This is my story of having a stillborn baby. From finding out I was expecting to not being able to hear her heartbeat to delivery to burying. Then grieving and moving forward with a rainbow baby. Stillbirths are devastating but I’ve also never felt more close to heaven than through this experience. I hope this helps you or a loved one going through a similar tragedy.
First two trimesters
I was super excited for the 2008-2009 school year but just a couple of weeks in I found out I was pregnant with baby #6. My children were 7, 6, 4, 3, and 12 months old. For some reason I wasn’t expecting to be pregnant, although I wasn’t totally surprised as I’d just started menstruating (from nursing) and my husband didn’t believe in birth control so I was usually pregnant after my first period. Still, somehow I naively thought it wouldn’t happen for a couple more months because I wasn’t ready this time.
I felt bad for not being ready or as excited as I should have been so I quickly looked at the positives and thought it was cool to have 6 kids before I was 30 and it would be my first spring baby, which I was thrilled about. I’d always wanted all my kids to be spring or summer so an April due date was perfect. The beginning of the pregnancy was hard with being sick and starting a new homeschool year, Nathan busy with medical rotations (2nd year of Internal Medicine residency,) and me receiving a new busy calling as a counselor in the primary presidency at church. But overall the pregnancy went well with no complications or even tiny concerns. Everything seemed perfect like usual. We found out in November it was a girl and we were thrilled about that too. It would mean 4 girls and 2 boys just like my family growing up.
Is something wrong?
One Thursday night late in January as I was lying in bed I thought about my 28 week appointment tomorrow and how they’d ask about the baby’s movement. It had been such a busy week I hadn’t paid attention to how many times she kicks an hour. She certainly hadn’t been very active lately but it was still early in the pregnancy for feeling fetal movement and tracking it. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The next day at the appointment I mentioned to the nurse I hadn’t felt her move much lately and I was worried. She brushed it off saying all babies do that and I’d probably just been so busy with my other 5 little kids that week that I hadn’t noticed. (She was right about that.) I remember her listening for the heartbeat and hearing mine for awhile. Finally she said she could hear the baby’s behind mine. I couldn’t, but I trusted her and didn’t want to make a big deal of me not being able to hear it. Besides, all of my other pregnancies (except the 1 early miscarriage) were uneventful and my babies were born perfectly healthy with no complications so why should I think this one would be any different? I knew about miscarriages but I never knew anyone to lose a baby later in the pregnancy so I never thought it would happen to me.
I went home feeling much better, yet still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Saturday Nathan worked and Madalyn had her friends over to celebrate her birthday a few days early. (I’m so glad we did that.) Sunday I was busy with church and responsibilities afterward. Sunday night after getting the kids to bed I retired to my bedroom with much worry in my heart. It really felt like something was wrong, yet I wanted to believe that everything was fine. I poked and prodded my stomach, trying to get her to kick, but there was nothing. I suddenly felt very empty, and knew that her little spirit had left me and that she was gone. Nathan came in and I told him I hadn’t felt her move. He and a friend gave me a blessing but I didn’t feel any better.
There’s no heartbeat
The next morning Nathan didn’t have to work until noon so I called the doctor and went in immediately while he stayed home with the kids. The nurse couldn’t find a heartbeat and sent me to the ultrasound room. In my family journal I wrote, “The tech looked the baby over and then leaned back with a sorrowful look on her face and said, ‘Marcie, I need to get Dr. Ferguson.’ I had been watching the monitor and said ‘There’s no heartbeat?’ She shook her head and said, ‘Let me get Dr. Ferguson.’ My doctor came right in and together they went over the ultrasound, noting the baby looked perfectly healthy, but for some reason the heart was no longer beating. I didn’t know what to think at all. I couldn’t believe it.”
