When a family endures a miscarriage, they’re forever changed, including how they approach and feel about parenthood. One mom shares her story and observations of parenting after loss.
My road to parenthood was filled with loss, grief, pain, and obstacles.
After a long road of infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy complications, subsequent hospitalization, preterm traumatic birth, and NICU stay before my daughter’s death at nine days old, I am now parenting three children—two in heaven and a toddler on earth. I learn daily about how different parenting post-loss is and felt you might, too.
How loss and miscarriage affected my parenting
1. We parent differently than we would have or did pre-loss
I have only parented post-loss, so I don’t know what kind of parent I would have been without experiencing it.
Regardless, every loss parent talks about how they “thought they would parent” or how they were parenting, and the way they are currently parenting are two very different things.
The impact of such tragedy and grief of losing a child has to change us because, how could it not?
I have become a much more relaxed, let-it-go type of parent. Whereas I imagine before my losses, I would have wanted order and control; I now react very differently. I realized that “following the rules” did not prevent my losses or guarantee anything.
And when your family is never complete for a family portrait, you embrace the idea of being perfectly imperfect, so the things that might have once been important go out the window.
So, I love that my son is messy; I love that he gets food all over himself when he eats. I love that he jumps in puddles and runs through the mud. I can clean up a mess, and I know he is very much alive when he does these things.
2. We live with a level of terror non-loss parents might not relate to
When your kid falls, injures themselves, or is sick, all parents are worried, but a loss parent is often calculating all the risks, thinking about all the options, second-guessing themselves, and trying to be in the moment when every single thing in our body tells us to panic.
We find ourselves taking a superficial injury, a simple cough, and going to the extreme situation. We all experienced loss, but what is perhaps most terrifying is that things seemed promising before the loss happened for most of us; there was no reason to worry until it crashed down on us.
The simple fall seems innocent enough, but when you have experienced the worst possible scenario and the greatest tragedy of any parent, it is hard to see it as such.
During Covid, anytime my son sneezed, coughed, or just was slightly not his usual, happy-go-lucky self, my mind immediately went to he had Covid, something I am sure many other parents also had. But, the loss parent in me went further; it was not just Covid; it was that he was going to get Covid and he was going to die.
Living for 23 months until he was eligible for the vaccine was like having my heart wedged in my throat. When he got the first shot, my husband cried, and I felt like I could breathe.
3. You live in a permanent state of wondering
I adore my son and am so grateful for his presence in our lives, but I often wonder what life would be like if all of my kids were here.
When I see little girls around Colette’s age, I am transported to another place to wonder what she would have been like.
Would she dream of being a ballerina, firefighter, or first woman president?
What would life be like with two living children here?
How would my son be as a little brother instead of the only child in the house?
And that permanent wondering means that I am not 100% in the moment at most times, and I am stuck somewhere between here and there.
4. You experience PTSD, sometimes out of nowhere
A few months ago, I went to get my son when he woke up. I turned on the light and saw red in his crib. I ran to the crib, grabbed him, checked him for blood, and then realized that it was vomit that was red due to the strawberries he had eaten the night before.
I started to clean up and make sure he was okay, but in those moments in between, I felt like I was transported straight back to the NICU. While I knew I was in my son’s room, with all of my senses, I was back watching Colette struggle. The beeps smells, and overall vibe of the NICU were very alive in my mind.
While I knew I was in my son’s room, with all of my senses, I was back watching Colette struggle. The NICU’s beeps, smell, and overall vibe were alive in my mind.
Read next: The Anxiety of Having Your Baby in the NICU
In those moments after I settled down, I understood what PTSD was for the first time because I truly knew what it felt like to have flashbacks and out-of-body experiences.
5. You have an increased sense of gratitude
Finally, you have a gratitude and appreciation for your living children, both yours and those of your loved ones, that is beyond anything you could have ever imagined.
When you have experienced the loss of your child, you realize that life is precious and that pregnancy resulting in a living child (and that child being healthy) often comes down to chance.
This means you have more appreciation of the joys of parenting and childhood. When that precious baby wants a hug, no matter how much dirt or other mess is on them, you enjoy it because you know how fleeting it can be.
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Michelle Valiukenas is the proud mom of her angel Sweet Pea, who she lost due to miscarriage, her angel daughter Colette Louise who she lost at nine days old, and her only living child, her rainbow baby, Elliott Miguel. Inspired by her journey with Colette, Michelle and her husband founded The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation, whose mission is to improve outcomes of pregnancy, childbirth, prematurity, and infancy and aid in the grieving process through financial assistance, education, and advocacy. Their flagship program financially assists families with high-risk and complicated pregnancies, NICU stays, and loss. The organization’s ability to help families relies on donations and grants, and they are grateful if you can donate. Michelle also participates and advocates on maternal health, maternal mortality, infant health and safety, and pregnancy complications. Michelle lives in Glenview, Illinois, with her son Elliott, husband Mark, and dog Nemo.