In case you haven’t heard: it is hard to bring home a baby from the hospital. Like, really hard. Babies are the great levelers: they come into the world, take one look at everything we have made perfect, and level it to rubble. Yet, lost in a sea of dirty diapers, tears from everyone, and no meaningful sleep, the newborn days still hold a special place in my heart.
Because of that first finger grab. That first smile. That new baby smell.
My ride home from the hospital with Gracie after losing my first daughter was overwhelming. I spent the trip hovering over the bucket car seat as she slept. My phone was playing videos of infant CPR on repeat, and I was cursing myself for not taking that baby safety course. I eventually fell asleep draped across the foot of her seat, soothed by her newborn-grunt breathing sounds.
I had never heard a sound sweeter.
Mama, if you are just starting out on your parenting journey after a loss: it is hard. You may feel unexplainably nervous. You may feel hypervigilant. You may feel inclined to check for breathing a few extra times as you watch them sleep. All of these are normal in early motherhood, and very typical after loss.
Fear is pervasive, an enemy of a peaceful soul. The effects of anxiety are palpable. But if we put words to our worries, if we discover joy in the tears, if we lean on our faith: fear loses its power.
This month, I am exploring the three lies that taunted me as I cautiously entered motherhood after my loss.
Lie – You lost a child before, and you will again; you deserve brokenness.
Truth – You didn’t do anything to cause your loss; you deserve happiness.
From the moment you open your hearts to the idea of a baby, you are vulnerable. So much of motherhood is out of our control, and it can be hard to reconcile that fact with a previous loss. No one wants to be hurt again.
After the nurse handed me a healthy baby, it seemed like a bold move to love freely. But I couldn’t not: my little baby took my breath away. As much as I feared being hurt, I loved her instantly.
Through a great deal of prayer and trust, I accepted that just because I had lost before did not mean I would lose again. I spent my whole pregnancy with Gracie feeling like I had to fight for her because struggling for my child was all I knew.
But I was fighting nothing now. I struggled to accept that the danger I knew had subsided. Fighting a past battle in the present, swinging at the air, I was coming into motherhood exhausted.
One night, after an extended middle-of-the-night feeding, I returned Gracie to her bassinet; suddenly, it clicked: I just did everything I knew how to do to make her happy. In that, I accepted my limits. I just did the best I could to care for her, and that was all I could do.
And it would have to be enough. I couldn’t fight anymore.
Lie – You are going to fail as a parent.
Truth – You will make mistakes, but you will not fail.
I have never felt like such an imposter as I did in my first months of newborn life. Still working to heal from my loss, I felt like I had to prove that I deserved to be a parent. I had lost my chance before, and now, I needed to earn what I had.
The fear of failure weighed heavy on my heart.
During our post-birth pediatrician appointment for Gracie, my fear of failing was at an all-time high. I barely knew our pediatrician at that point, but when she asked how things were going, I lost all composure. I was a mess.
Gracie and I were having trouble getting a feeding rhythm, and she wasn’t gaining weight. In fact, she was losing weight. I was afraid I was failing her. I’ll never forget what her pediatrician told me: You’re doing a great job, mama. It’s hard at first. But you already know her better than anyone.
I clung to those words in my beginning days: I already knew her better than anyone. This new mantra empowered me to try new things to soothe her, and comfort her, and feed her. I may have been an amateur mama, but I was a Gracie expert.
Every parent starts as a freshman. No one knows what they are doing, and everyone usually figures it out. My advice is to lean on your support systems: your providers, your family, and any new mama friends you can find. Know your helpers.
And more than any provider, any specialist, any slogan, any school of thought: you know your baby best. Breast or bottle or both, growth takes time. You aren’t broken, you aren’t a failure, and you aren’t expected to be perfect.
Lie – You are going to forget the child you lost when you bring a different baby home.
Truth – A mama never forgets her baby.
When memories are all you have left of your loss, as they start to get shifted around to make space for more, new memories, you may feel guilty. As life progresses, your attention will need to be on the most immediate: that new little baby.
But loss is pervasive, it changes us permanently. If you have made space, the remembrances will remain. Like your heart has room for more love, your mind has room for more moments.
The brain stores memories, converted from short-term to long-term, in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is one of the few areas of the brain capable actually growing new neurons, new connectors. In this, the mind has endless potential to preserve the old and capture the new simultaneously.
Protect memories of your loss; honors those particular dates, like their due date or their birthday. Cherish the new memories. You celebrate your lost baby in caring for their sibling. You are continuing their family legacy; what a beautiful tribute to your angel baby.
Old and new memories, you can have both; they are not mutually exclusive.
As the days of early infancy blend together, it becomes hard to preserve confidence and stable footing. Remind yourself that you can only do so much. You didn’t cause your last loss. You are a mother who loves the heck out of your new baby, and you always try to do what is best.
Your best is the very most you can do; even if you want to do more, you can’t.
You are going to be amazing at this.
You are a really great mom.