I tried to be brave and said it was ok, I’ve been through a miscarriage and D&C before. She said this is a real baby, I’d have to be induced and deliver naturally. She called the hospital and set it up for the next morning. I drove home in a complete daze. I remember stopping at a stoplight by McDonalds and crying, then holding it in as I drove the rest of the way home. I walked in the front door and told Nathan there was no baby, it had died. He said, “Well, the Lord gave, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” He was right and it was good for me to recognize that the Lord gave us this baby and He can take it, but it was too flippant and uncomforting to me. I needed a shoulder I could cry on but I didn’t know who. I also wished I could go somewhere alone to cry and pray but I had 5 little kids waiting for lunch.
I did call my younger sister, Lori, who lived in Tennessee to find out her schedule and if she’d be able to come watch the kids during the delivery. Miraculously she said she didn’t have to work until Friday night. She had the whole week off! (She worked at the famous Opryland Hotel and worked every night but for some reason wasn’t scheduled that week, the first time that’s ever happened.) She packed while we were talking and immediately left for the 10 hour drive to my house. The rest of my family lived in the West.
I spent the day cleaning the house, washing sheets for Lori, and trying to process what was happening. We talked about burial plans and called around about that. We called our families to tell them and one of Nathan’s aunts (who I hardly know) who had 5 stillborn babies called and talked to me, which helped a lot. I went to the store to stock up on groceries and remember thinking that everyone who sees me will think I’m pregnant but I’m not. I felt mad about that; that I had a baby inside of me but it was dead. I was no longer going to anticipate her joining our family, no longer needed to walk down the baby aisles looking at pacifiers just to get my fix. I felt like a walking lie or something. It was weird. Lori got to my house at 10pm and we went to bed shortly after.
Delivering a stillborn baby
Tuesday I went in at 7am to get induced, which I’ve never done before. The doctor put a cervix ripening gel on my cervix at 8am and then again at noon. We spent most of the day on the phone figuring out funeral and burial arrangements. An older couple at our church heart our story and called us. They had an extra plot already paid for they didn’t want and gave it to us for free, which was so generous.
I had labor pains on and off all afternoon but it didn’t feel like active labor like with a live baby. I was so emotionally distraught and not working with my body like I do in labor. I was so mad to have to go through all this pain only to have a dead baby. And I felt terrible for my kids that I was so sick, tired, and cranky this whole school year so far, all for nothing. It felt like a waste and I hate wasting time. It could have been a great school year.
Late afternoon the pain became constant and almost unbearable. I cried alone in bed, unsure of how much longer labor would be. It was so different from having live babies who are helping to get themselves out. Nathan was on the phone with the funeral home at 5:15pm when I pushed little Julianne out. He hung up and stuck his head out the door to tell the nurses I’d delivered. I wrote in my journal, “The first thing I noticed as I looked at her lying on the sheet before anyone came in was her tiny feet. They were so perfect.” A few nurses filed in and they all looked at me and saw that I delivered a dead breech baby with the head still in but nobody wanted to pull the head out. It was weird to be avoided like that instead of the usual excitement and swiftness in a live delivery. Finally someone did pull her head out and said the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. I don’t know if that is what caused her death or not, it was never determined, but perhaps.
The baby was 1 lb 9 oz and 13” long. We named her Julianne after my best friend. She was perfect in every way and it was so hard to see such a tiny perfect baby. I thought she would look deformed or not fully formed yet, but she looked full term, only smaller. I wrote, “I cuddled her and cried and I couldn’t stop mareling how cute and tiny she was. All her little fingers and toes were so perfect. Babies are such miracles.” The hospital gave us preemie clothes to dress her in and I felt so close to heaven, cradling her in my arms. Nathan went and got the 3 oldest children and brought them to see and hold her, which was a special time for them and a decision they are grateful we made. In fact my 4th child regrets that we didn’t let her come too. She was only 3 ½ and we thought holding a dead baby might traumatize her but she wishes she had been able to. The hospital had a quilt families of stillborn babies could write notes to their babies on so we all wrote to Julianne, which was really sweet. They also sent us home with books on grief and journals for the kids to write in, hand and foot molds of Julianne, pictures they took of us holding her, and some tiny diapers and clothes, all in a padded memory box. I wrote, “Everyone was so good and sweet to us and we were overwhelmed at the support and love we felt there.”
