Having Henry here, I’m reminded of all I lost with Genevieve. In public, strangers coo at him and ask all of the usual questions — age, name, and so forth. There is a sense of pride that comes with having a baby. People congratulate me, the same way they would if I had received a promotion at work or graduated from school, as if this healthy baby is something I deserve.
Losing a baby brings the opposite: shame. Doctors give us the illusion of control over pregnancy. If we avoid these foods, take these vitamins, have these ultrasounds, we will have a healthy baby. I remember, shortly after losing Genevieve, overhearing two pregnant women debate the consumption of tuna fish. My chest felt like a hot teakettle. I wanted to explode, or maybe just shriek, something, anything. This assumption that they could somehow protect their babies implied that I had failed to protect mine.
In searching for causes of stillbirth, I most often saw references to smoking, drug use, and inadequate prenatal care. This reinforced my notion that I was at fault for Genevieve’s death. Did everyone else think the same, assume that I had taken some medication or done some activity that I shouldn’t have?
I was under a lot of stress during my pregnancy with Genevieve, and I thought that must have been the cause. I kept life as stress-free as possible during my pregnancy with Henry. I wasn’t exactly lying on the couch eating bon-bons, but close. Of course, now that I’ve finished the pregnancy, and now that I’ve seen how the exact same problems developed, I know that stress wasn’t the cause.
Whenever I read an article or blog post related to stillbirth, I leave a comment. I can’t stop. There is often that word that I don’t like: rare. It’s a subjective word. One in 160 pregnancies doesn’t seem that rare, especially when many women will have two or three children. That puts the chances of any woman experiencing a stillbirth at about one in 100. I know why it is used. We don’t want to scare women, and I don’t think we should be scaring them.
But that word puts a terrible burden on women who experience a stillbirth. If all you see are the words “rare” and “smoking” and “drugs,” you’re left wondering what you did wrong. I would prefer clarity — numbers and facts.
Half of all stillbirths are unexplained. Many of the other causes are beyond your control. We know that you will blame yourself, but it’s not your fault.