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.
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Kelly Brown is a birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator.