STILLBIRTH – IS NOT A TOPIC I EVER THOUGHT I WOULD BE WRITING ABOUT.
I predicted taking you along right until the end of my pregnancy, introducing you to a new little person and telling you everything about my labor story – my foreseeable and predictable ups-and-downs of a mother of two. With a heavy heart, I am not telling you the story I so hoped for and sadly, there were no sliding doors…it wasn’t one decision or another that would’ve changed anything. The doors shut on us and we are now grasping at how a part of our lives got so dark in an instant. Never in a million years did I think that I would be writing about a stillbirth, the unpredictable side of pregnancy. That never, ever even crossed my mind.
STILLBIRTH NEVER CROSSING MY MIND RAISES A QUESTION, ESPECIALLY AS A MOM BLOGGER.
I’d like to add, I’m that mom who has the books at home, I listen to the podcasts, I felt like I’ve always interrogated doctors. So, here’s my question: How the hell did I not know about this? Why was I never informed of the risk of a stillbirth that is 1 in 160 pregnancies? It’s one thing to get hit by such devastating loss, but it’s another, to have never known the possibility of it happening in a perfectly healthy pregnancy.
It’s scary and it’s hard to think about, but as an advocate of my health, even more so in America, I want to know. I’m not the type of person that puts blinders on and pretends bad things don’t happen and yet, somehow I was illiterate to this possibility. I know about miscarriages, as most of us do – we live with the knowledge, we hold our breath and if it happens, there’s a microscopic sense of understanding what is happening through the warnings and knowings. Talk about feeling like you got slapped in the face – I got punched.
THIS IS WHERE IT GETS DIFFICULT TO CONTINUE WRITING. THE MOMENT I HAVE TO TELL YOU MY STORY ABOUT THE STILLBIRTH.
The moment I find the need to tell you my story – to heal, to share, to help, to bring awareness, to soothe, to give back to all the other bloggers that showed up on my Google search for hours as worries were rushing through my veins and very little information came up besides posts of moms simply sharing anything and everything that felt supportive, gave me wings and courage to bring myself out of bed to the hospital, admitting that something felt awfully wrong.
IT DIDN’T FEEL REAL
Yet, it’s so hard to type out this piece. It’s so hard to put it into words and anchor our reality; one that ends with us holding our baby, breathless, while hearing other babies being born in the rooms next door. Why is it us in this position? Frankly, why is it anyone else in this position?
The difficulty in talking about my reality is that it doesn’t feel real. My mind goes in and out of it. For some reason, I seem to think I could own magical powers if I really looked deep enough. Deep enough like when you go to a foreign country and you listen to the language so fiercely because there’s maybe a chance you’d understand what you hear. Deep enough to change what happened, and as desperate as I’ve ever been, I don’t have any powers to bring back my baby that was taken away from us.
I FELT HEALTHY AND READY FOR THIS BABY TO COME.
After intensely throwing up for 5 months (which I had experienced with Oliver), I was finally starting to feel better. At about 5 months I was feeling great and I was taking care of myself even better than I had before with Oliver. I am a mom blogger now: I’ve researched, spoken to enough moms to have guidance, ditched advice that certainly didn’t serve me with Oliver like “eating for two,” ate health food, walked every day and kept my low-key one-on-one Pilates class to keep myself in “shape.”
Feeling healthy and ready for this baby to come, I was actually so ready that nothing was ready; I had saved all these links throughout the year while trying to conceive of what I wanted for the baby, what I needed postpartum. And, I knew it’d take a couple of clicks to order everything, bing bang boom and done. We had decided to do it all at once around March, after focusing on what we’d need postpartum as we didn’t want to go through the helplessness we had felt with Oliver and we had just signed our contract with our doulas.
After that, we’d be all open arms and set for the baby to come. We had been looking to move as soon as we found out we were finally pregnant but didn’t find anything so we decided to stay put. It took almost a year; my conceiving journey was getting frustrating. I had a few tears at every negative test but when I finally got a positive test on a full moon and my due date was none other than Mother’s Day AND my dad’s birthday (which is 3 days before my birthday), I just thought to myself “what a beautiful gift!” This is everything we had been waiting for.
“HOW COULD THIS BE REAL? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT I’M NOT FEELING THE BABY?”
On February 25th, about to be 30 weeks the next day, I woke up feeling really positive. I had a therapy session telling my therapist how everything was finally falling into place and things felt good, that I was getting everything for the baby next week, that I had hired an organizer to help me turn one of our rooms into a nursery and rearrange a few things. Kyle’s work that day as he was preparing to film a movie he’s producing ran into a few location issues, so I helped and lost track of time. When I came home for Oliver’s nap and laid there, it dawned on me that I wasn’t sure if I felt the baby today. I knew I felt the baby yesterday for sure, but he tended to be active a little later like early afternoon so I didn’t think much of it.
