Carol's Story - Stillbirth

On August 27, 2010, I went in for my 24 week check up. My husband was in town that day, which was rare because he was in a season of travelling five days a week. Since he was home, he decided to tag along to my appointment. 

As I was making small talk with my nurse, Nicky, she began to search for my son's heartbeat with the Doppler. I noticed that she quit talking and seemed to be focusing, listening intently for the familiar galloping sound. Being my third pregnancy, I noticed that she seemed to be lingering longer than usual. Occasionally, she'd pick up a beat, but it was only mine. She wiped my stomach with a Kleenex and told me that she was going to have my Dr. take a look. She tried to look calm, but the mood in the room turned quickly dim. 

As she walked out, I looked at Brad. We exchanged worried glances and I knew something was wrong. Still, I was having a hard time grasping that things weren't okay. I had always had easy pregnancies, there was no reason to think this pregnancy would be any different. 

My doctor arrived with Nicky close behind. They rolled in a sonogram machine with them. Before I knew it, I could see my son on the screen. I couldn't watch any more though. I fixed my eyes on Dr. Atkins, praying and willing for her to tell me everything was fine. "Please God. Let her tell me that, I prayed silently." She wore a somber expression as she continued moving the wand over my belly. Still looking at the screen, she said to us, "It's not good." 

My stomach sank. A fog set over me and I couldn't understand. I felt almost defiant. I didn't want to hear what she had to say. I shot daggers at her with my eyes as she started telling me that my only son had passed away. I didn't cry. I just sat there, blank. All I could muster was to ask, "Now what?"

She explained that she would give me medicine to put me into labor. I'd have to wait for it to take place and come in to the hospital when labor began. As she talked, I had to interrupt her. "You mean I have to deliver him? Can't you do a c-section? I can't do this." She explained to me that she couldn't do a c-section because that would put me at more risk, and since I was the only one they had to worry about, a traditional labor was what they'd have to do. 

I don't remember much else from the appointment. Since Brad had met me there, we had two cars in the parking garage. I would have to drive myself home. Looking back, I'm not sure that was a good idea and I don't know how I even did it. I still hadn't cried at this point. I kept thinking that I must be heartless. Why wasn't I crying? That all changed when I reached my car. I dialed my phone to call my mom. She happily answered the phone, assuming I was calling her to update her on my appointment. When I heard her voice, the tears came. The second call I made was to a friend. I told her that he was gone and I wanted her to spread the news. I didn't ever want to say those words again and I didn't want anyone to ask me about my pregnancy. The last call I made was to my longtime friend who had given birth to her stillborn son in 2006 at full term. 

My dad picked up the girls from school but he didn't tell them their brother had died. They came into my bedroom where Brad and I told them what had happened. From that moment on, there is very little I remember until the day he was born, two days later. 

I remember checking myself into L&D and thinking about the cruelty of the situation. Moms and dads were all around me, excited to welcome their babies into the world. For all they knew I was one of them, having the happiest day of my life. Little did they know I'd never been lower in my life. Telling the nurses at the front desk that I was there to deliver my baby who had passed away was excruciating. 

As I labored most of the day, I was filled with an indescribable peace but as the day went on the peace was replaced by severe anxiety and fear. I started shaking uncontrollably and the nurse gave me a sedative and asked everyone to leave the room. Within minutes of my family leaving the room, Matthew Lee was born. No nurses or doctors were there to coach me through like my previous deliveries, just Brad and me. Brad ran for help and the nurse quickly took my son and cleaned him up, just as if this was a normal delivery. She wrapped him up in a tiny blanket and hat, and placed him in my arms. The sedative I had just received was taking effect and my eyes could hardly stay open. I knew I needed to stay awake because this precious time with my son wouldn't last long. How could I even consider sleeping at a time like this? My family took turns holding my tiny son, weighing almost one pound. My pastor and friend was there with us and he baptized Matthew there in the room with most of the same family members who were there when he had baptized my daughter, Mia. "It's not supposed to be like this. How did this happen?" were the thoughts that kept running through my mind, as I fought to stay awake.

The days and weeks to come were a fog. Just getting through the day was difficult. After months of "wallowing" a friend told me that I needed to move on. Move on? I wasn't supposed to be sad anymore? Had I been sad for too long? I guess it was time to move on, so I did... or I tried to. 

For six years I tried to move on. I built walls around my heart so that I wouldn't feel the pain anymore. Apparently, I'm a great brick layer because my wall was water tight. I couldn't cry anymore, even when I wanted to. Unfortunately, joy and friendship couldn't get in either. I alienated myself from people in my life who weren't my family. I wouldn't risk any hurt. 

I didn't realize that this had happened until late 2016. While walking with a friend through her miscarriage, she told me that people were telling her she needed to move on. A switch flipped inside me. "No...NO! You don't have to move on," I told her. I realized that we'll never move on. We will carry on, but we wouldn't forget our babies. They're forever a part of us. I needed to share my story with moms who felt like my friend did at that moment. I needed them to know they weren't alone. There were so many mamas feeling like I had and like she was feeling now. 

This year has been a journey of finding my tears again, finding my joy again, building friendships and loving people again. It hasn't been easy, but in helping others work through their grief, I've been working through mine as well. I've learned the importance of feeling my feelings. I underestimated the significance of sharing my story.

Brené Brown talks about collective pain in her newest book, Braving the Wilderness. 

The collective pain (and sometimes joy) we experience when gathering in any way to celebrate the end of a life is perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of inextricable connection. Death, loss, and grief are the great equalizers.
— Brene Brown - Braving the Wilderness

Through collective pain and courageously sharing our stories, we can change the stigma surrounding loss together.