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On August 16th, 2014, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy at 23 weeks and 2 days. He lived for about an hour then peacefully passed away. He has a name, but my husband and I made the decision to keep it between us. I don’t know why we decided that looking back, but that’s what we did and continue to do. It was the worst day of my life and the beginning of a tumultuous journey through grief and loss and healing that I never could’ve prepared myself for.
My pregnancy had complications from the beginning, including unexplained spotting and bleeding (likely from a mild placental abruption from a sub chorionic hematoma – Google it). As I approached 20 weeks, I started to accept the possibility of an early delivery but never let myself think that meant a delivery at 23 weeks. When my water broke out of nowhere, in bed at home, it hit me hard for the first time that this could end very badly. My husband drove us to the hospital after my water broke, and we spent several hours building up false hope that everything would be OK. When you are in emotional turmoil and rapidly losing hope, a 10% chance of holding off labor until the baby has a chance of making it sounds pretty promising. In retrospect and with a clear head, those are not good odds. I was punched in the face with the fact that the medical definition of when a baby should be considered viable is 24 weeks, meaning that doctors typically will not intervene to take measures to keep a baby alive after birth until the baby is 24 weeks, and they take that threshold very seriously. So at my meager 23 weeks and 2 days, the best we could hope for was that I could hold off labor for 5 more days and there would at least be a chance. Unfortunately, after spending about 36 hours in the hospital, I suddenly felt the urge go to the bathroom and found that our baby was crowning. A fucking nightmare. That moment creeps its way into my head when I least expect it. After a very quick and frantic delivery, our sweet baby boy was born. I got to hold him and tell him goodbye and say everything I wanted to him, and for that, I am forever grateful.
The 6 months following our loss were the most challenging and heartbreaking months of my life for many, many reasons. The roller coaster started when the pain medication wore off, and we left the hospital with a beautiful little box of keepsakes from the grief and loss volunteers at the hospital instead of our baby. We pulled up to our house that had been stripped of all signs of baby – this was something I tasked my mother with when I was in the hospital so I didn’t have to stumble upon anything physical that would trigger me. She packed everything up for me and took it to her house for safe keeping for the future, or not, we didn’t know, we just wanted it gone. That night my husband and I drank a bottle of wine each and cried. The next morning we had to go to the funeral home and make arrangements for our baby’s body. I remember my husband saying that the loss hit him the hardest when he had to sign his name on the “father” line of the death certificate. Then we recalled that in the craziness of the delivery and saying goodbye, we had signed a birth certificate at the hospital, as well, because our baby boy was born alive. We signed a birth certificate and a death certificate in 24 hours of each other. The next day, we visited my parents’ house to avoid our own, babyless home, and then I went home and wanted a hot shower. In the shower, I realized my milk had come in and fell to the ground in grief. I could write a chapter on the little painful reminders like that that occurred over the course of the next few months reminding me that I should still be pregnant or my baby should be alive: The first installment of the baby subscription box my sister-in-law ordered for me arrived a week after we lost the baby. The What to Expect app not fucking recognizing an “unsubscribe” request and sending reminders for the rest of my pregnancy that my baby is X weeks and is the size of X fruit. The due date. Finding a sonogram picture that slipped between my car seats. Thanksgiving with no baby. Christmas with no baby. Returning to work and people not knowing what happened and asking when the baby is due.
For a while, I thought I was doing better, then in November (about 3 months after our loss), I unraveled. I felt completely out of control, completely alone, and completely hopeless. That was a very dark time that I won’t get too into, but I sought professional help and leaned on my support group through the hospital where I gave birth. With the support of my husband and family, I started to get back on track after the New Year. I focused on work and my marriage and my dog and fun things that I love to do – floral design, reading, shopping, decorating – all while continuing therapy and working on myself.
I think it is very easy for a woman to forget that her husband experiences the loss as profoundly as she does because he doesn’t have the physical attachment aspect. My husband and I had a very hard time after our loss. We got through it. Many couples don’t. I am forever grateful to him. But, I did make the mistake once of telling him I didn’t think he was sad. He said he cried every day for months on the way to work, but for me, he wanted to be strong because I wasn’t (“because I wasn’t” are my words, not his). Grieving the death of a child is not something any couple prepares for. It’s not something anyone should ever have to face. But it happens, and you have to do the best you can, and you have to work really hard. When you come out on the other side, you will have a new perspective on the person you love, and for what I discovered in my husband and what I know about him now, I am grateful to have been given that as a gift from our baby that we can carry with us. He actually is my hero, but don’t tell him I said that.
