Navigating pregnancy loss after the loss of my mother

woman sitting on beach- i have grandkids to meet
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“Mom, will you be, okay?” I emailed.

Within minutes, she responded from her desk: “Of course I will sweetie I have grandkids to meet one day.”

Soon after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, we had started emailing back and forth throughout the day while we were at work. Perhaps subconsciously we knew that our words to one another, whether through a computer or in person, would eventually dwindle, and we wanted to make the most of it while we could.

I’ve feared getting pregnant since hitting send on that email, long before it was confirmed that my mom wouldn’t meet my future children. She wouldn’t have them for sleepovers, pass on her famous cookie recipes or play with them in her garden. My fear was masked by avoidance and resulted in delay after delay—one more holiday, one more birthday and just one more year of being young and selfish.

Everything else I have had to navigate after losing her—new homes, jobs, European holidays, going to the Olympics in Korea for work, getting married—I’ve gotten through without being able to have her there, talk to her or show her photos. I’ve endured them by telling myself she sees this house from above, she is with us in spirit on this holiday and she is the only other person alongside us at our elopement.

But for getting pregnant, being pregnant and giving birth, I needed her. I need her to be physically here to cry when I tell her I am pregnant, to understand more than my husband does when I experience morning sickness or when literally all my energy is sucked up by this little being inside me. I need her to coach me through giving birth, and I need her to take care of me and us when we leave the hospital. I need her to hold my babies, to smell them, just to know them.

After many years of pushing aside attempts to conceive, the time finally felt right. I am glad we waited; I have zero regrets. The entirety of my twenties was spent prioritizing my mom, so it was necessary for me to take a breather—just for a little while.

We planned to try for the first time after coming home from Europe—one last trip, one final excuse. We were immensely fortunate to get pregnant right away and were elated to see those double lines on our one-year wedding anniversary while we were away. I felt so lucky—our first time trying, and finding out on this day of all days.

It shocked both my husband and me when I didn’t break down knowing that I couldn’t call her with the news. What surprised me even more was just how calm and close I felt to her instantaneously after finding out. It was as if she knew when we knew—or maybe even before. I was grateful for every day that I seemingly felt okay without her, but I knew this would likely change down the road. Once my belly grew, the hormones fluctuated, and when my midwife would ask all the questions about ‘your mom’s pregnancy and your birth’ that I knew I couldn’t answer.

When we returned home there was one person that I was really excited to tell—my dad. After sharing the news with him, it really did feel like both my parents now knew, although it was just him sitting across from me.

In the coming weeks I would feel my mom through every tender breast, nauseas moment and while learning the dos and don’ts of pregnancy. When one might overthink our generation’s obsession with clean ingredients and products, I felt calm and told myself mom did this 34 years ago with little to no rules and look at me—I turned out okay. Why had I worried so much about doing this without her? I know she’s with me. I’ll be just fine.

On an ordinary Thursday in my first trimester, my husband had just left for a work dinner downtown. As I had done probably 17 times that day, I went to the bathroom. When I wiped, I can only describe the feeling as slick and the swipe as quick. My heart dropped before looking at the toilet paper. Then I saw it: pink.

I fell to the floor of the bathroom and called my husband right away. “I’m going to lose our baby,” I told him.

The next 12 hours were a paralyzing blur. Living in fear of every moment, obsessing about what I could do to prevent the inevitable, and being terrified to pee and investigate the contents of the toilet. I became, for the first time, a Reddit fiend and a Momsnet obsessor. I took comfort in any stranger from 2003 who wrote, “I bled a little bit here and there throughout my pregnancy and my baby is three years old today.”

I naively thought to myself, oh my god—I must have been pregnant with twins. Twins run in our family—it’s a vanishing twin. Okay, I will just have one baby. I confided in one friend, and distanced myself from another.

Things progressed quickly and intensely overnight. Before I would normally sip my morning coffee, my doctor confirmed via text that the photos likely showed I was miscarrying. A trip for bloodwork in an adult diaper (because a pad wouldn’t suffice), followed by a visit to the emergency room for an examination, confirmed what she’d said.

I was angry with my mom for the first time since losing her. You were supposed to protect me and, more importantly, my baby. How could you allow me to experience loss after already losing you? What if the baby was a girl—was that my only shot at cultivating a mother-daughter relationship to replace ours?

Truthfully, I hadn’t ever worried about miscarrying because I selfishly felt like I deserved an easy  transition into motherhood after losing my own mother. The anger shifted into resentment, so I began vocalizing it to a few friends—I heard a lot of the typical “I understand,” which of course they didn’t. Within my stewing I thought—I don’t need her; I had gotten used to taking care of myself, and that’s that.

On Monday, I returned to the hospital for an ultrasound to confirm there wasn’t anything lingering that would need further action or cause infection. Fortunately, it all looked fine. My body did what it needed to do—the miscarriage was complete.

After I put my clothes back on, I was taken across the hall to a nurse’s office to hear what the coming weeks or months would look like. As she was wrapping up, she said, “Basically, what you need is to rest and have your mama to take care of you.” I nodded, confirming I knew this was all I needed while simultaneously breaking down, explaining to her that I didn’t have a mom anymore. My husband squeezed my hand tight.

Sadly, I said, “I don’t feel prepared to handle this loss because of what I have already been through.” I shared that I naively thought my mom would help protect this pregnancy.

The nurse wiped a tear from her cheek and said, “Aw sweetie, you have it all wrong. Your mom was there, she is here. She knew this wasn’t a healthy pregnancy or a healthy baby and she protected you. She always will.”

I worked through the emotions of that miscarriage by telling myself that whoever that little baby was, he or she is up there baking cookies and gardening while my mom is telling them all about me. She was right all along—she did have a grandkid to meet.