Julianne was placed in the bassinet and left in my room overnight. I got up several times and looked at her and wished she would breathe; wished she would cry; wished I could pick her up and nurse her. I could hear other babies crying and families coming to visit and it was so hard to be there, reminded of my 5 happy childbirths, but have a dead baby this time. It was surreal to be there but not have the same experience I’d always had. I never pictured myself delivering a stillborn.
The next morning I drove home from the hospital without a baby, which was so hard. I was so grateful to have my 5 children at home to hug and hold. Usually I want a break from them and just want time with the newborn, but this time I wanted to hold them all at the same time. My arms hurt for a baby so bad.
It was Madalyn’s 7th birthday and I’m so glad Lori was there to play with her and make her a special dinner and her birthday cake. I think she had a good day despite the sad circumstances.
Burying our baby
Thursday we spent at the funeral home making arrangements and Friday we buried her. A friend from church sewed Julianne a tiny white burial dress and another friend gave us a tiny white bonnet and socks. Another friend had a color copier and made copies of the letters and pictures the children drew for Julianne and buried with her. I’m so grateful we have those copies now.
We chose to have a small graveside service with our bishop and his counselor who was a close family friend. This friend’s 11 year-old daughter played a beautiful flute solo and then Nathan spoke, we all sang, and then had a prayer. It was a bitter cold February day, which I was sad about because all funerals seem to be freezing and there are plenty of warm February days in NC. But oh well. I was happy to have my sister with us, especially to help with the children. I wished I could have shared my true feelings with her but for one thing I felt I needed to be strong and for another Nathan always shushed me when I shared my feelings, so I held it in. But deep inside I knew Lori loved, supported and understood me. And that she was a wonderful support for the children. While we had been busy with burial arrangements she dressed them up and did a photo shoot, played endless games with them, cooked food, and just held them and listened. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Saturday, the day after the burial, Nathan made me go to the temple 2 hours away. I wasn’t up for it but went anyway. It was a hard day and I just needed to rest after a whirlwind week. We brought all the kids and Lori watched them outside of the temple and then left from there to dive back to TN. That night a member of the bishopric came to our house to ask me to be 1st counselor in the primary presidency. I was already 2nd counselor but we were getting a new president and I was happy to start serving with her. Sunday we went to church and everyone was excited about the change in presidencies. In the middle of primary I couldn’t pretend to be happy anymore and snuck into the nursery where Thomas was. A teacher there asked about the “miscarriage” and after I told her it was a stillborn and explained my week and my feelings I felt so much better. I hardly knew her but it was so nice to have a shoulder to cry on and feel loved and understood. Later I think it was her who did some secret acts of service for my family.
Several others called it a miscarriage so after church I wrote an email to the sisters of our ward explaining I was 28 weeks along, we named our baby Julianne and buried her, her weight and length, etc, and thanked them for their love and support. I think being open and honest about it was the best thing for me. I wanted people to acknowledge it was real and not pretend it didn’t happen. Talking about Julianne in the coming months and years was very healing for me.
Grieving and moving on
For the next few weeks I struggled homeschooling the children and continuing on with every day life of laundry, dishes, meals, grocery shopping, playing with the kids, etc. I remember going to bed one night and just crying as I was still going through the stages of grief and Nathan said, “You’re still sad about Julianne?” I replied, “Aren’t you?” and he said, “I guess I’ve been too busy with work to think about it.” From what I’ve heard and read, it’s a lot harder on the mother who had been carrying the baby and had been making all the plans and purchases. Grieving is very lonely but reading books on stillbirths and pregnancy loss helped as well as talking to others who had gone through the same thing.
What really kept me going those first weeks and months was all the service friends gave to me. I didn’t have any family nearby but my church friends stepped in and thoughtfully served in ways that were meaningful. One friend took the 4 oldest to her house for a play date for a few hours. Never before had anyone ever done that and left me with just the 18 month old. It was so nice to have a quiet house and not have so many children needing things. Another friend dropped off 5 gallon-sized bags full of snacks, one for each child with string cheese, crackers, etc. A couple of times there were knocks on our door followed by treats left on our doorstep. Many people brought meals, as even though I didn’t have a newborn to nurse and take care of, I was still recovering from childbirth. One couple in our ward came to visit for their date night and that meant a lot to me. Over the course of our conversation I learned it was her birthday and that touched me even more. I’ve never forgotten it. My medical school friends (the wives of the students–our little group who hung out together) sent a big flower bouquet which was thoughtful as they were all spread out doing different residencies in different states. Even though my family was across the country (except Lori in TN), they still did really nice things for me to make me feel loved. One of my sisters sent a CD with beautiful Christian music, my aunt sent a sweet card, my parents had Lori buy me a peach tree when she was here, and one of my sister-in-laws sent an edible arrangement. Every few days for a couple of months I would get really down and just want to cry for my baby and that’s when someone would do something nice for me. My local best friend called me every few days to talk about primary stuff but at the start of each conversation she sincerely asked how I was doing. If I needed to talk first we did before getting to the agenda.
From February until May I just went through the motions of daily life and my emotions were constantly up and down. Sometimes I thought I was going to be ok and other times I just wanted to die to get out of my misery. The turning point for me where the oppressive grief lifted and I felt more myself came in May. Nathan had an interview with a fellowship program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC and we all went with him. While he had the interview I took the kids into the Appalachian Mountains for the day and we went hiking. It was a beautiful spring day, hardly anyone was there, and there were absolutely gorgeous views from the top of the mountain. I’ve always loved nature but for some reason being out there all day with just my kids really healed me. I felt closer to God than I had at any other time in my life up to that point and knew He was taking care of me. And after that amazing day full of gorgeous hikes and scenery the weight of grief was lifted off my shoulders.
It wasn’t smooth sailing after that, but I felt much better. The big weight was gone even though I still had many days where I couldn’t stop thinking of what it would be like if she were here, and just missing her so much. Holidays and special times were the hardest: Mother’s Day when I had planned to celebrate being the mom of 6. Going to the strawberry patch as I had bought a tiny strawberry outfit in anticipation of taking her. Fourth of July when I had planned matching outfits for the kids.
Getting pregnant again
I had a lot of milk for a long time so my period didn’t come back for a couple of months and then I got pregnant right away on accident because it was hard to tell when I was ovulating with an irregular cycle. It miscarried at 6 weeks and while it was hard on me physically and emotionally, I was also glad because I didn’t want a January baby and I wasn’t ready yet. I was also grateful it miscarried early rather than waiting till 10 or 12 weeks and drawing it out like my first miscarriage. This one happened in one day and was a much better experience than my first. That was in mid June and by the beginning of August I found out I was pregnant again and this time I was super excited and knew everything would be just fine. It caused another rough start to the first 3 months of our school year as I was sick and tired but I was also happy. The following April a healthy 8 lb 1 oz baby girl, Kaitlyn, joined our family and to hear her cry was the best noise ever!! I dreamt of that moment for the past 9 months and was so happy it came true. I was also thrilled to nurse her as I had so much milk with Julianne and no baby to nurse. It made me not take breastfeeding for granted like I had with my first 5 kids and I nursed my second 5 kids a lot longer.
That is my story of our little stillborn baby. If you’re reading this you probably have an experience with a stillborn or pregnancy loss. If so, I’d love to hear it! If not, I hope this helps you know what it’s like to lose a baby so you can help friends and family who are going through it. It is a devastating time but also a time a family draws together, supports each other, and becomes stronger. I learned that Heavenly Father loved me more than I thought He did and felt Him helping me through other people serving me. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, yet I do hope everyone gets a chance to feel God’s arms around them as I did after Julianne died.