A few hours went by and once again the thought that the baby was not moving struck again (we didn’t know the sex as we wanted to find out at birth). I started paying more attention but I wasn’t too worried (or I guess I was trying to not let fears creep in and wait a little more). However, worry started to take over. Kyle was working, Oliver needed attention and my mind was starting to spiral.
PLEASE WAKE UP.
I knew the tricks to make a baby “wake up” as at this point as I figured he was asleep … ice-cold water, cookies, I even found a milkshake that I’d never drink because of the overwhelming sugar content. Now I was overwhelmed by the sugar and still felt nothing from the baby. I’d feel a few things here and there and I’d think “Oh phew he moved! … but did he?” I couldn’t be totally sure and how could he not be moving, babies don’t just stop moving at 30 weeks.
WAITING … TOO MUCH WAITING
I was eventually paralyzed on the couch. Waiting. The sun was coming down and I was waiting for Kyle to come home to reassure me and tell me everything was fine because everything was going to be fine. At this point, it must’ve been 6:30 PM and my OB’s office was closed. We had dinner and I thought “a bath would do the trick!” We love taking baths! So that’s what I did, and a crumbling fear submerged me, I kept having flashes of myself in an emergency C-section and broke down in tears praying for guidance. At this point I knew I had to go to the ER and yet I still wasn’t sure. I was so scared, how could this be real? How is it possible that I’m not feeling the baby? How?
FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS
I laid down on my side to pay more attention and scrolled on Google, I felt crazy, I felt dramatic and I was scrolling to find answers or relatable stories. Then, I started looking deeper into kick counts which I never had a full-length explanation of what to really look for besides paying attention throughout the day. I wasn’t high risk, I had a perfectly healthy pregnancy with Oliver and I had an ultrasound of a very healthy baby a week prior; none of this made sense.
“Follow your instincts” “You should feel your baby within two hours” and I thought to myself “Maybe they’re being extra, but it’s now been 5 hours.” Something IS wrong. I received my maternity picture at that moment and for some reason, that felt agonizing. When I came downstairs, I told Kyle I had to go to the ER. I couldn’t hold tears, I was so terrified.
Moreover, I was more scared of going to the ER by myself than everything else. I was just highly confused at how it was even the thing I had to do at that point in my life. Telling him “I think the baby is in distress, I’m probably going to end up in a C-section, stay by your phone and we’ll need someone to watch Oliver.” He did wonder if perhaps I was a little crazy, which I even considered enough times throughout the hours going by, but I was following my gut. I got in my car and took deep breaths, parked in the hospital lot and walked myself, very pregnant, to the entrance.
I HAVE TO DO THIS
“Hi sweetheart, how can I help you?”
“I haven’t felt my baby in a few hours, but I’m sure everything is fine, I just wasn’t sure what else to do.”
“You did the right thing. Let’s get you situated.”
Getting situated turned into the longest 40 minutes of my life. When I walked in I cracked a joke that was not too funny in case something was wrong and funny enough to not feel completely foolish if everything was okay.
“Honey, that’s what we’re here for. Any doubts, you come in. It’s okay.”
A LITTLE SLIVER OF RELIEF
I felt relieved, it was my first time in my life going to the ER, let alone driving myself alone there. I was terrified. My mouth was getting dry, my heart was pounding. I get dry mouth when I worry and my heart felt like I just walked stairs to China. She set a Doppler and we listened and thankfully we heard a heartbeat.
“Thank goodness!” – and then I realized, it’s my heart….
“Can you hear his heart?” I asked
“Yes I can… It just seems far away.”
COULD IT BE..?
I explained I had my placenta inverted and maybe that was why “Oh yes, that must be it!” The small talk started to get impossible to keep up with, I wanted to be like “I’m sorry I can’t pretend to talk about random things, I’m absolutely terrified…” but I kept it cool. That’s when she said she was going to call someone else in. I was starting to get so anxious, I just wanted them to plug in a damn ultrasound screen so we can just see what is going on.
WHO’S HEARTBEAT IS THAT?
Another doctor walked in and maneuvered the Doppler again, I had had enough with the damn thing at that point, but we heard a really good heartbeat. There he is! And then she asked me for my wrist, checked my pulse and I didn’t need any diplomas to figure out she was matching my heartbeat. Oh Lord, this was not good.
“I’m going to plug in an ultrasound. Let’s see what is going on.”
