Our Story

Our story has two parts—a death, and a birth.

Before that, there was life. So much life. 34.5 weeks of life. 243 days of life. Cell division, implantation, the miracle of a baby taking shape from near nothingness. Our own lives reinvigorated, reinvented, our energy pulled inward to grow our family, ready ourselves, nest.

34.5 weeks of life in my womb. I took it for granted. Even as I marveled at the tiny working organs, the finger buds that became fingers, the eyespots that turned into seeing eyes. I thought our baby’s life was a done deal. I thought our life together—the three of us: me, A, Baby—was just beginning.

*                                    *                                    *                                    *

Our baby died on Christmas day.

I had been anxious for days. Our baby hadn’t been moving as much lately. Our baby wasn’t excited by Christmas treats, or big holiday meals. It’s hunker-down time, we told ourselves. Our baby’s getting too big to move around so much. Hibernation time, everyone said.

In retrospect, it is easy to see my anxiety as what it was—a mother’s intuition. But I cannot claim it as such, because I didn’t know. I didn’t know my baby was dying.

Christmas morning was the last time I felt our baby move. My niece jumped around, tore wrapping paper off of her gifts and ours. My sister had me lie on the floor to try and feel for the baby’s head, to see if our baby was breech like I’d been thinking for months. I couldn’t reconcile the way I’d feel him move—pushing out a limb under my right ribs, thunking under my left—with any position other than lying in a hammock. I watched carefully at prenatal yoga to see the exercises to help turn a transverse or breech baby, just in case I’d need them in a few more weeks. In case he liked his hammock and didn’t want to come out head-first.

I say he, but at the time we didn’t know it was a he. We just said our baby, or Baby.

I sat on the couch at my sister’s house, next to A, next to our baby niece and a line of dolls the older niece had set up along the couch. I felt a slow poke by my rib. A shift of position and another slow poke in my mid-belly.

Now, this is my saddest memory. Our baby’s goodbye. I cry out inside every time the memory surfaces. No, wait! I love you! Don’t go!

In the evening, my anxiety at a head, my family forced me to call the midwife on call back home. I followed her instructions, ate a big dinner and went to my parents’ guest room with A to lie down for a kick count. Give it an hour, the midwife said. If Baby moves four or five times, that’s good, we’d rather ten, but four or five would be good.

The longest hour of my life.

First, my left side. I hugged my body pillow. My nest, we’d called it. It prevented snuggling but made sleep possible. I kept my eyes open, blinked at A, at the curtained window, the dim light of the bedside lamp. Thirty minutes. I turned to my left side. A put her arm around me. I stared at the wall. We watched a house spider up at the ceiling. Thirty more minutes. Not one single kick. No flutter, no slow poke. Nothing.

We got up, put on our coats, and drove to the hospital, my parents two minutes behind. I knew where the hospital was because it’s the one my sister gave birth in twice. The first time, I’d been there when she pushed my niece into the world and my brother-in-law caught her. The second time, I’d been pregnant, too, and too tired to hop in the car in the late evening and drive three hours. I’d missed my second niece’s birth by a few hours, but I was there the next morning.

At the hospital, they put me in a wheelchair and whisked me up to labor and delivery. I started to feel better. Silly, sitting in a wheelchair when I could walk perfectly fine. Probably nothing was wrong. This would be an expensive ER visit to pacify my silly anxiety.

They admitted me right away and put us in a room with a curtain.

“Everything’s going to be okay, right?” I asked A, squeezing her hand.

She hesitated. “I hope so.”

Our worst case scenario was that our baby was sick, that something was wrong and they’d have to get him out right away. They can have that baby out in four minutes if it’s a true emergency, my prenatal yoga teacher had said. I squeezed A’s hand again, hoping there wouldn’t be an emergency c-section.

The nurse squirted jelly on my stomach and got out the Doppler. She pressed in hard, looking for our baby’s heartbeat. She tried every angle. My belly ached from her searching. But she could only find my heartbeat. Finally she called in an ultrasound machine and sonographer. I could hear my heartbeat getting faster, but still I thought everything would be okay. I was a little excited—we’d get to see our baby again. It had been 14 weeks since we’d had an ultrasound.

