Again, these are not my words, but they are certainly my thoughts.
A Public Service Announcement
Or something like that...
Or something like that...
The other day I found myself having a really horrible dark thought that went something along the lines of, "Wouldn't it be great if [insert someone famous] had a stillborn baby?"
NOT that it would be great if a baby died. Obviously it's the saddest story in the world. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, famous or otherwise.
It's just that I think more people should be talking about it. It shouldn't be a secret.
It's not that stillbirth should get publicized as something that happens frequently. It's rare and it shouldn't cause undue anxiety. But it's hard to figure out how to present statistics and percentages in the most accurate way possible.
The fact is that stillbirths happen in less than 1% of pregnancies. But it's also true that a shitload of people get pregnant everyday. (Do you like my accurate number reporting? 1% of a shitload.)
It's different from, say, a rare type of cancer that only 5% of breast cancer victims end up developing. When you think of the relatively small portion of the population that gets breast cancer to begin with, then that 5% ends up being a really small number.
Compare that to 1% of all women who ever get pregnant in the world at any given time.
As many people have noted, membership to this club is much less exclusive than you might expect.
1% - those are slim odds. In all likelihood, an otherwise healthy woman with a low-risk pregnancy will not experience the death of that baby.
In all likelihood, it wouldn't have happened to me. Three months before Eliza died, we grieved with our friends whose baby boy twin died just before his sister made her own dramatically premature appearance in the world. I thought since it happened to someone we knew, the odds of probability would keep us safe. Once I was 32 weeks along, I breathed a sigh of relief. Viability was good, even if we had a premie. We were practically home free.
And then we weren't. And I couldn't believe it.
I'm sure it was no different for the teacher at David's school, who wept for us as she drove to her own thirty-six weeks check-up, grateful to be two weeks further along in her pregnancy than I had been when I lost Eliza. At 36 weeks pregnant, the end was in sight. The law of probabilities protected her. And then they couldn't find her baby's heartbeat.
I mean seriously. What are the odds?
Slim. Really slim.
But it's more likely that a baby will be stillborn than have Down's Syndrome.
It's more likely that a baby will be stillborn than die of SIDS.
It's more likely that a baby will be stillborn than be struck by lightening or attacked by a shark or killed in a home burglary or shaken to death or rolled over on by a parent.
But those are things we talk about.
The truth is that stillbirth is (thankfully) rare. It's exceptional and unusual and terrible. At the same time, it's common enough that it doesn't get any attention until it happens to someone you know.
But it happens. For many different reasons. For reasons doctors still can't explain. To educated women in first world countries. To women who take care of themselves. To women who follow strict guidelines of diet and exercise in pregnancy.
It doesn't happen very often, but it can happen to anyone at any time and I think there should be a way to raise awareness about it without fearmongering. Without our babies becoming names that can't be whispered in earshot of pregnant women, names you have to avoid mentioning at baby showers.
Stillbirth is not an experience that became obsolete along with with corsets and hoopskirts. It is not an experience limited to women with few resources and unclean water supplies.
It's not something that pregnant woman need to worry about, but it is something that pregnancy books should list resources for. It should not be used to frighten people, but information about it should be readily available.
There has to be a way to let people know that a stillborn baby will break your heart, but it doesn't have to wreck your entire life.
Because that is what people need to know--it's what I still need to be told.
I've said a million times that there is no upside to the loss of a baby, there is no silver lining, there is nothing that will ever make this remotely okay. But there should be a way to say that this is an event that you can survive. That this great loss can hollow out your guts and also enrich your life in unexpected ways. That great sorrow can make room for great joy. That you will survive this. That it will change you forever, but not all of those changes will be bad. That even five months later you will still hurt more than you ever have in your life, but you will also find hope again. This sort of information should be out there.
A friend of mine is pregnant now. She had an early pregnancy loss several months ago, so she knows something of my grief. I mentioned to her the other day that I hate that Eliza is a horror story--instead of a sweet, fat baby who makes people smile, she's a sad story that makes people scared. I voiced my concern that Eliza's story probably scared this friend of mine, heightened her anxiety about her current pregnancy. The thought that my daughter has become an unmentionable source of fear and pain--I hate it. But she said that wasn't true. That Eliza's story was actually an inspiration to her. A reminder to treasure every moment of her pregnancy, a demonstration of the way love and friendship can help us endure the greatest of tragedies, the way a baby can change our lives and make us love unselfishly, simply by existing.
This is what I mean when I say that someone famous should have a stillborn baby. Because it is not a shameful secret or the natural consequences of inappropriate behavior. It's a terrible tragedy that we can choose to make meaningful.
It doesn't happen to people who deserve it, or people who can handle it, or people who are being tested by God, or people who could have made better choices, or people who don't believe in medical intervention. It just happens. Randomly. Without warning. To people of every age, every race, every religion, every socioeconomic group, in every country, in any kind of relationship, with every variety of personal history, and every kind of birth plan (or lack thereof).
It will always be a terrible shock and the greatest of personal losses. But it doesn't have to be an experience that makes people feel isolated and ashamed.
The point of all this is an Associated Press article featuring a few bloggers who are well known in our little circles. Those of us who try to articulate our pain and put it out there for the world to see.
We're not alone.
We're not insane.
We're not irreparably damaged.
We are mired in grief and overwhelmed by disappointment and furious about the random unfairness of it all and really freaking sad.
But we are not so different from anybody else. We manage to find strength even though we are not strong. We are unfailingly generous and gentle with each other, and righteously indignant about the insensitivity of others. Our hearts fill up and our tears spill over when we see other people putting our experiences into words. We find ways to hold intact our sense of humor and our dignity and our marriages. The support we can offer each other cannot be overestimated.
We may be a very slim percentage of the population, those of us whose babies have died, but our numbers are much greater than you would think.
And, in one of the cruelest ironies of all, most of us are actually really cool people. The sort of people you would want to be friends with in real life (nerdy little folks like me generously included).
So yes, we should talk about stillborn babies, even though it's the saddest story in the world. Because you never know whose story might be the same.