For anyone unfamiliar with stillbirth, the term itself may hold a predetermined meaning – it’s the loss of a baby, to have an angel baby, to have a child born sleeping. But what do these terms really imply, and are these expressions that we use to ‘lighten’ the impact, actually hindering our broader understanding of the really is involved in this devastating traumatic event?
Unfortunately, now that I’ve been part of this ‘club’ for 5 years I am truly attuned to the wide breath of profoundly life affecting occurrences that have come to be known collectively as stillbirth. For those who have had no contact with the experience, it can be hard to adequately detail how all the intricate threads of this one single event can affect you. For many, experiencing a stillbirth is undoubtedly life altering, the expression of having a life before, and after your baby’s death are common in support circles.
But beyond the actual birth – yes, we still need to explain sometimes that a baby was actually laboured and birthed like any other- there are many other secondary events that in themselves ripple throughout the experience and can, on their own, cause lasting emotional scars.
Many women will be able to recall specific times within the event, like crosshairs in the thread of the tale they are never forgotten, never muddled up, never faded from memory. The feeling of unease about movements, the seemingly endless trip to the hospital for answers, the moment they tell you your baby has no heartbeat, the physical birth itself, holding your deceased baby for the first time, and then holding them for the last time, the medication to stop your milk from coming in, the funerals, the phone calls, the paperwork, the aftercare – or lack thereof, this list could never be exhaustive. Each of these events have their own subset of issues lurking within, a murky depth that a bereaved parents subconscious can plunder whenever they feel vulnerable, whenever they feel the guilt and shame re-emerge from the cracks and spill over the surface.
For now, as an example, I will pull out just one event amongst many, one that would seem inconsequential to some. For those who have experienced this, they may already know what I mean. One space of time that, in the vast violent thunderstorm that is experiencing stillbirth, to me is the literal eye of the storm. The stillness that comes after the shock, but the waiting that precedes trauma. It’s no-man’s-land – it’s pausing the horror movie right when the axe falls – it’s waiting for a nightmare to restart.
My personal no-mans-land beings after a slow, meandering and deeply silent walk across the hospital. Our daughter is already dead, I have just been told she has no heart beat and I the flat grey ultrasound lines told me as much. Heavily pregnant, feet automatically one in front of the other, I make it to the secondary ultra sound area and am ushered into a private room. A room that is clearly a specialist’s office, a room they have also clearly just asked someone to leave so I can be alone in here while I wait, a room definitely away from all the people on the other side of the wall, they’re waiting too, but not the same waiting as me. And, well.. that’s just it, it’s waiting for the other side of the storm to hit. My baby is dead, what now? Unthinkable questions bubble to the surface – Holy shit, I still have to give birth! Do they knock me out? It is going to be today? What is my baby going to look like? Will I love them or will I be too scared to hold them? Is this going to break me? Am I ever going to be the same?
By the end of the day I have no answers, mostly just instructions.
“Try to sleep. Be back at hospital at this time. Try to talk to someone.”
Sounds so simple.
For me, this space is around 24 hours. It was a time entwined by deep sadness for my myself and my baby I still carry inside me, the resentment and confusion as to how this could happen, coupled with the overwhelming fear of the future like I had never known. No matter what I do, tomorrow is definitely going to come and I am definitely going have to live that unimaginable day. The anticipation of a day where you know all limits of yourself will be tested. Wondering if you can withstand what’s on the other side, but for now, you have no choice, you are just to stay right here, in no-mans-land, with a dead baby in your womb and the sure knowledge that you are woefully underprepared to meet them. This is what it’s like to be outside of normal. To both know, and not know what’s coming. To sit with that uncomfortable and confronting feeling and be unable to do anything about it.
The experience of a stillbirth is not contained just within the birth itself. Understanding the more eclectic aspects of the experience such as when life carries death; that being the time between diagnosis of death in utero and the time of induction of birth, is like waiting in the unknown for the nightmare to begin again. Reflecting on a more comprehensive overview can give a deeper understanding of how each component can affect the whole event. Within each stillbirth experience are those threads that make up the whole, each thread is connected to another, and each carries its own weight.
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Take a look over what I was doing a week before stillbirth here: Before the Storm: A story about the us, just days before our Stillbirth
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