This is a moving, heartfelt, and powerful tribute to a precious, little boy named Sage who was stillborn. I’m grateful writer, mother, and doula Sara Sites shared her son Sage’s story with me. It is truly a humbling honor to have Sara’s words published on this blog.
Thank you Sara.
Because it can be triggering, I want to preface my story with a disclaimer. This is a story of stillbirth.
The loss of a child is such a sensitive topic- the last thing I want to do in sharing my experience is to offend or compare myself to anyone. My opinions certainly aren’t meant to represent the “babyloss community” as a whole- these are just thoughts, feelings and observations of my own journey. Every person experiences and handles grief and trauma differently. There is no “right or wrong” way to feel the pain of living without your child. The important thing is having support as you deal with the heartbreaking, complicated and devastating emotions that come in the “aftermath”. Please take the time to find local support groups, friends and family who care, women who have experienced child loss, a counselor- whatever feels right to you. Talking about and processing your feelings is so important when healing and dealing with this kind of tragedy. Don’t keep your feelings inside. They will only become bigger and you will feel like the grief is a wave you just can’t get your head above. There are some great online resources and books out there- when we read the words of others who have “been there” and “get it”, it helps immensely. If you’re reading this and you’re missing a child from your family, I’m so so sorry and my heart grieves with yours. It’s just not fair.
Birth- Where Our Stories Begin
I believe in the power and importance of birth stories. The tales and details of our beginnings in this world matter- both for our own personal histories and for our fellow birthing women. I think reading positive birth stories (a great place to start: all of Ina May Gaskin’s books and the blog Birth Without Fear ( www.birthwithoutfear.com ) is one of the best things a woman can do near the end of pregnancy as she awaits the birth of her baby. I wrote the stories of my first two births- both joyous and hopeful beginnings of my beautiful adventures of motherhood- and found it to be so powerful to put words to those life-transforming events. Those two stories are so different (one at a hospital, one at home), but both are happy and exciting. They are the very beginning to my sons’ life stories, which will be filled with so much more. Sage’s story is different. His is not the beginning of a new, long life, but a beginning enveloped by an ending. My third child, Sage William, was stillborn.
I never in a zillion years would have imagined this could happen to me. Not alive babies are something of a distant world… a distant time and place that you hear of rarely and occasionally- not someone you know… not someone in your town… certainly not ME- doula, La Leche League leader, mother of two. Motherhood is my religion… Motherhood is my raison d’etre. How could I become pregnant, grow and entire human within my body and not have that little person here on Earth forevermore? My brain can’t truly comprehend this. I think all moms who have
experienced loss would feel the same: we aren’t equipped to fathom that our babies could ever not be alive because it just goes against our biological, mammalian instincts. The “motherhood math” just doesn’t add up: I was pregnant three times. I gave birth three times. But I only have 2 living children with me. Where is my baby? What happened?? It’s really surreal, insane and mind-warping. To put it mildly.
As I write this, it’s been almost 19 weeks since I held Sage. I knew that I wanted to write and share his story immediately. I began making notes on my thoughts here and there from the day after he was born so I would remember what I wanted to say when I finally felt strong enough to type it all out. In the weeks following Sage’s birth, I read just about every story of stillbirth that I could find on the internet. Knowing that I wasn’t the only mom this happened to helped immensely. I want to share our experience so that someone else might come across it someday and find it helpful and hopeful.
The Third Love of My Life
Sage was SO wanted. After awaiting the return of my fertility for a couple years after my second son, I became pregnant at the end of May 2016. By 8 weeks, I was dealing with intense “morning sickness” around the clock. I felt nauseous all the time and spent weeks taking it easy at home and watching a lot of HGTV with my boys. I noticed a longer and more intense period of early pregnancy sickness and a harder time dealing with my body image. Despite feeling awful for the summer, we were busy enjoying our time as a family of 4 before our new baby joined us. The months went on and I could not have been more excited to meet this little person. I probably sounded like a broken record, constantly saying “I don’t know how I can wait until February!”. I was planning my second homebirth and loved my midwife. It was amazing watching my boys talk to baby, feel the movements and be part of preparing to welcome their new sibling. Aside from me having some low iron levels (that I improved with supplements), my pregnancy was normal and uncomplicated. My biggest issues were making sure my padsicles and freezer meals were made and what bra I might feel like wearing through labor. I was really looking forward to the honor of labor, the excitement of seeing who this little acrobat inside of me was and the joy of my husband and sons when they met our baby. I felt SO lucky- what an amazing life!
