I cannot think of any single word that can capture the piercing grief, the disorienting darkness of losing a child. It is an ineffable nightmare that leaves broken parents trying to reshape the pieces of their lives to accommodate the sinkhole of despair that has swallowed a part of their world. For the women that have felt the weight of child loss, the depths of their heart and soul are endless stretches of emotions and feelings only they can truly understand. To those in the throes of grief, it often feels that everyone can see their anguish like a permanent black veil of mourning, but to the unknowing, it is unrecognizable. The world moves on around those clinging to the moments that have become mere memories.
For those who haven’t travelled that path or know others that have, the topic seems unapproachable. It feels almost superstitious to discuss and uncomfortable to ask questions, leaving it to remain almost like a secret society which only amplifies feelings of isolation and sadness. The agony of grieving parents tends to reside within the walls of their home where there are no prying eyes or questions. Where the radiating warmth of their child can still be felt in those small objects that once seemed so ordinary. Those parents, those women carrying the torment of their loss are people we see every day. They are people we know. It might even be you.
When an employee from our local hospital spoke to my Mothers Of Preschoolers group about pregnancy and child loss, it opened my eyes to the journey many women face. I was moved by the emotion that filled the room as we talked about one of the most painful and difficult hardships a family can endure. The idea of miscarriage, stillbirth, and even SIDS has always seemed to me a very personal matter that families dealt with in their own time, in private. As I listened, so many women around me nodded with looks of familiarity and cried the tears of knowingness.
I wanted to find a way to share awareness of the issue and maybe provide hope or comfort to other women. After much contemplation, I asked if anyone would like to tell their story in their own words, in their own way, and allow me to share with the world. What I received were the raw and amazingly honest words of three strong women that faced the hardest moments in their role as mother, if not life.
These are their stories, in their own words.
They aren’t meant to make you cry, although they will. They aren’t meant to make you feel sorry for them, and they certainly aren’t meant to scare you about the difficulties of pregnancy and motherhood. They are meant to be a celebration of the lives lost and the strong women that faced the pain and found a way to continue on in life. This is a chance to bring awareness to an issue that is so often shrouded in secrecy and spoken about in hushed tones as if it were shameful. It is also a way to give others that don’t know the pain, a structure to offer support to those in their life that are experiencing a loss.
Here are their stories…
“I found out I was pregnant with our second child just shy of the ten week mark. I know that may seem late, but I was still breastfeeding our first child (11 mo at the time), so my cycle was anything but regular. Honestly, my emotions were all over the place. We had just moved into our new home, which was three hours away from all of our friends and family. Then, the home we so easily fell in love with quickly resembled something out of “The Money Pit” once we got the keys. It was safe to say, I was an emotional train-wreck, and my baby girl was about to turn one. Vivien was our first, and I didn’t think it was possible to love another child as much as I loved her. Conceiving Vivien didn’t exactly come easy, so I beat myself up for not being immediately grateful for this second pregnancy. Of course I was grateful for this blessing and excited to be giving Vivien a sibling, but I was also scared. Would Vivien understand? Would she feel replaced? How could I explain this to an 11 month old in a way she’d understand?
Sunday, November 2nd, I woke up and felt a little off. I felt like I did around week three or four when I was pregnant with Vivien. A little pinchy, a little crampy, a little like the feeling you get a couple of days before starting your period. I sent a couple of mildly-concerned texts to my friends, but I decided it wasn’t anything I needed to be too worried about. The morning went on, and I took it easier than I normally would have. My mom was up visiting so she helped with Vivien while my husband worked on the house. Eventually, my Mom had to leave as I welcomed more house guests and took them on tours of the new home. I remember thinking and perhaps even saying out loud that I was feeling a little off and would call my doctor if I didn’t start to feel better soon. A short time later is when I felt something. I knew my body, and I knew I needed to excuse myself. I headed upstairs to my bathroom for some privacy and yelled for my husband. The rest of the day, the ride to the hospital, the time spent in the ER, it was all a blur.
