Did you know that according to the CDC, stillbirths impact about 1% of all US pregnancies or 25,000 stillbirths a year? I personally had no idea until it happened to my wife and I just over 20 years ago.
I decided to write this blog as a tribute to my wife and her courage, but also with the hope that I can help other men who have gone through this or may go through this horrible experience.
After a miscarriage and losing a baby due to anencephaly, my wife and I were thrilled that we were pregnant again with a baby boy. We were in our 8th month when my wife experienced an unusually rough night of excessive baby kicking. Since it was unusual, we decided that we should go for a checkup the following morning. The words that every expecting parent fears most seemed to echo through the doctor’s office that morning, “I am sorry, but there is no heartbeat”.
Nobody ever asked me directly what it felt like to hear this news, but I can share with you that I was overtaken with anger and I couldn’t find the courage to look at my wife. I knew my priority was to support her as she was about to go through a full labor process. No words can help a woman through this and I don’t think we spoke but just a few words leading up to the delivery.
What nobody prepared me for was the decisions I would need to make the next day. Would we hold the baby, name him, bury him, or have a funeral? I was receiving guidance from strangers and loved ones who had never gone through this experience. I reached out to my spiritual leader who advised me that my religion didn’t recognize birth or death in this fashion. I will never forgive him for that. There were leaflets distributed, but I couldn’t bring myself to read them. We received guidance from a counselor who shared that many families choose not to hold the baby, for it’s often more painful long term.
I will share with my readers that not holding him was the worst decision I made that day and there is a gaping hole in my heart as a result of it. We elected to not have a funeral, but my parents made the decision to have him buried at a local cemetery. I think my Dad knew that one day, I would want to visit the grave to find closure. We made that visit 10 years later, and though extremely painful, it was also healing. The unmarked grave now has a beautiful headstone.
There was a consistent message from those that loved me most- stay strong for your wife as she needs you. Get back to work, get back to life, so life can begin again. This is how we as humans survive and I did just that.
As I reflect back, we needed counseling, we needed to mourn more effectively, and we needed to grieve. Men, we are not often asked, are you okay, truly how are you, what are you thinking, or what are you feeling? I encourage men that may be going through this to find time to mourn, share your emotions with those you trust, and recognize that you too have suffered deeply. It’s okay to feel the pain and talking about it will help you heal. For those reading this blog, if you have a friend who is dealing with this tragedy, don’t be afraid to talk about it. This is something most parents don’t share outside their inner circle.
For those that don’t know me personally, my wife never gave up on having a family and she showed unprecedented courage to try again. Today, we have two beautiful daughters and to say that we love our girls is an understatement.