The love of a parent for their child is a love like no other.
The pain of losing a child, dreadful. The silence is deafening. Empty arms, the heaviest I had ever carried.
The loneliness, isolating.
Fur years ago, my husband and I received the most exciting news we had ever received. We were newlyweds at the time, having married just six months earlier. Almost immediately after having returned from our honeymoon, we found out I was pregnant. My world changed the moment I saw those pink lines. At the time, I couldn’t believe it. I had a little person growing inside me. I took note of every step I took the moment after I found this out- what foods I ate, where I went to, how I slept. I was so nervous and scared. Yet, from the moment I found out I was pregnant, the love I had for my unborn child was there. Enormous, indescribable love- a love too special to be explained in words.
At the time, my husband and I had also just finished our residencies- he, now an attending Child Psychiatrist, and I, just starting my Epilepsy fellowship. It was the hustle and bustle every day. I didn’t know how to bond with this little baby in the meantime. I tried my best- putting headphones on my growing belly for the baby to hear the music I liked, etc. But days went by fast. And, perhaps already as a new Mom, I was spending more time worrying- is my baby moving enough? Is everything ok with the ultrasounds? Is his heartbeat too slow or fast?
On a cold Fall day, 24 hours went by where I went to work and really couldn’t feel him at all. I had just become 24 weeks at the time. I had finally felt “in the clear”, as this was the age at which babies could often live on their own outside the womb. But something that day seemed extra unsettling. The day before, our baby boy had even had this strange burst of energy, thumping around strong like a drum on my insides. It had been so exciting, like he was finally declaring himself in this world. But now I wasn’t feeling him again. I didn’t know what was going on, but told myself to just go to bed.
Still feeling unsettled the next morning, now Halloween, it was my husband’s day off. Once on break from work, I told him, this doesn’t feel right. We were now looking for our son’s heartbeat on our fetal doppler and couldn’t find it. He must be lying in a strange position or something. I called the OB and we went in to be checked. When finally called in, they rushed me right away to another ultrasound, performed by the OB herself. Things were unusually quiet.
It was then that they told us our little boy, our precious Alexander, was gone.
State of shock.
What? How could this be? They must be wrong. I was completely healthy- they had even remarked I was having a textbook pregnancy a few weeks prior. This wasn’t in the textbooks. We were physicians and yet, had never even heard of this- a baby dying after 12 weeks? What had we done to deserve this? What had I done wrong? I couldn’t have been more careful!
And, what happens now? They have to take him out from me? I have to have a baby without having him? I was so scared. I felt so alone, and couldn’t imagine this had ever happened to anyone else, for I had never even heard of this. Stillborn? What does that mean? Isn’t that rare, and only for severely sick or neglectful mothers? Never before had I felt so ashamed.
I was told to go home and wait until a bed became open to come in and have our baby. That night was the first time I saw my husband cry. I remember holding him in my arms and trying to be strong. I couldn’t believe the pain I had caused. I wanted to protect my husband, just as I had wanted to protect our little boy. I stared at the wall for the remainder of the night just watching time go by, the slowest it ever had.
I was admitted the next day. The hospital I worked at on a daily basis had become the most empty place I had ever been in. Walking through it I saw the reminders of other children who we cared for. Children who were alive. I passed a long wall mural for “Alexander and the no good very bad day”. Our son was also named Alexander. Losing our son, I felt as if walking to my own death. In a daze and dream. Was this all really happening?
Many medical staff seemed not to know how to care for us. A nurse for example, offered that photos of my baby could be taken, only to retract the offer a few minutes later when she realized he was 24 not 25 weeks gestation.
I also found out that he couldn’t be baptized, as he had never had the breath of life. This was heartbreaking for me. Was my baby not human? Not real? This was MY SON. He mattered. I longed to hear his name. I closed my eyes and all I could see was him. His ultrasound pictures that we had posted on the refrigerator, eagerly awaiting his arrival. His small, light kicks, like a butterfly’s wings, or popcorn popping.
My son was born in the early morning hours of All Souls Day, November 2nd. As a Catholic, it felt so fitting. As I pushed, I still thought we would hear his cries upon entering the world, that they had made a mistake. He was so delicate- 1lb, 8oz. Holding him was like no feeling ever in the world. We were able to ultimately get the pictures and have a priest to lead us in a prayer service. Having my wishes heard was everything. I still couldn’t believe I had to give him up. My arms were so heavy, longing to hold a baby that would no longer be with us. My gut, like he had been ripped out from inside me. To this day, I still feel the emptiness in my arms and belly.