On January 13th , my midwife came over for a prenatal visit. All was great and normal. Baby was low, heartbeat was strong, my body was prepping for birth and I was glowing with joy, love and anticipation of labor. I remember noticing on Monday January 16t h that baby wasn’t as active as usual. Less movement can be completely normal during the end of pregnancy as there is less room in there and babies can slow down in preparation for labor and birth. I chalked it up to a growth spurt but I did bounce it off of a few of my mama friends, who agreed and remembered also feeling less movement near the end. I borrowed a friend’s doppler to check baby’s heartbeat. I remember not finding it right away but after moving the sensor around, I picked it up. For a brief second, I questioned the speed of what I was hearing but figured it was normal. I certainly didn’t think I could pick up my own heartbeat that strongly. After all, I just heard baby’s heartbeat loud and clear only 3 days before. The next day, I texted my midwife to tell her that my birth kit had arrived and I was looking forward to our “prep visit’, which was the following Tuesday January 24th.
Jake was going to come home for our midwife visit and we were planning to go over birth supplies and our plan. I mentioned the change in movement but told her I was reassured by checking heartbeat (which I had calculated to be around 150 bpm- normal). She offered to come for reassurance but living and hour away, I really didn’t feel the need for her to disrupt her schedule and make time for a visit. I knew she’d be there at the drop of a hat for me but I really didn’t feel the need at that time. I even used a medical-grade doppler the next day and felt reassured. I wasn’t worried. I remember feeling some movements here and there, though different from the usual jabby kicks- these were more like rolling motions… but movement nonetheless. When I felt those movements, I was reassured. Of course my baby was ok. The thought of anything else doesn’t really compute- OF COURSE my baby was alive! The week went on as normal… we did our usual activities and I was only looking forward to getting closer to meeting this baby. I felt fine physically, with the exception of a minor headache at one point, and though baby still hadn’t moved a ton, the movements I did feel assured me that baby was ok. I remember my uterus (painlessly) contracting here and there- exciting because my body was preparing for labor. Expecting baby around the second or third week of February (maybe around Valentine’s Day… I loved the thought of a Valentine baby), the time was growing near!
The End of the “Before”
January 24th started out as a completely normal Tuesday. The boys and I went to the weekly mama group I lead and I can clearly remember talking about (as usual) how excited I was to meet this baby. When our group ended, we drove home to meet Jake and our midwives. I was 37 weeks pregnant, filled with excitement and hope. This was the very end of my life “before”. This was the last of normalcy. After that afternoon, my life changed forever. I was about to receive a blunt-force-trauma blow to my happy little life.
Neither midwife could find baby’s heartbeat. Not once before had there ever been a hesitation in detecting it with the doppler. Strong, loud and clear, it was always there. I remember staring at the ceiling. The boys and Jake were playing in the playroom nearby. I figured it just had to be baby’s position. This had actually happened at the end of my pregnancy with my second son- my midwife couldn’t find his heartbeat and sent me for a non-stress test. All was well. So of course, all would be well with this baby. How could it not be?? Both midwives palpated baby… who wasn’t responding normally to their touch. Still no heartbeat to be heard. I don’t think my brain could have comprehended that my baby’s heart might actually not be beating. That just didn’t even feel like a real possibility. The midwives wanted me to go immediately for an imaging scan. I agreed and though my husband wanted to accompany me, I felt most comfortable with him staying with the boys and me going alone. The midwives made the call to the imaging woman and left. I barely remember. I’m sure they hugged me. I know they must have known what the outcome was to be. But I know in the car as they left, they were praying for anything but what they suspected.
I drove to the imaging center, which was about 40 minutes away. I kept my hand on my belly, willing my baby to be ok. C&C Music Factory’s song “Everybody Dance Now” came on the radio and I turned it up all the way, both hoping to get the baby to move and to drown out my thoughts. I remember briefly trying to figure out what I would say to Jake if things weren’t ok. Though I don’t think my brain could fully comprehend that there was a possibility of my baby not being ok, I guess on some level I knew. I knew by the midwives’ reactions. They knew. But what could they say without confirmation?? I arrived and the woman was nice. There was no one else at the office. I explained that this had happened with my second son and she said “let’s just get in there and see”. I laid on a table and because it was one of those 4D imaging places where parents were there to see their live, wriggling babies, there was a huge screen in front of me. I closed my eyes the entire time. I did think that I would possibly glance at baby if all was well, but one of the reasons I chose to forgo ultrasounds in this pregnancy was to keep the mystery special and not peek inside the magical world of the womb. The imaging lady began her scan (a “biophysical profile”) and I can only remember silence with the exception of the periodic beeps as the machine recorded measurements. She slid the wand across my gel-coated belly for about 5 minutes (10 minutes? 1 minute? A lifetime?) and finally said “I’m so sorry, Sara. I was hoping for anything but this. Can I call someone for you?”
