Today I was supposed to have a baby. I’m supposed to be 40 weeks pregnant—uncomfortable, nervous, excited. I’m supposed to be preparing my home and my family for a new, unique little baby. But I’m not.
Instead, I’m going to work. Slightly overweight, tired, sad. Trying to pretend this is just another day. But today is supposed to be my baby’s birthday.
I have my son’s ashes in a kitchen cabinet in our house. We put them there after my husband picked them up from the funeral home, a week after our baby Miles was stillborn. We thought they’d just be there temporarily while we waited for the perfect day to find the perfect spot to scatter them—somewhere perfect enough to grant us some sort of peace in the torturous act of finding a place to leave our baby’s remains. Instead, his ashes are in a very unceremonious, white plastic box tucked next to the serving plates that we never really use. I’m starting to realize there will never be a day perfect enough, or a spot perfect enough to coax me to pull them out of there and let go of what little remains of Miles in my life forever.
We decided to cremate him instead of burial, so that he could be free. His death, we discovered after delivery, was caused by the umbilical cord being wrapped too tightly around his neck. So the idea of releasing him out into the world seemed appropriate. But now—now that I can’t hold him like I’m supposed to today–I just keep him there, selfishly.
Just Miles and Me
My pregnancy with Miles was an unexpected surprise that came right in the middle of a very stressful time in our family. Our 15-month-old, Oliver had just sustained third-degree burns on his hands while at the babysitter’s. I was preparing to check into the hospital for his first surgery when I took the pregnancy test. I was so overwhelmed with anxiety and stress with Oliver that I glanced at the positive test, sighed, threw it in the garbage and returned my attention to Oliver.
The next few weeks were extremely difficult. Dealing with the trauma and stress that Oliver was enduring, while tackling the extreme sickness and fatigue of early pregnancy, was trying. I didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy. I was scared of not being able to handle three children. I was nervous about how this would affect my new job and my ability to care for Oliver and his injuries. I was unsure about how my oldest would handle the news. On top of everything, I have so many close friends who struggle with infertility. I was embarrassed to tell them that I, who already had two children, had become pregnant on “accident.” I couldn’t bear to hurt them like that. So I kept it to myself. Which ended up being my biggest regret. I wish that I had celebrated the life of Miles for much longer than I was able to.
Once I finally told my husband, it was as if a weight was lifted. I could start to be excited about a new baby. We could make decisions together and I didn’t have to endure the stress alone. We found out at 16 weeks that our new baby was a boy—which fit perfectly into our family.
After a few months of starting to prepare for the baby and continuing to struggle with Oliver’s recovery, we landed back in the hospital for a second hand surgery. We checked into the hospital on a Tuesday. Oliver underwent the same extremely painful surgery. I stayed with him in the hospital for five days. We left the hospital on Saturday night. I was so relieved to be home that I had totally forgotten that I had an ultrasound on Monday.
When I arrived at the doctor’s office, I joked that I had been so distracted with Oliver’s surgery that I had almost forgotten I was pregnant. Haha.
They couldn’t find a heartbeat. I didn’t panic—it’s not in my nature. They sent me to the ultrasound technician. After only two minutes she turned the machine off and walked out of the room with a frozen picture on the screen in front of me. I knew immediately something was wrong. I tried to coax him to be okay. They took me to a separate room and told me to call my husband.
I remember the doctor speaking to me, but not understanding a word she was saying. That’s how it is described in movies, but I always thought that was a little dramatic. Turns out, it really happens.
I can’t begin to describe that degree of loss. I don’t even understand it, but I feel it. I can’t comprehend how I will live with it forever. It was just Miles and me for so long. Nobody in the world knew he existed, for so long, except me. The doctors and nurses reassured me that there was nothing I could have done to prevent this. And still, the guilt that comes with allowing your child to die inside you—unnoticed and alone—reaches beyond reason. It was a freak accident, unpreventable and undetectable. But when I see how Quinn and Oliver reach for me when they are hurting or scared, I can’t help but feel that I failed Miles when he needed me. He died alone; I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t comfort him the way a mother should, at the moment when he needed me the most. That guilt, that degree of pain and loss is unbearable. It is that terrible, kick in the throat, knife in the stomach pain that forces you to hold your breath to try to bear it without screaming out loud.
Life After Stillbirth Loss
At first I tried to find ways to bring myself peace. To find way to make his life, and death, have a greater meaning. For me, I vowed to him that I would be better. A better wife, a better mom, a better coworker, citizen, friend, daughter….
But in reality, I’m not better. I’m just a sadder version of the same old me.
The most difficult mental struggle has been grappling with the possibility that it won’t get better. What if I can’t ever shake this? Do I want to shake this? If that pit in my stomach is gone, is he gone too? It is probably that fear of losing him that keeps his ashes kept unceremoniously in my kitchen.
Miles looked like Quinn. His tiny eyebrows, his smooth nose, his disproportionately large feet and ears. I’ll never forget what he looked like.
I sat with him in the small room next to my delivery room—a room reserved for this very sad purpose. Just for mothers to spend the only moments with their children that they will ever have. The nurses kept saying, “Take all the time you need.” Which seemed impossible. Can I sit here forever? “All the time I need” is forever. Finally forcing myself to say the words “Okay. You can take him,” is without a doubt the most impossibly difficult thing I’ve ever done. Knowing that those words mean that they are taking my baby, who I was planning on spending the rest of my life loving and getting to know, and I willl never see his little eyebrows or long fingers ever again, was impossible to bear.
They gave us a box of mementos for Miles: his footprints and handprints, pictures, his blanket and hat that they wrapped him in. The blanket still smells like that day and that room and like him. This is also where I keep all the cards that people sent—in the hopes that having these tiny bits of him surrounded by so much support and love will somehow outweigh the sadness.
Everyone warned me that “milestone” days would be difficult: his due date, the anniversary of his birth/death. But the truth is that every day is difficult. It takes real effort, concentration and deliberate decision-making to not collapse on the floor and spend the day crying for my lost child.
Of course, I have so much to be thankful for in my life. My two, healthy, happy, funny children. My amazing friends and family. My own health and brain and fortitude. But my baby Miles is gone and the space that he occupied in my body and heart and mind and future is now a hole. Every day I will continue to add new memories and experiences and people to my life, but nothing will ever be able to fill those spaces reserved just for Miles.
Today I was supposed to hold my baby and start the rest of my life with him. This was going to be his birthday. And now, it’s not. It’s the day that never was. I am hoping that the better version of me is still waiting to be discovered in honor of Miles. I hope that I can make him proud.