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Still But Not Silent: Honoring Stillborn Babies

Jun10

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesWhile Amalah is on maternity leave, we have asked some internet friends to step in with their words of wisdom on some Advice Smackdown questions that have been especially hard to answer.  Today, Cecily Kellogg of Uppercase Woman is our guest contributor.

Amy,

I am normally a fan of big girl underwear, accepting that the intent of most people is not malicious and that’s it’s easier to choose not to be hurt than to be hurt most of the time, but I’m having real trouble doing this right now with a situation.

Background: I got pregnant with our second child almost immediately after we started trying again. Our second child turned out to be boy/girl twins – Whoohoo/oh my gosh! Things proceeded well and then at just past 24 weeks, we lost our girl twin to what turned out to be a cord accident. This was followed by six weeks of hospital bedrest, tocolytics, contractions, stress and the like until we couldn’t safely continue to keep them in and our second son was born ten weeks early. He spent about two months in the NICU, then come home and has been doing really well.

He is not my problem. People have been absolutely wonderful supporting our whole family with him, remembering his early birth and just really making us feel supported. What is making me crazy is no one else seems to remember that our daughter even existed. Yes, she was born still and small (24 weeks is about a pound), but we did meet her, we did hold her and she did exist. Yet, it seems that she is only real to me, our older son and to a lesser degree, my husband. It’s us and the medical professionals who see our son as a single twin.

My conscious, intellectual brain knows that it is really hard for people to remember that she existed. It’s not like with a normal stillbirth and there’s a “lack of baby” to remind people. And intellectually, I feel like I should just let it go, but the emotional part of me screams that I would not be letting “it” go, I would be letting her go!

So, the advice I’m looking for is how to handle comments that are really insensitive IF the person remembered our daughter, but aren’t really given that they don’t. For example, making jokes about trading their to-be-daughter for our newborn son to “save them from a girl”, saying we are lucky that our kids don’t outnumber us or a grandparent saying that an upcoming grandchild will be their first girl (to me or my husband, not as casual conversation to someone else). Even the ubiquitous “are you going to go for a girl” feels to me like I need an answer for it that includes our daughter’s existence. I can’t find anyway to answer these kinds of comments that doesn’t either A. completely kill the mood of the conversation and leave the person feeling uncomfortable or even hurt (definitely not my goal) or B. leaving me feeling like I’ve just discounted her existence and hiding my hurt feelings/anger.

I am comfortable answering the quick question of how many children do you have with two, but for any kind of conversation that is more in-depth, I prefer to say that we had three children. I thought that this might just fade naturally with time, but I don’t think that it will, so I’m thinking I really do need to work through an answer. I will always know exactly how old she would have been through the blessing of her twin brother.

We did go through grief counseling and I honestly really feel like I’m ok with the entire situation, when the whole situation is acknowledged and real. I read Half Baked and An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination while our son was still in the hospital and really enjoyed and benefited from both of these books. I am happy to laugh, cry and even make jokes about our daughter’s loss without even a hint or risk of getting upset or my feelings hurt or anything like that, but somehow the just void is worse.

I really think the answer is that I need to find even bigger big girl underwear and recognize that outside of our nuclear family, she’s not a fact in other people’s reality, but thought I’d run it by you as well!

-Off to the big girl underwear store…

First of all, this isn’t Amy. While Amy is on maternity leave celebrating the birth of her ridiculously adorable third son, the nice folks here at Alpha Mom have asked me to step in and offer up some advice in response to your question. If you wonder why they thought of me, well, I lost twin boys when I was nearly 24 weeks pregnant myself. Which sucked, but gives me some insight into your experience.

Secondly, oh honey. How awful for you! I am so, so, so sorry you had to experience such a tremendous loss. It’s just such a huge and horrid thing.

Oh, the insensitivity! I don’t know why we as a culture have such a difficult time responding appropriately to the loss of babies, whether from miscarriage or stillbirth. It seems to be a rather dramatic example of “out of sight, out of mind” which, on bad days, can make me shake with grief and rage.

Every time I’m asked if my daughter is my only child, there’s a hitch in my response because I don’t want to deny the existence of my sons. However, like you, I also don’t want to be an asshole and force them to acknowledge my grief when they are simply being clueless. Luckily, I’m blessed that many of my friends and family DO remember to acknowledge my sons, so for me, this is more of an issue that comes up with acquaintances than family.

In my opinion, it’s perfectly acceptable to insist that your family members remember your daughter. When a grandparent says, “This will be our first girl grandchild!” You can gently say, “Living, anyway.” Say it softly and lightly and it should be well received – although, frankly, you aren’t responsible for their reactions.

When having a daughter or the number of children you have comes up in conversation with folks you know less well, I would learn to take a cue from YOUR mood. If it’s one of those days when you can mention her with a smile and love – and answer detailed questions without ripping a scab off the wound – by all means talk about her. But on those days where the pain is fresh and close to the surface, you might want to let the moment pass because you can unintentionally pummel your listener with your grief, and that can make the situation doubly awkward. I remember one day at work I chased a customer out of my store because she came in with baby twin boys and I felt so heartbroken that I told her about my boys; I swear, her stroller left skid marks she left so fast.

