Friday, January 15, 2016

When tragedies happened to other people.

I've written a lot about how frustrating I find pregnancy announcements.  Almost every baby loss parent I know feels the same way.  Most people seem to believe that once a woman is past her first trimester, she will be welcoming a (healthy, living) baby soon.    I don't find birth announcements to be so triggering; that's more like phew (and let's be honest; it's also like, aren't they lucky?)

A friend pointed out to me that one of the reason pregnancy announcements are so hurtful is that these women seem to believe that what happened to us would never happen to them.  They know damn well what happened to Lydie, but somehow act like they are immune to this kind of tragedy.

The thing is -- I was that girl once too.  When tragedies happened to other people.

There have been a lot of tragedies in my family.  A lot of death.  Beginning with my 21-year-old uncle who got hit by a train when I was 6 months old.  Next was my cousin who was born with and died from Trisomy 13.  Followed by my 11-year-old cousin dying in a freak farm accident.  The next death was my 50ish uncle dying suddenly from a heart attack.  And most recently, a cousin whose son was stillborn.  (I'm not including my grandparents, because I don't believe that dying after a long, full life is a tragedy).

So the thing is, I knew that babies sometimes die.  I knew about stillbirth.

In a fucked up way, my family's tragedies almost made me feel safer.  Stillbirths occur in 1 out of 160 pregnancies.  My family includes 22 first cousins, 2 whom have died.  And one whose son was stillborn.  It seemed we had already met that quota.

And yet, here we are.

I am white. (African American women are at a higher risk for stillbirth).

I do not smoke. (Smoking is a risk for stillbirth).

I am not overweight. (Obesity is a risk for stillbirth).

I was 33. (Being 40 or older is a risk for stillbirth).

I do not have diabetes. (Diabetes increases your risk for stillbirth).

Lydie was not my first child. (First pregnancies are a higher risk of stillbirth).

In other words, I had ZERO risk factors.  Zero.

I also had no warning signs.  I had a perfectly healthy, routine pregnancy until my daughter was dead.

And the women I've met along this journey?  Most also had no risk factors and no warning signs.  Most of us never ever imagined this tragedy.

So -- When women announce their pregnancies, I want to remind them of the realities.  When everyone else is commenting "Congratulations" on the Facebook post, I want to tell them when they get into the third trimester, to download the "Count the Kicks" app.

I had this conversation with one pregnant friend recently.  This friend is one that has stood by my side for almost twenty years now, that missed her daughter's first birthday to come to my daughter's memorial, who drove a few hours to take me out to lunch when I could finally leave the house again, who respected me enough to let me know they planned to start trying for another baby, and who delicately and compassionately let me know when she got pregnant.  I saw her around Christmas time, with her big baby bump, still younger than Lydie was.  "I know we don't talk about your pregnancy often," I told her.  "I appreciate you allowing me to choose when to talk about it.  But please pay attention to your baby's movements," I told her.

I want to tell pregnant women to do kick counts.  I want to tell them not just to count kicks once a day, but to get to know their baby's routines and rhythms and if that ever feels different, to head to the hospital immediately.  But I often don't -- because besides getting stared at as if I am crazy, I cannot handle the guilt that I feel when I say those things.

In our case, I have chosen to believe that Lydie died suddenly, that as the doctors said, her cord constriction was "acute," that she was getting everything she needed until the moment that her umbilical cord cut off her supply.  That doesn't mean I won't always wonder.   She was 33rd percentile at 3 pounds, 10 ounces at 34 weeks but I have big babies.  What if she would have been bigger, what if growth really was restricted?  What if I was 35 instead of 33?  Would I have been considered high-risk and gotten better care?  What if I had had NSTs, would we have seen decelerations of her heart rate and known something was wrong?  What if I was half as vigilant when pregnant with Lydie as I was when pregnant with Josie?  What if, what if, what if?

Even if I'm not sure kick counts would have saved Lydie, they couldn't have hurt.  And I think I would have realized she had died sooner.  Doctors say they don't tell women to do them because they don't want to scare them.  My OB never once mentioned them. That's pretty stupid.  Would a doctor ever recommend against a mammogram so he didn't scare his patient?  Ridiculous.  Mammograms don't save every life, but they do save some lives.  Kick counting doesn't save every life, but it does save some lives.

Don't get me started on the antiquated ways we measure the health of a pregnancy in this country... measuring a woman's belly to determine the well-being of a baby?  Listening to a heartbeat on a Doppler one time a month?  Yep, the heart is still beating. Until it's not.

I'm ranting, I know.

Just yesterday, a good friend texted me, complaining about a group email where a friend said she couldn't get together in June because she would be busy changing diapers.  "Can you believe it?" she asked.  "When she knows perfectly well that sometimes babies die?  That my baby died?"

I know, I told her.  I know, I know, I know. No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them.  I try to restrain my anger in these situations by remembering that I never thought it would happen to me, either, even though I knew damn well that it happened.  I thought it happened to 26,000 other women's babies a year, but not to my baby.

