Friday, March 12, 2010

What did I lose?

Glow in the Woods is my favorite babylost blog.  In the open forum called "for one and all" a post-er brought up the issue of collateral losses - the things that slip away from us when our babies die.  In this instance, the discussion centered on those things that we've lost that we wish we hadn't.  There are many things that appropriately take a back burner in the face of such grief - priorities realigned.  But those things aren't what this discussion is about.  I responded with the following post.  I have been thinking about this issue for such a long time, and I was happy for the opportunity to frame it in this way.

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I lost birth. I know that sounds trivial but birth was important to me before Noah died (stillborn at term due to a cord knot). I had trained as a doula and birthed my second baby at home. I was engaged, on the periphery at least, with the women – doulas, midwives, body workers, etc - who make up the birth community in our small city. I was (am I guess) one of those lucky women who believed in natural birth, was able to have it, and felt empowered by it. I have never had a great relationship with my over-sized body – but giving birth….it just made me so proud – so amazed at what MY body could do.

Noah’s was a planned hospital birth because our insurance would cover it 100% and would not cover a home-birth at all and we just did not have the money. However I went to great lengths to find a doctor and hospital that would support my desire to birth naturally. When we discovered at a regular appointment that Noah had died and I would need to be induced, I wanted an epidural for his delivery. In the end I didn’t need it. He left my body almost painlessly without the meds I thought I’d need.

My husband and I were blessed to receive another life just three months after Noah left us. I struggled the entire pregnancy to reconcile what I wanted to believe about birth with my new-found unwanted knowledge that babies sometimes die before they are born – that my body wasn’t the safe place for my babies that I thought it was. I didn’t want fear to win. I looked for mentors – babylost women who still trusted their bodies and birth. That is how I found “Glow”. I hoped I could find someone who could help me see a way to embrace, even revel in pregnancy and birth as I had before, but I never did.

I had every intention of having a stare down with Death in my pregnancy after Noah’s, but instead I scurried around hiding behind rocks, under beds and in closets, trying to keep the Grim Reaper from finding the daughter I carried. It didn’t help that her pregnancy was the most medically complicated of my four to make it out of the first trimester. On top of that I was 40. Forty, babylost and lots of bumps in the road to delivery day – NOT a good combination to inspire strong prenatal mental health.

In the end I delivered our daughter in the same hospital where I delivered Noah, under the care of the same family practice doctor. I was induced at 37w4d because Joni repeatedly failed her bio-physical profiles. My doula/midwife could not be there, but she sent her back-up and she was lovely. I birthed as naturally as one could while dragging around an iv pole and hooked to machines. It was an honest day’s work, but it was not the triumphant, healing experience I had hoped for. Our daughter – skinny but healthy, strong, gorgeous and simply amazing – has tempered my ache for her brother. But her birth did not heal the hole left in my heart when birth and death renewed their acquaintance in my womb.

I have been around here long enough to know that this particular brand of crazy talk really irritates some. I hope I’ve conveyed the distinction that I make in my mind between the baby and the birth. I would have done ANYTHING to get my babies here alive. I believed pregnancy and birth with minimal medical interventions was the best way to do it. Beyond that, the acts of growing a life inside of me and delivering her safely into the world are about my relationship with my body and my own sense of power – a perk separate from the real prize, but important to me none the less.

Now, almost 19 months since Noah was born, and 8 months since Joni arrived, I have little contact with my birth community acquaintances. I went to a natural birth and baby expo last night, under the pretext of buying a new sling, but really so I could show off Joni. I saw many people I hadn’t seen since Noah’s funeral. There were smiles, congratulations, warm hugs. It wasn’t the place to touch on hidden grief, but I could tell just by looking in eyes who realized it was still there and avoided it, and who assumed it had been replaced by the babe in my arms. If they only knew how I grieve still - for my son and for the shared faith that used to make me part of their sisterhood.


  1. I always knew that babies could die. I'd had several friends who'd had miscarriages and one who'd had a full-term stillbirth. A year before our daughter's fatal diagnosis and pregnancy complications, my best friend had a baby with Triploidy (3 sets of chromosomes) and found that continuing her pregnancy could be fatal. It was devastating. Never did I imagine that one year later I would be faced with almost identical circumstances.

    Our daughter's loss robbed me of the belief that it would be okay. That my pregnancies would end with babies. Ciaran was our rainbow baby, conceived 6 weeks after Sarah's loss. The pregnancy was hard, and the delivery traumatic. But it was almost as if by fighting for him, I won back my hope that things could turn out right.

    I've had two more babies since Ciaran, and they have also been part of my healing. But I can never be "healed". Because not one of them can replace her. Never.

    I came to your site from a comment you left on Fierce Mama's. I took one look at your picture and knew that you were a loss mom. I couldn't see the baby in the picture, but there was something in your face. I know that look. In those moments when they are in your arms and you have only those minutes to remember for a lifetime, there is a look I wish I could describe. That look, when you're overcome with the love for them, and the loss of them.

    I am so sorry for your loss. But there are moms out there for whom the grief does not need to be hidden, who know that the loss of a child never goes away, even when it no longer consumes. And we never need to look away. We walk it too.

    Sorry for such a long winded comment. I just saw your picture and read this post, and was very touched. Noah is beautiful. Thank you for sharing him.

  2. Muse Mama - thank you so much. Your comments touched my heart.

    I'm having one of those nights when Noah is asking for my attention - when I long to hold him, even as his baby sister fills my arms and nurses at my breast. Healed - no - you are right - I don't see that happening.

    I tried to visit your blog - but Blogspot seems to be out of sorts. I hope it turns round soon because I'm eager to read your story. It always feels so strange this feeling of relief - excitement - that comes with finding a comrade in grief. I know from your comments that you understand. I too am sorry for your loss.

    Thank you again for your kind words.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I can identify with some of your feelings of loss. I have been very passionate about pregnancy and birth...educated myself before I even started trying to get pregnant, and continued that throughout my pregnancy. My husband and I had planned for a homebirth with our first born. We weren't able to have it adn instead ended up needing to be induced and have a hospital delivery. Fortunately that went as well as it could have because there is a local group of nurse midwives that deliver in our hospital. But now I find myself struggling to decide what I would do if/when we get pregnant again. Now I KNOW things can go wrong (and while a hospital birth couldn't "save" our daugther because she was born with trisomy 18)... I don't know what I would do if I had a home birth next time and something went wrong. I mourn this loss, and grieve these questions and doubts. Thanks for giving me an outlet to voice this.

  4. Big Love, Thank you so much for your comments. I'm so sorry for your loss. It is a difficult road to travel, embracing birth as something more than a means to an end after a loss. I don't have the answers. I'm still struggling with it and I don't plan to have any more babies. I do want to be a doula again some day though, and for that reason I guess I'm still searching for solid ground in the birthing world. I'll be happy to be a sounding board if you'd like. As I said, I found it very difficult to find someone to talk about these issues with when I was in the midst of it. The opportunity to be that person for someone else would be a blessing to me.