An Empowering Unassisted Stillbirth

My daughter would be 4 years old tomorrow. It is hard to believe it has been so long. My memories feel new to me. I wrote this post shortly after my daughter was born and it still brings me immediately back to living it again. If I had never written this, but were writing it now, I don’t believe it would be very different.

You may ask why or how a stillbirth could be an empowering birth when the idea of it is horrific. It is because I birthed in peace, in love, and in my own power. The memories of the manner in which I birthed my daughter give me great comfort and strength.

My arms still ache to hold. My breasts still ache to nourish. My head is still conflicted with the complexities of navigating life as the mother of four children. My heart is still filled with love for them all equally. I have little interest in changing these feeling, which while being painful, allow me to be. here. now.

It certainly hasn’t become easier these last 4 years, but is has become different.

**Trigger Warning: for depiction of stillbirth. Please honor yourself if you choose not to read.***

Stillbirth: My Comforting Tree

Stillbirth: my comforting tree blooms the same time of year I learned I was pregnant

Why Hasn’t the World Stopped?

Our Baby Born Still 10 September, 2007

It took me several months to be happy we were pregnant again. Nat was only 7 months old and I had complex feelings of being overwhelmed and guilty for both babies. I finally convinced myself to be happy over time, but I just wasn’t able to bond with this new baby completely. I wrote it off to being so sick, feeling terrible emotionally and physically, exhaustion with a teething, newly-mobile toddler, and several illnesses both Nat and I had. It wasn’t until the last two days of this pregnancy that I fell head over heels in love with my daughter and was able to let go completely with passion.

Saturday morning we had an ultrasound because I had a feeling things were not right. It was evident from the moment the ultrasound technician put the wand on my belly that there was something wrong. He switched off the dvd recording device right away. He was calm. So, I was able to keep it together and ask questions. My husband put his hand on my shoulder and fed me strength. The tech pointed to the monitor to showed us the halo around our entire baby’s body and explained that this was fluid built up between the skeleton and skin. There was also fluid in virtually every body cavity between the organs. Our baby was transverse, which always struck me as an unhappy position, as if seeking comfort in the womb. It must have been unbelievably obvious to an ultrasound tech what the problem was because we could clearly see and understand how serious this was.

When we got outside, I just couldn’t get back in that car. So, we walked around the neighborhood streets for awhile. I couldn’t breathe sometimes. It scared Nat so I tried to rein in my emotions. We got back to the parking lot, but I could not face walking across the building entrance to get to the car, so my husband pulled the car around for Nat and me. We didn’t want to go home. It was nice to pretend that we hadn’t suddenly skewed onto a different axis. We had lunch, but although we pretended to be okay, neither my husband nor I tasted the food. We went to a local store to get some clothes for Nat, as we’d planned. But, we just couldn’t face making a decision on the double jogging stroller purchased the day before. We headed home with it still in the back of the car.

I felt angry at every car and person I saw going about their lives as if the world wasn’t supposed to stop. I wanted to scream at them that nothing was right and everyone needed to notice and feel that the earth had broken. Our baby was going to die and there was nothing we could do about it.

That night, I felt that our baby would come soon. I had some bloody show and felt “off.” It was a feeling I remembered from a few days before Nat’s birth started. I took a shower and got some towels and things to be ready. After my husband and son went to sleep, I got online and read about what actually happens when your baby dies, miscarriages, d&c, etc.

I was so scared that it would be weeks before she passed away or weeks before my labor could start and we would be in limbo. What if she kept growing? How could I face giving birth to a big, dead baby? What if she died, but no labor? How would we know when she died? What if I had to go to the hospital for a procedure? But, most of all,  What if she was uncomfortable or in pain the entire time? Things began changing the more I read about the medical aspect of stillbirths.

NO! This was not a clinical piece of tissue. This was my baby and I loved her fiercely.

This was my transition in labor this time.

