Our oldest son would have been 8 years old last month.
I carried him to a day shy of 39 weeks without complications, and then lost him without warning one night in an emergency C-section. It’s hard to believe that eight years have gone by since that terrible day.
Eight years…four younger siblings…so much life has happened since then. In a lot of ways, it feels like a lifetime ago and we’ve very much moved on from that awful place.
Other times though the pain is still somewhat fresh. It comes out of nowhere in waves, brought on by something that triggers a memory. That happens less and less as time goes on, but I think it will probably always be this way at least a little bit.
There are an absolutely heartbreaking number of women out there who share my story. I hear about them personally far too often. Before we lost our son, I had no idea just how common infant mortality in the United States is. We are lead to believe that once you’re past the proverbial 12-week mark, you’re good to go.
That’s why we don’t expect it when it happens to us. It comes as such a shock. Our world is sent reeling and we just never saw it coming.
One thing is for certain: the memory of the day our son quickly entered, and then exited, this world will always be very vivid in my mind. The grief, the uncertainty, all the questions – the feelings surrounding that day and the subsequent months will never leave me. And that’s why I feel compelled to write this.
For the expectant mother who has just very unexpectedly lost her baby, I write this for you.
As I do, I’m still not sure how much to tell you. I’m not sure when this would cross the line from being encouraging and useful in helping you to prepare, to being just plain overwhelming.
My husband assures me that if you’re here then you’re looking for information, and if you’re overwhelmed then you’ll stop reading. I’m trusting that he’s right — that you know yourself well enough to know where that line is for you personally. With that in mind, I’m just going to put it all out there.
I’ve been where you are. I know the pain – that intense, awful pain that you’re afraid will never go away. I’m writing to you from the other side of that agony in hopes that it will help you feel like you’re not alone and perhaps give a voice to some of the feelings that are overwhelming you right now. More than anything though, I hope that this gives you some sort of peace – a glimmer of hope – in your grief…
There’s so much fear when your baby passes away, so many thoughts and questions…so many possibly painful interactions that you don’t anticipate. Below is a list of the experiences I wish someone would have talked to me about.
If you’re like me, you’re probably dreading every first holiday that is coming your way – the ones you were expecting your baby to be with you for.
You’re afraid that people will think of you on those holidays and want to talk to you about it.
But you’re also afraid that they won’t.
You’re afraid of the sappy commercials – those damn sappy commercials! Mostly you’re afraid that a normally happy time will be swallowed up in grief and you won’t be able to bear it.
Don’t feel like you have to make a big deal of the holidays this year or engage in them the way you’re used to. Do something different, stay busy — or stay home and just let the days pass. There are no expectations for how you will handle them. These will be difficult days, but it won’t be like this forever.
Your Pregnant Friends
If you have friends and family who have been pregnant along with you, you’re probably afraid that their children will always been a reminder of the hole in your own family. I had SIX friends who were all due within a couple of months of me, including my very best friend. I was terrified that I would never be able to look at those children without thinking of my son.
As those children were born right around the time of our loss, I won’t lie to you – it was hard. I was both happy for my friends and sad at the same time. You will run the gamut of those emotions too.
You will put on a brave face for your friends, but be hurting inside. It might take you a while before you’re ready to spend a lot of time with your friends and their new babies.
Don’t distance yourself forever, but take your time. Ease into it and don’t feel rushed. Your friends will understand.
From my experience, I’m relieved to tell you that meeting those babies wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. Now that my own family has grown and the years have passed, I spend a lot of time with some of those kids and they aren’t even remotely a trigger for me. I don’t see them and think about how big my son would be – they’re just my friends’ kids, and now my living children’s friends.
The Well-Meaning Stranger
It’s the well-meaning stranger who will catch you off guard and I feel I must prepare you for them. They don’t mean to, but they can provide the most unexpected stings to a grieving mother’s heart.
I wasn’t prepared to still look pregnant right after I gave birth. When I went in to the doctor’s office a week after losing our son, I ended up on an elevator with an excited new grandmother and her expectant daughter who gleefully commented on how she couldn’t wait until her daughter was my size and asked how far along I was. I did my best to get off the elevator without bursting into tears and making them feel even worse than they already did when I told them that I was no longer pregnant.
Loose fitting clothing will be your friend and help deter innocent questions.
