I have three children, you’ll only see me with two of them at playdates or shopping at Wal-Mart. But I have three. When I explain that I have an angel baby I see people get a little uncomfortable. I see the sadness in their faces. I hear their justifications for why it happened. Most of the time they try to change the subject. I’ve heard so many times that it would have been easier if she had passed away earlier. That it must have been so much harder carrying her for that long and then losing her. There is nothing that could make losing a baby easier. She would have been my baby if I had carried her for 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months. As soon as you see those two pink lines you have plans, dreams and a love for that baby that consumes you so completely. You can imagine their tiny hands wrapping around your finger, you can picture them learning to walk and saying their very first words.
We found out we were pregnant just a week after returning from our wedding in Jamaica. Excitement, joy, and a whole lot of worry set in. In no time at all, we were 12 weeks along (that magic number) and started spreading our news to family, work, and every social media outlet that would listen. Then I saw red. You know that feeling your whole pregnancy. You don't want to look down just in case you see that awful colour you’re dreading. There it was. I thought, well maybe it's implantation bleeding, doing the math it I knew it wasn't, but I just wanted it to be anything other than the only thing my mind could think of - miscarriage. After describing the symptoms to the triage nurse, she loudly stated "Oh that doesn't sound good, you're probably having a spontaneous abortion." Nice. Like my body had some sort of disdain for this baby and called off the whole thing. Finally they came in with the doppler and there it was! I hear that familiar and incredible sound of tiny horses galloping in my belly!! It's funny how such a small sound can change your world so much.
They sent me for an ultrasound and find out it's a subchorionic bleed, which is basically an accumulation of blood between layers of the placenta, 20% of women have them but most aren't even detected. Mine unfortunately was larger than most and required bedrest. From then on, I was waited on hand and foot. Sounds like fun right?? Not when you have a 18 month old that so desperately wants you to continue on with your daily activities, but you aren't even able to lift her into her carseat or pick her up for a cuddle. Without the help of some amazing mamas, those three months would have been unbearable. They babysat, cooked meals, arranged playdates and always remained positive. We joked that this little Jamaican baby was trying to teach his mama to relax a little!
After two more months, she was still strong and everything seemed to be improving, I felt all the bed rest and ultrasounds were worth it, I was really going to be able to meet my baby. 24 weeks, I kept repeating to myself. Babies are viable outside the womb at 24 weeks. I was almost there.
Then it happened. I will never forget the day we found out we had lost her. All the kicks and movement had tapered off and I had this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I tried to pretend she was alright and that I was just being paranoid. We watched the ultrasound monitor, she was so still. I cried all night wondering what I had done, what I hadn’t done. I dreaded waking up in the morning knowing I had to deliver a baby that I couldn’t take home.
When they induced me they thought it might take days to start the labour, I secretly hoped it just wouldn’t start at all. But the labour began quickly and before I knew it I was having strong contractions. I wept and prayed for God to give me the strength to do this; my body was doing the opposite of what I really wanted. I wanted to just keep her in my belly, safe and warm; I wanted to pretend she would come out alive and well. After only 4 short hours we were holding our sweet baby girl, Maya Grace.
We were surrounded with so much love that words can’t even describe. That tiny hospital room became a place of peace and calm. We didn't even cry holding her, how could we cry holding someone so beautiful?
Days turned into months and everyday a little bit of strength returned. I grew with this experience more than words can ever explain. I've become more loving, more caring and I cherish every second I have with my kids. I revel in the small things; like the look on my daughters face when she's done something wrong, or that tiny trickle of drool my son leaves on my arm when he's sleeping. I tell them I love them more than they probably need to hear. I hug them (a lot). Every chance I get to be their mommy - I take it.
I feel lucky. I feel blessed to have had the chance to hold my sweet angel. To see her hands, toes, and kiss her lips. I know most people think it would be harder to have a stillbirth and harder still to have a baby who passed away after birth. But I would give anything for even an hour of my baby's life, to see her sweet smile or open her eyes.
I want my experience to shed some light on stillbirth, miscarriage and early infant death. We've all been touched by at least one of these, but most likely all three. You’ve probably had a friend of a friend deliver a stillborn, or your aunt had a baby pass away from SIDS. I'm sure you know at least a handful of women that have had miscarriages, if you haven't had one yourself.
These babies though small, some just a few weeks along, are our children. They stay with us forever whether you have subsequent children or not. I think of my daughter and this experience often. I’ve learned that most people have no idea what to say or what not to say to a woman who’s just lost a baby.
I have some advice for helping someone heal from such an incredible loss.
Don't expect her to be "normal". She will never be the same. Forget who she was and just follow her as she becomes the mother of an angel baby.
Don't avoid talking about her loss. She is always thinking about her baby so don't be afraid you'll upset her.
Let her cry. She needs to cry.
Don't tell her she can have more. Compare it to if someone lost their sister, would you say "Well at least you have another sibling?"
Say her baby's name. She needs other people to acknowledge her child and hear her baby's name from someone else's lips.
She doesn’t need to hear “It was for the best”. It just doesn’t matter to her. She wants to be holding a baby, not a box of tissues.
What I did need was support. I needed someone to listen to me if I needed to talk. I needed people to just be there. I needed hugs. I needed to cry and I needed to laugh.
I know Maya will always be with me. I feel her presence as my children giggle with joy blowing bubbles that float gingerly in the air. As I continue to heal I keep her in my heart even if I can’t hold her in my arms.
Kristin Heimbecker, our Guest Blogger is our momstown mama for momstown Edmonton South. We thank her for sharing her story.