I never could have anticipated what awaited us in the ultrasound room that day.
After three effortless conceptions and two textbook pregnancies, the only thing on my mind was, “Will this be our third daughter or our first son?”
The rest of the appointment remains hazy, but I do recall the grim expression and somber shake of the head of our technician before she confirmed what hit me like a freight truck and brought me to my knees: Our baby was gone.
Quietly, inexplicably, she passed away in the womb designed to shelter her.
At 20 weeks gestation, our loss is medically considered a stillbirth. In stunned anguish we were admitted to hospital and induced into labor. I labored all evening and through the night, and, with the same physical pain as my previous full-term deliveries, gave birth to our tiny, still daughter early the next morning.
It all happened so fast: One minute I was strategizing the optimal setup in the minivan for three car seats, the next I was in a funeral home selecting an urn for her remains.
NOTHING can prepare you for such a loss, few words can comfort. Still, there are some things that I wish someone had told me during those few precious hours before I birthed her shell of a body, and the subsequent weeks after our loss. In my ongoing journey of healing, I have made it my mission to share such hindsight for other families who tragically find themselves in similar circumstances.
Capture any and all memories that you can. I wish I had photographs of my round, pregnant belly. Alexa was our third daughter, and we regrettably neglected to snap regular—let alone monthly—pictures of my growing bump. We were daily chasing two other busy toddlers! If I could do it all over (ugh, horrendous), I would go straight from the ultrasound exam to the walk-in photographer in the mall and have belly shots taken before beginning our induction. I’m confident they could have focused on my belly, effectively avoiding my tear-streaked face.
Ideally, we would have hired a professional photog to come to the hospital to capture memories there, as well. Not only would I have had photos taken of my belly, but also of my baby. We didn’t and I regret it, plain and simple. There exists a national networks of photography professionals who donate their time for just such somber events, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. They are trained to respectfully capture memories of your baby, whatever your comfort level. You may choose to never look at the photographs, but you can never change your mind about having them taken, once it’s too late.
Another great option is to take clay impressions of your baby’s feet or hands there in the hospital. Simple kits are sold at all craft stores, and even Walmart. I fail to think of a more thoughtful gift to rush to a friend in this situation.
Snip a lock of hair. Dress your baby and take home the clothing. Keep the hat, keep the blanket, keep the hospital bracelets. On days when your arms actually ACHE from emptiness, when your milk comes in because your brain neglects to tell the rest of your body that your baby didn’t make it, these items will provide a sliver of comfort, a reminder that she was real. When, six years later, you mark the anniversary of her silent birth with candles and a cake, you will long for any tiny tangible momento to soothe the sting.
Once home, don’t be afraid to accept help.
Weighted by grief, you will simply forget to eat– let your close friends feed you and your family. If you’re like me, you’ll want to be The Mom now more than ever, to somehow prove that you could have mothered this lost baby. You may not want anyone else helping with your other children, but you might not be able to sufficiently meet all of their needs. I promise no one will think less of you if you permit others to walk alongside you and help carry your grief.
Don’t make your loss a secret.
Let your friends also pass the word along. I promise it will be far more painful when people don’t even know your baby existed than to admit you lost her. Allow others to spread the word so that you don’t have the painful experience of an acquaintance approaching you months later, excitedly asking to see your new baby. (Yes, this happened to me several times.)
Grief and depression can manifest in many forms.
For me, it was anxiety. Subconsciously frustrated with the lack of control over events in my life— even my own body!– I sought to OVER-control everything else within my reach. For months I literally cried over spilt milk. This is reasonable, normal even, but don’t suffer needlessly.
Counseling is such a blessing and can help you work through your grief.
It’s not an indication of failure, but a helpful tool that you can employ to help you cope. If seeing a professional is not an option, an informal mentor or friend who has walked a similar path can breathe life into you and help you work through your grief.
Some families have the blessing of carrying another baby after loss, others do not. Many affectionately refer to subsequent children, post loss, as “Rainbow Babies”— indicating a radiant blessing after a storm. It is important to remember, however, that there is no replacement for the baby you lost. One could birth ten more babies and none would replace the soul that was lost too soon. It takes a brave family to try again after loss, and is a highly personal decision. Some (like ours) choose to adopt their Rainbow Baby. However you choose to grow your family –or not– after loss is up to you alone.
Remembering your baby.
I believe in Heaven, and have confidence that my little family will one day be reunited. Though we won’t have the privilege of raising our third daughter, she remains a part of our family. We openly discuss our daughter/sister in Heaven. Our other children include her in their drawings. They blow out her candles on her “birth” day, each year. Sometimes we release balloons up to Heaven for her. We have a placard at a favorite destination on the Oregon Coast. We have a dolly with her name on it. We planted a beautiful, flowering tree in her honor. We acknowledge her existence and look forward to the day that we can see her again. Our loss was Heaven’s gain.
Photo credit: © Mia White