1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
Up until a short time ago, I considered myself very fertile. Women in my maternal line have always become pregnant easily and had relatively easy pregnancies. And for the most part, I was no different. I got pregnant in 2015, without much trying, and gave birth to a healthy daughter who is now two and a half.
My second pregnancy, my son Sterling, was completely different. I still had no difficulty conceiving, but the pregnancy was hard. I had nausea when I’d had none the first time, and I started having two or three migraines a week at about 8 weeks pregnant, which left me unable to work. The migraines continued throughout the pregnancy, finally letting up in the final weeks. It was a long and hard time, and put strains on my ability to parent my two-year-old, and my relationship with my husband. We were looking forward to moving on to the next phase. Newborns are hard, but the pregnancy had become debilitating and we were so ready to meet our son.
Two days before I would have been 38 weeks pregnant, I noticed that my normally active baby hadn’t moved much that day. Had he moved at all? I called my midwife, who told me to drink something cold and sugary. I did, but I think I already knew something was wrong. When I pushed on my belly, instead of the rigidity of a living creature, it was soft and fluid. I could feel his limbs but they held no resistance. We went to the midwife, my husband and my toddler, wearing her pajamas, since it was almost bedtime. The midwife tried to find a heartbeat, but she could only find mine. She didn’t say my son had died, but we knew. We went to the hospital where they confirmed with an ultrasound that he had died.
I was induced, and my son Sterling was born the next evening, two weeks and a day before his due date. He looked perfect and beautiful. His heartbeat had been strong at the midwife appointment days before, and then suddenly, and with no warning, he was gone. We requested an autopsy, which showed that there were issues with the cord, and that was the cause of Sterling’s death.
On some level I didn’t think that stillbirth was still a thing that happened (my husband, who likes hard numbers, will tell you it’s 1 in 200 or so, and marvel over how that rate has come down over the past 100 years). I felt very alone in it. At full term, there’s no hiding the pregnancy. Everybody knew I was pregnant, from my hairdresser to every parent at my daughter’s daycare. And now I’m not pregnant, and there’s no baby. If miscarriage isn’t talked about at all, a stillbirth spreads like gossip. Most people have been sympathetic; many acquaintances have reached out with kind words.
I had one couple that was due shortly after my son was due awkwardly avert their eyes when I passed them on the street. It wasn’t long after Sterling died, but they were still expecting. It hurt, but I understand. An inexplicable death before the baby is even born is the stuff of nightmares. When I had my daughter, I had constant visions of all the things that could happen to her and used those fears to engineer ways to protect her. I shouldn’t have had to protect my son in the womb, and yet I somehow failed to do so.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
It’s been difficult to do normal things, like take my daughter to the playground, or even think about returning to work. Before I became pregnant, I was starting out as a doula and birth photographer. Now my future is very complicated. A return to birth work won’t be easy. But I know if I can make it back to the delivery room, I will be more empathetic.
It’s also been hard to be a parent through the loss. We had my daughter ready and excited to be a big sister. I remember telling her at the hospital after we found out for sure that I knew we’d told her baby brother was coming soon, but he wasn’t going to be coming. Everywhere we go there are families who look like mine was supposed to. An energetic girl toddler, and a tiny baby boy in a carrier, or sleeping on someone’s chest. I had been so ready to dive into early motherhood again. I was the one who started the Facebook group so moms with babies in the same age range could meet up and make friends. I stayed in the group probably longer than I should have, but I felt compelled to make sure everyone’s babies arrived safely.
Through all of this I have never felt so loved. My family and friends have surrounded us with love and support. I don’t think I realized how loved I was and how many people care about me and my family. I know now. I’m still amazed that I can put out a call to my friends on a hard day and say “can someone take Poppy to the park?” and it’s never happened that nobody could take her. My family has done their best to honour my son and show their support for me and my husband, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of my friends, which has continued even months after my son’s death.
3) When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
It was early on that I realized the route to surviving this was love. It was in the first week after my son died, and my daughter had been out to the park with my mother-in-law, who had come to take care of her in those grief-filled days. I heard them come in and my little girl came clambering up the stairs shouting “Mama! Mama!” She ran in to my room to give me a wildflower she picked for me, to make me smile. It was that moment that I knew we would survive the loss. We would survive it with love.
4) What have you learned through this experience?
I have learned that I have better friends than I ever could have asked for. They haven’t forgotten about what I’m going through and continue to be supportive as the months go by.
I’ve also learned about empathy and the different ways people express it.
I’ve learned that accepting the best someone can do is the only way to save some relationships, even if it’s not the thing you want them to do.
5) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
I’ve been sharing a lot about my journey on my Instagram account. Photos of me, my son, my family, our life through this. I find it helpful to go back and read what I’ve written in the past, see how far we’ve come, and the ups and downs of the journey, the comments of love and support. I know a lot of people don’t want to talk about losing a baby, I know the subject makes people uncomfortable, but I can’t seem to stop talking about it. I want everyone to know, as if it’s the answer to the question of who I am. When things are hard, I write about it, and usually I share. And always, when I put something out to my community, I get love and support in return.
6) How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
On my good days, I hope that my experience will make me better at my work in birth, which I do plan to return to.
It makes me appreciate my time with my daughter more. I cherish the memories of her newborn days and it (sometimes) makes her two-year-old tantrums a little easier to bear.
I appreciate how it made me more aware of the love in my life. It has not been an easy time for relationships, but it’s been a proving ground for love.
7) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
I think I’m stronger, or at least more aware of my strength. If I can survive my baby dying, can anything smaller than that hurt me?
8) How have others responded to your infertility situations? Has it impacted your relationships? What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
Almost unanimously, friends and family have been loving and supportive. It’s strengthened our relationships with extended family. Suddenly it’s more important that we make sure my daughter sees her remaining grandparents often.
Talking to other loss parents has been most helpful. Because I talk about it openly, a lot of people have told me “It’s not really the same as a stillbirth, but I had a miscarriage.” And I agree that it’s not quite the same, but it’s the same feeling. When I became pregnant, right from the early days, there was hope and joy, and a beautiful imaginary future for this child to live in. For me that was real as soon as I was pregnant. I appreciate others sharing that with me – many of them have barely told anyone that they had a miscarriage.
Something harmful I’ve been told is that I’ll have another baby that baby will be fine. We don’t know that I will, that it’s even possible. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure that’s even what I want. The most painful is the refusal to acknowledge that this is a painful and hard time. Being told to focus on the bright side and stop being so negative is particularly unhelpful.
9)Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I’ve done circus, with a focus on aerial hoop, for about 8 years. I did it most of my pregnancy with my daughter (she was in a show with me when I was 32 weeks pregnant with her!) I’ve gotten back into the air recently and am working on a piece about grieving Sterling.
10)What is your favourite quote?
There’s a poem that’s resonated with me deeply. I hadn’t heard it until after my loss, a friend’s father found it written on a picnic table, and he sent a photo to her, which she shared on social media. I read it and it spoke to everything that I’ve felt through this experience.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
(Photo credit to Emily D Photography)