The hospital didn’t do much for me. I was bleeding heavily and a mother’s intuition just knows. I didn’t need the ultrasound technician to confirm it, nor did I need the resident on call to go over this with me. He did not have much bedside manner for this sort of emergency room visit and who knows if I would have been able to appreciate it if he had. My husband was amazing as was my mom (she turned around and met us at the hospital).
It seemed like forever that we were in the cold, sterile exam room.
Plenty of time to go from being numb to inconsolable and back again a thousand times. You cry because you don’t understand. You cry because you’re upset with your body. You cry because it’s not fair. You cry even harder because you wanted to love that baby. You wanted to hold them in your arms and kiss them and snuggle and never let them go. Your baby that you would vow to always protect, yet you couldn’t even protect them from your own body. You just reach a level of emptiness and despair.
No matter how many times anyone, including my obstetrician tried telling me it wasn’t my fault, it was hard for me to accept that perhaps it wasn’t. Hearing the statistics repeated to me didn’t matter either. Naturally, questions swirled in my mind. Every step I took for those twelve weeks played over and over and over in my mind…Did I over-exert myself carrying in groceries? Did I stress too much over the house? Was I too worried about Viv and not as excited as I immediately should have been? Was I being punished for feeling this way? The questions just kept manifesting and some of them have never gone away.
It’s been nearly two years, and it does hurt less. The raw, open wound has somehow healed. The scars on my heart are still there and always will be. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of the miscarriage. The child that could have been ours. I will always remember November 2nd, and I will always remember what would have been our due date, May 28th. I’ll always wonder if I would have had a son or a daughter. I’ll always wonder what their name would have been and what their cuddles would have felt like. You would have been so loved, sweet one…Our story does have a happy ending. I have since given birth to our second daughter, Eva.”
“We had only been married a little over a month. My husband and I decided we would leave it up to fate, but I didn’t think it would happen as fast as it did! At my 8 week checkup everything went exactly like it should have. The heartbeat sounded perfect, and that’s when I believe I first feel in love with my baby. Almost instantly I started to plan out all things “baby”. We decided that we would wait to tell the world until our 12 week appointment. When the day arrived, I was prepared with announcement ideas to share as soon as I left the appointment. As the doctor ran the probe across my belly, we saw our baby, but it seemed as if we couldn’t find a heartbeat. I remember holding my breath and waiting. The doctor said she was going to try a different ultrasound. I was nervous but still hopeful that everything was okay, and our sweet baby would be fine. The next ultrasound took forever, and I remember the look on my doctor’s face when she realized what had happened. She started to talk to me, and I don’t really know what she said. The room was spinning around me. My baby had no heartbeat. I was pregnant, but my baby wasn’t alive. As soon as she walked out of the room, I fell into my husband’s arms and cried. We both cried.
I laid there watching my husband’s heart break display across his face.
I had to have one more ultrasound done that day, and I was told that it was probably best not to look during the procedure, that it would be too hard. I laid there watching my husband’s heart break display across his face. I tried not to look, I really did, but I wanted to see my baby. I remember peeking through my hands covering my face. Our baby looked perfect, it had all of their fingers and all of their toes. My baby had the face of an angel, and I couldn’t believe that this perfect life was still in my belly. Yet, I would never meet him or her. My heart was crushed, and my body felt broken. I had no idea that you could feel this way over a baby you had never met. I felt jealousy towards other expectant moms who were continuing on their journey. I knew that it wasn’t right to feel that way, but I did. After my D&C the following day, I felt physically and emotionally worse than I had ever in my life. I avoided social media so I didn’t see babies and announcements and “bump dates” because it all hurt way too much. I held the few ultrasound pictures I had and cried. I had to grieve the loss and that was the only way I knew how.
I would love to tell you that this was the only time I experienced this type of grief, but it’s not. I eventually experienced another D&C, and a miscarriage months later. After these events a huge amount of fear and anxiety became my strongest associations with pregnancy. Then, I got pregnant again. I was told that if the pregnancy didn’t make it to full-term, I would have to see a specialist. Again, fear began to take hold. About 14 weeks along I began bleeding and cramping, and I went straight to the doctor. I cried on the phone with my dad while I drove. He said to me, “Beth, just because this happened before doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. Believe God is bigger. Believe that He is going to give you a baby. This baby is going to make it.” A peace came over me. That day I saw a healthy baby, and he made it. He is two now, and believe it or not, we were crazy enough to have another one 21 months later!
My story seems so crazy looking back…So hard to understand why each event happened. So hard to understand why we go through such trying times, things that really change and mold a young woman’s heart. But no matter the outcome of your story, no matter what situation you might be in (loss, infertility, miscarriage, etc.) Don’t let fear of the unknown be what controls your life! I believe, personally, that faith is what really guided me through my miscarriages. Before having my rainbow baby, I had a daydream. It was a little boy, he was a chubby little brown haired boy, and he smiled at me and said “Mom”. I was so caught off guard by it, I started to cry. Of course, I don’t really know if it was one of my babies, but that day gave me hope for the future and helped me make peace with the past. That’s what I wish for all of the mamas, that you have hope for your future journey and that you’re able to make peace with the path you have traveled this far.”
“My pregnancy with George was very similar to my first pregnancy. I felt great, had a lot of energy, ate whatever I wanted to. I loved every second about being pregnant. I felt beautiful, I felt strong, and I knew this was my reason for living. My water broke at only 35 weeks and 5 days. I delivered George via emergency C-section because of complications. I was immediately shocked, scared, and asked for more time to think about it, but the doctor told me there was no time. The C-section needed to happen right then. I tried to stay calm and prayed that everything would be fine. Then, George came into the world on December 8th, 2015 at 5 lbs and 3 oz. He had a full head of blond hair, and he was the most precious thing I ever laid my eyes on. George stayed in the NICU for the next 9 days, and it was the worst 9 days of my life. I was torn between staying with George and going home to see my first baby who I missed terribly. Once George came home my life seemed perfect. And it was truly perfect for the next 4 months and 21 days.
On the morning that George passed away, he woke up at 5:30am, and I breastfed him, burped and laid him back in his crib where he fell back to sleep. Around 7:30 he woke again, and my husband brought him up to me where I feed him and laid with him until he fell asleep again. Around 8:30am, my older son, Augustus, got up so I moved George to the middle of the bed and let him continue to sleep. My husband and I had breakfast with Augustus, and I left George sleeping on my bed. I recall my husband asking if we should go check on George and I said “No”, that I’m sure he would be up soon. Shortly after, my husband and I found George not breathing. I immediately picked George up and tried to wake him. I began CPR and my husband called 911. I tried to stay focused and even to this day, I don’t believe I knew exactly at that moment what was happening in front of me. I believe I thought any second George was going to gasp for air, and he would be ok. I didn’t even hear the ambulance pull up, but an EMT moved me out of the way so he could continue CPR. George was eventually taken to the hospital where they were able to get a heartbeat, but it wasn’t strong enough. George passed away on April 29th, 2016. As soon as they stopped the chest compressions, I picked George up and held him at the hospital for the next 4 hours until the coroner came. I kissed him more than 100 times, and I cried and begged for my baby back. I still can’t believe I lived through that day. That drive home was the worst thing I ever did. I would never bring him home again. I was able to see him once more after that day, at the funeral home where they let me hold him again.
A mother should never have to give her son’s eulogy.
Having a funeral for your child is something that most people will never experience, something that is very hard to fathom, but it happened to me. It is a place I pray repeatedly everyday that I never have to visit again. A mother should never have to give her son’s eulogy. Parents should never have to pick out a tiny casket and urn, and the perfect poem to go on the program or pick out the perfect outfit, pictures and songs to be played. After George passed away, people would say they couldn’t imagine what I was going through, and that’s absolutely true. Most people, including my closest friends, don’t know the details of that day and the planning I had to endure. I don’t believe that my husband even really remembers that entire week, but I do. I remember every detail like it happened yesterday. I think about these moments daily. When I put it in writing it reminds me that it really happened and how much my life has changed.
