Life and Loss and Postpartum
Life and Loss and Postpartum
Postpartum // A new life is growing inside of you…and you’re thrilled. Beside yourself that you get to add another one to your crew; a brother finally for your oldest son who’s weathered two little sisters after him. Excitement, joy, and a teeny bit of terrifying thoughts of being doubly-outnumbered adding the fourth kiddo to your family.
But it’s fine, doable, and going to be totally incredible to have two boys and two girls who call you mom. Absolute perfection. And then it’s not. You go in for your 19-week anatomy scan solo because this is baby number four and there’s no need to wake your night shift working husband to come with you for something he’s done three times prior.
Everything is always fine and it’s just a routine ultrasound. You’ve had textbook pregnancies before, and minus just needing help in getting them out (thank you c-sections), you’ve had three perfectly healthy babies. This is routine. But it wasn’t. Thirty seconds into the scan you know it’s anything but — something is wrong.
You see it written on the tech’s face as she quickly puts the wand down after barely three minutes and says she’s going to get your doctor. Do you call your husband to come up? Do you frantically try and google the ‘edema’ problem she briefly mentioned? No. You sit there numb.
Praying and hoping that whatever she saw is no big deal, she just wants a second set of eyes…eyes from a doctor — your doctor — who you love and trust and surely will have something good to say. She doesn’t. She holds your hand, tells you your sweet little boy has a lot of problems, fatal problems, and that you won’t be meeting this little one in February, but probably much sooner, and not awake.
Crippling, crushing words choke you up as you fumble with your phone and hand it off through tearful sobs to your doctor so she can talk to your husband and fill him in on what’s happening. It’s all a bit surreal — how is this happening? My other kids are healthy, this one was supposed to be too! But he’s not. He’s far from it.
You meet with high-risk doctors and specialists and geneticists to try and figure out what’s going on with your little man. But they don’t have answers — there’s no explanation for his hydrops and severe skin edema and cystic hygromas.
The tests all come back negative, and you are left waiting, hoping for a miracle, still carrying this sweet little boy who you have named Clark after his great-grandmother’s most favorite movie character, Clark Gable.
The waiting is torturous. The unknowns of what’s to come so scary, navigating waters ahead seemingly blindfolded. But you share, your blog, you document, you create self-portraits with your son nestled snuggled up inside of you, his heart still beating strong, in hopes that it will be doing the same when you meet him.
And then, suddenly, it stops. Something changes, something doesn’t feel right, and in the lull between appointments and ultrasounds you hastily send a frantic text to your OB and she instructs you to go into Labor & Delivery for bloodwork. When you get there the sweet nurse, who has just been briefed on your pregnancy by your doctor who called ahead for you, can’t find your baby’s heartbeat.
And you lose it. Because as quickly as you found out he was on the way, he is gone, forever sleeping inside of you until he is delivered. Debilitating devastation overwhelms you and you compose yourself enough to drag yourself to the car, wrapped in your husband’s arms, both fighting back the treacherous sobs that consume you.
You wait for your doctor to call you about when you’ll deliver because even at 22 weeks he’ll need to come via c-section. Major surgery and no sweet little babe to distract you from the pains of a repeat cesarean is what lays ahead soon. It’s decided Clark will arrive the next day, another 24 hours you have with him. And even though his heart wasn’t beating, you have comfort knowing he is warmly inside of you for a bit longer.
Numbness encompasses you. You want to do nothing because you all of a sudden don’t know how to do anything. You sit and cry, holding onto your husband, and wondering what possibly went wrong with your little boy. Your phone rings and it’s your amazing birth photographer and friend, telling you to come to do maternity pictures. You don’t want to, you don’t want to do anything.
But she doesn’t take no for an answer…so you go. And hours later, you are so glad you did. She captures a pregnancy cut too short yet all of the love and joy his short little life brought you, and you are forever grateful to her for that.
You decide to snap one final self-portrait before the most wonderfully difficult day of your life. Your last picture of carrying your son, just you and him.