In a fog, I sat up and wiped the gel off. No… she couldn’t call anyone…she couldn’t do anything. Could this be real? How could my baby not be alive when I was supposed to give birth in a couple weeks? The closest word I can think of to describe it is “surreal” but that isn’t really a strong enough word. There really are no words. I remember in that moment feeling the heaviest and deepest devastation imaginable. But simultaneously not believing it. Because how could I? How can a mother really comprehend that her child is not alive? It’s unthinkable. I texted Jake: “I’m ok…the baby is not. I want to tell the boys when I come home”. I know when he read those words he was shattered. Looking back, I am SO thankful that I went to that scan alone. It was at least one tiny part of the pain of this experience that I could protect him from. I went to my car to drive home. It felt like the longest drive of my life because I wanted so badly to be with my husband and sons. I needed them. So deeply. I talked with my midwife on the phone and she had just talked to the imaging lady. From what she saw, my baby hadn’t been alive for about a week. It totally corresponded to when I stopped feeling movement. Looking back, I really think that I had picked up my own heartbeat on the doppler. She said that all development looked normal otherwise.
I knew my baby wasn’t alive but had no clue why. No clue as to what would happen next. Could I still birth my baby at home as planned? Would I need a cesarean? We discussed and it made sense- because of the possibility of toxic shock to my body- to go to the hospital and induce labor in the next few days. I decided on going the next morning. It felt like there wasn’t a point in waiting and I didn’t know how damaging it might be to my health to wait for labor to start naturally, which could have still been a couple weeks away. This was very uncharted territory for me. I needed to call my mom to see if she could miss work to be with the boys. She answered and I asked where she was. She was at Trader Joe’s and I told her maybe she should go out to her car. I felt so horrible having to tell her this devastating news. Imagining how it felt for my mom to hear me tell her that my baby wasn’t alive just broke my heart again on another level. Moms love their children so deeply and fiercely that I know her heart shattered for me. I also had to decide what to do with my baby’s body. It feels so weird to even type those words. No mother should ever have to think of such things! Plus, it was just all so hard to grasp. My baby was jus alive and well on January 13t h ! How could things go wrong in a matter of 2 or 3 days? It seemed impossible. I was numb and veiled in a fog of shock. There were no tears.
I arrived at home and Jake was a heartbroken mess. It shattered me for him to look at my pregnant body and know that our sweet baby wasn’t alive. I had to tell my boys that our baby wasn’t ok. My youngest, who has the most sensitive soul, climbed into my lap and cried for us, saying “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sad the baby’s not ok”. It was the strangest evening of my life. My midwife was going to meet us at the hospital the next morning (thankfully, that night she had the chance to talk to the doctor who would be there the next day and he couldn’t have been more kind and respectful of my situation). I felt slightly comforted knowing we wouldn’t walk into the hospital completely blindly. I packed a couple bags- not knowing if surgery would be necessary or how long I’d have to stay there. I did some laundry and put notes out about how to make oatmeal, rice, soup, easy snacks. Would I not return to my boys? Would something happen to me if I had general anesthesia? Life as I knew it had changed completely. I was carrying a not alive baby inside of me. Nothing in the universe made sense at all. That night, I remember how strange it was to feel my hugely pregnant body… my baby… not alive. I regret not taking a few more pictures that night, the last that Sage would be inside of me.
The next morning, Wednesday January 25, 2017, my mom came over early to stay with the boys. As I was getting things ready to take and making lunches to leave for the boys, I called a local funeral home/crematory. It felt right that our baby would be cremated (what an insane decision to have to even think about). I knew the place I wanted to call because I remembered seeing the women who own it at our local community day in the past and they were very nice. I had no other ties to any place… how does a person even know how to make such a choice?? My voice completely broke up on the phone and I remember it being so hard and strange to tell them about my situation and what I needed. Thankfully, they couldn’t have been nicer and made that horrifying aspect as easy on me as it could be. I put on a little makeup and used my curling iron. Why? How did I even do those normal things? I was in survival mode. I was in shock. Jake and I stopped at a local grocery store on the way to the hospital to grab a coffee and some sanitizing wipes- the last place on earth I wanted to be going was the germy hospital. It felt just insanely weird to walk around the store with my obviously pregnant belly there for all to see, with the knowledge that my baby wasn’t alive. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone and we held hands the whole time.
