Long story short… I was halfway through my pregnancy until recently
Long story short … My little girl Ella Jo was born without a heartbeat
Long story short… I’m still heartbroken and healing everyday
Long story short… We celebrated her anyway
We found out we were pregnant late in the game. Due to my present Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) the symptoms for early pregnancy were completely masked until the symptoms were lasting longer than normal. I knew then something else was up.
I’ve felt the bitter sting of positive tests and the dreaded words of “no heartbeat” twice over two years ago in consecutive miscarriages no further than 8 weeks.
And lo, before my very eyes was an estimated 12 week old baby happily swimming, staring right back at me.
God found a way. And from that moment, I stopped doubting.
My constant prayer was: “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Even if the answer is no.”
In the weeks that followed after officially seeing my OBGYN our uphill climb began. I just turned 34 and considered high risk. My husband and I were sent to a prenatal specialist to rule out the abnormal ultrasound of the fatal existence of hydrops fetalis.
We told only a close circle of moms and family what we were experiencing. I was picky to include moms that I knew experienced trauma in pregnancy. We contacted our church who continually prayed with us. I followed an online support group specifically for hydrops and read all the success stories of babies that died, survived and thrived.
Mentally I was worried but emotionally I was leaning on my faith. My faith was the “x” factor that all the medical doctors and statistics could not account for. I had witnessed it with my two born children now well past 9 years old.
Two weeks from that moment after genetic testing, we received more hope that it was meant to be, all tests were negative for clear indicators of downs and turners syndromes and we were in fact pregnant with my first ever girl.
At that point we chose to name her Ella-Josephine Ann Maria Stinnett after all the strongest women we knew, our grandmothers and the ultimate lady of song: Ella Fitzgerald. (cool tip: all my kids are named after Jazz greats.)
My husband glowed from ear to ear. I was scared our kids would find out solely from my husband bragging publicly about Gods miracle in my womb. We told our blended family of 3 kids the following day that their baby sister was coming after Christmas.
Everything felt so real. As if she would be here in just a few more months.
In the following week I felt her kick me for the first time. It felt as if she wanted to be here. I felt God wanted me to rest assured that she was happy growing in me.
Two weeks from that exact moment at our next checkup, Ella’s heart was not found. She laid there lifeless in my womb.
I was lifeless.
And just like that, the plan went from optimistic miracle to an unplanned early birth and funeral. I was preparing to live out my worst nightmare.
How do you get beyond this? Why did this happen to me? Was I being punished? What do you say to your spouse? Do you”sweep it under” and forget?
This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced… and I’ve experienced a lot. To really share my feelings and grief is to really understand the heart of my faith.
What held me down in the middle of this hardship & uncertainty? These thought pillars helped:
I am not alone.
According to the American Psychological Association, approximately one half (50 percent) of all individuals will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
Specifically over 20% of women experience pregnancy loss each day. I was so incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by mama’s that either came from pregnancy loss or related to a not normal pregnancy that helped guide me through this journey.
Knowing we’re not alone is a huge pre-cursor to healing from what you lost.
God desires peace not a promise of perfection.
For those of faith, any faith, its truly false hope to expect to live a perfect pain-free life from your creator. Our world is broken. It just doesn’t exists on this plane. With that in mind, we can’t expect even the most faithful followers to have a perfect life without trial or tribulation.
In fact, its often relayed that our closeness to our creator is woven through our trials and to rejoice even when our spiritual endurance is tested.
There are countless stories in the bible that reference “everyday people” used in extraordinary ways to deliver seasons of peace and restoration.
I’d like to think that through my faith I can experience peace through this emotional pain weaved throughout the ebb and flow of simply living and recognize a higher power that sought me through it.
My personal goal and lately a whispered mantra is: peace over perfection.
Understanding all life has value.
Before this specific season I had too often learned that no matter how small or how long, honor what you DO have. One day, one hour at a time.
I decided to honor Ella’s life by not just sweeping it under the rug but acknowledging that she in fact existed. That she was loved long before she was born.
I valued what God gave me. For whatever short time that was.
And I celebrated it.
Who says you have to look at the big picture? It takes so much stress off of you to take things one step at a time.
With each contraction I relished in the idea of knowing she was in fact coming into this world. I refused to not be grateful.
The goal isn’t always the destination, its the journey, the pilgrimage you made is testament to who you are.
What do you want to be known for?
I share this often with students I mentor and I think this helped me a lot through my own trauma.
The weekend I went into early induced labor I had no clue that in actually birthing my child that would in fact be birthing pieces of myself that I didn’t think I was capable of.
It awoken me. What else was I capable of that I had no clue I could do?
#TrueStory: My two beautiful boys were all c-section births. Birthing this little girl was a surreal experience for me in joining the ancestral legacy of birthing naturally (give or take a few decades of modern medicine).
I got to be a part of that. That is very real to me. I felt a little initiated without the membership card.
In leading a blended family with adopted kids, my sons have experienced trauma before this in not so healthy ways.
To be able to use this moment to teach my 3 kids that there’s more living after death and how to process that in a healthy way is something I do want my kids to know me for.
Lastly I wanted to be HOPE to others. That through these experiences I can give value beyond the life that ended too soon. I choose to be a beacon to others through my life experiences.
This was hard. We as humans take a lot of personal stake when things go wrong or not the way we envision them to.
The way our world is wired, there’s a responsible party almost always.
… the president…
… our broken society…
… that one girl at work…
… that group of liberals…
A lot of times its easy to point to others…. but with trauma we often take it internally and point blame deeper at ourselves.
…If I didn’t wear that dress…
…If I didn’t ask him out first…
…If I had just said ‘no’…
Blogger and writer Shahida Arabi specifically nails an important part of the forgiving yourself in her article in the Thought Catalog:
How can I be more gentle in the ways in which I speak to myself? Is there space for self-compassion? These questions can be explored in countless different ways, such as through therapy, inner child work, positive affirmations, trauma-focused yoga, journaling, meditation, mind-body work, and support groups.Shahida Arabi
For me personally, having a strong faith platform allowed me to experience a deeper peace and connection to my God. Being able to hold my baby allowed me to gently affirm that I was ok and truly so was she.
I had to forgive myself for not being “pregnant enough” or “healthy enough” and just absorb the fact I got a chance to be present in this moment, to see the positivity and grace in front of me.
Pass the baton.
I touched on this a little bit earlier in sharing: what do I want to be known for. I choose to pass on the knowledge and internal strength I experienced to some one that needs it.
As a person of faith I find it incredibly uplifting seeing myself in stories and fables of the bible. In sharing in open communities seeing yourself in another person’s story is powerful and allows “new inputs” for change and personal healing.
Long story short….
You don’t have to experience a stillbirth to understand any of these points but I believe they help anyone who feels life spinning out of control or experience any loss (parent, pet, a friend).
I would love to hear your feedback / thoughts on wisdom that helped you in dark places. Feel free to share your thoughts with me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.