Not many people at work know our story. They know our daughter passed away. But that’s where it ends for them. They knew I was nearing the end of my pregnancy, that I proudly carried to term. They knew I was going to give birth to a baby girl very soon. I was 39 weeks along. Then 40 weeks. Then 41 weeks. Any day now… WAIT! WHAT HAPPENED?!?
They know she died and that’s all. I think they want to know more but they are afraid to ask. That became apparent yesterday when I thanked someone in person for sending me a card when I first returned to work. She was honest and told me she didn’t know what to say. She was just very sad and sorry for our loss. The card she sent was perfect. It simply said, “Thinking of you. Please let me know if you need anything.” That’s enough for someone in my shoes. I just want to know people are thinking about us, our family, and most importantly, Elliot.
I then went on to say something about Elliot. I stopped myself and realized she probably didn’t know my daughter’s name before that moment. I asked if she knew what happened or anything about Elliot. She didn’t. How would she? I had shared our story with only the people in my office.
I went on to ask if she wanted to know. She did, so I told her. I explained the cause of death. “Oh, that’s terrible.” I told her how wonderful all the nurses were. “Oh, I’m so glad.” I told her about how grateful we were to have had the opportunity to meet Elliot and spend time with her. “Oh, why do people do that? For closure?”
Not exactly. Not even close actually. I was a little surprised that someone would ask something like that. But then I thought back to when I first found out I still had to go through labor and delivery. At the time, I was so scared. I remember when the doctor explained what the next steps would be and thinking to myself, “Wait, I still have to deliver her? And you don’t want me to have a C-section? I have to go through all that with a dead baby?” I hate that those were my first thoughts. I wasn’t thinking clearly. How could I have been thinking clearly in those moments? I try not to feel guilty for feeling so horrified at the thought of giving birth to my baby girl. But I do. I feel very guilty. At least I was able to move past those feelings and remind myself that even though she had died, she was still my daughter. And I still needed to go through that beautiful experience with her.
I think a lot of people just don’t know what happens or what to expect when a baby dies before birth. Of course Ben and I wanted to see and hold our baby. Most people want to see their loved ones when they’ve passed away. Most people want to have a chance to say goodbye. We had to say hello and goodbye to our baby in the same evening. Maybe people aren’t sure what a baby looks like after they’ve died. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That may sound silly but I had never seen a deceased baby. For anyone who is wondering, Elliot looked like a baby…a sleeping baby. She had 10 fingers and 10 toes. She had a beautiful head covered in reddish brown hair. She had two ears, two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. I don’t say she was beautiful simply because she was ours. I say it because it is true. She really was beautiful.
Rather than get upset about the question, I used this opportunity to teach. I would rather someone ask than assume or wonder. She seemed to appreciate that I was willing to explain how important it is for parents of stillborn babies to leave the hospital with these special memories. There are so few of them and they mean the world to us. That’s all we have now. It was also important to explain that there is no such thing as closure, or moving on.
Once we got through that part of the conversation, I was able to do what parents like to do most…talk about my baby! I love sharing her name and how big she was (and she was big for a girl with our genes!), and the fact that she was healthy. I also love telling people she looked just like Ben. I am a proud mom so it feels really good to tell people these things. It is nice to still have some “bragging rights.” Knowing that I get to share all of these wonderful things about Elliot makes telling our story a little easier.
I will continue to share our story with people who want to know. It is so important to break the silence and stigma surrounding stillbirth. So now I have a mission, to enlighten as many people as I can.
Cover photo by CarlyMarie via CarlyMarie – Project Heal