Updated: Oct 25, 2022
October 9th- 15th is Baby Loss Awareness Week. This is a cause very close to our hearts at Kensa Health as it has impacted our team personally. This year's theme is "Stepping Stones" and we wanted to give a safe and supportive space for women to show how their stories of loss and what happened next. It is important to share these stories to recognise the babies that have been lost and the parents who need to know they are not alone.
Hi, my name is Jen. I am a public health professional, wife, and the mother of two daughters–Emma and Hannah.
In December 2019 at almost 26 weeks gestation with my first daughter, I went to the emergency department with what I thought was terrible heartburn that would not resolve with over-the-counter medications. Two weeks prior, I had had a normal appointment with my OB/GYN, so I did not suspect anything was awry. I had no other signs or symptoms other than swelling in my feet, which I thought was typical for being pregnant.
Very quickly, I was admitted to the labour ward where I was diagnosed with severe, early-onset preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome (a dangerous complication adversely affecting the blood count and liver markers). Following an emergency c-section, my 1 pound, 9 ounce baby girl immediately went to the NICU while I was still under anaesthetic. I remember waking up after surgery, still strapped to the operating room table, and listening in fear to the nurses talking as they prepared to send me straight to the ICU. Two agonising days went by before I was strong enough to sit in a wheelchair and be able to visit Emma in the NICU. Emma ultimately passed away after 6 days, and watching her die was a deeply traumatic, life-changing experience.
After we lost Emma, I felt so many emotions–I was raw, angry, and resentful. I questioned everything and everyone in an effort to make sense of this tragedy and why my daughter suffered the way she did. I blamed myself for the failure of my body to provide a safe haven for her. I played the “if” games with myself: if I had only been less naïve about the fragility of life, she might still be here. I was angry that I had taken my pregnancy, and therefore her life, for granted. I was angry at life, too, for giving me the gift of motherhood and then taking it away before I had the chance of holding my baby in my arms while she was still alive.
I realised that I needed help to process my near-death experience and the loss of Emma. So, I sought out other women who knew the depth of my pain and hollowness, the all-consuming ache in my chest, and the fire burning behind my eyes. I went to the women who did not shy away from sitting in my darkest moments with me, and the women who did not try to fix me or my pain. They helped me face the reality that life is unpredictable and suffering happens. I learned how much my community and support network mean to me, as they showed me the healing power of connection. And now, I desire to help other women in their grief journeys.
I am also grateful that my illness was taken seriously by the hospital clinicians, and that I was heard and listened to. I now understand that my preeclampsia was atypical in presentation, as I never had excess protein in my urine, nor did I have changes in my vision or bad headaches. My previous blood pressures had all been normal. So many women in my shoes were, and continue to be, disregarded when they attempt to share that something feels off or wrong. The United Nations estimate that approximately 300,000 women around the world die each year from pregnancy or pregnancy related complications. Women who have had preeclampsia also have a higher lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke than do women in the general population. We have to do better.
Every day, I grieve and mourn the loss of Emma. My grief has changed me in countless ways, and I trust that I will continue to change and evolve as I continue to process what happened. I am reassured that Emma’s and my life are forever intertwined, just as our bodies were, and that she will always be with me.
My journey has been a difficult one, but I am incredibly lucky to share that my rainbow baby, Hannah, is alive, happy, and healthy. As every milestone with Hannah passes, I have a simultaneous deep appreciation for Hannah and a bittersweet wish that I could have experienced the milestones and memories with Emma, too. In these moments, I hold both these emotions in my heart–gratitude and grief–and I ground myself in the present.
Jennifer Mitchell, DrPH, MPH, CHES is a Health Communication Specialist and currently resides in Atlanta, GA, USA
The Baby Loss Awareness Week is coordinated by https://babyloss-awareness.org/ who have been raising awareness with their partner organisations for over 20 years. They have a number of great resources on ways to help families remember and celebrate the lives of those they have lost.
If you are going through personal loss, here is their list of organizations who can help https://babyloss-awareness.org/support/