I am not the same person I was before my son died. I’ve changed. Some of that can be attributed to having more children and being older. But there are many days when I realize I probably see the world the way I do because of Garrett.
I learned a lot through that experience, and I hope it has made me a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and person. I could write a book about what I’ve learned from Garrett, but probably the most important thing is that life is too short for many trivial things that used to bother me. I still get irritated and lack patience at times, but I’m better than I used to be.
Another change is that I have redefined “bad”. When your child dies, that’s bad. Most other things pale in comparison. I had a bad waitress? I ruined a new pair of shoes? My flight was cancelled? Not the worst thing that could happen to me. Like most people, I have frustrating days and get stressed, but a quick reminder that my 3 rainbow babies are happy and healthy usually pulls me out of it.
The ironic thing is that the experience that irritates me the most lately is being around people who don’t appreciate how short life is and have a very different idea of what “bad” is.
Most of the time it’s easy to laugh off the person getting worked up because the restaurant is out of french fries. I struggle to ignore, however, the pregnant moms who are like I used to be. They believe the social narrative that pregnancy is all about gender reveal parties and cute maternity clothes. The worst thing that could happen to them is wanting pain medication or not being able to have a water birth. The education they love is that their baby is now the size of a raisin and has fingernails. They are thrilled when the doctor answers all of their questions or concerns with a reassuring nod and they already have a plan for losing the ‘baby weight’. These are the things they hear about and are told.
I find myself wishing I could telepathically tell every pregnant woman I see that she should be monitoring her baby’s movements, sleeping on her side, and listening to her gut. Pregnancy isn’t this easy experience that always goes as planned. Sometimes bad things happen in pregnancy. And when they are bad – I mean MY definition of “bad”. I don’t mean your baby missed being born a Capricorn by 3 days or that your doctor wants to induce you. I mean your baby may not survive. I wouldn’t wish a c-section or a NICU stay on any mom or baby – but I will gladly take those options if it means they have a better chance of going home with a healthy baby.
I learned this the hard way. In my rainbow pregnancies, my new personality and all I learned from Garrett started to emerge. I was willing to do just about anything my doctor told me if it meant I might bring my next baby home. I asked the tough questions and I kept asking if the answer didn’t feel right. I watched each phase of development like a hawk and asked to be tested for everything possible. We had many sleepless nights and worry-filled days. But it was because we knew too well how precious and fragile the life inside me was. I appreciated every day that my baby was alive – because that was a good day.
But it’s really hard to say this to pregnant moms I know – let alone the ones I don’t know. On some level, I’m jealous of them. I’ll never be able to go back to that level of innocence and it was a happier place to be – until it wasn’t. I really don’t want to be the one to shatter her dream pregnancy. But I also know there is critical information she needs to decrease the chances of learning these lessons the way I did.
This is why we need better awareness around pregnancy and infant loss. It shouldn’t be up to bereaved families to be the bearers of bad news just because we’re the only ones willing to say it. In fact – most of the information I want to share is very empowering and hopeful. But I have to share the scary parts with them just so they’ll listen and take it seriously. If our society had a better understanding of how often this happens and how many people are affected by these losses every day, we would all know to take it seriously. I wouldn’t have to bring it up to pregnant moms because they would be asking about it and health professionals would be helping them.
There is a fine line between being scared and being informed. Likewise, there is a fine line between being happy and being naïve. The facts should scare us and our health professionals should be there to help us overcome the fear with solid information. This desire for information would encourage future research initiatives and provide more tools for future families.
But to get there, we need pregnancy loss to be common knowledge. Much of what we all know about cancer, AIDS, and other catastrophic illnesses has been learned through awareness, research, a little bit of fear, and empowerment. It all started with awareness.
So my messages of awareness as someone who has been changed by pregnancy and pregnancy loss:
- Enjoy every moment with this new life and don’t take them for granted
- Pregnancies don’t always go as planned
- Get to know your baby and be your baby’s voice if anything seems unusual.
- Sometimes we have to make unwanted changes along the way – but a happy ending is worth the detour.