It seems fitting that Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day falls in October. This is the month of our greatest loss and eventually, against all odds, our greatest joy.
My husband and I met later in life so when we decided to start a family, we knew it would be a challenge. I had issues like severe endometriosis, a condition that affects fertility, and also “old eggs,” as one doctor put it. We were told that conceiving naturally would be next to impossible. Our only hope was to do In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). And so like millions of other couples we went down the prickly and expensive road of IVF. We got extremely lucky; we conceived a baby on our first try. We were both apprehensive and excited — but we were on the way to babyland. At 13 weeks we found out that we were going to have a baby girl and for the next six months we built a pink palace acquiring furniture, knick-knacks, books (there are a lot of books) and boxes of hand-me-downs from friends all over the country.
That excitement came to a screeching halt one day in October 2013 when at 26 weeks I realized I hadn’t felt the baby kick for 24 hours. She had gone through active and dormant periods, but this was a long restful period. I called the doctor and they sent me to the hospital for monitoring. As we sat in the hospital room and the nurse attempted to find our baby’s heartbeat, we could tell by the look on her face that things weren’t good. An ultrasound confirmed the worst: We had a “fetal demise”— that’s the horrible phrase they used. There was no heartbeat. My baby was dead.
That afternoon, I delivered our baby girl by C-section. I vividly remember lying on the operating table, the bright light above me, a deafening silence in the room — the doctors and nurses didn’t say a word — the trickle of tears running down my cheek and staring into my husband’s pained, deep blue eyes as he stood over me, his tears falling onto my cheek. It was surreal, my worst nightmare, and I just wanted to wake up and have everything be normal. There was no waking from this nightmare. Lying on the gurney in the recovery room, they brought us our beautiful baby. We cradled her in our arms the way you would a living baby. She was perfect in every way – high cheekbones, big hands and feet like dad and lips like mine. Perfect, but dead. We named her Hope.
What followed was a period of the most intense grief I have ever experienced. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t want to breathe. Our hopes, our dreams and our future was gone, just like that. I was lost. How was I supposed to go on? What would I do with her nursery? What would I do with all the baby clothes hanging in her closet? What would I tell people if they asked what happened? How would I live? I searched for answers in books, on the Internet and through support groups. I so desperately wanted an instruction manual of how to live through the grief. I couldn’t find one.
But, slowly, I did learn to live again – one tear at a time, one day at a time. Through the grief I learned a lot. Everyone’s story is different, everyone’s grief is different, but I hope these lessons can help others.
- Allow yourself time to grieve. Let yourself cry. Let yourself feel the loss. This sucks, big time. And it will hurt. Grief is a process and healing takes time.
- Surround yourself with loved ones. My family dropped everything to be by my side during those excruciating first weeks. Their presence brought me solace. It meant the world to me to get so many cards, e-mails and visits from friends, many of whom I hadn’t talked to in years. Certain friends and family became my rocks. They called daily to check in. They gave me strength. People want to help, so let them in. At the same time, realize that many don’t know what to say. Don’t fault them for it.
- Mementos and keepsakes help. My friends bought me a necklace that said “Hope” on it. I wore it every day for a year after she died. When I felt weak and needed strength I rubbed the necklace in my fingers and somehow it helped. My family also bought a beautiful fountain for us. We called it the Hope fountain. We put it in the backyard and I’d just sit and listen to the flowing water and think about Hope.
- Join a support group. I joined a support group of other moms who had lost their babies. Somehow talking to other people and hearing their stories helped me feel like I wasn’t so alone. I also found a very good therapist that I visited weekly.
- Read. I read every book about stillbirth I could get my hands on. Again, knowing that others had been through this pain and lived gave me comfort.
- Focus on healing the mind, body and soul. For me that meant therapy, healthy eating, fitness, acupuncture and prayer.
- Be gentle with your partner. They are going through this, too. They may grieve differently than you do. Everyone is allowed to grieve in their own way. There is no right or wrong.
- Know that you will feel joy again. Sometimes you can’t see it but it is really just around the corner.
As profound as our loss was, I came out on the other side with deeper friendships, a greater appreciation for family and a new perspective on life. As we mark Infant Loss Awareness Month, a month dedicated to those who have lost babies, I want to encourage families suffering through a loss to never lose Hope.
One year later, I delivered a baby boy, born just two days shy of Hope’s birthday. We named him Jude. And, as miracles happen, he was conceived unexpectedly and naturally… or, as my friends like to call him, the most wanted “oops” baby in the world.
Jennifer Baskerville is a public relations executive. Her husband, Greg Nelsen, who contributed to this piece, is a photographer. They live in San Diego, California with their 1-year-old son Jude and dog Sam.
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