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Posts Tagged ‘First Person Stories’

A short story by Lauren T. Klein

I searched for a hair-tie in the kitchen junk drawer. Even in our new fancy house, there was a junk drawer. My son, Matthew, age three, called it the “yunk” drawer. He thought it was a treasure trove. After two months, his hospitalized, ill, infant brother was supposed to come home. I was on the phone, the coiled white cord fully stretched across the kitchen counter.

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It’s odd how distinct and vivid the events surrounding a child’s death become when you have moved from that time… It’s been three years since I lost my little Kierra…at 14 months old…barely enough time to even begin to open her eyes to the wonders of this earth and the love that was shared by her family. Yes, her family her whole family….You see, Kierra was my grand daughter….I would have to say a very special grand daughter. She came from a long line of firsts….4 generations of first born daughters and grand daughters…a serious task and legacy for such a little person. But she handled the task with the ease and strength of champion.

I remember the moment that I got the call that Kierra was being transported to the emergency room at the trauma center where I work…! It’s odd, but the immediate thought that ripped through my mind like a bolt of lightening was “I need to hurry, my daughter Amanda is going to need me!”

When I arrived in the emergency department I found my daughter sitting motionless on the couch eyes red with tears and pain….and a cold steel knife slid through my heart….my baby is in pain….! I held her and kissed her cheek and said “honey, everything’s going to be okay, I’m here, and we’ll get this all taken care of” Little did I know at that time that all of the “mother” in me would never be able to fix the hurt or the pain, or repair the damage to that dear sweet baby lying in the next room.

I spoke with the doctors and the nursing staff who were friends of mine and learned the gravity of the situation. I couldn’t tell Amanda… because she needed to have the “hope” that I could infuse in her at least for the moment. HOPE…something that I needed to provide to hold my family together through this quagmire of pain, HOPE, something that I couldn’t afford to hold for myself…!

The next two days were like something out of the “Rocky Mountain Horror Show”…the arrest of the day care provider, the surgery, the hours and hours and hours of waiting, phone calls, friends, family from far away all needing the information and news….! Amanda was lost in her grief and things were now beginning to look totally grim. Someone had to be there “for the family” coordinating, organizing, making sure that no one was offended by the interactions of the immediate environment. That someone was “Grandma” Nana as I am referred to by my children and now 4 grand children. Nana would hold it together…Amanda depended on me to do that as she had depended on me to hold things together all of her short 23 years of life. But Nana couldn’t cry…there wasn’t time…there were tasks at hand and preparations to be made.

Amanda and I talked until long hours of the night there in the Pediatric ICU waiting room…we discussed her feelings of guilt for having put Kierra in child care, we discussed her fears of a child without function should Kierra survive the injuries, we talked about the good times we had experienced with our sweet Kierra and we talked about Amanda’s fears regarding Kierra’s last moments before her skull was crushed. Was she afraid, was she in pain…How does a mother tell her daughter? Ease her fears and comfort her in a time such as this…? I would hold her and rock her almost as if she were once again a small child…and tell her…Kierra was protected by angels my dear…held close to her guardian angels breast…as I hold you… But Nana couldn’t cry!

Then when the final word came that Kierra was brain dead…once again, there were decisions…many many decisions…donate organs, funeral arrangements, receptions, flowers…on and on and on and on…A woman should never have to bury her child. She shouldn’t be faced with making “arrangements”. So, once again, Nana couldn’t cry…..it was essential to “hold the family” together.

I secured a safe place for my Amanda and her husband that afternoon before Kierra went to the OR to donate organs….I didn’t want her going home to that lonely little apartment with all of Kierra’s toys….meeting her at the door. I then waited with my mother…Kierra’s great grandmother until the organ donation team arrived…and walked with our little angel to the elevator…I promised her then, that her Nana would do everything in her power to ever prevent this from happening to another child.

As the elevator doors closed….and that cold steel knife twisted in my heart….the pent up tears of 3 days poured forth….and would not stop…..NOW Nana could cry… and cry she did! She cried for her lost grandchild, she cried for the lost legacy, and the great grandchildren she would never see…she cried for the pain of her daughter and she cried for the trauma that this death had inflicted on her family.

