From Debbie Haine: Spring Cleaning, A Birth Story
I have birthed two living babies and one dead baby. As a woman and a mother, this is something I never thought I would be able to say.
During a routine checkup nearly 4 ½ years ago I found out that our baby’s heart was no longer beating. I was immediately thrust into any expectant mother’s worst nightmare.
Stillbirth is a taboo subject in our society yet it causes approximately 25,000 deaths a year in the U.S. — more than deaths from SIDS and prematurity combined.
Our first daughter was born in 2008 and a week after her birth, I developed a Group B Strep infection and a blood clot that almost killed me. People often asked if I’d ever consider having more children after such a rough recovery and I’d reply. “One day.”
I suffered two miscarriages before my fourth pregnancy stuck and I couldn’t relax and enjoy that pregnancy until I entered my 2nd trimester. Then, during a routine 22-week checkup, as I lay on the examination table recounting my recent trip to Florida, my doctor placed the fetal heart monitor on my belly. There was nothing but silence as my world came crashing down around me.
Weeks later we found out that our daughter Autumn’s umbilical cord had collapsed and cut off her oxygen supply. My doctor informed us this was extremely uncommon and unlikely to happen again, but that didn’t ease my pain or quell my anxiety.
It was a genuine surprise when three months after Autumn’s birth I found out I was pregnant again. After what felt like an eternity, our beautiful boy arrived, almost a year to the date since I’d delivered his sister.
Despite successfully bringing a supremely special boy into this world, the painful truth is that the past few years have been a struggle. Autumn’s loss weighs heavily on me and in some cases it has resulted in my lack of ability to move on. Perfect example is a particular list of spring cleaning projects that I’d manage to successfully ignore over the past couple of years, using our baby boy as an excuse to procrastinate. But it was time to “woman up” and deal with it.
As I was digging through my kid’s closets I found myself face to face with the reason I had been avoiding the task at hand- the harsh and painful reality that the time in my life when I held onto clothes, toys, baby gear for a “what if” scenario was over. I had to accept that we would not be having any more babies, something I had been struggling with for quite some time.
When I stumble across the pink blankets I stored away in my daughters closet years ago for a “what if” scenario, I begin to cry. The baby chapter is closed and I’m mad that biology has taken this major life decision out of my hands. I’ve approached my husband about the idea of a third child, but in his mind we’ve already dodged a few bullets and isn’t interested in tempting fate. I can’t argue with that.
I know I’m extremely lucky to have two beautiful children but there’s still a deep sense of loss I cannot shake. Not only do I miss Autumn every day but I miss what could have been. On a daily basis I play this cruel game, wondering how different I would be, our family life, our marriage, if I hadn’t lost Autumn. I often find myself waiting for the next shoe to drop…losing Autumn has given me a lifelong sense of doom.
And I know I’m not alone. Surviving a stillbirth is a life-altering event yet people don’t talk about it or consider the negative impact stillbirth has on our society. Marriages fail, families fall apart, friendships dissolve, and careers are lost.
But if we talk openly about it, we can remove the stigma, which will enable doctors and healthcare professionals to have safe conversations with expectant moms. We need to find a way to safely empower and educate moms about the risks they face and how to be an advocate for their baby.
Stillbirth doesn’t deserve to be left in the “sometimes things just happen” category. And that is why I will continue down this path of advocacy. Some days are so frustrating and exhausting I contemplate throwing in the towel. But then I think back to the minute I delivered our lifeless baby girl and time stopped moving. And I am reminded as to why I have devoted so much of my time to raising awareness around stillbirth and advocating for better research and societal acceptance — because no one should ever have to know that pain.