We arrived at the hospital before my midwife and she suggested us taking a walk outside the building until she arrived. It was actually a brightly sunny day for January and what else did we have to do? We held hands and walked the sidewalks for awhile. I’m so thankful she suggested that- it gave us some time to just be… just the two of us… well, just the three of us. I don’t know that either of us were fully grasping the reality of our situation. It was such a surreal, insane nightmare (I am probably overusing those words as I write this but keep in mind- this experience just defies the words of any language).
When our midwife arrived, we entered the hospital and went to the labor and delivery floor. It was surreal because the last time I had been there, I was serving as a doula for a birthing family- a completely exciting and happy event. We checked in and I immediately told the nurse that I wouldn’t be wearing one of their hideous gowns. When the doctor came in to meet me, I immediately told him that of course the hospital was the last place I wanted to be and that I wanted to give birth to this baby normally- anything but surgery. He reassured me that he didn’t see a need to even think about a cesarean. The decision next was how to start labor. I allowed him to check my cervix for dilation and I wasn’t dilated at all. The options for helping my body to begin labor were Misoprostol, which might or might not work and (in my opinion) carries more risks or a foley bulb (a small rubber tube thing that balloons to help the cervix open) and Pitocin. Of course all of this was just so crazy to me and against all of my wishes for a non-intervention homebirth… but this was what I had to now decide. I opted for the Foley and Pitocin and we started the process immediately. I put on my pretty robe I had bought for the blissed-out postpartum days I had imagined. The only complaint I have about the doctor is that he answered a phone call while in the room with us at that time and he used the phrase “37 week demise” in regards to me. That term has stuck in my brain ever since. I wish he had stepped out before uttering those words. The balloon was painless but felt weird as I walked to the room we would stay in for the duration of labor and birth.
The nurses were all kind and respectful of us, heartbroken for our family. I’m sure they see this more frequently than we realize but I could tell that their hearts grieve deeply for every baby who isn’t alive and the families they serve. They hooked me up to the Pitocin and in order to move around, I had to drag the IV stand with me (but of course the last place I was going to labor was in a bed!!). They strapped the fetal monitors on my belly… with no constant rush of a heartbeat sound, just to monitor the strength of the artificially-induced contractions. I didn’t need anything from the staff… I just wanted to be left alone. There was really nothing to do but wait.
I think we went into our room around 1 pm… but who really knows. Labor was slow to progress at first. I remember eating cups of ice with an organic strawberry/coconut water juice that I now think of as “Sage juice”. I found the exercise ball and sat on that for awhile. My midwife walked around the halls with me and that was a strange experience… I remember thinking how weird it felt to be walking around amongst the pregnant and laboring women but with a not alive baby inside of me. They couldn’t possibly comprehend the fact if I had told them. I was a vibrant, healthy pregnant mama… How could I be carrying a not alive baby in my uterus?? No one would have guessed from just looking at me. I didn’t want anyone to look at me. I didn’t want to make eye contact.
As the afternoon and evening went on, my labor slowly and gradually progressed. The boys were safe and happy with my mom. All we could do was wait for our baby. My midwife and the doctor had both mentioned the fact that the body starts to change when the heart stops beating. My baby hadn’t been alive for about a week. His body was absorbing the amniotic fluid. He probably wouldn’t look completely like himself. I had no idea what to really expect but of course I was going to see him and hold him. I felt really nervous for Jake to see him- I knew I could handle whatever he looked like because I’m his mother and he’s part of me… but I wasn’t sure if he could and I didn’t want him to remember our sweet baby as “scary looking”. Around 10 p.m. or so, I started feeling “pushy” and knew this baby was coming. It felt good to be on the bed, on my knees and leaning over the birth ball. I breathed through each contraction and let myself melt into the feeling, riding the waves of the surges. This labor and birth felt physically the same as my others. I ended up moving the ball and stayed on my knees, leaning over the back of the bed, which was raised up. My midwife was on one side of me and I was smelling my favorite essential oil blend (which is now so special to me, of course… to bring me back to my baby). As I was pushing, Jake started to feel overwhelmed and had to lay down at the couch. I was doing just fine on my own and insisted our midwife go to him instead of the nurse- it was so very important to me for Jake to be comforted. He was literally about to faint.
