Stillbirth: The Invisible Loss
I felt sharp, fluttering kicks. Two days later, I was in the ER.
He would have been eighteen today. We would have had eighteen years of memories, including cold Saturday mornings on the soccer field, late nights finishing up school science projects, nursing heartache over love gone wrong, preparations for prom, and excitement over post-graduation plans. Through the years, he would have been one more forehead to kiss goodnight, another body to cuddle on family movie nights, and another beloved child to celebrate with cake and candles, sports trophies, and school awards nights.
Instead, he is remembered as a fairly easy pregnancy that ended unexpectedly in the seventh month, throwing me into a different reality of life where 24-year-old mothers give birth to lifeless babies.
Instead, he’s only remembered by me on his birth and death day, a date that remains a still frame in my mind while the rest of the world moves around us.
Stillbirth. It’s not an easy topic to talk about for anyone. In fact, I was ashamed to mention the word for years after it happened, afraid of making others feel uncomfortable or plaguing them with the curse I bore. It caused me confusion in how to answer “How many kids do you have?” I have three kids, but one of them is in Heaven. I just never knew who he was.
That’s not true. I did know him. I knew him before I felt his first kick. He was living and breathing inside me, through me. I knew him by the little flutter of a heartbeat that was heard through the Doppler, the rhythmic beat that danced around the slightly slower beat of my own heart, working its way into the very crevices that held the love of my children. And when I did finally feel him, it was like he was saying, “Hey Mom, here I am,” with every single nudge of his foot. I lost my shape in favor of a larger belly. And though he was unplanned, my growing belly brought me joy as I anticipated his arrival in November, caressing the roundness he created. The nursery was set up, the rocking chair next to the same crib his sister and brother had slept in so I could rock him to sleep while reading him Goodnight Moon. The reality of another couple years of diapers was accepted as the new norm. And all I had left to do was wait until I could meet him.
I just didn’t know I would meet him so soon, and under such circumstances.
It was September 20th when I felt a series of sharp, fluttering kicks to my abdomen. The movement alarmed me, and I stood still for a few moments. Something was wrong. A friend asked if I was okay, and I quickly brushed the fear aside, figuring it was nothing. It wasn’t until two days later when I realized those fluttering kicks were the last time I’d felt him move. A few calls back and forth with the nurse in the ER, and I was on my way to the hospital. I still felt it was nothing, and figured it was better to be a neurotic mom-to-be than not worried enough. I didn’t expect them to tell me my baby no longer had a heartbeat.
My very first thoughts were that my body had failed him — that I had failed him — even though there was nothing I could have done differently.
His cord had twisted shut, lacking enough Wharton’s jelly to keep it full to allow enough nutrients and fluids to his body. He had starved to death inside me. My very first thoughts were that my body had failed him — that I had failed him — even though there was nothing I could have done differently to change the circumstances. The next was knowing I couldn’t go through another C-section, like I had with my first two children. I couldn’t bear the thought of recovering from that kind of pain along with the loss of my child. So, for the first time ever, I experienced childbirth, starting with induction and ending after a night of excruciating contractions. But instead of a healthy eight pound baby, I gave birth to a two pound, twelve ounce body. Connor Marley was stillborn on September 23rd, 2002.
Stillbirth happens. Miscarriage happens. Infant death happens. It’s an unimaginable tragedy that can’t truly be comprehended until it’s experienced firsthand. No one wants to think about a baby dying. No one can imagine the pain that follows the tragedy. It’s hard to believe life continues when you lose a child.
But it does.
The first week after my son was gone, a neighbor told me about her own experience with stillbirth and how eventually there comes a day when you realize you haven’t thought about your lost baby all day long. And then a week goes by. And then a month. I couldn’t believe it, and was offended at her suggestion I’d actually forget about the child I lost. I spent the first year after his death remembering him in everything I did. I grew angry and depressed. My two living children grew up right in front of my eyes, yet I barely saw them. I was so consumed with the loss of my son, life stopped existing for me.
I slowly woke up from the world of darkness and death, and I started to see the light.
But eventually it did happen. I slowly woke up from the world of darkness and death, and I started to see the light. Over time, I moved back into the land of the living, recognizing the world that was already here and that housed my living children who needed me. Sure, I felt guilty at first, as if I was denying the son who would never grow up. But now I can think of him without feeling sad.
If you’ve lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or as an infant, I’m sending you my love. Your child exists, and he or she lives in your heart. Your child is not invisible. And I know that he or she is loving you from afar until you meet again.
Today, on Connor Marley’s birthday, I leave you with a poem I wrote in his memory.
A poem by Crissi Langwell
It is in the golden brown of brittle leaves
that I think of you most.
in a cloud of warmth against the crisp air,
expanding from its small containment
and reaching to the earth and sky,
breathes for you.
You exist between each click of the second hand,
when time momentarily stops
and all that can be heard
is the deafening roar
in the silence of a stilled heart.
The mornings are darker, the days shorter,
the hours precious as time slips by….
I wonder if I had only loved you more
would you still be here today?
The dates set in stone
that I have traced my fingers over
again and again
are etched in my mind
much more complete
than the memory of your face
that has faded with time.
Yet I know you by heart.
It was in the golden brown of brittle leaves
where you said your goodbyes
in a moment only we shared,
when the world around us
disappeared for a time,
leaving us floating in suspended reality
where all I felt was you
fluttering faintly from my grasp.
Yet with each setting of the summer moon
and rising of the autumn sun,
when the leaves turn from green
to a golden brown,
I smile at your spirit
that exists in the laughter of a child
and floats in the wind
with the remnants of trees.
Peace has melted together
the broken figments
of my injured heart,
revealing the beauty in leaves of golden brown,
gently holding them before letting them drift away,
watching them stay strong in the wind
while knowing they could shatter in an instant,
setting you free with a delicate prayer
of love for an autumn’s child.