A Community of Support
When you are expecting your first child, you are excited and nervous and don’t know what to expect. So, you sign up for birth classes and read all the books and blog articles. You research pain management options and ask everyone you encounter if they will share their birth story. You click on any article that promises “5 Ways to Soothe a Fussy Baby” or “15 Things to Boost Milk Supply”. There is a lot to read and learn and prepare for when it comes to pregnancy and labor and birth.
In all of the information and preparations, what is almost never shared is that sometimes babies die. One in four women know this firsthand. Because people don’t like to talk about the realities of pregnancy and infant loss, many women walk through this devastating loss alone. If you are reading this and have lost a baby from an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of an infant; you are not alone. I see you. I acknowledge your pain. I know it intimately myself.
The summer of 2015 I was expecting my first child. I had left my teaching job planning to stay home with my baby that fall. We took the Bradley Method Childbirth class with Sarah Carter and I felt equipped and empowered for a natural birth. We toured the hospital, took a breastfeeding class, and attended the session for water birth so I could labor in the water. Only my husband and I knew that we were having a girl. We couldn’t wait to share her name with the world once she was born.
On September 3, a morning of contractions increased in frequency over the afternoon and we headed to the hospital that evening. Upon being admitted, we learned I was barely dilated. My husband called Sarah to ask if we should stay or go home. I wanted to stay and set up the tub to labor in the water. After some monitoring, our midwife agreed that I should stay. Our little one’s heart beat was steady and strong but not reacting to contractions. The plan was that I would be admitted and receive fluids. Once baby was reactive, we could blow up the birth tub.
After being admitted, the nurse could not locate our baby’s heart rate as easily as they had found it in admitting. Two more nurses came and then they called my midwife. She came in the room with another nurse and a portable ultrasound. I knew at that point they were looking for a heartbeat. A hospital staff OBGYN ran in the room and called a stat C-section.
Immediately my bed was moving through the hallway and my husband and family were left in shock and tears. Everything happened fast and I was put under general anesthesia. Later, I regained consciousness to hear my husband tell our midwife that he didn’t know how to tell me. My eyes opened as her voice said, “When Emma was born, her heart was not beating and her body did not respond to attempts at resuscitation.”
September 3, 2015 is the day I met my beautiful first born child and it’s the day I became a bereaved mother. I was able to spend time with Emma. A friend drove down from the mountains in the night to preserve that precious time with my girl. 36 hours after her birth, I left the hospital without my baby girl.
I came home and realized that while I had bookmarked “15 Things to Boost Milk Supply” I was totally unprepared for managing my milk after the death of my child. I was affronted that my body didn’t seem to know what had happened. There was no baby to feed. Sarah reached out to two other moms who had lost a child and they shared how the handled their milk supply. I chose to suppress my milk supply. Other bereaved moms I’ve met have chosen to pump and donate their milk to friends or hospital milk banks.
The one in four women who experience pregnancy and infant loss are all around us. We are often walking around next to women who know the grief of child loss first hand. Ectopic pregnancy. Miscarriage. Stillbirth. Infant death. I began to learn stories as friends messaged me condolences and some shared about the sibling they never got the chance to meet. I learned that sometimes babies die. A previous coworker came over and shared her story. She told me that an organization called Heartstrings provides a community of support for grieving parents. After her son’s death she attended a Heartstrings Support Group. I remembered getting a brochure from the hospital chaplain and located it. I then called Heartstrings right away. The staff member listened to my story and validated my pain. I was interested in grief counseling and she emailed me a few options. Heartstrings had Connections, a program that connects newly bereaved parents to a parent with a similar loss who is at least a year out. That mentor parent checks in with you regularly for three months. Heartstrings, counseling, and my Connections match were huge components of my life after loss.
Emma would have turned four this fall. She would be same age as the Pre-K children I taught while pregnant with her. Every fall for 15 years Heartstrings has held a Walk for Remembrance and Hope each October. October is the month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness. Organizations all over the world hold events to recognize and remember our babies who died. This year I am the chair of Heartstrings Walk. It is bittersweet because this Walk is also Heartstrings’ final event. For 15 years Heartstrings has been the go to resource for bereaved families in the Triad. It’s one of only two such organizations in the state of North Carolina. As Heartstrings says goodbye, many of us are asking who else will tell newly bereaved families they aren’t alone?
I invite anyone who has been touched by pregnancy and infant loss to attend Heartstrings 15th Walk for Remembrance and Hope on October 12th at Triad Park in Kernersville. Register and find more information about the Walk here.
Learn more about Heartstrings and find support resources here.
Natural Baby Doulas will be at the Heartstrings Walk this year and we would love for our clients to come see us there!