Grandparents are a special gift that God gives to children….and the children know it…with all the love they hold in their hearts for their parents…there is special love in their hearts for their grandparents…..We as grandparents hold an unending volume of love…and our grandchildren become the receivers of the deepest of that love.

When our grandchildren are hurt or die….a huge part of us dies with them…a piece dies for them and a bigger piece dies for our children. Our belief is that we were put here to care for and protect our children and the death of a grandchild places a deep seated guilt in our hearts that we failed in our task…we couldn’t do it…we couldn’t do enough.

Although on a cognitive level we know that there was nothing more that we could have conceivably done, our hearts and souls forever hold the question… and We CRY.

To all of the grandparents in our group I extend you a very very warm grandparents day salutation….and leave with you the knowledge that your little grand angels are there watching over you…and smiling…”That’s my Nana…and she loves me”…!

Pamela S. Rowse, R.N., Grandmother
Murdered 3/5/97 – by her licensed day care provider
Founder, The Kierra Harrison Foundation for Child Care Safety
Pamela is currently the Chapter President for My Parents are Survivors, an online resource for any family member who has experienced the death of a child. She is also a member of the advisory board for the National Shaken Baby Alliance

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Sweetheart,

I read your e-mail just before I went to bed. I was thinking about what to say when I turned out the light and the tears streamed unbidden down my face for a long time. I guess that when I let myself go, I realize that I probably have not worked through my grief because it is too painful. You’d think that with all of my losses; my breasts, my insides, my husband, my parents, my step son and my granddaughter I would be an expert in grieving, but I guess I’m not.

I do not think that the pain of losing a grandchild can ever compare with that of losing a child. When Jennifer was born I knew she was going to die. I suspect that my fear of her death was governed this “knowledge”. There were a lot of tears and hysteria that I did not share with you for a variety of reasons, one of which was that you seemed so optimistic. I fantasized that I had the power to keep her alive and I pleaded with someone to do so. At that point I would have done absolutely anything if I had the power to make her well and live. Before her death I think I grieved mostly for myself and for Jennifer. She bore my name and was the daughter you had waited for all of your life and I could not bear the thought that she was suffering and might die. After her death, however, all of my pain was because I saw you and Scott (but mostly you) in the ultimate pain. What hurt the most was that my beloved daughter was inconsolable and would be scarred for the rest of her life and I couldn’t do one bloody thing about it. To see someone who is your life suffer as much as you did was unbearable and made me question everything. I had to be strong and available for you so that is where I put my effort. I put my own feelings on the back burner where I suspect they have stayed since then. I’m not sure how well I ultimately coped with my own feelings so I hesitate to advise other grandparents.

Janet Jacoby Kassler
Grandmother of Jennifer Jacoby Pickert 2/22/94 – 5/20/94

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By Craig Pampeyan

Three years ago, I was really looking forward to the birth of our first child. Having gotten married later in life, I was both excited about having a baby and anxious about all the usual first-time dad fears and concerns. I was trying to balance a job which required a lot of travel with getting prepared to be a good father and husband. Fortunately, the anxiety subsided as the pregnancy progressed and my thoughts turned more to the future. That is, until “The Day”.

When my wife Julie was 32 weeks along in her pregnancy, I was returning from a trip and called her from the car to let her know I would be home in an hour. She was very upset and said the baby had not moved in the evening. I told her to get to the hospital and I would meet her there.

When I arrived, Julie was being monitored and the baby’s heart rate was very fast. At 6 a.m. the following morning, the doctor decided an emergency cesarean section was needed to save the baby. Even at this point, I had a strong belief that things were going to work out fine. Call it blind faith or ignorance, but it seemed like whatever the problem, there was sufficient medical technology to fix it. My primary concerns were to be there for Julie and to comfort her.

I don’t recall Emily making any sound, although Julie remembers two distinct cries. Emily’s APGAR score was only 2 out of a possible 10 so she was rushed to the neonatal intensive-care nursery.

