October was declared Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in the US with a Presidential Proclamation from Ronald Reagan in 1988. The purpose is to bring awareness to the issues of miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, SIDS and all infant deaths along with remembering and honoring the babies we’ve lost.
While I understand it’s a topic many of us want to avoid, it’s a life-changing, permeating experience for some of us. In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I wanted to share some of the books that have been helping me and a few excerpts that I find particularly healing.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
“I don’t want those footprints framed on the wall, but I don’t want to hide them beneath the false bottom of a trunk. I don’t want to wear my heart on my sleeve or put it away in cold storage. I don’t want to fetishize, I don’t want to repress, I want his death to be what it is: a fact. Something people know without me having to explain it. I don’t feel the need to tell my story to everyone, but when people ask, Is this your first child? I can’t bear any of the possible answers. I’m not ready for my first child to fade into history” (15).
“At first I was worried I’d stay in bed weeping, and then I thought: If I remember everything, I’m done for. If I remember, I will walk to the nearest hospital and ask for a nice bed in the psychiatric wing, I promise to be quiet, I promise I will not ask for narcotics, just keep me, nurse, for a few months. In May you can transfer me to maternity. I am not crazy, but I am just being careful: I am not crazy, but if I’m not careful I will take a wrong step and end up in the forest. Sometimes I can feel it happening: my memory, my bad memory, my untrained memory. It creeps toward that time” (56).
“When I was a teenager in Boston, a man on the subway handed me a card printed with tiny pictures of hands spelling out the alphabet in sign language. I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else’s: surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explain it for you. I wanted my stack. I still want it. My first child was stillborn, it would say on the front. It remains the hardest thing for me to explain, even now, or maybe I mean especially now––now that his death feels like a non sequitur. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know but I don’t want to say it aloud. People don’t like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card” (73).
[On sitting in the ob-gyn practice after the loss:] “A younger woman tugged at her low-slung maternity jeans as she backed into the chair, and then she patted her stomach. ‘When are you due?’ asked the already mother, and the young woman answered, ‘Friday. Can’t wait.’ I have nothing in common with you, I thought. That shows I had already forgotten the one lesson I’d vowed to learn: you can never guess at the complicated history of strangers” (111).
“I wanted Hold Your Horses Magazine. Don’t Count Your Chickens for Women. Pregnant for the Time Being Monthly. [. . .] What I wanted, scrawled across my chart in shaky physician’s cursive: NOTE: do not blow sunshine up patient’s ass” (114).
“Once you’ve been on the losing side of great odds, you never find statistics comforting again” (115).
“Twice now I have heard the story of someone who knows someone who’s had a stillborn child since Pudding has died, and it’s all I can do not to book a flight immediately, to show up somewhere I’m not wanted, just so that I can say, It happened to me, too, because it meant so much to me to hear it. It happened to me, too meant: It’s not your fault. And You are not a freak of nature. And This does not have to be a secret” (136).
“Time had bent again. Time had developed a serious kink. Our old life––the one where we planned our existence around the son we were expecting––had ended, but our new life––the one where we tried to figure out how to live without him––couldn’t start yet. We were stuck in a chronological bubble” (165).
“I find myself thankful for large and small things, in the way of people who’ve lost two limbs and are glad not to have lost four” (172).
The Deeper Wound
“Out of suffering can come love. Love is the hidden message within all fear and pain, no matter how horrible they make you feel. The idea that suffering contains a spiritual message goes beyond fatalism and idealism both, because the distinction between inner and outer, physical and mental is erased” (62).
“It is also true that suffering ennobles people, teaches us lessons, guides us toward insight, and purifies our nature. Suffering is a paradox” (63).
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart
Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D.
“Eventually, when you are ready, you may recognize something positive from the experiences surrounding your loss. Perhaps you will find you have a strengthened marriage, deepened friendships, increased personal awareness, greater confidence or better understanding of and willingness to help others who experience loss” (90).
[Suggestions for others encountering the grieving:] “Refrain from statements that belittle their grief such as, ‘It’s really for the best.’ They can only find the silver linings for themselves at their own pace, and even then, these will not banish their grief. Instead of offering solutions or platitudes, simply tell them how sorry you are and that you are thinking of them. Knowing that you care makes a difference” (242).
Still to be Born
Pat Schwiebert, RN
Paul Kirk, MD
“Letting go does not mean that I will forget my child. Letting go means only that I accept that my child really is dead and that no amount of wanting and yearning and thinking about my child will bring him back. Letting go is accepting life as it really is without pretending that I can make it otherwise. It is also deciding that I can indeed be a happy person with my new and different life. It’s allowing yourself to reinvest your energy and interest into something or someone else” (22).
[On a subsequent pregnancy:] “Instead of reveling in the joy of an unfolding miracle, you may find yourself treading cautiously and fearfully––one step at a time––feeling nothing but relief as each step brings you closer to the end” (79).
Pregnancy After a Loss
Carol Cirulli Lanham
“Now we had gone through so much and still had no baby. So even though I was scared to death of another pregnancy, I still wanted a baby to take care of and to nurture. I needed that. Not as a replacement, but to fill that need I had for a baby. For all of those reasons, I had to try again. I likened it to climbing this huge mountain and getting three-fourths of the way up. Now which would you rather do? Fight three-fourths of the way back down or go ahead and finish? I felt like we had to keep going” (63).
“I was pretty upset worrying about the enormousness of it all. But after that, I adopted an attitude that worrying about it wasn’t going to make me or the baby live two minutes longer. And if, God forbid, something bad happened, I would have plenty of time afterward to be devastated” (110).
“If you’re like most women who are pregnant after a loss, you prepare yourself for nine months of contradictions. There’s elation over knowing that you’re expecting another baby, and sadness over the one that you lost. There’s excitement over what’s to come, and trepidation about what each day may bring. There’s the hope that comes with another chance, and despair that it may all be in vain” (113).
“Even though I was overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude, I couldn’t help but feel sad and even resentful over my loss. I looked forward to each passing month because it would bring me closer to the day when I might bring home a healthy baby. And yet I feared every minute because I knew that this new life might slip away, too. I tried to maintain a positive attitude and believe with all my heart that, this time, everything would be all right, and yet many times I could not help but worry the worst would happen again” (113).
“I am so tired of being afraid all the time. I wish I could just go to sleep and wake up seven months from now with a live healthy baby in my arms” (193).
These five books have provided me with a tremendous sense of comfort, understanding, and reassurance. If nothing else, it helps to know I’m not the only person who has ever felt this way. I hope they can help others as well.