In Her Words
Stillbirth: The Loss of a Baby
I was with my best friend when she discovered her baby was stillborn
It was one of those phone calls that stir you from the dead of night, a phone call no one wants to answer in their home. It was my pregnant friend at 3 a.m.
“The baby’s not moving.”
Erica was 37 weeks pregnant, and the mother to two young toddlers already. Her husband was out of town and I was the only person she could call.
I sprung into action. “Did you try everything? Orange juice, jumping up and down?”
“Yes. I need to go to the hospital.”
It was nine years ago, but I remember it as if it had been yesterday. I drove to her house, where a neighbor was there to stay with her two children. On my way to her house, I started pleaded with God, to not let anything be wrong with the baby, to please make it be just a big mistake. I had hoped by the time I got to Erica’s house, she would say, “It’s OK. Go home. The baby’s fine.”
She didn’t say that. We drove to the hospital, and I still remember that she was wearing an old maternity shirt of mine. I still remember her being stoic and concentrating, focused on … I’m not sure. Was she willing her baby to be alive? I was. I kept telling her that everything would be alright. Actually, I don’t remember what I said, I just kept talking, trying to make sense of this. Erica was quiet.
At the hospital, her fears were confirmed. I sat with her in triage as the young resident rolled the ultrasound wand over her round belly. A belly filled with a full-term baby. It was quiet, and instead of me watching the screen, I chose to watch the doctor’s face for the clues.
When his Adam’s apple bounced in his throat, indicating a swallow, I knew.
Erica’s baby was dead. There are other ways to say it. I could say, Erica’s baby was no longer alive or Erica’s baby stopped moving, or there was no longer a heartbeat, but the truth was, Erica’s baby was dead. Inside of her, at 38 weeks, and dead.
She remained calm, so calm, to this day, I don’t know how she did it. She would have to deliver the baby, the doctor told me later, away from her. She would have to go through labor.
“She can’t,” I told him. “She had a fourth-degree laceration when she had her first baby, so all babies now have to be C-sections.” Even a dead one.
Her husband was in New York at the time. She didn’t want to call him in the middle of the night, but I knew it would take six hours for him to get back. She didn’t want to call her mother. “You have to call them, Erica. They need to be here with you.” I held her hand as she dialed, and she gave the news. This is when she started crying. This is when it became real.
When her husband arrived and I was leaving to go home to my two children, I hugged her. I hugged her belly. I spoke to the baby. I cried. This was going to be the baby to round out their family. This was going to be the completion of Erica’s children.
The doctors delivered beautiful Samantha via C-section later that day. She was over six pounds, with a head of hair. She was completely normal in every newborn baby way, except that she had stopped breathing in utero. She had stopped living in utero. Erica and her husband held Samantha. I can imagine they cried, maybe they talked to her. I know it was a moment in their lives that would change everything to come after that.
That night, I went back to visit Erica. She wanted to be kept on the maternity ward to get the care a postpartum mother would deserve. There were babies crying all around us. I don’t remember what we said, just that we were together, mourning the loss of Samantha, Erica’s second daughter. The sister to two living beautiful children.
I drove home, mad at God, swearing I was never going to have any more children, that I was done. That I could never look at pregnancy in the same way again. I remember wanting it to be a bad dream, not the real nightmare it had become for Erica and her family.
Samantha was cremated, and there was a memorial service to honor her. It was hard for those near to grasp that this was a devastation, that it was a death of someone we had come to love, someone we had been waiting nine months to meet. Others around Erica, even some of her family members, didn’t understand what it was like. No one would understand what it was like except for Erica. And she would carry that with her all of her life.
She has a picture. She has what I imagine are dozens and dozens of condolence cards. She just doesn’t have her second daughter, who would have been nine this year, who would have quite possibly become the best friend to my daughter.
But, while it is extremely sad, and the loss of Samantha is reason to grieve, Samantha was not for nothing. She was alive, and then not, she was born, she is a necessary part of Erica’s family. Because that fall, Erica became pregnant again, and three months later, so did I. It was hard to be pregnant together. Erica hated whenever any pregnant woman would gripe of a pain or complain of morning sickness. I would have hated that too. I would have been scared to death to spend another 38 weeks of my life waiting, hoping, dreaming for my baby. I was pregnant with her, and I was scared it could happen again, to her, or to me.
But then, Samantha’s legacy arrived, a gorgeous baby boy named Kevin, healthy, breathing, crying, even complete with a case of jaundice. But he was here, and his arrival, to me, is nothing short of a miracle, of the blessing of Samantha. As Kevin grew and thrived, my own son was born three months later, and the two would become the best little pals.
While we can’t understand why Samantha was not born, we can be joyful for the little brother she paved the way for in her family.
Samantha is in my heart every day.