Warning: this is not a typical post about stillbirth. Some people may find it quite confronting. Still, I feel compelled to write it.
Last night I read a book. At one stage in the book, a pet dog had a small litter of puppies. Out of the three puppies, one was dead. The author mentioned its little cold body, and I knew it was dead. Then the author used a phrase that hit me hard: “the stillborn puppy”.
After losing a baby, it is not easy when I unexpectedly encounter that word and last night was no different. I read that phrase, then re-read it. Then stared at the ceiling and whispered it.
And then I whispered the next thing. “Stillborn means dead. It means dead.”
As I lay there, staring, repeating, I felt like I was staring in the face of a cold, hard, awful truth.
We try to sugarcoat it. Born still sounds so much nicer than born dead. Born sleeping is a comforting phrase. But these words and phrases just disguise the truth. My baby was born dead. Theodore was not alive. His body was only warm because it had been in mine. He was perfect and real and beautiful. But he was not alive. He never drew breath or cried or soiled a nappy. He was dead.
He was perfect to me, even though he was not “too perfect for this world”. That is just another phrase that helps comfort a little.
But the truth is, I am not sad because he was too perfect. I am not grieving because he was born asleep and perfect and free from the troubles of this world. I am grieving because my baby is dead.
Theodore is dead and gone. I never saw him smile or sneeze. I never woke in the night to his cries. I never fed him or burped him. I never got the chance. Instead my husband and I buried our precious son and for Christmas we received a plaque for a grave instead of a newborn baby.
My baby is precious and missed and grieved. But not because he was “too perfect”. Not because he was born asleep. It is because he is gone. It is because his death while still in my womb took him. It is because he died before he had barely lived.
By all means, continue to use the words and phrases that help ease the pain. Just do not pretend they mean something other than what they really do.
Mothers who have not lost babies, remember this when you talk to someone who has. They did not “just” have a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Their babies really did die. These mothers and fathers really are mourning a death. They are mourning a baby they did not get a chance to parent.
The words we use soften it, but the truth behind them is hard and unyielding. Yet, sometimes it helps to face that truth and acknowledge it. It helped me.