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Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged and understood.

Thanks to photographer Xin Li and to artist Stephanie Sicore for their respective illustrations and photos.

for one and all > I finally got to see my son.

I could hate my family completely for this, but I don't. At some level I understand why they chose to do it, but I still have bitterness towards them for it.

When I gave birth to my stillborn baby, Riyad, he was immediately whisked away from me by the nurses. I was heavily drugged on the epidural and other medicines, still in shock, and being tended to by my doctor to really register what was happening. The nurses washed him, clothed him, and placed him in the hospital bassinet. But the bassinet wasn't next to me, it was at the end of the room. That meant that my mother, my husband, my aunt, my cousins, and everyone else that was there got to see my boy. They got to see him while he was still pink and beautiful. My husband looked so happy right afterwards, glowing practically. He told me how he was a perfect mixture of him and I, and how he had my lips, and a combination of our nose. My aunt remarked that he had a lot of hair. My sisters said he was adorable. My mom told me later that she kissed his feet.

But they didn't let me see him.

According to my husband and my mom, he turned very blue immediately afterwards, and began to bruise and peel. It was because of this that our OB believed he was gone for at least 24 hours by the time I went to the hospital. But they could have easily shown him to me. They could have put him on my chest, or in my arms. I was in shock at the time, and before I gave birth to him, the nurse had asked me if I wanted to hold him, and I automatically said no. It was out of shock, and the pressure of people around us. My husband has since apologized and admitted that he, too, was in shock, and he was heavily pressured by everyone not to see him, and not to hold him. But he didn't listen to them at the time and chose to see him before he began to bruise, and was so happy by it.

I believe that is why he seems so much further in the grief process than I am, since he was able to see him at the hospital, and I didn't.

My family does stupid things. My mom and my aunt both believe that it's better to hide things from me, to brush them under the rug. And I'm not like that. Maybe I'm stronger than them. Maybe I'm more healthy, emotionally, because I know that I HAVE to see everything, and I have to go through everything, in order to grieve properly.

By the time my OB was done making sure I was ok after birth, my mom lied to me and told me that they had taken my baby away for autopsy already (since we had agreed to one). She said that's why he wasn't in the room anymore, and she didn't know where he was now. I believed her. Later that night, the night shift nurse taking care of me told me in private that my relatives had told them to take my baby away, and that it was better for me not to see him. I was astounded by that, absolutely floored. But I was still in shock, and so exhausted from the drugs and the labor, that I couldn't muster up the courage to see him...

They gave me a beautiful memory box. It has his handprints, footprints, a candle, the measuring tape, and the clothes he was in, as well as photographs. My family also saw the photographs while I was recovering and completely unaware. He was very blue by then, and the photos were not pleasant. It showed him bruised, peeling, discolored. They believed it was better for me not to see them. So my aunt had it at her house, until "I was ready."

It was all bullshit. It was handled SO wrong, and I have been SO angry at them for it, deep down. I know that they "care," that they truly don't understand because they didn't lose their children to stillbirth. But I felt like my grief has been so complex and prolonged this entire time because I didn't even get to see my beautiful baby boy, to hold him or even look at his face.

It felt like I was hallucinating, like I was still pregnant, and I was making up all of this: his death, the delivery, the birth. My mind was more confused than grieving. I used to think several times a day: I'm really not pregnant anymore? My son really died? It doesn't make sense...

Yes, it was the enormity of the loss, that my mind is still trying to process. But it was even WORSE, because I didn't get that closure that day at the hospital. I didn't get to see my son. I got to see his grave, I got to see his ultrasound photos beforehand, I got to feel his sweet little kicks. But I didn't get to see him. And the injustice of it was maddening. It made everything feel surreal, and impossible to come to terms with.

So I went to my aunt's house a few days ago, and I got the box. And I looked at the photos. Alone. I did it alone. My aunt tried to give me this stupid speech beforehand, about how much she cares about me, and how she has seen me begin to heal, and she wants me to "keep moving forwards, not backwards." I told her that I'm glad she "cares" but I NEED THIS to move forward, I need to see my son. So she gave in, finally.