There he was, my baby…. “Where is the heartbeat?”
Their bodies were tensed, I felt their eyes searching on the screen as they were thinking of what to say. “I’m so so so so sorry sweetheart.”
I started hyperventilating. Squirming. “No no no no this can’t be real. This is not happening.”
HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO STAY CALM?
They asked me to stay calm and they were going to have a specialist come in…another little line of hope. I thought, this is the person that will tell me my baby is alive. She comes in….
”We don’t know the sex!” That was always the first thing I’d say to warn them to not take our joy away, but then I realized our joy was most likely stolen already. She looks in a few seconds, the blue and red little dots flicker to nothingness. Dark screen in place of his heart.
“I’m sorry, his head is down.”
I didn’t even know what that meant but it crushed me. Crushed my soul. She asked if we would like to know the sex and I said no, that we will honor finding out the way we always wanted.
MY BABY CANNOT BE DEAD INSIDE OF ME.
How? I had an ultrasound a week prior. How could this even happen? They told me to wait for a little and they were getting my nurse.
“Well, what does this mean? What’s next? What are we doing?”
And they replied, “please calm down and wait here.” It felt like the least supportive answer.
I called Kyle breathing heavily, “they can’t find the heartbeat, please come.” That’s when he made phone calls to find someone to come watch Oliver. At this point, it was 1:00 AM so it wasn’t the easiest thing. I waited in there for at least 30 minutes by myself, I called my dad that lives in Hong Kong who had just started his day, I couldn’t hold it, I wailed and wept, I was hysterical. I couldn’t make sense of it.
Neither he nor I had even heard of babies dying like this, especially in a non-high-risk, healthy pregnancy. He was shocked and calm and stayed with me on the phone until someone would come in. I took a few selfies of myself, thought how weird that was but I wanted to make sure this was real and either way, nothing made sense. My head was spinning. I absolutely and undeniably couldn’t believe my baby was gone.
AN ANGEL IN THE MIDDLE OF MY TRAGEDY
Finally, a nurse came in, Nancy. I looked into her eyes, wished I could see her whole face under the mask, decoded her vibe, looked at every detail of the face I could see in front of me to find a sign that she was going to help me, that she was a kind soul, that I could lay out all the tears and feeling safe to do so. God knows I needed help to survive this.
I knew she was an angel and I looked into her eyes and asked her with all my strength, “Please hit me with it, tell me everything that is going to happen, today, tonight and a week from now. Please.”
She looked straight back at me and asked me if I was certain that’s what I needed her to do and I told her yes. She never looked away, she explained everything with gracefulness, matter-of-fact, medically speaking English for me to understand, talked about what choices I was going to have to make and how my reality was down to coming home with a keepsake box. I held her hand, cried and took a breath.
“Okay, we have a plan. Okay, I have to be very very very strong.”
The way Nancy the nurse never doubted my strength and allowed me to lean on her emotionally made it clear this woman was my life line. She was an angel. This is the nurse you always pray for. This is the nurse not everyone gets so lucky with. She was an angel in the middle of my tragedy.
MOST OF THE TIME, THERE ARE NO ANSWERS.
I got transferred to my delivery room. The little bed where they put the baby was there. My heart plummeted. My OB was called and he walked in.
“Julie this is the part of our job that sucks. I am so sorry. Especially out of all people, you’re such a sweet person, I can’t believe it. It’s rare but it happens.”
And I asked “But what happened? How?”
“Most of the time we unfortunately have no answers. I saw you a week ago, everything was beautiful. Sadly his heart most likely instantly stopped, unless it’s a cord accident which we will find out….”
I don’t know what I wanted to hear besides, “We made a terrible mistake and your baby is alive!”
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS PAINFUL. I NEED TO DELIVER MY BABY.
The doctors had decided that the best way was to keep me comfortable, they said they didn’t want me to suffer any longer and go through this in the most supportive way and induce me as I had a vaginal birth with Oliver and a C-section would be harder on my body to heal. I was thankful and grateful for their kindness.
Anyway, I would’ve refused the idea of a C-section: they’re hard enough, I’m absolutely terrified and I immediately thought of my mental health laying in bed healing with a toddler at home and no baby. I had a few close friends that I had told the situation to who said “get a C-section! Go home! Get it over with, this is too painful! You can’t go through this.” Even my dad contemplated the idea of it but I knew, in my heart, I had to deliver my baby the way I wanted to.
