By Heather Del Castillo, a bereaved stillbirth parent who shares 5 hard truths about stillbirth loss, learned from her personal experience.
My first and only pregnancy ended when my son Miles died during an emergency transfer.
But let’s back up. At 37 years old I realized that fertility is not a given. The doctors told me I should have no trouble getting pregnant, but we kept trying with no results. I finally got lucky after 18 months of trying.
My labor and delivery
Fast forward to April of 2019. My due date came and went. My midwife team allowed me to go to 42 weeks. I went into labor naturally and had the perfect home water birth dreamed up. Like many births, my labor and delivery did not go as planned. After laboring at home for 37 hours, I hadn’t progressed past 7cm dilated. My water had been broken for more than 8 hours, and the pain and fatigue consumed me.
My midwife checked on the baby and discovered his heart tones were low. She called 911, and they transported me to the nearest hospital. At the hospital, they couldn’t find a heartbeat, and I learned that our son Miles had passed away on April 23 during the ambulance ride. I was within minutes of meeting my son alive had I been able to get to the hospital and have an emergency c-section in time, but it was too late.
Life after stillbirth loss feels daunting, numb, sad, confusing, painful, and like nothing makes sense anymore. The constant is that I can never change the result. The result, every time, is that my baby died despite having an extremely healthy pregnancy and being told everything was “normal.”
5 hard truths about stillbirth loss
With that said I would like to shed light on some hard truths about first time mom stillbirth loss. With each statement, I will share what I’ve learned is within my control, and what I can do about it.
The statements ‘what if,’ ‘I wish,’ ‘if only,’ and ‘I should have’ are inevitable.
I’ve retraced my steps a thousand times. Different choices could have and probably should have been made. Self-blame is a part of baby loss, no matter how untrue. Yearning to turn back time and make changes made me feel helpless 100x over.
The most important thing is not to stay there. These thoughts will fade or become less intense with time. Acceptance comes. Give it time.
Trusting the post-loss body becomes a constant question
The thought of “trying again” is traumatizing in and of itself. Someone asked me even before I was released from the hospital if I would try again. My knee jerk reaction was, “Heck no, my body was not designed for this!” That feeling did subside though, rather quickly, and the physiological desire to have a tiny baby resting on my chest was undeniable. Days later I asked my husband if we could foster an infant…and I meant ASAP.
Postpartum recovery is confusing and painful. I continue to question if my body will fail me again. Losing a baby makes me wonder if I could ever have a successful pregnancy. That answer is still TBD. For me, having hope and trying again feels better than giving up because of worry.
Grief is a lonely place to land
No one prepared me for feeling so lonely. No one told me that people will suddenly feel awkward to be around me. People are uncomfortable with baby loss and they don’t know what to say. Many of my family and friends may have seemingly disappeared but I have found solace in the Stillbirth and Infant Loss group on Facebook. I have found peace in sharing my story with other parents who get it.
Your identity will change
I am now a stillbirth loss mom (parent) and I always will be. Forever I will be a member of club I never signed up for. I had a full term stillbirth loss. My child is deceased, and answering the question, “How many kids do you have?” will always sting. Amidst this painful reality, I get to honor my son in any way I choose. My new identity allows me to be a new person with new perspective, growth, and awareness.
Being strong becomes the only way through
Losing my first and only child was something I’d never imagined. I’m told I’m brave and strong for sharing my vulnerability and my story, but this is all I know. For me, being strong means getting up each morning to face the day and not give up on life. If that’s all I accomplish in a day, it’s enough.
The last couple of weeks, I have been in the acceptance mode of grief. My pregnancy didn’t progress and our son died. It happened, and now I have to navigate life after baby loss.
Despite my post being about how things are hard, at less than 6 months postpartum, I have been feeling stronger and more positive with each passing week. I’m actively choosing to move forward with curiosity and positivity, while always allowing time to pause for the tears and welcome the pain whenever it chooses to creep in.
Heather is a Level 2 CrossFit trainer, has done a few rounds of Whole30, and is now navigating life after stillbirth loss giving time to a slower pace filled with self-care and wellness. A longer account of Heather’s birth story can be found on her website wellnessandgrief.com. Feel free to connect with her over on Instagram at @wellnessandgrief.