This is a guest blog post from Heidi with Stillbirthday. I can’t say enough kind things about this woman and the amazing support and healing that happens because of her mission. She has taught me many things, has helped a dear friend of mine grieve through a recent loss, and never gives up on anyone. I admire her very much and am so grateful for her endless love. ~January
You played with dolls as a little girl. You played dress up and your favorite movie was “Cinderella.” You grew up knowing that someday, you would meet your Prince Charming.
Finally, you met. Eventually, he proposed, and even while in the middle of wedding planning, the discussion of children came up – I mean, not just “someday I want to have kids” but, “After the wedding, we will begin planning on growing our family”.
This transition – just the dialogue, the prospect of becoming a mother – was marvelous, filling you with excitement and anticipation and even a little nervousness. Would you be a good mom? How many children do you want? Which gender?
The morning came, when you woke up before the alarm. You excitedly got out of bed and dashed into the bathroom. You picked up the box, reading the instructions – again – even though, you know, you’re pretty sure you know what you’re doing. Just pee on a stick, right? How hard can this be? With Guinness Record precision, every splash of your urine touched the soft material of the pregnancy test. You then delicately placed it on the bathroom counter, and as you watched, you were thrilled at the wonder as liquid moved past the dial, turning one line pink….keep going….keep going….
The liquid moved to the end of the dial, and you found yourself squealing as it brought with it….another line!
You immediately looked up at yourself in the mirror, rubbing your belly, filled with amazement and joy.
As you left the bathroom, you immediately began processing the logistics of another family member. Which things would need to be packed in storage to make room for your baby? Which closets would need to be cleaned out? Which room would be the nursery?
You laughingly and confidently tucked away the maxi pads. “Ha!” you say to yourself, “I won’t need these for the next nine months!”
You realize as the weeks go by, that getting pregnant seemed to just be the natural progression of things. You got married, and then, it became time to be a mother. You were excited and surprised at the discovery of the pregnancy, but really, you just knew it was something that would happen at some point, right?
You don’t realize it, but seeing those two lines puts you nearer to questions of life purpose, questions of the universe, questions of eternal value, than you’ve ever been before.
That second line puts you closer to discovering what elective abortion really means to you. What if the doctor tells you that your baby is suffering in your body? What would you do?
That second line puts you closer to discovering what terror is. What if your pregnancy just stops working right? And what if there’s nothing anybody can do about it?
That second line puts you closer than you ever imagined, to the most important things in life.
You log on to Facebook. You have 1,000 girlfriends – “Facebook friends” – who you share the news with. “I’m pregnant!” you type into your status excitedly, not realizing that 1 in 4 pregnant mothers give birth to a stillborn baby, in the US alone. Maybe you have heard that, but do not know that in fact, 1 in 2 moms won’t have a baby survive to reach two months after birth.
But then you get up to go to the bathroom.
And it happens.
Your pregnancy is ending, right in the same place where you discovered its beginning.
The next day, you are home from the hospital, with an empty womb and a broken heart. You spend your day weeping and second guessing every decision you made. You begin to assimilate the pieces of your broken heart as best as you can. As you try to make sense of what happened, the rationale and theory you create become especially significant to you:
- What physical, tangible reason could this have happened?
- What spiritual reason could this have happened?
Your own unique answer to these two questions will be the foundation from which your healing will take place. When you are confronted with other reasons, other perspectives, for loss in general or your loss in particular, you may find that it is threatening to everything you believe, every ounce of healing you’ve had, and it can crush you to the core.
- The doctor told me that my baby was “debris” that “needed to be removed”.
- One nurse told me that I was “just having a menstrual cycle”.
- One person told me that God realized the baby was going to have special needs, so He saved me from the burden. That He changed His mind in the middle of His work.
- Still another person told me that a mother in Heaven who had experienced a miscarriage on earth now gets to be the mother of my child.
- I immediately felt as though I didn’t belong in the ultrasound room. I was treated as though I was strange for coming into this place with this “material” to be looked at, when everyone else – the waiting room filled with expecting mothers – were there with “real” babies. I nearly expected to be led out some back staircase for people who didn’t belong there. Instead, I had to stumble my way through the full waiting room of mothers with full bellies to exit.
