Aubrey’s birth story
It feels morbid to write a birth story for a stillbirth, but between our happiness and tragedy, there was still a birth with a story to be recorded:
This was our second child and the pregnancy had been uneventful, much like my first. All tests and measurements indicated the pregnancy was progressing normally and that we were good candidates for our birth plan. Eight months along, we had our birth team selected, equipment collected, a last-minute “baby sprinkle” on the calendar to celebrate this new baby.
Our plans changed the night the baby didn’t have hiccups before bedtime. This baby always had hiccups before bedtime. Maybe they went to sleep early. The next day, still feeling no movement, we called our midwife to come over. I drank juice, ate ice cream, candy, sugar straight from the jar, and laid on my back on the couch, tears pooling in my ears as I feared the worst. Please move, baby. Please move.
It was a beautiful Spring day, sun shining and birds chirping, when our midwife arrived to check for a heartbeat with her doppler. I put my fingers to my neck to feel my pulse as she scanned my rounded abdomen. We listened and listened. The only heart beating was my own. We went for an ultrasound, my heart breaking a little more with every confirmation. The report read:
“No fetal heart tones. No spontaneous movement. Consistent with intra-uterine fetal demise.”
Next came a series of impossible decisions that no parent wants to make. Cremate or bury? Autopsy or not? Actually, back-up — do we induce or wait for labor to start spontaneously? Should I consent to a C-section or endure a heart-wrenching labor? If we wait, how will I go to work or the grocery store and hear peoples’ “Congratulations!” “When are you due?” comments and not burst into tears? How long can we wait until the baby’s body starts to deteriorate? Do we even want to see this baby? Hold them? Take pictures? Do we smile for the pictures?
I didn’t realize how difficult these decisions would be until they were actually about my body, my baby, and my pain. These would be our memories and nightmares – our regrets.
The week that followed was surreal; I walked around with a beautiful belly and a horrible secret. We gathered as much information as we could, but our problems weren’t the sort where we could elicit the helpful feedback of our social media networks. Mercifully, friends of friends who have had pregnancy losses contacted us out of nowhere, like a secret army of angels, already grieving with us, praying for us, ready to answer the questions you can’t ask anyone else. Thank you, God.
Braxton-Hicks contractions adjusted the baby’s position frequently. When I watched knees and shoulders sweep under my belly button, it ruined me. Slowly, my body recognized that labor needed to begin. At 35 weeks along, we packed the car to go to the hospital. No car seat needed.
There were no excited texts or statuses to post, “In labor! Baby will be here soon!” There were no words of encouragement to be shared by friends, “You’re gonna ROCK THIS! I can’t wait to meet your baby!” The only things left to do were blast the Christian radio station and pray for a compassionate birth team and a quick labor.
I remember feeling bad for the lady who checked us in at the hospital’s front desk — we were going to Labor & Delivery, so why was I crying? Upstairs, we learned the doctor on-call was a Christian midwife who had been through a pregnancy loss herself many years ago. Thank you, God. The L & D unit was otherwise completely empty – no distractions, no crying babies. Thank you, God.
All the usual things you tell yourself during labor that are, at worst, believable lies, were unavailable to me. You’re so close to meeting your baby! Imagine looking into those sweet eyes. Labor was every bit as physically painful as my previous one, but even that was overpowered by the emotional pain. This baby already left me, now it’s just leaving me again. We were all relatively quiet as the hours went by. There was little to say. This just had to happen.
My husband read bible verses in my ear while the midwife rubbed my back. We prayed, I shook, I cried. I knew there were few acts of motherhood I would have the opportunity to perform as this baby’s mother – birthing their body was one of them, so I resolved to be as brave as I could be.
I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord is my strength. – Isa 12:2
When the baby was born, I didn’t immediately look. The nurse told us it was a girl. Aubrey was the name we chose. I asked the nurse to describe her to me. She said she looked pink and beautiful, just like she was sleeping. She wrapped her in a blanket and hat and gave her to us. She was warm; I could almost imagine she was alive. I memorized her face and the weight of her body in my arms.
I held it together pretty well at first. As if on autopilot, we smiled for pictures when my parents came to visit and we ate food. There was apparently a sign on our door to alert the kitchen staff to be appropriately somber when delivering our food. That was nice. My husband and I took turns reading our favorite bible stories to her, we told her jokes, and sang songs. Talking to her body was awkward, but we were cherishing, we were pretending, we were procrastinating.
As the hours passed, she got colder and the reality of having to let her go set in. I didn’t know I was capable of making the sounds I would make as my guttural wail filled the hallways of that unit. It could only be the sound of a mother who lost her child. My husband held me as sweet nurses came in, one by one, to hold my hand and kiss my head. Thank you, God. It was obvious they had been crying too.
I cannot describe the agony of pressing the call button to have the nurse take her body to the cooler. Never to be seen again.
In the weeks that followed, friends and even strangers from church brought meals and mowed our lawn. They bought groceries so I didn’t have to go out in public. Coworkers babysat our toddler so my husband and I could grieve or go on a date. Some said prayers, sent keepsakes, books, or flowers. Others wrote letters, texts, and emails. Thank you, God. I wrote down every act of love and saved every card as a beautiful part of Aubrey’s story; these are some of my favorite memories of her.
This outpouring of thoughtfulness helped me through the places that would come next. It would be a place with an empty nursery, returned baby gifts, a funeral home, and dying flowers. There would be a deflated abdomen, breasts aching for the babe that would never come, nightmares, and blood that returned every month to remind me of my loss. There would be bitterness that everyone can forget about her but me.
Within a week, there was no physical evidence that Aubrey existed — no evidence that other people could see, at least. I wondered how many other “normal-looking” women around me – at the grocery store, driving in traffic – had a similar sore heart. It made me want to write to my friends who have lost loved ones and tell them I still remember; I still hurt with them even when life looks normal.
God has certainly used Aubrey to make me more sensitive. For example, I hear conversations about pregnancy differently, like “What do you want – a boy or girl?” “I don’t care as long as it’s healthy!” When I see pregnancy announcements, I hurt for the infertile couple reading it. I now realize how painful the question, “How many kids do you have?” can be. I grieve for moms who have had early miscarriages who don’t have pictures to take or their baby’s body to hold. There is so much silent suffering that I desire to acknowledge.
Having Aubrey has also made me more thankful for my faith. We visited a new low and confirmed that God can be found even there. Not even the death of a child can bring me to a place where I’m not able to receive His comfort.
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then discover how much you really trusted it?
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Now, a year later, we’re holding on to that faith through a third pregnancy. My husband takes no day for granted and never misses an opportunity to feel a kick. We look at my expanding belly and tell God, “If we must, we will walk that path again, as long as You go with us.”
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
Click HERE to learn more about the Community Birth Stories Project or to submit your own birth story.