When Birth and Death Coincide
Honoring International Bereaved Parents Awareness Month
July is International Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. The purpose of this month is to promote support for bereaved parents. When a child dies, many times people don’t know what to do or say, so they do nothing. This movement, started by Peter and Deb Kulkkula, is meant to encourage people to reach out to bereaved parents; to listen to their stories without judgement for advice; to give them a shoulder to cry on and a hug when appropriate.
International Bereaved Parents Awareness Month is an opportunity to encourage healthy expressions of grief, sorrow, and pain in order to support the healing process. Most people feel uncomfortable approaching the topic of death, especially when it precedes or immediately follows birth, but talking about it is part of the healing process. This day is meant to encourage us to be more open to holding space for these conversations.
This post is dedicated to my dear friend and the spirit of her precious son.
We met for her milk bath session on a Tuesday. The kids played together while I photographed her amongst the flowers. We talked and laughed as good friends do.
She told me about how she learned her son’s name recently during meditation. Huckleberry Oliver, to be called Huck. He would be her rainbow baby after a miscarriage the year prior.
The session went marvelously.
She is a classically beautiful woman. Her deep, soulful eyes are mesmerizing. Her smile and laugh are wonderfully contagious. Due to a background in theatre, music, and the arts, she wasn’t shy in front of the camera and she didn’t require much direction. We joked and laughed about awkward poses and didn’t once take ourselves too seriously.
When the session came to an end, we hung out for a little longer, discussing her upcoming birth. I went over the details of when she should call me. I told her I expected to hear from her frequently now that she was coming up on 38 weeks. We made plans to meet up again a week later just to hang out and let our children play.
Thursday afternoon, a text came in from her midwife asking to call me. I thought it was rather strange, but took the call before thinking too much into it.
In my memory, this conversation is now a blur, smudged over with overwhelming emotions. I know what words were said but I’m not sure how they were said or in what order. All I know is that just after 5 pm on this Thursday evening, the world seemed to stop spinning. This is the moment I learned that Huck’s heart was no longer beating. My stomach lurched and my heart felt ripped from my chest. I felt only a fraction of the pain, terror, and loss that my dear friend must have been experiencing, and it was unbearable.
Huckleberry Oliver was born on a Friday at ~ 2:30 A.M
As soon as he was born, it was obvious to the Obstetrician why his heart had stopped. His umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck and shoulders, multiple times. His cord also had a true knot, meaning that somehow during gestation a knot formed in his umbilical cord (sometimes this happens as the baby flips and turns during pregnancy). Knots are actually quite common, occurring in about one in every 100 pregnancies; in one of every 2,000 pregnancies, a true knot causes serious problems.
When I walked into the hospital room, it seemed as though time was standing still. The lights were dim; the room was solemn. My dear friend was seated in the hospital bed, surrounded by a halo of lights from the wall behind her. In her arms was the most delicate angel I have ever laid my eyes upon. Huck rested in her arms peacefully, wrapped up in a pastel blue crocheted blanket.
Overwhelming love & grief filled the room.
The emotions were so palpable that the air felt thick; it was hard to breathe without a lump of sadness forming in my chest.
I stepped closer to my beloved friend and whispered, “May I touch you?”
Through silent tears, she nodded. I embraced her, and together we cried. Our minds retraced the events of the past few days. The shock. The unfairness. The tragedy.
I wanted to take all of her pain away. I wished I had the power to alter reality. I tried as hard as I could to pour every ounce of my love into our embrace.
Throughout the morning, the rest of the family trickled in and out of the room. They came in only one or two at a time, respectfully saying their goodbyes. Each of them studied him lovingly, commenting on his precious features that they recognized from their family lineage. His grandmothers took a few moments to rock him in the rocking chair.
It seemed as though his spirit lingered for long enough to take in the love that was pouring from all of us. At least that is what I’d like to believe. Huckleberry Oliver was so very loved. So very wanted. So very appreciated and anticipated. I seek solace in the knowledge that this Love was all he ever knew.
Update: This family has now welcomed a rainbow baby girl, Elowen Milo Rose.
When someone loses a baby (or child), it can be hard to know exactly what to do. I thought I’d list a few tips here to get you started in case you ever find yourself in a position where you need to lend support to someone who has experienced loss.
What not to do:
Make the situation about yourself. Don’t talk about the baby (or child) you lost or that a friend has lost to the parents unless they specifically ask about your experience. This isn’t what they need to hear right now.
Tell them everything happens for a reason. This will not console anyone who has just lost someone dear to them, especially when life is lost so young.
Tell them they can always have more babies. This baby is theirs and always will be a part of their family. No baby will ever replace this baby.
Don’t ask how you can help, just offer specific help. It is too difficult them to think of practicalities through their grief.
What to do:
Listen when they talk about their child. This may bring sadness but the memories are all they have and so they are beautiful.
Offer some things they will absolutely need: housekeeping (laundry and dishes especially), childcare for siblings so mom and dad can get time with each other to grieve, food on rotation, and possibly donations so they can afford memorial services and mental health support. They will need to feel support from their community for a long time, so don’t forget about them after two weeks or even four weeks of care. Even if you can drop by just once a week for two months to bring food or do a load of laundry, that would be wonderful.
Reach out. Don’t force yourself on the family, but DO send an email, text, or written card to them saying they are in your thoughts. It means more than you’d know.
If you can, send a gift card to a local food delivery place, a local grocery store, or even a maid service.
Sending all my love to anyone and everyone who is honoring a lost life today (and everyday),