Crying for My Baby Who Didn't
Words by Madelyn Miles
I attended a public high school where the health classes pressed on us the dangers of sex and unplanned pregnancy. Their persistent warnings gave one the feeling that simply looking at a boy might impregnate you. I took this idea with me in to my marriage. After all, I knew gaggles of people having babies and I remember feeling stressed that my husband and I might conceive before we were ready. When we finally did decide to try a few years into our marriage, we conceived our daughter immediately. My pregnancy with her was easy and without complication and my misguided belief that conception and pregnancy were simple was further cemented.
This belief was obliterated the day my son was born still.
Last May, my little trio of a family eagerly went to the hospital for the big ultrasound. It was the day we were all going to find out if we were having a little boy or girl. Our excitement permeated the room as the technician’s lack of communication led us to prodding her for all the details. She measured and looked and measured and looked, not saying much. She finally revealed he was a boy and we cheered. She did not congratulate us. Her demeanor was odd and she instructed us to go back upstairs and speak with the midwife. My heart rate escalated as I began to wonder if something was wrong.
There was a large mass of fluid around my son. The next two months were filled with specialists, referrals, MRIs, and lots of tears. At first, they told us he would have Down Syndrome or some other trisomy disorder. Then it turned out the mass was not on his head but rather his shoulder and arm, which meant no chromosomal disorders. His brain looked normal, his genetic tests came back normal, and there were no heart defects. Still the mass grew, as did my belly. My skin stretched and distorted to hold my son who was larger than normal due to his mass. It felt like my skin was ripping and even wearing a shirt was often painful.
Over the next two months, we were reassured many times that this would be a long road filled with treatments, surgeries, and possibly chronic lymphedema, but that we should be encouraged to know this was not usually life-threatening. We were prepared to love and nurture our son no matter what challenges we faced. More tests. More appointments. But my physical pain increased and so did my dread that something was terribly wrong - more so than anyone was actually letting on.
It felt like I was plunged into ice cold water the day they told me his heart had stopped. He was gone. I was 28 weeks pregnant. The doctor was surprised when I told her that and explained that I looked like I was 36 weeks. I didn’t care. All I could think was that I had just heard his heartbeat a few days ago. How could he just suddenly be gone? No amount of tears or screams seemed enough. I had been to hell and back for my son and it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.
I had to wait two days before I could deliver. My body already knew and began the process of labor. I hated every minute, knowing my deceased son was inside me. A woman’s body is supposed to be a source of life. Instead, I had become a tomb.
The day he was born I felt an immense amount of relief. I labored all day, and the process was no easier than for my daughter. But I remember feeling so relieved and thankful when he came out and was laid on my chest. Relief to finally lay eyes on my baby for whom I had worried, cried, and fought for so long. It was validating to hold him, see his perfect face, perfect hands, perfect feet. He was really real and really beautiful. But he didn’t cry and wouldn’t open his eyes. I was surrounded by loved ones and felt a new pain as I watched each of them hold him and mourn. It was especially hard to watch my husband and daughter as they held him and cried over his still body.
But I didn’t realize the worst was yet to come. In the morning we had to go home without him.
My giant, stretched-out belly was empty and so were my arms. My milk came in for no one. I felt like such a failure. My body had worked so hard and seemed to know everything – why didn’t it know not to make milk? It felt like adding insult to injury. Speaking of, we spent the next year sorting through insane medical bills. Apparently, even if you lose someone, you still pay through the nose for it.
We buried him a week later and I was overwhelmed by how many people came. Community is such a powerful thing and I can’t imagine what this experience would have been like in isolation. How many women face these horrors alone? No spouse to lift your head, no family to help get by, no friends to encourage and love you? I am so sorry to all those in painful isolation. If I’ve learned anything from this process, it’s how much I need my community. How God designed the church family to pick you up when you fall down. It is a gift I don’t take for granted.
Six months later I was pregnant again, but more shock came: nine weeks and no heartbeat. I had miscarried. What…..? Just…..what…..?? The crushing weight of failure renewed its hold on me. Not long after, we were surprised to learn that I was – once again – expecting a little one. At this point I was tired of being pregnant, tired of bad news, tired of being tired. How long would this baby last? I think I surprised the ultrasound technician when I cried upon hearing the heartbeat. What a small, precious victory. But I pummeled my midwife with questions. What about this? What about that? I just knew there were so many, many, things that could go wrong. “You know too much now, “ she said with sad eyes, like I was a member of the broken hearts club – never the same.
I recognize the sacred gift that is growing inside me, and while I struggle with anxiety, I am choosing to go forward with hope. Without hope, there is no reason to try and I know that stress will negatively affect this little one. As a mother, it is my sacrificial duty to give my all for this baby, and each baby that I carry. I have recognized the lie that I failed my children. It is a lie, and sometimes I must remind myself and choose to believe the truth.
We are not failures when things go wrong. We are runners suffering the pain and obstacles of a marathon life. But I have discovered that the endless miles are a little easier with the love of my community and the hope I have in God’s restoration.
Images below by Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS)
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About the Author:
Madelyn is a wife, mother, and firm believer in hope and restoration. She works for a non-profit organization based in Israel that connect Arab and Kurdish children born with heart defects with Jewish doctors for life-saving medical care. Her hope is based firmly in the salvation of Jesus and she looks forward to being reunited with her babies in Heaven, where all things will be perfected.