Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day
They say having a child is like having your heart live outside of your body. But is that true if your baby has passed on to the next realm? If you carry the grief of your ‘lost’ child with you everyday, every moment, through every interaction with other living, breathing humans in this world?
Today, October 15, is internationally recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. The word loss is a challenging word to reconcile with. The dryer inevitably eats socks and you have a “lost sock bag” hanging on your closet door hoping for a fateful reunion. You can lose your car keys in the bottom of your too big bag. You can lose pocket change to the depths of the couch. But losing a child - a child who was and is so loved, so wanted, so magical? That’s a type of loss that is indescribable and breaks a heart wide open in ways most people will luckily never understand.
On March 31 of this year I was attending the most magical birth. My clients and I had gotten to know each other throughout the previous six months. Bonding over our farming (mis)adventures, meeting on the coldest days of October and January. Laughing about things I can’t recall now, sitting in their car having given up on trying to keep warm under heat lamps and a brisk walk around the block trying to bring some warmth back to our bodies. Answering questions about the many “what-ifs” of birth. When they went into labor and I joined them at the hospital it was such a fun birth - despite the fact that mom was working her tail off (as laboring people do) to bring her baby earthside. We walked the halls, mom labored in the tub and shower, she rested, we had chill music and a kick-ass pump up the jams playlist complete with terrible and hysterical dancing. We joked about how this April baby might decide March was better then joked how the little stinker would find it fun to be born on April Fools Day. Mom continued to labor, the clock struck midnight and at 1:33 a.m. on April 1 sweet MM was born. My clients gave me the honor of cutting her cord. She was finally here.
In a matter of moments our worlds were shaken upside down. The room flooded with people. The NAN (neonatal assessment nurse a.k.a. Baby nurse) took MM to the warmer as she was not responding. At first we thought she was shocked from the trauma of birth and just wasn’t responding as immediately as we had all hoped. But in moments she never cried. To watch my clients cling to one another, Mom unsure of exactly what was or wasn’t happening was gut wrenching to witness. It’s one of the bingo squares you never hope to check off as a doula. I watched the NAN do CPR and I tried to stay strong for my clients. This was all so terribly unexpected. Within minutes there were at least fifteen people in the room, nurses stunned, still tending to Mom, others attending to MM. After about 20 or 25 minutes of care it was determined that nothing else could be done. The Cuddle Cot was brought into the room (this special bed allows a baby to be cooled and remain in the room with the parents), I called Helen Joy who is a photographer with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, I took some photos as well. I gave my clients some space to start the grieving process. A bit later the neonatologist came to see them and I followed her into the room. She sat with them at the bedside, listened to MM’s heart and lungs, and pronounced her dead at 2:33 a.m. We all sobbed.
MM was/is PERFECT. An angel baby that is now truly an angel. It was incomprehensible. I’ll never forget leaving their room to get warm blankets for Mom. As I approached the blanket warmer I sank down to my knees, pounding the wall and just being distressed. I had that moment and then tried to wipe my eyes and compose myself so I could support my clients. There were a handful of nurses outside their room and across the hall. All of us were just in shock and sadness.
I somehow made my way home, pounding my hands on the steering wheel, sobbing in the darkness, screaming. I climbed into bed and my husband had asked how everything went when I just crumbled and told him we lost the baby. It’s such an odd relationship being a doula - our clients often aren’t just clients - they become family of sorts. We witness them grow a baby, see them at their most vulnerable, celebrate as they welcome their newest family member into the world. And we also grieve alongside them. Their loss is our loss though experienced and felt differently.
The next few births I attended were internally challenging for me. The next time I walked into their birth room I paused outside before entering, put my hand on the room numbers and door and asked that MM guide me and protect me and the family I was supporting. I feel her presence everytime I’m in that room. I also compartmentalize that experience so I can be fully present for the clients I’m supporting at that moment. There’s not a birth that happens in the “after” that I don’t think of MM or her parents. This was by far the most challenging experience as a doula and a human.
Today as I think of my own baby who I miscarried between my girls, the babies that my closest friends have lost, the child my mom carried between my two youngest sisters, MM, and so many others, I light a candle in their names and their beings. I also specifically light this candle and hold my clients in my heart today as they continue to navigate this year without their beloved daughter. You all are never far away in my thoughts and in my heart.
Some births just stick with you as a doula. Last year on this date was no exception.
The week prior we had a whomper of a snow storm - 8-10 inches of snow fell. My client and her husband took beautiful pictures of her round belly outside on their deck with the snow covered hills and mountains as a backdrop. They joked about having this baby at home with no power and 8 inches of snow and hoped that wouldn't be the case!
The snow mostly melted over the week and schools were back in session. I hadn't heard anything from my clients so was going about my day as usual. My kids were up and ready for school - the last day before Christmas break. On the way I received a call from my client saying she thought labor was starting but nothing exciting was happening yet and I had time to drop the kids off and then head her way.
I got the kids dropped off and was headed home to change and get my stuff ready when I received a second call. She said things were picking up but she was doing okay. Her husband is a chef at a country club and he'd been called to come back home but wasn't there yet. I asked if anyone else was home with her as she was anticipating family for the holidays and she said no, just her daughter, who was 3. I told her I was going to change and come right to her so I could support her until her husband got there. I was about 1/2 way home when I received a third call.
The third call came from her husband. You KNOW when the husband or partner calls that shit has gotten real. He told me that she was contracting pretty quickly and he needed my support, N-O-W. Baby was coming and coming fast. I instructed him to get off the phone with me and call 911. The last thing I heard was my client in the background, "Kelly, I need you N-O-W..." with a low grunting tone in her voice. I knew she was pushing.
To this day I have no recollection as to where I turned my car around. I turned it around and raced to their house. A house I had never been to because they had moved in not long ago and we did our prenatal visit at my office since their house was still in disarray from the move. I found it based on the flashing lights of the ambulance.
I let myself in and immediately picked up their daughter who witnessed the whole thing - we had met a few times prior so I wasn't a complete stranger to her. Some of the paramedics were in the living room and I asked where mom was. She was in the bathroom catching her breath from the birth and waiting to deliver the placenta.
It was the craziest thing to see - her sitting on the toilet holding her newborn daughter, her older daughter vacillating between seeing what mom is doing and entertaining the paramedics. I went into work mode and got my client some warm wash clothes to clean up her legs, some hot tea and something to eat, and started tidying up the house.
Her husband, a chef, whipped her up a breakfast wrap and served it to her while she was on the toilet.
Once the placenta was delivered and it was clear that she was stable the paramedics left. The now family of four snuggled into bed for a bit to bond and feed the baby and catch their breath after the whirlwind of the morning.
I started a load of laundry, made sure their daughter was feeling supported, and helped get them all bundled in the car for a postpartum check, instead of a birth, at the WNC Birth Center.
When I teach second time parents a Refresher Class I always remind them 'different birth, different baby' and that second babies are generally more efficient birthers. You've got to have plan A, B, C, and maybe even D with a second baby! And sometimes that baby wants to just be born at home on the toilet into mamas arms!
Happy first birthday, Ceci. And happy birthing day, mama!