Fourteen months later, there I was... different house... different everything... ticking 'still birth'. Trembling hands held onto that pen and a pain between my heart and my belly felt like it would destroy me.
Our parenting journey took a turn we weren't expecting. Our little boy - Isaiah- had been affected by strep B that is apparently carried by 15-45% of all healthy women. It had crossed the placenta which was a 1 in 10,000 chance thing. Normally it's no big deal, just a jab with some antibiotics an hour or so before the birth. The only concern is a minor one during delivery. But this time, that infection did what it never normally does and it crossed over to my little boy. I went into early labour. After an ultrasound that revealed no heartbeat, we went through all the pain and held a little lifeless one at the end. I remember Marty taking him straight over to the window and pulling back the curtain. He held him up and prayed and cried. Then a week later we put him in the ground and it poured that whole night. He should have been snuggled up warm next to me.
Now 7 1/2 years and two more baby girls later I can still vividly remember so many details about those awful few days and then the grinding grief over years, but I don't have that tearing feeling anymore. I am thankful, so thankful for that. I am hesitant to do anything more than share a small part of my story because everyone who has experienced a stillbirth has their own story of grief and ways they moved through it. Maybe not everything that helped me would help another.
There are so many things that are difficult about losing a baby in this way, that I don't really know where to start, but I will plunge in. Gearing up to walk out of that hospital with no baby in your arms. Going home to baby clothes that you no longer need. Having your milk come in and no baby to give it to, so you swell and nearly explode. Having to make decisions about a funeral and any decisions at all. Meeting people in the street who knew you were pregnant but hadn't heard your news and their question- 'So where is your baby?' People kindly wanting to rush you onto "all things working together for good". Seeing other people's pain because they love you and are wrapped up in it too and wish things could be different. I will stop, but there are many more.
Looking back I am especially grateful to Marty- my husband. Despite his own pain, he was able to think things through in those traumatic first days and help me participate in making plans and decisions to honour this little person who had never taken a breath but who was real and precious. Living in a different country and culture now, I have met women who never held their baby or did anything to mark his or her existence. Maybe the following few suggestions are not possible in all situations, and there are definitely other ways of treasuring and remembering a baby who has been lost, but here's what helped me. My personality (extravert, action girl), also means I needed certain things that perhaps would make it harder for others, so bear that in mind. I have also gone on to have more children. That has helped.
* Having time with my baby and holding him was important.
* Taking photos was important.
* 'Introducing' him to significant people was good.
* Asking those significant people to pray for us was good.
* Having time (a lot of it), just Marty and I with our baby, and then after he had been taken away lots more time just the two of us. Just 'being together' and doing what ever we needed to do to express what was going on for each of us in that swirling moment.
* A funeral to mark his life publicly.
* Marty making his coffin with a friend.
* Choosing clothes to bury him in.
* Mentioning Isaiah in conversation and using his name, and having others gently do this too.
* Planting something in his memory
* Having a few trusted friends to unload on whenever I needed to. Saying the same things over and over, crying, being angry.
* Allowing myself to do weird and slightly crazy things like telling a complete stranger i had a baby boy two months ago but he died. Accepting an awkward end to the conversation.
* Writing, writing, writing in a journal/ journals. Any old, unstructured combination of words. (I had several full by the end of the first year and somehow they got lost in a move. Another thing to let go of... but then maybe it was the process that had actually been the most important thing, not to be able to relive it all now by re-reading it!)
* Making a baby book with photos and other bits and pieces. (Not only photos of him, but also photos of when I was pregnant as he had been part of those events too)
* Making a cake or doing something simple to remember on his birthday.
* Including my other children in remembering him. (A few birthdays back, the two daughters I had at that time and I found 5 special things (a leaf, a gum nut) each and laid them on his grave. We then prayed a simple prayer each while holding hands.)
* Some people like to buy a ring or a bracelet or something to remember.
* A candle for remembering moments.
* Letting people's comments that were not helpful for me roll off. I would have a brief rant about it to someone and then remind myself that this was my journey and they didn't really understand.
Three or four years after Isaiah's death, a friend told me about a dream she had four days before I had given birth to him. It was all a bit weird and she hadn't told me about it before, but it triggered a whole lot of things I had been holding onto for years. Fear that if I let myself be healed then somehow Isaiah was less real. That I had to protect and maintain that little space in me that was still raw to prove he had existed. That marked a new stage in letting God heal me more fully. I came to trust that Isaiah was a loved and intentionally created person who would continue to be that whether i continued to live with a broken part in me or continued to live free from the gut wrenching grief. But I don't believe I could have rushed onto this straight after experiencing a still birth. Timing and all the other things God was doing in my life were an equally significant part of the whole. You can't rush true and deep healing.
While on a rare moment I might have a situation that prompts a niggle of fear about losing another child; for me, this whole experience has brought some kind of freedom. I would never want to experience grief like that again, and I get choked up when i hear of others beginning their own gruelling grief walk, but in a strange way I know in a still deeper place that I can live and have joy and enjoy beauty on the other side. That God is good, and that there are mysteries I might never fathom. My three girls- especially the oldest one- have an understanding of death and a compassion for others that i think has come through being part of our family and the open way in which we have always talked about Isaiah. While this also means some deep questioning and confusion for little hearts I believe it is all part of a real and robust journey that starts when we are young."
From my dear friend P.