No one thinks it will happen to them.
Once you get past 12 weeks it’s kind of assumed that all is well and you are in the clear. It’s time to announce that a baby is coming and start decorating the nursery!
And no one wants to worry pregnant women–especially older pregnant women who aren’t always on the best side of statistics.
But I want you to read this anyway…
Because if it happens to you, in the back of your mind you are going to remember some of this and it will hopefully help you through one of the hardest things a family can go through…delivering their baby who will never take that first breath.
Stillbirth is generally defined as a baby passing away and being delivered any time after 20 weeks. It happens in 1 in 160 pregnancies in the US; that’s 24,000 babies per year in the U.S. It often happens disproportionately for women of color. To put this in perspective, 3500 babies die of SUIDS per year and we all are aware of it and do everything we can to prevent it. Stillbirth happens ten times as often and we rarely talk about it…until it happens to us.
My daughter was healthy and passing every checkup with flying colors. There was no cause for concern and we were ready to bring another little one into our family. At 39 weeks and 3 days of pregnancy, I felt some contractions and got excited, but after a long night of walking they stopped. It was then that I realized I hadn’t felt the baby kick for a while. So we did all the things they say to do–drank cold juice, poked her, talked to her, waited and then went in to be checked.
We then heard the words that stop everything, “I’m sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.”
A lot of people don’t understand that when your baby dies, they don’t just disappear. You still have to deliver them, and in most cases, a vaginal delivery is recommended. Although you will likely be in shock, I want you to remember that you have some time. Gather yourself. Call your loved ones. Arrange childcare and work. You can may even be able to go home and pack a bag.
The thought of going through labor and delivery may seem daunting and impossible, but you can do it. This is the part where you have to dig deep and do what needs to be done because you are strong, and your baby is still your baby.
Many hospitals have a wonderful bereavement program, but others do not. This is where you need to advocate for yourself. When your baby is born, they should still be treated like a baby. They can be bathed. They can be dressed and wrapped in a blanket. You can hold your baby. You can spend time with them. Ask your doctor or nurse what to expect.
You might be scared of what that will be like, and that’s OK. You might also be overwhelmed with love and curiosity and totally comfortable with holding your baby. Either way, you can still make memories during this time.
There are many organizations that will help and support this process. You can have pictures taken. If this is not offered, reach out to someone. Taking photos may seem uncomfortable or morbid, but these moments are short and any memory you make is worth it. You don’t have to look at them until you are ready, but please take the pictures; even if it’s on your phone.
Get hand and foot prints. Study your baby and their tiny features. Dress your baby. Talk to her, sing to her, give him a kiss. Rock in the rocking chair. Read a book. If possible, have as many people meet the baby as you can, including siblings. As you grieve a baby you never really got to know, having others who are connected to him or her will mean a lot. Call your religious leaders so they can support you as well.
There is no need to rush. Often families do not want to be in the hospital, but take your time. If your baby is kept cool, you can stay even for hours to a couple of days. You will know when it’s time to go.
Find out what the procedures are in your area for what to do next. It’s heart breaking and out of order to be planning a burial, funeral or cremation for your little one, but you can do this. Ask lots of questions so you know your options.
More importantly, take care of you physically. You just had a baby. Your body doesn’t know he died, so your hormones will be rushing and your milk will come in. Wear a supportive bra and use heat and cold as necessary to relieve engorgement. Some women decide to donate their milk, so that is also an option. You are your baby’s parents. You get to decide what happens, even in a shocking situation like stillbirth. Take care of yourself emotionally as well. You will need support. There are many resources online and in person.
Delivering my daughter was one of the most beautiful and difficult things I have ever done. I’m so grateful I had people there to support us and help us make memories.
You are stronger than you think, and if you ever find yourself in this situation, remember that. One step at a time, you will bring your baby into this world. You will spend time with him or her, and you will say goodbye for now. And you will continue living and loving your baby, just in a different way than you had planned.