Pregnancy and Infant Loss: Sheila’s Story

Pregnancy and Infant Loss: Sheila’s Story

By: Sheila, Life’s Choices volunteer

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Pregnancy and infant loss is unfortunately part of many families’ stories. Whether a loss occurred during pregnancy or sometime after birth, he/she was someone’s child, and the pain is very real no matter how tiny the baby. That’s why I felt led to share my story with you. Many mamas and families suffer in silence, but they don’t have to. I share my story to bring comfort to those who have lost a baby and bring understanding and awareness to those who have not.

MY FIRST GRANDSON, LOST TOO SOON

Yesterday, I realized my grandson would have turned 13 on November 2, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. His name was Zander, and he was perfect in every way — except physically, he wasn’t. He had a blood clotting disorder that had caused him to have a stroke. I will always cherish the moments I had with him, to hold and sing to him even though his spirit was no longer with us.

On November 2, 2009, at 2 a.m., I received the worst phone call of my life. It was my daughter, and it was a cry that haunts most obstetric nurses and physicians — one I have heard before and many times after that night. This night, it was different — it was my daughter’s cry. “Mommy, he’s gone.” I had walked this path with other families as a labor and delivery nurse who happened to be on the infant loss bereavement team, but in that moment, the pain was personal.

MAKING MEMORIES AND KEEPING THEM CLOSE

My daughter and grandson were five hours away from me, and all I wanted to do was get to them as quickly as possible. As I stood in front of my suitcase, I could not even think clearly enough to know what to pack — nothing except a camera. You may think this seems strange, but creating memories for families who have lost an infant is important. Footprints and photos taken are often some of the few physical memories they will have of their baby.

After I had packed my camera and my other two children’s bags, we made that very long five hour journey to upstate New York. It was here that Zander would be born into his mother’s arms at 11:26 p.m. He was five pounds, nine ounces and 18 ¾ inches long with a head full of dark curly hair. I can remember looking at him as he was born and saying repeatedly in my head, “Breath. Please just breath.” I wanted so badly for the doctor to be wrong even though I knew she was not. After his birth, we filled the room with family. We loved and supported my daughter and her husband. We held him and made our own memories with Zander. I sang to him, as I have always sung to my babies and was looking so forward to doing the same with my first grandchild.

On November 3rd at 12:30 a.m., we were joined by a pastor who baptized Zander. After the baptism, it was time for Zander’s bath. Due to some complications with my daughter, she was not able to get out of bed to bathe Zander, so she allowed me to bathe him for her. Soon after, it was time to say goodbye and travel back to Pennsylvania.

SAYING GOODBYE AND HOW TO HELP

Later that week, we had funeral services for him. My 10-year-old daughter placed a stuffed bear she had bought for Zander in between his legs. She said she wanted him to have it always. I tucked him into his baby rest and told him, “Until we meet again, sweet baby boy. I will love you forever.” I also assembled a beautiful display of his photographs that were set beside his baby rest at the cemetery. He was laid to rest in the same spot as my grandmother — most cemeteries will allow that.

If your loved one has lost an infant and you have received permission from the parents, calling funeral homes to assist with details can be extremely helpful to bereaving parents. For example, some funeral homes will not charge you above what they have purchased the baby rest for. Help parents confirm which funeral homes are empathetic to the loss of a baby and will help support the family with no financial gain.

EXPERIENCING GRIEF AND HOW TO HEAL

After the funeral, our family had much healing to do. I won’t share my daughter’s post birth story, but I can tell you I was severely depressed for about a year after this. I was able to manage daily activities, but there was no room for anything else. I carried a lot of guilt. As a labor and delivery nurse, it was very hard to know I had helped to save the lives of other babies but was unable to save that of my own grandchild. I am so thankful God had surrounded me with wonderful, amazing, and patient people to help me through — and there is a “through!”

My 10-year-old daughter also struggled through this and expressed her grief with anger. In my own grief, I failed to recognize her pain. She desperately needed to talk about her nephew but was afraid to because she didn’t want to upset me. Once I realized, we sat down and talked. We went through Zanders pictures, and I reassured her that she could talk to me about him anytime. Yes, it might make me sad, but that’s ok. That’s normal.

It’s very important to remember that siblings and other family members will grieve this kind of loss as well. Children as young as three years old are very aware that there was a new baby on the way, and they know that something is different.

It is important to be honest with them using age-appropriate language. Please be very careful not to say things like, “The baby went to sleep,” or “The baby was so good that God wanted him in heaven.” Remember that children take things literally. It is also healing for them to be either present to see their sibling or to see his/her photos, no matter how small baby was. Studies have shown that this helps in the grieving and healing process with children. If a mom or dad are finding they are unable to cope with the needs of their other children’s grief, know that it’s ok. What is most important is that you give them permission to speak with a safe person or a counselor. 

CARING FOR BEREAVED PARENTS

Friends and family, please keep a close watch on the mamas who have lost a child. They are going to grieve and will need some privacy in their grieving, but stay involved and ask questions to make sure there are not considerations for self harm. Stay in tune with the fathers, too. As many men are the protectors in their relationships, they may want to be strong for their wife or partner and therefore may not allow themselves to grieve.

Men, as the husband or partner, you need to grieve, too, and mama needs you to grieve with her. In order to heal, allowing yourself to grieve is important. Moms and dads, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are not comfortable with a counselor, try reaching out to local churches; they may have a list of support groups that you can connect with. You don’t have to go through the grief of infant loss by yourself.

I would encourage anyone who has walked this journey to please share your story, share your photos, and share your child. Let others know they are not alone and do not have to suffer in silence. You matter, and your baby matters.

LIFE’S CHOICES IS HERE FOR YOU

If you’ve experienced pregnancy or infant loss and are looking for support, Life’s Choices welcomes you to contact us today to speak to a mentor. We are here to provide you with resources and friendship on your path to healing. And if you have experienced an abortion, whether recently or in your past, we encourage you to ask us about our abortion healing Bible studies. Life’s Choices is here for you.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”Psalm 34:18

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