Before we had Eleanor, I had a miscarriage. We were sad and scared, uncertain whether we would ever be able to have a baby. But the more people we told, the more we heard stories of other miscarriages. Everyone knows someone who has been through that. That certainly didn’t make us feel better, but it did make us feel less alone.
When you experience a stillbirth, you don’t get any reassurance. No one says, “Oh, this happens all the time.” Most of the stories I’ve heard about stillbirth date back 50 or 60 years. What most people say to us is, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” This is, of course, the appropriate thing to say, but it is also my frequent reminder that we are largely alone.
I realized the other day that most people have no idea what goes on when a baby dies. Not only can they not imagine our emotions, but they don’t know what happens when a baby dies. I certainly didn’t know. Most people probably prefer to remain in the dark, but for those of you who do want a bit of understanding, I will tell you about our experience.
After the horrid ultrasound, I was given the choice of waiting to go into labor or having a C-section. Most women in that situation will have labor induced, but I couldn’t do that because it’s too risky for a woman who has had a previous C-section. Genevieve was breech, and I was trapped in the worst moment of my life, so the decision was easy.
At the hospital, I was given the choice of being awake or asleep for Genevieve’s delivery. I chose to be knocked out because I couldn’t imagine having to endure the silence when she emerged. When the anesthesiologist arrived, he told me that he and has wife had had a stillborn baby also. I will be grateful to him for the rest of my life for sharing that.
We also had to decide whether we wanted an autopsy. Initially we thought we would do this, but we learned that our insurance would not pay for it and we would owe $2,500. So we didn’t have the autopsy, but we did have tests run on the placenta, my blood and Genevieve’s blood. No answers.
A wonderful hospital chaplain came to meet with us and gave us pamphlets about grief and surviving the loss of our baby. The nurses asked whether we wanted professional photos of Genevieve taken by Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which is a nonprofit that arranges for that. When we arrived at the hospital, I hadn’t been sure whether I would get to see Genevieve — or whether I wanted to. But the staff members encouraged us to spend time with her. And I was slowly starting to understand that this was the only time we would ever get to take photos of Genevieve. We decided to have the photographer come.
After my surgery, which was by far the easiest part of all of this, the nurses wheeled me back to my room and brought Genevieve to Greg. I was still groggy, and it was so strange to see Greg holding a newborn again. He looked just like he had with Eleanor, but this was the saddest day ever instead of the happiest.
Greg brought Genevieve over to me, and all of my fear rushed away. She was perfect. She looked nothing like the scary image that had frozen in my mind. She just looked like a sleeping baby, and a tiny version of me.
The nurses asked if we had an outfit for her to wear in the photos. I hadn’t known that we should bring clothes, but they had several gowns and bonnets donated by Threads of Love, which is a nonprofit that makes blankets and clothes for preemies and stillborn babies. I chose a dainty white gown and bonnet.
The photographer arrived (at 11p.m. On a Friday night!) and spent about an hour taking photos of us with our nurse assisting her.
We spent another two full days in the hospital. The chaplain came to our room each day to check on us and then to discuss funeral home arrangements. All infants who weigh more than 500 grams — about one pound — at the time of death must go to a funeral home. Genevieve weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces. Most funeral homes give a huge discount to parents who have lost a baby, but even with the discount, the cost is at least a few hundred dollars, which no parent plans for, of course.
We were able to spend as much time as we wanted with Genevieve, so we had her in our room for about an hour each day. We sang lullabies to her, talked to her, and Greg even danced with her. We took some of our own photos because I was paranoid that something might happen to the professional shots.
As I slowly recovered, the nurses encouraged me to try walking down the hall. Instead of the giant pink or blue bow on our door, we had a photo of a teardrop resting on a leaf.
When we prepared to the leave the hospital, we took time to say goodbye to Genevieve, and then the nurse took her away. We signed a form releasing her body to the funeral home. And if that wasn’t the hardest moment I will ever experience, then I hope I die young.
Babies who are stillborn do not get birth certificates. I went through nine months of pregnancy and a C-section, but the government says Genevieve was not born. When you leave the hospital without a baby, you instead get a memory box. So as they wheeled me out of the hospital, that is what I held.
The funding for the memory boxes comes from the hospital’s charity. So many people were working to help us, and most parents will be lucky enough to never know about all that goes on in those rooms with the leaf photos.
Inside the box: two baby blankets that had been wrapped around Genevieve, a silver heart charm, several copies of Genevieve’s footprints, the gown and bonnet she wore for the photos, a lock of her hair, a card signed by all of the nurses, and a tiny knitted angel that I imagine we’ll hang on the Christmas tree.