I spent the night awake and, for the first time, bonding with this baby. I felt a sense of love and peace come from her. I gave myself completely to my baby and felt that love mirrored back with infinite warmth. My sadness grew so deep that I felt the infinite well of despair and pain. My love grew deeper and I told her that it was okay to go. That, “mama would always surround you with love and warmth forever.”

I had this idea that she had been in pain, which is why I had scheduled an ultrasound that I had originally no intention of having. After I thought these things toward my belly, I felt her grow peaceful. I knew somehow that she was able to let go for the first time.

The next morning, I cried and laughed with Nat’s new intense walking skills. Nat nursed often and would touch my face and chest when I cried. He brought me random things from the toy basket, utensil drawer, or recycle bin. He’d look at me very intently as if to say, “Here, this lemonade bottle will help you feel better.” I never would have made it through Sunday without my son.

On Sunday, I emailed a few friends some notes about what was going on so they could let everyone know we needed some space for awhile. I kept reading at motheringdotcommune and got some much needed support from other moms with angel babies. None of them could tell me how to get through it. Just that you do and it never gets better. Just to feel it, honor our baby, and never listen to anyone who tells you that time will make it easier. There will be a hole forever in my heart and I had to embrace it. I felt my daughter move for the last time that night.

I spent Sunday night awake and asleep. My baby wasn’t there when I tried to talk. I loved and let go without fear, but with tears. It felt right, but it was emotionally painful. I woke Monday morning to contractions. We called our midwife, B. She came by and told us that there was real of hemorrhage and death. She verified that there was no fetal heartbeat. She checked my cervix, as I requested, and said that the baby was right there. I said I would not go to the hospital. This baby was going to be born at home. I knew this with absolute purity. My husband supported me. B told me later that she heard my words with her soul and knew I wouldn’t change my mind. She left for her office and told me to call her when my labor intensified.

I was breathing through contractions without fear. I welcomed what was coming. It felt like everything was moving just as it should. I knew I was fine and my baby was already gone. This was just the vessel that she had to ride in while I learned to be the mama of a second baby. I was trying to time my contractions and attempting to figure out if they were double peaking or just right on top of one another. I was moving my hips on the birthing ball.

I felt a pop and thought my water had broken. I had to pee and halfway to the bathroom, felt my water gushing out. I put my hand down and felt tiny toes at the end of my baby’s legs. I called for my husband to get some towels on the floor and to call B to let her know that baby was here. My husband was on the phone with B trying to describe what was happening, asking me how much I was bleeding, and wrangling a crying toddler who wanted to nurse and cuddle mommy. I think he was absolutely terrified that I was going to bleed out in front of them.

I knew I was fine. I wrapped the baby in receiving blankets and the placenta in a blanket and bag. I left her cord intact because it belonged to her. I was careful how much of her body Nat saw. But, when we were nursing on the bed, he popped off, pointed and made a querying sound. I told him that my baby was still. He just went back to nursing as he gazed at her.

I spent alone time with her, looking, taking pictures, and saying goodbye.

B arrived about an hour after the birth and spent some time with us. She told us about her day on the phone. She had spent the day alternating between her clients and calling to try to find someone, anyone, willing to attend the birth with her. No one would. They all said it was too dangerous. She told us that she heard horror story after horror story about moms who died too quickly to get help.

She also said there were complications with dealing with my baby’s body. No one wanted to take her body and we were risking police involvement if we didn’t handle this carefully. She was concerned about us, not herself, and was willing to advocate for us. She finally worked it out that we had to go to the emergency room in a nearby city to get her body in for testing. I am still unable to speak about our inhumane treatment at the hospital. I know I would not have survived it without B there running interference and providing us support.

My daughter had been waiting for me to understand. She had been caring for me by giving me the time to learn about what was wrong, come to terms with it, realize my love, and begin to let go. We named her for the healing and protective properties associated with a tree. She was with us for such a short time, but she gave me so many gifts.

