“What I am seeing is incompatible with life." Those were the terrible words that the radiologist uttered to us back in May 1994, as he held the ultrasound probe to my belly. There were more words to follow, but I couldn’t really process any of them. The dreams, the hopes, the plans that we had been making during the 18 weeks of my pregnancy were demolished with that first sentence. Everything else that he said seemed like it was being spoken under water. There was an explanation, there was a plan, but nothing could get past that first sentence. We left the hospital, confused, panicked, and maybe still a little bit in disbelief. We saw another doctor at another hospital, only to have the horrible truth confirmed.
It was as if our world had stopped spinning. But how was it that the world had not stopped for everyone? It seemed so inconceivable for us to go on, shouldn’t everything shut down for something so devastating? The days and weeks following were so trying, I felt like I couldn’t leave my house. Anywhere I went someone would say something about my pregnancy or I would see other pregnant women, all happy in their expectations, or precious newborns, reminding me of what we would not have. There were many days that I just didn’t want to get out of bed and there were a couple when my husband would come home from work and have to pick me up from my sobbing heap on the floor. Once I answered a questioning friend with “No, I don’t see myself ever being happy again.”
Then came the worst of it: Delivering a baby that you know is not going to be alive is a horrible kind of torment. Holding a son that does not breathe but still has your husband’s funny fingernails is a pain so great; I can only say that I am grateful that few know it.
After the delivery, I continued to struggle, long after my husband was ready to move on. Sometimes it was infuriating that he didn’t seem as affected by it, but I knew that people grieve differently and I was fortunate that he was very supportive (sometimes in his own befuddled way). What continued to present difficulties were the reactions and statements of others. We got: “You weren’t pregnant that long.” (To which I thought“I know, but I was planning on having this child with me for the rest of my life”) and“You can try again.” (“But I already gave a part of my heart to this child.") My least favorite and the one that made me feel like I wanted to rip someone’s throat out was the ubiquitous “Everything happens for a reason.” Like, what’s the reason? I would be a bad mother and didn’t deserve this child? Really, what’s a good reason? No one ever presented me with one. I guess they didn’t realize that when you lose a baby, you are already tearing yourself up with all the why and what if questions. And the “why?” and “what if?” game is one that just can’t be won.
I did have other, truly remarkable people who were willing to just be there with me wherever there was. They didn’t try to tell me how I should feel or how I would one day feel, but would just try to understand how I felt at that moment. One day I might be lamenting about the fact that I had to take back all the beautiful maternity clothes that my mother had bought for me. The next day I would be feeling guilty that I had been sad about such a superficial thing as pretty clothes. The people who were somehow able to understand that this loss encompassed so many large and small parts of my life were the ones I really leaned on. I still say, if asked, that one of the best gifts I ever received was a simple card, hand delivered by a friend. The fact that my friend stood on my doorway with tears streaming down her face and unable to mutter a single word, spoke volumes about how she understood my heartache.
I did make it out of that deep dark hole of grief, one day, one step at a time. It wasn’t easy, some days were harder than others. I leaned on those people who seemed to understand me and tried to forgive those who didn’t and had inadvertently hurt me. I let go of all the whys and what ifs and with them the deep sense of failure. I found a book of poems and artwork by other moms who had lost babies that spoke to me. I let myself hope again; deciding that having my own baby to hold would be worth any amount of pain and suffering.
Our first attempt after this ended with a miscarriage, which could have been even more devastating, but I think that I was somehow prepared to have more difficulties. Our third pregnancy gave us a beautiful baby girl, born four weeks early. All thirty six weeks of that pregnancy were terrifying. I felt so vulnerable and again somewhat prepared for disaster. I was jealous of all the women who took their normal pregnancies and healthy babies as a given. We had two boys after that that were also early. I was pretty frightened during each of these pregnancies as well, but I can say that they are all worth every tear, every moment of anxiety and worry. They are all three amazing teenagers now. I will never say that what we experienced was good or that it worked out for the best. What I can say is that I love my beautiful children with all my heart and that I am grateful for them and their health every day. I can also say that I was wrong when I told my friend that I would not be happy ever again. My children still provide me with plenty of anxiety and worry (I did mention that they are teenagers) but they also provide me more happiness everyday than I could have imagined.
Disclaimer: This is not a medical resource. The information is related to individuals and their unique situation. If you have questions or concerns about your health or fertility, please contact a medical professional.