Recently, I was going through my stack of papers and statements, preparing to pay our monthly bills, and I noticed the UVA Health magazine, Vim & Vigor.
I am not sure how I was added to this mailing list, but I’ve been receiving these quarterly magazines for about two years now. They always have interesting and relevant articles related to health – how to improve sleeping habits, information on cancers, screenings, and treatments, and general tips for healthy living.
A message, a year later
Usually I would have perused and opened all my mail between the mailbox and the house. For some reason, though, I hadn’t looked at this magazine issue at all until the other day. One of the article titles on the cover instantly caught my eye – “A Message to Expectant Mothers: Understanding the signs that your baby is distressed.” How timely in some ways and how late in other ways.
I threw my bills to the side and focused on the article. What could I learn that I didn’t already know about what happened to Millie? Could I really have avoided this somehow? What do I need to know now for this current pregnancy? Questions flooded my head as I flipped through the magazine looking for the article and answers.
After reading the article, I first wondered if I wasn’t attentive enough to Millie. After all, she was a mover. I knew to expect kicks, jabs, dance moves, flips, and even rolls. And I felt them day after day. I never kept track, though, of how many movements within a period of time.
After all, I was working full time, chasing a 22 month old, and tending to a farmette. I was exhausted. I didn’t worry about how many movements within a period of time. She was moving and I knew it. But I wasn’t overly observant. Should I have been? Did I not pay close enough attention? Should I have been keeping tabs on paper or in an app?
Dr. Dudley advised in the article, “Tally each kick and roll and ask yourself if your baby is behaving differently than normal.” There were certainly times when I felt movements – specifically a roll and a flip, which I didn’t typically feel. It never occurred to me that a different movement might be considered “uncharacteristic” or something to raise concern.
Later in the article, risk factors are mentioned and that has prompted additional questions for me to ask at my next appointment. When our Doctor met us in the hospital after I delivered Millie, she said, “It’s rare for lightning to strike in the same place twice,” knowing we were determined to try again.
The article states though, that the biggest risk factor for stillbirth is a previous stillbirth. Is it that perhaps I am at higher risk, however, I will be on higher alert and be more sensitive and voice concerns for behaviors that previously went unnoticed? That everyone will be keeping a closer eye on me and more concerned for me and baby during this pregnancy because of what happened with Millie?
Acknowledging the baby
I really appreciated reading what Dr. Dudley mentioned in the conclusion, and want to share it here. For patients that have had a stillbirth, he acknowledges the baby, “I will always ask what they named their baby.”
I reiterate this here, although a previous post discusses this as well. Whenever anyone has acknowledged Millie, they have supported me. It may not sound like much, but giving voice to and remembering that little life is the best way friends and family could support me.
They didn’t shy away from the fact that I suffered a loss. Instead, they remembered and continue to remember Millie with me, by asking about her, or telling me they share her birthday, or what they think of when they think of Millie. For those who acknowledge Millie, she is living in their hearts, too.
It was difficult when people I knew would look at me and turn away, or just give me a look of pity and not say anything. I needed to talk.
He goes on to note that many women have experienced the loss of a baby through stillbirth. However, we don’t realize this because, even though more mothers and families are speaking up, he says some mothers may, “either feel ashamed or embarrassed or they don’t want to dredge up those memories.”
I never felt embarrassed, although I did feel the shame, that as a mother I had failed my Millie, Mon Cœur (MC), Chouchou, and everyone else that was waiting for her arrival.
When I think of Millie, I would rather speak up than be silent. I make the choice, though, not to “dredge up those memories” – the doctor’s visit where three nurses were unable to find a heartbeat, the doctor was unable to find one with a portable ultrasound, and an ultrasound verified what was suspected. Where we numbly moved between the doctor’s office to the hospital and I waited to be induced. Where I labored for fifteen hours, and that when I delivered there was nothing but silence.
Although all of these memories make up the whole story of Millie, that’s not what I choose to remember. Those memories don’t remind me of the love that I feel for her, just the intense heartbreak I felt learning Millie would not be joining us in this world.
The upcoming anniversary
When I think of Millie, I treasure the memories of her growing inside of me. I remember realizing I was first pregnant with her, and Chouchou’s excitement at knowing we were expecting again. How MC proudly shared the news with her “Big Sister” teeshirt she wore to let her friends and family know. When I first started to feel her move and all of her acrobatic movements thereafter. Imagining what she would look like- a head full of hair, brown, and long and lean like her sister. The love that everyone had for her as she was growing, and the anticipation everyone felt with me for her arrival. The night of the full moon when I experienced Braxton-Hicks so intensely, I had my mom come and get MC, just in case. I think of butterflies, I think of my father.
This Saturday, it will be a year, and it’s so hard to believe. I can confidently say I feel like I am in a good spot, and I am able to be as strong as I am because I have my village supporting me. I’ve found a purpose, tending to the garden, raising MC, and growing new life. I’ve found a voice here on the blog, expressing the full spectrum of life’s experiences – our ups and downs, our wins and losses, the heartwarming and heart wrenching moments.
We continue to be blessed by friends and family who are remembering Millie with us. People are thinking of us, knowing the date is coming up and sending their love. We’ve received cards, plants, and a butterfly kit. Others have planned to come and be with us on the anniversary.
The Morning blog had a great post recently about how to celebrate these important dates while in quarantine, and I feel like we’ve hit many of them – I finished the greeting card book which I can revisit and read through when I want, we’ve planted many flowers and plants recently in Millie’s garden, and MC surprises us randomly by turning on the candle we received at a support group for Pregnancy & Infant Loss Month.
We’ll be together as a family on Friday and are planning to spend time in the garden. We’ve had many opportunities over this past month to remember the love we have for Millie, and so I feel okay with not doing anything huge. I remember her everyday and so even though Saturday is her birthday, in my heart I am okay with not making a huge deal out of it.
I just wanted to wrap this post up with a sincere thanks to you, dear reader, for being with me here on this blog. This has been a month full of emotion, and I appreciate you joining me on my journey. Thank you, merci beaucoup.