Trust your gut. You know how much you can take.

Lastly, I have to say that it does ease with time. It’s now been nearly seven years since I lost my sons, and the words “only child” leave my mouth comfortably when I talk about my daughter. There are still some bad days, but most of the time now I’m okay with the fact that my sons live on just in my heart.

I wish you much peace and healing, my dear.

****

You can read more from Cecily at her personal blog, Uppercase Woman.

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12 Responses to “Still But Not Silent: Honoring Stillborn Babies”

  1. Olivia Jun 10 at 12:51 pm Reply Reply

    Nothing to add, just want to say that the comments about “saving me from my daughter” or “are you going to try for a girl (or boy)” are some of the most asinine things people say. To those comments, I would probably let them have it and not care if they get their feefees hurt.

  2. sls Jun 10 at 1:11 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this, am forwarding to a friend.

  3. HereWeGoAJen Jun 10 at 1:25 pm Reply Reply

    I lost my son a few months ago. I think two of the reasons that people don’t like to bring up babies that have died are because A) it’s just about the worst thing they can think of and it makes them uncomfortable to think about it and B) they don’t want to upset you by “reminding” you of your loss. So you might get a lot more sensitivity if you bring it up a few times and they know you are okay talking about it.

    Of course, there are some people that are real idiots and deserve what they get. Like the person(s) who said you are lucky your kids don’t outnumber you. Because actually, you are very unlucky and that is a really sucky thing for them to say. And if I were you, I’d probably tell them that, at least the unlucky part. Sometimes, we have to train people around us to be more sensitive or they will think they are being just fine.

    I am very sorry for your loss. I will be thinking about you and your daughter.

  4. Danielle Jun 10 at 2:51 pm Reply Reply

    While I’ve never lost a child that late. (One miscarriage but very early on.) I’ve had to deal with the people who would tell me things about how “lucky” I was that my son was a preemie because I got to go home and sleep at night or my ultimate favorite, the ones who would “trade places in a minute to not go through that awful third trimester”. 
    Argh. People are stupid. And they don’t know what to say so they either come out with something wildly insensitive or try to stay quiet. I would echo the thoughts that remind them gently when you are in the right mood.
    I would also recommend reading http://infertilityrocks.wordpress.com/  She lost a twin and has been writing about the aftermath. It might help to get her advice or viewpoint. 
    Good luck. I’m sorry for your loss.

  5. Wiley Jun 10 at 3:54 pm Reply Reply

    A line from An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination stuck with me that I think explains part of this phenomenon: grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of grief. The attention spans are just totally different.

  6. L Jun 10 at 4:54 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so sorry. Much love to you and your family.

    You may already know about it, but http://www.glowinthewoods.com/ is a place where grieving parents can find support.

  7. TCD Jun 10 at 7:08 pm Reply Reply

    First of all, I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how awful that would be.

    I had a good friend who lost his first baby when his wife was 20 weeks pregnant. I would imagine that many people are not intentionally being insensitive, but simply don’t know what to say or don’t want to bring it up to you and risk “reminding” you of it (as if you don’t think about it all the time). It’s probably not intentional insensitivity as much as it is discomfort at what exactly to say. By you speaking up as you feel comfortable, they may in turn feel more comfortable acknowledging your daughter.

  8. Christy Jun 11 at 11:12 am Reply Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss – I will be thinking of her, and of you.

    I lost my second child, my first boy. He was born at 32 weeks and should have been okay – we just beat the odds in all of the wrong ways, unfortunately. He was with us for a week.

    We have another child now, another boy, who is all kinds of great. But people do say things that sting still…”Oh great! You have a boy now too!”

    That is all to say that I do definitely understand some of the pain associated with this. For me I found that people were much more aware and sympathetic during the first year….but after Sam was born it feels sometimes like our people (friends, family, whoever) heaved a collective sigh of relief and said “Oh great! Now we don’t have to deal with that sad thing anymore, HEY LOOK A BABY!”

    For you I can’t even imagine how hard it must be…losing one twin. You have to go through those raw early grief stages at the same time as the “Oh yay a baby!” stages…my heart goes out to you.

    I think that the best advice I can give you is to find a place where you can hold your daughter “safely”. Create a safe space where she can be – if that’s going somewhere like Glow (“L” mentioned that site in the comments) then do it – the people there are wonderful. If it’s having a blog somewhere where you write about her and what you are feeling – do it. If it means having a really honest conversation with a few close friends or family members and just laying it out there – explaining that you need them to be your safe place; people that you can honor your girl with; talk about her; be sad; be happy; wonder about what she would have been like; vent about silly comments – then do that.

    People are human – they screw up a lot. One of the best things one of my friends said to me in the early days was “Look…I’m going to mess this up. A lot. I don’t know how to do this, so I’m just going to try stuff. Ok?” She’s now one of my safest places to hold Oliver.

    Best to you….I will be thinking of you.