When George passed away, I was still breastfeeding him. I had to continue to pump the entire week after. I dreaded the thought of having to pump each day, and I sobbed the entire time. I wore the same nursing bra that I had on the morning that he passed up until a week later, which was his funeral. I thought once I took it off, it was like I had to accept the fact that he was gone. The day after George passed away, I forced myself to go up to my room, and lay back down in my bed, in the spot where I found George unresponsive. The moment I stepped foot in my room, my knees gave out and I sat against my bed, crying a cry that I didn’t even recognize. How could I ever look at this room the same, how could I ever lay in my bed and be happy again? My husband helped me into my bed, and I laid there, and cried for the rest of the afternoon. I missed my baby. I just wanted to wake up from the nightmare that I couldn’t believe I was actually living. I also felt the need to have a conversation with my sister in law, who had a baby only a month older than George. I told her that I wished that it was her baby that had passed away, not mine and that whenever I looked at her baby, I would wish my baby was here instead. Believe it or not, she said she would think the exact same thing if she was in my position. We cried together, and still cry whenever we are together. She has become my closest and best friend, and I talk to her about George all the time.
I told her that I wished that it was her baby that had passed away, not mine.
Soon after George passed away my mother in law found a counselor that would come to my house. We would talk about how I felt like I was to blame. For a long time, and even some times now, I blame myself. I was the last one to be with him, I left him on his side sleeping. Why did I do that? He never slept like that before. Why did I leave him, why didn’t I just bring him downstairs with me and wake him? Why didn’t I notice any signs? Or did I notice signs and just not do anything about it? I could come up with a million questions of why? and what if?. A mother is supposed to protect her kids, and I feel like I didn’t protect him the way I should have. My last session with my counselor was very different from my first. I have become more accepting of what has been and what is, I’ve accepted that I am a parent that has lost a child, and that most people I talk to will never walk in my shoes or understand what I’ve been through.
The main thing that helped me get through the day was to buy grief books, books about children passing away, how other parents dealt with this kind of loss, and I started keeping a journal. Every time I write in my journal I cry, hard. I keep a picture of George in my journal so when I write I can look at his smiling face and let all of the emotions that I set aside each day come flooding back. I have learned a great deal about grief and the journey of mourning the loss of child. I have learned that there is no right way and that there is no timeline. I have learned that time does NOT heal all wounds. This wound will never be healed, it is a pain that I have and still am learning to live with each day. Is the pain getting easier to deal with each day? I wouldn’t say easier, but I don’t have a choice other than to deal with it, so I just do it.
I also began following SIDS groups on Facebook and reached out to other moms. I thought I wanted to talk to and be around people that knew what it felt like to be me and for a while it did help me to not feel alone. However, I had a setback in my journey. In August, a local mother lost her 9 month old baby boy to SIDS. I felt compelled to reach out to her. So I bought her a necklace to remember her baby by and dropped it off at her house. We began talking and I agreed to meet with her. I was hoping it would help me heal and also help her know that she wasn’t alone. I wanted to be there for her. She and her husband told me that her husband found their baby on the morning he passed away tightly wrapped in his blanket in his crib. They still consider it SIDS because there were no signs of trauma to his organs, that his brain just didn’t tell him to wake up when he couldn’t breath. I left there house more traumatized than I ever imagined. I know my story is sad and traumatic, but I found George just the way I left him, alone, with nothing around him, nothing that could have been the reason to blame. I couldn’t sleep for a very long time after I met with her, and my anxiety worsened. I took Augustus’s blankets away, and checked on him multiple times a night. I even went into his room one morning thinking I was about to find him under his blankets, not breathing. Of course he was fine, but I was shaking and could barely breathe. I truly thought I was about to find another child of mine dead. That was very hard for me to deal with. I still check him multiple times a night and have yet to give him his bigger blankets back.
I thought when I was out in public that anyone who looked at me knew I lost a child.
