'But you were so healthy...'
When I have had conversations about Sylvia and my pregnancy to people there always is the initial sympathy and condolence responses. Tears and hugs and silence are common at this time too. Everyone has a different way of having that first conversation with me, or a way they act the first time they see me since her death. For many, I know its uncomfortable, its awkward, its sad and its something that is so intense that it is impossible to even prepare yourself or form a script for the first time you see me. I know this because while I was pregnant a friend of mines son died. The first time I saw her I panicked. Its normal. No one ‘knows what to say’. The interesting thing about peoples initial conversations with me since her death is nine times out of ten, people say, ‘But you were so healthy?…’ after the sympathy, condolences, hugs and tears. The statement is said closed like that. It is always those five words. It is always paired with a face of complete confusion. It isn’t ever a continuing statement and rarely that part of the conversation goes much further. My response is always, ‘I know’ and a nod of my head. I don’t know if the statement continued really what it would include and I don’t know if the person saying it does either honestly. Would it be, ‘But you were so healthy, healthy people’s babies don’t die.’ Would it be, ‘But you were so healthy, what went wrong?’ Would it be, ‘But you were so healthy, is there something wrong about your ability to carry babies?’
What I have realized after having this snippet of a conversation many, many times since Sylvia died is that those five words have many, many layers of meaning. Initially, I think that people assume if you are healthy your baby is too; your pregnancy will be great, your delivery perfect and you will birth a perfect little baby ready to go home the next day. Statistically, this is true. The overwhelming majority of healthy women birth healthy babies. The benefits of a healthy mother and pregnancy are obvious. However, unhealthy moms give birth to healthy babies all the time as well. Everyone knows someone, as much as your nonjudgemental heart was to avoid it, who has had a horribly unhealthy pregnancy, due to personal choices, and you look at that person and say, ‘What the hell is this woman doing to her baby.’ So friends are surprised, I suppose, that me having a very healthy pregnancy where I was active, ate right, gained a very healthy weight, managed stress, nurtured healthy relationships with my husband, family and friends and a job that keeps me mentally stimulated, ended in my daughter’s death. It is a misconception and a misunderstanding that only unhealthy women’s babies die. I am not bitter that I did everything right and this is my outcome and I am not bitter that women who make intentional, unhealthy choices while pregnant are holding their babies right now. I am just heartbroken that Sylvia isn’t here.
A second layer of those five words is fear. I think Sylvia’s death has created a lot of reflection with people. I have had several people tell me they experienced confusion, even anger at their own healthy children since learning that Sylvia died. I think women have reflected a lot on their own pregnancies, if applicable, and see them a little bit different now, because the idea of not birthing a baby that is screaming and kicking, seems a little more close to home. The fear, I think, comes from the thought that if it happened to me, it could happen to you. And for many, before my daughter’s death, this seemed like a distant concept. One of those things that never happens.
A third layer is confusion that I was full term. The dangerous part is first trimester right? After that everything is great? You’re past the scary part? Right?! Carlos and I told our family we were pregnant at Christmas when we were eight weeks and announced to the rest of the world when we were 15 weeks. We wanted to wait until we were ‘safe’. How silly now. Sylvia was perfect, physically there was nothing wrong with her. She likely just sat on her cord a little too long, grabbed her cord with her hand or pinched it somehow and that was it. When I think about future pregnancies I wonder when we will announce it. Before I was pregnant and when I was pregnant I had several conversations with people in which they told me they shared their news of pregnancy early on only to miscarry weeks later. It usually was said, probably subconsciously to them but very apparent to me, with shame and embarrassment as an emotion alongside the sadness and loss. Like it was embarrassing to have announced it early, as if it were jinxed. I want to scream and shake people now with this thought. Your excitement? Your anticipation? Your love for that 5, 8, 10 week old baby is REAL. It should be celebrated and a miscarriage should be properly grieved for, not pushed aside as though if you hadn’t shared your early pregnancy no one would have known the loss. Something extraordinary happens the moment you find out you’re pregnant. And I certainly can’t properly describe it. Suddenly you have planned out the rest of your life. You love bigger instantly. You are more instantly. The hope, the anticipation, the love…it is there, instantly. To loose a baby, at any week gestation is a loss, a tragedy and should be addressed as such. That was a life. Sylvia dying, perfectly healthy, at 40 weeks and 2 days makes our situation an outlier, true, but is a horribly painful reminder of the fragility of human life. We were so close.
What I have learned and what gives me a little peace is that because I was healthy, there was nothing in my control that could have saved her. I did everything the best I possibly could and I don’t blame myself. I have a lot of guilt that will never go away, but somehow in this situation that is different than blame. If there was something that I could have done to have her here, I would have done it. I could control my mental, emotional and physical health. And I did. And it wasn’t enough. That doesn’t mean that I will treat future pregnancies any different. From any research I have done, we have no higher risk for a miscarriage or stillbirth in subsequent pregnancies because of Sylvia’s stillbirth. We run the same horribly scary and now much more real risk of a similar situation. Our future pregnancies will be heavily monitored with every precaution taken, we know that, but unless I get put on restrictions (which is likely I suppose) I won’t do anything different on my end. I think the take-away from this is ownership of choices. At the end of the day, Carlos and I are both more than proud of our pregnancy with Sylvia, and though we would change her being here now, we wouldn’t change anything else.