“Many people just avoided me altogether …”
This week I’ve been reading 25 random facts about all kinds of folks on Facebook. One particular fact pops up over and over. Every parent mentions how much their kids mean to them. “My kids are my life.” “I can’t imagine being without my children.” “My kids changed me forever,” and so on and so forth. Being a parent is one of those timeless, instinctual rites of passage that most people hope to experience. No one needs to tell you that.
My first pregnancy was unplanned, stressful, and emotionally challenging. But when that tiny person emerged, making me a mother, it took its place as the single most fantastical, magical moment of my life. Like the Grinch, my heart grew at least three sizes that day. I can’t fathom how it would feel to anticipate that moment for nine months only to be faced with death. Newsweek ran a touching article this week on a growing trend in which parents of stillborn infants have professional photographs taken to commemorate their experience. Apparently, it’s becoming a unique avenue to capture the beauty that is hidden within their heartache, a way to hold on–in a healthy way–to what they cannot have. And according to Newsweek, it’s provided the first glimpse of healing for many. The beautiful photographs remind them year after year that their child was real, and that their hearts did grow despite the silence of those tiny feet.
Several years ago, Vikki, a single, highly-educated professional lived through the challenge of an unplanned pregnancy only to have it end in heartache. Vikki hasn’t talked openly about her ordeal with many, and suspected that writing about it might be a good first step for her. Her experience and insight gives us all a more realistic understanding of this particular tragic aberration. For those who have lived through it, Vikki’s story relays that you are not alone. And for the rest of us, it provides insight into how we might, once again, become a better friend.
You experienced and survived every pregnant woman’s and parent’s nightmare. Can you tell us what happened?
I lost my baby about a week before he was due to be born.
I found out that I was pregnant at work. I remember feeling this incredible urge to find out and so I left work to run to the drugstore to pick up a pregnancy test. I came back and went to the ladies room where I held my breath, peed on the stick, and waited for three minutes. Sure enough, I was 28 years old and pregnant. My very first thought was abortion, which haunts me because I am and have always been very much against abortion. After that initial thought, I remember thinking, “Well, I’ll be in my 20’s when I have a baby and that will be nice.” When I walked out of the restroom, I saw a colleague, who was this tiny sweet woman whom I loved dearly. I practically fell on top of her and started crying. The poor woman had no idea what was going on.
My thoughts ran to the father, with whom I had been in a relationship. I met him when I was 26. I knew he would be a good dad. I knew the exact moment of conception. We were on shaky ground, but I knew he loved me and that he would be happy. I told him and he asked me to marry him almost immediately.
I remember the stress of telling my parents. I waited until after Christmas because I wanted to keep the illusion of normalcy during the holidays–interesting how I felt that way at the time. When I finally told them, it was in my parent’s living room. I sat in a chair across from the sofa, where my parents sat, holding hands. They were supportive and loving. They knew I had not planned for this and their reaction soothed me.
My boyfriend and I purchased a house together. The move in date was right around the time the baby would be born, which was stressful because I wanted to have a nice nursery in place. I had everything ready to go when we moved in–the theme was “Winnie the Pooh.” I had four baby showers! I had everything I would need for the baby’s first six months, and I started to fall in love with him. I loved feeling his kicks. I read all the books.
I did everything right.
The week before the due date, my boyfriend and I went to a local hospital to take birthing classes. The next morning, we both noticed a lack of movement. I wasn’t too concerned because I had read that the movement is not as pronounced in the third trimester. Nevertheless, I went to the hospital to have an ultrasound. I remember the nurse looking stoic. She was normally so warm so I knew something was wrong. I said, “Is something wrong?” and she said, “Well, let’s just wait for the doctor.” She wheeled me back to a hospital room and left me there to wonder. The doctor came in, looked at me, then at her, and said, “Did you tell her yet?” I looked at her. She looked back at the doctor, and then he said to me, “Your baby has died.”
We all experience and express grief differently. How did you initially cope and how did that change over time?
I had to wait at the hospital to have the baby. I had to be induced. I sat there for a week, knowing that I was carrying around my baby, who had been strangled by the umbilical cord. I kept thinking–the baby was alive last week! If only I had had a C-section, he would be alive today. I went into my own head and turned away all visitors. I called my best friend and asked her to tell people because I couldn’t. I told the nurses that I didn’t want to see anyone, except for my parents and my boyfriend. My boyfriend stayed with me. When I finally went into labor, he rubbed my legs. I was in pain and I was so mad that I was in pain–how dare there be more pain after this! I wanted them to give me any drugs necessary. I remember one annoying nurse getting in my face and telling me that I had to be patient. I was anything but patient. I was so mad at everyone.
