Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Jennifer and her husband met in high school and started dating in college. A few years into their relationship, he told her he wasn’t sure if he wanted kids — but after Jennifer explained this was a deal-breaker, his thinking started to shift. By the time they were married, the couple had years of experience caring for a dog together; they had bought a house in anticipation of children. But they were not ready, Jennifer says, for what came next. She discusses her daughter’s stillbirth, being on high alert during pregnancy, the reason she owns an oxygen monitor and a heart Doppler, and building her family further.
On a first pregnancy. We tried for about six months before I got pregnant. I was working in the medical field and felt very aware of what could go wrong. I just never really thought anything would happen to me.
In the beginning, it was great, a wonderful, blissful experience. I loved telling our parents and families. We did a Facebook announcement with our dog, saying she was going to be a big sister — it was very clichéd, very social-media age. Looking back, I’m glad I got to have that, to feel so joyful and so free of anxiety and fear.
Everything had been going along just fine. Nothing had come up on the genetic testing or the ultrasounds; we found out the sex, it was a girl. I was due in February. Toward the end of December, I went to work and noticed that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt her move.
Starting at 28 weeks, they tell you to do kick counts. I was only taking it half-seriously, and was doing them maybe every other day. I hadn’t done one in a few days. We were busy with family stuff; it was the holiday season. That night, I sat down to wait for kicks.
They say if you don’t feel ten movements in two hours, call the advice nurse. I sat for two hours and felt nothing. I drank juice, I lay on my side, I played music, all kinds of things to get her to move — I still couldn’t feel anything. So I called and they said to come in.
The doctor did an ultrasound. I don’t know if I was tired or not really paying attention — I saw the baby on the ultrasound and felt reassured. I didn’t consider that I wasn’t hearing a heartbeat.
This doctor didn’t say anything definitive, but she did say that what she saw was not reassuring and sent us straight to labor and delivery. By then, I think I knew, deep down, that something was wrong. As soon as we got there, they hooked me up to a monitor to try to find a heartbeat. They couldn’t find anything.
An OB came in and did an ultrasound and said there was no heartbeat; the baby had died. I was in complete disbelief. I remember very vividly asking her to check again. I thought it was impossible, there was no way.
We just sat there, in shock, crying. We didn’t know what to do or what was going to happen next.
On giving birth. The doctor gave us some time and then came back and walked us through the next steps: I would have to be induced and deliver her.
It took about a day for the induction to work — it was a strange, limbo time. You try to turn on the TV to be distracted, but of course nothing is actually distracting. It was overwhelming, anticipating what it might be like. I knew she was still inside me; I knew I had to deliver her. I ended up getting an epidural because I didn’t want to feel more pain — there was already so much emotional pain. I just wanted to be numb. I delivered her the next evening.
It was the worst experience we’ve ever been through. The silence in the delivery room was so deafening. You anticipate the moment, you imagine this crying baby, how everyone will be so happy. This was so the opposite of that. It’s cemented in my memory, that silence. She came out, and there was no crying. She was still.
Our family was there, grandparents and uncles and everyone. We all held her and took lots of pictures. It was about six hours with her, and we knew it was the only time we were going to get. We wanted to soak it up.
The staff was very nice: They said when we were ready, they would take her away. But when are you ever ready? After about six hours, we did feel like it was time. They took her away, and we got discharged from the hospital.
We had to decide what to do: Would we have an autopsy? Would we have a burial, would we have her cremated? There are certain tests that are performed automatically on the cord and the baby, so we decided not to do an autopsy. We didn’t really want to bury her anywhere, so we had her cremated.
And then we went home, just the two of us.
On postpartum depression without a baby. The next few months were pretty dark. I did go into postpartum depression, which I guess is to be expected, given the situation and the hormones. I got treatment for that: I saw a therapist and went through cognitive behavioral therapy.
My husband went back to work after a few weeks. I was supposed to go back to work after six weeks — that’s what I was going to get because I didn’t have a child to qualify me for family medical leave. Six weeks is what you get for your body to heal, and then you’re expected to go back. Fortunately, I was working for a doctor who was very understanding and let me come back at my leisure.
But my job was in the postpartum unit, working with newborn babies. I tried going back. I just couldn’t do it. We ended up hiring another nurse, to help me with my job. I kind of went back part-time and the other nurse took over the patient part, while I did the paperwork part. I just couldn’t handle seeing new babies.
I wouldn’t say that it got easier, but it did get tolerable. The pain is always there. The loss is always there. You just learn to live with it.
On never being completely ready. We knew we still wanted to have kids, but I needed to figure out if I was ready. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that neither of us were ever really going to be ready — just like becoming a parent at all. I was pregnant again about five months later, but that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, at about ten weeks.
