According to the CDC, stillbirth affects about 1 in 175 births in the United States, and each year around 21,000 babies are stillborn. For each of these lost babies, there are trails of grief that stretch onward, often for lifetimes—parents, grandparents, friends, family, and healthcare workers who suffer from and are touched by the loss. In honor of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month (October), Abbie Morrison shares her heart-wrenching stillbirth story after 39 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy—which happened a mere 2 months ago. Thank you, Abbie, for sharing your story and spreading your daughter Veda’s memory.
Two months ago, the day before my daughter’s due date, I was poking at my belly trying to get my baby to move after not feeling much movement all day. I was debating whether or not to call the on-call midwife, debating whether or not we should drive an hour to the hospital at 10:30 p.m., knowing I had an ultrasound at 8:45 a.m. the next morning. I thought I was overreacting.
But two months ago on August 11, we arrived at the hospital and had two nurses, my midwife, and an OB tell me they couldn’t find my daughter’s heartbeat. My entire life as I knew it shattered, every hope and dream I had was gone in an instant.
In the 62 days that have passed since then, I feel like I haven’t moved from the place where my deepest grief was born. Each day, the pain seems to get worse. Each day, I wonder how I will get to the next, while I crumble in absolute anguish. The further I get from August 11, the more afraid I become. The world is moving on, but I’m stuck. I‘m still on the hospital cot in triage with my eyes closed tight, squeezing my midwife’s arm repeating, “My baby is strong, my baby is safe,” over and over and over and over while they keep searching for her heartbeat.
My partner and I had trouble conceiving, so we resorted to IVF and after one round we were lucky enough to create an embryo, our daughter, Veda. She was a fighter from the beginning. She was the first embryo to make it to the blastocyst stage, the highest-graded embryo, and passed her PGS testing with flying colors. She survived being frozen for 5 months and then being thawed. My girl was perfect from the beginning. She was a fighter.
We transferred Veda’s embryo the day before Thanksgiving—she was what I was most grateful for. It wasn’t long after the transfer that the nausea crept in and she made her presence known. She implanted nicely and settled in for a fairly uneventful pregnancy. My days were spent rubbing my ever-growing belly, eating citrus fruit until canker sores formed, and researching all things “baby.” Veda’s days were spent floating blissfully in my womb with her head resting on my bladder and her feet constantly kicking my ribs. Her movements were big—I used to call her rolls “alligator death rolls”—it amazed me how such a little girl could make such a ruckus.
As Veda’s due date of August 12 rapidly approached, I scrambled to get all of her clothes washed, her bassinet set up, and her car seat installed, despite the brutal August heat and my big belly. August 11 came and I blissfully had the day off of work. I remember feeling her have the hiccups on a few different occasions, but I can’t remember much movement other than that. I figured she was having a day of rest and was preparing for her big day. Around bedtime, I started getting a bit worried. I did all the tricks to get her to move, but nothing. I was hesitant to travel an hour to the hospital. It was late, it was storming, and I had an ultrasound there first thing in the morning.
I called my midwife and she ultimately left the choice up to me, but asked me one question: “Will you be able to sleep tonight?” My partner and I grabbed our hospital bags and headed in. The storm was passing and the moon lit up the edges of the clouds like silver. I munched on candy and continued poking and prodding my belly, still not entirely convinced anything was wrong. We passed a large sign along the way that said “Hopeful.” I was hopeful.
What followed next is a blur. The first nurse said she felt a kick. “Of course you did!” I thought. She was adjusting the doppler on my stomach, but she struggled to find a heartbeat. She assured me it was just the doppler—some of them didn’t work well. Another nurse arrived with a second doppler, she ran it over my belly and picked up a heartbeat almost instantly. I breathed a sigh of relief. “There’s my girl,” I thought. Then the nurse told me it was my heartbeat we were hearing. Panic sank in as my midwife opened the door and rolled the ultrasound machine in. In an instant, my baby popped up on the screen, motionless. Every brick I had stacked, every piece of me and my life, started falling one by one. Minutes later I lay in the bed surrounded by rubble, processing the impossible. The clock struck midnight. My baby was dead and it just became her due date, the day I had been waiting months for.
My mum drove to be with us immediately and the next day they started my induction. I don’t remember having many feelings. I was numb, in shock. I secretly hoped that the women who couldn’t find a heartbeat didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t look long enough or hard enough. I remember being upset that they never checked Veda again. They knew she was dead. I knew my girl was a fighter.
At 12:01 pm on Saturday, August 13, Veda Lillian was born. The only cries to be heard were my own.
We got to spend the next 48 hours with our daughter. My family was allowed to come in to meet her and we spent those hours marveling over just how perfect she was. Her mama’s butt chin, her dad’s nose, the longest legs. Dirty blonde hair, and chubby cheeks…she was perfect. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen with a face so familiar—I’d known her all along. I spent those 2 days blanketed in a peace, love, and warmth I’ve only ever experienced while holding my daughter in my arms. A love so pure and so deep emitted from every pore in my body, despite the impossible gut-wrenching pain that was planting roots in my soul.
We covered her in thousands of kisses, bathed her little body, and wrapped her in a blanket that belonged to her late great-grandmother. We were surrounded by pure love, all my girl ever knew was love. Later, pathology reports on her placenta would show that it wasn’t at fault. Veda’s cause of death remains unknown. They told me “sometimes it just happens.”
Time, for me, right now, isn’t measured in months, weeks, days, or even hours. My time is measured in minutes. Sometimes seconds even. If I think too far ahead, I panic. I wonder how I will get there, I wonder how I will survive that long since last holding my daughter. So I focus on getting through this minute, and this minute only. Some minutes I laugh, and they go by fast, almost effortlessly. Some, I cry, and every second burns as it passes. I pray for respite from this pain. I pray for time to pass quickly because “time eases pain,” but then I curse it because time also leaves behind my Veda. It’s a constant battle, a delicate balance, a dance I am stumbling my way through.
I so desperately want to keep Veda’s name on people’s lips. I want to tell everyone about a baby that my body created cell by cell, heartbeat by heartbeat. I want the world to know about this perfect being that came into my life and then left before I ever got the chance to properly introduce her to everyone I know and love. So, here I am, telling you about her beauty, her perfection, and her strength, and crying to you about how utterly devastating it is to have a child die before she is even born. I’m telling you that there are two of me now: Abbie before Veda and Abbie after Veda—when I so desperately yearn to just be Veda’s mom.
I’m told often that I’m strong, and while I know that I am, I’ve also never in my life felt more weak and vulnerable. During my first prenatal appointment with my midwives, I cried to the nurse telling her how rundown I felt from the IVF hormones and the pregnancy hormones. She looked at me and called me a warrior. She continued to remind me of it every time I walked into that office feeling anything less than strong. My warrior spirit is constantly being shoved down by this raw, unrelenting anguish. I feel lost, I feel alone. I’m mad and sad and tired and hopeless.
I’m still in disbelief, shock, and denial. Every cell in my body aches for my daughter, but I’m still fighting. I want my daughter to be proud of her mom. I want to be proud of myself again. The first time I saw my nurse at my midwive’s office after Veda passed, she hugged me and cried with me. After a few minutes, she looked me straight in the eyes and said “You are still a warrior.” And I’m still a mom.
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