The unspoken grief of pregnancy and infant loss

infant loss, pregnancy loss, sick infant

The sense of isolation occasioned by the loss is indescribable.

Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • It is not possible to find the words to express the sense of loss that parents feel when they lose their angel at any time in the course of pregnancy. It is even worse when a mother sits at home nursing a caesarian section scar with nothing to show for it.
  • The incessant tears that gradually move to numbness before denial and self-blame sets in. The sense of isolation occasioned by the loss is indescribable.


Kate* sat in front of the doctor waiting to know her results. What she was not prepared for was the doctor’s report. 

“Congratulations Catherine, you are going to be a mother!” 

Kate’s response was to vomit all over the doctor’s pristine floor. The doctor was startled at first then proceeded to laugh. In all of his life, vomiting at the news of pregnancy was not a response he had experienced. He gave Kate his seat while the office assistant came in with a mop.

All Kate knew was that she had just started dating Justin* barely four months ago. She dutifully restarted her contraceptive because pregnancy was the last thing on her mind. She sat there, her mind swirling on how to tell Justin about this. They may like each other a lot, but the conversation of a permanent relationship isn’t something they had had, let alone contemplating children. 

It took her a month to find the courage to face Justin and tell him about the baby. She was ready for him to run for the hills. His response was the one she least expected. He picked her up and swung her around in the air, right in the middle of the restaurant, much to the amusement of the diners! He literally made a public announcement that he was going to be a father. Amid the cheers, Kate ran off to the bathroom to throw up again, in private this time! 

Justin literally set up a new home for the unexpected family and personally designed the baby’s nursery. Kate joked that he was more excited about the baby that she was. He never seemed to slow down. They disagreed about the many things he was purchasing for the baby because she felt he was being extravagant, but there was no stopping the man. 

Months flew by and the couple looked forward to meeting their little one. Except for the nausea and vomiting that harassed Kate through the first 15 weeks, the rest of the pregnancy went well. By week 38, Kate was feeling like a whale but luckily, she was working from home. She got wary when she did not feel the usual baby movements in the afternoon. She had taken her lunch and afternoon nap but she noted that the usual 4 o’clock activity was absent. Immediately she notified her doctor who asked her to get to the hospital right away. There was no time for Justin to pick her from home and she asked him to meet her at the hospital as she took a cab. 

By the time she arrived in labour ward, the doctor had ordered for a bunch of tests to ascertain the baby’s well-being. The results were not reassuring and within an hour, Kate was in surgery in an effort to save their baby. The neonatologist received baby Lyla* and immediately transferred her to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) By the time Justin laid eyes on his daughter, she was incubated, surrounded by multiple tubes, under the care of multiple specialists. 

Kate first laid eyes on her daughter 12 hours later. She broke down. Her fragile little one was lying in the NICU, machines continuously beeping. She could only touch her foot. This was not how she had imagined meeting her daughter. In her mind, the only picture she had ever conceived was of sitting up in bed breastfeeding her little one. She had no way of handling these circumstances. 

The following day, Kate, Justin and the rest of their family were summoned to a family conference. The doctors gently but forthrightly informed them that baby Lyla was born with a rare congenital malformation where her lungs were severely underdeveloped. The severity of Lyla’s condition was such that there wasn’t much that could be done.

The pain that shot through Kate’s heart was unimaginable. She held onto Justin and dissolved into tears. Justin held onto Kate, his tears flowing freely. The counselling team sat with the family, trying to offer support, but they remained numb in their grief. They finally consented to having Lyla taken off the life support system. They were allowed to sit with her, hold her and cuddle her for hours before the machine finally flat-lined. 

It is not possible to find the words to express the sense of loss that parents feel when they lose their angel at any time in the course of pregnancy. It is even worse when a mother sits at home nursing a caesarian section scar with nothing to show for it. The incessant tears that gradually move to numbness before denial and self-blame sets in. The sense of isolation occasioned by the loss is indescribable. The parents don’t even get a chance to properly send off their loved ones. The burial is hastily organised by friends and family within a day or two, without much input from the parents. 

For Justin and Kate, it has been an uphill journey to build the resilience to live with the loss. They have survived the low and the tides, eventually finding peace amidst their devastation. They accepted professional help to support them with the healing. Despite the challenges, this has drawn them even closer together.

Sometimes, the angels are with us only very briefly, but in our hearts, they live forever…

Dr Bosire is an obstetrician/gynaecologist
 

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.