Content warning: stillbirth
Yesterday evening I got a text message that just about stopped my heart.
I went in to the ob/gyn today for the fetal monitoring and the baby’s heart had stopped. It’s a stillbirth. I’m at the hospital being induced. We have no idea what to do with the body, if you feel like sharing what you did in your situation.
This came from a friend of mine who was 38 weeks pregnant with her son, Colin. Her older daughter has been a daycare classmate of my son’s since they were babies; they’re only a few months apart in age, and her daughter is one of three kids that my son has really bonded with and whose families are relatively close. Not super-close, but playdates-and-texting kind of close. Her husband is a professor at my university, in another department. She knew about our loss, so I guess she felt comfortable reaching out, and I’m glad she did. But when I got the message, I stood there, said, “Oh my God oh my God oh my God,” started shaking, and then burst into tears. I was alone with my 18-month-old at the time, who thankfully was oblivious (he had just gotten over a massive tantrum because I cut his muffin in half, and was in a post-tantrum happy place, quietly playing on his own).
They’ve had a rocky pregnancy for a while now. They knew that their son had a heart condition. She was scheduled to be induced on Wednesday (which would have been 39 weeks), and they had been told to expect about a 1-month NICU stay, and about a 2/3 chance that he would need heart surgery soon after birth. I don’t know what they had been told about their risk of stillbirth; she never mentioned it. But I know they were deep into planning for a living baby, and were assuming that he’d be born alive.
Here were my responses:
Oh my God, X. My heart goes out to you so much. I am so very sorry… this is just the absolute worst. To answer your question: we had our baby cremated. If there’s one piece of advice I can give you right now, it’s to call Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep for (free) photos. I thought it sounded morbid, but now I treasure the photos of my daughter. Can I call them for you?
I’m sure they are also giving you the option of holding Colin… I have never met anyone who regretted holding their baby, but I know several people who regret not holding the baby. Labor for a dead baby is the absolute worst. I am so sorry you have to experience this nightmare.
Call me anytime (even in the middle of the night) if you just want to talk or if there’s anything I can do.
She updated me later that they weren’t allowing NILMDTS into the hospital because of COVID-19, but the nurses were taking pictures. This morning she told me that they did decide to hold their baby, and were glad they did. I don’t know how labor went for her, but at least it didn’t drag out too long, because it was only about 15 hours between her first message and her message this morning that they had held him and taken some photos. She had a vaginal birth with her older daughter, so hopefully the induction went smoothly. It is just incredibly cruel to have to go through the labor and delivery (and recovery) process for a dead baby, so I hope that that part at least went quickly for her.
I sent her a longer email last night, basically pitching some ways we might be able to help (we had been plan C for taking care of their daughter… plan A was her mom, who was supposed to drive out from several states away sometime this weekend, and I’m not sure if she had actually arrived yet). I also made sure to let her know about the truly amazing pregnancy/baby loss organization in our state that helped us after our daughter was born; as I told her, I’m sure the hospital would let them know about it, but I figured I’d add my testimonial that they are truly a wonderful organization who really helped us.
And now… I guess I just sit back, and check in with her periodically? It’s so hard, especially during a pandemic. You want to be present, you want to support them, but you also want to give them the space they need. Now we also have to consider how to support them when there’s a pandemic… and my husband’s parents (who are older and therefore higher-risk) have just moved out here for the summer (so our risk tolerance has changed somewhat). My initial offers of help to them were: (1) childcare (we’d break quarantine if they needed it), (2) food, and (3) communication — basically helping to break the news if she needed it (as I told her, it became exhausting to keep having to tell people and deal with their reactions, and it was actually a relief when my mom and a close friend took over sharing the news with extended family and others that I didn’t have the energy to deal with). I don’t know yet whether they’ll take us up on any of it; again, I’m trying to be very sensitive about that fine line between being present and being pushy.
I guess mostly I’m just glad that my experience is able to help someone else, even a little bit, while they go through the living nightmare of a stillbirth. It was amazing how quickly her message carried me back to those terrible moments in the hospital (and before and after) while I was delivering our daughter. If I’d had someone to text who had been through something similar before, who could gently encourage me to take photos and hold the baby, I think it would have helped. Now I’m thinking about all the other things I wish someone had warned me about: my milk coming in, the panic about my husband and my dog dying, the little time bombs like getting the message from daycare that a spot had opened up for our baby… I want to warn her, but I also don’t want to be an annoying know-it-all who assumes that her experience will be exactly like mine (obviously it won’t be; it’ll be worse because it was later in the pregnancy, and there are all sorts of dynamics with an older kid that I didn’t deal with) and gives lots of unsolicited advice. I guess I’ll just back off for a day or two, and then maybe send another email reiterating offers of help and maybe mentioning the milk-coming-in thing.
Ugh. I wish they were bringing home their baby. I wish I could change the past, predict the future, and bubble-wrap everyone I love. I wish things were different. I hope that I can be a supportive friend and help them get through this difficult time. I will be hugging my children very tight.