He looked small on the screen. I remember thinking how small he was, like he was hiding against one side of my womb. Not big enough to run out of room in there, not big enough to hunker down or hibernate. They pressed the wand around and around my belly, trying to get at a good angle to see our baby’s heart. A doctor came in and took over the wand. I could hear my heartbeat getting faster.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said, “but I just can’t find this baby’s heartbeat.”

Other saddest memories:

The sound of my voice, a deep echoing scream.

A’s face, stricken.

Our baby’s heart, a still, black spot on the ultrasound screen. A black hole that burns in my memory bright and cold.

*                                    *                                    *                                    *

The second part of our story is shorter. Shorter in narrative if not in time. Most of it was waiting. Waiting until the next day to drive home. Waiting to be admitted to Women’s Hospital. Waiting for blood work, IV port, test results. Waiting to be induced, then waiting while the cervical ripeners went to work. Some of the waiting was sleeping. Some of it was crying. Some of it was watching episodes of Downton Abbey and Doc Martin on our laptop.

My parents and my sister had come from Asheville. A’s parents had driven up from Atlanta. My sister was texting my best friend off and on. A’s brother and his wife were on the phone. Our donor’s family was on the phone. Our doula was waiting for the call that active labor had started. Friends and family at a distance were praying and crying. I know our baby was loved by so many more than just me and A. I know we are loved by so many. And knowing that breaks my heart even more. All that love, waiting for our baby. All that love, ready to welcome him into our lives.

The hospital was good to us. I know that is not everyone’s experience, so it feels important to say. Both hospitals. The doctors caring. The nurses gentle. The midwives compassionate. They let all of our various family members come in and out of the room, its door marked by a white rose. Their code, so that no medical staff would misstep, congratulate us, bruise our already weary hearts.

The waiting was so long, but labor was so short. 2 hours. Shh, don’t tell anyone that, I can imagine my sister saying, if the birth had been normal, if our baby had lived. You don’t want anyone to be jealous.

But those are words left unsaid, like so many others. Like congratulations.

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning with contractions. A timed them for a while, then called in the nurse again, texted our doula, called my sister. I was four centimeters dilated. I asked for an epidural. I cried when the epidural was put in, not from the pain, but because I hadn’t wanted an epidural. I hadn’t wanted this. Our baby wasn’t supposed to die. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, I kept crying over and over.

This is the part that I don’t remember as well. This is the part that’s fading, a dream I once had. I rested a little. Soon I could feel the contractions again, only on my left side. I felt pressure. They checked me again, perhaps casually, not expecting much, then, surprised, Yup, that’s the baby’s head! Push!

My sister and our doula had barely made it there. A says she climbed in the hospital bed with me and held me. I don’t remember this, but I like that image. Me lying on my side, screaming and crying, her holding me, helping.

My left side was on fire. I pushed only a few times. I remember three. I felt it all come out on the last push—our baby, his cord, the placenta. My body, letting go in one breath.

Stillborn is still born. Our first child, our son, Joseph was born at 6:25am on December 27, 2012, at exactly 35 weeks. He was 3 lbs 9 oz and 19 inches long.

*                                    *                                    *                                    *

Of course, this is not the end of the story. Just as there was life before, there is life after. Life without Joseph. We’re still learning what that means, and who we are now. The writing and art on this blog is about our journey through the landscape of grief.

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17 thoughts on “Our Story

  1. Tara says:

    Our first son, Rowan, was stillborn 10 days before your sweet Joseph (at 39 weeks). I’m so sorry for your loss; I understand the pain. Although we are strangers, I’m sending you a virtual hug. May you find some peace today, and in the days to come.
    Namaste,
    Tara

  2. jane says:

    with a heavy heart I wish you a measure of peace and a wish that you didnt have to explore this landscape of grief. Joseph as you say was still born and loved then, now and forever

  3. No. It just isn’t how it’s supposed to be, not at all.

    Our babies were born just 3 days apart.

