Stories of loss and sadness are difficult to share, especially for moms with empty arms, having lost a baby. I find their stories of strength and courage so inspiring though to other moms, and hopefully helpful to someone who has unfortunately experienced a similar thing.
I am grateful to Jillian Varney for sharing her story of losing her baby girl at just 35 weeks along. She has positive and supportive words for anyone who has experienced a loss like this.
Thank you, Jillian.
1. When did you deliver your stillborn baby? How far along were you?
I was 35 weeks along when I delivered my daughter stillborn.
2. What do you remember about that day, leading up to finding out that your baby had passed?
I went into Maine Med on a Sunday morning all by myself. I didn't want to alarm my parents, and my husband was driving back from Bangor. I remember being scared and worried about what I would find out.
3. What do you recall about that day as you delivered your baby, realizing your baby had died? What feelings did you experience?
I was in labor for about 30 hours. My husband and I went through a vast range of emotions- even laughter if you can believe it.
We were so unsure of everything, and at a loss for what the next steps would be since we weren't bringing our sweet little one home.
4. What were some things that helped you through this difficult time? What did others say or do that really helped you feel stronger and supported?
I felt a lot of love - from family, friends, coworkers - and we definitely clung to our faith and tried to keep our outlook positive. We had a lot of people praying for us.
5. What did not help you during this time? What do you wish others had realized or done differently when trying to support you?
A couple people asked me way too soon if we would try again, or made comments that we would have another baby, which just wasn't something I wanted to think about at all at that point. I had a third child, she was born sleeping. She wasn't just something I could replace.
6. Did you find any supportive resources like Web sites, books, doctors, etc. that comforted you during this time?
I read a lot of entries on baby center- and cried a lot. I found a very sad, but somehow comforting post where people shared pictures of their little ones that were born asleep. That's not something I did in any sort of social media outlet, but I decided to there on that post. Other members commented on how beautiful she was, as I had to some of their babes. It was sort of comforting and in some capacity helped me through the process I believe. I haven't really gone back to that post since a few days after I posted.
7. Do you know the reason why your baby was born stillborn? How do you feel about what happened?
I do know the reason- her cord was wrapped tightly around her neck, and it caused the cord to clot. I hate the idea of that, and the image engraved in my mind, but I'm glad to know why. When I first learned she had passed, the doctors said there was a 50% chance we would never know why, which seemed much harder to fathom. I'm grateful we know what happened.
8. How did this experience make you a stronger mother?
This experience heightened my mother senses - not necessarily for the better, but I was able to take my maternity leave anyway and spend more time with my two sons. That helped me to grieve, and they were very therapeutic for me. I got a bit more paranoid after this experience, and had to learn to let go a little with my boys and not worrying too much about all the bad things in this world.
9. What may you have learned from this experience?
I've learned that we truly don't know what struggles people may be going through, or may have gone through in their lives. I learned that hormones are crazy and that no one tells you that - at least they didn't tell me. The ups and downs were so tough, but I'm stronger for it.
10. What were some of your hardest moments, things you could not do for a while, such as see pregnant women or attend baby showers or talk about your baby?
The hardest thing for me right after was when my milk came in. No one prepared me for that, and the emotional, hormonal rollercoaster that accompanied it. My body was so prepared to feed my little baby, and even though my mind knew there wouldn't be a baby, my body just kept producing the milk as if my baby were there. It was physically and emotionally painful.
11. How do you honor your baby now? Did you do anything to remember your little one? Are there things that help you on the anniversary of the baby's birth or death?
I honor my daughter by saying her name- my sons (ages 3 &7) know that she existed. She is buried next to my father in law, and we visit her grave. I also have a cousin who was due to be born on the same day as my baby - and I'm very close with her. She's extra special to me, and I imagine my little girl as she hits her different milestones. It's tough sometimes, but again, I think it's part of the grieving process.
12. What have you learned about stillborn situations in general?
I still wouldn't know the right words to say to a mom that this happens to - other than how sorry I am, and just being there. Being the hug they need and shoulder to cry on. Crying alongside them.
13. What is your advice to someone who has gone through this experience? What is helpful when grieving this loss? What do you wish someone had shared with you?
I went to see a counselor at my doctor's office- she said I was in a good place and didn't need to come back unless I felt the need down the road. I think that was good for me. I clung to my family. I cried and told God I didn't understand. I went through all the motions and felt all the feelings. I spent 12 hours in the hospital room after my daughter was born, holding her with my husband, crying together. Family visited and held her.
I think it's important for people to know everyone's story isn't the same- and that's OK. You need to do what is right for you.
14. Have you had a baby after this experience? How is parenting for you since?
I haven't had a rainbow baby. She was probably going to be our last, and we're not sure if it's the right choice for us to have another baby, but everyone's story is different, and I love to see posts about women having rainbow babies.
15. How is your life now? Are there moments that are tougher than others, and how do you manage?
Life is good - mostly back to "normal." I can think about her without crying, though I do still cry. I don't mind if people know about her and our story, but I do tend to get more emotional when I physically speak about it. We had the 1 year anniversary last month and I had a very tough week. Leading up to it, I thought I'd be OK, but it ended up being a tougher week than I anticipated.
16. Anything else you want to share?
If you're a spiritual person, lean on your faith. Knowing I will see my daughter again has been a huge comfort. Don't be afraid to share your story, cry, reach out if you need help - see a counselor, even if just once. Go to a support group or grief session. It can't hurt. Find what's right for you.