March 28, 2024 - 6 min read
March 28, 2024

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life 

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life

Can grief and gratitude coexist?

When I imagined my future, it felt impossible to picture two of the most significant days of my life playing out in the same season. I thought to myself, surely the powers above will space out such noteworthy chapters. Yet in my story, the summer of 2021 set record seasonal lows and highs; ones full of unrelenting grief and overwhelming gratitude, the tides collided. 

Grieving while growing life

For 7 months I watched as my beautiful, vibrant, active mom’s health began to rapidly decline with no explanation. And for those same 7 months, I was finally pregnant with our miracle IVF baby. This felt like the cruelest display of the cycle of life. 

My days were filled with both grief and gratitude, and I struggled to maintain any sense of harmony. I was grieving the loss of my mom who was still very much alive; yet her memory, speech, motor skills, and overall sense of self had been stripped away. All while feeling eternally grateful for the life I was growing within me. 


The third player who often joined in was guilt. When the heartbreak of watching my mom fade in front of my very eyes seemed unbearable, it was guilt that crept in to remind me that this time in life should be hallmarked by joy. And sure enough, when I found myself in rare moments of happiness, it was guilt that brought me back to the harsh reality. It was mental gymnastics at its finest. 

Life changing moments

There’s a lot I can recall from the day we received my mom’s diagnosis. Memories like these get stored in a special place – the one that’s set aside for those few life changing moments we all experience, both the good and the bad. The ones where you remember the exact way the rain ran down the window, what you were wearing, or give power to a singular smell or sound to suddenly transport you back to that very second in time. For me, I can still see the sympathy in the neurologist’s eyes so vividly.

“I’m terribly sorry to tell you that…”

I had begged and pleaded for this appointment. We were losing her and no one could tell us why. This doctor was supposed to be the best of the best, in one of the greatest hospitals in the country, so I thought to myself if anyone could give us answers, it would be him..and that he did. 

“How far along are you?” He asked.

“Seven months,” I said. One hand holding my growing belly and the other, my mom’s frail hand. 

“Is this your first?” He asked.

“It is”, I replied.

“Congratulations” he said politely, and then proceeded to deliver the blow that forever tilted my world off its axis.

“I’m terribly sorry to tell you that these images are consistent with CJD”, he explained, as he continued to scan through the stacks of files we dumped on his desk in a desperate plea for answers. 

CJD, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, is an extremely rare degenerative neurological disease that currently has no treatment and a 100% fatality rate. It affects one in one million each year worldwide, with the average life expectancy being 6 months following onset of symptoms. 

I felt my grip tighten on both my belly and her hand. 

I knew this was her official death sentence and I now knew why he was looking at me that way. 

Maybe it was the sheer sight of us together; Me with my bump, teary eyed, wielding stacks of papers and discs, wheeling my unresponsive mom into his office, as she continued to wither away before our very eyes. He knew exactly what that diagnosis meant for her, and for me, and for us…

“So how long would you say she has left?” I asked, frantically doing the math in my head…

“It’s hard to say, but maybe a few months, at most.”

At first there was only silence, just utter disbelief. Then came the tears. 

While we were dying for answers, it felt impossible to believe the only answer was that she’s dying. 

I could do nothing but just sit there, quietly crushed, in a pain that can only be best described as radiating. The kind that you feel deep down in your bones, all the way to your fingertips. So there I sat as a soon-to-be first time mom, trying to process the news that I would have to do it all without my very own mother. 

Can a broken heart cause you to go into preterm labor?

The days that followed were nothing short of tormenting. The concepts of gratitude and grief danced in such a merciless way – I was grateful to still have time with her, but was shattered to know it would never be enough. I sat there and agonized over the thought of whether she would get the chance to meet her first grandchild. 

How long could she hold on for? Can my baby feel pain? Can a broken heart cause you to go into preterm labor? Maybe a little early isn’t a bad thing if she’s still here? Is it selfish of me to wish that? How am I going to do this without her? 

I don’t want to do this without her. 

It was about a year into the Covid pandemic and the hospitals had implemented some new, yet none-the-less, heart wrenching policies. You can now come and sit beside your dying loved one, but the kicker is, you must do it solo.

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life

I had to remind myself each visit that I wasn’t really alone. My little guy was right there with us. He too, got to spend these final moments with my mom. I would press her hand against his little legs as he kicked incessantly, update her on the nursery progress, and even framed his ultrasound photo to keep at her bedside. And although we swore we would keep his name just to ourselves, I had to share it with her. While she could no longer speak, the tears in her eyes and soft smile on her lips spoke just as loudly.

On the ninth day, while we were busy making hospice plans instead of a birth plan, she passed. 

This felt like the ultimate 1-2 punch. We had only just received her diagnosis a week and a half ago. We were supposed to have time.

It’s like when your dad convinces you to let him pull your loose tooth on three.

You start with deep breaths to prepare yourself…

You hear the counting begin.

You’re anxious.

You close your eyes because you know what’s coming…

And sure as shit, he pulls before 3. Just like that, it’s over before you even realize it. 

We weren’t ready, we didn’t get to 3.

Not to say we ever would be…

But I was banking on 3.

It really was over before we could even realize it. She never got to leave those hospital walls. 

We entered its doors filled with hope, and left with nothing but broken hearts and her belongings. 

I had lost my mom, but I still get to be here.

I had lost my mom, but I still get to be his.

That’s what I began telling myself, over and over again, as I battled with grief and gratitude co-existing.

When I was flooded with emotions in those days following her death, he became my buoy. Keeping me afloat, despite the fact that was supposed to be my job for him. 

When crawling out from under the covers felt impossible, I got up.

When the mere thought of food was enough to churn my stomach, I ate. 

When darkness crept in, I sought out the light.

I still get to be here. 

I still get to be his mom. 

Maybe a motherless one, but still a mom of my own. 

I feel caught up in grief, but I’m still grateful.

Suddenly I’m 8 months pregnant without a photo to show for it. 

I’m asked to do a maternity shoot for a friend of a friend and I cringe at the idea of putting on a fake smile for the camera.

But I remind myself,

I still get to be here.

I still get to be his mom. 

Maybe the smile will be forced, but there’s still so much joy to be captured.

I can be caught up in grief, and still grateful.

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life

Mourning Sickness: Grieving While Growing Life

For another story on grief, read, “Nursing, Grieving, Pregnant and Healing: My Journey with PWD“.


Written by

Image of Kaylee MacInnis

Kaylee MacInnis

Kaylee MacInnis lives just north of Boston with her son Maxton (2), daughter Quincy (1), husband Chris and their pup, Gus. She spends her days (and nights) as a boutique fitness studio owner and full time mama. As a Pre/Post-Natal Fitness Specialist, she aims to empower women to feel confident and strong throughout all stages of their motherhood journey. Her passion for health and wellness goes beyond the physical, as she believes in the healing power of narrative. She shares her stories in hopes of helping others feel less isolated in their own struggles; after all, what’s personal is universal.



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