**Warning** This post mentions pregnancy loss and has some graphic content.
Hello, my name is Beth and I am mom to six children. Or am I?
When you meet new people, you go through all the usual get to know you questions and pleasantries. “What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “Are you married, do you have children?” I generally answer these questions honestly, because, really, what is there to lie about? I was thinking on this recently though, and realized that I do not actually answer all of these questions honestly. I do not have six children, I, in fact, have eight children. Why do I not generally give this answer, save for in the doctor’s office or reciting medical history? Firstly, it makes people uncomfortable. They don’t know how to respond, or IF they should respond. It’s awkward and can be a quick conversation killer. Additionally, *I* don’t always think about it. While the children that we lost were loved and grieved for, as time has passed, I just don’t think about the loss every day.
I know that I am not alone, as statistics tell us that 1 in 4 women will experience pregnancy or infant loss. With roughly 25% of us walking around having endured this experience, why are we so hesitant to talk about it? Why do so many of us take our grief and maybe even shame and place it in a box?
In our family, we have a pattern with our kids. Girl, girl, boy, loss. Girl, girl, boy, loss. Those babies that we never got to hold, we didn’t know their genders. However, with our first angel baby, I had dreamed of a girl with lots of dark hair and in my heart I named her Emma Grace. Later, I dreamed of my Jesus holding her when I couldn’t. And then I cried. For several days, I cried. I dealt with so much guilt and shame, feeling like I had cursed her, as if it was my fault that she was gone. You see, when our son was only 3 months old, I discovered I was pregnant. I quickly calculated when I would be due, and this baby had the same due date as my son. I was 25 years old, looking at my fourth baby who was going to be exactly one year younger than my third. People had already been so incredibly unkind about our third baby, I just couldn’t fathom the reactions, both public and private from those around us. Family, friends, acquaintances, there was no distinction. Everyone had an opinion and precious few were very loving.
With much trepidation I called my doctor’s office to schedule an appointment. The receptionist assumed I was calling for a follow up postpartum visit. When I explained that no, I was trying to schedule a new prenatal appointment, even she felt the need to share her unkind opinion. I was so insecure in who I was as a person and a mother, that all of these comments and snark from others cut me to the core. I was trying to understand, when did having a family become such a bad thing? When we had announced that we were pregnant with our third, a family member looked at me and shook their head sadly and just said, “Oh Beth….” as if I had just announced a terminal illness. With all of that background and the response I had already gotten from strangers at the doctor’s office, I almost wished I wasn’t pregnant at all. I had thoughts of how much easier it would be if I didn’t have to deal with everyone and their opinions. It was a very dark place indeed.
Through all of that, I did go to my first prenatal appointment and we had an ultrasound. There was my little bean, with a strong heartbeat. All of the previous feelings washed away as I looked at that little life I was carrying. It was after that appointment that I dreamed of her, my little Emma Grace. I began to get very excited for this new member of our family and regretted any and all of those dark thoughts I had previously had. A few weeks later we went back for another appointment and ultrasound. In retrospect, I think they saw or suspected something at that first appointment, but didn’t say anything. We went in again, and this time, there was no heartbeat. We were devastated. I sat in the office and cried for the baby that was no longer. We were given several options; just wait for nature to take it’s course, take some pills to start the process, or go straight for a D&C. We opted to just wait. I just couldn’t bear the thought of if there had been some mistake, that I was then forcing a process unnecessarily. Of course, there hadn’t been a mistake.
I wish I had asked more questions. I wish there had been more information available. My doctor told me to expect some bleeding and some cramping. She made it seem like it would be little more than a menstrual cycle. For 3 weeks I waited, somewhat on edge, wondering when the process would begin. Then in the early morning hours of February 29, 2008, at 11 weeks along, I began to physically lose my baby. What did indeed begin as mild cramping quickly turned to what I realized were labor contractions. I was going into labor with my baby. Why did no one tell me that it would be like this? This went on for several hours while my other children slept. I was thankful for that. I moved back and forth from the bathroom to my bed, using my infant son’s diapers as a pad. Then, while sitting on the toilet, I realized that this was it. I felt the baby pass and became immediately distressed that it was into the toilet. I frantically fished through the bowl, trying to recover what I had lost. It was to no avail. Gently, my husband pulled me away, helped me wash, and go back to the bed. It was finished. It was hardly the mild cramping and bleeding they told me it would be. I felt so much hurt and shame. I felt like I had been lied to on top of feeling like it was my fault. Additionally, I still experienced on a milder level, all of the symptoms of post delivery. My body had delivered a baby I would never be able to hold.
Unfortunately, once I had come around to the excitement of this new life, we had told some family and friends. We opted not to share about our loss until it took place. So, on the last day of February, at what should have been almost the end of my first trimester, we shared that we had lost our baby. As usually happens, people didn’t know how to react, many mumbled a “sorry” while making sure to avoid eye contact. Others gave heartfelt condolences, and yet others felt the need to tell me that it happens to lots of women, I wasn’t unique and I needed to just move on. Friends, we can do better. We HAVE to do better. When someone is dealing with loss, whether it be pregnancy or infant loss, or any other kind, please don’t tell them because you’ve done it, they can too. Simply look them in the eye, sincerely, and say “I’m sorry.” That’s it. We’re not looking for eloquent words or sound bites about how it was God’s will or something must have been wrong with the baby. Don’t. Just don’t. Tell them you love them, and that you’re sorry. If you feel so led, bring them a meal, or give them a coffee gift card. But whatever you do, don’t spout streams of unnecessary words.
