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by Lindsey J. Wimmer, MSN, CPNP, CPLC 

I feel the need to speak up for stillbirth families in regard to the multitude of blogs, articles, and beliefs that circulate about us as grieving families and about pregnancy and childbirth in general.  The judgmental tone of much of this information makes it clear that these individuals have an agenda.  Because of this, I usually try to ignore them or give them the benefit of the doubt.  However, recently, I have read and heard several that are incredibly insulting due to the tone and ‘advice’ given to women such as myself.  I’m not sure when pregnancy and childbirth care became such a polarizing and political issue, but stillbirth families have a voice that needs to be heard, too.

To the authors (who shall remain unnamed – you know who you are): I can’t tell you how happy I am for you that your pregnancies and deliveries have gone as you hoped, expected, and prayed.  I am thrilled that you were not confronted with needing to make some of the most gut-wrenching decisions that we are ever asked to make as part of your childbirth experience.   I am genuinely happy that you have never experienced the pain of being told your child has died in your womb and that you will soon be giving birth to your dead child.  I don’t wish that on anyone and I have a special place in my heart for those who, like me, have lived that experience as part of our parenting story.  You cannot fathom what it is like to walk in our shoes.  This is not an insult.  I truly believe that it is impossible to have enough empathy for parents who have lost a child until we have lived it because it is a place so awful that our bodies, minds, and spirits will not let us go there until we have no choice.  I don’t expect you to understand where we are coming from.  I only ask you to respect that and don’t try to pretend you understand.

One thing I would like to try and explain is that when you minimize our loss or losses like ours, you minimize the love we have for our children.  It is condescending and offensive.  We are often referred to the wisdom, beauty, and perfectionism of God or Mother Nature or similar higher powers.  You are telling us that God believed that your child was worthy to live, but mine wasn’t.  You’re telling me that Mother Nature likes you more than she likes me.

Yes – I am now a statistic.  But I am a person.  It is less painful to look at us as statistics because there is safety and comfort in numbers. It allows you to keep us and our emotions at a distance.  Minimizing how often this happens or how it should impact our lives isn’t helpful.

I feel like you (and the countless others who write similar articles) have good intentions in trying to educate the masses and encourage women to have the type of experiences you were able to have or you have watched others have.  Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way that pregnancy and childbirth often do not proceed as we planned, hoped, dreamed, and prayed.  We USED to want the same things you want.  But sometimes we make decisions that allow us to follow our beliefs and hopes for the best outcomes as we define them.   Sometimes we must sacrifice one desired outcome for another.  These are choices we make every day as human beings.

I may be grieving, but I am not devoid of common sense or incapable of cognitive activity.  When you do not understand my comments or disagree with me, I am not “hysterical”, “crazy”, or “unstable”.  My experience has given me a different perspective.  That doesn’t make me wrong.  Don’t tell me my behavior is understandable.  I refuse to apologize for grieving my child the best I know how.

As part of this process, I will obtain the type of care I NEED for my physical and emotional health now and for future pregnancies.  If this is not the type of care you prefer or deem as necessary, that is fine with me.  I don’t expect you to know the anxiety in my head, the physical pain in my heart, or the constant fear I live with.  These things impact my well-being, too.  And I will advocate for myself and my child to minimize ANY threat to my health or that of my children.  Do not judge me for that.

And yes – I will tell everyone I love about stillbirth and about how they can reduce their risk.  I am not a grim reaper.  I am not dwelling in my grief.  I am simply telling my story and trying to protect those around me from the pain I know too well.

We are not looking for someone or something to blame.  We are simply trying to process this major life event.  In many cases, we are trying to learn how to prevent it from happening again.  People do the same thing with heart disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes, and countless other conditions every day.  Should we also be offended at commercials encouraging us to get mammograms, quit smoking, get our cholesterol tested, etc?

We are searching for an explanation.  This is a natural part of the grieving process.  We don’t expect our providers to be super-human and we don’t expect an explanation to land our on our step with a neat bow on top.  But we would like more effort to learn what is happening to our otherwise healthy babies and how to prevent it.   Where would we be if our health professionals had thrown up their hands and said AIDS just happens and we can’t do anything about it?  It may not be possible to save every single baby.  We get that.  But more than 3 million babies every year around the world gives us a LOT of room for improvement.

A common suggestion is for us to trust Mother Nature.  We used to.  But, unfortunately, it failed us.  We wish we could trust that our bodies will do what is best.  But it is a struggle to ask our hearts to trust a process that that led to such heartache.  Why are we supposed to accept stillbirth as a natural process?  Cancer, heart disease, and every health condition I can think of is a “natural” process.  However, I appreciate that decades of resources have been focused on reducing the impact of these diseases. We do not blindly accept that cancer or heart disease happens without significant effort to prevent and treat them.

Until we have better answers, treatment, and prevention for stillbirth, I will support the stillbirth families and the health professionals working tirelessly to reduce the incidence of these tragedies.  These are individuals who recognize the value of our babies within our families and within our society. That gives me the most hope.  My hopes, dreams, and desires may look different than yours.  I’m ok with that.  I just ask you grant me the same courtesy.

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