In my case, it wasn’t just one stillborn. It was two. I was supposed to have twins—identical twin boys to be precise. And I did have them, just not in the way I imagined.
My husband made a comment after we found out we lost our boys, that the worst moment in a mother’s life is when she finds out she has lost her unborn child. He amended that statement a few weeks later because that wasn’t the worst moment—not even close.
It’s having to go through a painful delivery with no happiness to erase that pain at the end of it. It’s coming home without your child, with nothing but empty arms and funeral arrangements needing to be made. It’s hearing the phantom cries of a baby at night. It’s having to face people who knew you were pregnant but didn’t know you lost them. It’s the feelings and emotions that everyone wants to talk to you about but the last thing you want to talk about.
It’s the after that is the worst part. So, what happens next? What comes after you leave the hospital? The only thing you can do is live.
My story will not be like anyone else’s. It is unique. Sure, there might be similarities of what caused my babies’ death, or sympathy, and possibly even empathy, but what happens afterward is unique because everyone goes through grief differently. There is no right, there is no wrong; it just is.
I struggled to find something, anything that would help me after I came home from the hospital. I was given books, alcohol and shoulders to cry on. Nothing helped. When people would ask me what I wanted or needed, it was so incredibly hard to hold back my scream of, “My babies! If you can’t give me them, then get the flip out of my face!” But I couldn’t say that; people were just trying to be nice. I understood. So instead, I smiled politely and said I didn’t need anything.
What I truly wished people understood at the time, but I can’t blame them for not being able to (because honestly, how could you if you have never been put in that kind of situation?), was my mind was so wrapped up on trying to comprehend and work through what had just happened to my body and my life, that it didn’t have time for anything else—nothing. People didn’t understand I didn’t want to keep thinking and talking about what I no longer had. I wanted to concentrate on what I did have, my 9-month-old son, my husband, my family, my new life.
I know my story is unique. Hopefully, though, someone else’s story could be made better, even if it’s simply in knowing you are not alone in your struggles. In fact, one in four women will go through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. It is something that is fairly common but never talked about. Even if you have never lost a child, I have no doubt you have a friend, a sister, a mother, a daughter, or an aunt who has. If you aren’t the one who has had to struggle through this, perhaps reading my story will help you better understand the ones who have and what comes afterward as well.
Unfortunately, my babies weren’t given a fair chance from the get-go. When I found out I was pregnant for a second time, my firstborn was only 3 months old. Shocker, right? Nope, that wasn’t the most shocking part. The most shocking part was going in for my 12-week checkup to find out we were having twins. Twins!
My doctor missed that small fact at our first appointment. Oops. This, for obvious reasons, was something she was extremely embarrassed about afterward. Apparently, one of them was hiding. Apparently.
Happiness never came because shock set in, and before we could wrap our heads around having three babies under one roof, we found out they shared a placenta and possibly had something called “twin to twin transfusion syndrome.” I’m not going to go into the details of what exactly that is, because it’s a very complicated problem that happens in only 20 percent of identical twins. All you really need to know for this story, since you know the outcome, is it’s extremely serious but treatable under the watchful eye of a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. The longer a woman carries the babies, the better the odds of their survival becomes.
I was told over and over again if I could just make it to 26 weeks, the odds of twin to twin setting in would go down so drastically there would only be a 10 percent chance of anything bad happening. When I made it to 26-weeks, I was so elated I can’t accurately put how I felt into words today. For the first time, I let myself feel happy. Then, I went to my appointment and everything went to hell in a hurry. The statistics were not on our side.
Again, since this is about what comes after I delivered, I won’t go into detail about what happened before I delivered. Just know it was a long, hard seven-month pregnancy, which ended abruptly when I was 26 ½ weeks pregnant. I delivered our two precious stillborn children on September 17. Stillborn—that is such a nice name. I suppose you need a nice sounding name for the ugly situation it describes. I delivered my two precious little ones, which turned out to be an even harder situation to bear than when I was told they were gone. I was released from the hospital the following day. That’s when the real, true heartache began.
My doctor wanted to put me on an antidepressant before I left the hospital. I declined since I had my 9-month-old son at home. I didn’t want to be in a haze for him. I called her two weeks later because I realized I was in a haze. I was falling down a dark hole so deep I didn’t know which way was up, down, right or left. It took every fiber of my being just to roll out of bed in the morning and care for my child, to smile for him, to be there for him. He didn’t know what had happened, but he knew something had. I hated crying in front of him. I tried forcing my tears down. And I was successful—most of the time. Although the tears stopped flowing, I couldn’t manage to make my chest stop heaving. When I would hold my son, he would look at me with confusion—unable to understand where his happy-go-lucky mother went. I didn’t want to be the person who showed my innocent child what sadness was. He didn’t need that, not now, not this young.
