There’s really no way to prepare for it. I’m not sure there’s an appropriate metaphor for how the news hits. And try as they might, there isn’t enough bedside manner in the world to help doctors when they have to utter the words.
“I’m sorry. Your baby is gone.”
Most people are lucky. They never have to hear that phrase. The one that reaches into your very soul and leaves a hole that can never be filled.
As many as one in four aren’t so lucky. They have to find a way to live with the knowledge that they’ll never get to hear that first cry, to share in the sheer joy that comes from looking down into the face of your newborn child and knowing you’re life will never be the same.
I’ve been blessed with three beautiful, rambunctious, crazy, loving daughters. I’ve also been the one in four . . . six times.
Each of those six times was equally devastating. The hurt never really goes away. It comes at you suddenly, and usually without provocation. I don’t want to say it got easier, but we learned to temper our expectations.
The first time was the hardest, primarily because it was so unexpected.
It’s one of those things people talk about on the fringes. You know it’s there, but you think of it as something that happens to other people. You never really believe it could happen to you.
And then, one day, it does.
We thought we were going to complete the circle of life the first time. We were in Florida for my grandmother’s memorial service when we found out we were pregnant for the first time. We’d been married for less than a year at that point, were still learning how to adult a little bit and were absolutely over the moon about having a child.
I was especially excited because my best friend’s son was going to turn two about the time our baby would be born. Our kids were going to grow up together, just like we always talked about.
The seed was planted at about 15 weeks. We went in for a check-up and the nurse tried to find the heartbeat for us to hear. She scanned and prodded for a few minutes until finally determining that the baby, still early in the pregnancy, was just hiding.
No worries. We had our first ultrasound scheduled a couple weeks later and we would hear it then.
I’ve been to enough ultrasounds at this point in my life that I could probably qualify as a tech. Back then, I knew very little about them other than I was going to be able to see my baby for the first time.
During the ultrasound, they were still unable to locate the heartbeat. Still young and naïve, I didn’t think much about it. I was still too jazzed at the fact that I had just seen my son or daughter for the first time. The first time I began to think something was wrong was when the tech said she had to step out and consult with our doctor.
The tech came back and said the doctor needed to see us immediately. Weird, but still it didn’t fully register what was about to happen. We got to the doctor’s office and he began to explain what was going on.
It wasn’t as straightforward as, “Your baby is gone.” Not that time. That time the doctor was trying to be as gentle as he could, but the message was confusing and unclear. Finally, my wife got to the heart of the matter.
“Are you saying our baby is dead?”
And just like that, everything changed.
Just minutes earlier was the highest of highs. That first glimpse of a life you created, to knowing it would never come to fruition. It was unbearable, and that was just me. As I held my wife in the parking lot, both of us in tears, it was hard to even begin to comprehend the next step.
We went to the hospital a few days later so they could try to induce labor. Because we were there for induction, the hospital initially put us in a room in Labor & Delivery. It didn’t take long before we all realized that just wasn’t going to work. Hearing the sounds of other mothers giving birth to their healthy babies was just too much, emotionally, for us to take.
It took three excruciating days before everything, medically, was finished. Emotionally, we were spent for months. The hospital sent us notice that they were holding a small service for all the babies lost that year, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to attend. The hurt was still too fresh. Even now, more than a decade later, I’m not sure I could go to that service.
In a special tin, we have keepsakes from what would have been our son. A small blanket, baby hat, and the ultrasound picture. I don’t look at it often. I can’t. As soon as I see it I’m taken back to that room and hearing that the doctor needs to see us.
It makes the hurt start all over again. At least, that’s what I thought.
I realized a couple years back that it’s not starting again. It never left. The pain will never leave me completely. Some days it just hurts a little less.
October 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Everyone around the world is encouraged to light a candle at 7 p.m., as it falls in each time zone. If everyone lights a candle and keeps it burning for one hour, there will be a continuous Wave of Light over the entire world.