“I’m sorry, your baby has passed.”
Those were words I never thought would have been directed at me. Yet, on a beautiful, sunny day in May, those were exactly the words spoken to me over the phone while I sat in the windowless waiting room of an ultrasound clinic.
“OK,” I replied, not sure how to respond.
What do you say when someone tells you your baby just died? The expected response would be to cry, but I didn’t. Likely because I already knew–five hours earlier that day–when the midwife spent 20 minutes struggling to find my baby’s heartbeat. I had a few hours to sit alone with the news that my pregnancy had come to an abrupt end. I was 24-weeks pregnant at the time.
Leaving the ultrasound clinic that afternoon, my mind raced. What now? Should my husband and I take down the crib that was already set up in the baby’s room? Do we put away in storage the onesies we had already hung up in the closet? Or unpack the hospital bag that would not be needed anymore?
I was still technically pregnant. I had not miscarried.
I didn’t understand how my body kept on thinking it was pregnant even though my baby’s heart had stopped beating. My husband thought that perhaps this was a sign—the doctors could be wrong. Perhaps the baby was still alive and everyone had just made a mistake. The longer I stayed pregnant, the more hope he held out. I admired his faith, but I knew in the deafening silence I felt within my body was a sign that my baby’s spirit had already left.
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I was scheduled to be induced 13 days later. Which meant that for almost two weeks, I walked around still very pregnant to the outside world. It was a twisted game my body and I were playing with each other. I still had the baby physically in me even though he or she was no longer viable. My body continued being pregnant as though nothing ever happened.
In the days leading up to the induction, I functioned normally. I busied myself with the funeral arrangements. Choosing the tiny white coffin, the scenic cemetery spot, the epitaph, the flowers for the funeral—I did all this with relative ease. By keeping myself occupied with the necessary details, I prevented myself from ruminating on the predicament we were in. Perhaps unbeknownst to me, this was my coping mechanism.
I didn’t grieve in the typical way, and neither did those around me.
It was new territory for all of us. Looking back, I suppose everyone was looking at me for cues on how to act, but I wasn’t providing any. It was like the blind leading the blind.
Two weeks later, after a harrowing two hours of labor, I delivered a beautiful baby boy. Instead of the sound of a baby crying, all I heard were the sounds of the hospital machines murmuring and the doctors and nurses shuffling across the floor. Weighing only 600 grams, with his eyes tightly closed, and with a stillness I can’t ever describe in words, he was placed in my arms.
I stared down at him not knowing what to feel. I thought there would be an obvious physical sign, something to indicate why he never made it past 24 weeks. But when I looked down at him, all I saw was a peaceful baby boy whose heart had just stopped beating much too soon.
We named him, had him blessed, and said our goodbyes to him a mere 24 hours later. I watched as a nurse wheeled his bassinet away towards the hospital morgue. We buried him a week later in a closed casket ceremony at the cemetery. I cried when I saw the hearse making its way down the winding cemetery path to where I was standing.
It was the first time I had openly broken down, the stoic part of me overridden at that moment.
I’ve always wondered why I never grieved my baby in the way I thought I would. Why I never cried in all the moments I expected to cry. When I found out the news of his passing, when I carried him in me for two weeks even though I knew he was already gone, when I delivered him, and when I held him in my arms for the last time.
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And why it was that I only broke down when I saw the hearse? To this day, it is this moment that stands out the most to me. The huge black hearse with tinted windows transporting my son’s tiny white coffin inside–and the uncontrollable sobbing that followed.
Perhaps, it was the culmination of everything I had carefully avoided dealing with those past two weeks that finally got to me.
I’ve come to realize that everyone deals with grief differently, and even a pamphlet telling me this still didn’t make it sink in any faster for me. At subsequent funerals, I still have had a hard time truly grasping the loss that has taken place. Of course, I feel sad for the deceased and the people whose lives are affected by the loss, but beyond that, it’s as though my mind cannot make sense of death. I’m not sure if this will change. If as I age and those closest to me also age and start to leave this world, my ability to understand the concept of death will change too. But if it doesn’t, I’m realizing that’s OK too.
This is how I grieve. This is how I handle death. And as expressionless as it may seem at times to everyone watching on the outside, it doesn’t mean I care any less than if I shed a stream of tears.