HOLDING MYSELF TOGETHER
Back home, Kyle had reached his brother and his brother’s fiancé, uncle Al and auntie Natalia (who by a miracle somehow got his call even though her phone was on “do not disturb”). They were on their way, but Oliver all of a sudden woke up screaming for me. He never does that and I told Kyle that I couldn’t bare the feeling of a dead child inside of me and one crying for me back home. The gentle parent in me asked him to take as long as it would to cuddle him back to sleep.
As time went by, I had to get the epidural. I was scared, my last epidural was me trying to hold myself together during my contractions so they can poke me. This time, it was quiet, it was motionless, I was able to listen to each instruction that was given with care, I was able to stand still and receive the needles without fidgeting. So this is how the epidural is when you’re getting induced, I thought (if they do it before) and this is how the epidural is when you’re about to give birth to a sleeping baby.
I was so scared I held Nancy’s hand which turned into me fully hugging her and sobbing in her tummy. This is as close to a maternal figure as I’ve felt in 8 years. She held me so tight I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget how a stranger can carry you. I was now “comfortable” with the epidural and we were slowly starting the process of induction.
OUR HEARTS ARE SHATTERED.
Kyle had finally made it to the hospital, opened the door and looked at me sobbing “babe, it’s going to be okay.” I realized that he didn’t understand the term “not finding a heartbeat” – I mean, rightfully so, you’d think, it’s somewhere! Anywhere! I explained that this was one of those situations where there’s no hope. He crumbled in tears and sobbed and my heart was crushed as I thought he had understood.
“IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT”
Our doctor came back in and explained to us the process. We had questions, so many questions and the first that we asked with guilt, confusion and shame was, “When can we try again?” not that our baby would ever be replaced but we were left so confused and lost. He explained that it’s usually the first question couples ask. In the midst of a tragedy like this, a lot of people need a sense of hope. I asked him if it was what I ate, my walks, my Pilates….and he said that all these things and combined were not it and it wasn’t my fault. Everyone repeated that over and over again to drill it in my brain. Lab results would help us and like he had said, more often than not, nothing comes up. Babies rarely just die.
I felt like I had fallen from the tallest building. Moreover, I felt naive, I felt unaware. I mean, how could I not know this, especially as a mom blogger! Like what the fuck – if there’s any better time to curse and ask what the actual fuck happened, it’s now. Like FUCK. My heart is BROKEN.
I was so relieved to have Kyle with me, he embraced me and we looked into each other’s eyes like we had never before. We knew we had a huge storm of pain and grief coming upon us. Also, we knew this was going to be one of our hardest days ever. We knew we only had each other to survive and to hold on tight to each other. We knew we’d need to call our therapist once we got out of here and apply all of the self work we had gathered over the years. Shit was about to get deep.
IT FELT LIKE MY SOUL LEFT MY BODY
The hospital allowed Kyle and Natalia to rotate and my best friend, Roshelle. It had now been about 18 hours or so, I lost track of time. I was in full blown labor and Kyle would go back home to assist his brother who was with Oliver and put him to bed. I had heard three babies being born while waiting for what had dawned on me, would be a silent birth.
My heart was crushed and I cried and I freaked out, and I cried some more and I found some moments to laugh and process, and I cried some more and it felt like my soul left my body, and I just wept endlessly. Hours went by and it had been over 20 hours but I was only dilated of 3cm. I was getting exhausted. I was so sad, I had never felt such sadness, I was about to give birth to a baby that wasn’t alive. My heart was ripped apart. This should be forbidden. Another 3 hours went by and Kyle decided to go back home to Oliver for a little. All of a sudden, as Natalia rotated, I squeezed her hand and felt the urge to poop.
“I need to poop! Omg I need to poop.”
The nurse looks back at me, Daniel (Nancy had to eventually go home), and he’s like “Oh no honey that’s not poop. I’ll call your doctor.”
“WE’RE HAVING A BABY”
The slight excitement of “we’re having a baby” took over. This is it, he’s coming! “Call Kyle,” I told Natalia, he needs to come back now. We were starting to panic, of course he had to leave right when it’s time! It’s time to have a baby! And then reality hit me like a wave, I’m having a baby but I’m not coming home with my baby. I’m calling my fiancé to rush back for the birth of his child to simply drive us back home empty-handed. What a devastating reality.
A BABY BOY. A SON.
Kyle made his way back, held my hand, and it was time to push. A few pushes later I hear my doctor, “you delivered a baby boy, sweetheart.” My heart filled up with love, a baby boy. A son. And followed by the deepest sorrow I couldn’t explain. They swaddled him, a perfectly chunky little guy for only 30 weeks, and asked if we’d want to hold him. I was longing to hold him, when I did, it was nothing I had expected. He was lifeless. I handed him to Kyle and couldn’t find any more courage in me to hold him any longer.
