By: Chelsea Richards
I’ve written several drafts for this blog post over the course of several months, trying to find just the right words that will help people while also truthfully telling my story. I know that everyone reading has their own life experiences, some that are beautiful and some that are crushing. As Kate Bowler often says, “Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.” Even if we have had the same hard experiences, our individual experiences within them are unique (medical school being a good example of that). I know that other people have their own hard individual experiences, even if they’ve never lost a baby and I’m not trying to take away from those in sharing this. In writing about my experience with losing our baby, I also have many other fears. I have fears that people will compare their experience with miscarriage to mine, thinking they shouldn’t be as sad as me because theirs happened before mine, that people who had miscarriages will feel bad if their experience wasn’t as hard to them, that people will think I’m being too dramatic, that I just want them to feel bad for me, etc. Despite all of these fears, my real hope is that you will feel validated in your own experiences, and will learn something that will help others.
After that super long disclaimer, here is my story. Nine months ago, I found out that our little boy I was 18 weeks pregnant with, no longer had a heartbeat. My husband was in a lab for medical school at the time of the appointment and my kids were at a friend’s house, so I received this hard news alone. At the beginning of the appointment, the doctor and I talked briefly and then he tried to find the heartbeat with the doppler. He looked around for a few minutes and we heard nothing but silence. I was nervous at this point, but still in denial that anything was wrong. We then went to a room with an ultrasound and the Dr. quickly found our baby. As soon as the Dr. found our baby he said “There he is!” but it was easy to see that our baby was not moving, which was unusual. After a few more seconds, I said, “But there’s no heartbeat.” and the Dr. sadly confirmed that our baby boy had passed away. He then started talking about options for delivering our baby while I sat there in shock and tears. It all felt so surreal, like I was just in a bad dream. Everything had changed in an instant. I’d heard stories like this, but I never thought it would actually happen to me (or I seriously hoped it wouldn’t).
My husband and I went to the labor and delivery unit around 8 pm that night to begin the induction process. They walked us through the whole unit until we made it to our room which you could tell was used for parents in similar situations as ours. I felt like I didn’t belong there and like I was just a terrible inconvenience to them since I wasn’t delivering a living baby (although no one purposefully ever made me feel that way). They gave me a nurse all to myself that night which only increased my guilt. I wanted to say sorry to everyone who came in to help me and I couldn’t wait to leave. A part of me was also excited to meet our baby as if my brain and body hadn’t fully communicated that this wasn’t a good thing. Throughout the night, my husband and I tried to sleep some but we mostly listened to music and stared at each other wondering, “Is this really happening?” I don’t think it felt real even then as I labored to deliver our deceased baby. In the morning, the dr came back to the hospital and he said it was time to deliver our little boy. We held our sweet baby, named him and said goodbye to him only a few hours later. I can’t fully capture the heartache and pain that I felt getting in our car again without our baby, when less than 24 hours before, I had thought everything was perfectly fine. I felt truly empty in every way. My heart breaks for all of those moms who have to go to a labor and delivery unit and come home without a living baby. It’s a twisted kind of hard.
There is a lot more I could say about the whole experience, but so much of it is still too tender and hard to write about sometimes. Even his name feels hard for me to say because it is just so special to us now. I coped by sharing a lot about it on social media in the beginning, which if you follow me, I’m sorry. Now there is just a lot I want to keep close to my heart. We experienced so many emotions after getting home that first day and over the course of the next several days, weeks and months. This is still the case to this day, as I’m sure it is for many people who experience this. Sometimes you feel numb. Sometimes you’re screaming inside while everyone around you is continuing on as normal. Sometimes you’re in denial. Sometimes you’re angry. Sometimes you’re distracted and fine for a while. Sometimes it feels like it just happened yesterday again. Sometimes you believe what the doctor told you a million times in the hospital - “This wasn’t your fault.” Sometimes you lay awake at night searching for answers as to why this happened, and wondering what you were doing when your baby’s heart stopped beating. Sometimes you think that you deserved this in some way because you must not be a very good mom. The list goes on and on. I can’t say that I’ve fully come to peace with it yet. I don’t know when or if I will. You ultimately just have to keep going, but your brain feels like it’s still trying to figure out what happened.
