If this title applies to you, I am so very sorry that you are here, reading this. I know the feeling of living in an alternate universe following the death of your baby. Everything in your life appears the same, your belongings, your home, and the people in it...yet nothing in your life feels the same. Nothing is different. Everything is different.
If you've very very recently experienced your loss, you may still be feeling that "numb" feeling. For me, this lasted for about three days before the severity of reality came crashing down around me and the numb wore off. Do not be afraid of the numbness. It's there to protect you for a reason.
If you are still in the hospital, and have the opportunity to do so, spend time with your baby. Take pictures. This may not make sense to you now, but trust me, in the future you will treasure any tangible memory that you have of your child. Refer to your child by his or her name, ask your family and friends to do the same. Ask the hospital to allow you time to dress your baby, or swaddle them in a special blanket. Then keep these items. You will be grateful that you did.
Allow visitors to visit you and meet your baby, if you feel up to it. I am so grateful for my friends and family who were brave enough to come to me in the hospital the day my son was suddenly born and died prematurely. I will forever be grateful that others got to meet and experience him, if for only a very very brief time.
If you are religious, or have a particular religious affiliation, have the hospital contact their religious staff or your own pastor/priest/rabbi/imam. I never felt more betrayed by God than I did the morning that I lost my son, but a visit from the hospital priest helped center me. Weeks later his words began to make sense and provide comfort to me.
I am just so overwhelmingly sorry that this happened to you.
Let's talk about you.
You are going to experience such a roller coaster of emotions as you come to terms with this loss and learn to live in babyloss and grief. But my number one piece of advice (because everyone loves to give new parents advice, apparently even ones in loss) is to protect your heart. Protect it ferociously. If you don't feel ready to leave your house for a few days? Don't. If you don't feel like accepting a million phone calls and explaining what happened? Don't. If don't feel like you can go to those places that you went so often when you were pregnant? Don't. If you don't feel like you can handle going to a baby shower? Don't. (I still can't and it's almost been a year.)
Don't do anything you don't have to do, if you don't feel ready. This is a new world you are now navigating.
People will understand. And if they don't? Too bad. You need to protect your heart.
There is only one thing that you are going to be able to think about for quite sometime and that is the fact that your baby died. I hate this for you. I wish more than anything I could change that. Going about your daily routine will be very difficult at first. All around you there will be signs of the life you had before your baby died. Things you never even imagined would bother you, will sudden reduce you to tears.
You will feel very alone.
You are not alone.
It's going to feel like everyone else gets to keep their baby, and you did not. The unfairness of it is staggering.
But you are not alone.
A dear friend once texted me on a particularly rough day, "remember, there are other babyloss parents all around you, you just don't know it. They are sitting in traffic in the car beside you on the highway. They are in line in front of you in the grocery store. They are all around you. They are surviving and you will too."
Realize that the first time you do something will be the hardest. The first time you run into a pregnant friend. The first time you go back to work. The first time a well intended acquaintance asks "where's the baby?" The first time you get an email reminding you to update your baby registry. The first time you get a bill from your hospital stay.
The first times will always be the hardest. Allow them to break you down. Allow yourself to cry. You will learn, and over time, you will get better at this.
I know that it doesn't feel like it. And I also know that you shouldn't have to explain this awful nightmare to anyone, but it will come up. And it will be horrible at first. But it WILL get easier.
One thing that I heard over and over again in the weeks following my son's death was that "you'll never forget what happened. You'll never get over it, but you'll learn to live with it." And at first that sounded so ominous...like, I'll NEVER get over this?! How can I live like this?! But, I assure you, it's true. And now when I hear that line, it feels comforting...because I have learned to live with it, over time. Over lots of time and therapy. But I don't want to forget it, because I don't want to forget him.
I got 22 weeks with my son while I was pregnant, and the 6 minutes that he lived after he was born. I don't want to forget a moment of that.
Let's talk about the people around you.
There will be people around you who want to help. Allow them to. Let them run errands for you, do laundry for you, prepare dinners for you. You would be receiving this special treatment had your baby survived, and you need it even more now that your baby died.
There will be kind, sweet, well intended people who will say all the wrong things. You won't even know what "the wrong things" are until the words come out of their mouths and hit your ears. Initially you'll be extremely hurt. They will try to come up with a reason why this happened. They will search for ways to explain this away, to explain the unexplainable. They will say things like, "God just wanted your baby more," or "you can always try again."
They will not understand how hurtful this feels. I didn't know it, until I experienced babyloss myself. I cringe at some of the things I said in the past to friends who experienced loss. Not because I didn't care, but because I didn't know better.
That's what's hard to remember...these people want to help you. They are trying to say something that helps you explain away what happened.
But in reality, the words that will mean the most will be, "I don't know what to say, I'm just so sorry."
These people who love you will not realize that you are desperate to talk about your child. They will try to avoid the topic, as to not hurt your feelings further. They don't understand that you are living without your child every single day. You are well aware that your child died. If they mentioned your child they are not bringing up a sad memory...they are acknowledging his or her existence.
They will not realize how beautiful it sounds to hear them say your
child's name. So, tell them. Let them know it's okay to talk about him or her. Just last week a mom at my daughter's
school told me that something that day had reminded her of Reece. It
was totally unprompted and came out of nowhere, and it completely
made my day.
Let's talk about the people who you need to have around you.
The most precious people around you will be the ones who
learn to sit in silence with you. They will sit with you in your grief,
and in their own way, they will take on a part of it for you, even if they don't
understand exactly how you feel.
These people will be so
valuable to you on the most difficult days. Don't feel bad "dumping"
your grief onto them on your worst days. They can take it, they are
brave. They will not try to fix you, they will simply be an ear for
you. Just by being there, they will help you immeasurably.
Connect with other babyloss parents.
You will soon realize that there is a great chasm between parents who have lost babies, and parents who have not lost babies. I have had the experience of being on both sides of the chasm, and it is starkly different. There will simply be parents who do not understand your grief, and have no idea even how to understand your grief.
By connecting with other babyloss parents you will feel less alone. You will realize that your feelings are justified. You will feel like someone understands.
After my son died, I was pretty vocal about speaking out about my loss. As a result of that, I was connected with other babyloss parents. Some who were public about their loss, and some who were private. These fellow mothers have helped me get through the darkest of days, because they too experience them, and they completely understand.
If you don't know any fellow babyloss parents, find them. Call your hospital and ask about babyloss support groups. Find them online. There are communities on Babycenter and the March of Dimes website for babyloss parents. Explore these.
Read the blogs and stories of other parents who have lost their children. Realize that you are not alone in your grief, even though you may feel like you are.
I realize the title of this post leans itself towards mothers, but that's only because I only know the experience of being a mother, and not a father; however I am certain that much of this applies to babyloss fathers as well. Dads often get lost in the mix. Acknowledge that this is a loss for dads too. Invest in your relationship. Consider your spouse and his grief process.
Bereaved parents face a higher rate of separation and divorce. I never expected to be one of the couples that didn't "make it" through loss. But unfortunately we didn't make the cut. Walking alone through grief haunts me every day.
Consider your other children, if you have them. They are grieving in their own way. Provide them an outlet to talk about their deceased sibling. Whether it be coloring, or writing...don't forget that they feel this loss too. Try to be open with them when you are feeling sad.
Grief sucks. There is no way around it. But I've found that trying to avoid it is impossible. You can only delay it for so long. There is no way to move past the horrible scary feelings unless you face them.
I am so so sorry.
I hope I'm being kind enough to you right now. When I go into "explanation mode" I often sound like an instruction manual. "Do this, don't do this. Say this, don't say this." I'm not trying to do that.
Please know if I were there with you I would hold your hands, and hug you, stroke your hair, and cry with you. I'd sit there in silence with you for as long as you needed me to. I would make you hot tea, or a cup of coffee if you needed it and listen to you vent. I would hug you more. I would let you cry on my shoulder until our eyes were red and puffy. And when all that was over I would let you know that even though you don't feel like it right now, you WILL be okay. It is not okay that this happened. It is horribly horribly unfair...but YOU will be okay.
My goal in writing this is to let you know, I understand. I have been in your shoes.
I've been thinking back to last year this time. It was just about this time that I started having complications which landed me in the hospital on several occasions. Unexplained bleeding and cramping. Two symptoms which no pregnant woman wants to experience. There were many visits to the L&D unit at the hospital, after calls to my OB directed me to head there just to "get checked."
I remember one of these visits so vividly. Down to what I was wearing and who my nurse was. Crazy how the brain holds onto some details so meticulously.
It's been all coming back to me lately because the weather has been changing, and it's exactly as it was last year this time. Everything happening right now takes me back to last April.
I wonder if there will ever be an April that doesn't feel wistful for me. I wonder if there will be ever be a January for Kia.
But I'm getting off track.
There was one particular visit to the L&D unit last April that is etched in my mind. It wasn't my first visit, and it wouldn't be my last, but it's the one that I remember most clearly. I had gone in for the usual complaint--bleeding and cramping--and was eager to see the baby, hear his heartbeat, and make sure all was okay.
I checked in at the front desk, made small talk with the receptionist who I had come to know by first name, and was ushered back to my room to change in to my tent style hospital gown.
And then I waited.
Soon my nurse arrived and completed my intake. Took my temp, checked my vitals, and asked the usual questions. What brought me in today? How was I feeling? Eating? Sleeping? Had anything changed? Had I been feeling the baby move?
And then it was time for the Doppler to listen to the baby's heartbeat. My nurse pulled up gown and coated my belly in warm gel. She passed the handheld Doppler over my belly, listening for the tell tale "chug chug chug" of baby's heartbeat.
She searched and searched. Nothing.
"These machines are terrible at picking up fetal heartbeats, don't be nervous."
She kept searching. Checking from one side to the other.
"How far along are you? 18 weeks?" she kept checking.
She moved over to my left side, and then my right. Twisting the Doppler in all directions trying to find a trace of his heartbeat.
"I may have the doctor come in with the bigger machine, it can be so tough to get a good read with these. But we'll try for a few more minutes."
She continued to search. But still the machine was silent.
In the far distance over the speaker of the machine I could hear my own heartbeat. Far in the background, "ba-bum....ba-bum....ba-bum...."
I stared up at my nurse, searching in her eyes for any reflection of panic, any sign that she was worried, because I was getting EXTREMELY nervous with each passing minute.
But there was none, she remained calm.
I didn't realize I was holding my breath, and I quickly took a breath to speak, "They always find it so quickly at my OB's office...I don't know what could be wrong.."
I know she could hear the fear in my voice. "It's okay," she said, "I'm terrible at getting a good read and these machines REALLY need to be updated." She sounded calm.
She kept searching.
I kept waiting.
"Ba-bum..ba-bum..ba-bum.." my own heartbeat, still distant over the Doppler, was getting louder and faster.
"I can tell you're nervous," she told me in a soft, calm voice, "just try to relax."
I nodded quickly, secretly crossing my fingers under my hospital gown.
She kept searching. Still nothing.
"Please baby, please please please, little baby, let us hear your heart beat. Let Mama know you're okay in there, please please please...." thoughts raced through my head.
And then a faint, "chug chug chug," made its way over the Doppler speaker.
My nurse looked at me, her eyes sparkling excitedly, "hear that?"
I nodded, too scared to actually open my mouth to speak.
"That's your baby's heartbeat."
I couldn't hold it in. The tears started rolling down the sides of my face.
"I could tell you were so scared, I'm sorry that took so long. But listen, there it is!" she was so sweet.
"Chug chug chug chug chug," I could hear it clearly now, my own heartbeat still echoing in the distance.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you baby, thank you God. Thank you, thank you thank you," my thoughts were racing with gratitude and relief.
I felt a little bit embarrassed to be CRYING in front of this nurse over something so seemingly small, but I couldn't help it. Tears of relief came streaming out of the corners of my eyes, and tried in vain to wipe them away.
