Trigger warning: child loss, stillbirth
It’s been 143 days since I lost my son Michael. You know how after the birth of a child you count their life in months? And there’s those annoying parents who tell you “oh, my beautiful darling is 24 months old.” You stare at them blankly for a few seconds while cursing and doing calendar math in your head, then come to the realization, your kid is 2, just say 2 years old.
Well, after the death of a child, you count your time without them first in minutes, then in hours, then in days. I imagine at some point I’ll count his passing in months, even years, but right now, I can still tell you how many days ago my life went unexpectedly sideways.
Going in for that eight-week ultrasound is always scary. For me, my second pregnancy was drastically different, but in a better way. I had little to no morning sickness. I was feeling pretty good energy wise. This was a blessing and a curse as it made me more paranoid something was wrong as this wasn’t what pregnancy felt like to me based on my first experience. Hearing that little heart beat at eight weeks brought a sigh of relief. There really was a baby in there, it was measuring perfectly.
At the twelve-week ultrasound, I heard that heart beat again, could see the baby moving all over the place and it was the size it should be. We had made it to twelve weeks. We were out of the clear of the miscarriage window. Time to announce to the world and share our excitement. When I went to announce on Facebook we were expecting, I drafted my post and then stopped before I hit “post.” I don’t know why. I had this weird feeling that I would somehow regret this broadcast. That’s ridiculous I told myself, your twelve-week appointment went great, baby is doing great, you feel great, you’re just being a paranoid pregnant lady. Ok, pep talk complete. Hit “post.” The news was out there.
The next two months flew by. My belly was growing by the week. The baby was moving. The pregnancy was feeling more and more real. The day had finally arrived to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. I knew it was a boy. This pregnancy was so different than when I was pregnant with our daughter, so I knew it had to be a boy this time. My husband thought for sure it would be another girl.
So here we are, 19 weeks pregnant. We took my best friend with us to go share in our excitement of the gender discovery. My friend and I had our first kids 4 months apart. For this round, she was 10 weeks pregnant to my 19, these babies would be even closer in age. As she had a boy the first time and I had a girl, the plan was this time I’d have a boy and she would have a girl. We’d be able to flip-flop the bins of clothes we had both kept and be set.
The ultrasound tech did all the baby’s measurements and we could hear that heart beat going, but the baby was being modest and wouldn’t share with us whether we’d be decorating in pink or blue. The ultrasound tech left and our OB came in to the ultrasound room. That’s weird, usually we go meet the doctor in her office after this part of the appointment. The OB informed us some of our baby’s organs weren’t measuring properly. We didn’t really understand what she was telling us. Was this serious? Was our baby going to be ok? What we did understand was that we had an appointment with the fetal specialist in one hour. So time is of the essence here? Apparently it was. And apparently it wasn’t. Because sometimes nature has plans that override your own.
We had another in-depth ultrasound with the specialist. They confirmed there were abnormalities with the baby’s organs. They also announced we were having a boy. I knew it, I told my husband. He was so excited, the boy he was secretly hoping for. But we didn’t yet know if our boy would make it.
Seven hours after arriving for our nineteen-week appointment we left the hospital. My best friend got a little more than she bargained for accompanying us to the hospital, but she stuck with us through it all. She gave us the option to have her stay or go, but in hindsight, having her there as a third party to hear the information we were receiving that we’d later forget in our state of shock was the right choice. As we drove home from the hospital, there were no words for what we were feeling. Shock. Anger. But who was there to be mad at? It was no one’s fault. Scared. Hopeful. Most of all, uncertain of what would happen next.
Over the next three weeks, we met with multiple specialists, experts at Children’s Hospital and had procedures done to try to save our son’s life. Throughout this process, as we went to specialists every other day, the amniotic fluid levels were decreasing and decreasing. I wanted this baby boy so badly, but part of me also wanted this to be over, we were watching his decline every time we went in. The emotional roller coaster and unknown of it all was almost unbearable. You know what I thought Hell on Earth was? Walking around and waiting to see if your baby was going to die.
At 21 weeks and 6 days in utero, our son had given up the fight. I now know what Hell on Earth actually is, it’s walking around with your dead baby inside of you discussing how he should be removed from your body. On a cold Friday in February, we said hello and goodbye to our son Michael. Prior to going to the hospital, I was instructed to take a medicine that would start contractions. Even though I was not giving actual birth, the uterus still needed to contract to start the process. The medicine caused full on labor within five minutes. While I was crying and breathing through contractions that were almost constant, my husband drove us to the hospital like a mad man.
