Thursday, October 20, 2011

Healing from a Stillbirth

I've tried to find the write words to preface the story you are about to read. No words seem to fit. Pregnancy loss is a lonely experience. Others haven't had the chance to bond the way a mom and dad do. Please take a minute and read this story. Put yourself in her shoes and try to grasp the magnitude of separation, loss and grief.

Reach out to those who have suffered a loss. Just a hug or a thinking of you card works wonders on a shattered heart.

I was beyond blessed to be their doula for her new baby girl, but this story is an important part of that journey....

I have written a letter to all of my children about their birth. These letters are wonderful little pieces of my heart weaved together into a story that climax with incredibly wonderful and happy events, events and outcomes that I will treasure forever.

I’ve sat down multiple times to write the story of losing my baby girl midway through my second pregnancy. While I never will get to share this with her, I’ve wanted to write my story to honor her, and to heal myself. It really wasn’t until I acknowledged her life, her birth, and her death (and the life and death of another 1st trimester baby) that I was able to move forward with my life.

However, every time I sit down to write, I hit major walls. At first it was the pain of reliving this tragic and horrific experience that at first I didn’t even count as a birth. How would anyone want to read about this? This was my burden to bear and no one would understand. Then as time went on, I became more and more interested in writing this piece, but the words never seemed right. At first they were angry, focusing on all the injustices I endured, and the journey of losing my faith in many things, including my body and my spiritual beliefs. But all these words were focusing on my pain and anger, rather than honoring my little girl. I wanted to honor her and find a way to be proud of her short time in my life, and how she changed it forever.

After I wrote my youngest’s incredibly positive birth story, with highlights of my angel’s life, I really wanted to write this story in a way that would explain how my life was touched, and how much this little girl has changed me into a deeper, stronger, more compassionate woman. But how could I put this into words? I couldn't tell her story like my others, because my memories of this birth are shattered pieces of my heart that I have slowly been picking up and weaving back into my life in a such a way that I can live with them and move forward. Putting the events in order seemed to make less sense, and take focus off of the truly meaningful events that took place. So here it is, almost two years after she lived, on my second Pregnancy and Child Loss Remembrance day, it is time to write this to honor my Baby Angel Girl. I apologize for the jaggedness, but please bear with’s a story worth telling, even if only I am the only one who listens.

“I’m sorry, it looks like you are going to lose this pregnancy...” The OB/GYN stated very matter of factly to me, with no hint of emotion in her voice. I really couldn’t believe the words coming from this woman’s mouth who I had met less than 5 minutes before, who had supposedly been “monitoring” my progress the 12 hours before.

“WHAT?? I just felt the baby moving”, I said in utter disbelief, holding back tears. As they rushed to get and ultrasound, I recounted all the recent events that had happened. Had I missed something? Had they missed something? Why was I losing this baby?? No one told me this was even a possibility....I was alone, away from my 20 month-old daughter for the first time in her life, with my husband sitting in an airport over 1,000 miles away, with my feet in the air, waiting for what I thought was a simple surgery.

I had had a perfectly healthy prenatal visit less than a week before, called the midwife on call for a simple “weird mucous with a streak of blood” and was at first told to “ignore it” and not leave my 20 month old on a stormy Friday night to wait in an ER for hours for “probably nothing”. I even had debated still after the midwife called back telling me that we probably all would feel better if I just went and had an ultrasound “just in case”.

Even after sitting in the ER for hours, watching all the auto accident victims and homeless people looking for a dry place to stay for the night being seen ahead of me, and finally getting an ultrasound slightly after midnight, I didn’t worry. I remember joking with the ultrasound tech after hearing the heartbeat and hearing the words the ER doctor said “My bag was bulging, but the baby was fine.”

I remember calling my husband telling him that “worst case scenario”, I was having surgery with bedrest, and to go to bed, so I could see him tomorrow when he flew home. Even after being admitted and placed on my head in hopes for “my bag to recede”, I worried more about my 20 month old recently weaned baby at home who had never gone to bed for the night without me. And that was the question the nurses constantly asked me: “Is there fetal movement??” Okay, I must be fine..... MY BABY WAS could this pregnancy be ending??

