Joy And Grief: Keeping Pregnancies Secret Limits Both

Joy And Grief: Keeping Pregnancies Secret Limits Both

We celebrate celebrations while we sweep away grief. This doesn’t need to be. Communities can join both the happiness and mourning pregnancies can bring.
Rich Cromwell and Vanessa Rasanen
By

That positive pregnancy test has a way of knocking the wind out of you. You can take every known step and play all the cards right to plan that baby, but there’s no stopping that shock when the positive appears. With each of our four pregnancies, I (Vanessa) had an inkling about the new addition before the test confirmed it.

Perhaps a mother just knows, but then again, some early symptoms are just difficult to ignore. Even my husband couldn’t deny the crazy mood swings with our first. Although my doctor swore it was too early, my husband begged to differ, saying “if you’re not pregnant, this isn’t worth it.” Then there was the exhaustion and random crying with our third. Motherly hunch or not, that pink line and digital text sent my hands shaking and my heart pounding every single time.

My announcements to him were nothing special. Heck, he wasn’t even the first to know with each of them. Sue me. Sometimes he just wasn’t around, and I don’t consider, “Hey babe, I’m pregnant” appropriate email or text material. I never managed to come up with anything creative or cutesy. I once thought of hiding the test in his jeans pocket, but then decided men aren’t as comfortable with pee-sticks, especially ones hiding in their clothes—protective caps or not. I tried to find a “Big Sister” outfit for our youngest this last time, but wouldn’t you know, they don’t make those in size six months. Haters. Call me sexist, but thankfully, my husband’s a dude, and as such prefers simplicity to gimmicky. Words were all he needed to get the news of our offspring.

We always told early, though, despite the uncertainty and fragility of life in those first weeks. Babies are awesome, and we wanted to share the joy with anyone and everyone. Most were thrilled with us—at least for the first two. When our second surprised us with an insanely fast labor (and my subsequent denial that it was actually labor) leaving my husband to deliver her on the side of the road, I was convinced we wouldn’t have more children, knowing he had always been iffy on a home birth—especially an unassisted home birth. But, wouldn’t you know, his Army medic training and actually delivering his daughter changed his mind, and we went on to have our third baby and recently got our fourth positive test.

Sometimes It’s Dad Who Has the Hunch

When my (Rich’s) wife was pregnant the first time, I figured it out before she did. Not 100 percent, maybe because I was in shock, but even I could discern that it had been much longer than a month since the last time I got into woodworking.

For the first pregnancy—especially the not really planned pregnancy—we didn’t really trust that little stick, so off my wife went to the doctor.

Of course, she didn’t believe me. I was persistent, though, and then there was the little blue line. Or is it an absence of the line? Eh, either way. For the first pregnancy—especially the not really planned pregnancy—we didn’t really trust that little stick, so off my wife went to the doctor. The doctor insulted our intelligence a bit, as those tests are pretty damn reliable. The pregnancy fully confirmed, we started telling people. I don’t think we really knew the rules.

People got excited. My dad, still new to retirement, poured himself a Bloody Mary. Mom roamed the aisles at the nearest grocery store in a daze. My wife’s family responded in some fashion I don’t remember. Some months later, we had a baby. Well, the wife had a baby. I was just there, and it was terrible.

There was an emergency C-section, then I found myself in charge and the nurses expected me to learn because my doped-up wife was useless and I was the father. I had a job to do. Suffice it to say, I got pooped on numerous times that first night. (The nurses also blamed me for this, when the fault was obviously their cruel indifference to my plight.) Despite this, we had two more.

Going Public Early

My husband and I (Vanessa) always tell early. Always. Sometimes it’s the day we find out. Other times it’s within a week. Never have we even waited for a doctor’s confirmation. I mean, I know how to pee on a stick. I have a college degree, after all. With our fourth we hesitated, though. Not because of the possible “what ifs” surrounding pregnancy in those earliest stages, but sadly it was all about the opinionated jerk-faces who think our fertility and desire to openly celebrate our babies from day one somehow needs their snarky feedback.

It was all about the opinionated jerk-faces who think our fertility and desire to openly celebrate our babies from day one somehow needs their snarky feedback.

My husband wanted to wait, because he didn’t want to hear the flak from the peanut gallery. I was dying. I mean, I’d already told seven… (or was it eight?)… people, and I wanted to tell everyone. I wanted everyone to know we were on number four. We soon agreed people would probably be the same inconsiderate idiots at 12 weeks as they were at four weeks. So one day after that fourth positive we announced it publicly, to friends, family, and my tiny blog readership.

Unfortunately, just one week later we discovered our fourth baby had died. We faced a world of people who knew we had been expecting, who celebrated with us and congratulated us, and now we had to announce that the celebration was over, and it was time to mourn and grieve. I wanted to be happy that we had announced early, but I worried. I worried how people would view our grief. I fretted that I wouldn’t mourn properly, that our loss would be diminished due to how early it had happened. I waited with dread for all the insensitive remarks my friends had received with their own losses.

Such is the modern way. We celebrate celebrations while we sweep away grief. So we worry about bringing people down into our despair. We don’t want to burden others with our grief, because after all, other people have worse problems than just a dead baby—especially one whose heartbeat couldn’t yet be detected on an ultrasound.

If People Don’t Know, They Can’t Help

The problem with this is that it eschews community. Much as we share early because joy is communal, we consider not sharing early because of the possibility of heartache. Heartache offers the possibility that we might have to then share grief. Community is only for building up, for joy and glory, right? Heartache isn’t joyful, and obviously isn’t an opportunity to build.

Community is a Joe Cocker cover song: It’s there to help us get by. And we fear this possibility.

Of course, this is ridiculous. Community is there through all the moments. Community is a Joe Cocker cover song: It’s there to help us get by. And we fear this possibility.

Maybe it’s because we take the blame for the perceived machinations of serendipity. Maybe it’s because we can’t accept that life is fragile and not always ready to go the long haul; sometimes the Creator is ready to pull it in tight before we ever get to hold it.

But such is life. Even a life that burns bright and short. One which prompts us to tell all our friends and family. To rejoice. To plan announcements. To see it ascend before we ever pull it close to our chest.

That positive pregnancy test has a way of knocking the wind out of you. You knew what you were doing; there’s still no stopping the shock that occurs when that test comes back positive. From there, there is joy. There are tears. And regardless of the motivation for those tears and regardless of how serendipity unfolds, you’ve got friends, you’ve got family, you’ve got love.

Sure, you may encounter unfathomably cruel remarks from people who have no heart filter, but you can rest in knowing these insensitive folks are far fewer than those who will come beside you with love and understanding, compassion and mercy. Embrace it. Maybe the tiny love you hoped to hold will elude you. And that’s all the more reason to accept the expansive love that can hold you as you pull in a deep breath and take your next step.

Rich Cromwell is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Vanessa Rasanen is an army wife and mother of three.

Copyright © 2018 The Federalist, a wholly independent division of FDRLST Media, All Rights Reserved.