By Franky Hunter
It is no secret that my journey into motherhood has been tumultuous, invigorating, heartbreaking, and strengthening all at the same time.
My adventure started when I was nineteen years old, when I thought I already went through the worst I could possibly experience – and boy was I wrong.
A lot of the things I have learned as a mother, both to my deceased child and my living, are lessons that no mother should ever have to learn.
– I’ve had to learn to let go.
-I’ve had to learn to carry on in a world that didn’t make sense anymore.
-I had to swallow my pride and deny my instinct when I passed over care to doctors and nurses that were strangers to me.
-I had to learn that not every story has a happy ending.
-I had to learn to not blame myself when things went wrong.
-I had to learn to not be jealous of others who have not had to endure the same pain I have, and instead find it within me to be happy that they didn’t.
I have given birth to two very beautiful children. My first-born, Rosario (Rossi) Albert, and Madeline (Maddie) Rose.
Whenever we think of the “typical” birthing scenario, you always see a healthy mom’s water break at the most unexpected time, she is rushed to the hospital, gives birth to a baby, all is well, and then mom and baby are discharged from hospital as two proud parents with a carseat and newborn in arm, heading home to start the rest of their lives.
But this wasn’t my story either time. Both times I gave birth, I left the hospital empty-handed, with a piece of my heart waiting for me in there.
I was discharged the following morning after Rossi’s birth with nothing but his footprints, a list of funeral homes, and a card.
I still remember catching a glimpse out of the corner of my eye – two happy parents securing their newborn in the carseat, ready for the world ahead of them, completely unaware of the pain just twenty feet away from them, as I just lost the dream they were living.
At that point I already had two days of hearing the cries of living babies and seeing proud mothers and gleaming fathers, while Chris and I tried to hide the distraughtness on our faces, trying to hold onto some semblance of normalcy while in public.
It still never got easier.
As I left the hospital, unsure of when, or if, I would ever see my sleeping baby again, my arms ached from the weight I was not carrying with them. I thought back to the new family I had seen, and wondered why I had to be on this side of the fence instead of theirs.
You picture that moment for so long, that “YES, WE DID IT” feeling, like the way Judd Nelson’s character felt at the end of the Breakfast Club.
Some of us aren’t so lucky all the time.
Exactly 13 months after Rossi’s birth, his little sister made her appearance at 35 weeks gestation. I was induced due to severe preeclampsia which likely took Rossi from us too.
When she was born and I heard those first cries that hummed through my eardrums, I thought I had finally had that moment of “YES, I DID IT,” where I would metaphorically (or literally) throw my arm up in the air and soak in my sweet victory and euphoria.
I can’t say that these feelings didn’t tickle me at all, as I can’t even begin to describe what it is like to hold a living baby in your arms after holding your baby who never got to open his eyes.
It’s, I don’t know.
I don’t even want to try.
I will point out that for me the feeling I had when Madeline was finally in my arms was more sweet, sweet relief, and utter disbelief and being in awe.
However, no matter how many positive feelings enveloped her electrifying birth, it felt as though I was quickly taken down from my throne as soon as I sat in it.
That’s because my daughter needed the NICU, which meant away from me, and suddenly all the feelings of incompetence, guttural longing, and unfathomable jealousy of seeing all the other moms around me in the postpartum ward being discharged with their babies came flooding in.
I was drowning under it because that’s the only thing my trauma from my first birth allowed me to do.
I had planned on making my birth with Madeline my “happy ending,” but as I learned after it was all said and done, no rainbow baby is a “happy ending.”
They are another chapter in my journey through motherhood, and my daughter is not my consolation prize for losing my son first.
That didn’t instantly come to mind, though. Like I said, I did want Madeline to be my “YES, I DID IT” moment, but my body had different plans, and I so easily fell into the trap of achingly wondering why I couldn’t just have a “normal” pregnancy?
Why couldn’t we be that couple that was twenty feet away from me one year ago?
Why did we have to leave empty-handed again?
Maybe I would have seen my experience with having a NICU baby a lot differently if I didn’t have my experience with my son first.
But because of that, all I knew was what it was like to walk away without a child.
All I knew was that bad things happen.
All I was sure of is that it was impossible to not be horribly aware just how fleeting moments and life can be, and thinking that if I blinked I would lose my daughter, too.