The doctors included both of us in discussions of options, treatments, and outcomes, but it became clear I would have to be the decision maker and the champion for what my wife and I wanted to do. The nurses were very focused on caring for Julie and Emily and tended toward the “human” side of the issues. I really appreciated that. It was all I could do to try and take care of my wife, baby, and work through the technical discussions and choices that I felt were on my shoulders to understand enough so Julie and I could make the best decisions for Emily.

Over the next three days, we dealt with the agonies of watching our baby in the neonatal intensive-care nursery suffer seizures and struggle to breathe. We ultimately came to the realization that, because of a kinked umbilical cord, she had been deprived of oxygen. She was perfect in every way, but brain dead.

The next morning, the doctors told us she was going downhill, and would probably not survive the day. Our minister met us at the hospital and baptized Emily, my wife and myself as a family. Throughout the day, we held Emily, sang to her and read her poems until she passed away just before midnight.

In the early days after Emily’s death, we read about infant loss and various people’s stories, so I was prepared for the role that I would be cast into. As the father and husband, most people asked me for factual information and how Julie was doing. I think that it is still commonly expected that the man will be in charge of the situation and deal with all the details, while the woman is the one with the feelings. I was fortunate to have some very close female friends with whom I could share my feelings about the situation, and that helped a great deal.

I understand that there are many cases where one partner blames the other for the death of their baby, and the divorce rate after the loss of a child is extremely high. We were fortunate to have had a relationship with a counselor from our premarital counseling, and we met with her while Emily was alive and regularly after her death. During the depths of my grief, there were times when I wondered if there was something Julie could have done to prevent this. Intellectually I knew there wasn’t but the thoughts persisted. Fortunately, I kept them to myself.

While I didn’t feel that my wife blamed me for Emily’s death, I did struggle with a lot of feelings of inadequacy. I am a person who is driven to achieve – to do things well and to do them right. I felt that I had let my wife down, as I was powerless to help her with the physical and emotional pain she was enduring. I couldn’t help my baby – there was nothing that I could do to “fix” her problems and make her better. I felt I had let my parents down too. They were getting on in years and had been looking forward for a long time to a grandchild. I think that this lack of control was a very significant element in my grief – the inability to “do” anything to stop or change the course of events.

The experience of losing a child has significantly changed my life and relationships in a number of ways. The most obvious to others, although not to me, was the realignment of priorities. My family is clearly number one now, and I strive to spend as much time with my wife and subsequent daughter, Kristin, as possible. I’ve also found that I am more confident connecting on a personal level with my business associates. This usually comes about when I am asked, “How many children do you have?” My answer almost always is, “Two. One living and one who didn’t survive.” I think the loss of my daughter has drawn me closer to my friends who remember Emily and talk about her openly and the effect she has had on our lives.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with grief, and each must deal with it. This seems to be harder for men than women, though either way, it’s hard. Seeing a counselor helped us understand our feelings and really get to the heart of the choices we would be making. We got involved with HAND immediately so we could see how other parents were dealing with their grief and learn what to expect. To be honest, at our first meeting a week following Emily’s death, we thought we had our act together and all these other people were having a much harder time dealing with their losses. Later, we realized we were still in shock and denial. We had all the same issues to deal with as everyone before us. Had we not stuck with the meetings, I don’t think we would have realized this or dealt with our grief as well.

Volunteering to help other HAND parents, contributions to our church and hospital and the sterling bracelets we had made to replicate the hospital identification bands we were given when Emily was born – all help us remember Emily.

Although it does get easier over time, there are moments that bring me back to the time of our loss. “Butterfly Kisses,” by Bob Carlisle came out at the time of Emily’s death. It’s a song from a father about his daughter growing up and getting married. To this day, whenever I hear that song, it brings tears to my eyes as a reminder of all the things in life I won’t get to do with Emily – watch her play, go camping, walk her down the aisle. It gets easier, but the hole in my heart never goes away.

