We walked into our 20-week ultrasound appointment jubilant and carefree. Our mothers in tow, we expected to be in and out in an hour, leaving with a handful of ultrasound photos.
Not once did it cross our minds that we would leave bewildered and stunned. We thought the biggest choice we’d make that day would be whether or not to learn the gender of our unborn child.
We were too busy laughing at Elliott’s antics to notice the multiple measurements of her fragile bones. All innocence was lost the minute the doctor came in after a 30-minute wait, to tell us something was wrong.
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We spent four hours meeting with doctors and genetic counselors, opting for an amniocentesis, and crying into each other’s arms. We signed consent forms through blurry eyes, tissues wadded in our hands.
Medical professionals explained that what was seen on ultrasound wasn’t normal and may not be compatible with life. The decisions that were laid before us were overwhelming, and we were weary.
Carry or terminate?
We have to pick an induction date? Are we ready? Will we ever be?
Comfort care measures or full-blown life support?
Who gets to meet her? Who doesn’t?
Will she suffer through delivery?
Cremation or burial? Memorial or funeral?
A million decisions and questions, each one worse than the last, none with a good outcome. None of these choices led to bringing a healthy baby home.
A decision as simple as picking a name, and we had to choose it knowing we’d only use it in the past tense.
One chance to get it all right, and even then, with the utmost care and planning, we find ourselves still wondering if we should have done anything differently.
It’s not just the loss of our child that scarred us and makes our grief so complex. We were asked to make choices for our daughter that were chilling and heavy, all while trying to catch our breath after a gut-wrenching diagnosis knocked the wind out of us.
The self-doubt hasn’t stopped even nine months into life after loss. Questions and skepticism continue on – indefinite, with no concrete answers in sight.
How long should we have kept her body? Was it too long, not long enough?
Did I kiss her enough, whisper a lifetime of “I love you” into her little ears?
Did we cause this? If not, what did?
Did she suffer?
What color were her eyes? Did she hear our voices before she slipped away?
The trauma of loss began the minute the ultrasound tech quietly excused herself to get the doctor. We barely had time to process what was happening before we were asked to jump blindfolded into parenthood.
An alarming amount of time and energy has been spent ruminating over the choices placed before us and debating if we made the right ones.
Alongside the extreme unfairness of it all, perhaps this is another reason grieving a child is so traumatic and different from other types of loss – the decisions parents are asked to make are among the most unnatural we will ever face.
The ripple effect carries on long after their bodies have stopped fighting, and making simple decisions in life after loss becomes overwhelming as well.
We made the best decisions we could at the time with the information we had at hand. We’re learning that there was no right or wrong choice, and we constantly have to remind ourselves that every decision was made out of the deepest love for our daughter.
Diana is owner and editor-in-chief of Still Standing Magazine and blogs her own life story at Diana Wrote. She and her military retired husband have two girls and three sons who passed away after birth; Preston and Julian, identical twin boys who were born at 20 weeks, and Kaden, who unexpectedly had cardiomyopathy due to a rare virus called ciHHV-6. He died in her arms at 3 weeks old.
In 2014 she traveled with World Vision to learn about maternal health and infant mortality in Zimbabwe, and later with them to Ecuador. She is working on a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. You can also find her work on Babble, Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post.