Stillborn: Dealing with My Baby’s Birth and Death
“Oh, it was a girl.”
Those were the words I uttered on November 5th, 2009, when I saw my dead daughter. I did not cry. It would take me a few days to shed tears. The ultrasound at 26 weeks detected a girl (I named her Sayde), and now, here she was.
I stared at her very tiny, frail, darkened body. She must have been dead for some time. I didn’t know exactly when she had died in the womb. That morning I had intense contractions, and thought she was still alive, but coming early at 34 weeks. My husband chose not to go to work and took me to the La Romaine Health Centre instead. It was there that they couldn’t detect the baby’s heartbeat, and I was sent with a letter to the San Fernando General Hospital.
I was shocked. It took me some time to understand what an undetected heartbeat meant. The nurses wouldn’t explain to me, without a doctor’s permission. But two of them had their way of breaking the news to me. When I was admitted to the labour ward, and a test for the heartbeat was done, the nurse asked if I had ever lost a baby. And in the ward, after I demanded an answer to what was going on, one of the nurses asked, “What happens when your heart stops beating?” My reply was, “It means I’m dead”. It was only then that it clicked. My baby was dead. An ultrasound later that day confirmed her death.
“What happens when your heart stops beating?” My reply was, “It means I’m dead”.
One of the nurses who delivered Sayde gently placed her on the silver pan, and as they did so, her mouth opened slightly. That image frightened me. The nurse then showed me the umbilical cord tightly wrapped around the baby’s neck. The nurse let me hold her, and said that I should pray with her. My daughter was silent. She did not look at me. She couldn’t. This wasn’t how I had pictured our first meeting. She was supposed to cry, and her eyes were supposed to meet mine when I looked at her.
The placenta was shrivelled. My pain still lingered. I received an injection in my upper thigh, and the nurse forcefully fingered my belly in a sideways motion. A maternity pad was then put in place.
Surprisingly, a nurse helped me down to the wheelchair. I didn’t expect that because during labour, when it was time to push, I had to practically beg any nurse to help me hold behind my knees. I was weak and exhausted, and they had expected me to have great strength to give birth to my dead baby. Luckily, there was one sympathetic nurse in my section of the room who helped me.
I was given a warm, chocolate drink, and it comforted me while I was in the wheelchair. When I looked away from my cup, I saw a baby, warmly wrapped in a blanket. It was not mine. My baby was off somewhere being cleaned by a nurse, in preparation for viewing.
Afterwards, I was taken to meet my visitors. I wondered what must be going through my husband’s mind. I did not see much of him, after I was admitted to the ward. When my aunt saw me, with teary eyes, she said, “She was pretty”.
My mom, aunt and mother-in-law all looked sad. They left me after a quick visit, and I was taken to my new bed, among the other mothers who had given birth. I began to wonder if I was still a mother, even though my baby was born dead. Maybe Sayde thought we didn’t love her enough. I even blamed myself for the times that I wished I were pregnant with a boy. I then decided to text my friends, to let them know that I’d lost my baby. At the time, I had thought that this was a good way to share what had happened, hoping it would make the tragedy easier to deal with.
After four days in the hospital, I returned home, but was still very restless. I spent most of my time doing research on the Internet. I had to learn more about stillbirth.
The next day, I was required to register the death of my baby. I could have changed my mind about naming my baby, but I didn’t. She was still Sayde Kaitlyn Mohammed, and I acknowledged that. When the hospital released her body, she was given a proper, Muslim burial. Almost two years later, I still hurt immensely when I have to relate my experience.
Babies, whether planned or not come into our lives. Sayde came into my life around March 2009. I got married in June 2009 and lost her in November 2009. I was 22 years old at the time and my life had changed drastically. I was very sick in pregnancy. My immune system wasn’t the same, and I was plagued with urinary tract infections and a kidney infection, along with high blood pressure. I wasn’t experiencing a fulfilling and exciting pregnancy, as I thought I would.
All these physical and emotional changes are supposed to be worth it, when you give birth and see your beautiful baby. But I still question if these changes were worth it for me. I thought pregnancy was about creating life, not death. I faced the ugly truth that babies can die during pregnancy.
“A baby can’t simply be replaced by another one.”
The road to recovery from a stillbirth is filled with bright days from time to time, and many setbacks. Losing a baby forcefully plunges you into each stage of grief. When you grieve, you feel the instant shock and pain of how unexpected a pregnancy loss seems. You blame yourself, wondering what you did wrong. You show the utmost anger towards God. You become highly depressed, especially when the breast milk comes in with no baby to feed. But during this time, it helps to have the support of the baby’s father, and that of other mothers who have also had a pregnancy loss.
My husband was very supportive and we were able to grieve as a couple. We supported each other because we were both expectant parents who shared a close bond with Sayde. From the moment her heard her first heartbeat, he closely bonded with Sayde. When we were almost certain it was a girl, he happily chose her middle name Kaitlyn. He was amazed by her first kick, describing the movement “like a snake in [my] belly”. He even had a companion in the night while I slept. He confessed to stroking my belly, when I was asleep, just to feel the baby’s kicks and turns. For Halloween, he excitedly painted a jack -o- lantern on my belly. These are the moments that will always matter to him.
All expectant mothers and fathers develop close bonds with their babies, whether they realize it or not. Therefore, it is important to comfort both mothers and fathers in times of pregnancy losses. Men grieve differently from women, but just the simple act of looking into their eyes to acknowledge the fact that they suffered a great loss too will be very comforting to them.
I do not know if I can stress it enough, but it is important that the baby’s existence and death become a reality that can be shared with family and friends. Time is needed to grieve the loss of a baby. When someone loses a baby, that baby must be acknowledged. It was a life that ended too soon, and should be acknowledged accordingly.
While talking to other mothers who experienced a similar ordeal, I have realized that sometimes friends and relatives really do not know how to comfort you, and may say the most insensitive things, without realizing it. They are always quick to advise you about “having another one”. But a baby can’t simply be replaced by another one.
Expectant mothers hold their babies close to their hearts, and have dreams and hopes for their child. Losing a child shatters them, and a mother will always grieve the loss of that baby, and hurt for all the experiences and memories that she can no longer have. When you can’t get comfort from family and friends, it helps to talk to others who shared a similar loss. They truly ‘know how you feel’, and can carry you across the bridge to recovery and healing.
Understandably, many people are unsure of how to comfort parents who have lost a baby during pregnancy, and tend to isolate them. Instead, the approach that can be taken is to acknowledge the baby’s life and death and offer a listening ear. I appreciated when family and friends visited me at the hospital and at home. I was comforted by their presence. They didn’t need to say anything; they just needed to be there. And even now, almost two years later, I appreciate when people remember Sayde’s birthday, and acknowledge me on Mother’s Day.
Despite my tragic loss at age 22, I have become a poet, and formed new friendships and bonds with other mothers who have also suffered the loss of a baby. They still have the ability to comfort me, when I feel defeated. What has also been helpful is revisiting the website www.missingsolace.com. In the early stages of my grief, the information I found on this website provided me with the right foundation to build a new life without my daughter.
Pregnancy is risky, and, when a baby dies, a mother struggles to come to terms with being the only survivor. After reading this story, if there is someone you know who has lost a baby, reach out to that person and show some love and support.
Image credit: bethjones.net