How I Survived The Heartbreak Of Delivering My Stillborn Son At 38 Weeks

Chloe D'Souza's path of grief is a lifelong one, but she found comfort and peace thanks to some amazing support groups and therapists after losing her son Caleb.

I am a mother of 4, yet only have 3 boys at home. I am a mother who has suffered pregnancy loss and stillbirth. I am a statistic. I am that 1 in 4.

In March 2012, I had a routine 12-week ultrasound. I was going to see our baby, get a picture and then post my happiness and excitement all over social media like everyone does. Except, that never happened. The doctor explained that something had gone wrong in very early pregnancy. I stared at the ceiling and cried. After my 15-week early anatomy scan at Mount Sinai we sat with a doctor and genetics counsellor who explained the results. All I can remember from that meeting was that our baby had a condition that was “incompatible with life”. It was not a genetic issue and happens in 1 out of 500,000 pregnancies. I stared out the window as I was trying to process what she told us. Our baby won’t survive. We were given a choice to terminate at that point or to carry on with the pregnancy. We didn’t need to discuss, we both wanted to continue the pregnancy and let our baby decide when it was time to leave us. It was the right decision for us, though not everyone would have chosen the same path.

In the meantime, I was still working. Every day I would wake up wondering ‘Is today the day he is going to leave us?’ I was well past the 20-week mark the doctors said I would miscarry by, so I knew any day could potentially be the day. The doctors, counsellor, and nurses urged me to go on short term disability and be off work. I work in a customer facing environment. I specifically remember one sweet elderly lady ask me when I was due. I took a deep breath, smiled and said “September 11th”. How could she possibly know what I was going through?

That dreaded day had finally come, August 30, 2012. I was scheduled for an induction at 38 weeks and two days due to high blood pressure (which I’ve had for years). At one point during labour, my OB asked me when was the last time I felt our baby move. I thought for a few seconds, and I couldn’t recall. I had no idea. He checked for a heartbeat, and then said the words I knew were coming, “I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat”. I burst into tears, crying “No! No! No!” This was no surprise, I knew this was going to happen, but there was no preparing for when it actually became a reality.

Labour continued, and I delivered our son Caleb a couple of hours later. My husband and I spent time alone with him, holding him. We asked our family to be on standby in the waiting room. The same waiting room other family members are awaiting the news of a new healthy member of their family. They all came into the delivery room offering their support and condolences. And eventually, everyone left to give us some privacy, and spend time with our baby boy.

We had a photographer come from a volunteer organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS). They offer their services and take photos for families to keep as memories. The majority of the mothers I met didn’t know about this wonderful organization and said their nurses didn’t mention anything and likely didn’t know about their services.

The next morning I waited in the lobby while my husband went to get the car. I saw another mom waiting near me with her newborn in a car seat. It was a heart-wrenching view at the time. That mother had her newborn to take home, but I didn’t. I felt so empty. My womb was empty and my heart felt empty too. My body knew I had delivered a baby, but it didn’t know our son didn’t survive. I still went through everything a mother goes through after delivery, and a few days later my milk came in. As if my mind wasn’t reminding me often enough, my body was reminding me we had lost our son.

We made arrangements with the funeral home for a very small, intimate service on his due date September 11th. I couldn’t handle having so many people around me. I could barely be around our immediate family. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry all day. When we were at home that was mostly what I did. Family and friends tried to call and/or visit but I wasn’t up to seeing anyone.

Everything I tried to do took so long. My mind felt scattered, and I couldn’t concentrate or focus on anything. I tried to find the perfect wording for his plaque at his grave. I wanted it to be unique, something different from the generic quotes the funeral home gave us to look through. Other babies passed after Caleb and had their plaques ordered and installed. Meanwhile, I was still trying to put a line or two together.

After a few weeks, I felt like I was stuck in my grief. It still felt very raw and I wasn’t making any progress towards healing and adjusting to my new, normal life. I felt like I was a changed person, and I was. I had become a bereaved mother and joined a club no one wants to be part of. It’s hard to put into words but I felt so different. I became more cautious, protective, and more reserved. I started to speak my mind more freely, not caring what others thought of me. I finally realized I needed help if I wanted some normalcy in my life, and I started attending weekly meetings with the Late Loss Bereavement Support Group at Mount Sinai.

The support group is for women who have suffered late pregnancy loss at 20+ weeks gestation (less than 20 weeks is considered a miscarriage). Not to minimize the loss of another family member, but the loss of a child is very different. We aren’t supposed to plan funerals and bury our children. It’s not part of the circle of life. I was surrounded by other mothers who had suffered the unimaginable and could truly understand the thoughts going through my mind. Things I would say didn’t seem strange to them, my thoughts were normal, I seemed normal. For over a year I would visit Caleb’s grave every single day, sometimes twice a day. Even if there was a snow storm or I was sick, I would still go and visit. This group of women understood that was my way of dealing with my grief. Visiting every day was my way of taking care of him and his grave. I could never give him a bath or get him dressed, but I could clear the leaves off his grave and shine his plaque. I would make seasonal wreaths to put at his grave as well. It was all I could do for him, so that’s what I did.

Doctors and nurses were recommending that I see a psychiatrist from the Perinatal Mental Health Team. I kept declining because I felt so vulnerable being one-on-one, but in the end, I was glad I did. She specializes in helping women who have suffered a loss whether it be a miscarriage, termination, or stillbirth. She was able to help me understand that my thoughts and feelings were normal. She wanted me to continue seeing her every few weeks until three months after delivery since I was at higher risk for postpartum depression after losing Caleb, but thankfully did not suffer. Unfortunately, perinatal psychiatry at Mount Sinai is only available for mothers who have delivered there. I truly believe utilizing the hospital’s support outlets certainly played a key role in keeping my mental health in a good place.

After being off work for 17 weeks (covered by EI) after Caleb was born, I didn’t feel as though I was ready to return to work; however, my case worker through my insurance company told me that I was capable of returning to work and therefore I wouldn’t qualify for short term disability. It’s hard to specify exactly when the right time is, but 17 weeks certainly was not enough. Some women want to dive right back into work because that’s how they want to deal with their grief, but that wasn’t me, and it wasn’t most of the moms I had met along this dark path. It felt very rushed and dismissive.

October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day and this is the first year Ontario is recognizing it. We still “celebrate” it by lighting a candle in honour of Caleb and doing a balloon release at his grave. I would never have known about this, except that we had experienced it. We need to raise awareness and offer more support outlets readily available to any bereaved mother regardless of where they deliver. It is so important for their mental health which can also affect their physical wellbeing. If it weren’t for my psychiatrist and the Late Loss Bereavement Support Group at Mount Sinai, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to be more at peace with losing Caleb. They played a tremendous role in helping me work through my grief.

The path of grief is a lifelong one; however, we must learn how to live while walking that path to eventually find peace in our hearts. We all just need a little help along the way.

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