It was a different experience, of course, than delivering my daughter. But it was a reminder that pregnancy is no guarantee of bringing home a baby.
On being pregnant, again. A few months later, I was pregnant for the third time. It didn’t take very long, but it was just as scary: I went into every appointment with anxiety, wondering when and how to tell people. We didn’t really wait; I feel very aware that the 12-week marker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re safe.
For this pregnancy, I was on high alert. I ordered a Doppler so I could listen to the baby’s heartbeat at home. I was very, very strict about my diet. I wouldn’t take a sip of wine, eat lunch meat or anything unpasteurized. I didn’t drink caffeine, none at all. I didn’t want to chance anything. I didn’t bother eating steak. What’s the point of eating fully cooked steak?
We decided not to find out the sex. It was causing me a lot of anxiety, because I didn’t know how I would react. With our first, we were so excited to have a girl: the first girl in my family, the first girl in my husband’s family, the first grandchild on his side. I was worried that if I found out I was carrying a boy, I would have some sort of resentment or not be able to connect with him. My husband suggested not finding out, because we knew that once the baby was born, I’d just be thinking about having a living, breathing baby in my arms.
Not finding out worked out for us, and really did alleviate my stress. My husband and I talked about this, but it wasn’t something I brought up with friends — except for other loss moms, who’d had similar feelings. Gender disappointment is a thing, and it’s not a thing we talk about very much.
When I hit the viability mark of 24 weeks, I knew the baby might be okay, if the baby was born then. But I felt that with my first pregnancy, and it didn’t mean anything in the long run. As I got further along, I worked with my doctor to figure out how to monitor my pregnancy. There’s nothing they can do to prevent stillbirth, but there are things they can do to make a woman feel better about the pregnancy experience. I got monthly ultrasounds, for example, and stress tests earlier than usual. We also decided to schedule an induction, so I knew when I was having the baby, instead of waiting around to go into labor.
The induction went very, very smoothly. When I went in, I saw the midwife who saw me for my first pregnancy, who’d been incredibly kind. She saw me as I was walking in for the induction and said she was going to take care of me. It was a familiar face, really wonderful. I was induced at 3 p.m. and had my daughter at about 9 p.m.
It was so similar in terms of the strength of the emotion in the room, but so polar opposite because it was just pure joy. I was wailing when she was born, when she came out and was crying. There was so much release: She was here. There were just as many tears, but a different kind of tears.
On giving birth a third time. At about the time my middle daughter turned 1, I got pregnant with our third. It was a similar pregnancy: I was worried and anxious, all over again. It was maybe easier because I was distracted by a toddler.
I had another scheduled induction, and requested an epidural. But things moved too quickly, and there wasn’t time; I was only in active labor for 15, 20 minutes. It was so, so painful and not what I had anticipated — I had only experienced birth with an epidural, both times. It was crazy, but I did it. She was big, too: 8 pounds, 12 ounces.
On telling people how many children she has. I’ve learned how I prefer to deal with it — which depends on the day, on my mood, on who the person is, if I’m going to see them again. If it’s the checker at the grocery store, I’m going to say, yes, I have two children. But if it’s someone, maybe another mom with a child my children’s ages, I might tell them.
After my middle daughter was born, I went to a breastfeeding support group, where I was very open about having had another child. I share my story with people I might have a relationship with, because I want them to know my family and my history. I want those people to understand why I do things like use an oxygen monitor on my infant’s foot — which is not exactly a normal thing to do. But for me, it reassures me my child is breathing, and helps me get what sleep I can.
On grief and family. After my first daughter’s birth, a maternal–fetal medicine specialist came to speak to us and told us that child loss can be very hard on a marriage. I saw that happen in the support groups I joined after my first daughter’s birth; I saw people get separated and divorced. I think a lot of it has to do with one person having more of an active role in the loss — I carried and birthed that child. You cope in a very different way.
I think my husband and I had been together long enough that we understood we were going to grieve in different ways. For many couples, I think the disconnect comes from expecting that you’re going to grieve the same way — but that’s not true for any type of loss. I feel so lucky that didn’t happen to us. I feel so lucky that we were able to move forward, and build our family further.
In a lot of ways, who I am as a mom is not informed by my daughter’s death. But there are certain things that I think I micromanage, because I worry, because I know that things can go wrong. There are things I can’t control, but I try. Every mom does this to a certain extent, I think. I’m trying to learn to let go a little bit more. While I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, I do want to get back to nursing eventually. I do need an identity outside of being a parent. I think my husband and I do a pretty good job of having a life beside our kids — it’s important for my own mental health, for me as me, and for me as a mom.