Acknowledging Your Child
There have been conversations brought up through the years about who in a group of our work friends was the first to start the baby boom and someone else gets that title because they have the oldest living child. The person asking the question wasn’t around when we lost our baby and the others aren’t thinking, or just don’t remember. It’s a small thing, but it’s in those times that it feels foolish or petty to point out that we were the first to start our family. Good grief, I feel petty even writing down that it crossed my mind to care about that! But it’s not about who started something or who gets a moniker. It’s about the fact that our son isn’t acknowledged and the whole thing just feels wrong.
In fact, I wish it wasn’t the case, but the truth is there will be moments that come up fairly regularly for much of your life where you will have to choose whether or not to mention your first child.
Someone will say something like, “you’ve had four pregnancies” and I have to decide whether to correct them and say that I’ve actually had five. People regularly ask me how many children I have and I have to decide whether to give them the easy answer of four, or the truthful answer that I have 4 living children and one in heaven.
I don’t always give the same answer. It just depends on how I feel at the moment and how immediately awkward I feel like making things with a relative stranger.
To be completely honest, it’s awful. When I answer five, I find myself trying to console someone I don’t know well and feeling like I’ve given way too much information about myself. When I answer four, I feel like I’m denying my son somehow. I can’t win.
The main thing I want you to take away from all of that is this: prepare your heart that these things will come up from time to time, and then when they do, react in whatever way feels best to you in the moment.
Answer in the way you feel will sting the least for you. There’s no right way to answer those questions. Eight years later, it still stings a little every time, but it doesn’t take my breath away like it did in the beginning.
Your Future Children
The biggest fears and questions of all though, have to be those surrounding future children. You wonder if you’ll be able to have healthy children, or children at all. Even if you’re told that your loss was the fluke and not something that is even remotely like to happen twice, you still wonder and worry. At least I did.
Someone said to me, “you will never be innocently pregnant again” and that’s true. The risks and dangers are always there for all pregnancies, but if you never experience them, they always seem so remote.
I do hold my breath with every pregnancy, but it gets easier every time and you’re going to find the same to be true for you. Unless you’ve already found out otherwise, you will likely have very normal pregnancies after this. While you too will hold your breath, you will find that it gets easier and the anxiety will fade a little more with every healthy new babe born into your family.
That said, whether you are able to have children biologically in the future or not — whether born from you or from someone else — you will hold your babies one day and not be able to imagine your life without them. For us, losing our first son changed our baby timeline altogether and every child we have now is one we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t lost him. I would NEVER choose to lose him, but I love my living children so much — I truly can’t imagine my life without them in it.
I don’t believe in “fate” or “God’s will” for these sorts of things so I don’t know how to explain it, but I know that these are the kids I was meant to raise on this earth. They complete me in every possible cheesy way you can take that phrase. :)
Take heart. You will have those feelings in the near future.
It’s all just really hard right now and I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this. It’s a horrible thing for any parent to bear. It was the worst moment of my life losing him, but with some time and space, I can see the good that has come from that terrible time.
You can be sure that no one is more grateful for their children than we are because of our experience. I think it’s made us more patient with them — made us focus on them more and treasure and appreciate them more on a daily basis.
You can look forward to all of that.
While you wait for that day though, please let the people you love know what you need. They want to be there for you, but not everyone will know how.
For me, I wanted distraction during the day so that I could put everything out of my mind until I was able to grieve privately with my husband each night. Some friends wanted to sit with me and pray or talk it out, but it wasn’t how I wanted to grieve. I declined and luckily they respected that. You may want the opposite — just tell your loved ones how they can help.
However you’re feeling is ok. Everyone grieves differently and that’s ok too. Don’t feel like you have to appease anyone else’s desires.
Try to take care of yourself as best you can, and trust that things will get better.
Eight years after losing my son, life looks very different than I thought it would as we prepared for him. However, I can tell you that even with those painful memories and that piece of my heart who’s not with me, life is very good. For the most part, my heart has healed, and things have moved forward and onward as they have a way of doing.
If I could deliver a message to my grieving self from eight years ago it would be this:
You’re going to be ok.
All the fears and uncertainties – you’re going to wade through them and they’re not going to be as scary as they seem right now. You’ll always tear up from time to time, but you’re not going to cry forever. I know it seems impossible, but I promise you, the pain will fade. Most importantly, there is so much JOY in your future, and somehow – in some crazy, inconceivable way – the pain will make that joy immeasurably sweeter.
And so to you also, my fellow mother — have hope, dear friend. There are far better days ahead.
Hugs and Love,