The ultrasound confirmed he doctor’s prognosis....the baby was so low in the pelvis that they couldn’t even detect the sac. And then she repeated: “I’m sorry, but you are going to lose this baby....there is nothing we can do.” The tears I had been barely holding back flooded my eyes. I somehow managed to call my mom, and uttered incoherently “I’m going to lose the baby.” I don’t even remember what she said, except that I knew she was on her way.

I then had to call Leif, my sweet husband who had already recently endured the tragedy of losing both his grandparents, who I know would have driven all night in subzero temperatures and fought with airlines to get home if he knew this was a possibility. A man, on his way home to be comforted by his pregnant wife and toddler, had to be told by his scared and devastated wife that he would never meet his second baby. He answered the phone, expecting to comfort and encourage me, trying to hide his worry. When I told him the news through my sobs, silence fell on the other end of the phone. He told me later that he was surrounded by family, but suddenly wanted to be alone or at least moving towards me. He didn't want to talk...he just wanted to move. But all he could do was wait for a plane. I hung up the phone, and my mom was there...she gave me a hug and a kiss with tears in her eyes. I don’t know if we exchanged words, but I was so glad and angry that she was there. I wanted her, but I wanted my husband more. Why wasn’t he here...the room was full of people: the OB, nurses, lab techs..but I was alone.

The OB talked to my mom and asked me some questions about my medical history, and the popped off some reason why this was happening. “Incompetent Cervix” was the term constantly used, and boy did I feel incompetent. How could my body expel such a lively, active little being? Were those little wiggles and kicks I felt only hours before cries for help, rather than measures of comfort I had interpreted them as? They told me that the best thing to do was to let “nature take it’s course” and to page the nurse when “it was over”. They offered me pain meds, which I declined because I didn’t have any physical pain and I didn’t want the pain to go away...I wanted to feel every ounce of wouldn’t come close to the emotional pain I was in. One thing I did ask for was water, which they denied, in case I needed surgery to remove the baby. They explained what a “D&C” was and then suddenly the room was empty.

My mom asked a bunch of questions that I answered “I don’t know” to, and then asked if she could see....and she bag was literally bulging....I was delivering this baby. She asked me if I wanted a mirror, and I told her yes. I looked and there I saw, my body expelling what looked like a little dark red balloon. I sat and cried....not wanting to talk, just wanting to cry. Every time the nurse came in, I could read the look on her face and the tone in her voice....She was truly apologetic and baffled that she hadn’t seen any signs. She told me that with every check she did, she saw no reasons for concern, especially because I wasn’t showing any signs of pain, and was feeling the baby. She brought me warm blankets and left me to stare out the window looking at the stormy day, truly reflecting how I felt inside.

The doctor came in again and told me about what would probably happen. She said because the baby was younger than 20 weeks, there would be no attempts to revive the baby, and that while I was close to 20 weeks, this would be considered a miscarriage rather than a still birth. I later was told by others that I was “lucky” that it was earlier than 20 weeks, and I didn't have to name the baby, or sign a still birth and death certificate. That somehow magically at 20 weeks I would love that baby more, or that by doing those acts of grief it would hurt more. Looking back, I wish I had been offered some of these options in a kind and gentle manner, because I somehow was afraid in this moment to love this baby for real, to honor her and myself as we should. So I just sat there, in complete despair and shock, waiting for “it” to be over.

Shortly there after, I felt an urge to push, and my body gave a short little push. I felt it again and slowly something slipped out onto my bed. I told my mom, who had no clue I had just given birth. She looked and then went and got the nurse. It was only a split moment but I saw the caul that my baby was nestled so snug inside of. It was so surreal, everything just came out, smoothly and calmly. No heavy pushing, no “emergency”, no anything, but pure sadness. The nurse came in, and wrapped the caul up and took it away, acting like I didn't want to see it. I wish I had stopped her. I wish she had offered some words of encouragement to see my creation, but it almost seemed like it was too painful to see, and I figured she was sparing me the pain.

