Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

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My department's administrative assistant is a very, very nice woman. I chat with her almost every day when I come into the office to check my mailbox or to pick up what I sent to the printer. Last Friday towards the end of the conversation she mentioned that she'd just been by to see her niece the day before, and that it was because the niece is due any moment. Not my favorite conversation, but I made a supportive noise. "And you know, the cord is wrapped twice around the baby. So they are going to take the baby on Tuesday if she doesn't go before then." I felt my eyes go wide at the "twice." It's an involuntary response, and it comes with the throat tightening. I am pretty sure my blood pressure jumps too.

I am, though, by now able to remain at least outwardly calm. I asked if they were planning induction or c-section for Tuesday, I nodded to her saying that the niece might go earlier as she'd already lost the mucus plug. I didn't jump in with horror stories, mine or anyone else's I know. Because in truth I know that nuchal cord occurs in a relatively sizable percentage of pregnancies, and that most times it presents no problems at all. And because this is not the way I want to tell people about A. The administrator, she doesn't know. It sounded like the doctors were aware of the risk and managing it. So I stayed mum. I thought about them on and off through the weekend. And Monday I made sure to stop by "to check my mailbox" even before dropping my stuff off in my own office. Because as rational as I am trying to be, taking pregnancy and birth related things for granted is just not something I can do. The niece is fine, by the way-- she had a healthy baby on Saturday.

It's not that I am a mess about every single pregnancy I am aware of. In fact, it's a lot harder to expect bad pregnancy-related things to happen to other people than to myself. When my sister was pregnant, she was a lot more nervous than an average bear. Understandable, as she was so very present for us, and in fact was the only person other than my husband and myself (and hospital and funeral home staff) to have seen A. But me? Not until one of the nurses called a doc about the heartbeat strip looking a tad too regular during delivery that I really really worried that something horrible may befall her too (it didn't, my nephew was just taking a little nap amidst contractions). I don't mean I assumed she'd be fine, but I didn't have the horrible pit in my stomach for her the entire time.

I think I assume other people's normal pregnancies will go normally. (Other babylost mamas are the exception, of course-- I worry there. But then none of our subsequent pregnancies are really considered low-risk, are they?) But throw in a hint of trouble, the barest, tiniest hint of trouble and this person, whether a friend, acquaintance, a blogger I just heard about, or a complete stranger begins to occupy a large chunk of my thoughts. I don't want them to know what we know. I don't want them to have a reason to google in the middle of the night. I don't want them to become one of us. Nothing I can do about it, of course.

Or mostly nothing. I once made a pregnant friend call her OB's office when we were on vacation. The friend had a stomach bug, and I was pretty sure the office would send her to the nearest hospital for fluids and monitoring. They did, and when we got there, her dehydration was so severe that there is a good chance getting there when we did prevented at least a bout of contractions. And I think that if I heard of someone who sounded like they were not getting good care or not reporting important symptoms, I would likely raise an alarm and try to get them to do something. But for more minor things I have now trained myself to stay out of it.

It doesn't take a shrink to know why signs of trouble in even complete strangers' pregnancies bug me. I mean, I had a pretty busy weekend, and I still thought about this niece I've never met more times than I've thought of most of my own friends. And because living in my own head is what I do, a lot, I also think about how it is that I react outwardly, and why. Five years on, many conversations are still not very comfortable to me. The "when" the baby comes ones are particularly not my cup of tea. But in most situations, I just look for the shortest or most graceful way out. Early on I was more likely to think of these conversations as a way to tell A's story. But now it's almost as if I am afraid that a pedestrian conversation might be beneath his memory, might get the dust of trivial onto the sacred.

It's weird, I know. One thought that used to drive me bonkers in the early months and years was that most people in the world don't know he existed, and never will know. That as important as he is to me, he is nothing to them. They can go on about their business unencumbered by the thought of him, of all this promise gone, of all the potential not only unrealized, but never even hinted at. And now I don't want to use his name in vain. It's not that it doesn't bother me anymore that others don't know. It still does. But now I don't want to shout about it from the rooftops. I want to tell, I think, in a way that gives dignity to his memory and to him.

A friend once said that she doesn't always know how to speak of A because, she said, "he is your pain." "No," I replied, "he is my son." This, I think, is why I don't talk about him every time I could-- I want him thought of primarily as my son, rather than that very sad thing that happened to me. So when I hear of a pregnancy complication, I don't want to brandish A's story (or any of the other babylost families' stories). I think I worry it would be seen as a prop. I don't want to get attention that way. But I still worry.


