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Finding Peace During Pregnancy After Loss

By Taylor Ashley Bates

The narrative around pregnancy after loss is often one of doom and gloom—“The hardest thing I’ve ever been through besides losing my baby.” But I wonder, is it possible to experience a peaceful rainbow baby pregnancy? 

My path to motherhood has been complex and often arduous and this question does not come from a place of naivety—it’s a genuine longing. After all that my husband and I have been through on our journey to grow our family, I want to experience the joys of both pregnancy and parenthood. Because it’s about the journey and not just the destination, right?

In November 2017 we naturally conceived our first child after just a few months of trying. It was blissful. I didn’t see my OB until about 10 weeks into the pregnancy and had no worries or complications. I thought about how easy pregnancy felt compared to the perceptions I’d internalized. Even the fatigue and headaches felt manageable because I was so happy to have a baby growing inside of me. 

I floated along through the pregnancy until one day, at 31 weeks, I realized that my baby had stopped moving. It was confirmed at the hospital that he no longer had a heartbeat. We were shocked and devastated, to say the least. The baby was transverse and delivered via C-section that night. He was beautiful and perfect. We named him Ellis. 

In the early days of recovering from the emotional and physical trauma of stillbirth and a C-section, my husband and I both agreed we wanted to try again as soon as we were able. It seems crazy to so quickly pursue the thing that caused you so much pain, but Ellis showed us that we wanted now more than ever to be parents. 

Our second time trying was not so easy. It took us nine months to conceive following two chemical pregnancies. Once I was finally pregnant again, I was anxious from the very start. Every twinge and cramp had me impulsively consulting Dr. Google for hours. Finally, my anxiety got so high that I told my husband I wanted to go to the ER for an ultrasound because my OB did not have any appointments available. They confirmed the pregnancy but to my surprise and dismay, the baby was measuring small and they were unable to see a heartbeat. 

When I met with my OB a few days later she wanted to wait two more weeks to see if things continued to develop. My anxiety was through the roof during that time and ultimately the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I was so angry that my body seemed to betray me again after I had done everything “right.” I cried tears of hot rage. 

Yet again, we started trying the very next month. We did not conceive immediately but went on to have two more chemical pregnancies within three months. That’s when my OB recommended we see a fertility specialist. After tons of testing that ultimately revealed no significant problems, our new doctor recommended we start IVF. Since our stillbirth and miscarriages were unexplained, our doctor believed IVF could control for all the variables, whether it was an issue with our embryos or with the environment of my body. 

IVF was a huge relief after all that we had been through trying to conceive on our own. Now the burden of our success was on someone else’s shoulders. This, combined with my awareness of how much of a privilege it was to have access to IVF, helped create a new mental state of gratitude. Through all the injections, appointments, and procedures, no matter how uncomfortable, I felt cautiously optimistic. I felt like things were under control.

We were thrilled to end up with four frozen embryos that were genetically healthy. Even so, our first transfer was unsuccessful, and again, I found myself in a state of anger, confusion, and hopelessness—it was supposed to work this time! Suddenly I began to understand why IVF can be so hard—because sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to start all over again.

After about a month my hope slowly began reappearing and I was ready for another transfer. However this time I wanted to approach things differently—I wanted to let my hope run wild. I heard in a meditation from the Mindful IVF app that whether or not you allow yourself to be hopeful, you are still going to be devastated if your cycle is unsuccessful, so why not have hope? 

It struck me that throughout the past year of trying to have another baby after our stillbirth I had not allowed myself to really have hope, much less peace. My hope was always guarded and dependent on my sense of control. I wanted to feel that joy again that I had during the eight months I was pregnant with Ellis.

This realization made me want to have this same experience of hope, joy, and peace for every other baby I carry, regardless of how long their life is, inside or outside of the womb. I don’t want to bring another baby into this world under the shadow of fear. That is one of the big lessons that Ellis has taught me—that everything is ultimately out of our control, and there is freedom and peace in surrendering to that. 

I prepared for our second frozen embryo transfer doing everything in my power to cultivate hope, peace, and surrender—daily meditations, relaxation techniques, and allowing myself to visualize our baby. I continued these practices through the two-week wait and can honestly say that I enjoyed the time, which was historically full of anxiety for me. Our transfer worked. 

I don’t want to imply that it was necessarily my positive thinking that led to a positive pregnancy test, but rather I want to emphasize how much better it felt to let myself feel unrestricted hope and joy during the process, regardless of the outcome. That is the path to peace—through surrender. 

I want to believe it’s possible to carry this peace with me throughout my entire pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience. I know there will very likely be reasons to be anxious along the way, but I don’t want to be consumed by the fear of what is out of my control. 

Recently we had our first ultrasound around the same time that the US started to seriously respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. My nurse informed me that my husband would have to wait outside of the clinic during the ultrasound because they are limiting entry to patients only. This sparked up anxiety for me and my sense of peace started to slip away.

I could feel the tingly anxious feelings running up and down my body as I laid on the bed waiting for the nurse to get the ultrasound machine setup. I took slow, deep breaths and even longer exhales, knowing it helps to calm my nervous system. She began the scan and before I knew it I spotted a tiny flicker on the screen—I knew it was my baby’s heartbeat. Sure enough, the nurse amplified the sound so that I could hear it for the first time. I was overcome with emotion as tears streamed down my face. I’d waited nearly two years to hear that sound again. 

This moment flooded me with hope and peace and renewed my faith in my body’s ability to keep a baby safe. Since then that peace has sustained me through the uncertainty of COVID-19 and another ultrasound. My doctor assured me not to worry so I’m taking her word for it. I’m staying away from Dr. Google. I’m letting my hope run wild. I am surrendering.

Taylor Bates is an artist, writer, and yoga teacher living in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and their dog, Zelda. She is an advocate for open conversations about grief and pregnancy loss and ultimately shares a message of hope. She has documented her experience of stillbirth, miscarriage, and IVF through her podcast, Rainbow Baby, which chronicles her own and others’ journeys of pregnancy after loss. Find more at taylorashleybates.com and on Instagram @taylorashleybates

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