Choking back tears, you tell your big kids that their little brother isn’t going to be coming home with you from the hospital. You explain, the best way you can to three kids under 6, that their brother had some problems that the doctors couldn’t fix and that he died…but he’ll live on in their hearts forever. And you cry together, with all of your children sitting around the kitchen table, longing for what could have been.
But what could have been isn’t what is, and all of a sudden you’re wiping back tears again, hugging your OB who’s come in to assist the high-risk doctor on your c-section, and giving your husband a final kiss before being taken back for a fourth c-section.
The tears flow freely down your face. The OR, something you’re so familiar with being a birth photographer yourself and capturing the happy birth stories for others, is hauntingly quiet. No one is saying anything. No announcement of a baby being born, no “it’s a boy!” declarations, no nurses ogling over how cute he is. Just silence.
You crane your neck to see your little boy in the warmer…which isn’t even turned on. You strain through the tears to see your husband lovingly holding your son and putting a hat on his head.
He is just perfect. A perfect sleeping little babe. Your fourth child, your perfect little angel.
Your husband brings him over to you so you can see him, hold his hands, admire his little features you can make out perfectly through his very swollen skin. And you cry. You cry a lot, the tears stream down your face uncontrollably and you close your eyes, forcing them away, forcing it all to be a bad dream.
But it’s not. You wake up and you’re being moved to recovery with a sleeping babe in your arms. Wheeled past rooms in which very much awake babies are being born.
Your big kids come up to meet their brother, something you wrestled back and forth with but decided they needed to come, need closure, needed to meet their brother and tell him hello and see you later all at the same time.
Your parents come, and husband’s parents. They want and need to see their new grandson.
You snap a few pictures, a family picture, a selfie, and then he’s gone — everyone’s gone. It’s just you, a fresh 8 inch incision on your belly, an empty womb, breasts that will soon be full of milk, and a huge hole in your heart. You cry, you cry a lot.
The days since Clark’s birth drag on, new highs and lows come with each of them. You ride this wave of grief day in and day out, all while being thrown in to the depths of postpartum…a postpartum you are no stranger to, because this isn’t your first time giving birth, but it’s your first without a baby to distract you from the harsh realities of the fourth trimester.
You realize postpartum is raw and ugly and its truths are seemingly always disguised behind a baby…yet there’s no baby this time.
You pump milk for someone else’s babe to relieve engorgement, change pad after pad that’s soaking up the horrendous postpartum bleeding that seems to be infinitely worse this time around for some reason, pop pain pills like candy, because for some reason that dull ache in your abdomen just won’t go away, almost like it knows its occupant was vacated four months too early, endure countless sleepless nights and so wish it was because a newborn’s tiny cries were keeping you up instead of the tremendous anguish of missing his presence.
A month ago you held him in your womb, and now you hold him in your arms, just a little differently than most do one month postpartum. It’s overwhelming — the sadness, the anguish, the grief. Nothing tastes good, nothing feels good, you just are going through the motions.
But you push on. You keep going. Because somewhere, something deep inside of you tells you you have to. You keep sharing your thoughts, keep documenting your journey, keep taking pictures. You swim out of the dark abyss and are surrounded by love and support, outpouring from all areas.
You’ve shared your story and your friends and family have heard it and wrap you in their arms, sending messages and flowers and dinners and puzzles and books for your big kids and you are overwhelmed with it all. You miss your little boy terribly, but the good that others are showing you is a glimmer of light, of hope. You commit yourself to paying it forward, to helping others, to sharing your story in that maybe, just maybe one person will be helped in their grief as so many helped in yours.
No one talks about loss — the life that was very much there, then wasn’t, and then the aftermath that engulfs you. It’s so hush-hushed, so silenced. But there are so many who endure this in the dark, in the quiet. You are not alone. You do not have to walk this path by yourself, because it is a path that no one should have to walk that way. You’ll hold your babe forever in your heart, but don’t have to do so in silence.
Talk about them, share about them, break the stigma and taboo that loss needs to be keep quiet. Loss sucks. It sucks so much.
But knowing you don’t need to suffer and grieve quietly helps the teeniest of tiniest of bits.
Written by Alex Mooney
Images by Alex Mooney & Victoria Allen