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She was due January 11, 2000. Our first baby. We had recently purchased our first home, so the timing seemed perfect, even though she was a surprise. We found out at our ultra sound appointment that we were having a girl and couldn’t be happier.

It wasn’t until after we had picked her name, Natalee, that we learned it meant, “Born on Christmas Day” and we often would joke that by choosing that name we had pre-determined her birthday. By December, I was becoming more uncomfortable by the day and ready to pop, so I wouldn’t have minded at all if she were born on Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we attended the normal gatherings at our friends and families house. It was a hectic night and we didn’t get home until late. I was so tired and immediately went to bed. After a restless night of sleep I awoke late on Christmas morning. I felt something different. I couldn’t pin point it right away but soon realized that Natalee hadn’t moved. I drank juice, ate cereal, all the tactics that usually get her going. Nothing had worked.

We went to the Hospital by the afternoon just to check and make sure that all was okay. The nurses immediately tried to hook me up to the heart monitor but could not find Natalee’s heartbeat. Three nurses came in to try, and eventually they brought in the Ultra-sound but would not let us see it.

They informed us that the Doctor would be there shortly, and that was all they said. We waited, we prayed, we cried. It was the beginning of a really bad dream that was in fact, becoming our reality.

The Doctor came in and immediately sat down, grabbed my hand and confirmed that the worst had happened. Natalee was gone. I was hysterical. It was Christmas. My baby was dead. This couldn’t be happening. She then informed us that I would be induced immediately and would deliver naturally. We could hardly process what was happening, it all seemed to happen so fast. In a split second our lives were shattered.

My husband, Paul called our families with all the strength he could muster. He was so strong, so brave. After that the rest is kind of a blur. Soon after we learned Natalee was gone, I was drugged with Demerol and put on Pitocin to help start my labor. My husband stayed by my side as I faded in and out. Friends and family filtered in and out. Tears in their eyes, I could hear some of them, sometimes open my eyes and see them hugging my husband, hugging each other. It all seemed like a bad dream.

I went through 13 hours of labor. During that time, friends and family held vigil in the waiting room, along with a support group leader, Heidi, who had come in to help us all through. I don’t know how I would be here today if she didn’t walk into our lives that night. The support and the love was unbelievable. It truly reflected the meaning of Christmas, a day that would never hold the same meaning it once did.

At 7:09 am on December 26th, I delivered a 7lb beautiful baby girl. In a still, quiet, room full of silent tears, shattered hopes and dreams. She looked perfect in every way except, to spite our prayers for a Christmas miracle, she was born still. She looked as though she might take a breath at any minute, but she never did. She was so beautiful. They then informed me that the cord was around her neck and that was probably what had killed her. We later learned it could also been a rare liver condition I had called Cholestasis of Pregnancy. Characterized by this strange itching I had all over my body after my 34th week. We had opted not to have an autopsy since in many of stillborn cases, a cause is never found.

We spent some time with her. We held her; we kissed her, talked to her. I couldn’t stop myself from constantly apologizing. I apologized to her; to my husband, whose pain was so intense and I wanted so badly to take it away from him. To our families, who I had felt I let down somehow. I wanted to go back in time, start over with a different outcome. My husband didn’t deserve this. Natalee didn’t deserve this. How could this happen to US?

There was a very special nurse there, who photographed our Natalee. She took so many wonderful pictures. They are my most prized possessions today. They are all I have left to remember her every feature, every spec on her face. All I had left to remember the beauty of my daughter.

Three days after delivering our Angel, it was time to go home, then it really hit me. I was going home empty handed, leaving our Natalee there. How would I get through this? All I had were two boxes which contained, a hat Natalee wore, a lock of her hair, some pictures, and her feet and handprints. This was all I had to hold on my lap as they wheeled me out, down a hallway that was so long and cold.

The nurses had all prepared for my departure by clearing the hallway of all baby-related items, closing all the doors of the rooms that contained mothers happily admiring their babies. This was an act of compassion that I will never forget.

