Still But Not Silent: Honoring Stillborn Babies
While 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 is our guest contributor.
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.
Published June 10, 2011. Last updated May 21, 2018.