"It's okay," she told me comfortingly, "it's okay to be relieved. It's a scary thing sometimes. You're already in here for complications... and then to have something like that take so long...it can be scary." She was so kind.
I sat up and just nodded. She knew exactly what she was talking about.
"Can I have a hug?" I asked her. Don't really know where it came from, but I was just overwhelmed with emotion in that moment and needed someone to hug me.
"Of course!" she said brightly, and hugged me tightly.
Nurses are awesome people.
Up until that day, that was closest I had ever gotten to feeling what it feels like to lose a baby. I had never miscarried, never had a loss, never been one of those people who received the devastating news of "I'm sorry, but your baby has no heartbeat" from a stoic sonographer.
But every day, somewhere across our country, a mom is receiving that news.
"I'm sorry. Your baby no longer has a heartbeat."
I had never been one of those people, though I knew many many women who had gone through those situations.
And naively I just never thought that I would be in that position. You just DON'T think it's going to happen to you. Those are terrible, sad, awful things that happen to other people. But you just don't even consider that it could happen to you.
That day I got a small taste of what babyloss felt like. And it was terrifying. I got a small glimmer of what my friends who had lost babies must have experienced when it happened to them. Call it foreshadowing. Call it a preview of what was to come for me. I thought that day that I was so lucky. And I went back to thinking that everything would be alright.
Because those things happen to other people. Right?
One in four moms who discover they are pregnant will not get to see their baby alive. Whether it be through miscarriage, second trimester loss, stillbirth, or infant death. The statistic is on average 1:4. And I'm not saying this to scare people, or worry my friends who are pregnant. I'm saying this to make those 25% of moms who've experienced this feel less isolated.
You are not alone.
We are not alone.
I am not alone.
And for anyone that ever experienced a loss, whether it be a full term loss, or a miscarriage at 6 weeks, we ALL have the right to grieve.
It doesn't matter if you hadn't yet "announced" your pregnancy. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if your baby was only 20 weeks, and not yet "viable." You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if you had complications your entire pregnancy, and mentally prepared yourself as much as possible that you might lose your baby, only to make it full term and have your baby die after birth. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
I doesn't matter if you have struggled with infertility and cannot, despite all your best efforts, conceive on your own. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if you were told you could NEVER have children, or that you cannot have any MORE children. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if you made the heart wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy, because you are afraid of bringing a child in to the world with life debilitating defects. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
We all have the right to grieve.
I have had so many friends reach out to me in confidence. And share with me their stories of pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, or loss of one type or another. Situations where they didn't feel they could properly grieve because "it was so early on," or "we hadn't told family yet."
You know what? That's bullshit. A loss is a loss is a loss.
You don't have to legitimize your loss.
If you felt loss, then you have the right to grieve.
And of course, you don't need my permission to grieve either.
Just as my nurse told me, on that terrifying April day, "it's okay," so will I tell you, "it's okay."
It's okay to grieve.
Because it's only through that process of resolving grief that we can move on, and grow, and be hopeful again.
This post is going to read like a stream of consciousness post, because for the most part, it is. I am feeling tremendously distracted and unfocused, and probably will be for the remainder of this month.
Fortunately, the bulk of my posts this month are already written, just waiting for their time to be published. But this one is not.
I cannot guarantee that the point of this post will be tremendously clear, to be honest, I'm still trying to figure it out myself.
But here goes.
I knew today was inevitable. That April would once again come back around, with its warmer weather, and intense rain showers, and endless reminders of exactly what life was like last year this time. How absolutely fitting that this year's April had to start on a Wednesday. Always the hardest day of the week for me.
I mentally prepared myself that this Wednesday would be difficult. I have so much going on this month, so much to distract me, and so much I need to focus on, but hanging over everything is April.
It is April.
Not only is it April, but April 30th is far away at the very end of the month...and THAT'S the day I have to make it to. That's the day that has haunted me these past eleven months.
Today was also April Fool's Day.