I then cried was over...a sweet baby born into the arms of angels on 12/12/09 at 12:12 p.m, less than 2 hours after the news that I was going to lose her, and less than a day from my first symptom of losing the baby. I called Leif and only had one phrase “It’s over.” We cried together, wishing we could hold each other...wishing we were both somewhere of comfort rather than me in a cold dreary hospital room

surrounded by women giving birth to live, healthy babies and him sitting in an airport waiting to board a plane, only hours too late to see his baby girl.

The OB then came in and asked if I wanted to know the sex. I looked at my mom and then said yes. It was a girl...and she said she looked “normal, with no visible defects”...she then asked if I wanted to see her. I then also said yes. They brought her in on a tucks blanket, no clothes, no anything. I looked at her and marveled in both pain and amazement. She was so much bigger than I imagined her. At 18 weeks and 3 days, she looked bigger than the “preemies” they portray on television. She had fingernails. I’ll never forget how her finger nails looked. She was a real baby, and looked so peaceful, but also so lifeless. It was like looking at a shell....she had been so lively inside me...I had felt her at 15 weeks and her dad had felt her move at 16 weeks. Now she had no movement, no life....she was no longer there. I also marveled at her umbilical cord, wrapped twice around her neck. They told me this wasn’t the reason she passed, although others believed it was. I know now it wasn’t. The cord was absolutely amazing...a true lifeline to my baby girl, an iridescent clear with red and blue veins spinning along it. I will always remember that, and the one thing at that moment that I was truly proud that I created.

The nurse then asked if I wanted to hold her.....I hadn’t thought of that, and almost panicked....Should I hold her? Would I feel more pain? She was no longer there, but would she feel more lifelike if I did hold her? Would I regret holding her, or not holding her? What did my mom think? I burst into tears and said “I don’t know!” The nurse immediately hugged me and told me it was okay....that I had never done this and there was no way for me to know. I then picked her up....she was so light....I could barely feel her. I held her close to me and cried. My mom held me and we both cried. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time doing this....holding her, taking her in, and letting my mom hold me. But it was all so “lacking of life” that I felt uncomfortable. My baby was gone, and I never got to meet her, she was a shell of a person that once was. I didn't know where she was, but she was no longer with me.

I called Leif again, and he asked if they could wait for him to see her. I asked the nurse, and they couldn’t really give me an answer. I don’t think they could have discharged me without taking care of the body, or at least I got that feeling, so I asked if I could take pictures. My mom took pictures on her camera and then she laid at the end of my bed.

I wish now I would have held her until they took her from me, but I was so lost in a blur that I didn’t know what to do. It was like I wanted permission to love my baby, no matter her state. I felt like I had to guard myself from acknowledging her birth and her life. So I just laid and stared at her and cried. And then I just stared because there were no tears left.

A few hours later, the nurse brought in a plate of food and I told her I wasn’t hungry, just thirsty. Suddenly I realized I had eaten the whole plate and was asking for more water. They then got me up to make sure I could use the restroom and told me that I could go home shortly. My sister brought me a clean pair of clothes and I showered, and then packed up ready to leave. I was scared to see moms with babies or hear the joy of birth around me, but I didn’t. All was quiet. The nurse hugged me with tears in her eyes and told me I did wonderfully. I didn’t understand what she meant, but I do now.....I had endured birth, life, death, and loss all in a matter of hours, which seemed like a matter of minutes. And I was still alive, walking out of this hospital.

I came home minutes before my dad left to pick my Leif up from the airport. I took another shower, and then my sister brushed my hair. My toddler climbed into my arms and fell asleep. I sat in the dark living room holding my baby, praying, worrying that my husband wouldn’t walk through that door. It was pouring outside, and I just couldn't bear to lose him too, but I was almost expecting it. My life was shattered, and I had no idea how to pick up the pieces, except to expect more devastation.

