Surviving Stillbirth

I share my story so people will know they are not alone

by Sarah Muthler

Before we had our daughter Eleanor, I had a miscarriage. We were sad and scared, uncertain whether we would ever be able to have a baby. But the more people we told, the more stories we heard about others' miscarriages. Everyone knows someone who has been through one. That certainly didn't make us feel better, but it did make us feel less alone.

When you experience a stillbirth, like we did with our second daughter, you don't get any reassurance. No one says, "Oh, this happens all the time." Most of the stories I'd heard about stillbirth dated back 50 or 60 years. What most people said (and continue to say) to us was, "I can't imagine what you're going through." It's an appropriate thing to say, but it's also a frequent reminder that we were – and are – largely alone.

Not only is it difficult to imagine our emotions, but most people don't know what happens when a baby dies. I certainly didn't. And many probably prefer to remain in the dark, but I will share our experience for those who want to understand a bit more.

Getting the news and making choices
After the horrid ultrasound that revealed Genevieve's heart had stopped, I had the choice of waiting to go into labor or having a c-section. I was told that most women in that situation have labor induced, but I couldn't do that because it's too risky for a woman who has had a previous c-section. Genevieve was breech, and I was trapped in the worst moment of my life, so the decision was easy.

At the hospital, I was given the option of being awake or asleep for Genevieve's delivery. I chose to be knocked out because I couldn't imagine having to endure the silence when she emerged. When the anesthesiologist arrived, he told me that he and has wife had had a stillborn baby also. I will be grateful to him for the rest of my life for sharing that.

We also had to decide whether we wanted an autopsy performed. Initially we thought we would, but our insurance would not pay for the $2,500 procedure. So we didn't have the autopsy. We did have tests run on the placenta, my blood, and Genevieve's blood, but there were no answers.

A wonderful hospital chaplain came to meet with us and gave us pamphlets about grief and surviving the loss of our baby. The nurses asked whether we wanted professional photos of Genevieve taken by Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a nonprofit that arranges this service.

Before we arrived at the hospital, I hadn't been sure whether I would get to see Genevieve – or whether I wanted to. But the staff members encouraged us to spend time with her, and I slowly started to understand that this was the only time we would ever get to take photos of Genevieve. We decided to have the photographer come.

Being with our child
After my surgery, which was by far the easiest part of all of this, the nurses wheeled me back to my room and brought Genevieve to Greg. I was still groggy, and it was so strange to see Greg holding a newborn again. He looked just like he had with Eleanor, but this was the saddest day ever instead of the happiest.

Greg brought Genevieve over to me, and all of my fear rushed away. She was perfect. She looked nothing like the scary image that had frozen in my mind. She just looked like a sleeping baby and a tiny version of me.

The nurses asked if we had an outfit for her to wear in the photos. I didn't know that we should have brought clothes. But they had several gowns and bonnets donated by Threads of Love, a nonprofit that donates handmade blankets and clothes for preemies and stillborn babies. I chose a dainty white gown and bonnet. The photographer arrived (at 11 pm on a Friday night!) and spent about an hour taking photos of us.

We spent another two full days in the hospital. The chaplain came to our room each day to check on us and discuss funeral arrangements. Infants weighing more than 500 grams – about 1 pound – at the time of death must go to a funeral home. Genevieve weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces. Most funeral homes give a huge discount to parents who have lost a baby, but the cost is still a few hundred dollars at least. And no parent plans for that, of course.

We were able to spend as much time as we wanted with Genevieve, so we had her in our room for about an hour each day. We sang lullabies to her, talked to her, and Greg even danced with her. We took some of our own photos because I was paranoid that something might happen to the professional shots.

Saying goodbye for good
As I slowly recovered, the nurses encouraged me to try walking down the hall. I saw that instead of a giant pink or blue bow on our door, we had a photo of a teardrop resting on a leaf.

When we prepared to the leave the hospital, we took time to say goodbye to Genevieve, and then the nurse took her away. We signed a form releasing her body to the funeral home. And if that wasn't the hardest moment I will ever experience, then I hope I die young.

Babies who are stillborn do not get birth certificates. I went through nine months of pregnancy and a c-section, but according to the government Genevieve was not born. When you leave the hospital without a baby, you get a memory box instead. So as they wheeled me out of the hospital, that is what I held.

The funding for the memory boxes comes from the hospital's charity. So many people were working to help us, and most parents are lucky enough to never know about all that goes on in those rooms with the leaf photos on the door.

Inside the box were two baby blankets that had been wrapped around Genevieve, a silver heart charm, several copies of Genevieve's footprints, the gown and bonnet she wore for the photos, a lock of her hair, a card signed by all the nurses, and a tiny knitted angel that I planned to hang on the Christmas tree.

This story originally ran on landofabe.com and is reprinted here with permission.

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Sarah Muthler

Sarah Muthler

Sarah Muthler is a freelance writer and a mother of three. She blogs about parenting, loss, and life at Land of Abe.

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