Guest Post by Heather
Mine may not be a gracious or popular viewpoint, but after all the songs of Christmas left me feeling like “peace to the world” or “heavenly peace” was being forced down my throat amidst feeling the least serenity of my life, I settled down after the turn of the year on a mission of what it would mean for me to find freedom from even a small part of my emotional turmoil. This was the first holiday season after my daughter, Makenna, died September 1, 2012. Having to experience all those family-oriented holidays starting with Halloween through the New Year within four months of her death added extra stress to an already stressful season for me.
Grief in our extended family has been “complicated”, so there were many emotional barbs to navigate through over the holidays that did not allow for harmony between us, in addition to my own absence of inner peace in missing Makenna terribly. I spent time alone; I spent a lot of time hugging her holiday dress. Sometimes I hugged her ashes. And my mother had an angel that held her picture as the tree topper at my parents’ house where we spent the Christmas holidays. We tried to incorporate Makenna’s memory in the ways we could, but her father and I were acutely and painfully aware she was not physically there.
Once we came back home, I was given the opportunity to re-center and revisit my never-ending battle for tranquility with respect to Makenna’s death. My first step was changing my employment status to build in time I needed to pursue pregnancy and infant loss causes. I made a decision to end the familial hostilities that had been weighing heavy on my heart. I started a scrapbook of Makenna’s life. I made small gifts of companionship for some loss moms that are remote penpals and friends. I also followed up on very important letter I had written to the hospital where Makenna was born.
In this letter, I explained how I had come to Labor and Delivery the night before Makenna had been found with no heartbeat. I elaborated on how, since that time, I have found the more “could” have been done, but how more is not “required” (by ACOG) to be done, so I realized that I had no recourse. However, that was not what my email was about. My email was about how, after the hospital and my caregivers had failed us so that night in L&D, after Makenna was born, and during our stay at the hospital that they also had not informed us of the Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth (CBRS) being available in our state. I was missing information that not only validated us as a family and verified my daughter’s existence, but that also would have made my battle to not lose my short-term disability and maternity leave benefits much less traumatic, if not non-existent. Since I had no legal documentation, my employer had considered my status as having had “a medical procedure” rather than the birth of a child.
I had not heard back from the hospital in six weeks and needless to say was not very happy about it. I contacted them again, and this time my email was followed by a return phone call. And two emails. I ended up speaking to a risk manager who told me that the hospital had not been aware of the law. Now I must tell you, this hospital is part of a large hospital system in the Washington, DC metro area that takes pride in winning “best in the region” types of awards. Despite being this caliber of hospital and this law being in effect in our state for years, the hospital staff had never made themselves aware. So, she let me know that they were convening a hospital system-wide obstetric panel to address providing this information to families experiencing stillbirth. I asked to attend the meeting. I also raised some additional changes that I would like to see from the hospital with respect to patients reporting decreased fetal movement and families experiencing stillbirth. I am waiting to receive her call next week.
Some would say finding peace is to be or become quiet, but I found peace in not staying quiet. I know the process has just begun to affect this change to provide information on CBRSes to families that have been affected by stillbirth. But the beginning of that dialogue brought me more peace than I have found thus far in my grief journey. I hope we all can find peace through winning those battles, those small victories. I hope you can find calm after the storm, in your way, and if even only for a moment.