None of these responses match my beliefs about pregnancy – about life in the womb, about all of those big things that we are so very near to while we are pregnant, but don’t realize until we experience loss. A platform specifically for pregnancy loss was needed.
Knowing how to support mothers through pregnancy loss is a needed and relevant pregnancy issue.
How can your friends support you? What can they say to help you?
Even more, what about your pregnant friends? Should they try to hide their round bellies and joyful hearts from you?
Here are some helpful tips, to support a mother enduring loss:
- If you have just found out that you are pregnant, and you know that a friend has experienced a pregnancy loss, consider telling her first, and privately, that you are pregnant. Take her out to lunch, or just spend some time together. Telling her first, and privately, gives her the option to participate or not if you then have a public announcement.
- As your friends begin planning a baby shower for you, and you know that a friend has experienced a pregnancy loss, consider telling her first, and privately, that you would love to see her attend, but that if it is too painful for her, you understand. This allows her to determine if she is ready to be a part of a formal gathering to celebrate pregnancy, or if she is more comfortable giving you a gift privately.
- Go to your friend. Allow her to speak. Allow her to share her feelings. Allow her to be heard. Let her determine for herself if your pregnancy or your presence is hurtful to her.
- One of the loveliest things you can do for a mother who has to face those things we come so near to – a mother facing loss – is to celebrate her pregnancy with a blessingway, even if it’s held after the loss. This validates the life she held and the title of mother she does have. You can tailor her blessingway to fit her unique interpretations and values of pregnancy.
- All of these things give the mother choices. At a time that is so very out of her control, the best way to support your friend through loss is simply to give her choices. This empowers her. One of the things that mothers at stillbirthday learn is that other interpretations of loss don’t have to be a threat or a challenge to your own unique interpretation. Your feelings about your own unique experience are valuable and deserve to be validated, and however you assimilate your experience, you have a right to be validated.
Here are just a couple of things NOT to say:
- You should be thankful (that you have other children, that you are young and can try again, that you don’t have a special needs child, anything).
- It’s your fault somehow (or someone else’s fault somehow).
- It’s not a real baby yet, anyway.
- These things tell the mother how to feel, rather than empower her to determine for herself how she feels. These responses take choices away from her. The best place to start at, is the deepest level of compassion you can offer.
Here are more tips.
Many mothers lose what they consider to be the naivety of pregnancy once they experience loss. Rather than “trust birth”, they may fear every day of their pregnancy, wanting to usher in the ninth month, usher in any intervention, to hearken the arrival of a breathing baby in their arms. If birth can’t be trusted – if it can happen at any time in pregnancy – how can pregnancy be trusted?
You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, spend your pregnancy in fear. You can find joy in the days of your pregnancy, even if those days are few. There is a healthy place, a place with balance, between the assumed expectation of the mother at the beginning, and the suspicious, fearful mother after loss.
Birth Without Fear encourages you to explore your feelings, to determine for yourself how you assimilate your loss. When bereavement is processed on a platform that isn’t designated for it – like, Facebook in general – it can exacerbate the pain and leave already hurting mothers feeling confused and angry. You deserve to celebrate your pregnancy, to marvel at the design of gestation, and to cherish the gift of motherhood.
Stillbirthday believes that you are a mother from conception, and that even the earliest pregnancy loss deserves to be validated for the birth, and the death, that it is. With real, printable birth plans for even the earliest loss, hundreds of certified doulas listed in every US state and internationally, and a training for anyone interested in becoming a birth and bereavement doula, stillbirthday’s message is clear: a pregnancy loss is still a birth – and is still a birthday. We are here to support you in birth, in any trimester.
Once you see the second line, or however else you learned you are pregnant, you are a mother. In the words of Cathy Gordon, CNM, “Every baby is born.”
Your pregnancy is a gift. Marvel in that, and cherish every moment you have of it. In any trimester, if you are experiencing a loss, stillbirthday wants to meet you where you are at, to help you Birth Without Fear.