After the loss of the baby I called Emma Grace, I went on to have three rainbow babies, two girls and a boy. I struggled with naming my two girls, because I loved the name Emma Grace so much. Emma had been my Grammie’s name, and even though she passed away when I was only 4 years old, I had very fond memories of her. I really wanted to still use that name, but felt like I couldn’t. In the end, both of our rainbow baby girls received part of our angel baby’s name. I struggled at first as to whether it was right, but I came to the decision that it was no one’s place to say, and I wanted to honor her in that way. It took me a couple of years to truly move through the grief of losing that baby. Many will tell you that having another baby should “fix” your grief, that you should be thankful that you still ended up with another baby. Or my other personal favorite, “at least you have other kids.” Friends, if you are also the 1 in 4, your grief is real, and it is valid. Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. There is no, “at least…..” No matter if it was your first, your third, or your tenth baby, that child was precious and loved. You have every right to your feelings, regardless of what those around you thoughtlessly speak.
Our eighth baby was our second loss. This one was a much different experience in that I didn’t know that I was pregnant until I was losing him or her. All throughout the month of December I had felt “off”. I had varying symptoms that I chalked up to stress and life circumstances. I had even taken a pregnancy test the end of November that was negative. Three days after Christmas I was in such acute pain, I knew something must be wrong. A quick phone call to a friend who was a childbirth educator, doula, and nursing school student, confirmed my fear that we needed to go to the ER. Once we arrived, the first thing they did was administer a pregnancy test. Shortly after a nurse came in and said, “congratulations, you’re pregnant!” I smiled wanly at her and said, “but I’m losing the baby, aren’t I?” She tried to be chipper and said something about we’ll see, but I knew. The overnight hours were a whirlwind as they discovered that I had experienced an ectopic pregnancy and it was beginning to rupture. By 3 am I was in emergency surgery to remove the “products of conception.” That was the medical terminology for my baby. I woke about 6 am and was sent on my merry way by noon. It was all so surreal. Even though it had been a laparoscopic procedure, I was unable to lift over ten pounds, or do much for at least a week. Didn’t they know that I had six kids to take care of? Didn’t they know that my 16 month old needed me to hold and snuggle him? Thankfully my tribe came together for me. Dear friends brought food and coffee. They held play dates for my younger kids, and came and did laundry and dishes. One drove over an hour to be with me on New Year’s Eve, bringing her kids for a sleepover to help brighten the mood for mine. She brought groceries, quick and easy food, and meals from other friends. She stepped in the gap when needed, and I don’t know if she will truly ever know how much it meant to me. My husband was trucking at the time and had to get back on the road after a couple of days home with me. If it hadn’t been for my village, it would have been a much more difficult time. The other incredibly meaningful thing that this friend did, was bring me a gift bag from a ministry called My Sweet Dragonfly. It contained gifts, each one individually wrapped, as well as a hand written note. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it meant to me, that a complete stranger cared so much about myself and my angel baby, that they would go to the effort of writing a hand written note, and wrapping all these little gifts. The note was addressed to “Dear One”. Those simple words evoked such emotion in me. Someone cared. Someone wanted to minister to me in my loss. There was a journal and a fun pen to use with it. There was a beautiful handcrafted necklace, a coffee mug, and much more. My Sweet Dragonfly is a non profit ministry, run by volunteers. Most are mamas who have experienced loss themselves. In fact, it was started by a mama as a way to honor the son she lost. The most incredible part of it all, is that they will send these bags to hurting moms, free of charge. Regardless of where the family lives, they will ship this bag of hope to them. They’ve sent them across the country, and even across the ocean. Locally, they provide bags to the hospital labor and delivery floor to give to those mamas that experience the heartbreak in that setting.
While I would never wish these experiences on anyone else, I have seen the good in others through them. I have felt God minister to me through the compassion of friends, and total strangers. Statistically, my experiences are not unique, and I am nowhere near alone in them. However, we box them up. We hide them, for a myriad of reasons. This should not be. If we want to talk about our babies, we should without fear that it is too taboo. It does not matter what number baby you lost. They are important and should be respected as such. If we prefer to keep our experiences private, that is absolutely fine too. There is no right or wrong in grief. Where it is wrong, is when we wish to share, but feel we can’t because it just “isn’t appropriate”. With upwards of 25% of the population experiencing this, we NEED to break down these boxes. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 18:21 that life and death are in the tongue. Friends, our words matter. Kindness goes a long way. If you know someone that has experienced loss, of any kind, please just tread gently. Let them talk as they feel they need to. You don’t need to be eloquent or say “the right things”. You just need to listen, because just maybe, they are the 1 in 4.