As I looked out the window that day on the way home I remember it was sunny. I noticed the world was still turning. People were still shopping, still mowing their lawns. I was amazed at this. Didn’t they know my baby died? My world had stopped cold. How could it go on for everyone else?

I had to rest for Natalee’s funeral; it was on New Years Eve. I wanted to try and appear strong that day; it would be the first time I had to face people.

So many people came. I was overwhelmed. Friends I hadn’t seen in ages, family, and co-workers. It was a packed Church. The priest gave a beautiful eulogy. He talked of love, of remembering Natalee each Christmas in a special way. I wondered how we would ever celebrate Christmas again.

My Aunt also gave a beautiful talk. She spoke of the love and support we received from our friends and family. The love we all had for Natalee. As I stared at Natalee’s pictures surrounded by flowers at the front of the church. I broke down. Why? How will I ever survive this? What made God think I was strong enough for this?

New Years Eve night was so difficult. We knew it was a big deal all over the world and it had been a century that we had looked forward too, but now it felt empty. I remember hoping that night, that maybe the world would end. That maybe the earth would suddenly explode at midnight and then we could be with our Natalee. I remember, I could literally feel my heart breaking that night. We went to bed by 9:30 trying to figure out how to get through this next year.

I realized that night, that my life, my views, my whole persona would never be the same. I was changed forever. The new challenge would be getting to know this new person, introducing this new person to our family and friends. I’ve always felt that Paul understood me, but I worried how to face the rest of the world.

In the weeks that followed, Paul and I were stuck to each other. I could not be without him. I felt so weak, so fragile. I needed him more than I have ever needed anyone before in my life. Before, I had always been a very strong, independent person. Now I was so hurt, so confused. I didn’t trust anything anymore. The only time I felt even remotely at peace was when Paul and I were together. Even months later, as we had both begun coping in our own ways, I felt the best when we are together.

After a couple of months passed, I started to get glimpses of this new person I was becoming, sometimes a more compassionate person, sometimes bitter. While I was still very confused, very sad, I was realizing that I had to get through this. I had to somehow survive this, come out a better person, and not an angry one.

I wanted another baby; I wanted to live life. I had to learn to be strong. I loved my friends; I wanted to keep them. My poor family, they were always so worried about me, I had to somehow radiate the strength I was hoping to find to release them from their worry. Somehow, I had to incorporate this pain, this loss, into my life without letting it take it over.

I began by buying books, every book I could find on loosing a baby, on grief, anything related. I read all the time. We then got connected to the Internet and I began to find support through various boards, and form friendships with other Mom’s who had lost their angels. I attended the HAND meetings and I began my journals. In one, I wrote about my feelings, the other I dedicated solely to poems and letters to Natalee. It really amazed me how writing her a letter often made me feel like I had really talked with her. I could tell her all the things I longed too. How much I loved her, how proud of her I was. My grief was in the very beginning stages, but I feel lucky that I realized early on that I had to go straight through it to survive. Not pretend that I was ok, and not avoid things that reminded me. I had to let myself feel this excruciating pain, let myself sob until I couldn’t breath, let myself miss Natalee with all my heart and soul. Now it has been over a year since we lost our precious girl. She now has a baby brother here I am happy to say. I believe he has a special angel watching over him in heaven and will walk with her on his shoulder for the rest of his life.

By Anne Musial
In loving memory of Natalee Elizabeth – Born Still on 12/26/99.

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By Shonna Helm

September 12, 2000

My son Nathan was stillborn on June 12, 1999. We delivered in Fremont, but lived in Modesto. Heidi Olson from HAND called around Modesto to find a support group for my husband Randy and I. I had never been to a support group and didn’t know what to expect. I thought no one would ever be able to relate to what I was feeling, even if they had been through a similar experience. I didn’t think I really wanted to go. It took me about a month to work up the courage to call the phone number she gave me. I talked to Darla Harmon. She was very supportive and understanding and gave me the information about the group. The group was not scheduled to start until September, so we sought personal counseling in the meantime.