And I was so happy that I saw my son. He was so beautiful. I didn't care how "unpleasant" the photos were, how he looked. I knew I was looking at him and that he was dead. But he was and is so, so beautiful. He did have my lips, he had a very chubby face, and a cupid's bow like mine. He had a very sweet button nose. He was almost 7 lbs but he still appeared chunkier than that. He had my hands, the fingers shaped almost exactly like mine. And I kissed those photos, and I loved them and cherished them. And I still do, and it helps me, and fills me with so much joy. My beautiful baby boy, his beautiful pictures!

I finally felt like a mother.

I know that it has made the grief more raw, and it has made things more real for me. But I believe it was necessary. My therapist is very happy I did this, and so am I. I need to acknowledge him. I need to acknowledge the reality of his life and death, even if my family won't.

And that does make me feel very alone.

They want me to move on. There are exceptions: my little sister listens to me vent, to me be sad, and she supports everything I do in grieving. But my mother is impatient, and many other people are, and I want to tell them to screw themselves. They will never understand. They think as soon as I get pregnant, it will wash this pain away. But it won't.

I need to celebrate my son. I need to continue to love him, to be proud of him. And I had so much happiness and pride when I saw him. So much love, it is overwhelming.

I found a website that restores stillborn baby photos for free; BabyAngelPics.com. I am submitting two of my son's photos and seeing what kind of work they can do in retouching them. Hopefully they can, and I will be very excited. I am probably going to print them and keep them in a frame for myself. I don't know if my husband will understand and I don't really expect him to. This is for me.

I'm still his mom, he is still my pride and joy. And he always will be. And this was a big step in closure for me, the closure that I never got to have when he was born.
January 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNada
Nada,
Thank you for sharing this. We chose to photograph our son who was not stillborn, but suffered an injury in utero (cord accident?) that resulted in a severe brain injury and his death three days later.
His color is "off" in many of the pictures and some were taken after his death but my God, he is always beautiful. I put together a photo album of the photos and had one made for a locket I wear and I framed a couple of them. We also have one we hang on the Christmas tree.
I am sorry that your family tried to hide your son from you. One thing I really love about your post is how proud you are of your boy. I am also so proud of mine. I think people who haven't been through this kind of thing might have difficulty understanding this pride we feel for our babies who died. I sent out about sixty Christmas cards three Christmases ago (the year our son died) with a picture of our family: myself, husband, our baby and his older brother. I included a brief letter focusing on the positive aspects of our life in spite of the death of our child. I got three cards back. I have not sent cards since. I feel this loss has distanced me from many friends and family. Sending you Love.
January 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEm
Oh Nada,

Your post is simply heartbreaking and also so touching. I read it earlier today, went to hear some music tonight and thought about you, and now would like to give your post the response it deserves as I read it a second time. I understand some of your conflicting feelings toward your family, how you might understand some of their choices while also disagreeing with them. I think the role of family is a complicated one in moments like these. I had such a crowd in my hospital room that I became overwhelmed at times. I'd at once feel touched that so many people dropped everything and showed up, and then kind of outraged that my life's most tragic moment had such an audience. I try to have grace with myself for the occurrences in the hospital itself. I have some huge regrets about how some of the time after my daughter's birth was handled, especially involving where she was physically at those times, who was around her, etc. In retrospect I wish I had kept her with me every second, regardless of who was around, but that's not how it played out in real life. Then I try to remind myself that I was in the shock of my life and was in no way prepared to make the decisions I was being forced to.

I am heartbroken to hear about all the people who saw Riyad before you ever did. You are correct to use the term "injustice" for how it felt not to see your own son. And I 100% agree that your family needed to step out of the way and stop trying to "protect" you from your own pride and joy, the little human YOU created. YOUR son, not theirs. I have no doubt that Riyad was and is beautiful. A mother's love does not stop in death. You see right past any discoloration or snatches on the skin. I barely even noticed that my daughter's lips had turned dark until someone later observed that. All I saw was beauty, pure perfection.