  4. I’m so sorry. Just so sorry. A mom should never have to bury her newborn child.

  5. I’ve just read your story and can’t leave without saying something. So much here that is so familiar. I’m sorry for you, for A, for sweet Joseph. Stillborn is still born: yes. He was here and your words are a beautiful tribute to him.

  6. Lisa says:

    I Just read your beautiful and heart wrenching story. I saw you mention Asheville in your post, is that where you delivered? I live near Asheville, NC and delivered at Mission Hospital when we found out at 33.5 weeks that our son had passed away on 10/25/12. I love reading your blog and knowing that I am not alone. I will light a candle for your precious Joseph. ❤

    • Burning Eye says:

      I don’t live in Asheville, but my sister and parents are there. Mission Hospital is where we went when I didn’t feel our baby moving anymore, and where we learned he died. We live in the Triad, and we delivered here at Women’s Hospital. Thank you for being here, for reading, for lighting a candle for Joseph. Hugs to you, mama.

  7. Hannah says:

    So very sad to hear this. Bless little Joseph. xx

  8. Sigal says:

    Dear Burning Eye, Corey sent me the address to your blog. I want to say, even though you and I do not know each other, how proud I am of you for writing this, of expressing your sorrow, of sharing your story so that you and other women who have shared the same experience do not feel alone. How amazing of you! How brave you are! I can only imagine how hard it is to grieve for someone who for you was so real, and yet for other people was only an idea. With my whole heart, I wish you peace and love and eventually acceptance. I wish you the ability to feel the grief as deeply as you need to, and the ability to let go of it once it is time (and only you can decide that). May you be happy and well. Lots of love.

  9. Naomi says:

    Dear Burning Eye, Thank you for sharing your story with all of us, this community we have formed by necessity. Reading other people’s stories has been an important part of my journey and I appreciate very much everyone who has the willingness and presence to share such a deep and personal part of themselves. So terribly sorry for the loss of your sweet and precious Joseph. Sending you, A, and your families lots of love and hope.

    • Burning Eye says:

      Thank you for reading, for stopping by. I’m glad to meet you and sorry for the circumstances. I feel the same, that other people’s stories are an incredibly important part of my journey. It’s why I started this blog.

  10. Tess says:

    Dear Burning Eye, I have just found your blog and reading it has been emotionally challenging but beautifully cathartic also. You are able to put into words many of the thoughts and feelings that I have not been able to express since the loss of our son in May 2012. I wish that none of us ever had to be babylost parents. May your beautiful son Joseph’s spirit continue to guide you and give you strength to draw on as you wait for the future to unfold. Love and light to you and your family. Tess. x

    • Burning Eye says:

      Tess, I am glad you find my writing helpful, and I’m so sorry at the same time for the circumstances of our “meeting.” What you said about my blog being challenging but cathartic is how I feel about reading other people’s stories and blogs, too. It’s so hard, but so necessary. I find if I haven’t read anything out there in this online babylost community for a couple of days, I feel strange, “off.” It’s just nice to know there are others out there like me. Love to you, too.

  11. lucadorosmom says:

    Le Petit Soleil told me about your blog. My heart and my mind understand the grief and the immense love, and I’m so sorry that Joseph wasn’t able to stay. My son Luca passed away after just one day on earth, so I too am a part of this “club” no one chooses to be a member of. Thank you for sharing your experience. I read your most recent post, and it warms my heart. I look forward to connecting. Warmth.

  12. Kate says:

    I’ve just found your blog through a response you left on Glow. My heart skipped several beats when I read that your baby’s name is Joseph. Our boy Joseph also died. He was born on 16 Dec 2010 and died on 21 Dec 2010. We have just passed his 3rd birthday and are living in limbo of his 5 days alive.
    I’m so, so sorry about your Joseph. Such a beautiful name. I’m sorry that you know this pain.
    Our little boys, connected by name.
    Peace to you, dear Mama.

  13. Alex K. says:

    I’ve walked this journey for 3 months now when our son was stillborn at 38 weeks 2 days. Glad to find your blog!

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