Stillbirths: How a New Openness Helps Parents Cope is an insightful article originally published in Newsweek Magazine January 30, 2009. Click on the link above to read the article. It reflects a much needed and long awaited trend toward ending the silence surrounding stillbirth. In fact, in recent years the term ‘stillborn’ has been replaced with ‘born still’. It’s a small but significant change as it demands acknowledgement of the existence and value of the deceased child.
The article is more than facts and statistics. It includes personal stories and introduces an organization dedicated to helping hurting families hold onto the children who have left their arms but not their hearts.
Never their hearts.
How I wish Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep existed in 1992. I’m so thankful it is available to families today. In 1992 David and I were encouraged to hold our newborn son and I’m glad I did. You just always wish for more. . . to know the color of their eyes, the sound of their voice, the feel of their tiny hand wrapped around your finger, wiggling toes . . . memories to hold onto.
Anticipation is making me wait for that moment promised in 1 Corinthians 13:12:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
When Cole was born, by all accounts healthy, just weeks before his due date; there weren’t many support groups available specifically for bereaved parents of infants. Fortunately, that is no longer the case**. The books on the market focused on miscarriage, a worthy subject and a far more common form of child loss, barely gave a nod to the subject of stillbirth.
I was rocked by the fact that my son was healthy . . . but dead. Healthy and dead. The two are simply incompatible; yet it was true. It never dawned on me when I prayed for a healthy baby that I needed to pray for a living, breathing baby at the same time. I never made that mistake again; I assure you.
I felt very much alone.
Those who had previously experienced early miscarriage expected me to quickly move past my grief. Nobody wanted to talk about my son. It felt as if people wanted me to pretend the previous nine months had never happened. And of course the obligatory comments designed to offer hope and comfort were extended. “You can have another baby.”, “This was God’s way of taking care of an unhealthy child.” I wonder if those who offered that last bit of wisdom recognize the irony of it in light of the fact that I later gave birth to two children with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy? I doubt it. They probably don’t remember saying those words, although I certainly recall hearing them. That’s not meant to be snarky. For some it’s better if they don’t remember; their intention was good. For others, remembering may help them recognize it is untrue and better left unspoken.
Stillborn The Invisible Death was the only resource I found dedicated solely to the topic of stillbirth. It was a painful and cathartic read for me. I’d pick it up and read until my heart hurt so badly I had to cast it aside. But it kept drawing me back. It was one of the few places I heard the barest whisper of, “Yes, that’s it. That’s how I feel!” It was heartrending. It was validating and affirming. My experiences with friends & family, emotions, and subsequent pregnancies were clear reflections of those portrayed in the book. I was not nearly as alone as I felt. I wasn’t crazy, paranoid, or ultra-sensitive. I was very, very normal.
The book is a compilation of survey responses by bereaved parents. But this editorial review found in Library Journal gives a far better description of the book than I can relate 24 years after the fact:
“According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 33,000 babies are stillborn each year. For the parents who experience this traumatic event, and for familes, friends, and professionals, this book offers understanding, hope, and comfort. Drawing on the moving and eloquent testimony of 350 parents of stillborn babies, it explores such topics as blame, shock, and guilt; seeing, holding, and remembering the baby; the autopsy and funeral; effects on family relationships, including moving and divorce; thoughts of suicide; increased substance abuse; surviving children and subsequent pregnancies; returning to normal; and reaching out to others. An empathic and compassionate book that would have been enhanced by a list of support groups and resource organizations.Nevertheless recommended. Jodith Janes, University Hospitals of Cleveland Lib.”
These many years later, I’d still recommend this book to bereaved parents who’ve experienced the birth of a stillborn child.
Seriously, follow the link above and read the Newsweek article. You never know when stillbirth might touch your life or that of someone you love. You never know when you might be called upon to minister to, or encourage, an individual or family living in the deepest, darkest grief following the ninth hour loss of the child they’ve dreamed of and prepared for. You never know . . . maybe you should.
*Newsweek article paraphrase
**A multitude of support groups (both online and face to face) can be found via internet search. I’m partial to While We’re Waiting, an organization dedicated to ministering to bereaved parents. Please see whilewerewaiting.org to find out about the free services offered to grieving parents.