Have you been in a position to discuss someone else's risky pregnancy? How do you react? Do you tell everyone about your child(ren) or are you selective about it? Has that changed with time?


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Reader Comments (16)

"I want him thought of primarily as my son, rather than that very sad thing that happened to me." This is so hard for me. People don't see them as my children...they see them as a run of bad luck...in sort of a cumulative way. But each was their own child. I had individual experiences with each of them. So yeah..."might get the dust of trivial onto the sacred" is exactly the right sentiment for me. So I just don't talk about them anymore, except for with close family and/or friends who I can trust to honor them the way I need.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine
"I want him thought of primarily as my son, rather than that very sad thing that happened to me." This, times a million. I want so badly to be able to talk about my son without the sadness and heaviness. Thank you for this sentence and this post.

I find myself wanting to warn pregnant people -- Are you aware that your baby might die? But of course, I don't ever say the words aloud. I find it impossible to believe that pregnancy = live baby any more.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet
One of my colleagues at work is pregnant with her first baby (a boy) and is due in about two months. Until yesterday I had never mentioned that I had a child before Clio, even though almost everyone I work with already knows and I work this woman everyday. I did not want to freak her out.

But yesterday she told me that she wasn't feeling the baby move as frequently as she was two days ago and asked if I would go in to get it checked out if I was in her shoes. I couldn't pretend to be someone who didn't know that sometimes pregnancy can go horribly, horribly wrong so I told her that absolutely and without a doubt I would go and get checked out. She said she didn't want to be "that girl" who over reacts and I told her that it was ok to be "that girl."
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianna
I recognised so much of my own thinking in this post. I do presume that other people's pregnancies will go well - until any mention of complications when I go into mental overdrive. I am selective about sharing Emma and her story with people - I'm very comfortable talking about her but I just don't NEED too, these days.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill (Fireflyforever)
I am just over 7 months out from my loss of Eva. The first weeks I wanted to tell everyone about her...our missing child. Then as time moved on I noticed I didn't want to share her in passing, didn't want to share her with someone who would not even ask or know her name, didn't want to share her with someone who would only think of her as that sad time. I was in a store the other day and someone commented on my beautiful necklace. I just said thank you. Sometimes I feel like I'm betraying her. I don't know who I'm protecting when I don't mention her. Her or myself?

She was and is and always will be my daughter. There are glimmers of joy mixed in with the sadnesss...she is not all sadness. My daughter could never be all sadness. I am eternally grateful for the time that we had together and the time we will have together in heaven, later.

I still talk about her all the time with people who love her but when random people comment on our 3 boys and ask if we'll try for a girl or something like that I quietly tell them there's more to the story than they see...and I place my hand lovingly and protectively over the picture of her that hangs around my neck.

I do have a hard time with people's pregnancies and babies, healthy and otherwise. One person phoned me on the 6 month anniversary of Eva's death to tell me she was in labour. It became a much harder day than it would have been anyway, after that phone call. After I told her I hoped her baby would be born alive-ack!

Sometimes I don't know to what depths I will be affected by something until it happens.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEm
>>One thought that used to drive me bonkers in the early months and years was that most people in the world don't know he existed, and never will know. That as important as he is to me, he is nothing to them. They can go on about their business unencumbered by the thought of him, of all this promise gone, of all the potential not only unrealized, but never even hinted at. And now I don't want to use his name in vain. It's not that it doesn't bother me anymore that others don't know. It still does. But now I don't want to shout about it from the rooftops. I want to tell, I think, in a way that gives dignity to his memory and to him.<<

and also

>>I want him thought of primarily as my son, rather than that very sad thing that happened to me.<<

These quotes are very similar to how I feel, but you said it far more eloquently than I ever could.

As for dealing with pregnant women: I treat very carefully here. I really don't want to be the personification of every pregnant woman's worst nightmare. I just want to be my children's mother, even the mother of the ones who I can only mother in my heart.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
*tread, not treat.
March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
Very good post, Julia. It confirms almost everything, what I feel.

