I received the following poignant and personal letter about stillbirth and pregnancy loss from a reader. She will be joining me live at this site on Tuesday at noon.
Dear Dr. Gottlieb,
On December 22, 2008, my second daughter Lucia Paz was stillborn at 38 weeks. I am a thirty-five year old woman, who had two normal pregnancies. My first daughter is now twenty-two months old. She is a beautiful girl, and we were happy to welcome our second daughter. No, scratch that, not happy, ecstatic.
Though Lucy had been monitored only three days before, I had noticed a distinct lack of movement on Sunday. Certainly, with a toddler, and getting physically ready to welcome a baby into our home, I wasn't paying close attention to her movements, but when I sat down after dinner, there was nothing. I began to get nervous, and we called our midwives group. They urged us to come into the hospital where we found out our little girl was gone.
Though we are awaiting the autopsy report, there appears to be no definitive reason for Lucia's death. She simply died. These are hard concepts to wrap your brain around as a mother, nay, as a human being. We expect reasons for things. We expect a kind of justice in the universe. Before Lucia's death, I had no idea how prevalent stillbirth The reason I didn't know about this is because it is still a taboo subject in this society to discuss birth loss.
After people found out Lucia died, they just simply did not know what to say, or what to do. It doesn't occur to most people that I am still postpartum, that my milk came in, or even that I had to give birth to her knowing she was dead. People say different things to the loss of a baby before they have taken their first breath, as though I wasn't necessarily attached to her yet. But she is a missed human being, but she was also part of our future, the idea of our family…everything has changed about us. Once upon a time, we imagined our family with perhaps three or four children, we are now not sure if we can even bear to have another pregnancy.
Six weeks after her birth, I realize I'm not exactly one of those grieving mothers who crochets angel pillows for every room of the house, nor have I ever referred to Lucy as my little angel baby. My daughter is dead. It is a mantra I have repeated for six weeks now, every minute, like I am memorizing a poem, or lines to a maudlin play I am in. "My daughter is dead. My daughter is dead." It is as though I am still trying to remember that she is dead. Whatever I find out about how she died, she will still be dead. When I go for a walk, Lucy is still dead. If I have another baby, Lucy is still dead. You want to cut in front of me in line? My daughter is dead, go ahead.
At any rate, I have been writing extensively trying to make some sense out of the conflicting emotions of this time. Sometimes, I think I will awake from the nightmare of finding out my daughter is dead, and other days I think I dreamt the entire pregnancy and have awoke to find everything just like it was ten months ago. But mostly, I am learning how to live this new life, and trying to make myself whole for my daughter Beatrice. I'm doing a pretty good job.
And there is an incredible memoir about stillbirth by Elizabeth McCracken called the Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination. I felt like I could have written many sections of that book myself, but I had the urge to send that book to everyone I know, so they would understand what I am going through.
Dear A.Y., you signed off your letter saying "much love." And that really is the essence of the story. You hurt so badly because you felt so much love for this child. Love for the possibilities and love for your image of your future family. And now what? The child is gone, but the love remains.
Stephen Levine who wrote "Healing Unto Life And Death" said that grief is the rope earns left behind when what we have clutched so tightly is pulled from our grasp against our will.
But your grief is in its own category. Loss of a child is beyond what most of us can or would be willing to fathom, so we minimize or offer platitudes just so we can avoid facing your vulnerability and ours.
Your letter brings up so many important issues about the need to tell a story, to be in community again, to have the freedom to feel your anguish without judgment and some of the things that might help.
I look forward to getting to know you better on Tuesday,