Not to my baby.


  1. Everyone I meet who is pregnant, I tell them about the Count the Kicks app. While they look me like I'm crazy -- and I think, I am not crazy, my niece DIED and my cousin's son DIED, and I know two other moms personally whose babies were stillborn IN THE LAST YEAR -- I tell them that it doesn't take a lot of time and that it's good to focus on their baby's movement. I wonder if they listen.

    1. I hope so. I sure wish someone had told me.

  2. Replies
    1. Love you too. Thanks for sticking with me.

  3. Heather,

    I received two birth announcements at Christmas. How I cried. My first Christmas without my Heidi. Did they not get the memo? The pregnancy posts are another reason I can't go on Facebook.

    I knew babies could die. Our cousins lost their baby who was born prematurely. But I never thought I could have negative genetic tests, a normal level two ultrasound, be told my baby is low risk - and then at full term have her be born with a rare fatal single gene defect (Berdon syndrome). Nothing I could have done and not related to my advanced maternal age per the geneticist. Just simply - the worst luck. Yet - I met her and got to hold her. Now exposed to this new loss world I have learned about still birth and how it quietly steals babies, hopes, dreams and happiness.

    So yes we feel anger. We don't smoke drink or have any risk factors. Anger at the seemingly nonsensicality of it all. Mostly angry that I can't go back to the naive version of myself where tragedies happen to other people. Thank you for sharing these honest feelings. I realize I am not alone. So sorry our girls aren't here physically. Kim

    1. Oh Kim, I'm so sorry you received those birth announcements. How insensitive of others. They really don't get it, do they?

      The worst luck. The worst luck for both you and Heidi. I'm so sorry.

      I wish I didn't feel so much anger. It would be easier to cope with everyday life. But you're right that its anger at the nonsensicality of it all... it just makes no sense. Some days I am better at "accepting" that than other days.

      I'm sorry our girls aren't here physically with us too.

  4. I know those feelings of guilt. Wanting desperately to warn a woman that she's not safe and her baby isn't gauranteed to come home with her, but at the same time not wanting to be the one to crush her optimism. I want to be optimistic. I want to believe that my baby will come home. I want to go back to thinking it only happens to other people. Oh how I want to be that naive again. It's one of the hardest parts of being pregnant again now too, reminding people that this baby isn't gauranteed either. I have to crush their happiness for me and for this baby time and time again. But I have this need to protect and prepare my friends and family for the worst case scenario because none of us had any warning last time.

    1. I miss the naivety too. There are a million reasons that pregnancy after loss is difficult but this is a major one. Hang in there, friend. You are doing it.

  5. This post really resonates with me. Like how can someone KNOW what happened to me and be so certain it won't happen to them? I know I really didn't think it would happen to be before, but it still irritates me that people can know me and still think they're exempt. I don't yet know how to not take that personally.

    1. Exactly, Christine. I don't know how not to take it personally either. One of my friends once told me it makes her angry because they are insinuating it's our fault. If it couldn't happen to them, we MUST have done something to cause it.

      I just wish more pregnancy announcements would use the word "hope."

  6. I love this post Heather. And I feel the anger too. I feel angry that it happened to me and Em. And I feel angry that other people don't realize and acknowledge that it can happen to them. Especially those that are close to me. To me, the blissful ignorance is insulting, almost as if they think they are better than me.

  7. Mamas,

    I went back and forth about giving my two cents, but ultimately I decided to give you my perspective.

    Myself, while no stranger to loss, I am not a baby loss mama. I have carried my baby full term, and towards the end of it I had screaming, aware and healthy baby girl in my hands. For full disclosure - I have had a miscarriage, but when I look deep inside my heart I acknowledge that I saw it as potential for life, but I didn't see it or relate it to it as "this is a baby". I would be lying if I said that my miscarriage traumatized me.

    I went through my entire pregnancy being very aware that there are no guarantees except when I have my baby in my arms. That event begins a different journey, which is again has no guarantees. While hyper aware of many different losses (stillbirth, undetected generic problems, complications during labor and etc) that can occur during pregnancy journey I still went ahead and made Facebook public announcement, celebrate my baby shower, enjoyed decorating her nursery and so on and so far.

    My attitude is that I will deal with it if and when it happens. I know there are women such as myself. We are not so innocent to think that once we are past 12 weeks we are guaranteed prefect end, but we still choose to celebrate pregnancy and do the cute rituals surrounding it. We are very much minority, but we do exist.

    It is very unfortunate that by and large only happy discussions are allowed and welcomed. It is slowly changing, and I hope it continues to change, so we can talk freely to each other, and share out thoughts, beliefs and attitudes freely. We have much to learn from each other.

    1. Thanks for reading and for sharing your perspective. I also wish that our society allowed more of the tough discussions and left room to support each other rather than isolate those in pain.


Blog Design by Franchesca Cox