I Had To Give Birth To My Dead Child & It Was Bittersweet
The moment after I found out I was pregnant with twins and could wrap my mind around the massive life change I was willingly saying yes to, I began to envision my labor and delivery process. I'd sit on my oversized couch, one hand on my stomach with my eyes closed, and imagine myself pushing. I saw my partner next to me, holding my hand, kissing my forehead, and telling me I could do it, that I was almost there, that I just had to give it one more push. I saw nurses and doctors and then I saw our two babies, two newborns who were healthy and adorable and alive. But my labor and delivery wouldn’t look anything like that because at 19 weeks, one of my babies died.
The doctors couldn’t tell me why one of my twin sons died in utero, but they could tell me that my labor and delivery would now be very different from the way I'd pictured it. At 19 weeks, my loss happened too late to be deemed a miscarriage but too soon to be a stillbirth. They called him a "diminished twin." While one of my babies would continue to grow and flourish, the other would start to dwindle and decrease. My body would absorb his placenta and he would shrink, then remain in my womb until it was time for me to deliver. My doctors could tell me the logistics of one of the most monumental, painful, exciting, and emotional moments of my life — the twin that was still alive would be born first, then I would have to birth the deceased twin and the remaining placenta — but they couldn’t prepare me for the road ahead, in any capacity other than telling me exactly what would be required of me in the delivery room.
In the middle of my contractions and pushes, I couldn’t tell where the emptiness began and when the empowerment ended. My emotions were fluid. One second I was elated at the prospect of meeting my son, and the next, I was heartbroken at the size of my loss.
Of course they couldn't, because the only way you can possibly know what it's like to give birth to a baby who is alive and a second baby who isn't is to live through that moment yourself. You have to live through it in all of its horror in order to understand what it's like.
Delivering a healthy child and then delivering a second child, a child you'll have to bury long before you'll ever be ready for his life to end, is like laughing at a funeral and crying hysterically at a surprise birthday party. I felt guilty that I was happy when my son was born because I could kiss his face and hear him cry. At the same time, I felt guilty that I was sad when my deceased son was born. On a day that I should have been celebrating, I was mourning a loss so intense it overflowed and spilled out of the room. I couldn’t escape the battle two juxtaposing emotions had waged in my mind, my heart, in every inch of my exhausted body, and in every corner of our hospital room.
I closed my eyes, trying to picture what I'd rehearsed so many months ago — breathing through the pain with my partner by my side — but I was lost, surrounded by doctors and nurses and the very people who loved me most, mourning the loss of someone I loved in all those same ways.
In the middle of my contractions and pushes, I couldn’t tell where the emptiness began and when the empowerment ended. My emotions were fluid. One second I was elated at the prospect of meeting my son, and the next, I was heartbroken at the size of my loss. I couldn't possibly gage when a wave of sadness would drown me. All I could think was: This is wrong. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be taking two babies home. Not one. All I could do was ride the merciless wave of each emotion I felt, never knowing which capsizing crash would come next. I closed my eyes, trying to picture what I'd rehearsed so many months ago — breathing through the pain with my partner by my side — but I was lost, surrounded by doctors and nurses and the very people who loved me most, mourning the loss of someone I loved in all those same ways.
In the blink of an eye at one of the many, many doctor's visits we'd planned throughout every stage of my pregnancy, the birth of my twin babies was a dream suddenly turned nightmare. It was the worst-case scenario wrapped up as a gift everyone wanted to celebrate. I received congratulations and flowers and balloons and baby presents and I was so, so grateful. But inside I felt like screaming and I wanted nothing more than to throw them all in the trash. I was holding my baby, so thankful he was alive and in our home, but in all my joy I also knew what it was like to not take a baby home from the hospital.
There are days when it's still difficult to wrap my mind around the massive life change I said yes to more than two years ago. I see my son running around our living room, laughing and playing and dancing and even though my heart feels like it'll burst from complete joy, it also stings with the acute awareness that there’s a baby missing.
And in those moments I sit on my oversized couch, one hand on my stomach with my eyes closed, and I remember the birth I endured. It was nothing I could have imagined or prepared myself for, but it's the only experience I have. It's part of my history, as a mother and as a woman, and even the painful parts are parts I am proud to have survived.
Because that’s what delivering a baby who is alive and a baby who isn't is honestly like. It's embracing every ounce of joy and pain, purposefully and regardless of how deep the arms of the past cut as they coddle. It's a gentle weaving together of every insurmountable high and anguished low you've ever experienced. It's the knowledge that your first hello was also your last goodbye. It's realizing you did get some semblance of a happy ending, even if that ending is not the one you'd ever pictured or the one you ever wanted. It's realizing that every good day will be cloaked in the reality that it's also a bad day, a day your baby didn't get to see, but also a day your surviving son did. It's a wave, ceaseless, crashing, constant.
Roughly two years ago I gave birth to two children: one who learns and grows and plays and smiles, and who moves so fast and so freely that I don't know where the time goes; and another, one whose life and love and memory will forever be frozen in time, whose life will forever be painted around us, not with us. I know it's not everyone's story, but it's mine. In it I have found sadness and strength and mourning and merriment and every emotion that threads the fibers of humanity. In it, I have found the resilience to go on.