When we started our support group for Pregnancy and Infant Loss, I was very apprehensive. I didn’t want to share my story with others. But, when we got there, we were the only couple with two facilitators to ourselves: Darla Harmon and Becca Coleman. They let us tell our story for the entire hour and a half. It felt really good to let out all of the emotion, without having to worry about others around us. My husband, Randy and I shared things that we hadn’t shared with each other before, simply because our lives were so busy with our other children, jobs, household, etc. or because we hadn’t let ourselves feel those things.

The second session, we had our facilitators all to ourselves again. That time we had the opportunity to hear a little of their stories. What an impact on me! I could really relate to some of the things they were sharing.

By the third meeting, I was really looking forward to our visits to our support group and missing our facilitators in between. A new couple attended this session and shared their story. I found myself grieving for them and was surprised that although their experience was different, some of what they said were the same words I had used in my own experience.

As new parent’s joined the group I would hear things for them that would trigger memories in me that I had buried. We had a very special group and developed a special bonding. Their babies all became very special to me.

I found that in the support group all social boundaries are erased and all that matters is the common bond you share in your loss. I also discovered that the support group was more helpful to us than the personal counseling was, because our counselors had not been through a similar loss. They could give us textbook counseling, but not the empathy, understanding and bonding that our support group could. My personal counselor offered me 30 minutes to share my grief; my support group offered me 90 minutes (and more if we needed it). My personal counselor told me I should not feel guilty about my son’s death, but I did; my support group understood all 101 reasons why I felt guilty and offered sympathy. My personal counselor basically told me that Nathan died, accept it and get over it; my support group showed me that it was okay to continue grieving. My personal counselor said that the time I spent remembering Nathan was not time with him; my support group understood that although I was not physically with him, I was spending time with him in my heart.

We continued our support group until late spring. We have found other ways to grieve for our son and to carry on his memory. We still keep in touch with a couple of people from group and really miss the others. We pray for their babies in church every week and keep them in our hearts. And I hope that we will have a reunion some day where we can share what we have done to keep the memories of our babies alive.

And I will recommend support groups to anyone who is going through something that the people around them cannot relate to.

Shonna Helm

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Michael Dilts and Elanah Kutik

A “Routine” Exam
Michael: To put expectant parents at their ease, the “living room” of the North Shore Birth Center in Beverly, MA is furnished with a well-worn yet comfortable sofa and armchairs. But Elanah and I were not feeling particularly easy that Friday morning as we say waiting for our prenatal appointment. Neither of us spoke, although there was a lot on our minds. It was the 37th week of the pregnancy. The baby hadn’t moved much the day before, and late in the evening, during what was usually her/his most active time, he/she still seemed extraordinarily quiet. Convincing myself I felt some small movements, I talked Elanah out of calling the midwives at the Birth Center there and then. It was a 45 minute drive to Beverly from our house, and they wouldn’t be able to tell much without a hands-on exam. Besides, we were scheduled to see them the next day anyway. This was what I heard my conscious mind saying. At some deeper level, I must have known that we would need all of our strength for the ordeal ahead.

We were finally summoned into the examination room, and the midwife began the routine in her usual somewhat perfunctory manner. She had started her career with the Peace Corps in South American and often gave us the impression that she considered prenatal check-ups little more than a formality in this country for couples from our economic bracket. Her attitude changed suddenly during this visit. No heartbeat was audible on her “dop-tone” listening device. She applied more goo to Elanah’s belly, pressed harder with the dop-tone. She put the instrument aside and tried another one, then a third. Finally, she excused herself and went to arrange an emergency ultrasound at the hospital next door. Elanah and I were left sitting numbly in the examination room. I didn’t need to see the results of the ultrasound. Any doubts I may have had, any shred of hope I may have been clinging to, had evaporated after the midwife’s first try with the first dop-tone. The unthinkable had happened. Although the full impact had yet to sink in, I knew our baby was dead.