All I knew is that my baby was coming and I was about to meet him. The staff had changed hours earlier and it was a very kind nurse midwife who was there to catch my baby. I continued to work with my body, pushing with the surges and finally felt his head emerge and the rest of his body, with the nurse midwife catching him. Sage William was born at 10:27 p.m. As there was no need to wait for the cord to stop pulsing because it wasn’t, she cut the cord and I turned around to change positions for delivering the placenta. There was no sound of a crying baby. His little body was just so fragile that it made sense to wrap him in a blanket and put a little hat on his head before I held him.
The nurse took him to the warming table, which had no need to be turned on, and wrapped him first in a hospital blanket then the lion Aden and Anais blanket I had brought for him. I didn’t think to bring a hat (big mistake) and they put this orange crocheted one on his head that I hated. I easily birthed the placenta and the nurse midwife put it into a basin. What I saw made a huge difference in my processing this horror: there was a tight, true knot in the umbilical cord. Plain as day, right in front of my eyes, I could clearly see what had happened to Sage. The knot had tightened and instantly cut off his oxygen supply. There was no need to wonder what was wrong with him… what was wrong with me. No need to disturb his sweet little body with an autopsy. I knew what happened. But how?? How could this have happened? Why?? In the weeks to follow, I would learn that knots can occur early in pregnancy and are usually harmless. The cord is coated with a substance called “Wharton’s Jelly” that is meant to prevent a knot from tightening. It is very rare that a true knot is fatal. It was for Sage. Looking back, I think the knot could have been there from early on but probably tightened as he descended in preparation for birth. My midwife felt his head super low in early January. It would have been instantaneous when the knot tightened- there’s nothing I could have done differently to change what happened. I know in my heart that his heart stopped beating when I stopped feeling movement. I certainly couldn’t have known at the time, or have even comprehended the possibility, that his life had ended. Knots aren’t usually detected on ultrasounds so having a scan early on wouldn’t have made a difference. Going to the hospital when I noticed a change in movement wouldn’t have saved him. I had only received excellent prenatal care and had no indications of complications. What happened to Sage was a completely fluke, tragic accident. A rare occurrence. The worst luck possible.
I had no tearing and felt physically fine after giving birth. My body was fine- it had conceived, grew, and birthed my baby normally like it was supposed to. My heart and brain, on the other hand, were shattered and forever changed. The nurse midwife asked if I was ready to hold him and I was. She placed his unmoving, silent body in my arms. Wrapped in his blanket with that hideous hat, there he was. Finally, I was meeting this sweet little person I’ve been loving for the past 37 weeks. But he couldn’t look at me. He couldn’t nurse. He couldn’t cry out and be heard. He didn’t look totally like himself, as he had absorbed some fluid… like they had said. His lips… they looked exactly like my first son’s when he was born. His skin… so soft and perfect… beginning to peel in some spots. His feet… perfect little baby feet. I didn’t see his hands…I didin’t see his ears. I do regret not seeing and touching all parts of him… but his body was so fragile that it didn’t feel right to disturb him and I kept him wrapped in the blanket. I didn’t see his hair but I know he had dark hair like his brothers because I asked the funeral home to clip it and save for me. I remember his smell and the weight of him in my arms. A real, full-sized baby. He should have been latched on, hungrily nursing as we lay there skin to skin. We should have been at home, with our family of 5 all together. But nothing was as it should be and I was in a hospital room holding my lifeless child. Jake sat next to me and we looked at him.
My midwife took a few pictures of us. I also asked her to take a picture of his feet and the placenta and cord. These pictures are so important and special to me. I didn’t want to take any photographs of his face. It didn’t feel right as he didn’t look like himself. Everyone cried. Jake…our midwife…the nurses. I didn’t. I was in shock…survival mode. Looking back, I don’t know how I wasn’t a puddle of tears on the floor. I don’t know how I didn’t scream in agony at the intense horror of the situation. But I held it together. I guess I was “strong” but that doesn’t really sound right. I just had to get through it all. I held Sage for a few hours…certainly not long enough. Thankfully the staff didn’t want me to stay overnight, just a few hours to make sure my uterus was going down and my blood loss was normal. I requested a breast pump because my baby couldn’t suckle on my breasts, which was the next normal step after birth. Jake held Sage and I took a picture. It is the most heartbreaking photograph I’ve ever seen. As the hours passed, I knew his little body was changing and it felt right to let him just rest. I wanted to go home so intensely- to shower and crawl into bed to feel and smell my living children. I need them with the intensity that a mom feels for her babies. I sent our midwife home around midnight, as she had a long drive ahead of her. I couldn’t have been more grateful for her support and love- I don’t think I could have handled what happened without her there with us. As important as her role was for me, she was vital for Jake too. She will be forever special to me, for she is one of the only people who had the chance to meet Sage.