For a long time I thought when I was out in public that anyone who looked at me knew I lost a child. That they could tell by the look on my face, “Oh there’s that lady that just lost her baby.” I hated leaving the house. Other times I felt like I was standing in a room or store with 100 strangers and nobody knew the nightmare that I was living. Even driving my car, all of these people driving past me have no idea what just happened to me, have no clue the horror that I witnessed, and their life just continued like normal. That was very hard for me to accept. Eventually my perspective changed, and instead of going into a store and being upset that no one knew how horrible my life was, I started wondering if the person next to me maybe went through the same thing. Or maybe they experienced some other kind of tragedy, and they survived. If they could survive, so could I. I never wanted to leave the house, I felt the closest to George at home, and I can’t even imagine moving. I brought two babies home here, I feel him here, I still smell him here. Although my worst nightmare happened in my house, how do I leave when this is also the place where all of my dreams came true? It would be like I was leaving him and his memories here. I couldn’t live with that.
Ultimately, I believe that my beliefs have helped me accept what has happened and has helped me get through each day. Growing up I wasn’t very religious but I did and still do more than ever, believe there is a God and Heaven. Even before George passed away, I believed everything that happens in our lives is already planned. Everything that I was ever going to experience in my life was already set in stone. For some reason, I was only meant to have George for a short period of time, and that I was to learn something from this. I believe George was given to me and taken away to teach me a lesson. In every life experience, there is a lesson to learn. Do I know entirely what that is yet? No, I don’t. I have learned a great deal about myself, and I am not the same person I once was, nor will I ever be. I believe this loss was meant to change me, to be a better person, not a worse person. I will never accept that I have to carry this burden as punishment, and I will not let this tragedy end my life. Because the truth is, I’m still living. I’m still here and there are reasons for that too. I have a grieving husband and a child, Augustus, that still need me. They need my love, they need my comfort, my husband needs his wife and Augustus needs his mama. Augustus has been my saving grace. He has been my reason to get out of the bed in the morning, and my reason to get out of the house. He saved me. He helped me to realize that I am strong, and he helped me believe I could get through this.
I never believed I was strong, most days I still don’t.
The outpouring of love and support from friends, family and even strangers has been truly amazing. I believe that my story and the loss of George has affected more people than I will ever know. Anyone I talk to about George now all say the same thing, they tell me how strong and brave I am and that they couldn’t imagine what I was going through. I never believed I was strong, most days I still don’t. But my response would be that I don’t see it as being strong, because I wasn’t given a choice. I was not asked if I wanted George taken from me. I don’t know how else to be. I cannot lay in my bed everyday and hate my life. You won’t find me laying on the bathroom floor at 2 am crying and begging for God to give me my baby back or take my life because there’s no point. I couldn’t trade my soul to have George back even if i tried, I know that. I get through each day because when Gus grows up and learns of what he lived through, I want him to be proud of me. I want him to look at me and say, “I can’t believe you survived and still loved me as much as you did.” I never want him to look back at his life and think, “I’m the way that I am because my brother passed away, and my mom couldn’t love me for a while.” I never ever want him to feel like I stopped loving him. I want him to be proud that our family is still together, that my husband and I turned towards each other and not against. I’m not saying this has been easy at all, but you have to first and foremost, accept that nobody grieves the same. Somedays I’m sad and crying, and he’s not. Somedays he’s crying and sad, and I’m not. But we are both there to listen to each others fears, hug each other when we are sad and to continue to love each other even though we have experienced the worse loss of all. I couldn’t even imagine living through this experience without him. I need him just as much as he needs me.
I don’t know how to describe the true feeling of living with the loss of a child that another parent who hasn’t lost a child could understand. It is like there is a rock in my chest and sometimes feels hard to breath. You feel like at any second something bad is about to happen to you, someone else is about to be taken from your life. I can think I’m having a good day and then all of a sudden I see a feather or hear George’s name and instantly the sadness begins to roll down my face. When I am around other people with kids, my arms feel empty, like there is something else I should be doing. I don’t know how a situation will affect me until I put myself in it. So I’ve gone to the 1st birthday parties and cried when no one was looking, I’ve gone to my friends baby showers and prayed their happiness lasts forever, I’ve gone to the baptism of my godson and cried the whole time because all I saw was George. It took me a long time to hold a baby again because I feared that all babies would smell like and feel like my baby. How wrong was I? No one else’s baby will ever remind me of mine, the only thing that reminds me of George are the milestones that would have been. I look at his picture from time to time, and I am shocked to say that I have hundreds of pictures of him. How many people can say they have hundreds of pictures of their baby when they were only 5 month old? I also have 1 video that I have yet to watch. I know it will be one of the most emotional things I have done since he passed away, but I plan on watching it for his birthday.
