October is designated as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. Because there are no words to either describe or ease the pain for those experiencing this loss, I want to share about an organization encouraging people to use their own words to share stories of overcoming and bravery, in a way which can encourage and empower others walking this journey. Through “Our Brave Faces”, our daughter Emily was brave enough to share her story, which you can find here.
My own experience of losing a baby was a time of heartbreak and sorrow for which nothing could have prepared me. We had been blessed with three previous pregnancies, all of which began and proceeded easily and without complication. Despite this blessing, I still did not have a false sense of security that “it” would likely not happen to me. I knew the statistics. I knew my own mom had experienced the loss of five babies and my sister had lost two. I knew it could happen to me. Obviously, I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but thought if if did I would be fine. I would be sad, of course, but thought knowing the ins and outs of prenatal development from my background in Child Development and those black and white statistics would shield me from feeling it too deeply. This was not my experience.
Knowing those statistics, I also knew that the chances of miscarriage decreased dramatically once the second trimester began. I started to breathe more easily and assumed my 20 week check up would proceed without a hitch. When the doctor couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler, he assured me it wasn’t uncommon to have difficulty hearing it at this stage, depending on the baby’s position. We scheduled an ultrasound for the following day. The doctor had offered hope, but I knew. That next day our fears were confirmed and another day later I was admitted to the hospital to deliver our perfectly formed, sweet Christopher Jon, gone from us before we were able to know him.
Our time in the hospital after his birth were actually some of the most peaceful, calm, and holy moments before the storm of grief would hit us. My husband anointed Christopher with holy water and we spent precious time marveling at our little one, with everything perfectly in place: 10 fingers and toes, tiny fingernails and facial features. All he needed was time to grow. But it was not to be.
The next weeks and months were a blur. Taking care of our three older children~5, 3, and 1~ and putting one foot in front of the other was more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.
My encouragement for those who must walk this road:
You are not alone. Accept the comfort and help others will offer you. Give yourself time and be patient with yourself when the grief takes longer to subside than you expect. Know that the grief will never go away completely, but I promise it will change. Offer grace to those around you who say things that aren’t helpful; know that the vast majority of people have the best of intentions, and they don’t know the things they say can be hurtful. They just don’t know what to say.
My recommendation for those accompanying another on this road:
Be present. Don’t feel like you have to offer an explanation. Please don’t start your comforting statements with “At least…” (...you have other children; ...you know you can get pregnant; ...you weren’t very far along; ...you know it must be part of God’s plan.) We know you mean well, but these sorts of statements are not helpful. The best thing anyone said to me was, “I am so sorry.” In those few words, I felt heard. I felt that our baby was being acknowledged. I felt I was not alone.
A year after Christopher’s due date, our baby girl was born. We are so blessed to have four beautiful children here on earth with us and beautiful baby boy in heaven. We missed out on the opportunity to know him on this side of eternity, but as a faith-filled friend reminded me, our openness to life brought about the creation of an eternal soul with whom we will one day be united for all of eternity. What a comforting reminder of the brevity of this life and the hope we have, though our faith in the Creator who has known us since before He created us in our mother’s womb. (Jeremiah 1:5)
For a continuation of our story, you can listen to my interview with Teresa Tomeo of Catholic Connection here. It tells of a pro-life song which came about through our journey. (Click the download link and the interview begins at 36:22 in the program.)