Leif did get home, and I think we ate. We then went into the guest bedroom, looked at her pictures, and cried together. We cried for what it felt like hours. We slept, and then woke up and cried more. The days following seemed to be a blur. Everyone asked me how I felt, wanting to know physically. I felt fine, my body acted as though nothing had happened. No one outside of my close circle would have even suspected I was almost halfway through my pregnancy days before. I felt like I wanted to run a marathon and yell and scream and cry and sleep and collapse all at the same time. Words meant as encouragement enraged me. “At least your okay” made me furious. I screamed at my mom telling her I wanted to feel pain, I wanted to be physically hurt, because I felt like I was dying inside.

One of the midwives called and I talked for hours with her. She seemed to get it....she had been the one on call the night I started showing signs, the small sign of a little more mucous with a streak of blood, the one who first told me to “ignore it” and then called back 15 minutes later telling me to go get an ultrasound “just in case”. She told me it was okay for me to want this experience to feel momentous, and that she wished she could do more. She gave me her personal phone number and email, and told me to call for anything. That in itself was the most comfort anyone other than my husband and daughter could give me, just to tell me that she was there. She didn’t have to be, but she was there. The midwives also told me that their office would be calling to set up an appointment with a perinatologist to look into reasons why this could have happened.

This woman was also a true blessing. She didn’t know me or my husband, but treated me like she had been through the pain with me. In months that followed, she ordered all the tests in the world, but also was the first person to admit that she simply didn’t know why...and that sometimes that was okay to not have answers, as long as we could move forward. She also was there with me when I lost another baby at 10 1/2 weeks, and and helped me forward with future pregnancies.

I didn’t acknowledge that I had given birth until after I lost my second baby. I had treated the birth of my Baby Angel Girl as a tragic event in my life that I had to overcome. I pushed forward, researched until my brain hurt, and then got pregnant again. When I lost that baby, I was left with even more devastation. That baby was probably due to “nature’s way of fixing it’s mistakes”, but it felt so real. Why was my body broken? Why did God give me a baby, two babies, only to take them away? How could babies be mistakes? I talked with counselors, friends who had lost children, and even friends with fertility problems....why? why? why?

I finally stopped asking why....and realized that sometimes there isn’t a why, except to make you a stronger, deeper person. I now have two beautiful girls in my arms, and two angels in heaven. Although it took me a long time to forgive my God, and look back towards him, I feel my angels presence and him more than ever. They were both there for me as I went through an incredible fearful pregnancy that gradually transformed into one of the most empowering and enlightening days of my life....the birth of my second earth-bound child. They helped me achieve goals I didn’t even know I had of helping other women care and breastfeed their babies. And they helped me define myself as a woman, a wife, and most importantly as a mother.

Without these two babies, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today....I miss them dearly, think of them often, and sometimes still wonder why I never got to truly hold them. But I hold them in in my soul, and they forever hold a piece of my heart....telling me to always follow my heart, no matter how broken it feels.

In honor of my two angels...who came into my life so briefly, so briefly that I was never able to give you names, but who will forever live as a part of me. I love you.....And for all the mother’s of angels, no matter how old or young, please know you are not alone.

1 comment:

  1. This post was transferred from a previous blog of mine. These comments were posted there but I felt they were important expressions of support to any mom grieving a loss.

    Susan ~
    I lost three pregnancies...10 weeks, 6 weeks, and like you, 20 weeks. Your story resonates with me even seven years later. You are not alone. I have two children as well, born before and after the losses. The pain never leaves, but softens with time.
    10/25/2011 10:25:46 am
    Susan... Thank you for sharing.I will pass your support on to Justina. My loss was our 6th pregnancy, and 2 years ago. Just as any mom never forgets her children, we never forget even the ones we had such a short time with.
    10/25/2011 5:22:03 pm
    Your words were not only inspiring and helpful but encouraging for me to move forward. I have 3 beautiful children and have been trying for a 4th for 3 years.
    And after 10 miscarriages,no answers either, we are still struggling with why. Through our faith and family on earth and heaven we know we will be get through this. What a reunion in Heaven we have waiting for us. That is a beautiful vision and a peace that can only come from God. Thank you for your story.
    10/31/2011 7:56:57 pm
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    11/02/2011 9:55:19 am
    Amazing story... Thank you for sharing... What an amazing legacy for you children...


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