I was 36 weeks pregnant when I walked into the hospital to be induced – the tears streaming down my face, silent sobs shaking my body.
I was not a glowing expectant mother entering through the labor and delivery doors to celebrate the birth of my son.
I was a bereaved mother lamenting the death of my son, dreading a labor that would not end with a crying baby.
It was not how it was supposed to be, though admittedly I had no idea what laboring for my son would be like. I was a first-time mom, anxious about everything.
I had heard horror stories of long hours of painful labor, stories full of intense contractions, and epidurals gone wrong.
But I had never heard the stories of women laboring for their babies after ‘fetal demise.’
It is not how it is supposed to be, and I understand why it is a subject draped in silence.
Stillbirth is seldom talked about in daily conversations and rarely mentioned even in childbirth education classes.
But they are important stories to tell.
They are stories full of heartbreaking pain and sadness.
They are stories of love in the midst of tragedy.
They are a part of our children’s stories.
This is our story.
I walked into the birthing suite in the labor and delivery unit and collapsed into the chair next to the bed. Women in labor, women nursing their new arrivals, and rooms full of excited visitors surrounded us.
I cried, not in the throes of labor, but the throes of grief. A nurse walked in to take my information and explain the induction process to my husband and me.
He held my hand as I tried to breathe through my sobs. He held me up as I quietly asked for a c-section.
Everything in me wanted to be put to sleep and to wake up when it was over.
My doctor came by shortly after we arrived and I reluctantly agreed to be induced but retained the option of a c-section if I wanted.
This is not how it was supposed to be – was all I could think in my haze.
After my vitals had been taken and our families had gone home for the evening, the nurse gave me a sleeping pill so I could rest. I slept fitfully.
The nurses told me it could take a long time since my body was not already in labor, but less than 12 hours after I had arrived at the hospital, my water broke.
And it had begun.
I was given pain medication through my IV while I laid in the hospital bed and cried. My husband, holding my hand, cried with me.
After a few hours, I asked for an epidural. No amount of pain medication could take away the emotional pain, but the physical discomfort felt unbearable layered on top of my broken heart.
I don’t remember many specific moments from those laboring hours; a fog of disbelief and incredible sadness blanketed everything.
My husband brought our computer from home, and we listened to the CD I had made a few weeks earlier to focus on during labor. It was a mix of hymns, and in our pain, we found great comfort in the words filling the otherwise quiet room.
When the time came to deliver our little boy, I honestly thought that I wasn’t going to be able to do it.
This was it. It was time to meet him face to face.
It was time to say goodbye.
Despite my fears and trepidation, the desire to see my baby was so strong that I delivered him less than 15 minutes later. The doctor held him up and asked me if I wanted him to be placed on my chest.
I could only nod my head yes and motion with my arms. I scooped him up and pulled him toward my face.
He was beautiful, my son. Much more beautiful than I could have dreamed.
And at that moment, the love I felt for my child was more powerful and real than the sorrow emanating from my broken heart.
We spent the remainder of the day trying to squeeze a lifetime into a few hours. We held our son, admired his sweet face, and lovingly stroked his perfect chin and nose.
Pictures were taken, though not nearly enough to satisfy a lifetime.
My husband cradled his son in his arms and wept. There would be many more tears to come, but the tears we shed on Owen’s birthday are seared into my memory.
I will never forget what it felt like to hold my baby boy, feel the weight of him in my arms, and know that he was not there anymore.
It was not how it was supposed to be.
Two and a half years later, our daughter was born alive and screaming. She was delivered via c-section.
The labor, the delivery, the walk through the hospital doors were all vastly different this time.
But the love, oh the love, I felt for her as I pulled her to my face for the first time was the same.
She was beautiful, my daughter.
I will never forget the day my daughter was born. Her first cries were sheer music to our ears, and her precious newborn squeaks played like a glorious lullaby in our hospital room.
She is a gift, a blessing, and a joy.
But she is not our first.
I could never forget the day my son was born. Though tears of grief saturate that day, there is also unending love that flows from my heart every time I think of him, and the day I held him in my arms.
He is a gift, a blessing, and a joy.
Underneath the stillbirth label is a story.
If you dare to ask, be prepared to hear the story of deep anguish and loss.
It is also a story of limitless love, the stories of our children.
In my arms, Owen and Hannah Mae.