“I’m sure you get this often, but we found out the baby died.”
This message is one that I’ve received more often than I ever could have expected when training as a bereavement doula. It’s not always those exact words, but it’s similar every time. I’ve been called on to support parents through the birth of their silent baby, so many times. It doesn’t matter how frequently I’ve received this message, or how many births like this I’ve attended – it’s always heartbreaking, amazing, beautiful, and full of so much love.
Walking into a birth room when it’s time to meet a stillborn baby is so different than walking into the birth room prepared to meet a living baby, yet it’s so similar. The baby warmer is removed, the heart tones monitor is unplugged, the contraction monitor isn’t on, there’s a photo of a single leaf with a raindrop taped to the door, and the sweet lullaby isn’t played while the bereaved parents are on the floor. The nurses quietly shuffle in and out, the provider comes and goes – trying to make this process a little less traumatizing than it already is.
Gut-wrenching sobs always happen, but laughter does, too. Laughter, jokes, conversation, dreaming of the little one that we’re going to meet, naming the baby, sharing special items purchased for the baby. Separating hello from goodbye. Moments of planning the end of life celebration or making funeral arrangements – those moments are sprinkled in between the jokes about Tony Danza in reference to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and the conversations about concert tickets.
Typically speaking, labor is induced with Cytotec. It can take several rounds and many hours to really get labor going, but once it turns that corner – it’s over quickly. A tiny baby slips silently into the world. I promise you, there’s not a single person in the room that isn’t crying or trying to hold back tears. The provider is sitting at the end of your bed, trying to work quickly so that they can get your baby into your arms as fast as possible. We all know that your time is limited.
So often, when we discuss pregnancy and infant loss, we forget that this baby deserves to be celebrated. To be held. To be honored. To be loved. And so often, people tip toe around this. Some just aren’t sure what THIS looks like. They can’t understand separating hello from goodbye, and giving parents the chance to parent their silent baby. To kiss his sweet little forehead and examine his precious toes; trying to figure out who he looks most like.
And when it’s time to say goodbye, when you’re ready, the baby will be handed off to the nurse – either by you or your doula/another trusted person. They’ll gently weigh baby and wrap him up before taking them out of the room. They remain on the floor until the funeral home (or whatever other arrangement you made) picks them up, so if you decide that you want a few more moments with them – they can bring baby back into you.
For so many, the only tangible memories they’ll ever have are the pictures captured or the ultrasound images. Many won’t even have that. They labor and birth their baby into the world, and then they say goodbye just a short while later. As soon as you’re ready to send baby out of the room and you’re stable, you’ll be able to go home. This is when the reality sets in that not only are you going home with a broken heart, but you’re also going home with empty arms.
If you’re the parent that is grieving your baby, you’re not alone. I know this pain. It’s familiar. I can’t promise you much, but I can promise you that remembering your little one won’t always feel so crushing. You’ll spend every moment missing them for the rest of your life, but at some point – you’ll remember their sweet little toes and smile.