We left the hospital around 3 a.m. We had to say goodbye to our baby there. In what universe is that even a real thing?? I remember him laying on the warmer and I stroked his cheek and told him I loved him and I was sorry. I kissed him. Jake did the same. I was going to leave the lion blanket with him, feeling that he should have something from us to stay with him. But Jake urged me to take it- so so so thankful he did. It is one of my most special possessions- the only real “material thing” that I have to connect me to him. A nurse held him while we walked out (which felt better than just leaving him lay there). How did I just give birth hours ago but left the place without my baby? He wasn’t inside of me… he wasn’t in my arms. It made no sense. After more than four months after that night, it still makes no sense. We arrived at home and Jake showered and went to bed with our sleeping boys. My mom stayed while I showered and I ate a piece of Ezekiel cinnamon raisin toast and drank some Mother’s Milk tea- my post-birth tradition. I remember staring out the kitchen window in a daze, my body both physically and emotionally being completely confused and out of sorts. I went to bed and immersed myself into the touch, smell and beating hearts of my sons. I fell in love with my husbands and sons all over again that night. Just as a woman is transformed when she becomes a mother, she is forever changed when she loses a child. I became a different version of myself that night.
The next day, the boys had a class at our city’s botanical conservatory. It was so important to me that our sons have some sense of normalcy and that Jake be surrounded by their love after what we had just experienced so I urged him to take them. Looking back, I feel SO guilty for sending him out into the “real world” just hours after Sage’s birth. But I also needed that alone time. That next morning is when I finally cried. Alone in the house, I just let the tears and emotions flow out of me. The pain of losing a child is as primal, raw and intense as giving birth. I just couldn’t believe it was true… couldn’t believe it had happened. I remember feeling that I would have given anything for it to all not be true. My brain knew that it happened but how could my heart accept such a cruel, evil reality? The following day it snowed. It hadn’t snowed much all winter. It kind of felt like it was snow for Sage.
There is a bizarre time warp that comes with the loss of a child. The “before” and the “after”. Life felt completely different the minute I knew that Sage wasn’t alive. I have mentally retraced the steps of the week before he stopped being alive… the “before”. All of those places I went and things I did took on a new significance. The last photos of myself pregnant meant so much more. The last pregnant picture of my three boys and I was at a car show- Jack next to me, Wyatt on my back in the Ergo and Sage inside of me. He wasn’t alive. I had no idea. We chose a new couch that evening and it was to be delivered on January 27th . I was so excited to spend my postpartum days with our new baby on that comfortable couch. The couch came to our house but our baby didn’t. I didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone for a few weeks in the “after”. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone looking at me- no longer pregnant but no baby to show. I didn’t want to be away from Jake or the boys for a second- I needed their physical presence. I lived on Starbucks dark roast by day and organic wine by night.
The first month or so feels like a fog looking back on it. Cocooning at home, I was just trying to keep breathing. A dear friend gave me the book, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir” by Elizabeth McCracken. It’s a raw, powerful and inspiring story of stillbirth. The author’s words really helped me to name and articulate my own difficult thoughts and emotions. I immediately started it again when I finished the last page. I poured over every story of stillbirth I could find online. The website Glow in the Woods ( http://www.glowinthewoods.com/ ) was/is hugely helpful. It’s an online resource for babyloss parents with forums (divided by sections: general support, trying to conceive/pregnancy after loss, not trying to conceive/infertility after loss, parenting after loss), helpful articles and inspiring blog posts.
My tribe of mama friends were (and are) an amazing source of love and support to our family after Sage was born- they took some of the burden of “real life” practicality off of my shoulders by bringing meals and groceries, texting me daily to check on me, delivering endless coffees to my doorstep and mourning the loss of Sage right along with me. They created an amazing Random Acts of Kindness project in his name, which meant the world to me. To me, Sage is synonymous with love- he was created from love, enveloped in it through me and surrounded in it by all who know and love our family. I love the thought of people doing nice things for each other, inspired by Sage’s little life.
