To The Doctors And Nurses Who Helped Deliver My Stillborn Son
Trigger warning: child loss
On June 1, my son Orion David was born. His heart had stopped two days earlier. I was 34 weeks pregnant. The details of those few days will forever be ingrained into my brain, but I’ll start more at the beginning of his life…
This was the second baby for my husband and me. We were so excited, had planned it perfectly, and I became pregnant immediately. We were elated. Time went by quickly as I chased around our 4-year-old son, and soon I found out we would be having another little boy to chase.
My pregnancy was completely normal. I felt pretty much the same as I did with our first son, but Orion had his own special energy and routine. He had certain times he moved every day and certain times he slept. I felt his patterns and had them memorized. Every night after dinner he would go wild. Spinning, kicking, punching. I imagined he was laughing at the acrobatics he could perform as his brother, father, and I would stare at my ever-moving belly.
So at 34 weeks I laid down one night and realized he wasn’t moving like usual, or even at all. I poked at my belly, saying, “C’mon lazy bones.” Curious that his normal routine wasn’t happening, I woke up the next day in a panic, realizing he wasn’t waking up with me.
I called my OB right away, and he asked me to come in. “No big deal,” he said, “Let’s just do a nonstress test.”
I calmly went into the office. I was alone — I told my husband I was probably worried over nothing. I laughed with the nurse who made jokes about him being in a silly position when she couldn’t find him. I heard the whispers from the hall before the doctor came in and started the ultrasound. I stared helplessly at the screen, knowing even before he told me. My baby’s heart had stopped.
My doctor took a deep breath and said the phrase you’ve all heard or said, “I’m so sorry.” I felt myself shatter right there in his office, and for the next however many minutes, he held me as I sobbed. In those moments, I was not a patient and he wasn’t a doctor — we were both just humans. I will always be grateful to him for that.
My husband met me at the hospital. He needed to see the ultrasound to confirm, whereas I couldn’t watch it. We squeezed hands in silence as they checked us into the room of the maternity ward where sadness happens. Where death is brought into the world rather than life. Where a white rose is hung ever so carefully on the door to warn everyone of the room’s contents. The room that’s just far enough away from all the happy, smiling, ecstatic parents and new baby cries.
We were told, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” We were handed pamphlets and folders. This was the first time I saw or heard that word — stillbirth.
The nurses were patient and kind. They were not patronizing, and they followed my lead for how I wanted to be treated. These nurses sat and held my hand when my husband left the room so I wouldn’t be alone. They let me tell jokes, they let me scream, they let me cry. They cleaned up my face, my vomit, my blood. They were everything for me.
There were three of them. One nurse when we checked in, one through the night who was particularly nice about my morphine (don’t worry, doctor’s orders), and one who dealt with the brunt of my worst the next day when my son was born.
I was in labor 18 hours. 18 hours to meet my beautiful son, Orion.
It is in a moment like that, when your child is being born still, that you realize how profound and, yes, deafening, silence can really be. As I felt him leave my body, that is what I heard. Silence. Complete silence.
We had gone from the chaos of my screaming, the nurses and my doctor coaching me, my husband comforting me to… silence. My nurse told me she would clean Orion up and put a blanket around him and bring him to me. My doctor kissed my forehead and told me he was beautiful, and to just try to breath. They warned me that my son would have “some sunburn spots” as they put it, and that he would look slightly discolored. But he had beautiful curly hair, and chubby cheeks.
Every word was spoken in a loving way. In a human way. The nurse brought him in to me and I admit, I was terrified. She said take as much time as you need. She placed him in my arms and suddenly the only people in the room were me, my husband, and Orion. I’m not sure how much time passed. It could have been seconds, or hours, but it was most certainly not enough. Not when I had planned on a lifetime.
As I held him, his nose started bleeding. I did not know this could happen, and I panicked. I called in my nurse. She brought Orion and my husband into the next door room. She explained what a cuddle cot was and said we could visit with him until we were ready to go. My doctor said I could be discharged around 6 hours after birth. We spent as much time with him as we could. We kissed him everywhere, memorized his perfect features, told him about his family, and told him how loved he would always be. I forced myself to leave. To leave him without him.
It had been exactly 48 hours since I realized he wasn’t kicking me.
There is a quote about being a bereaved parent. It says, “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to hear was that my child died. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to live every day since that moment.” That is beyond true. While the first month was torture, I have now just hit the three-month mark since my son was born, and I have become a different version of the woman I once was. I will now always be a little bit sad. I will always be more worried, more cautious.
I will have a hard time every holiday, and especially every June 1st as we celebrate my son, Orion. I will be happy and enjoy my life — but something, someone, will always be missing. I will need a huge amount of support and love. And I will need constant reassurance.
I make no apologies for this version of myself. It is who I need to be to move forward, and how I am healing myself. What happened to me makes some people uncomfortable and sad. I have become “the woman with the dead baby” — “marvel at how she talks and walks just like us.”
And yes, you should marvel — because I am strong. I love fiercely. I will not let my grief for my son consume me but, instead, I will let my love for him do it. I will speak about and for Orion. I am his voice now. I am surviving every parent’s nightmare.
So I just want to say to you, nurses, doctors, social workers… you become part of these worst nightmares, and I’m sure you are just as sorry for that fact as we are. It requires incredible courage to walk into those rooms with white roses on the door, to have patience and empathy for the mom screaming at you when she really wants to scream at God, and you squeeze her hand and tell her that her child is beautiful. The gravity of what you do should not be taken lightly. And luckily, most of the time it isn’t. I cannot begin to fathom how difficult it is for you to be a part of this for us, to guide us through.
I know that you have to keep your work and your life separate. That you can’t take work home with you, that you can’t carry home the baggage of our losses — and how could you? But if you could just take home and carry one thing for me and for my son Orion, it would be compassion and love. It would be to see us mothers for our strength and our children for their beauty.
Please continue to be patient and kind. Please walk with us through the worst day of our lives. And please, welcome us back with reassurance and open arms if we do return from the storm to have our beautiful rainbows. We need you guiding us, every step of the way.
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