Trigger warning: child loss, stillbirth
It’s been months, I know. But I just can’t. I don’t want to. I am too scared to tell him that the thought of his hands all over me is repulsive. That I think of my vagina like a vehicle of death and destruction.
After I delivered my firstborn son, I tore very badly. It was a third degree laceration and I needed a lot of stitches to repair it.
As if the act of childbirth weren’t painful enough, going home without a baby made my physical and emotional wounds ravage me in a way that is really still just too difficult to articulate.
Yet home I went. And how quickly life had changed. From entering the hospital as a young expectant new mother in labor, to delivering my son and holding him briefly against my bare chest moments before he died, to coming out a bereaved mother.
He was my firstborn. There were no other children waiting for me at home. I went from with-child to without in the passing of a moment. Childless, battered, bruised and beaten up in every possible way. I had just given birth, and I looked and felt like I had been through an apocalypse. In 24 hours of labor and delivery I had experienced life and death. Love and loss. Hope and heartbreak.
Being postpartum sucks. Plain and simple. It’s not pretty and glamorous or for the faint of heart. It’s painful and ugly and depleting. But the majority of postpartum moms go home with a baby. And that makes the hormonal changes, freezing cold night sweats, swollen leaking breasts, bloody discharge, and inability to sit down for the first couple of weeks that much more tolerable. Because you’re in that so-called baby bliss, and it makes all the other raw and unpleasant days and weeks after childbirth totally worth it. After all, what could be better than the sound of your baby’s hiccups, the sweet smell of their skin, the invigorating sounds of their strong, robust, and healthy cries?
But what if all you hear is silence?
Deafening silence. Even your own crying starts to sound muted and empty. Like the echo of a stone skipping against a river as it falls further and further away.
When you go through a loss, all the postpartum shit is like the body’s cruel way of kicking you while you’re down. Like you needed another reminder that it wasn’t all just a bad nightmare you can wake up from. And some of us don’t get back up.
I came to view my vagina as the devil. After all, my son died coming out of it—trying to get through the birth canal. When that birth canal became the tunnel of death, my feelings toward my body became those of disgust and self-loathing. How could my body fail me like that? I was a woman, born to bear children, yet it failed me in the most fundamental and natural way.
When you face a situation of life versus death, the body goes into fight mode. And a person would do just about anything to survive.
And after losing Hudson, all I wanted — needed — so desperately was to get pregnant again. I viewed it as my only means of survival. Get pregnant. That’s it. And when you’re so focused on the one and only thing you believe could save you, nothing else matters. Relationships, jobs, nothing. Getting pregnant again became my job. I felt that it was the only way I could ever move forward. That another pregnancy would be the only thing that could save me from myself.
I love my husband. I love him with my whole heart. But after you lose a child at birth it’s so difficult to go back to the way things were, intimately. Because let’s face it, things will never be the way they were. Ever again. And that’s just a fact.
We started having sex about four months after we lost Hudson. It was to make a baby. And every time I just wanted it to be over.
I kept telling my husband, who knew I was in a really fragile and unpredictable state, that once I got pregnant I would be okay. But I had to get pregnant.
And eventually I did.
And then I had a miscarriage.
And then I had a miscarriage (I just had to say it again).
That day in the delivery room when I lost Hudson, I told my mother that I wished it was me that died, not my son. I said it to her on more than one occasion in those early days. She said she knew what I meant. Because a mother would gladly sacrifice her own life for her child. Any day.
Now four months later and after this miscarriage, I kind of felt like I wanted to die all over again.
Let me be clear. I was never, ever suicidal. I never wanted to end my life. But I had some really scary thoughts. Thoughts about how much easier life would be if it all just stopped.
But thanks to a really great team of strong women (my psychologist and psychiatrist), I broke through to the other side.
And in breaking through, I also became pregnant. It’s like the chicken and the egg. I’m not exactly sure what came first, the breaking through to the other side or the getting pregnant. All I knew was that I survived.
When I found out I was pregnant with my son Cameron, it was as if the sky had opened up and rays of glorious sunshine fell through and draped my soul in its warmth.
And as new life had begun to grow inside me, it was as if everything had started to bloom. I was coming back. And I found my way right back to my husband.
I won’t go into Cameron’s story here. It’s a big story and it deserves its own writing space. But I will say that after having him, I realized how strong and powerful my body really is. How persevering it is. How delivering Cameron allowed me to see in color again. It also allowed me to forgive myself.
But loss changes you. It changes you, of course, in all the expected ways, but also in a lot of unexpected ones. In ways that surprise you and catch you off guard. Little ways that sneak up behind you and startle you in your tracks, yelling Boo!
It changes how you see the world. It changes your perception of just about everything. You start walking on eggshells, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You just assume more bad things are going to happen. And it’s a terribly frightening way to live.
My husband and I both knew that the old “us” would never be the same. But the beauty of our relationship came in its evolution. I remember the first time we sat down together in our therapist’s office a week after our first loss. One statement remains with me to this day. Our therapist opened with “most marriages don’t survive this kind of loss and end in divorce.” I remember it so vividly, because it was so bold. It was such a powerful statement to make to such a young, vulnerable couple you had just met for the first time. A couple who lost their first child. Maybe I was still just really naive. Because I thought, well that’s not us. But what she said really resonated. Because she was right. Most couples that go through the loss of a child don’t make it.
My husband and I now are back to “us.” But it’s a different version of us and it took a while to get there. And a lot of patience on his part. But he’s such a rockstar and so of course he nailed it. Because he always does.
When you lose a baby, there’s this point of no return. That moment when you realize fully that there’s no going back to the person you once were. And then you start to grieve that loss too.
But if you’re incredibly lucky, you have a partner who lives it with you day in and day out. The good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. One who keeps riding the waves with you. And for better or worse, they stick around.