In those early days, many people sent flowers and cards and my friends frequently texted to check on me. It felt comforting knowing that everyone cared about us and mourned Sage. It helped so much to read so many messages of love. After a couple weeks, the flowers began to wilt and the shock felt just as fresh as when I learned Sage’s heart wasn’t beating. It just wasn’t fair- instead of our newborn baby, I had a “memory box” full of sympathy cards.
There were about 3 days between Sage’s birth and his ashes coming home to me. I remember it feeling weird to not have him there… in whatever form. I wasn’t pregnant… there wasn’t a baby… it was just awful. The kind young woman from the funeral home brought him to me. His ashes in a container in a small blue, velvet bag. It felt right to have him at home with us. It was horrific to have to realize that this was the physical form my son was now in.
I’ve never been a “pumping mom”- I’ve nursed my boys exclusively and have let them wean on their own, in their own time. My almost-4-year-old still nurses and he was thrilled when my milk came in postpartum. It was hugely helpful to me (physically and emotionally) to have him snuggle up to me and drink milk- a gift from his brother he would never meet. It was surreal that my baby wasn’t there to drink his milk. I wanted to pump as much milk as I could to donate to a baby in need so I borrowed a friend’s breast pump and pumped a few times a day. This was an interesting learning experience for me, though awful, sad and devastating. However, I am so very happy to be able to give this gift of milk to a special mama and baby.
Speaking of breasts, it’s been difficult dealing with a postpartum body but no baby. Living in recovery of an eating disorder that I’ve dealt with for most of my life, I still struggle big time with my body image. On a biological level, I imagine my body was totally confused- where on earth was my sweet newborn I was supposed to be snuggling skin-to-skin and nursing? I imagine that my hormones were really thrown off. My fertility didn’t return for about 2 years after my first two sons- 24 months and 29 months. It came back 32 days after Sage’s birth. My body knew it wasn’t caring for a baby.
I never imagined that the term “grieving parents” could be used to describe Jake and I. I NEVER, ever imagined I’d be writing about this. I’m a “bereaved mother”. I became one of “those moms”… the mom your heart breaks for, the poor woman who has lived the horror of losing a child. I’ve seen the look of horror and pity in the eyes of people I tell. In the past, I’ve known a few women who have experienced miscarriage and my heart shattered for them. But I had never known anyone to experience stillbirth. I still can’t believe that it happened to me. I don’t like the “terms” that come along with describing a “not alive baby” (which, by the way, is the only term I can use… I simply can’t use the “D” word about Sage- it feels too harsh or something). I don’t like the term “born sleeping”. Sleeping is alive. I don’t like “lost my baby.”
I know where he is and what happened. This scenario really just defies words- on many levels. So many people have said “I don’t have the words” and I just say “It’s ok, I know… there just aren’t any”. It’s not the actual words people say that are important when offering your condolences at a time like this… it’s the sentiment behind it. Knowing people care makes me feel loved. People acknowledging Sage’s little life means the world to me. I think one of the reasons it’s so helpful to read the stories’ of other moms is because this experience and the aftermath is so very hard to describe in words.
I’ve never felt more bonded to my husband than through this experience. I remember feeling so sorry for him that this happened… so sorry that our baby wasn’t alive and his heart was broken. He has been amazing at loving and supporting me through this. We’re walking through this together and both understand the value of communication. I’ve learned that the grief experience and journey is different for everyone. While it may be a little easier for others to temporarily put their feelings aside sometimes, the baby who isn’t here is never gone from the mother’s mind. I have learned that I need to tell my husband what I need or how he can support me- he certainly can’t read my mind. All I really ever need from him is his love and his embrace. He makes me feel safe and gives me strength to keep going.
When I did venture out for the first time, it felt so weird to be out among “normal people”. They didn’t know that there was supposed to be a sweet newborn snugly wrapped on me, sleeping or nursing. It shouldn’t have been “just me”. I wasn’t able to make eye contact with people for awhile. I felt like I wanted to either be invisible or have a sign around my neck that says “My baby isn’t alive- I’m not myself”. I was missing a part of my body… and my heart. I still am. Seeing pregnant women made me feel a slight tinge of jealousy- the thought that “of course their babies will be alive.” But in the same beat, I held the hope that I would be blossoming with life again someday. Seeing babies- especially those who are around the age that Sage would be- feels a little weird…because why can’t my baby be here?? But I have honestly only felt positive feelings when I’ve been around the new babies and mamas who come to my weekly group- I care about them and it makes me happy to support and encourage them.
