While my husband and I were waiting at the hospital for our stillborn daughter, Beatrice, to be born, I turned to my husband. “I want to try again soon,” I sobbed. He nodded through his tears. I was so relieved that he, too, felt that only another baby could fill the emptiness after the death of our daughter. It was never a question of replacing Beatrice—just of fulfilling the dream we had of a little brother or sister for our other child.
Trying to conceive (TTC) after a stillbirth (defined by the medical community as any pregnancy loss between 20 weeks gestation and birth) is intensely personal, and something that each couple must decide on their own. There are many things to consider before setting off down the path toward conception and a subsequent pregnancy. What considerations come into play? This guide outlines the steps of recovery and helps decipher whether trying for another baby is right for you.
Are You Physically Prepared?
Perhaps the most important gauge of the appropriate timeline for TTC is what your doctor or midwife recommends. According to Ann Douglas and Dr. John R. Sussman, MD, authors of Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss, many doctors and midwives recommend “that you wait at least two to three menstrual cycles before you start trying to conceive again if you’ve experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or full-term delivery, and at least six months if you’ve experienced a Cesarean delivery.”
Even if you experienced an uncomplicated pregnancy and a normal delivery, your body needs time to recover from the task of growing and supporting a baby. For example, your vitamin and mineral stores become depleted during pregnancy, and it takes time to replenish them. Continue taking your prenatal vitamins to restore these reserves.
Another consideration is weight gain from a previous pregnancy. Jill Czajkowski of Ashburn, Virginia, had a stillborn daughter, Catherine, in February 2005. Her doctor gave her the go-ahead to try to conceive whenever she felt ready, but Jill and her husband, Andy, decided to wait. “We knew immediately that we would try again, but agreed that we’d wait six months to let me focus on losing some weight; I had gained over 55 pounds while pregnant with Catherine,” says Czajkowski. By the time the Czajkowskis conceived their son, Jill had lost 57 pounds and felt physically ready for another pregnancy.
Are You Emotionally Prepared?
While a doctor or midwife can assess your physical condition, it’s much more difficult to determine your psychological preparedness for the challenges ahead.
Andrea Arias is a mother from Gilbert, Arizona. Her daughter, Grace, was stillborn in March 2005. In part because Grace was delivered via C-section, Arias’s doctor suggested that the couple wait a while before trying for another baby.
“I am glad that our doctor recommended waiting for a year because it gave me time to grieve for my daughter and to get through the ‘empty arms’ feeling I had for several months after giving birth,” shares Arias. “By the time we were able to try to conceive again I came to realize a new baby would be a sibling and not a replacement.”
The grieving process is vital to your well-being; rushing into another pregnancy without processing the loss you experienced could cause emotional trauma when you deliver your new baby.
Douglas and Dr. Sussman suggest asking yourself and your spouse the following questions:
- Have you had a chance to work through some of your grief?
- How would you cope if you were to experience fertility problems?
- How would you cope if you experienced the death of another baby?
- Are you ready to cope with the stress of another pregnancy?
- Do you want another baby—or do you want the baby who died?
It’s vitally important that you and your significant other enter a new pregnancy with realistic expectations. This baby cannot and will not be the infant you lost.
Another concern couples face when deciding to get pregnant is how friends and family will react to the news of another pregnancy. Some misguided relatives assume that a new pregnancy means that you don’t still need to talk about your baby who died, or that you’re “over it.”
Other family members may feel concerned about a subsequent pregnancy. Catriona Harris of Orlando, Florida, shares, “My parents mentioned that they would like to see me wait, but we explained to them that was not the best choice for us, and they were supportive. I think they wanted to see us heal first. What they didn’t know was that having another baby was a major part of the healing for us.”
Pros and Cons of Waiting to Try to Conceive
Some reasons parents decide to wait include:
- Allowing more time to work through grief from your loss.
- Continuing to rely on support of family and friends who might take a new pregnancy as a cue that you’re completely recovered from your loss.
- Looking for the health benefits for mother and baby with more time elapsed between pregnancies (studies by the US Centers for Disease Control and the University of Chicago both found that the chance of delivering a premature or underweight baby are higher for women who become pregnant within six months of a previous full-term or near-term delivery).
Disadvantages to waiting a long time include:
- A longer period for you to worry about infertility and a subsequent loss.
- If you and/or your partner are older, the biological clock is ticking, and fertility drops each year.
Pros and Cons of Trying to Conceive Quickly
Sara Alford, who lives near London, England, says that she wanted to start trying “immediately!” after the death of her first son in November 2002. In hindsight, she thinks that she probably should have waited a bit longer to try for another, “but there was no way anyone could’ve told me that so that I would have listened [at the time],” says Alford.