I coped with losing our baby in a lot of different ways and I figured out what worked for me and didn’t work. One big thing I learned is that your grief is your own and there is no perfect formula for dealing with something like this. You will figure out if it helps to talk about it, write about it, read about others’ experiences, listen to angry and sad music or if it doesn’t. For me, and I think for others, life will feel too normal afterwards and it will make you feel angry and sad. It’s hard to be expecting a big life change and for it to just come crashing down. I learned that losing a baby is traumatic. Whether you pass the baby at home, have a D&C, or deliver your baby in the hospital, it is shocking and traumatic. Your body remembers and stores this trauma. Therapy helped me a lot with processing all of my confusing thoughts and feelings. I would recommend it to anyone after something like this too. Some of the biggest things I learned through therapy and in talking to friends were to 1) tell the parts of my brain that I appreciate them doing their job, but I need them to chill out for a second so I can function and 2) be okay with feeling two contrasting feelings at once. For instance, I can be grateful for my living children, while also really sad about our little baby that died, I can be grateful that I was able to get pregnant, while also sad that my pregnancy ended like this, etc. This helped to eliminate some of the guilt for me and it helped to calm my mind.
Whether it’s through miscarriage, stillbirth or infertility, we learn the hard truth that growing your family is not always a choice. We go to get togethers and sometimes it feels like all people in our age group can talk about is having babies and buying bigger strollers. This is a big part of life at this age and I don’t blame people who want to talk about it, but it can be a painful reminder sometimes. Eventually it gets easier and as one of my friends told me, I can be happy for them while also sad for me. As for my husband and I, it wasn’t an easy road while he was studying, taking tests and studying for boards. He was back at school studying only a few days after we delivered our baby while I was still at home bleeding and experiencing all of the postpartum hormones. It was hard to feel close to each other with our baby being the only thing I thought about, and medical school being the only thing he had time to think about. Our journey with it all and how we coped was so different, and it can feel very isolating, even in a marriage. It helped to be heard and to feel loved, no matter how we each were coping with it. It has continued to be a journey of figuring out how to remember our little boy, together.
As with all other hard experiences that we face in this life, losing a baby is not something that can be fixed or made right by any of us. All we can do is to love and listen to those who are going through it, and expect nothing back. None of us know how to perfectly handle situations like this, even those going through them. There were times when I wanted to talk about it, and times when I couldn’t. All I can say is that it was helpful to have it acknowledged in some way. We are all just awkwardly fumbling our way through these hard experiences, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know the perfect thing to say (I would just advise not saying that heaven needed another angel or anything along those lines). I’ve often heard that it gets really lonely about two weeks after everything happened, when enough time has passed and everyone has moved on. I found that to be true too and I appreciated any love before or after the two week window, but it’s never too late to reach out. I should add here that I’m so grateful for those who reached out at the time. We were so well taken care of by so many in this community and so loved.
While life has so many beautiful and amazing experiences, miscarriage and stillbirth are one of those experiences that make this life so hard. I am deeply sorry to lose who have lost a baby or who will lose a baby. I hope you are able to show compassion to yourself over your loss and I know you’ll be able to figure out how to keep going each day. I hope that my story in some way helped you not to feel so alone or that it gave you insights into how to help someone else going through this. I hope that as a community we can all love and support each other through all of our beautiful and hard moments <3.
As for books I’ve read that have helped me:
-”I had a miscarriage” by Jessica Zucker
-”Unexpecting” by Rachel Lewis
-”Gone too Soon” by Sheri Wittwer (religious emphasis)
-”Still born, Still loved” by Rachel Floyd (a journal for working through grief after baby loss)
-”Wherever you are, my love will find you” (the sweetest children’s book)