The pressure from others to move on is horrible, isn't it?! I feel it, too. I did not feel it for the first four or so months, I'd say, but then I did. And no other child would fill this void. A living child would help me complete some of the goals I have been working toward for years, and I think I would feel warmth and joy in a way I have not since I was pregnant. But a living child would in no way replace the one I have lost. I will yearn for that child for as long as I have breath.

You do whatever brings you ANY comfort. Frame the pictures if you want. Your husband doesn't have to understand. My husband surely isn't grieving the same way I am, and that's been an enormous difficulty, too. I, for one, would like to voice my support in your taking as much time as you need to grieve in whatever way you see fit. There's no instruction manual for pain like this... the people who pressure you to feel differently haven't had to carry on with life after their dream-come-true died literally inside of them. They can't and won't understand. I'm so sorry your family decided so many things about your child FOR you, at a time when you were not really in a good position to challenge it. I know they had their own reasons for doing so, but it was your story, and Riyad's, and I hate that you didn't feel like you had any control over that part of your journey. It's SO, so, so hard to handle all of the intense dynamics at play in a moment like that. I'm sorry for all of the pain you're feeling, Nada. I am glad you saw your beautiful Riyad, and I do hope you will continue to come here to post your thoughts ANY time. I use Glow like a lifeline, both in posts and responses. Sending you hugs, dear fellow mama. xoxo
January 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNM
I am so glad you got to see Riyad. Sednding you love
January 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCristiane
Em, NM, and Cristiane, thank you all so much for your wonderful messages.

Em, I am sorry for your loss. The locket and Christmas tree ideas are so beautiful. I love how you have your son virtually everywhere you go with you, as he is in your locket. No one will understand our loss, until they have suffered it. That I am learning to understand more and more every single day. People just prefer us to "get over it" or at least show that we are "fine" on the outside, for the sake of their own comfort. It is selfish and stupid of them. I guess they just feel powerless to help us, so they would rather not deal with us being upset, or feeling any other type of emotion that seems "abnormal" (such as being proud of our own children, because they are dead). I am sorry that you only got three Christmas Cards back. At least you know who the real people in your life are--the ones who will support you no matter what. It is crazy, tragedies like this really do distance us from many people, but the ones who stick around and remain supportive of us become real gems in our lives.

NM, thank you as always for your support... I, too, always wish the hospital scenario was different. I wish I held my son, and told everyone in the room to get the hell out. I wish I had that alone time with him, and cherished him. But it wasn't real life. And yes, we were in so much shock, and so much pain. We can't expect it to have played out perfectly, especially when we weren't "all there" through the whole ordeal. Yes, family is just stupid through heartbreaking incidents. It was like a big show, something they can just walk in and out of when they choose, when I am stuck with the reality afterwards. I also echo your thoughts that a subsequent pregnancy isn't going to make me "get over" my son....it's not possible. If it were possible, we would just be heartless people. We love our children. It's simple. We would never look to replace our children, just as mothers with living children would never want to replace any of them. I am becoming more "Selfish" by doing things that comfort me, and grieving in my own way, and it helps. In terms of family, I absolutely abhor certain people in mine. I have an aunt that everyone hates, even distant relatives. She says stupid things, and has a history of blaming women for miscarriages (!!). My sister's sister-in-law was pregnant with twins last summer, and she tragically lost both of them at 4 months. When my aunt asked her how her twins were, she replied that she lost them. She asked her "if she did anything wrong." I remember being enraged at her comment. So, when I was sitting in my hospital bed, drugged and in shock, she implied the stillbirth was my fault. She had told me that my son's death could have been due to "the way you sat or the way you laid down." I barely remembered her saying this to me, but my husband's niece was SO angry for me that she told me afterwards. It made me feel ashamed and embarrassed of my body, like I had actually caused this horrific thing. Needless to say I don't want her at the birth of any of my future children.

Cristiane, thank you...I am sending you love as well.
January 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNada