Bittersweet. Life After Loss.
By: Jessica L. Garay
Jessica and Duncan's story...
In the early fall of 2017, I was commuting 50 miles one-way to my job. The drive took me on back roads through the country. One afternoon, on my way to pick up my then-4-year-old from daycare, I just happened to drive by a dairy farm right after they had transported cow manure. The road was covered in the overflow, and my tires went right through it. I got to the daycare, stepped out of my car, and was hit with an awful smell. After I picked up my son, he confirmed that, “Mommy, your car smells bad”.
I thought to myself, “Well, I’m in some shit”.
You see, I was 8 months pregnant and scared out of my mind. A year earlier, in August 2016, I was also pregnant, and had just started my job as a nutrition professor at a local college.
Things were going swimmingly.
But a week before my due date, I woke up to pee and my mother’s intuition was on full alert. I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t get the baby to move, no matter what I did. When we got to the hospital, nobody seemed alarmed. We actually waited around until I demanded that someone check me. Because they were full, a nurse tried to listen to the heartbeat in the hallway bathroom on a portable ultrasound while I was standing up. It was a total cluster. She tried to reassure me after nothing was heard, but they then quickly got me into a room, where the on-call OB came in with an actual sonogram machine. The rest of this moment is a blur, but I distinctly remember the quiet in the room as everyone – the doctor, nurses, my husband, me – started to realize that our baby was not alive. To say that this came as a shock is the biggest understatement of my life. Here I was, a perfectly healthy woman in her 30s, who had gone through a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy (minus a bit of morning sickness here and there) with what we thought was a perfectly normal, healthy baby boy. It just didn’t make any sense. In the weeks to come, we would find out that this was all true, and the suspected reason for our baby, Duncan, to be stillborn, was an umbilical cord accident. A combination of a true knot in the cord combined with the fact that the cord was wrapped around his neck. I could barely understand how this could happen, but I found myself having to explain to my 4-year-old why his baby brother didn’t come home from the hospital, and why we were having a funeral on his due date.
While I was still in the hospital recovering from my C-section, I made the decision to allow my milk to come in so I could pump and donate it. The hospital staff were bewildered when I requested a breast pump. I eventually was told that my milk would be “too mature” for use with preemies in the NICU, but that there were some regional milk banks as well as “M2M” options, which meant connecting directly with a mom in need of milk. I went that route, and ended up pumping for about 2 months, giving my milk to a local mom who was undergoing chemotherapy and couldn’t provide milk to her baby. I was proud to honor Duncan but still completely heartbroken that my body still thought my baby was alive.
Fast forward a few more months, and I got pregnant again. Cue the most terrifying 9 months of my life. From the beginning of this pregnancy, I knew I had to be more vocal about what I needed from my OB in order to not lose my mind from worry. Thankfully, she was more than receptive, and any time I needed the reassurance of an extra ultrasound with Doppler imaging and cord blood flow, I got it. Even though I didn’t meet the criteria for a high-risk pregnancy (which is ridiculous on so many levels), they treated me as such so insurance would cover many of the extra tests that I opted for. Thankfully, my pregnancy was once again fairly normal, and all looked good with my baby, another boy.
On October 15, 2017, we celebrated Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day by participating in the “Wave of Light” and lighting a candle at 7PM our time for Duncan. And on October 16, 2017, my rainbow baby Jordan was born. He spent a few days in the NICU, which was terrifying and reassuring all at once. As a C-section baby, he needed a few hours to adjust to being on the outside, but after that, he was fine. Knowing that he had 24/7 monitoring was a huge relief, but I hated the fact that he was hooked up to so many monitors in such a loud place.
In honor of Duncan, I decided to hold a kid’s fun run called Duncan’s Dash every year in August to raise funds for playground equipment at the town park near our house. The proceeds from our first event were used to purchase a set of baby swings, and I’ll never forget the feeling of putting my younger son in those swings for the first time. It really felt like Duncan was shining down on us.
I work at a different college now, so my commute doesn’t take me by that dairy farm anymore. While I’d like to say I’m no longer “in some shit”, that’s not entirely true. Life has handed me a lot of surprises, both good and bad, over the last 4+ years. October is a truly bittersweet month for me. On back-to-back days I both grieve the son I lost and celebrate the son I never would have had if Duncan had lived. It’s a surreal feeling, one that I know many fellow moms can relate to.
By: Kate Columbia
Kate and Baby Columbia's story...
I’m writing this exactly one year after I heard the two words I feared the most would exit my doctor’s mouth, “I’m sorry.”
Deep down when I walked into that cold sterile exam room, I knew it wasn’t going to be good news.
Actually, I had a feeling for a few weeks that this pregnancy wasn’t going to result in a baby the following spring. Call it mother’s intuition, but this was an inkling I didn’t want to be right about.
With those two words, “I’m sorry”, I became part of the 1 in 5 statistic and a member of a club I prayed I wouldn’t be a part of. I am one of the 20% of women who have experienced a pregnancy loss.
She became a member of “the club” about 40 years earlier so she understood the anguish that comes with this loss.
After calling my husband and breaking the news to him, I had to do the hardest thing ever as a parent so far; tell my daughter she wasn’t going to be a big sister, just yet. I did my best to be strong, but I still felt like a failure.
My body failed me. I failed this child. I failed my current child. All of this constantly ran through my head, which made it impossible to function and be there for everyone who needed me.
A couple of days prior to all of this, our MOMLETA Owner, Kate made a post in our private Facebook group asking if anyone would care to share about their loss(es) or fertility struggles to honor those precious little ones who never saw earth, or were taken far too soon. I couldn’t believe how many of my friends also had a miscarriage...or several. I suddenly didn’t feel so alone anymore. I had an incredibly strong tribe of women to turn to. I would need them more than ever.
Surrounding myself with that love and support from my friends who understood the pain and grief I was feeling was key towards my healing.
This is the picture I took of what was a gorgeous sunset on the way home from that Baby Boot Camp class to remember that a brighter tomorrow is just around the corner.
Fall 2019 was the most difficult season of my life. But seasons do not last. The weather shows us that even on the darkest stormiest days, the sun does come back. It’s up to you to see how you want to see that light shine through.
Fast forward 6 months later, at the beginning of a pandemic when we were facing shutdowns, the transition to virtual school and working from home, the double line on the pee stick popped up again.
Four weeks later, once again by myself because of COVID-19 precautions, at what was my 8-week prenatal appointment, my heart pounding out of my chest in excitement and nervousness, my doctor says two words as he works the doppler: “Looks good!”
And every appointment since I always go in with a sense of nervousness. I will never feel fully at ease until our newest baby girl is safely in my arms later this year. Yup… we have a quarantine rainbow baby on the way in less than 2 months.
Two fall seasons, a year apart and so drastically different from each other.
I still, and will always, mourn the life that left me a year ago. I keep that fuzzy grey and black blob of that first sonogram up in our collage of family and holiday photos of a reminder of that short little life. Each kick of the ribs, and Tums I pop to ease the heartburn from this new baby, are a constant reminder to be so grateful for all this year has given us; especially in a time where so much has been taken from others around the world.
This is not lost on me. I know not everyone will get their rainbow at the end of the storm. Women who are dear friends of mine, for whom my heart breaks, struggle with infertility or loss.
But a rainbow is also a bridge to a promise that hope is just over the arc.
Jessica L. Garay is a boy mom who also happens to be a nutrition professor and occasional fitness instructor. You can follow her on Twitter @CuseSportsRD, check out her private practice, Major League Wellness, on Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn (JLGaray).
Kate Columbia is a 3+ year member of MOMLETA Syracuse. She, and her husband Erik, have a beautiful 4-
year old daughter Elsie and she’s soon to be mom of little girl number 2! Most people in the Syracuse
community recognize Kate as the TV meteorologist who helps them wake up and get prepared for
whatever the day may bring – whether it’s rain, snow or sunshine.