KEEP THE PHOTOS. REMEMBER HIM.
The nurses took my phone and snapped pictures.“You will want them, I promise you.” At first, this felt far from the truth, but now I can’t imagine not having these pictures. “You can stay here with him as long as you need.” I looked at him laying on his little bed and a flash came over me of myself in my mom’s apartment, robotically, emotionless, numb keeping and throwing away her things after her death, not facing my fears and needing 6 years of therapy for it.
I snapped out of it and asked to hold my baby again. Looking at him, I focused on him, I looked past his death and explored his little face. He actually looks more like me! Oliver’s little button nose. I spoke to him, I told him how sorry I was. I held him for as long as I could and as long as it felt right in my soul.
IT TOOK TIME
We both did, Kyle and I, and eventually, we were ready to say goodbye. Or as ready as one might somewhat feel. A white powdered light started dancing around him, it almost had seemed like he moved, maybe it was all the drugs they gave me, maybe it was his soul, maybe it was magic. Either way, my heart felt broken, but I knew I did everything in my absolute power to go through this tragedy, experience it and honor my son.
I knew that my trauma with not facing my mom’s death had served me to do what felt right in my heart at that moment for my son. I also knew that I needed the long 23 hours of labor to emotionally go through the start of this agonizing pain, the understanding, the accepting, the purging to be as okay as I could be okay eventually in my life. They gave me a little white box and said “Open it when you’re ready. There’s everything you need to remember him.”
I AM A SOUL HAVING A HUMAN EXPERIENCE, AND ONE OF THOSE IS GRIEVING A BABY.
Kyle and I passed out of exhaustion, and I woke up ready to go home. Ready to go home to my Oliver that needed his mommy. To go home as a mother of two. Ready to go home sans-pregnancy. To go home to make sure this had really happened. Ready to go home to cry all the tears I had left. And to not be ready at all for what happened to our future; our stolen future and love for our baby that we now had nowhere else to put but in a box as I was wheeled back to our car.
I remember that same exit, in the wheelchair holding Oliver, this time I was holding a plastic bag with all my postpartum needs and my baby in a box with a broken heart. Seven months of pregnancy, almost a year of trying to conceive….all this work, pain, discomfort, puking, trusting my body, eating all the right things, longing to be a mother to my second child…all of it ended now. It was over. We were going home back to square one as if nothing happened. I was pregnant for 7 months when I entered the hospital and now I had no baby to show for it. He existed, but he didn’t outside of the womb. I felt him, I connected with him, I loved him, I couldn’t wait for him, I prepared for him. AND, I wanted him and yet the inevitable hit us at full speed.
WHAT ELSE COULD I DO?
There’s nothing we could’ve done. It was nothing I did. It wasn’t for any reason, it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t need this experience to make me stronger, I don’t need to think of something worse to make this more tolerable, I don’t need to band-aid this loss by thinking of other babies I’ll maybe have one day. It is not casual, it is not “just a baby,” it is not just a loss for a month and then move on.
Something and someone – my son – that I’ll think about for the rest of my life. It is an absolute tragedy and it’s the death of a baby that with time will be more tolerable but never erasable. He was born on a full moon, while we also found out about his existence on a full moon. We called our baby boy Blake Moon and he will forever and ever be loved and remembered.
I am a soul having a human experience, and one of those is grieving a baby. I’ve had a lot of grief in my life; a past lover, my brother, my mom, and now my baby. This grief feels like it should be forbidden by mother nature, it feels complex, unfair, morbid, traumatic, dirty, icky and haunting.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I’m sharing my story with you today as October is widely known as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. When I first heard of Poppy Seed Health, it was months later after losing Blake. Apparently, 1 in 4 women experience pregnancy loss. I was blissfully unaware that 1 in 100 pregnancies end in stillbirth. I didn’t know there are resources like Poppy Seed Health to support my family and I in radical empathy. Within a few clicks of using the Poppy Seed Health app, I can be connected to a doula or midwife and ask all of the questions that I want. I can show up to this space and chat about how I’m feeling. One thing that I’ve learned through this unexpected journey, is that I am not alone.
If you have experienced a stillbirth or other pregnancy loss, my heart aches for you. Know that you are absolutely not alone. There is no right or wrong way to navigate a loss so deep. You are welcome to use my code JULIEB for a free month’s subscription to the Poppyseed Health app. Visit the www.poppyseedhealth.com for incredible resources on how to navigate your own invisible loss.
If you feel like connecting with me, please do so on Instagram. Also, check out my other blog posts.