What follows was written a few weeks ago. While pregnant with our “rainbow baby” I was preparing to mark what would have been our daughter’s due date: January 27, 2014. I never could have known as I was writing this that that day would bring such unspeakable sadness. But on January 27, 2014, as we mourned our daughter, we also discovered that baby number 3 (due August 7, 2014) had also passed. I have so much more to write about this second loss, but first, I’m sharing this entry as a memorial to our first lost child…
One hundred and forty something days ago, lying on an exam table thinking the worst thing about pregnancy was heartburn, I allowed the physician’s assistant to squeeze out a blob of gel and search for my daughter’s heartbeat with the doppler. I was just shy of 19 weeks pregnant with my second child—a girl—and my dreams of having the strong and enduring mother-daughter relationship I’ve enjoyed my whole life continue into the next generation was coming true. But after ten minutes of nervous smiles and silence, I was frantically calling for a doctor. My husband and I looked with hopeful anticipation, as the ultrasound confirmed our daughter had died. Her still, sleeping figure was only a flash in black and white before the technician cut the screen.
What followed was a blur of medical gobbledygook. We had only two options: a surgical procedure to remove “the fetus” or admission to the labor and delivery floor for a slow, medically induced labor. My husband and I chose the latter, initially only because I couldn’t bear the thought of anesthesia. But what we decided ended up giving us the time we needed to process our loss, to acknowledge that our daughter was more than a “fetus” in need of removing, that we might want to see her, bury or cremate her, memorialize her. The medical staff didn’t really talk about what might happen to her remains until we asked. It was then that we learned she could be sent to a funeral home, cremated free of charge or prepared for a casket, that we could perform an autopsy, or that if we opted to do nothing, the hospital would “dispose of her with medical waste.”
After more than 40 hours of waiting, labor finally arrived. There was squeezing pain that I wished would end, a feeble push, and she arrived. Instantly I longed to put her safely back in my womb. Now she was lost to me forever.
I was her mother for such a short time and in those brief hours I made a decision that I will regret until I take my last breath. I opted to see her, but not to hold her. Just out of surgery and bleary from the meds, I watched a nurse, a woman I barely knew, unfold towels and blankets to reveal her small, reddish body. She held her. I did not. Every part of her was perfectly put together. Her face was sweet, so sweet. Her eyes shut, but not in the way I would have imagined. Eyes shut that had never before opened. Her body seemed liquid-filled. If I had touched her, I imagine she would have felt soft like a barely filled water balloon. Her arms and legs were so long, and thin, but surely strong enough to have swam through the water in my womb and caused those rolling waves I had felt just days before. Her feet would have been more than capable of the knocks I felt from the inside of my belly, however faint they were.
I spent the next couple of hours stuck between sleep and waking. They fed me, offered me a shower. We packed our bags and left the hospital with nothing. Not a birth certificate, not a death certificate. It was as if nothing had just happened.
But, as any mother would, I worried night and day about her until she was returned to me, her ashes inside a small plastic white box, sealed with the label: “Baby Girl Welsh, died August 31, 2013, cremated September 9, 2013.” I felt relief first, then a crushing sadness when the pretty blond lady at the funeral home handed her to me, her eyes showing deep compassion. The long ten days without were over and the fears that she would be misplaced or mishandled in the hospital’s morgue were eased.
Now, all these months later, as I approach what should have been her birthday, my greatest struggle is the feeling that society does not recognize that she was a “birth.” I delivered her the way nature intended. She was born still, a whole baby. And yet because she was a mere week shy of 20 weeks, she is not considered stillborn. She’s not granted the legal recognition of life that she deserved. She was a “fetal demise.”
I felt strange about holding a memorial service. I thought that naming her would be odd, considering we hadn’t yet talked about names. And the doctors acted like opting to see the baby was somewhat unnecessary. I am so blessed to have strong people in my life, people who weren’t afraid to face this loss, acknowledge it and really support me through it despite how uncomfortable it must have been. But even with that support, in my distraught state, I kind of followed society’s lead. I allowed the taboo of pregnancy loss to impact the way I mourned my little girl. And now, as I approach her due date, I want to say something about it.
Women who carry and care for their babies should be given the option to acknowledge their lives no matter what the gestational age at the time of loss. Mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends began to love my baby girl from the minute they learned she existed. She was celebrated with cakes decorated with plastic pink booties, tiny frilly bikinis and hair bows were given as gifts before she was even born, her 3-year-old brother willingly handed down some of his beloved stuffed animals. She was real—and not just to her father and me. But now that she’s gone and we have nothing to show for her except a small container of her ashes, I wonder if I celebrated her short life adequately. I wonder when it will really be okay to talk about the death of a baby that no one ever saw or held. Maybe if we as a society can talk about it, we can start to study it better. Maybe if we stop brushing these tragedies under the rug because of how painful and wrong they are, we can learn more about why they happen and make strides in preventing them.