Elanah: The midwife tried to distract us with small talk and anecdotes while we sat for an unbearable amount of time in the waiting room of the Radiology Department. As the sonogram began, neither the technician nor the doctor spoke to us or even dared to look us in the eye. They both rushed out of the room as soon as the session ended. I was beginning to feel toxic, especially when the technician, not daring to touch me again, tossed a towel in my general direction as she made her hasty exit, mumbling that I could wipe off the conductive gel myself.

Rather than facing us directly, the radiologist reported through the midwife. Even at this point, her words were somewhat equivocal: “The doctor feels there’s no movement.” It was up to us to fill in the blanks: “You mean the baby’s dead?” After a mandatory detour to the hospital billing office, we were referred to the Birth Center’s backup obstetrician. We met with her later that afternoon, and she agreed to supervise my labor and delivery. She advised us that I would probably go into labor spontaneously within a few days, as was usually the case with stillbirth at term. If I didn’t, she recommended induction. Finally, seven hours after our “routine” prenatal visit had been scheduled to begin, we arrived at home and tried to absorb the news.

Labor of Love
Elanah: The skies were crying for us the following Tuesday morning as I was escorted in silence down a long corridor to the Birthing Room. I felt like a prisoner en route to my execution – denied food or water, hooked up against my will to a web of wires. I resisted a momentary urge to run the other way and submitted passively. The curtains were drawn against the gray, bleak day and a sign outside the room announced an IUFD (intrauterine fetal demise). The musical tapes and other items we had packed as labor aids lay unused in our suitcase.

Speeded by the use of a contraction inducing hormone, the labor lasted only 7 hours and was physically intense. There were some unpleasant emotional moments, too, most of them triggered by the obstetrician’s periodic interruptions. Her obvious discomfort with this special birth prevented her from ever considering our own physical and psychological needs. Having previously agreed to “whatever we wanted,” she now disregarded many of our wishes, leaving me feeling angry and betrayed. She undermined my confidence by rushing labor along with judgmental remarks like “Let’s turn up the Pitocin; we don’t want to be here all day,” or “You want to get this over with, don’t you?!” And then she made me start pushing before I was fully dilated, saying “We’re not going to wait any longer.”

Fortunately, the intrinsic momentum of the birth process soon brought me to a state of deep inner concentration, where I was beyond the reach of superficial annoyances. With the support of the nurses, they were very sensitive and treated us with dignity, and with Michael and my parents at my side, I was able to complete my labor without using any pain medication. In this way I managed to salvage at least part of my original vision of a natural, active birth. Remaining lucid and connected enabled me to create meaningful memories which sustain me to this day. In particular, I recall how the nurses and my parents formed a semicircle around me during the final contractions, each one taking a turn massaging my back, wiping my face, feeding me ice chips. Michael held my hands as I called to our baby; the deep blue of his eyes soothed me and held my concentration while we breathed in unison.

With the final push that delivered our daughter, I felt a serge of joy and accomplishment. My sense of pride and love increased when I got to hold her. I undressed her and examined every inch of her, counting her fingers and toes. She was everything we had hoped for. Despite Michael’s ambivalence and my parents’ initial disapproval, I was determined to give her a name. Abandoning our earlier choices, we decided on the Hebrew name Malka, meaning “angel” or “princess”. Saying goodbye turned out not to be the agonizing ordeal I’d anticipated. As I watched Malka’s father and grandparents say their own farewells, I began to appreciate how birth truly is a remarkable transformation.

Michael: I, too, was surprised by the beauty that remained in our experience of Malka’s birth. Somehow the power and magic in her moment of emergence were able to transcend the tragic circumstances surrounding the event. I was full of admiration for the way Elanah had handled herself and tremendously relieved that she had suffered no serious complications.

Malka’s appearance was perfectly normal aside from some patches on her belly and arms where the skin had begun to tear. If I had not known otherwise, I would have thought she was sleeping peacefully. Somehow, though, I couldn’t bring myself to hold her – her limp body seemed so fragile, like a bag of jello that might start to come apart if handled too roughly. So I touched my lips to the middle of her forehead and kissed her gently. “Goodbye, baby. Beautiful girl-baby, goodbye.”

