This is what it means to love a stillborn child by Terrell Hatzilias, PhD
Loving a stillborn baby is like no other love, and like no other loss, in the world. You know your child, and do not. You cradled their perfectly formed body, but never heard their voice. You carried them for nine months, labored hours to deliver them, and left the hospital with empty arms. You are a mother without a child, an orphan to your own baby. And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
You live in a state of perpetual heartbreak, constantly substituting your baby into the scenes in your life. Here he would learn to walk, here he would be cranky from teething, here you would kiss him goodnight. You learn to see your child where no one else can. Rainbows dancing through a prism, beautiful and perfect, here for a second and then gone forever, just like your son. Snowflakes swirling through the sky, leaves in the fall being lifted in a dance in the strong November breeze – beautiful and perfect, here and then never to be seen again. And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
You alternate between strength and wreckage and slowly realize you are both. You hold your remaining living child in your arms while she sobs for her little brother, holding your own tears back so she has something reassuring to cling to. Other days you let your tears mingle with hers as you softly rock her innocent body in your arms. And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
You review every second of the days leading to his death in excruciating detail, looking for a moment, a second, when you could have saved him. If only you had gone for a longer walk, maybe he would have come early. If only he had been small, maybe they would have delivered him early. But he was healthy and chubby and tragically on time, and there are no if onlys, only death. You tearfully torture your husband with scenarios, with hypotheticals, while he softly murmurs into your tangled hair “it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.” And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
You lose friends, you lose family. You lose anyone who wants you to forget, who tries to minimize or control your grief. You realize the world would rather pretend he never existed. You realize your family is alone. You are constantly fighting for his memory, constantly fighting for the only thing he has left, a legacy for a life he never got to live. You learn you can bear these other losses, you can bear anything now. And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
You have feelings you aren’t proud of, moments of anger and jealousy you quickly try to quell. You feel flashes of fury at those who are careless with their children, at those who take their family’s completeness for granted. You try to breathe through the jealousy and sadness that mingle in your heart when you see a little girl playing with her baby brother. At your lowest, you even feel twinges of jealousy towards patients granted warning of their deaths, towards those gifted with the chance to say goodbye. You try desperately to recall every word you spoke to your swollen belly that day, try desperately to reassure yourself that he knew how deeply he was loved, that the lack of farewell was eclipsed by the love. And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
You develop heart palpitations from the breaking of your heart. You realize your heart is so shattered that your body struggles with its functioning. You realize your heart will never be the same, will never return to ‘normal.’ And you realize you don’t want it to. You realize the old you died when your son died, and the new you is stronger, more discerning, and more appreciative. You look for the beauty in your little girl’s smile and realize your heart can be filled with joy to the point of bursting at her smile and simultaneously be shattered by the realization that you will never see his. You imagine his smile and your heart bursts with love and heartbreak in the same instant. You realize that every second for the rest of your life will be tinged with the deepest sadness, and every second will also be washed in the deepest love. You realize you can hold space for love, joy, and heartbreak in the same breath. And this is what it means to love a stillborn child.
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