I noticed going around on social media, today, was a request. A request that people don't do the "fake pregnancy" prank as their April Fool's trick this year. I don't know if it's because I follow a bunch of babyloss pages now, or the fact that I have made friends with several other women who have lost their babies this year as well, but I found this request posted quite a bit throughout my newsfeed.
It looked a little something like this:
And that made me feel really grateful.
I admit that my thoughts were much more preoccupied today with the fact that today was a double whammy (April & Wednesday), so much so that I didn't pay much attention to social media. I can say that if anyone did do the pregnancy prank, I probably wouldn't have paid it too much attention.
But I can also say that when you are newly thrown into babyloss grief, the first time you see new pregnancy announcement posts, or hear from a friend who tells you she is expecting, it feels like a punch to the gut.
I wasn't anticipating this when it happened to me, last year.
I've always been thrilled for my friends announcing that they were pregnant, or sharing their wonderful news with me. I never anticipated after losing Reece that that would change, but oh how it did. And not at all for the reasons that I ever would've thought.
Most people probably think that moms who've lost babies have trouble hearing others' pregnancy announcements because they're jealous. For me, that couldn't be further from the truth. I am not jealous of my friends' pregnancies, just as I am not jealous of their babies. I don't want THEIR baby, I want my own back.
I mourn the loss of the naivete I used to have. I used to believe that when you get pregnant, as long as you get through the first trimester, you get to have a healthy baby in the end. I used to believe that you only needed to worry about miscarriage or loss for the most part in the first trimester. That's why I kept my lips tightly sealed about my pregnancy with Reece until I physically couldn't hide it anymore.
I used to think the further along in pregnancy you progressed, the better your chances of a healthy baby. I didn't realize that so many people lost babies at the end, far along into their pregnancies, or even full term. I didn't know that one in four pregnancies ended in miscarriage, baby loss, or infant death. I used to think that because I had had one normal pregnancy that resulted in a healthy baby, that my body would remember what to do, and the same would happen this time around.
But, as we know, that didn't happen.
So when my friends announce their pregnancies, or throw gender reveal parties, or post pictures of their nurseries, it makes my anxiety for them SURGE. I want to say, "please be careful! Please take care of yourself! So much can happen. So much can go wrong! Please listen to everything your doctor says! Please protect your heart!" I am instantly terrified for them and filled with such anxiety that I just rather not hear anything about their pregnancies and check back in at the end of the nine months when their baby is here, and healthy, and safe.
Of course I would never SAY any of those things to my friends. I don't want my friends to walk around in fear their whole pregnancy. They don't need to, because I will automatically do it for them. I can't help it now, I'm programmed that way.
I've been on the other side, and I know how quickly something can go horribly wrong. And I know what the aftermath of that feels like.
My pregnant friends don't know that I'd do pretty much anything short of throw myself off a building in order to make sure they NEVER learn what that feels like.
I've learned that it's no coincidence that many of my mom friends who have experienced tragic losses became practically silent on social media about any subsequent pregnancies. I used to think that was strange; like, why wouldn't they want to share their now happy news? But now I TOTALLY understand why.
If I ever have the opportunity to mother a child again, I probably won't tell anyone about him or her until they turn 1.
I am not jealous that any of my friends are pregnant. I'm scared for them. I'm holding my breath that everything goes as it's supposed to.
I am a bit jealous that they get to be carefree through their pregnancy. Because even if I ever do have another child, I will never be carefree.
So when I see pregnancy announcements, all of those things run through my head. To invest that kind of mental worry, just to find out that it's an April Fool's joke...well, that would just kind of tick me off.
Just not really funny. I guess it is to other people, but for people who've experienced loss or have had difficulty conceiving, it just comes across as in poor taste.
Simply put, social media is SUCH a strange beast. As someone who is active on social media in a variety of forms, I have to say that for the most part, I feel like social media is tremendously beneficial. It's allowed me to connect with friends all over the county, friends I've lost touch with, stay current with friends who've moved abroad. It's provided me a network of support both with parenting and also with babyloss. It's given me outlet to write over the past five years, and if I'm being completely honest, for the most part it's mindless fun.