As check-out time approached the next morning, we were unceremoniously shooed out of our postpartum room. At the same time, we were being hounded for a decision regarding funeral plans. Not having realized that the baby’s remains would be released by the hospital, we had made none. We had requested an autopsy, but were told that the baby could not be sent down to the morgue until we provided the name of an undertaker. I sneaked into a vacant room and began going through the yellow pages dialing funeral homes. Cremation? The voice at the other end of the line told me it would be too expensive, but couldn’t give a precise figure. Burial? Another disembodied voice suggested that we ask for an unmarked “potter’s grave” at the local cemetery.

After consulting with Elanah’s parents, we contacted their family burial society on Long Island. It was a long way from our home in New Hampshire, but I found it comforting to think that Malka would have her great-grandfather and other relatives to keep her company. Even from this quarter, however, we met resistance. Yes, we were entitled to use the family plot, but, according to the funeral home in New York, the cost of flying the baby’s body to Long Island would be “prohibitive.” Finally, Elanah took the situation in hand. “Hello, this is the mother of the baby. Just tell me right now, are you willing to help us or not? Don’t tell me the cost is prohibitive! Give me a number and let me decide if it’s prohibitive.” We kept the hospital staff at bay until the funeral home could call back with a quote that seemed quite reasonable under the circumstances. They also gave us the name of a local mortuary which had agreed to transport the baby to the airport. Finally we were allowed to leave the hospital and go home.

Looking Back
Michael: For a long time, I had a sense of incompleteness in the wake of our hasty funeral arrangements. Even now, there is a part of me that wonders if Malka’s body is really there. It doesn’t matter that there is a clear evidence of a baby-sized hole being dug and refilled. It doesn’t matter what the cemetery’s records say. I don’t know she’s there. The lack of an official memorial service isn’t what bother me. I just wish I had been there with her. At any rate, I did end up achieving a closure of sorts 3 years after Malka’s death by commissioning a permanent headstone to mark her grave.

As time goes by, I also find myself regretting the decision not to bring our own camera to the birth to get at least one decent photo of the baby. The nurses did their best with a decrepit Polaroid, but the pictures they took were out of focus to begin with, and after 6 ½ years, they have faded beyond recognition.

I have had better success preserving images of my emotional experiences via poetry. Writing for me was not only a powerful cathartic, but also a way of setting up communication between my intellectual self and my emotional self. As for establishing memorials for Malka, I have found other ways to do that as well. Whenever I give money to a good cause it is in her name. When I spend time helping other bereaved parents through HAND, it is time spent with her. Somehow these memorials seem more fitting and truer to her spirit than that thin slab of rock with those letters and numbers scratched in it.

Elanah: I left the hospital saddened but optimistic, convinced the worst was behind me. The first few days were consumed with concrete tasks such as finalizing burial details, waiting for my milk to dry up, notifying friends, etc. All too soon these were over leaving me with empty days and no focus. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of grief that followed, or for its duration.

Losing my baby also meant losing my pregnancy and I mourned both losses equally. A piece of me was still deeply connected to being pregnant, haunted by the presence of a “phantom” womb or “phantom” pregnancy. I often found myself searching for Malka among all the dark-haired infant girls I encountered in public, not quite trusting that she was actually dead.

For many months, I needed to tell and re-tell the details of her birth, desperate to prolong at least the biological aspects of motherhood. I was so grateful to the friends who let me join in conversations about their own birthing experiences and who accepted as natural the pride with which I shared mine. It was hard enough being around their babies without my child, but it would have been excruciating to have to pretend that I had never gone through pregnancy or birth.

Like Michael, I found writing wonderfully healing. I carried my journal and poems wherever I went. They became my baby, my substitute outlet for all the love and creative energy I had inside. They also charted the journey of my grief and revealed the progress that was otherwise too gradual to recognize.

By Michael Dilts and Elanah Kutik [Michael and Elanah’s first child, Malka, was stillborn at 37 weeks. Subsequent autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death. Malka now has 2 living sisters, Rebekkah and Arianne.]

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