They talk about the “stages of grief”- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In my experience, they’ve all been there but not really in an orderly-fashion-timeline. They seem to ebb and flow into each other, sometimes they coming all at once. My brain knows I have to accept that my baby isn’t alive because it’s true…it happened. But my heart will never be able to accept and be ok with it. The grief is unnavigable…unthinkable… unimaginable. But somehow, I have to endure it. The only way seems to be to go through it- you can’t bypass, go around or shortcut the sadness. It’s so thick and heavy…so hard to imagine there’s any way to the other side. There are so many waves of emotion… and they’re all so intense. My boys are the life rafts that are keeping me from completely drowning in the swells of sorrow. I have learned that the
grief and the healing- the “after”- will not be linear. Some days will feel ok…some will feel unbearable…some will be wonderful and some will be awful. Sometimes I think “Yes, I will survive this.” Other times, my thought is “How can I survive this??”. The aftermath…the grief. It’s a journey.
To Everything There is a Season
I miss my “old life.” I miss the life where I was blissfully unaware of the depths of heartbreak that could occur in life. All of the other “problems” I’ve ever had in my life seem impossibly silly compared to this. I wish I could go back in time to make everything ok and have him born alive and looking at me. I have literally caught myself screaming inside my head, “I want my old life back!” many times. But there’s no going back… no changing reality. I know I will eventually come to a place where I can “let it be”. I have to, because it is. I just want Sage back.
I watched the seasons change in the months after Sage was born. I remember looking out the window at the trees of winter: dead-looking, barren, empty. Just like I felt. I could see the tiny green buds starting, signs of hope that good things would come again. It gradually turned from Winter to Spring and is now transitioning to Summer. During my pregnancy, I kept thinking that each thing we did would be the last as a family of 4. Our baby was supposed to be with us for those nice Spring days. It hurt so much on the first sunny days- Sage would never see or feel the sun. There were a few days when I wouldn’t go near the window because I didn’t want to see the sun. I remember bursting into tears when the boys and I were out one day because the sun was so bright and beautiful. My baby wasn’t there to feel the warmth. There are also the seasons of life. I have been in this awful “season of mourning”… mourning who Sage was as a baby… the child we were supposed to watch him grow to be… the adult man who would someday tower over me like his brothers. I should have three sons here with me. My season of pregnancy that was filled with excitement and anticipation turned into devastation and disbelief. Time marches on and the world keeps turning. As the days on the calendar go by, I can’t even fathom that so much time has passed. It’s currently June but my life stopped on January 24t h ( there’s one calendar in my kitchen on which I can’t yet bear to change the date). I have to keep going but the reality is that life hurts. My heart is so very heavy.
Where am I Now?
At 19 weeks since Sage was born, I find myself wanting distraction. While it felt like staying home was the only way I could exist in the first couple months, it now feels hard to be at home sometimes. My sons and I have been spending time out of the house- at museums, parks, soccer practice, Target. It hurts to be at home sometimes and it’s easier to not constantly think of our sweet Sage when we’re out doing something. It’s all so hard. I do what feels right to get through the day while trying to be the best mom I can be. Which is difficult in itself because I’m “out of sorts.” Parenting living children after stillbirth is really challenging sometimes. While I am SO thankful for my boys and love them deeply and completely with my heart and soul, it’s hard to be “on” all the time. Part of motherhood is helping your children to deal with their emotions all day. It’s hard to deal with theirs when I have my own HUGE emotions.
If I’m telling my story honestly, I want to include the fact that I’m transitioning into a new season of life. I’m pregnant with my fourth child, on an almost an identical timeline as my pregnancy with Sage. This baby will hopefully be born alive and able to look at me at the end of January 2018. This experience gives completely new meaning to the term “full circle”. I instinctively felt the need to be pregnant again almost immediately after Sage was born. Not all women feel this way, but I learned upon reading stories like mine that many moms do feel a strong desire to have another baby. There is certainly never a replacement of a child who isn’t alive… just love. There is forever a hole in my heart that could only be filled by Sage. He is and will always be my third child. I hate that life has to go on without him but I guess I have to accept it. I’m now counting the weeks in two ways- my mind has automatically kept track of the weeks since I held Sage and now, I’m counting the weeks of this new life within me. Pregnancy after stillbirth is going to be an intense roller coaster of emotions, I know. I have learned the fragility of life and know there are no guarantees. I will be thankful for each day of pregnancy and love that I can give to this baby. Though I would give anything to have him here in my arms, I will carry Sage in my heart for the rest of my days.
He inspires me to keep it all about love.