The Silent Room (Stillbirth)
"In the months following Charlotte’s death, the other silence I was not prepared for was the silence of some of my family, friends, and coworkers. Those people who didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing. They didn’t mean to hurt me. In fact, they hoped their silence was helpful. They were afraid to say the wrong thing and upset me, so they said nothing at all."
A Baby Girl
I was expecting a loud and joyous scene in the delivery room immediately after the birth of our first child, a daughter named Charlotte Victoria. We had been anticipating and preparing for this joy for months. Instead what we got was silence. Charlotte, a previously healthy and normal baby, had gotten her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice and perished ten days before her due date. Her death was so shocking, so earth-shattering that I’ll never fully recover. It was an event that tore the fabric of my soul to pieces.
The silence in the room was deafening. My husband, instead of laughing and gasping in amazement at his new daughter, was silenced by the weight of his grief upon seeing his firstborn child dead before she could live. The doctor was silent as she tried to deduce what went so horribly wrong. The nurse was silent as she tentatively held our perfect looking daughter and tried to convince us to hold her. I was silent as I tried to memorize every single feature of Charlotte’s face, to burn her image into my mind, even while I refused to hold her. I knew I couldn’t bring myself to bond with my child only to have her taken, not to the nursery, but to the morgue.
The Isolation of Grief
In the months following Charlotte’s death, the other silence I was not prepared for was the silence of some of my family, friends, and coworkers. Those people who didn’t know what to say, so they said nothing. They didn’t mean to hurt me. In fact, they hoped their silence was helpful. They were afraid to say the wrong thing and upset me, so they said nothing at all. They physically avoided me. They lost touch. They disappeared. I became a pariah because of my loss, because of my grief. Because what can you possibly say to help a woman who has lost her baby? Their silence only added to my grief, loneliness, and isolation.
Check out this related episode of The Informed Pregnancy Podcast: https://bit.ly/3oTV7KA
According to the Star Legacy Foundation website, “In the United States, nearly 24,000 babies are stillborn every year. Worldwide, there are more than 2.6 million stillbirths every year.” The loss of a baby, whether it is due to a miscarriage, stillbirth, or perinatal death, can affect a woman’s career, marriage, mental and physical health, and can leave a lifelong scar on her. The death of my only daughter affected every single aspect of my life in both the short and long term, and I know I’m not alone.
If you’ve lost a baby, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I understand what you’re going through. You probably have many different feelings about this loss and that’s ok. I hope the deepest part of your grief only lasts a short time. The pain does eventually lessen; however, grief is circular, not linear. You may think you’re past a certain point in your grief only to revisit it again later. That’s ok too. You will eventually find your way back to a new normal, although you will never forget your little one. I still cried on Mother’s Day five years after Charlotte passed away even though I have two sons now.
Instead of Silence
If you know someone who has experienced a loss, please don’t be silent. Reaching out to that person may seem scary to you because you may not know what to say or how to make them feel better. You can start by mentally preparing yourself. The mother, father, or partner’s feelings may change daily or hourly depending on how he or she is feeling that day and what triggers may be in his or her environment. They may be fine one moment and cry the next. These feelings may go on longer than you expect them to. Please be patient with them. Their grief may not look the way you expect because everyone grieves differently. My grief was open and louder while my husband’s grief was more private and quieter.
You don’t have to give a big speech or a profound piece of insight, but please try not to accidentally minimize their loss or give platitudes. When people told me, “These things happen for a reason; At least she’s with God; You’ll see her again one day,” it only hurt me further.
Genuinely being there for that person will help the most. Whether you bring food to their house, do their laundry, write them a heartfelt note, spend quality time with them, or truly listen to their story, offering love and support can be one of the best ways to help a grieving person get through perhaps the worst moment in their life.
As a country and society, we can no longer accept miscarriage, stillbirth, or perinatal loss as taboo. So many “silent women” never share their story of loss out of shame, embarrassment, or fear of another person’s reaction. So many women are out there silently living with their grief. I want you to know: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
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Nikki Spicer is a former Senior Project Manager, mother, and the author of, “Burying My Children: Breaking the Silence on Miscarriage and Stillbirth”. This riveting and very personal memoir about her journey through infertility, pregnancy related harassment, stillbirth, miscarriage, and gender disappointment is currently in need of a publisher. If you are interested in Nikki’s memoir or would like to reach out to her with your own personal story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.