[Trigger warning: This essay describes one woman’s emotional journey with pregnancy loss.]
The nurses put a ribbon on my door.
At first, when I looked at the hospital door as it quickly open and shut, I thought it was a black ribbon. Later, when the nurses were packing up all the memories of my baby, they put the ribbon on top of the little dress she wore. It was baby pink and light blue, in the shape of a heart with two little footprints in the center.
My daughter was stillborn. I had a healthy pregnancy, but the cord was wrapped too tightly around her neck. She was moving Sunday night, five days before of her due date in November. At our routine doctor’s appointment Monday morning, she didn’t have a heartbeat. I went to the hospital.
She was born around 10 a.m. Tuesday. My husband and I held her, cried over her, baptized her, took her picture, apologized, kissed her, loved on her and said goodbye.
I still can’t comprehend our grief. We were told losing our baby to a “cord accident” was rare. It was like a car crash; no one could predict when or why or how or the impact. It just…happened. But it still doesn’t make it fair. It doesn’t lessen the shock. It doesn’t bring our daughter back. It doesn’t lessen the guilt. It still doesn’t make any sense. We miss who she could have been. I miss her; the rolling and kicking, her toes and fingers between my ribs.
The hours, days and weeks after after we lost our baby are a blur. I easily confuse memories and dreams and medicated hazes. But after we lost her, the village that we didn’t realize we had lifted us up, and I vividly remember the kindness.
“Are you having the baby?” My little sister asked when I called on that Monday. I live in South Carolina. My family is in New York. My husband’s family is in Missouri. My little sister was traveling between Virginia and North Carolina. I called my mom first, her second.
“I’m in the hospital. She doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you okay?”
“…I don’t know.”
“I’ll be there in six hours.”
My little sister drove here and took care of our 2-year old through the night and got her to daycare Tuesday morning. My parents flew in. While I was laboring in the hospital, my sister, parents and closest friend packed away all the baby items we had ready for the baby’s arrival.
In the days after, my husband and I tried to do anything to make us feel the smallest bit better. Our families—blood related and our local village—helped us care for our daughter and house while we could barely go through the motions.
I walked into the maternity ward that Monday knowing I was leaving without a baby. After I was processed and undressed and induced and stuck with needles and IVs, and through the time I was there, the nurses flew into my room within seconds of me pushing a buzzer.
They made sure I was comfortable and in no pain, and cried with us, hugged us close when we left and called me days later to check in. My doctors cried with us, and even when we didn’t know what was happening, were the only ones I could believe when they said it: This was not your fault. They showed incredible patience as I asked “how” and “why” 5 million different ways, and were available any time I needed them.
Family and friends sent us small items of comfort to help us feel the tiniest bit better while we couldn’t breathe. My older sister sent the most amazing smelling box of bubble bath. Cousins sent tea and cookies, and texted us just to say that they loved us. My husband’s family sent us groceries. Aunts sent us three square meals. Friends and family sent us beautiful gifts to remember our baby. One coordinated care and meals, and just came over and sat with me and let our toddlers play. One visited on her way back from a family trip, forced me into real clothes and to yoga, and ended up painting our garage.
Our village cooked and cooked and cooked. Close friends and parents from daycare—some whose names I wasn’t sure I knew beyond “so-and-so’s mom and dad—left notes and trays of food on our porch. Our daughter’s daycare director pulled her in and out of class and met us in the parking lot with our happy, sweet girl in her arms so we didn’t have to go inside.
My boss gracefully carried the news through my job and protected us, while my co workers bought my baby a star—A STAR. You can look just south of the Ursa major constellation and see my daughter’s STAR. My husband’s work family sent an army of housecleaners.
Our intuitive little 2-year-old wraps her little arms around my neck, lingers there, whispers her toddler words into my ear and gives a kiss whenever I feel the sudden, sharp pain of grief and pause for a little too long.
We met amazing, strong, beautiful people who I didn’t know I wanted to know, and became part of a support group I never thought membership existed. They made us feel that we weren’t alone. More and more people who lost a child became visible; this community started popping up wherever I looked.
There’s a lot I don’t remember. That Monday, the time between two doctors entering the ultrasound room to confirm no heartbeat and me sitting on the edge of a hospital bed and begging for a C-section hours later are blank.
I remember bits and pieces after that: calling my mom and my sister; my husband calling his mother; texting my friend and my boss; the nurses trying to find a vein; logistics for caring for our 2-year-old; thinking I was too young for this; water; Ambien; contractions; pain; pressure; pushing; “there are no signs of life;” tears, tears, tears; saying goodbye; going home without the second car seat; the hug our daughter gave us when we came home that Tuesday afternoon; not being able to talk; the kindness that came out of people.
I remember saying to a friend that I didn’t understand why people we hardly knew were being so nice. She turned to me: “You are living every parent’s nightmare.” I still don’t know how to thank them.
Nearly five months after we lost our baby, our toddler had a stomach virus. Before bed one night, we stretched Hello Kitty band-aids above her belly button to help her “boo-boo.” After three, she held the fourth in her hand.
“Where’s my boo-boo?”
She put a band-aid on the left-side of my chest; right above my heart.