Grief showed up today. I had been anticipating its appearance in my Facebook memories from four years ago. The last baby bump photo that I had posted on Facebook. You know the one. The one with the glowing mom standing sideways, showing off her round bump in a tight-fitting shirt. I’m smiling next to a cute chalkboard sign that says “32 weeks”. So happy to be pregnant and getting so close to baby’s arrival. Little did I know what tragedy was about to hit me just two and a half weeks later.
34.4 weeks pregnant. My husband and I were so excited I was pregnant with our first baby – a boy! Everything in the pregnancy had been perfect. I absolutely loved being pregnant and watching my belly grow. There were never any concerns. Until that day. The details of that day stand out to me even now. It was a Sunday. My husband Matt and I went grocery shopping in the morning like we do every Sunday. Then I drove myself into work to finish up some things – trying to get ahead before my inevitable maternity leave. I kept myself busy and excited thinking about all the preparation. I got home in the afternoon to my husband watching the Vikings football game – his favorite team. I had even worn my comfy maternity jean capris and a Vikings t-shirt that day to show my team spirit (I still have that outfit – I can’t bring myself to get rid of it, even though a big part of me wants to just burn it).
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Matt asked about the baby moving. It was a way for him to feel connected I suppose. I paused – I hadn’t really been thinking about it that day. I didn’t remember when the last time was that I had felt movement – definitely that morning in bed before getting up. I started to feel nervous. I drank some orange juice, since that’s what they say to do, and laid down on my left side upstairs in bed. Still nothing. I called my OB and he suggested we meet him at the hospital. My nerves were going crazy, but I tried not to think about anything too horrible. “Maybe they’ll just do an emergency c-section if the baby is struggling,” I had thought. I called my mom on the way to the hospital, and she too tried to dismiss things – “the baby is getting big at this point, maybe he’s just in a weird position.”
I pushed hard on my belly and still got nothing. I had a knot in my throat. We parked and walked into the hospital. A couple was leaving with their newborn baby in the car seat. The dad teased us about the Vikings since we were in Wisconsin. I don’t think either of us responded. I told Matt, “Please don’t freak out” as we rode the elevator up to the maternity floor. I was still in denial that something could be really wrong. We got to the maternity triage area of the hospital and into a room with an ultrasound. The nurse decided to wait for the OB to arrive. I knew that should’ve been a red flag. It took them what seemed like forever to get set up, then the cold gel hit my round, still belly. Then the doctor’s words hit me like a freight train, “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.” I was in shock. What? That wasn’t possible. Everything was perfectly fine with this baby. Babies don’t just die. The doctor re-checked. He pointed out the baby’s heart. My baby boy’s heart. No movement. I think I screamed then.
Then the doctor told us the plan – start an induction so I could birth my baby. What? I still had to go into labor and deliver my dead baby? I hadn’t even thought about what would happen next. That night was a blur. Moving to the maternity unit and getting set up to be induced. Calling family members who were hours away so they could travel to us for support. Waiting. Oh, the waiting. I didn’t sleep. How could I? I couldn’t even touch my belly. I didn’t want to feel the silence I knew was inside. Then there were the decisions. Did I want an epidural? Did we want an autopsy? Did we want to cremate our baby or bury him? Which funeral home did we want to use? Did we want to have pictures taken of our stillborn baby? Decisions you never think you’ll have to make.
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Labor progressed and the baby inevitably entered this world. Carsen Jon. Born still at 2:29 in the afternoon on September 29th, 2014. Six pounds of beautiful baby. I remember the small limp body being caught by the doctor. I remember my husband beside me covering his mouth and turning away. Silence. Where was the baby cry? We longed to hear that newborn baby cry. He was perfect. Silent, but perfect. I’m thankful we had the opportunity to keep our baby boy with us for some hours with the help of a cooling blanket and more thankful than I would have ever known to have his pictures taken. Those are the only pictures I will have of my son and I will cherish them forever.
It’s been four years now. I can’t believe that much time has passed. So much has changed. Carsen now has two adorable little sisters that he watches over. We’ve moved twice for the military and had to leave our baby boy behind, but thankfully close to family.
The month of September is always so hard for me. I am an emotional wreck, and rightfully so. Losing a baby has changed me in ways I don’t even know. There are two chapters in my life – before Carsen and after losing Carsen. But through it all, grief shows up. I think about our sweet boy every day, but I can go days, even weeks now without crying. I can get caught up in the busyness of military spouse life with two small children, but you can bet that grief will show up eventually. She is my constant companion in this life. Making herself known more some days, and staying hidden on others. The memories that sneak up on my social media, like that blissful day where I’m 32 weeks pregnant, cause grief to show up. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, what is grief if not love. Love for my sweet angel boy, Carsen.
About the Author: Rachel lives in Pensacola, FL. She is a military spouse and mother to Carsen in heaven and two rainbow daughters, Lydia and Grace.