I knew. In my heart (the one that was beating out of my chest) I knew. It was when she didn’t turn on the TV immediately that I began to hold my breath. She was supposed to turn it on so we could see. But when she didn’t, I knew there was a problem. We had been there two weeks earlier and the ultrasound technician had almost immediately turned on the TV. The screen lit up with a tiny blob, and more importantly she pointed out a smaller visibly pulsating…heart. It was beating happily, the sound we had been waiting to hear for over a year.
That sound gave me permission the next week, to dare step foot into a Babies R Us. That little beat.beat.beating made me walk straight into Baby Gap and buy a “I love Daddy” onesie. I announced the news to my girls night group the next week, and they screamed with joy, scaring the entire restaurant. The Motherhood maternity store I had been avoiding (lest I jinx myself from getting pregnant), was finally a justified shopping stop. I bought a few work dresses and some for winter. This baby, the one for whom we had prayed so long, had finally found a home in my womb. And poetically for us, it was due to arrive on Christmas day.
But. She didn’t turn on the TV. We were there to check the measurements of the baby. They had been slightly behind last time, but we had been reassured that they would likely catch up. The clicks of the ultrasound buttons as she took measurements and pictures were deafening. Darrin and I nervously held our breaths. After an eternity, I found the courage to ask. “Is everything ok?” But I knew the answer.
“I’m sorry… There’s no hearbeat.”
And worse, it seemed there hadn’t been for over a week. This meant that quite likely, as I was walking the aisles of Babies R Us, daydreaming about baby stockings and Christmas miracles, there was already no chance this baby would be born. Devastated doesn’t amply describe the anguish of that moment. Or the months after.
The technician left the room so we could gather ourselves. As if a few minutes would help us put the pieces of our hearts back together. When she came back 5 minutes later, I was still sobbing. Unable to get up. Darrin had 2 distinct black blobs on the chest of his blue shirt, the bulk of my mascara that had once laced hopeful eyes, now stained his shirt in ugly clumps. He told the technician we needed a little more time. She was trying to be empathetic, but I’m sure the schedule was getting behind. Other parents were waiting. To hear happy heartbeats.
So we collected ourselves as much as we possibly could and walked out. Met with the doctor. Got information about options for “clearing the fetal tissue”. And stood in line behind 3 very pregnant moms to check out. I knew that forever and ever, even if we got pregnant again, we would never be the same. Infant loss. It steals your joy. Subsequent pregnancies are cautious. There are moments of joy, but you live appointment to appointment. Ultrasounds after a loss are scary, not hopeful. Seeing other pregnant women, hearing baby announcements, or watching diaper commercials stabs at your soul for a time after.
You continue to walk around with this womb that betrayed you, painfully aware that life around you is moving forward. And you are not. Maybe one of the hardest things though, is the secrecy. Close friends and immediate family knew of our losses, but no one else. It isn’t a loss that is shared in most cases. So, outwardly at work, at church, at supper club or parties, people in our life didn’t know that something in our world had gone so wrong.
That first Christmas after miscarriage was difficult. The tree went up. There was a wreath on the door. Bing sang on. But our hearts were broken. What we had imagined for that holiday season was finishing the nursery, eating cookies fat and pregnant on the couch. Instead, in the nursery there stood the same guest bed and nightstand awkwardly placed and mismatched. The I Love Daddy onesie hidden away in a closet tucked next to a lone ultrasound picture. The holiday cards that came in the mail were sweet but they were also reminders that families around us were happy and whole. Expanding even. And we were stuck.
I cried every day of December. Probably the most, on the 25th. The due date I once thought was a divine, poetic wink from God, now felt like an empty day, a broken promise even. For the first time ever, I didn’t feel joy at Christmas.
A little over a year after that loss, I was pregnant again and we were cautiously counting down the 40 weeks of a normal pregnancy. At the 21 week mark, there were some serious signs that something was going terribly wrong. At the 24 week mark, the earliest point of viability for a baby outside the womb, our mighty little baby boy was born via emergency c-section. Our son, Tucker, weighed 1 lb 7oz. He was 13 inches long. We spent 151 days in the NICU. And friends, the NICU is not for the faint of heart. After 5 months though, our hearts full of gratitude and our arms full of monitors, oxygen tanks and a perfect miracle, we took our little guy home.
During our journey through those 5 months in the NICU, we saw loss in a way we never wanted. Heart shredding, drop-to-your-knees kind of loss. The kind that begins with a mama and daddy turning off the machines. And ends with parents leaving the hospital with empty arms. We witnessed in the stories around us raw, life altering, heartbreak.
Our miscarriages and this journey of raising a micro preemie has shown me the clarity of perspective. The waves of grief and loss are unpredictable. Sometimes the riptide takes you by surprise for a moment, for a day. Some days are harder than others. Due dates, holidays, should-be milestone dates. Last Christmas, in quiet moments spent rocking Tucker, my mind drifted often to the families from the NICU that started their journey like us, but for whom the ending was not sweet. They were having a very different Christmas experience.
Mamas and daddies who have lost babies all have their own personal journeys of grief when it comes to infant loss. Every single story is unique. I can’t begin to speak on behalf of any other situation other than our own. There are some very powerful stories out there that deal with the many stages of infant loss (Zoe, James and Madeline) written by parents who lifted the veil of their heartache so that others could perhaps find some similarities in their own grief and loss.
My hope in sharing some of the moments from this part of our story is to lift part of the veil of pregnancy loss. The veil of taboo. The veil of that’s-too-personal. I also wanted to call out that, as we enter this holiday season, for some it isn’t the most wonderful time of the year. This will be a difficult holiday for those who have experienced a great loss. They need our prayer. Our grace. And a whole lot of lovin’.
I learned both through miscarriage and during our time in the NICU that the unthinkable happens. Parents lose their most precious. Maternity clothes have to be returned. Cribs disassembled. Nurseries undecorated. Baby clothes packed up. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their experience with infant loss, not when it happens, and sometimes not ever. And that’s ok. For me, for our family, there are a few things I came to understand as we walked through loss and watched others do the same. I will share them here.
- There isn’t a timeline for grief.
- Every loss was hard.
- The child I have and any that I go on to have will never replace the babies I lost. I grieve specifically for each one.
- Faith was an important part of our healing after loss. God loves me. And our babies.
- Your decision to either continue trying for more children or to take a different path after a loss-is right.
These are my personal affirmations after our personal journey with loss. You may have some of the same or you might have come to completely different affirmations with your unique story. I would love to hear them, if you feel comfortable sharing. Part of lifting the veil means that we make it ok, to grieve in different ways. Know that whatever the circumstances surrounding your loss that there are many who are praying for you. We pray for healing of your broken heart this holiday season. We know that a piece of your soul now lives apart from you. That some days are harder than others. We don’t always have the right words, but we honor your little warrior and the impact his short life made in your world.
This post is dedicated to the memory of these sweet babies: Lucas, Aiden, Tess, Brantley, Izzy, Arthur, Annabelle, Dylan and sweet Elizabeth Grace.
Links for Infant Loss
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”