When I finally came home, we had to move the next day–into the house we purchased–without Curran, our baby. Hardly anything was packed. We were all so distracted by Curran’s absence. I kept getting flowers. I gave them all to my mom. I was trying to pack. I remember my parents putting plates in newspaper and then putting them in boxes. I still looked pregnant. I was useless. I carried boxes, but I was in a different place. Everybody told me to relax. We dragged the mattress into the new living room and slept in there that night, by the fireplace under the skylights. For weeks I sat on the new deck and looked out into the woods behind my house. I got all kind of cards and letters. They sit unopened in a box, still to this day. All of the baby’s things were stored in my boyfriend’s parent’s attic.
That was when I decided to take the remaining five courses to get my bachelor’s degree. I took them all in one semester while working full time. I threw myself into work and school.
How did the support you received from others impact the situation? What were the most helpful or useful gestures made by others?
People were so supportive and I leaned on them and felt their love. My boyfriend’s parents arranged for a funeral with a tiny coffin. My aunt brought me a painting and said that it reminded her of Curran. It still hangs in what would have been his room. My mom’s friend made us all dinner and didn’t stay because she knew we needed time to heal. My boyfriend’s sister lost a little girl herself (in the sixth month of pregnancy), and she was totally there for me (and still is). Some of the things that stick in my mind are how my boyfriend stayed with me through everything, how my parents were there for me, how my colleagues took up a collection and sent me a check. They invited me to lunch a week before I had to go back to work so that I could ease back in. One of my friends invited me to the jersey shore for a weekend. We sat on the beach and she told me that the dolphins reminded her of Curran. At that moment we saw a big school of dolphins swim by. We cried together. We wondered if Curran was making his presence known. She later gave me a necklace with a silver dolphin. Also, my mom had a dream that her father, who had passed, was holding Curran and saying that everything would be okay–Curran was at peace. She said that there were all kinds of strange and new colors in the dream and it had to be heaven.
I believe time heals all wounds but that some heartbreak never completely goes away. The most positive thing we can do is find a positive and/or rewarding place for the scars of our past by focusing on the growth they can bring. Of course, it’s not an easy thing to do. Do you believe that time heals all wounds? What role has time played for you?
Time helps but I agree, the pain is always there. This is the first time I have written about this experience and it’s all coming back to me. Frankly, I tend to push it away. Talking about it so intimately is harder than I expected it to be. I have grown since losing Curran, but it makes me feel selfish to think about his contribution to my growth. What did I do for him?
I often wonder how we fully share ourselves with others, aberrations, warts, and all. I questions whether I should share my painful past, or if it’s best to hold some things back and pretend they never happened. Do you find it in any way difficult to relate to your peers who haven’t experience such a tragedy? Do you reserve this huge aberration for yourself, or have you been able to share it with others?
I can share with others but as it’s so personal, I pick and choose the parts to share. Frankly, I think people are uncomfortable talking about it with me. After I went back to work, I remember seeing a friend and co-worker who was pregnant at the same time I was. She had her baby. I asked her where the pictures were and she pulled them out of a drawer, telling me that someone recommended that she hide them. I told her that she should display them everywhere–our situations were entirely different and I was so happy for her. Many people just avoided me altogether, and I sympathized. What could they say?
Now that several years passed, can you yet begin to see how your experience has impacted your life or the person you are today? Do you think it will continue to have an impact?
It will always be there. It shaped who I am in so many ways. The relationship with my boyfriend ended eventually. I couldn’t handle the fact that he tried to push me into marrying him (we never married), and I always blamed him for being pregnant in the first place. I blamed him for giving me a baby that I loved and lost. I blamed him for being the source of my pain. I gave him a check for his portion of the house, and I still live here today. It was unfair.
Once I got my degree, I applied to a Master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania. After being accepted, I asked what it was that got me into the program, as it’s was highly competitive. They told me they were impressed by the fact that I was able to carry a full course load with a full time job. They said that I must be dedicated to achieve such an accomplishment. The truth is that I loved school, but I would not have thrown myself into it to that extent if it wasn’t for Curran. Curran made many things possible for me.
What are the top three things we can do for someone who has lost a child?
1. I was comforted by the following quote: “Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” I think that it is important to share things that have comforted us with others who have been through similar heartache.
2. Everyone is different and handles grief in his or her own way. Be patient. Just be available. Let the person experiencing grief lean on you. He or she needs you now, more than ever, even if they don’t say they need you.
3. Don’t forget about dad. He is suffering, too. A friend at work recently said that she lost a baby, and nobody asked her husband how he was. They only asked him how she was doing. The same goes for other family members, friends. They are all experiencing a loss.
I would have given Curran my whole heart. He would have been cherished by so many and would have grown to be a great man. There is no doubt in my mind that Curran was exceptional. It is sad for all of us that we never really got to know him.
“If Tears Could Build a Stairway and Memories a Lane, I’d Walk Right up to Heaven, and Bring You Home Again”. Curran M Passed Away: July 23, 2002
Mommy and Daddy Will Never Forget Our Little Angel