I work in a service that offers specialist consultation to other mental health services working with young people. It means that I meet a lot of different staff from all across the region. We also do direct work with some young people and families but only see them every 6-8 weeks. The point of this introductory ramble is to explain that I meet lots of people through work, and even now, having been back in work for three months, I’m still meeting people for the first time who last saw me when I was heavily pregnant with Isobel. And here I am heavily pregnant again (I’m 28 weeks but flipping huge).
On meeting people for the first time, I’ve repeatedly become aware of an emotional experience that I’m finding it hard to make sense of so I thought writing might help.
It feels like shame.
I’m conscious that people will see my rather unmissable bump and have some level of judgement about my second pregnancy. I notice that I try to hide my stomach behind a file or cross my arms – as if that would even disguise my obvious pregnancy. I actively avoid small talk before and after consultations, swiftly exiting after meetings are finished. For someone who delighted in showing off my bump and talking about my first pregnancy, this is such a change. I’m not explicitly aware of caring what other people think about my personal life, and I don’t rationally believe I have any reason to be ashamed…but the feeling persists.
One of the difficulties is that I’m never sure who knows that Isobel was stillborn and who is not aware. For those who don’t know, maybe I’m worried that they will ask about her or make a comment about my having a second baby so soon. When asked, I am always open about the loss of Isobel but this can make me feel vulnerable and unsure of myself which in a professional setting (where I am supposed to be the ‘expert’ being consulted) is uncomfortable. For those who do know about my bereavement, I’m not sure what I fear people think. Maybe that I mustn’t have been that affected by losing Isobel if I bounced back so quickly, or that her loss has been cancelled out by this new baby and I must be fine now. That getting over losing my daughter was as easy as ‘trying again’ but more successfully this time. Incidentally the phrase trying again really angers me, like my daughter was a failed attempt at life, like I’m a failure. The idea of losing another baby and coming back to work to face all these people again, having failed, obviously, again, is more than I can bear.
The rational part of me knows that firstly most people are so self-involved as to spare me little thought at all and secondly that any sensible person will understand that pregnancy after loss is a much wanted but difficult experience that does not soothe the grief for the child that is gone. I know that Isobel wasn’t a failure, that I’m not a failure. But it’s not the rational part of me that feels the burning, shame feeling and wants to hide the outward sign of life in my belly.
If I’m honest, I do feel guilty that I got pregnant so soon after Isobel was born. I worry that I haven’t dedicated enough time for pure grief, for just missing my daughter, without simultaneously giving headspace to her sibling. I notice already that other people expect me to be more comfortable with pregnancy and babies because I’m pregnant. I’m not. They mention Isobel less, preferring to look ahead to our second baby, to indulge in more pleasant conversation. I think I have concerns about how to keep Isobel’s memory alive for others, when a memory is such a flimsy thing to have to compete with a living baby. It’s almost as if by having another baby I feel like I am killing Isobel again.
This post has gone somewhere I wasn’t expecting and I’m probably more confused than ever so I’m going to leave it there! Welcome to the wonderfully disorienting world of life after stillbirth…