My small corner of the world may not remember that I am a mother of two four children, but I know it. I may the only one who loves or even remembers her everyday for the rest of my life. I am learning how to stay alive here and be her mother, when she is not with me.

***

I plan to write more as I am moved to about my experience, including cause of death and our experience at the hospital. Until then, you can read my follow up post on how I fought through the aftermath of depression and grief during leading up to the pregnancy, after my daughter’s stillbirth, at Motherhood Unadorned, entitled: After the World Stopped Turning (ah, see, now the title makes sense)

25 thoughts on “An Empowering Unassisted Stillbirth

  1. You are a very brave woman. I am beyond touched by the way you honored your daughter through your birth journey.

    I admire the strength it took to write out and share your story. You are so right about the pain never going away or getting better. It just changes.

    xoxo

  2. Oh, Zoie. I am so honored that you shared this with us, and so grief-stricken for you. I knew the story of your daughter must be a heavy one, and I’m glad you’re letting us share the load. You are such a precious mother, and your daughter was blessed to have you for her short time here.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve tried to write more but can’t yet. Haven’t told my stories yet. So much of your story resonates with me. Just wanted to say I’m a mommy of three with only one living and I am so sorry for us both.

  4. I have nothing more to add than what has already been said. I’ve read you mention your daughter before and I am honored to get to read the story of her peaceful birth. Thank you for being so brave and genuine to share it. And I always consider myself a mother to two, though people only see me with one child.

  5. I’ve been putting off reading this due to my own pregnancy at the moment, but tonight felt okay to do so. I can’t even begin to imagine…. I just want to wrap you in my arms and say I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing and being so open and honest.

  6. I’ve always been touched by your letters to all four of your children. I feel your connection to your daughter and I feel truly honored to read your stories here.
    Your daughter chose her mother wisely.
    much love to you, dear Zoie.

  7. I’m not sure I can put into words how I feel after reading this – it’s intense. I feel pain and heartbreak inside and love at the same time. I am so grateful to you for sharing this story. I’m wishing it would have been different but knowing that despite my limited perceptions of good/bad, it was exactly as it was meant to be… which is hard to accept too. Thank-you again for gifting this story to us and showing the deep bond that can happen between a mother and child, even when the childs destiny is in the spirit realm. Onelove.

  8. This story is beautiful. Tears are flowing because of the love you have for her and the love that shines through your words. Thank you for sharing her story. So much love to you and your family, strength to keep going, and gentle hugs so that you feel wrapped in love ❤

  9. Your story was moving beyond words, and I thank you so very much for having the strength to share it. I am deeply sorry for your loss, and I believe that your daughter will always feel and be comforted by your love…

  10. What a raw and beautiful story, Zoie. I can only imagine how painful it was to walk through that experience, and how much you must feel the loss every day. I admire your courage in sharing so openly – I know it will hold many up in their own hour of need. So much love to you.

  11. It’s true. We move on with life, our losses cease to inhabit every moment the way they did.. but we never “get over” them. I still want my memorial tattoo.

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m looking forward to reading the following parts.

  12. Wow, Zoie, that was incredibly powerful and heartbreaking. I wish I had something less trite to say, but I don’t. Just know that I really mean it when I say that I’m so deeply sorry for your loss. Thank you for being willing to share your story. It’s huge. (Also, hugs.) ❤

  13. Dear Zoie,
    For me, the most powerful aspect of what you share is that you are a mother of four. I have only recently come to understand LOVE as a tangible presence that unites us, even after death to the body has occurred.

    When I was just 4 months old, my 4-year-old sister died. I have recently begun to honour my mother by acknowledging her as a mother of 5 (instead of 4). Your words really reinforce to me how important it is to give value to the experience of mothering a child, no matter how long or short the child’s life with us.

    Tears. Tears as I picture you in all your strength and sorrow, taking care of your son and your husband even as you wrapped your babe in a blanket.

    Thankyou, Zoie.
    Much love to you and yours.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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