  9. Heather Jun 13 at 12:30 am Reply Reply

    I feel for you and can feel your pain. I could have written your letter over 6 years ago when we lost our first daughter at 29 weeks due to a cord accident as well. For the five years that followed we lost 5 more children; both sons and daughters-misscarriages and stillbirths. God granted us our daughter just over 25 months ago. She arrived at 27 weeks (13 wks early) at just over a pound and am still in awe of her every day. I understand your need to honor/talk about your lost child. I too believe that people are idiots too and just aren’t sure what to say and stuggle to say anything so they either say something wrong or avoid it all together. We made it a point to talk about our Grace; our first lost child. I know that some family members, extended, didn’t want to upset us so they didn’t talk, but we would mention her and talk about how we felt and that would open us diaologue. I also struggled with, and still do, the number of kids that you have when asked by someone like the checker at the store. It depends on me how I answer. I used to feel that if I told them that I didn’t have kids, I was lying and that made me feel guilty, but truth be told I realized that I didn’t want to have pity from a stranger, so I just kept quiet…it wasn’t about making them feel bad for asking. They were just doing their job–small talk/customer service. I didn’t want to be remembered as that…now with close friends and family we kept Grace mentioned. We honor all our kids on the day we lost Grace as a way to celebrate them. Even after all these years it does get easier, maybe with our daughter now the pain has subsided, but the grief will always be there. Although I didn’t have any twins who past, so I am not able to feel that type of a loss, my brother wife was pregnant along with me and their daughter was born the month that our daughter would have been…even now when I see her both my husband and I comment later on that our Grace would be that age,etc. It just human. Find comfort in that you are not alone and that myself and others have felt all that you have. Trust in yourself and know that you are strong and while others may “forget” or say harsh things to you, they have never walked in your shoes and I even have had to be bold and tell some friends/family just that. As a side note, I have never been on this site and something drew me to it tonight, so we call those “Grace Magic” so please know that the babies are probably working overtime in Heaven and want their Mommy’s to know that they are always there. You and your family will be in my prayers.

  10. Kim Jun 13 at 12:21 pm Reply Reply

    My grandmother, who was raised in the Depression and kept the home fires burning, one of those greatest generation types, had 4 living children. Yet I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Jacqueline, her first born, who didn’t make it. This is a big deal. My oldest had a vanishing twin, very very early on, but still – there was a living beating heart in me. To lose a baby that you held – I am so so sorry for your loss, and more than a little in awe of your sensitivity towards others at this point. Do let the people you care about know how much pain you’re in. The twin thing, it comes up all the time, I think it’s great that you’re coming up with strategies for yourself.

  11. Dmom Jun 15 at 11:56 am Reply Reply

    Wow, so sorry for your loss! My sister-in-law, to whom I’m so close we’ve mutually dropped the “in-law” portion found herself pregnant with a girl finally! four years ago. On the day she was due there was a cord accident and our lovely Gabriella was still born. I don’t know how she put one foot in front of the other but she did and knowing as I do how much strength that takes I wish you the strength you need, on good days and bad, for as long as you need it.
    We celebrate Gabriella every year on her birthday. They do something special as a family alone, usually going to the cemetary where they release balloons with letters in them to the heavens…I’ve always thought that was nice. Then they go do something fun together, something birthday-ish. Pizza party with movies, Chuck E Cheese’s etc. They also have a special “Gabriella Garden” with a little stone angel in the middle and a butterfly garden in the back. It’s really nice. I’ll say this to you…their acknowledgement makes it easier for us to acknowledge. We know they treat her as though she’s a part of the family, which of course she is, and it makes it easier for us to know which way to deal with it. We always give a little something…an angel statue, a crystal violet (her middle name), a plant for the garden etc. and they’ve told us how much they love that we do that so we’ll keep doing it. Perhaps if your family knew that you didn’t want to ignore it, that you wanted to have her be a part of the family they would know better how to behave around you? I’m pretty sure though that they mean well, they just don’t consider what their words are doing to you….go ahead and tell them, quietly and on the side and on a good day. I bet you’ll all feel better for it. Remember too that past generations thought it best to just forget and move on (why that lasted so long I’ll never know) so I’m sure they’re just doing what they think you want. My sister and brother in law also joined a support group and they do a walk together every year…perhaps there’s something similar in your area that you could join and feel less alone. Check our http://www.stillnomore.org for any groups that may be in your area…if you want to. Love and prayers for you and your family!

  12. ME Sep 21 at 6:09 am Reply Reply

    I have a good friend and a sister who both lost babies in the second trimester (20 & 17 weeks, respectively). After the tragedies I read extensively on how best to honor them and their children, and yet every so often I catch myself saying something that I know not to be true. Just tonight I jokingly started to say to my friend that she had never given birth vaginally (her other babies were c-sections), and then I stopped myself. I didn’t mean any harm or that her son wasn’t real and doesn’t matter, but out it tumbled. Later this evening our baby sister remarked that my daughter with whom I’m pregnant will be the first girl born in our family in 9 years. I had to remind her that was not the case, our older sister did give birth. It sucks.

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