Though most of my counselling clients are dealing with the inability to conceive, many of them have been pregnant and experienced losses, everything from first trimester miscarriages to stillbirths, to their babies dying days or weeks after birth. There is no doubt that losing a child is one of the most painful experiences a person can go through.
Expecting Sunshine, written by Alexis Marie Chute, chronicles the author's experience losing her second child immediately after birth due to tuberous sclerosis, a condition that causes tumors to develop within organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, etc. Alexis and her husband, Aaron, discovered this during a routine ultrasound when they were 25 weeks pregnant, and were told that their son's condition was incompatible with life.
I cannot imagine the devastation they experienced. Personally, however, like many of my clients who have found themselves in similar situations, I would have opted for termination. For me, carrying to term and delivering a child destined to die soon afterward is just additional trauma. But I understand that everyone is different in terms of the choices they make around these awful scenarios.
The book chronicles Alexis and Aaron's struggles after the loss of their son to grieve in their own unique ways and to support each other. Once Alexis conceives again, the book is divided into chapters summarizing how she copes with the anxiety each week of this subsequent pregnancy.
What people who have not experienced a perinatal loss before don't realize, is just how stressful pregnancy is after that for many women. I have written before about how anxious I was through the pregnancies with Big A and Little A because of my first pregnancy miscarrying. I really was never able to fully relax. I rented a dopplar for both so that when I panicked, I could check for the heartbeat. The distress is usually worse for any woman who has experienced a late-term loss.
Unfortunately, most loved ones of a woman experiencing pregnancy anxiety following a loss, fail to understand just how overwhelming it can be and do not know how to support someone going through it. Telling her, "Don't worry, everything will be fine," is one of the least effective things you can say. The reality is, there are no guarantees and this is what women in this situation fixate on. While the risk of another loss may be miniscule, it is not zero, ever, for anyone. Even a tiny degree of uncertainty is intolerable for many woman in this situation. Whether this is rational or not is not the point. Anxiety, is not rational. But it can be debilitating and difficult to get under control.
Alexis, an artist, writer and filmmaker, does a lovely job sharing her pain and anguish in a way that is not overwhelming to the reader and is accessible even to those who have no personal connection to this type of experience.
I read the book through a lens of whether it would be useful to my clients who have had similar experiences. I definitely do, however, there is one caveat. Alexis already had a healthy child when this event occurred and I know that many women who have lost a child and still are childless will immediately feel this sets them apart from Alexis. I try to tell clients not to compare pain, but the reality is, this is often difficult to do. In any case, I applaud her courage in sharing her story in all it's rawness, and showing others that while you do not necessarily ever get over a loss like this, you can get through it.
Disclosure: I was sent the book to review, but all the opinions on this blog are my own.