many future plans when he was born and the way we had envisioned them all vanished in a moment; so it feels like a protective measure to just not look to the future. But living this way is not living by faith, it’s living in fear. 

So out of obedience, out of a desire to literally walk out this faith and belief that God is in control and that even if the bottom falls out He will catch me — I make myself look forward. I have had to physically make myself plan for this baby. This has looked like purposefully and intentionally doing simple things for the baby. Acting as though I will get to bring her home even when I don’t believe it, obedience has looked like acting as though she will be born living and healthy and we will bring her home and I will get to watch her grow up — and then begging God to catch my heart up to those actions. 

That has practically looked like a few things.

PINTEREST

At the beginning that looked like looking at baby things on Pinterest. I am incredibly visual and it would spark a glimmer of joy and anticipation to physically see something adorable. And to be reminded that moms do in fact bring home healthy babies. 

CREATING A NURSERY

This looked like making a decision to make a nursery in our house. A space for baby. Does a baby need a nursery? Nope. I have been a mom for a long time. I know perfectly well that all a baby really needs is food and diapers and maybe some clothes. They don’t require fancy cribs or decor or all of the gadgets — but here’s the thing, for me, making the decision to set up a nursery was a sheer act of faith, believing that I will bring a baby home to it. 

BABY SHOWER & BABY REGISTRY

The same is true with having a baby shower and registering for all the baby things. An act of faith. A step of obedience. A simple walking by faith.

IDEAS FOR BONDING WITH BABY

If this feels like you, a few more ideas that were mentioned in The Joyful Mourning Community were journaling or writing to baby, singing or talking to baby, or buying items that are specifically for baby. 

In Episode 30 on the podcast I talked with Jenna Dail at length about what her pregnancy after loss was like and she mentioned having a rhythm of spending sunday afternoons in the baby’s room. Praying for the baby and singing to her and doing little baby prep things. But that was her time each week to mentally and emotionally walk out this faith, this belief that she would get to bring her living daughter home.

So find a thing that gives even a spark of joy and anticipation, excitement over the baby for you. Maybe it’s not pinterest or setting up a nursery but maybe it is finding the perfect stroller and envisioning taking long walks with baby and then begging God to let that reality come true for you. Whatever it is, do that thing. Not out of naivety but actually the opposite — out of faith. You have experienced the worst and yet you are walking by faith towards an unsure future because you know the One who holds the future. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

As we finish our time together today, I want you to hear this final thought. This past Wednesday I knew all these right answers. I could have quoted you the Bible verses. I drank the gross herbal tincture. I went for a walk. I had gotten plenty of sleep. I journaled. I prayed. I read my Bible. I texted my friends and my husband. I took my vitamin d and my magnesium. I did all practical things and the spiritual things.

And yet I literally could not shake the overwhelming fear.

There will be days like that friend. Some are just going to be easier than others. And the really difficult ones will be really difficult — seemingly impossible. On those days you put one foot in front of the other, even if that means tucking yourself back into bed. And asking God for renewed strength tomorrow.

Pregnancy After Baby Loss: What it's really like and how to navigate with hope | The Joyful Mourning Podcast, Episode 53 with Ashlee Proffitt | www.themorning.com/episode053

It’s ok that your journey doesn’t look like someone else’s who hasn’t experienced loss.

It’s ok that pregnancy is no longer this blissful naive experience.

It’s ok that this is hard.

Because the tension of the brokenness always points us to our need for a rescuer and a redeemer — a God who will one day restore all that has been broken. Blissful pregnancies have no need for God. You and I know better and while I wish we weren’t in this club I am grateful to be reminded that I need Him. I need Him to give me the strength to take the next step and the next step. To look forward with joy and anticipation.

Friend, this episode likely did not answer all your questions about pregnancy after loss but I pray that it gave you an honest picture of a girl trying to fight for faith amidst a war of uncertainty and fear. I pray it encourages you that you are not alone in this and that you are reminded of a God who will one day restore and redeem all that has been broken. You are so loved friend and I am praying for you today.


THANK YOU TO THE JOYFUL MOURNING PODCAST PARTNER:

CULTIVATE WHAT MATTERS

I wanted to thank Cultivate What Matters for supporting The Joyful Mourning Podcast. Cultivate What Matters are the creators of the PowerSheets Intentional Goal Planner as well as the Write the Word Journals — two of my most favorite tools for intentional, purposeful living.

For the grieving mama who may find opening the Bible to be too difficult in this season, The Write the Word Journals are a perfect solution. This tool takes the overwhelm out of opening the Bible and provides a simple way to consistently spend time reading God’s Word — where I believe true healing can be found. To check out all the details about the Write the Word Journals (as well as a generous 10% coupon code from my friends at Cultivate What Matters head to http://www.themorning.com/cwm)