Last August, I found myself sitting on the floor of our master bathroom, staring at an unopened home pregnancy test. I debated whether it was something I should open, or if I was completely crazy for thinking I could be pregnant again, just months after giving birth.
It wasn't fear of another pregnancy I was facing: It was guilt. My daughter Addison was stillborn on May 9, 2014 at 25 weeks gestation. I had spent the first months of the summer working through the grief and pain that comes with losing a child that was taken too soon. And yet, here I was, just days past her original due date, wondering if I was lucky enough to be blessed with another pregnancy.
The guilt was strong, but curiosity won out. So there I stood: Just hours after resigning from my job, I found out we were having another baby. Or at least, that we were pregnant again.
I was ecstatic -- but at the same time, terrified. Better than anyone, I knew how little those two pink lines guaranteed. There was no promise that I would hold a living, breathing baby in my arms at the end of this race.
Those first few weeks were intense. We lost Addison due to a blood clotting disorder that I never knew I had: Factor V Leiden. I was immediately put on Lovenox, which is essentially a blood thinner delivered by a daily injection to my stomach. Because of this -- and my fear of something going terribly wrong -- I was at the doctor's office at least twice a week until we were 10 weeks along.
The first trimester was almost unbearable. I was so sick, sicker than I've ever been in early pregnancy. Looking back, I think it was more due to my anxiety than morning sickness. But I kept chugging along, trying to think positive thoughts. Every day that passed made me feel the teeniest bit more confident in our future.
Entering the second trimester was a mixture of relief and stress. I was struggling to connect with this pregnancy, because I was so worried that it would be taken away. Even a healthy anatomy scan didn't quell my fears. I knew we were only five short weeks away from the same point in pregnancy when we lost her.
For everyone around you, life moves on after you lose a baby. But for the couple who has actually gone through the loss, it sticks with you. It haunts you. It forces you to think, "what would this look like if she didn't die?" And then those moments of grief and hurt bubble to the surface yet again.
This was what our holiday season looked like: My husband and I made it through with pretend smiles, while focusing on our 2-year-old's excitement. We were expecting to go through the season as a family of four. But that wasn't our reality. And it stung.
Oftentimes, people who haven't directly been through the loss of a baby have a hard time understanding what that's like. Because if you're pregnant again, shouldn't things be better? Shouldn't you be back to normal? After all, the likelihood that this would happen again is so small, isn't it?
While another pregnancy certainly feels like we were granted "another shot," it doesn't negate what we've lost. And it certainly doesn't mean we have a guaranteed pass to a healthy baby this time around. If anything, it makes you more conscious of the fact that this can happen when you least expect it. Trying to hide that by pretending this pregnancy is just as carefree as the rest would completely invalidate what we've been through.
And that's where my feelings conflict. Because I am so, so happy that we are pregnant again. At the same time, I feel incredibly guilty because she's gone while I'm finding happiness. But if she hadn't died, this baby probably wouldn't be part of our life. Pregnancy after loss is a conflicting world, my friends.
Addison passed a day shy of 25 weeks. Getting past that point in this pregnancy was a turning point. It was like I could finally breathe a little and have some faith in the idea that maybe, just maybe, this baby will eventually be ours.
Guess what? I'm still pregnant. Sitting under eight weeks from my scheduled c-section, I don't have my happy ending -- yet. But with every day that we move closer to delivery day, I feel a little more optimistic. With every kick, I feel a little more connected to this baby. Sometimes, I can even see him moving under my skin -- and it's breathtaking. Scary, but at the same time, a little miracle that we didn't expect.
I downloaded the Count the Kicks app for a little piece of mind. I started doing 'practice' counts around week 24 and got more serious once we hit the third trimester. Every night before we go to bed, I use the app to track how many times he kicks in a hour.
Last week, one of my girlfriends had her second born -- what we call a rainbow baby. It was surreal. We went through most of our pregnancies together after both having difficult losses earlier in the year. It's strange, because I realized that my brain doesn't make that direct connection from pregnancy to newborn anymore. Obviously, I know how this whole thing works on a scientific level. But seeing her beautiful baby boy up close and personal was this amazing shock. Like, hey, I might actually get to hold one of my own in a couple of months. It seems so basic, yet it just doesn't feel like a full reality. At least, not yet.
So here I stand, seven months pregnant, hoping that this is our miracle baby we've waited nearly two years to hold. Trying to stay strong until the finish, because my babies need me to be that mama, not the one that's on the verge of falling apart because she's afraid. Putting my trust into something that's so much bigger than just me, but has let me down in the worst way before.
Because right now, praying for the best possible outcome is really the only thing I can do. And every day I try, with all my might, to accept that.
Cortney Galster is the voice behind The Mommyhood Project, where she chronicles her life as a working mom in the frigid tundra of Minnesota. By day, she works as a marketing consultant. By night, she's a mom to Ricky and wife to Rick. She honors her baby girl's life cut short through supporting organizations dedicated to helping the child loss community including Count the Kicks, a public awareness campaign created by five Iowa moms, which has saved babies across the U.S. The Galsters are expecting baby number three in April of 2015. You can learn more about her by connecting on Twitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Count the Kicks by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.