The days were hard because I didn’t have my babies, the ones I’d had a few months earlier—a few days earlier. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t hungry. All I was doing was crying every day, all day, while my son was at day care. The days were hard, but the nights were harder. I wasn’t sleeping, and I didn’t understand why. I was so incredibly tired. I could have been Princess Aurora and slept for an eternity. But sleep would not come. It was because I was depressed; I know that now. I was depressed about what I had had, about what I no longer would have. I was worrying excessively about what the future would hold. I was feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a wife, a mother, a woman. I couldn’t help but think what it would be like if I had brought my babies home like I was supposed to—I wouldn’t be sleeping anyway. I think my body knew it too. It kept me up at night because it had yet come to terms with the fact my twins had died. For all of these reasons and many more, my mind continued to race at night. This made the nights drag on, and on, and on, resulting in what I imagine looked like a walking, beaten-down zombie. I didn’t look in the mirror. I couldn’t look in the mirror. I wouldn’t have recognized the woman looking back. What was the point?
My mind was desperately trying to understand how to cope with this great and terrible loss, and it left room for nothing else, nothing. To my dismay, I couldn’t escape my thoughts, but my husband could and did. He slept just fine. It wasn’t fair—I told him so too. The poor thing didn’t know what he should do. He asked me if he should stay up with me, but we both knew that didn’t make any sense. So, I was just there, in my deep, dark pit of despair that was getting deeper and deeper with every passing day. I was there because there was no other place I could be. I had a husband who loved me and a child who needed me. I knew I somehow had to walk through the shadows to once again see the light—even a small, puny light was better than no light. Right?
I called the doctor and got on antidepressants. It hasn’t been easy, not in the least. But the deep, dark pit of despair I was falling into is more like a shadowed pothole now. That’s good. I also don’t cry every day anymore. I don’t even cry once a week. Win! Unfortunately though, when the pain and heartache does manage to boil over, it is unbearable. I collapse and can’t pull it together unless my son is around. He is my savior—such a happy little fella.
I had to leave work once because a coworker asked when I was having “that baby” as she nodded her head at my 8-week postpartum still-kind-of-looks-like-I-might-be-in-the-early-stages-of-pregnancy belly. Can you say rude?! I could think of a lot better adjectives to describe her, but instead, I held it in until I wasn’t around anyone, and then I began to weep. Why? Because sometimes that’s all you can do when you are so incredibly pissed off. I tried pulling myself together, but it was a losing battle. Since I couldn’t manage to stop the flow of tears and the thoughts of what I no longer had, I called it a day and figured I’d start fresh again the next day. It actually took me a few days to get over that comment. Thanks a lot, you witch!
Back to the point of this little hoorah. What comes next? What is the magic healer of all things sad and depressing? Time. Stupid ass time. Time sucks when you are going through a heartache. Time seems to be crawling when the season you are in is winter: a dark, cold, lonely winter. The last thing you want to hear someone say when you’re feeling down is “time will heal all,” or “just give it time,” or anything else about flipping time! Keep your damn platitudes to yourself. It is not helpful—thank you very much.
You should never tell someone those things when, simply put, words cannot and do not help. It has the opposite effect really. Instead of trying to find the right words to help your friend or family member, all you need to do is give them a hug and show them you are there, or call and check on them, bring them soup. Don’t ask what they need; just do. Why? Because they won’t know. Remember what I said earlier about my mind not being able to comprehend this soul-crushing, heartbreaking event that just occurred? Well, it turns out you can apply that to any person in a situation that falls under the soul-crushing, heartbreaking category.
So, what should you do instead? Ask questions such as, “When can I bring _______?” or “When can I go do _______ for you?” That’s what they need—simple, clear, to-the-point questions mostly consisting of, again, time inquiries.
As hard as it is to live life, that is exactly what you have to do—live. Why? Because you must. Because there is no other choice. Please don’t misunderstand me. It won’t be the life you knew before. It won’t even be close. Maybe someday it could be, but I don’t know. I’m not there yet. I’m hopeful that in, ugh, time, I will go back to resembling the person I was prior to this unfortunate event. Staying positive, that helps, too. It’s the hardest thing to do, but it does help. I try to focus on the fact that every winter is followed by spring. Knowing things won’t always be this dark, and cold, and lonely does help.
You cannot give up. You must not give up. I promise that it will not help. It simply transfers your pain to everyone else who cares about you. You are stronger than even you realize. I was. Or so I’m told.
One day, whenever that is, I will feel light, and happy, and effervescent once again. One day, not today, but one day I will, and so will you, or your friend, or sister, or mother, or daughter, or aunt. Because remember, one in four women will have a situation like mine happen to them. Until that day, when spring has finally sprung, live day-by-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment if you have to. I did. I still am. I know one day I’ll see my precious boys again. Until then, however, I will always have one in my arms and two in my heart.
Please feel free to share this. I have found this has been an incredibly isolating experience to go through. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to help someone walk through that darkness like I had to and continue to do so now. Or maybe I will be able to show them they aren’t alone. Unfortunately, this does happen and it can be talked about and should be talked about—if anything to keep your sanity. Perhaps it will help make you, or the person you know, feel like their struggle is a tad less difficult than it was the day before knowing they are not alone.
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