As I mentioned in my intro, I prematurely delivered a daughter in February, who passed away momentarily due to a chromosome abnormality. Her death was not a surprise. A couple months into my pregnancy I began to experience extreme pain, bleeding and nausea. Early ultrasounds suggested the baby was fine. At my 17-week appointment, however, an ultrasound showed cystic masses in my placenta and swelling on the baby’s brain. An amniocentesis confirmed our worst fears: I was suffering from a partial molar pregnancy, caused by a (very) bad egg. As a result, Baby Zee had an extra set of chromosomes and would pass away during pregnancy or soon after birth.
It was devastating, of course, but in a way it was very peaceful. It was a beautiful experience to know that I had been chosen to carry a unique soul. My only mission as her mother would be to give her a body, share my love and send her home. I was honored, and I was distraught.
Our doctors offered termination due to increased health risks, but that didn’t feel right for us. Waiting for her die in utero was unbearable, but sending her away wasn’t any better. After much prayer and contemplation, we decided to carry her as long as she would let me. Within minutes of that decision, I was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with preeclampsia. I would have to be induced to save my life, even though I was only 19 weeks along.
The doctors recommended a surgical removal, but Baby Zee asked for a traditional chance at life. They induced me in the early morning hours on February 4. Within hours, I began to hemorrhage severely. Ultimately, I received an emergency C-section and blood transfusion. My life was spared, as was Zee’s. While I lay under anesthesia, Zee slipped away after taking a few shallow breaths. She lived.
The weeks that followed were bittersweet. I was empowered by my birth experience and thrilled to have pictures and mementos of my tiny little girl. At only six ounces, she fit in the palm of my hand, but all her miniature parts were perfect.
Since then, I’ve had many hard days. I feel sad others can’t understand the loss of an unborn child. I feel sad that I don’t have a 4-month-old baby to nurture at home. I feel frustrated that the pregnancy has caused ongoing health problems that keep me from trying again. But mostly I feel joy that I got to be her mother.
While most people have been understanding, some are so uncomfortable that I have to comfort them so they don’t feel awkward. I don’t mind doing it, but I know other people in my situation who are too fragile to bear that added burden. As a result, I’d like to share a few tips for someone who is mourning, especially the loss of an infant or unborn child:
1) Don’t judge – Every situation is different. Don’t speculate on what might have caused the death. Don’t hypothesize why it happened to that particular person. Don’t criticize them for how they decided to handle their medical care, funerals, etc. And never, ever critique their grief, even if you think they are overreacting. The only way to get better is to get all the hurting out. For some people, this takes a lifetime.
2) Don’t minimize their loss – Don’t tell them it was meant to be. Don’t tell them to appreciate what they have. Don’t tell them they are strong enough to handle it. Just listen. You don’t have to make it better, because no words will change what happened. Just be supportive, sympathetic and available.
3) Don’t avoid the subject – In the two weeks between diagnosis and delivery, my every thought was consumed by Zee; yet, many people who knew our situation didn’t bring it up. I’m sure they thought I didn’t want to talk about it, but they were wrong. I did, and I still do. Talking about Zee validates her existence. I love every opportunity I get to share her special life.
4) Do show your love – Call, visit, mail a card, send a gift. Showing you care about our pain makes it hurt less. One of the best cards I received simply said, “I don’t know what you are going through, but I do know this: you have always seemed like a happy person, so it hurts me to know you are suffering.”
5) Do read about it – Knowing about their situation will help you understand them better. In my case, a partial molar pregnancy put me at risk to develop placental cancer. I had to get weekly blood draws to ensure I wasn’t growing malignant masses. Most people assumed I was better, but close friends continued to check on my health.
Enough lecturing! How about some pretty things? Following Zee’s birth, I received a tremendous amount of cards and packages. One friend sent me candy, magazines and some cozy pajamas. (Perfect.) Another friend sent me a gorgeous gold necklace from Anthropologie adorned with the word “February” and a small amethyst. My sister made me a stamped necklace with both my daughters’ names and a birth announcement for our memory box.
Here are some other bereavement gifts ideas:
1) A box – Most hospitals provide a free box for mementos, but it’s usually flimsy. A special box, like these padded leather ones by Inside Avenue, is a great way to hold all the pictures, kind notes and memories of their little one. Our memory box for Zee is pictured at the top of this post.
2) A blanket – If you know someone who is expecting infant loss, a small blanket like this mini lovey from Yatoil’s Esty shop is a perfect gift. They can use the blanket to hold the baby after birth, then save it as a keepsake or include it in the burial services.
3) A necklace – Most mourning moms want a daily reminder of their child, especially in the weeks following their passing. A delicate necklace like the J’taime necklace by Urban Outfitters is a great way to keep their memory close. Plus, it’s just a chic accessory.
4) A letter – A written letter is great, but so is a letter hanging for their home, like these from Anthropologie. Buy the first initial of the baby’s name as a subtle memorial. (We have a Z hanging in our house.)
5) (Not pictured) A hug.