And it feeds my procrastination habit, so there's that too.
But there are aspects of social media that are strange to me.
When I was pregnant with Sadira, Facebook hadn't really taken over the world yet. Sure, there was MySpace, but who even remembers that anyway? "Announcing a pregnancy" meant calling close friends to share the news, and then just cluing anyone else in if you ran into them. I would send out a text to my friends if I really had something I needed them to know. There wasn't some voyeuristic way to peek into people's lives like there is now.
But of course, people can only peek in and see what you allow them to see.
I know that I tend to share a lot on social media. I post a lot about Sadira, as she's grown to become such an interesting little person. I post a lot about current events, and pop culture.
And let's be real, I post a shiton about sports.
I've more than once been deleted by a Facebook friend who was sick of my sports posts.
I guess some people think sports are annoying? (I don't understand those people.)
And I try really hard to be authentic in my posts...not only just posting happy, wonderful thing, but also the sad, difficult stuff...as evident by this blog.
But when it came to announcing my pregnancy with Reece last year, the whole thing felt weird. It's become a "thing" now. Just like kids asking each other to prom has become a "thing." (What's up with these Promposals anyway? What happened to just saying, "hey wanna go to prom?" but again, I digress.)
I had several friends who knew I was pregnant ask me, "when are you going to announce?!" My default answer was, "after I tell Sadie that we're expecting." Which, of course, I wanted to wait as long as possible to do. I think I was about 15 weeks pregnant when I told Sadie, and I would've waited longer if my baby belly wouldn't have been so obvious.
I was afraid that something would go wrong and then I'd have to explain that to her. So I waited in order to avoid that.
Turns out I didn't wait long enough.
But I finally "announced," and the news was out. Still felt weird, but good that the cat was out of the bag. I'll admit, I was never one to enjoy pregnancy. It just doesn't agree with me, but after having Sadira, I learned that the outcome was well worth the discomfort of pregnancy. That said, I tried very hard not to be one of those people who posted about their pregnancy constantly on Facebook. Mostly because I have friends who have had trouble conceiving, and the last thing I would want to do is flaunt my own pregnancy in their face.
Thanks to the blessing of the Timehop app, I've been able to relive my pregnancy posts. And while I post a LOT on Facebook, I posted very little about my pregnancy. I chose to discuss my pregnancy mostly only in my private parenting forums, and mom's group that I'm a part of. In fact, I've posted more on Facebook about my new dog that I've had for a week, than I did about my entire pregnancy with Reece.
I don't know why I limited my pregnancy posts...maybe because they probably would've been mostly negative because I have a hard time with pregnancy?
I did happen to look back and see a negative pregnancy post that I made last year in April. I kinda wish I could go back in time and kick myself in the teeth for that one.
I knew back then that pregnancy posts on social media were tough for friends having trouble conceiving, or friends who could not conceive. I NOW know that pregnancy related posts on social media are tough for babyloss parents too. Because it's natural to read something and try to relate to that person.
When I try to relate, I am reminded of the most difficult experience of my life.
Last year this time, I thought we were safe. I thought it was okay to start thinking about the nursery and ordering furniture. I thought it was harmless to pick up a few baby boy outfits after we found out we were having a son.
I thought we were okay.
Even through the complications I started to have in April, I still thought in the long run, that things would be okay. I always thought Reece would make it.
Before April 30th, my biggest concerns were 1: if we were ever going to definitively agree on his name, and 2: I really wanted him to be born in September and not August, so he wouldn't be the youngest when he started school.
Seems ridiculous now, right?
THOSE were my biggest concerns, because OBVIOUSLY I thought everything would be fine.
I'm not that girl anymore. I don't look at pregnancy the same way. Instead of hearing about a friend's pregnancy and thinking, "oh, fun! Good for them!" I cautiously think, "please please please let everything go okay."
I'll exhale when their baby gets here.
I hold my breath for every pregnant friend of mine.
Because I want everything to be okay for them.
And I'm holding my breath for myself, until April is over.