In June of 2015, I found out I was pregnant again. I was extremely proactive about taking all the precautions recommended to prevent another preterm labor. I sought out homeopathic techniques while deciding to get the P17 progesterone shots that are offered to and recommended for women who have a history of preterm labor. I popped into my OB’s office every Monday morning to get my shot and rewarded myself with a donut from the Home Bakery in Rochester on my way back to work. My husband and I shared our news with our immediate family and didn’t really tell anyone else until around 20 weeks. As you can imagine, the big hurdle for us was that 24 week mark. I actually surprised myself by how NOT psycho I was during my pregnancy. I fully intended to be a basket case, but I remained pretty calm throughout, and I actually felt very at peace through most of it. I was still seeing my therapist which helped, but I think of that sense of peace as another little gift from our first baby. One of my favorite quotes is, “the best way out is through,” and that is how I would describe pregnancy after loss.
On March 9, 2016, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Edward Poe, and we got to take him home with us this time. He had a brief stint in the NICU for hypoglycemia, but I learned very quickly that having a child after loss came with great perspective. I knew he was going to be OK. I could look at his perfect face and hear his cry and hear him breathe and know he was alive. I knew it would just be a few days and he would be home. Perspective is very a powerful thing, another gift from our angel.
After Eddie was born, there was only one person who asked me what it was like to be parenting after loss. I understand why no one asks this question, but I think it is so important for people to understand this unique struggle. When that person asked that question, my response was that it was confusing. That was the only word that came to mind. It is confusing to want my baby to cry in the night more than he did because crying meant he was breathing. It is confusing to watch him open his eyes for the first time and to sit up for the first time and crawl for the first time and get a little sadness mixed with all of that joy knowing that those are milestones that our first baby never experienced. It is confusing to hear other moms who haven’t had losses get so upset over a cold or pink eye (bless your hearts) when I just thank god every day that I have a baby that is alive and able to get sick and also heal (sounds crazy). It’s confusing how I felt like I had unraveled for a period of time after losing someone that I never truly knew. It’s confusing. It’s hard. But it is so fucking rewarding, and I am aware of the strength it took to get our son Eddie here.
I appreciate opportunities to tell my story because hearing the stories of other women with similar experiences helped me so much after my loss and during my second pregnancy. So, thank you to Bean’s mom for giving me this chance to tell my story in a forum like this. My hope is that a woman will read this and remember this if she ever has to go through something like my loss. I found that before my loss, I barely knew anyone who had an experience like mine. After my loss, many women came out of the woodwork to make sure I knew I wasn’t alone and that losses like these happen more than we know. When I was 24 weeks pregnant with Eddie, a very emotional and difficult week for me, a woman named Lauren reached out to me telling me that my sister had told her my story and she experienced something similar with her first pregnancy. She just let me know that she was there if I wanted to talk, or not, but in her experience, it helped her to know that there were other women surrounding her and ready to help. I ended up meeting her for coffee that week, and we began a really wonderful and special friendship, and she helped me through my pregnancy. I think her friendship is another gift from our angel boy.
After our first son died, we scattered his ashes in a river that runs through a park near our house that I loved to walk through while I was pregnant for him. We still visit the park regularly in the summer, and now Eddie plays in the low current beds of that same river. Some days I don’t really recognize the significance of that; other days it takes my breath away. That’s how my life goes now. The stretches of time that I go without very potently feeling my grief are getting longer as time goes on, but when the grief hits me, it hits hard. When it hits, I don’t fight it because in those times of grief, I remember our first son the most clearly. I know when Eddie is old enough to understand, we will have a conversation about his older brother and how he paved the way for Eddie’s journey into this world, and how we should be so grateful for the joy he brought into our lives and continues to bring to us every day by allowing him to be here. I always feel strange saying this, but the truth is that if we hadn’t lost our first baby, Eddie wouldn’t be Eddie. That is something that is very difficult to wrap my head around, and I try not to think about it too much like that, but it is really true, and maybe that is the most special gift of all.