Disclaimer: This post is the first of four in a series about one ACMB Team Member’s experience with infant loss. We understand that this post may include language and ideas that are difficult or traumatizing to some readers and urge you to stop reading if you feel triggered in any way. As always, ACMB aims to provide a platform for our Team Members to share their experiences honestly in hopes of helping other moms, and we are very grateful to Jennifer for sharing her story with us.
In the months and years that followed the death of my oldest child, I found such incredible solace and comfort in hearing the stories of others. Just knowing that other people had survived what I was living through brought me hope and helped me feel a little less crazy. I have been continually grateful for the bravery and willingness of those parents who shared their worst nightmares in support of my own grief and healing.
In that same spirit, and in honor of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, I am sharing mine.
Good morning to you, little one.
Now, with just a few weeks to go until we meet, your father has decided with impressive finality that you are a girl. In fact, he is so determined that he is correct, he will no longer discuss boy names. So, if you do turn out to be a boy, let’s all hope I’m in some reasonable state of mind to come up with something. (And yes, my mother is still irritated that we refuse to find out. She hates this whole surprise thing.)
Here’s some news: after 36 weeks of constant, relentless nausea, I actually felt hungry yesterday. I almost didn’t know what it was! So, thanks for finally letting up on that—I swear, if I ever see plain white rice again I just might faint straight away. It should only take me a few months to forgive you for all these months of misery.
Something else you should probably know about me is what a procrastinator I can be. True story. So imagine my delight (and surprise) over the reality that your nursery is nearly complete! And with several weeks still to go, it’s got to be some kind of record. Bassinet should arrive in a few days. We need to put the changing table/dresser together, but the prints are up on fresh, bright walls, and it is comforting to know you won’t have to sleep in a laundry basket when you come home. Kidding. We wouldn’t have done that. Probably not.
Let’s see. Brand new pediatrician? Check.
Nursery mostly assembled and decorated? Check.
Registry finally done? Check. (This, at least, makes my mother happy.)
Best friends’ baby arrived? Check. And, YAY!
The last big milestone of our pregnancy was the arrival of Samuel Robert—and he’s here! We were so excited to finally meet him—he who will surely be your very bestest friend or your very first boyfriend, either one will be just fine with us. So, hurry up and join the party, please?!
With the start of the weekly doctor appointments, the time should fly right by.
Can’t wait to meet you. Be well. Grow strong.
All my love,
My sweet child,
It is with a heavy heart that these months and months of writing the story of your long-awaited arrival will now come to an end.
I continued my weekly appointments, just as planned. Everything was as expected, although my blood pressure continued to make the nurses’ eyebrows raise, they claimed not enough to be concerned. I was always there late in the day and still working full-time.
This past Thursday I was there for my last weekly appointment.
My maternity leave was to begin the next day, our due date nearly upon us.
I was reading a Better Homes and Garden magazine, which was resting on my belly, and you kicked at least a half dozen times. Strong enough to ruffle the pages and make me take a deep breath. Exam room, step on the scale, pee in the cup…the usual. As the doctor was talking to me about my last day of work, he got out the Doppler to listen to your now-so-familiar heartbeat.
He never found it.
After about 30 seconds, I noticed he was suddenly very serious. It had never taken so long to find the precious little swish-swish-swish, and he was very, very quiet. He asked me when I last felt the baby move. I told him about the magazine in the waiting room. He was still searching. “Roll to your side.” Nothing. “Roll to your back.” Still nothing. I was worried because he looked so serious, but it didn’t occur to me that something might actually be terribly wrong. We’re at the end… We’ve made it, right? Surely everything will be OK.
He said, “I’ll be right back.”
He came back in with his nurse and an ultrasound machine. I could tell that she already knew something was awful. She reached for my hand. I felt the panic surge through me. I couldn’t see the screen, but I knew it was silent and still by the looks on their faces.
He said, “You need to get to labor and delivery right this minute.”
The nurse asked if she could drive me there since I was alone.
I felt a little swirly getting dressed. What exactly was going to happen now?
The nurse said I should probably call someone.
Right. And say what, exactly?
Your dad was at home. I said, “I don’t know much. They can’t find the heartbeat. I’m going to the hospital right now. You should come.”
There was almost instantly a radiologist and two techs standing next to my hospital bed with the giant machine: searching and searching and taking pictures. I could see the screen this time. So eerily quiet. I could see you there, perfect and still. Quite a difference from the first time we saw you—so much wiggling they could hardly get the measurements they needed. That reality seems like a lifetime ago. The radiologist touched my leg and said, “I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you. We’ve confirmed your doctor’s fear—there is no movement and no heartbeat.”
There is no reasonable response when someone says that, turns out.
You just lie still and stare at everyone, trying to figure out what else anyone could possibly say.
And then, “Do you want to know now whether it was a boy or a girl? I see in your chart that you do not yet know.”
No. I do not want to know that yet.
I looked at the clock and wondered when your dad would finally escape the traffic he must be sitting in.
Within the hour, began the process of induction and labor. I’ll spare you all the gory details, complications, and horror stories of night nurses and just say this:
After 17 hours of labor you slid silently into this world, and you were perfect. I was instantly smitten, as a mother often is.
The delivery nurse, whom I’m pretty sure was actually an angel, said as she caught you, “Oh my goodness, what dark and curly hair! Do you know yet what you have?”
We said, “No.”
“It’s a boy. A beautiful, beautiful boy.”
In that moment, with those few words, the surrealism of everything fell away. No longer simply a baby, but a boy. Did we ever finally decide on our boy name? Your father seemed so conflicted in this impossible space—wanting to look, not wanting to look—torn between how we had dreamed this moment would be and the sobering reality of what this moment had turned out to be.
With tears in her eyes, the nurse placed you on a blanket on my chest while the doctor continued with the other tasks of delivery.
I had no idea what to do.
There is no way to be prepared for such a moment.
Your father was crying.
I was just staring at you—the shock of an actual, full-sized baby boy—and waiting for you to take a breath, willing you to just breathe in, which it seemed you might do at any moment. I will never forget the peculiar silence of that room as long as I live.
The doctor could find no abnormalities, no cord issues, nothing obvious that would offer an explanation. He put in a couple of stitches—which I could totally feel, by the way—and then he looked at me very solemnly and said, “And now, I’m afraid, the easy part is over.”
Those words were probably the truest he had spoken. The following months would reveal just how painfully true indeed.
Jennifer’s story will continue next week in the second installment of this series, “Our Firstborn: A Journal (Part Two).” We hope that her experience will help others who have suffered infant or pregnancy loss to know they are not alone.