Karin Nguyen (37) and Jackson (9 months)
Hong Kong, Toronto, Dallas | Photographed in Austin, TX
"We experienced a loss just prior to conceiving Jackson. It’s not an easy thing for me to talk about, primarily because it isn’t something we’ve really shared. It’s not a secret by any means, but I do still grapple with it at times. It happened very early on; we got pregnant pretty quickly, and were about three weeks along. I started bleeding heavily just five days after learning that we were expecting. In those first five days, our little Ava already had a name, and we’d managed to imagine an entire future built around this little being that we both felt was a daughter. I knew things weren’t looking good, and a visit to the midwife the following day confirmed my worst fear: “you’re not pregnant”, the nurse told me, all-too-matter-of-factly. I was numb.
The midwife later suggested that I’d just had a late period. But, my cycles had been as regular as clockwork for as long as I can remember? And, what about the positive pregnancy test I’d had at home? I pushed back, desperately seeking a more meaningful explanation; she then said that it might have “just” been a “chemical pregnancy”. The lack of compassion and sensitivity felt like a slap in the face; I was already devastated over the loss, and this left me feeling strangely embarrassed, maybe even a little silly. I continued to pass clots for three days -- I was lucky that my body healed quickly, and that I didn’t have to endure the physical reminder of what once was for too long. But, the emotional toll it took on me caught me off guard: as soon as I felt okay, any little obscure thing could trigger me into reliving the experience all over again.
At the time, I made the decision not to share our loss with anyone, largely because we didn’t want to dwell on the grief. We felt lucky that we’d been able to conceive so quickly, and that we’d miscarried as early as we had; we wanted to remain optimistic. But, a small part of me questioned, perhaps, whether our loss actually qualified as being significant enough to share; I mean, the midwife had even suggested that it was simply a missed period. We’d known families who’d struggled with infertility for years – couples who’d been through so much more than we had. Our pain seemed to pale in comparison. I realize that this line of thinking is inherently flawed, but it’s how I felt at the time.
We were overjoyed to discover that we were pregnant with Jack soon thereafter: exactly nine weeks after we’d lost Ava. I was also terrified. Every little symptom had me holding my breath – praying for the best, bracing for the worst. Physically, I was not at all prepared for the near-constant nausea I’d experience for the first four months. Emotionally, I found myself struggling to find some balance between cautious optimism, and some unexpected feelings of guilt: whenever I got excited about this new pregnancy, I felt guilty for not mourning the loss of the first; whenever I grieved the loss, I felt guilty for suppressing my joy. It seemed as if the feelings of sorrow and happiness could not co-exist, and that if I felt one emotion for one baby, I was doing an injustice to the other. In some ways, I felt like I was going through everything alone, and some days were downright miserable. Yes, my husband was supportive during this period, but I don’t think he fully understood how deeply the loss had continued to affect me, nor could he truly empathize with my round-the-clock malaise. We kept the pregnancy under wraps until our 16-week ultrasound, which was difficult. Looking back, I do wonder if I experienced some level of what they call "pre-baby blues".
Motherhood has been incredibly empowering. My body isn’t quite where I’d like for it to be – the reality is that it hasn’t ever been – but I feel good. I’ve never felt more beautiful, and powerful, as I did through pregnancy (once the nausea finally lifted) and now, postpartum. Today, I’m able to give myself a lot more grace. I’m constantly surprised by my strength, and amazed by what my body continues to do for baby and me. It surprises me how much I actually adore the physical reminders of having carried our little boy – stretch marks and all.
I’d never felt at once more tired and more alive than I did the moment that I first held my baby after nearly fifty hours of labour; here we are nine months later, and I still find myself saying the very same thing. I’ve always had a very clear idea of how I wanted to approach things, from birth through postpartum, but I didn’t have any set expectations that any of it would happen exactly as I’d hoped. It’s for this reason, perhaps, that the transition into motherhood has felt rather seamless. Before birth, I kept hearing from literally everyone how much help I’d want and need postpartum – at the time, we were living in NYC without any family nearby. It may sound strange, but for me, this was actually a blessing. I wasn’t keen on having outside help, family included; the birth and postpartum journey felt sacred to me, and I wanted us to have sufficient time alone to bond as a new family. I also knew that we’d need time and space to figure things out and find our own unique rhythm. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to stay at home with Jackson; in that regard, I’ve been very relaxed, as I’ve not had the pressure of needing to work around a specific schedule, so the adjustment has felt easy. This has also provided me the luxury of allowing him to lead the way, and so far, it’s worked well for us. While our postpartum journey has been smooth overall, it hasn’t been without its challenges – breastfeeding being one that we really persevered through. One thing that really surprised me was the learning curve involved – in the beginning, this act that’s supposed to come so naturally was not as intuitive as I’d imagined it would be. It also struck me as odd how little support there ultimately was in continuing that journey when we hit a bump in the road, especially in consideration of how much encouragement there seemed to be for “breast is best” during pregnancy.
I didn’t always know that I’d have it in me, but it turns out my maternal instincts are incredibly strong. I realize that parenthood will never be perfect, but I’ve discovered that I feel comfortable in my own skin more than ever now, as a mother. If I could pass along one piece of knowledge to my former self or a new parent, I’d say to always listen to your gut, trust your instincts, and believe in your ability to hear what your baby is telling you. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you need to. Literally everyone will have an opinion about how you parent, but there isn’t anyone who knows what you and baby need better than you and baby.
The striking images and stories of 4TBP really captured my attention on Instagram, and I’ve been following the project for a while. The movement and its mission just resonated with me. I was disappointed to learn that I’d missed 4TBP in NYC, so when I saw that a gathering would be happening in Austin shortly after our impending move to TX, I jumped at the opportunity to participate! Sharing my story with this community is my way of celebrating our experience, honouring our loss, and capturing the beauty of this moment in time with our son.