I am from Hungary - though we treat ourselves as a very developed country in terms of social fairs, I think in terms of babyloss the system is far beyond of what I'd treat "human". And it's still much-much better as it was 20 years ago. Anyway - according to the law, I didn't have the right to officially name my baby. On all papers it said ">>my surname<< dead girl". She didn't have a death certification, I only got a paper from the hospital that I had had a c-section and the baby had been found dead.
This was the first time, when I realized, that for the others my baby did not exist at all. She was just "+1" to the statistics, and that's it. They think, she was a "sad thing" that happened to me, what I should forget about and move on. Noone calls her on her name (we could not officially name her, but obviously she has a name), and those, who are brave enough to at least mention her, the maximum they say is "baby".

Since I joined to the "berevead mothers" club, you know what I think? That we are stigmatic in others eyes. We are the ones, whos baby died. And if your baby died, you should be guilty. Otherwise, if they'd admit, that such a tragedy can happen with good people too, they'd also admit, that it can happen to them too...

Pregnancy: 1 month after my daughter died, I met a friend and her sister in law who was in the 7th month. She knew the "sad thing" that happened to me, and she was nice so she did not speak about her pregnancy only after I asked. But anyway - I just simply hated her. Of course with my mind I did not wish her to experience this, but somewhere deep below I really wanted her to understand my loss - and what's the way she'd be able to understand? If her baby dies too... I am not evil, and I felt so bed when I realized what I wished... I really hope that her baby will be okay (she has 1 month left), otherwise I would belive that this was also my fault. Did you have same feelings towards other pregnant women?
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
Wonderful piece, Julia. It really captured something I notice about myself too. I am afraid of being the Angel of Doom in a pregnant lady's life. I just don't mention Lucy or her death. I button my lip. I pretend I know nothing. Mostly, I have to walk away from conversations, because I know too much. I am always convinced when someone starts talking about a little symptom their OB dismissed as totally normal, or not a big cause for concern, I have read a woman's blog whose child died because that symptom that turned into WORST CASE SCENARIO! And with Lucy, she just died at 38 weeks of pregnancy. No slowing of movement. No discernible reason. How do you tell someone to prepare for that? I just tell people, like Brianna, that you need to be THAT woman. Take your intuition seriously. Take your anxiety seriously. Get everything checked out if just to put your mind at ease, because your mind matters.

I loved this: A friend once said that she doesn't always know how to speak of A because, she said, "he is your pain." "No," I replied, "he is my son."

YES! Exactly.
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngie
I don't mention the bad thing that happened. And, yes, that's how I think about it.

If someone else mentions it, I try to be nice, but inwardly I'm screaming "Just shut up. That's the last thing I want to be reminded of."
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterniobe
when i hear of a local woman or an acquaintance (or even an online blog/forum woman) going past her edd, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. i have an internal conversation with myself 'jeez, why are they allowing this to happen, just go in and get induced or have a cesarean- get the baby out alive while there is still time!' and then 'well, most babies go past their edd and they are fine... no need to be a freaky harbinger of death...', and then 'well, i wish someone had told ME about post dates and what can happen... she'd be here with me now if i had only known'. yup. but no one told me, in fact, if someone had told me, i would have changed the subject or walked away, because i didn't want my perfect birth plan to get sullied with someone else's scary story to insert fear into my labor.

but most of the time, i can remain emotionally detached, enought to find out what happened. i have inadvertantly become immersed in the world of all of the ways a baby can die, and always, i feel sad for the baby, because they are another innocent victim of the unfairness in life. i feel horrible for the parents, because i know what lies ahead for them. it is such a tragedy! i live in a rural area, so i don't know of many people in real life who have lost a baby. they are around, but everyone lives under the radar about their personal tragedies. i can only assume people know what happened to us, and i do wonder if they avoid talking to me because they think we must be freaks for having lost 2 babies to stillbirth. like, something is wrong with us, it is contageous, and are in a social quarentine because of it (like what anna wrote about being stigmatic). on the very rare occasion that we do bring one of them up in conversation (i.e. our new baby looks just like his sister that died), people get so uncomfortable! i wish i could talk about them, they are a huge part of my life! even so many years later. i don't want to talk about them all the time, non-stop, but just to be able to feel i can casually bring them up, a quick mention or memory, and not feel like i said the word 'fuck' in front of a priest.