We were on our way to have a baby that we didn’t even have a name for yet, we weren’t expecting to have to name him so soon. We had been previously discussing a family name as an option and we decided to call him Michael. Middle name was up in the air. I said to my husband, I heard a mom yelling at her kid Evan the other day at the park and was thinking, hey, I like that name. So Michael Evan was on the way. By the time we got there, the contractions had eased to some extent, but were still quite painful. After being prepped, the surgery itself only took about thirty minutes.
The next week was physically a long one. There were the usual post-birth effects to deal with. I was also far enough along in my pregnancy that nature is cruel and all my milk came in even though I had no baby to feed. The majority of this time period postpartum is a blur, I don’t remember the day to day details. I remember lying in bed a lot, trying to eat even though I had no appetite, crying. Thinking about how we were going to un-tell what felt like the entire world about the abrupt end of our pregnancy.
By far the hardest part of my postpartum process was answering my toddler’s question of “where is the baby?” Our daughter was just over three now and knew I was pregnant, she would rub my belly and sing the baby songs and give it hugs and kisses goodnight. This baby was already very much a part of our family. I worked with a therapist on how best to respond to her questions. She said with the truth. Keep it simple. Keep it consistent. So my toddler would ask me four to five times a day, “where is the baby?,” to which I would reply “The baby died. Not from anything that can hurt mommy or daddy or you. Mama is very sad. The baby won’t be coming to live at our house.”
After about a week, her repeat of this question lessoned. Over the next several weeks, when something would spark her memory, like seeing a pregnant person in public or on television, she’s ask if there was a baby in my belly. I’d give her the standard response. After several weeks, she stopped asking.
About three weeks postpartum, I was physically doing ok. Emotionally a mess. My therapist and I were trying to discover what my “new normal” would look like. During one of our conversations, she commented, “Oh, you’re one of those people who actually like your job and the people you work with? Well in that case, perhaps being at work would give your mind some distraction and be a good thing.” I called my boss to tell her I’d be returning the following week. She asked what sort of communication I wanted sent out to my coworkers prior to my return. I was still at a point that if anyone tried to talk to me about my son and experience, I’d break down in tears, and as a rule of thumb, I usually try to avoid sob fests in my place of employment. My boss drafted a very brief and thoughtful email explaining that I had experienced pregnancy complications and ultimately lost my son Michael and that I’d be returning to work and appreciate if everyone could please keep the conversation professional.
So now here I am, the turd in the punch bowl. I’m back at work and people are hesitant to come talk to me at first. I get it, they aren’t sure what to say. They aren’t sure what happened. They aren’t sure how I’m feeling. I try to smile and seem approachable and make an effort to go out of my way an initiate conversation with people. Over the next few weeks, it gets a little easier. I think there are some people who no longer think of me as “the coworker who lost her baby” every time they see me, but there are some that still do. People still walk on eggshells when the topic of pregnancy comes up, or baby showers for others in the office who are expecting. Part of me wants to say, don’t worry about it, I’m the same person I was before, just treat me like normal. But part of me is also crying inside because I’m not the same person as I was before, and I never will be, and I have no idea what my “new normal” is now.
Over the course of the next two months, I have more time periods of light than what was the never-ending darkness in that first month after my son died. There are still moments that catch me by surprise and the darkness encompasses me. I’ve found driving to and from places alone in my car is a dark period as I’m left alone with my thoughts and they bring me to tears.
My daughter likes to draw pictures of our family with little happy faces, but on the mommy face, sometimes she draws a frown and says “mommy is sad.” This breaks my heart and causes all the emotions to return of the fact I wasn’t able to make her the big sister she was so excited to be. My best friend that went to our nineteen-week ultrasound found out she’s having a girl, just as we planned she would, except I didn’t get to fulfill my part of the plan and bring my baby boy home with me. It hurts me to by happy for her, which I told her and she said, just be as happy as you can and as sad as you want. See? Best friend. Seeing other pregnant people is probably the hardest reminder of what I’m missing, but I keep searching for the light in my day and move away from the darkness.
It’s been 143 days since I lost my son Michael. My “new normal” requires me to get out of bed every day, go to my job and be a mother to my daughter and a wife to my husband. I still think of my son Michael every day, sometimes I still cry myself to sleep, but not every night any more.
There are still people who don’t know our story and about our loss because we don’t see them frequently. As my due date approaches and then passes by, I know in the upcoming months when we run in to these acquaintances, they will ask about the baby and I will have to recount an abbreviated version of our story. They will look at me and not know what to say and once again I will feel like the turd in the punchbowl.
When will this feeling end? I don’t know the answer to that. When will I start counting the months since my son’s passing instead of the days? I don’t know the answer to that either. What I do know is I will find something to laugh about every day. I will hug my family every time I see them because you never know what life is going to deal you when you walk out that door. I’ll remember to breathe. I’ll keep myself looking forward to the future and someday, I hope, I’ll no longer feel like the turd in the punch bowl.