Three months have passed since our baby girl was stillborn. You may be wondering what life has been like for us since we received the devastating news in November. I’m often asked “How are you doing?” and my standard response is “We’re okay. I’m hanging in there.” This is true – I am hanging in there. But nothing about these past three months has been easy.
The weeks following the loss of our baby were the most difficult. Not only was I in a deep shock of a sadness, but I also did not feel like myself at all. I felt like a light was switched off and my personality was gone. I was unsure about writing; I could not imagine finding my usual humorous voice and creative vision for my blog posts. Socializing felt hard too, with the lurking feeling that friends and acquaintances were afraid to talk to me. Because, let’s be honest, no one wants to hang out with a sad person. The tragedy is an undeniable elephant in the room.
Slowly, I started to feel like “me” again. And now when I write a funny blog post or work on a party theme or talk with friends, I mostly feel like my old self. But I also feel forever changed. There are emotions that will likely never go away, that have altered me permanently.
Perhaps more powerful than the sadness I feel, the guilt that I harbor is constant and at times crushing. No matter the logic or rational reasons presented to me, I cannot let go of the feeling that I failed my baby. I failed to give my baby her chance at life. She did not get to see our faces or breathe the air around us…because of me. I hate that I feel the “because of me” but it is there nonetheless. This guilt has manifested in an uncontrollable urge to say “I’m sorry.” Whenever I cry, whenever I bring up something sad in conversation, whenever I feel overwhelmed, I inevitably say “I’m sorry.” Because I am. It’s a never-ending mantra in my head…I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. And I’m sorry that I feel sorry.
Sometimes it seems we try to give grief and loss a silver lining, saying that our losses have given us “a greater appreciation of life.”
It is true that I value life more deeply and I have a new awareness of how precious and fleeting it is. BUT this is not necessarily a positive. This new outlook makes me feel anxious, maybe even paranoid. I have always been the type of person who assumes the worst will happen. And now that the worst actually did happen, it’s as if I have validation for my fears. Life is precious and something bad could happen at any moment.
A couple weeks ago, I was driving Carmendy and Owen home and they were having a grand time together, giggling hysterically at each other in the minivan. My heart filled with joy at the sound of their laughter. But I simultaneously thought, “I will never hear Frances laughing with her sister and her brother.” I started to cry.
Managing these conflicting feelings of joy and sadness is difficult and confusing. I want to be happy, but I want to cry. I want to move on, but I don’t want to move on and forget. I want to feel the happiness of our small memories – her first little kicks in my belly, our amazing pregnancy announcement video. But these memories bring sorrow too.
Sometimes I’m sad because I’m sad. It’s frustrating. More than ever, I feel the need to savor each moment. Yet many moments are tainted with sadness. When I hear my children laughing together, I want to only feel joy, to savor a moment of pure happiness. Instead I feel sad too, which in turn makes me feel even sadder.
Questions Left Unanswered
Half of all stillbirths occur in pregnancies that appear problem-free and half the time the reason for the stillbirth is never known. We fall into these statistics – we do not know what caused Frances’ death and my pregnancy had been completely normal up until her stillbirth. My doctor explained, “Sometimes these things just happen with no reason.” And so we were left to accept the unacceptable.
But I need a reason. My mind goes over every possibility, looking for an answer that will never be found. Without a reason for her death, I feel like I must give her death a purpose. We may not know why she died but her death can still make a difference. So I started reading more and more about stillbirths and pregnancy loss. Many stories made me cry. And everything inspired me, because there is so much that can be done.
In the United States, nearly 25,000 stillbirths happen every year, a rate that has barely changed in 50 years.
Based on my personal experience, a few implemented changes could make a big difference.
Right before we lost our baby, I developed a rash on my arm, hands and feet. I assumed I was having an allergic reaction or my skin was overly dry, even though I am not a person with sensitive skin. However, after our daughter was stillborn, I learned that rashes can be a sign of infections or conditions in pregnant women that can endanger a fetus. Despite having two previous pregnancies, I was completely unaware of this. If I had known, maybe I would have called my doctor. Maybe the outcome would have been different.
Why didn’t I know? The answer is simply because doctors and pregnant patients do not talk about stillbirth and the risks and signs. It’s a taboo topic, bringing up something that could be alarming to an expecting mother.
It’s not easy to talk about, but conversations between OB/GYNs and their expecting patients about pregnancy loss could easily make a difference.
After Frances’ stillbirth, we were informed that we could request an autopsy and/or special testing to try to find a cause for her death. We were discouraged from pursuing these options because we were told again and again that the results were usually inconclusive and that insurance may not cover them. Later I learned that most stillbirth parents are not encouraged to obtain a stillbirth evaluation to determine the cause of death, just as we weren’t. And this is a major reason why the data and research for stillbirths are lacking.
If every stillbirth was investigated, preventative measures could be developed for future pregnancies.
A few weeks after we lost Frances, I heard a quote on a television show we were watching:
“You’ll know the angels when they come for you. They’ll have the faces of your children.”
The words immediately brought tears to my eyes. It is a beautiful thought – our children, living or deceased, are our angels.
When I see my angel Frances’ face one day, I want her to know she was never forgotten. And that our love for her inspired change.
Please consider helping Frances’ short life make a difference. Here’s how you can help:
- Learn more about stillbirth; knowledge is power. These are just a few great resources:
- Don’t be afraid to talk about pregnancy loss. Talking about it will bring this taboo topic into the light and build awareness.
- Make a donation.
Additionally, I’m creating a series of digital prints for my Etsy shop that will have inspirational phrases about life and pregnancy loss. All the proceeds from the purchases of these digital prints will go to The 2 Degrees Foundation. Please share and help our baby help future babies.