and i am definitely aware of this dichotomy of the event and of the person. the event- my baby died, there was a stillbirth. the person- well, the baby, me, my husband. an event happened to my baby, and she died because of it. an event happened to me, and it changed my life, made me a different person as a result. the thing that is tough is that no one really knew my baby the way i did. so, they focus on the event, and one degree further, the life changing event in my life, not even hers. my baby becomes a character in this, and that is what i don't like. i do wish it wouldn't have to be about *me*, but because i am the survivor, it is. for me, and for others. i try to be very careful to keep separate the 'bad thing" that happened (my pain) from the memory of my babies, what they looked like, how they felt in my arms, how i regard them in my life now, with love. i feel like i went off on tangents, but those are my thoughts about the post. again, thanks for allowing the opportunity to share here.
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterss
I really, really try to not be that person and scares the shit out of women so I don't say much on the subject of pregnancy and childbirth anymore. A cheerful "good luck!" and "let me know how it turns out" is about all I can usually manage.
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonique
I get silently hysterical when woman knowingly postpone pregnancy to their late 30's or even early 40's. My Nina had trisomy 13 which is directly linked to maternal age, and to quote our bedside mannerless neonatetologist, "face it your reproductive material is past its sellbuy date." And I was only 36 at the time.
March 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandie
True, so true.
March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Baum
I am a walking harbinger of doom - or as I've always loved from Elizabeth McCracken, worse than a cautionary tale. I am a horror story.

You name the loss, I've had most of them. I'm still holding my breath to see if we escape this end of pregnancy with a living baby or no. I don't trust that we will, though there is no reason to think we won't. I'm as vigilant as I can be, my doctors are too - it's just that I know now that isn't necessarily good enough.

I do and don't talk about Gabriel. It's far less often now, and since this pregnancy began, it's mostly been factual explanation for why I have no children but am ridiculously high-risk and have so many restrictions and appointments and fears. Well, you see, poor obstetric history, damaged cervix, my son, pre-term, passed away after birth, doing all we can do . . .

I've grown quieter as I've grown bigger, my voice lost while I wait and wait and wait in hibernation to see how the story ends. It hurts to say she's not our first with inevitable explanations. It hurts to say she is our first and leave the explanations aside. My own father has repeatedly talked about our becoming parents and my mother has said she's excited to become a grandmother, and all I can think is "But we are parents. We've been parents for two and a half years now. You are a grandmother - you never met him, but I held your grandson in my arms while he lived." And if these people who love me and know me can't understand, how can a stranger.

I do get anxious about other people's pregnancies. When I was active (earlier in this pregnancy) on a national message board, I was frequently the one urging others to call their docs. Not for unnecessary reasons - I was happy to scold women for lying about symptoms for an u/s or something similar - but when others were dismissive or told someone to chill, I'd always reiterate that a phone call doesn't hurt anything. That it was better to be 'that patient' with a living baby than the patient with the dead one who didn't want to bother anyone. That guilt is insidious and I'd rather false alarms a hundred times over than experience the what-ifs again. I know my presence scared women. I know because I was told so. I shrugged. I can't hide my past or my son, and it could help. If others cannot deal with the reality that babies die unexpectedly or that tragedy can occur, that's not my problem. I don't force the story onto others - in real life or online - but I am what I am and who I am. It can't be changed. The most I can do is refrain from details or specifics or be tight-lipped. It just depends on the time.

The problem is in the knowing. I wouldn't want others inserting their horror stories on me, but at the same time - how can I avoid it when I am the horror story? Likewise, in knowing the other walking horrors, how I can be comfortable that this baby will arrive safely and soundly? Yes, she looked fantastic today, but that doesn't mean there isn't an unknown infection brewing. Or that the cord isn't knotted. Or that something will just . . .stop. Having been the statistic, I can't put faith in that.

I refuse to hide in shame. But I likewise don't generally look for a platform from which to preach. I just . . . live my life. My story is a piece of that. Gabriel is a piece of that.
April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereliza
Rachel, who says you are not eloquent? "I just want to be my children's mother, even the mother of the ones who I can only mother in my heart."

We are all mothers, but other people--the ones who don't "know"--don't count it unless you have a child who lives. And yeah, that's pretty annoying when people assume you don't know anything about pregnancy or love for your child, and it's pretty annoying when you have to pretend you don't know horrible things can happen.

Honestly, I try to avoid pregnant women. I try to avoid asking questions. I am pregnant again myself, and though I talk about it to the ones who "know," I still avoid the conversations with the ones who don't, or with the ones who know but pretend they don't (which makes them people who don't know). I may happily say something about "when the baby comes," but inwardly I am holding my breath. I just can't do that for other people too.
April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE

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