My baby may have been stillborn — but he was still born
My life seemed to be following the perfect script: I started dating at 18, got engaged at 19, and then came marriage and babies. By the time I was 24, I had three little kids, all close in age. Life kept sailing along smoothly, and soon enough I was excitedly expecting my fourth.
The first inkling that something was wrong was when I was 36 weeks pregnant. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was busy preparing for a Shabbos with a lot of guests, when I realized that I hadn’t felt any movements from the baby lately.
I didn’t make much of it. Friday’s a busy day, I hadn’t eaten for a while, and I knew that if I tuned in for a few minutes I’d feel movement.
Finally, I lit candles. The house was quiet — the four seminary girls I was hosting had taken my kids to the park — and I sat down with a siddur, said some Tehillim, and focused on my baby. No movement. None.
Later that night, we were in the hospital, where we received the most horrible news of our life. No heartbeat. I thank the staff at Hadassah Har Hatzofim for their tremendous sensitivity and kindness. The doctor left the room to give my husband and me some time to… cry? Fall apart? Gather ourselves together? Maybe just to be.
I sat on the ultrasound bed, numb. This couldn’t be real. “I’m too young for this!” I told my husband. Yet I was carrying a child who'd already returned his soul to the Creator. Now I needed to return his body.
Since the baby had been confirmed as dead, halachically we needed to wait until Shabbos was over to induce labor, because it wasn’t a case of pikuach nefesh. My husband and I decided that we wanted to go home — I had no interest in staying in the hospital for the whole Shabbos, wallowing in my misery. After a short sleep, we waited for sunrise and walked home. Maybe it was denial, but it felt right.
As we walked in the morning quiet, a light drizzle fell. We talked, and I shared my worries. What I found the most daunting was the thought of labor — how could I go through all that only to deliver a dead child?
Then I recalled a class I once heard from Tami Karmel. She said that Hashem doesn’t give you the strength for a nisayon until you’re in it — so the thought of going through a challenge can indeed be very scary, since we haven’t been given the tools for it yet. But when we get there, we’ll be able to succeed. Once I reached that bridge, I’d cross it.
Motzaei Shabbos rolled around, and we were faced with the impossible task of calling family. I will never forget my father’s words — “I guess the neshamah won” — referencing Abie Rotenberg’s “Little Neshamale.”
I operated in robotic mode until I was in the hospital. All I wanted was to get through this. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. My big stomach seemed like a costume. Last week I’d been preparing the crib, pulling out newborn clothes, discussing bris menus, and here I was… feeling fat and ugly, with no baby to bring home.
After a long labor, in the most silent hospital room, my baby boy was delivered. Beautifully mine. Beautifully sleeping. The silence grew. We sobbed as we held him tight, wishing he would wake up. We sent him up to Hashem with prayers and Shema. Here, Hashem, I return Your child to You.
Stillbirths are painfully common. One in 200 babies are born still. For every woman, the story is different with different details and feelings.
I’m very vocal about my journey while others choose to keep it private. We chose to see our baby. Not everyone does — it’s a very personal decision. You may not have ever known him, but I delivered a real baby. He looked like my other children. I carried him for nine months. He was mine.
One of the hard things about stillbirth is no one knowing what to say. I don’t blame them. None of us like talking about death, especially such an abstract kind of death. Yes, the Torah doesn’t require shivah or aveilus in situations like these, but it’s a process of grieving just the same.
Many people offered chizuk right after the birth, but it took some time before I was able to hear it; at first, the pain was too great and paralyzing. I couldn’t daven for weeks. No, I wasn’t angry (although many are, and that’s 100 percent normal), I just couldn’t bring myself to connect to Hashem. In time my tefillah came back, greater than ever.
Recovering from a stillbirth brings along with it all the same things a regular birth does — pain, exhaustion, extra weight, and hormones — which makes it all the more painful to recover. Coming home empty-handed, yet still being after birth.
When someone dies, we can hold on to stories, pictures, and memories. In this case, all we have to hold on to are those few moments, in the most silent delivery room, holding a lifeless child. We grieve and will forever hold this child close. He is part of my life and I will never, ever forget him. Time definitely heals, and life does move on, but don’t ever assume that one “recovers” from such a thing. You may see our family as having three children, but I have four.
I came across a meme online that sums up so many of my feelings: “You were born silent. Stillborn. But still born.”
My baby boy, we remember you every day. It’s been four-and-a-half months since I saw you for the first and last time.
I miss you. I miss your beautiful face and newborn body. I miss seeing another child of ours. I carried you wherever I went. I don’t know where you are. I don’t know your name. That doesn’t make sense to me.
I know where you are. Next to Hashem. You've been chosen, and so have I. I’ll never understand and that is my biggest avodah. But while you’re up there, baby love, wherever “there” is, and whatever “next to Hashem” means, daven for your mommy. Daven for me to have strength and find nechamah.
Baby, I’m writing this on a Friday, a hard day for me. I said goodbye to a dream I so hoped for, opened a door to a new chapter in my life that I never chose, but which I took on with grace. Because your mommy, she’s a fighter.
What I’ve learned
Life is complex. I'm sad and broken, yet I'm happy that I have an amazing family. I’m hopeful for the future, yet filled with anxiety. I’ve accepted that this baby wasn't meant to live, yet I'm pained that I need to live through that.
You don’t have to go through this alone — there are amazing support groups and organizations out there. A TIME, Knafyim, and Nechama Comfort have all been a huge source of chizuk, love, and validation.
Triggers are a new reality. Every time I see a baby, every time someone asks me how many kids I have, when I have friends due at the same time of year that I was, every Rosh Chodesh (the date of the birth) is a reminder. It’s annoying to be reminded all the time. It’s also part of life.
Don’t be afraid that if you say something you’ll trigger me, but do be sensitive.
Lines I find hurtful
- “He must have been a special neshamah.” That really doesn’t help. Most mothers don’t want to be chosen to carry special neshamos.
- “At least you have other children at home.” True, I've been blessed, but they don’t replace the one I lost.
- “Hopefully you’ll have more!” A rainbow baby sure brings a lot of joy, but will never replace the void.
Lines I find helpful
- “I'm so sorry. Let me know what you need.”
- “Thinking of you.”
- Please let me know if you’re expecting or had a baby. It’s part of life, and I will find out one way or another.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 724)
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