My husband and I had been trying for 6 months before we got pregnant. The day before I found out I was pregnant, my husband asked, “Do you just feel comfortable with just our daughter?” Of course, I said. The next day, I took a pregnancy test, and it was positive.
My pregnancy felt pretty normal. I had a lot of nausea but it stopped around 15 or 16 weeks. There were no red flags. But around Week 19, I started developing flu-like symptoms. I didn’t think much of it – it’s common for pregnant women to feel sick. I spoke to my midwife and she suggested Tylenol to reduce the fever. I didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t do.
But the fever elevated. I was having body aches and then started to lightly bleed when I used the bathroom. The pain got worse, and my uterus was getting hard. My midwife and I agreed I had to go the emergency room. I thought I was just getting sick, and that they would give me some antibiotics and send me home.
After my exam, the doctors were very concerned. They told me I had a rare infection in my uterus, and that the baby was very sick. Most likely, he was going to die, and I was indeed in labor. There was no way to stop it.
I had two choices: I could decide to wait this out, and I could lose my uterus and maybe my life. My baby would die, they said, since 19 weeks is not viable. Or they could induce me, which would save my uterus and my life, but my baby would be stillborn.
I screamed, I cried, I begged, “Please save my baby!” I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t want my son to die. After a lot of internal conflict, I decided to be induced because I didn’t want to leave my daughter behind, and I wanted the chance to get pregnant again.
Before they induced me, I asked to speak to a priest. They came in with paperwork to sign, and a death certificate. He was not even born yet and we had to prepare for his death.
We did the induction, and the contractions hit me like a runaway train. I felt like I was dying during each contraction. I had my doula there, reminding me to breathe. I ripped off my hospital gown and got on my hands and knees. I wanted to try to get through these contractions without any pain management. I wanted to feel everything. I wanted to remember. But after an hour of labor, I needed an epidural.
Finally, I felt pressure and pain. I gave a small push, and there he was. My husband lost it, and I was in a state of shock. I was touching him and thinking, “Baby, please still be alive. Try to move. I’m right here.”
The doctors and nurses rushed in, cut the umbilical cord, and forced the placenta out of me immediately. They did an ultrasound, found out my uterus was clear, then gave me antibiotics to heal my uterus.
I wanted to see my son, so they handed him to me. My body began to shake violently, and I started to feel cold. Everything getting dizzy and dark. I told my husband to take the baby, and I blacked out. When I finally came back, it was quiet. My husband was holding the baby in his arms. My body had gone into shock, and I had been asleep for more than an hour. I was so drugged up. I wanted to be focused enough to remember holding my son and looking at him.
I held him, talked to him, said that I was so sorry I couldn’t do the one job a mother was supposed to do: protect him. We took pictures and videos, and Baptized him…all within an hour. I did not want to let him go, but I knew I had to.
When they wheeled me away to my room, I could hear babies crying as I went past them, and I remember thinking: this is not fair.
When I was released from the hospital, I was extremely engorged. I couldn’t believe I was actually making milk! But my body didn’t know whether the baby was alive or not. I asked my husband how he would feel about me pumping my milk and donating it. There’s a high demand of donated breast milk. Why not spread the love and let something good come out of my experience? He said, as long as I’m comfortable, he would support me fully.
Pumping my breast milk gave me a sense of closure. It gave me a task. I was doing it in the name of my son. As a doula, I also knew lactating helped the mother emotionally and physically. I found moms who needed breast milk for their babies through social media or doula friends with clients in need. The only thing I asked for in return was a photo of the baby. I pumped for 3 months and donated 2,038 ounces of my breast milk to 6 babies.
One woman who went through a stillbirth told me recently: Remember, your body did not fail you, your pregnancy failed you. This whole time, I had always blamed myself. I thought I provoked my stillbirth. When she said that to me, it gave me a peace of mind.
People say things like, “You’re still young or you still have your daughter, you can always try again.” I know they mean well and they don’t know what to say. It bothers me, but I bite my tongue. Really, what I need is for people to be there. To listen and to support me unconditionally, not just to say words to fill the void.
If opening up about my stillbirth makes it normal, then it’s worth it. I want other women to understand they shouldn’t feel ashamed if it happens to them. And to know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, even though walking through it is very difficult.
Written by Wendy Cruz, a Brooklyn mom and postpartum doula. After losing her son Killian, Wendy helped raise nearly $3,500 to buy a Cuddle Cot cooling device for parents experiencing stillbirth. Find out more and donate to her cause here.