I Had A Stillbirth At 38. Here's How I've Made Peace With Never Having Living Children
In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
After I passed the age of 35 without a committed partner, I accepted that I would be childless. But then, five years ago, a wonderful man came into my life. We decided to have a baby together, and at age 38 I became pregnant on the first try.
I was as big as a house. People always asked, “Are you having twins?” (I wasn’t.) But despite my size, exhaustion, and age, my pregnancy was wonderful and happy. I loved knowing my daughter was coming.
At a little past 38 weeks gestation I visited my OB, who said that my daughter’s arrival would likely be about a week early. So I wrapped things up a little early at work and started preparing for labor.
Only days away, I thought excitedly. My parents crossed the country for their youngest child’s first birth. We got busy rearranging, washing, folding, and doing our best to get ready.
But on Wednesday, I noticed that my daughter wasn’t moving normally. She’d act hyper with much kicking and squirming, and then, nothing for long periods of time. I told this to the nurse-midwife I saw on Thursday, who suggested reporting this decreased fetal movement to Labor and Delivery.
I went to the hospital, but after being monitored for fetal heart rate, I was told all was fine and was sent home Thursday evening.
On Friday morning, I woke feeling surprisingly refreshed. I'd been exhausted for the last months of my pregnancy, so I was happy to feel so rested, especially so soon before birth.
But that afternoon, I noticed my daughter didn’t move after lunch. It was odd.
I headed to my scheduled appointment that day, which started with fetal heart monitoring. At first, the nurse seemingly couldn’t get the Doppler, which picks up the baby's heartbeat, to work. So she chose another. That one only picked up my heartbeat. So she went to “get another” and said she’d be right back.
At that point, it began to dawn on me that something was very wrong. I was fighting back the panic.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was taken to the doctor in the ultrasound room. There, she said those dreadful words: “There’s no heartbeat.”
Words cannot express the feeling of knowing hours of labor are still ahead of you … but there will be no baby’s cry at the end.
My story might end there — because I felt as if my life had.
In everything I’ve read on infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death, no matter how emotional or eloquently they were written, they’ve never, ever fully conveyed how much pain a mother experiences carrying a child that has died.
Words simply cannot express the feeling of knowing hours of labor are still ahead of you, delivery is coming … but there will be no baby’s cry. It is an indescribable void.
I cried in mourning for days, and have continued to grieve for years. I went through a heartbreaking baby funeral, revoked maternity leave, and then unemployment, due to an unsupportive work environment and other “snowball effects” that commonly happen after loss.
Where I Am Today and How I'm Advocating for Awareness
For two years after my daughter died, my husband and I tried fertility treatments without success. These procedures were an additional emotional trauma, and now our insurance no longer covers any fertility procedure.
All options for us are both emotionally and financially difficult. People always want to problem-solve for us, and mention options like adoption. It’s frustrating, but I understand their wanting to take our pain away. These days, people want a happy ending.
We’re married now, my wonderful man and I. He wanted to get married despite — or maybe because of the bond of — what we went through.
And now, three years later, I'm tenaciously finding my way in a “childless” life. I have decided to mother my daughter, Makenna, by providing for others: donating baby items, organizing events, and spreading awareness.
My advocacy work began after I attended an international conference on stillbirth six weeks after Makenna died. I now run the DC-DMV Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network Facebook page, which brings together parents, family members, clinical staff, and support providers in the Washington, D.C., area.
I continue to maintain relationships with many organizations deeply involved in the community, including First Candle, Star Legacy Foundation, and local chapters of the MISS Foundation and National Share. I’ve lobbied on the Hill for the passing of the Stillbirth and SUID Prevention, Education, and Awareness Act. And I’ve spoken at local hospitals about how to give “best practice” care for pregnancy and infant loss.
I've been trained as a Baby Loss Family Advisor, as part of a larger certification program that includes HIPAA and Universal Precautions training, supporting the community, attending to families in need, and other childbirth-related studies.
Soon, I'll complete graduate school with a master of science in drug and medical device regulation. Once I’m employed, my husband and I plan to travel and live unbridled. Our “rainbow” is our love, our service in the community, and bettering ourselves. We are enough.