12:01am on December 31, 2014 began the worst day of my life. I had been at the hospital with my daughter since 6:00am on December 30th. My son-in-law had called me at 3:30am that morning to tell me that my grandson had died. At 39 weeks gestation, they went to the hospital because my daughter had not felt the baby move for a few hours. Their worst fears were realized when they arrived, and an ultrasound did not show a heartbeat.
He had been kicking her at 9:00pm the night of December 29th, so sometime after that, his heart stopped and he died. The doctor tried to give us reasons. There is no reason. There is no reason, why, after 39 weeks of an uneventful pregnancy, that a perfectly healthy baby would die in utero. It just doesn’t make sense.
My daughter spent that night in a fog. The next week was a fog, from the time she was told he had died, until the funeral on January 4th, 2015. None of us has much recollection of what happened, who we talked to or how we managed to even stay vertical. I am still not sure how we did it.
After he was born, we spent as much time with him as we could. We held him, kissed him, touched him, smelled his skin and took pictures. The pictures show a beautiful sleeping baby. A baby who’s eyes we will never see and who’s cry we will never hear. The pictures show the pain of a young couple, who had waited patiently for this beautiful child to be born. The pictures show a child who was deeply and intensely loved from the moment he was conceived.
I have gone through anger, extreme sadness, pain, anxiety and every other imaginable sense or feeling. In addition to feeling this intense loss of a child I longed to meet, hold and care for, I watch my daughter and her husband go through something no one should ever endure. The loss of a child is something that shouldn’t happen. It isn’t the order of things.
Through this process of grief, I have researched, meditated, journaled and just sat in a state of total sadness. I need to find ways to make his life matter. I need to seek light in the darkness of this. It is difficult, almost insurmountable in my mind right now, but I need to start seeking it.
I did come to some very important realizations during the last few weeks. I need to reevaluate how I live my life. Letting go of things and commitments needs to happen now, not later. Not when I have enough money, or I am older. It needs to happen now. I have let go of some huge stuff over the last 6 months, and am letting go of more now to make room for more important work.
I need to make sure that moms and dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone else who loses a child can find safe places to grieve. Places without judgement or time limits, where tears, anger, silence or rage are all accepted and honored as part of the process. But more so than that, we need to start to figure out the “why” these babies die rather than just accepting it.
I need to find a way to make sure that moms know the signs to look for and that they have the support they need to be strong enough to tell their doctors what they feel and need. They need to know it is ok to question, it is ok to panic and need the reassurance of hearing their baby’s heartbeat when they feel insecure. They need to be informed that THIS CAN HAPPEN and ways they can be alerted to any problems. Insurance companies need to cover the costs of testing that can help to identify possible issues before birth.
Mothers have great instincts, which many times are “poo-pooed” by doctors as being hysterical, emotional or hormonal. They need to be heard and informed. To be completely honest, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that perfectly healthy babies were being born still.
Through research, I found out that one in 160 pregnancies which equates to 70 babies a day in the United States alone, are stillborn. That is over 25,000 babies a year. SIDS takes between 2000 and 3000 per year. About 1300 children a year die from cancer. There are about 4000 pregnancies per year affected by spinal bifida. We can no longer continue to call stillbirth an accident, act of God or “unknown cause”. We need to press for research and information. We need to have every pregnant woman informed about the signs. Doctors need to be doing the testing necessary to determine the factors that may lead to stillbirth so they can take a right course of action with those pregnancies. It isn’t a rare occurrence, but something that is affecting a family right now as I write this post.
This is just the start of a journey for me. A redefinition of my work and my passions. I am seeking ways to get started on informing and supporting. Our paths are ever changing. Mine just took a u-turn.
Grandma loves you Benjamin James Palmer, as do so many other people. You are an amazing little man who have already touched many and will touch many more people. I will make sure of that.
Love you Baby Ben,