I was discharged from the postpartum unit four days after Madeline’s birth. I felt comatose from pushing a human out of me, pumping, being sent in so many different directions from the NICU and the postpartum ward, and family visits, that the reality that I would have to leave the hospital without my baby had yet to resonate with me.
When it did, however, it really did.
I spent 4 nights in a ward room feeling worse and worse without my baby when all the other mothers had theirs, just to leave again without my child, a reality I never thought I would have to parallel with my rainbow.
After my third trimester loss, all I wanted was a healthy baby, a normal pregnancy, the things I saw so many other people having that I felt so far removed from.
On that quiet car ride home, after I was discharged, it was as if as soon as we left those walls Madeline would not exist, like everything we had just experienced was a cruel prank.
I was so scared and traumatized from my last birth after leaving the one place where Rossi existed. With Madeline, it drove me into a panic that the hospital would be the only place Madeline would exist too.
I dreamt one night that I stumbled into the NICU with over two liters of breastmilk and was signing in to see my baby, just to have another baby dozing in her isolette.
When I asked the nurse where she was, they had never heard of her.
I woke up sweating, in tears, and called the hospital right away, but the only thing I really needed was to feel her tiny fingers gripping around my thumb.
I had windows of moments where I was affected by guilt, because having been in the loss community, I know that a rainbow is definitely not guaranteed, some don’t want rainbows, and some will face a whole new host of problems on their journey to conceive again.
Yes, I knew I was lucky to finally have been able to have my baby with me. Besides being slightly premature, tiny, jaundiced, and her sugars needing to be corrected, she was very healthy.
You don’t want to think about it.
After my son, I learned all too well how things could change in an instant, and how we still could have lost his sister just as soon.
It made me feel that we were either one moment away from losing her or one moment away from bringing her home, and that was a horribly dark place no mother should be in.
Yet I was conditioned to be feeling it, no matter how many times I had told myself that I was NOT predestined to be childless, and good things can happen to me too.
I deserved them just the same.
I think the reason why I want to talk about two of my birth experiences, is even though they are different, they are equally as important.
I feel as though we’re doing a strong injustice to our mothers, especially those who do not fit the textbook pregnancy/birth.
We need to change the narrative on how we talk about pregnancy and birth, and not just those that represent the “ideal” birthing situation.
We should give a voice to those who give birth to sleeping babies, those who have complications, and those birthing experiences that don’t exactly emulate the ones you see in the movies.
We need to offer more compassion and support for those mothers who birth in spite of loss and/or complications.
After Madeline was born, she was monitored 24/7 and was in such amazing hands. I am forever grateful that she had the help she needed and that I get to watch my 2 year old grow at a rate I can’t keep up with.
Not once did any doctor, nurse, or social worker ask how I was doing.
I left the hospital, without my babies twice, and no one thought (beyond giving me pamphlet on PPD) that I needed to be looked out for.
I had to figure out on my own that my trauma response to my rainbow baby’s birth was not a reaction from being ungrateful or demanding; it was a natural inevitability to the course of events that were the only thing to shape my pregnancy/birthing experience before her.
I wish I didn’t have to go through what I did, I really wish no parent would. But I think it’s important to be as transparent as we can be with our stories of loss and complications.
These experiences do not discriminate and can happen to anyone. I hope that one day mothers won’t have to advocate for themselves in the same way I had to, all to make sure my daughter would make it to earthside.
The same advocacy I should have provided for my own care and didn’t. I think a part of me will always mourn the pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum experience I didn’t have with my kids.
On the other hand, it gave me a voice that I never knew I had, that I hope someone who needs it, hears it.
I eventually got my Judd Nelson moment and it was the most intoxicating amount of joy I had ever felt in my life. It was the moment where people were sneaking a peek into our carseat and asking our daughter’s name.
It was a time where we could hold hands and proudly walk our daughter through those hospital doors, a moment we had dreamt of what felt like an eternity.
But we got it. We really got it.
As I adoringly gaze at my daughter who is singing sweet nursery rhymes to herself while snuggling her teddy bears head, I think back to that moment of sweet relief when we walked out of that hospital elevator, bucket seat in hand, wondering where the world would take us.
It took us to the car, where we had our first drive with a newborn, and the feelings of euphoria quickly evaporated into us being scared shitless once again.
And we finally felt like normal parents.
It was awesome.