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.