October 15 is a special day for me and probably for so many other parents out there. For those who don’t know, today marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. According to the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network, as many as 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage and each year in Canada there are approximately 6 stillborn infants in 1000 total births. That’s a high number and yet so many women still feel shame about their experience. I cannot help but feel saddened by this because sharing each other’s stories of love and loss only connects us more as human beings. For me, sharing my story really helped me with my grieving process and allowed me to believe that one day I would give birth to a beautiful healthy child; and I did.
So, for those who don’t know my story, I share it with you today in remembrance of our little Milan that we had already loved so much.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a warm Friday morning, a surprisingly odd state for mid-march in Canada. I was 23 weeks pregnant and not feeling right. I had gotten over my morning sickness (or more like my all-day sickness) and nothing to date had caused me to be concerned about the health of my soon-to-be son. I attended all my regular ob-gyn appointments, and I was reassured on a number of occasions that he was developing well and strong. I did everything I was supposed to as an expecting mother and followed all the tips I could find online and on the many mobile apps I had downloaded. I was doing everything right. I should have been feeling as well as any healthy pregnant woman in her second trimester.
But that morning was different.
I got up and got ready to go to work, like any other day. “I haven’t felt him kick today,” I told my husband over breakfast. “Do you think something is wrong with the baby?” He assured me that everything was probably fine and our little boy might still be sleeping. “But he always kicks around 8 a.m., and its been a little over a day since I have felt any movement,” I persisted. He looked at me with a smile that implied “you worry too much” and changed the subject. Maybe I was stressing out for nothing?
I got to work, and as was becoming the norm, my colleagues would ask how I was feeling and some would go right to touching my belly. I told them things were fine and I tried to focus my attention on my work but to no success. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was seriously wrong with the baby. I turned to some of my female colleagues who were older and wiser, and who were experienced mothers.
“I haven’t felt the baby kick in over a day. Should I be worried?” I asked them.
“No of course not! He’s probably just sleeping!” said a colleague.
“Have some chocolate or a glass of orange juice, that should get him going,” said another.
Okay, perhaps they were all right. After all, this was my first pregnancy that had gotten this far (I had previously had a miscarriage after 8 weeks of pregnancy).
As the time ticked away, the more unsettled I became. I had a fun weekend to look forward to but it was going to all be ruined by my irrational thoughts. I should just take myself to the hospital and get it checked out, I thought to myself. They’ll tell me things are fine and then I can go about the rest of my weekend being my happy and excited self.
I explained to my boss that I wasn’t feeling well and would like to leave a little early. Fortunately, she was incredibly understanding and told me to have a nice weekend. I got into my car and, without alerting anyone, I drove myself to the nearest hospital.
I made my way to the maternity ward and told a nurse about my concerns. “Is this your first pregnancy?” she asked. I told her it was and with a sympathetic look that read “awww cute, another emotional first time mom” she lead me right into a private room and told me to lie down. Her nonchalant reaction to my concerns actually began to reassure me. Maybe I was over reacting?
She took out a handheld instrument called a Doppler scan that is used to listen to your unborn baby’s heartbeat. She passed it over my bare belly and waited to hear a beat.
She tried again.
I could feel my heart racing as I thought, Dear God, something is wrong with him.
“hmmm I can’t seem to find his heart beat, but it is probably because he is in an awkward position. Let me get the ultrasound machine, don’t you worry,” said the nurse as she walks out the door leaving me alone in the room with my thoughts.
Please, please, please God don’t let there be anything wrong with my son. Please, I will do anything. I silently prayed as tears began rolling down my cheeks.
A few seconds later, the nurse returned with a rolling ultrasound machine. She also brought in another nurse. This couldn’t be good. Each minute that they spent looking for the heartbeat, the harder I cried. They called in the on-call gynaecologist who, after doing her own examination, told me the horrible news. There was no heartbeat. My unborn child had died.
There are no words to express how I felt at that very moment. Why did this happen? How did it happen? Why did it happen to me? What did I do wrong?
All I wanted was to disappear. I could see the doctor and the nurses around me speaking, I could see their devastated faces trying to tell me something, but I could no longer hear. My thoughts and my sobs were louder than their words. I was alone in a white sterile room with strangers and a dead fetus inside of me. All I wanted was to be with my husband and have my baby back.
Weeks after this horrific experience, I had found out that our child had died of an unlucky set of circumstances. The umbilical cord had gotten wrapped around his small body and twisted in a way that prevented the blood and oxygen from circulating. This was an unfortunate accident that could not have been prevented.
Every day that passed, I wondered why this had to happen to me. Some days, I would feel my spirit floating over my body and looking down at my life. I had a nice house that I shared with a very loving husband. We were both well positioned financially and ready, more than ever, to include a child in our lives. These thoughts invaded my mind and as time wore on, I began to feel angry.
Why did some couples have no trouble with reproducing a child? Why were drug addicts and women in unhealthy relationships popping babies like it wasn’t a big deal?
I asked a friend of mine these questions and without skipping a beat, she replied: “Everything in life has its reason. Bad things happen because they need to have an impact. Had this not happened to you, how would you have understood the feeling of empathy? Now, when another woman experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth, you can relate. You can share your story and make them see that they are not alone. You can have a positive impact on the lives of many women.”
I’ve thought these words long and hard. When I was prepared to talk about my loss, women from all walks of life began sharing their own stories. It is unbelievable how much our experiences, good or bad, connect us with others. Often we think nobody will be able to relate yet we are surprised by how many actually can.
We are the product of our experiences. I can spend days, even years, feeling angry and upset. Or, I can choose to spend that time turning negative energy into something that will have a positive impact on someone else.
I choose the latter… that’s the lesson I would have wanted my son to learn.