To be separated from our baby felt so wrong, so unnatural. I wanted to be with him and only him. I was his mother and belonged to him. Once home, I couldn’t function. I felt flawed as a woman- my body had failed. There was a day where I couldn’t get myself up from the bathroom floor as I laid on the floor next to the bathtub. I wanted to die so I could be with my son. He should be with his mother. Yet time kept going on, and as the days went by, I was still alive.
We were able to bury Alexander in a children’s section in a cemetery out on Long Island. A place where families could come place toys and decorate the graves in memory of their babies. Who had known this even existed?
I was still finding new pain. We had difficulty in getting a certificate of recognition with his name. He didn’t qualify for a birth certificate. He didn’t qualify for a death certificate. I couldn’t share his pictures with others, as they were too raw. No one had been able to give us answers as to why this happened. A reason might have given closure, or at least some type of validation. Over and over, it felt no one cared.
Apparently though, we weren’t the only ones who had gone through such a loss. We had learned pregnancy loss after 20 weeks happened in 1 every 160, or 0.5% of ALL pregnancies. 1/160? How could that be? Why had we never even heard of this? This wasn’t something we as medical professionals were encountering every day. Why, if we had gone through Medical School, did we not recall hearing about this? Those rates sounded extremely high, compared to other disorders I at least treat on a regular basis. And then I We started to meet all the others affected. More ordinary women and men, with no risk factors for a problematic pregnancy. All of whom had just never talked about it. Maybe it was just too painful. Maybe society had forced them to just “move on”.
Four years later, I have a 3 year old girl and a 1 year old boy at home. We love them with all our heart, just like we do for Alexander. It is so easy to be distracted by our living children. I now only practice medicine part-time. Having Alexander reminded me how important it is to put family first. It is much harder being at home than at work, and I am not the most effective mother. I carry with me all the fear I had, just as when I was carrying Alexander. And the notion of wanting things perfect for our kids.
It’s still hard not understanding why. During our second pregnancy, we had been told we were having twins. Again, the second trimester came, and Twin A’s heartbeat disappeared on a follow up scan. What I thought couldn’t be harder than having a stillborn son was not being allowed to hold this second one. To not know this baby’s gender, or have a place to go where our baby was buried.
The loss of our babies was by-far the hardest thing my husband and I have ever encountered. The effects of a stillbirth on one’s relationships are far-reaching. Statistics show that the majority of marriages fail following a stillbirth. The views a husband and wife have of each other can be forever changed. The same goes for the relationship between the parents and their parents- it isn’t easy to relate to other mothers who haven’t experienced similar losses. Friendships can be damaged, as it is hard for one to be happy for another expecting mother, attend baby showers or celebrate births of other newborns. At work, others don’t know how to respond. Many say the wrong things- “He never existed”. “It was all the stress you had”. Most don’t say anything at all. Those who it hadn’t happened to didn’t know what to say. For them, it was so much easier for them not to talk about it. Even those who it had happened to- women came to me and told me they had gone through the same thing. But they otherwise looked to be carrying the memories in silence. It made it feel like no one cared about him. I never heard his name being spoken by others.
Last week, I was visiting Alexander’s resting place on his birthday and saw another mother there, weeping for her unborn child. I myself still didn’t know what to do. I felt frozen in my tracks, as my own toddlers were crawling on top of me and yelling playfully. I questioned if I should say anything. Ultimately, I made my way to her, and all I could do first was hug her and hold her. I learned her son’s name and her story. Though strangers, we were united together in our love for our babies.
Speaking about Alexander to this day is very difficult. It can be terribly isolating for both the mother and the father. Having a method of support is critical to being able to go on. We were blessed to meet people through a strong support group, but finding the right one wasn’t easy. There were others that weren’t right for us, and we still often felt lost on our journey.
To this day, our love lives on for our Alexander Lloyd. Time goes on, and our living children keep us busy. But as years continue to pass and life around us continues, our Alexander will always be part of us. We hope by speaking about him, we can gain support for all others coping with similar losses of their beloved unborn babies.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to our story.