When I am around other people with kids, my arms feel empty, like there is something else I should be doing.
For 6 months and 3 days, I have been without George. He would be just shy of 11 months old. What does my life look like now? Well my house looks very much the same, except the baby toys have been put in George’s room. His pictures grace the walls of each room, and there is a small urn that looks over our entire main level. It has not been moved since we brought him home after the funeral. Some other things still haven’t been touched. His room is still his room and will always be his room, even if another baby comes along. The clothes he had on the morning of his passing are still folded neatly in his crib along with the shirt I had on that day along with my husbands. The towel he used for his last bath still hangs on the hook in his room along with the hats that I took out for him to wear this past summer, there are 3 size 2 diapers that still sit in the drawer in my bathroom where I would change him occasionally, and the blanket he loved has been in my arms every night since he has been gone. I had a quilt made from all of the clothes I ever bought specifically for him. I knew I would never be able to look at those clothes again the same way on another baby. I guess it’s just one of the ways I choose to honor his memory. I also started a fundraiser with my husband in George’s honor, called the Spirit of Georgie. My husband and I began raising money back in August and will give it away to three families on December 8th, which will be Georges 1st birthday.
I have also gone back to work. I haven’t worked in 3 years, but I have been given signs that tell me I am doing what I should be, even though it’s really hard to be away from home most days. I also applied to school to get my nursing degree, and I was accepted. We are also expecting our third baby. How I even decided that having another baby was a good idea is beyond me, but maybe that’s an answer. There is a plan for everything and everyone. I’m trying hard not to be scared that any second I will lose this baby too. This baby is due April 30th, the day after George passed away. Some things can’t be a coincidence. I will be mourning the loss of my sweet baby George while celebrating a new baby. This baby is going to be here because George isn’t. I wouldn’t even be pregnant or working if George was still alive. George is my reason now in everything I do and has changed the direction my life was headed. Maybe that’s the reason that George was brought into my life. I may never know the true reason, but until then, I will be forever grateful for the time I had with him, and I wouldn’t trade a second of it.”
I could think of no better way to bring awareness to this issue than letting mothers express their own journeys. While I have not experienced such a loss, I do remember the fog of grief that settled over my childhood home when my brother died. It tore apart our family. My mother was never the same again, and my father would eventually commit suicide. I harbored a lot of anger towards my parents for their behavior. Then, when I was threatened with the possibility of losing my own son during a difficult delivery, my anger began to soften with the overwhelming relief of his wellbeing. For those brief moments as I contemplated my life if I lost him, I had just a microscopic glimpse into the abyss of loss. Only then did I realize how much I didn’t and couldn’t understand about the pain of surviving the death of a child.
There are not enough words in the world to describe the intricacies of a mother’s grief, but one thing we can all understand is the love we have for our children. It is a universal language that connects women. We know what it is like to love a child so much it feels as if we cannot breathe, as if our heart will break. It is that overwhelming love and the dark foreboding fear of their loss that motivates each of our actions. Those feelings are what drive us to tiptoe into their room and risk waking them just so we can touch their warm back to feel the soft rise and fall of their breath, much to our sweet relief. It is why we exhaust ourselves agonizing over ever decision and why we often blame ourselves when something goes wrong. That kind of love is what we understand, and it should be a reminder that you never know what path a mother has travelled. It is such a sacred relationship, it is crucial that we respect the journey, decisions, sacrifices, and feelings of other mothers. It is why we should raise each other up. It is why I wanted to help shed light on such a heart wrenching issue.
Here are some resources if you are in search of support either for yourself or someone else.
Please return for my interview with a woman that has made it her life’s work to help families experiencing the loss of an infant and how it has changed her for the better.