Losing a child is something that no mother can even bear to think about. Some mothers, like myself, can push this out of their minds and afford not to “go there.” But for other moms have no such luxury, as what is for some a painful imagining is for others a brutal reality. I was deeply touched by the story of one such mom, Katrina Villegas, when I read an article from her blog Mama’s Organized Chaos about her delivery of her daughter April Rey, who had Trisomy 13 and lived only eleven minutes outside the womb.
Trisomy 13 is a chromosomal disorder that occurs when babies have a third copy of their thirteenth chromosome. Most babies with the disorder do not live past one month of age, and many are stillborn. Most babies with Trisomy 13 are diagnosed through ultrasound or other pre-natal tests, but even knowing that your child will most likely pass away soon after birth does not make going home from the hospital without her any easier, as evidenced by Villegas’ essay.
In her piece entitled I Didn’t Come Home With a Baby, But I Still Gave Birth, Villegas takes us through the heart-wrenching aftermath of giving birth to a child who passes away. As she achingly describes, your body doesn’t know the baby is gone. It still does all the things it does after birth, even though you have no baby to nurse, rock, and cuddle.
“Every physical reminder that my body gave me about the fact that I’d just given birth, felt like I was running into a wall of emotional pain.
I bled. It’s normal after giving birth. But every pad I had to change, was a brutal reminder that I didn’t have a baby to hold.
Every chance I got to lay down and rest, I felt the sting of pain rush through my body- the pain of wanting to not be able to lay down because my baby was crying or needing to be fed. I wasn’t supposed to be able to rest like this. Not now. I was supposed to be rocking and feeding a crying baby, with sleepless nights. I was supposed to be in the throws of having a newborn, but I wasn’t. I was resting.”
But that wasn’t the worst of it for this grieving mom. The worst part, she says, is when her milk came in, and she had no baby to feed.
“My boobs were engorged and my body wanted to feed a baby… a baby that I didn’t have at home with me,” she says.
The other effect of having a baby pass away from Trisomy 13 that Villegas didn’t expect? The want of congratulations. She says she was met with sorrow and silence from friends and family, which she totally understands. What she didn’t understand was her own longing to hear celebratory words about her child’s life.
“It wasn’t wrong, and it’s what I would have done,” she says of her community’s response to April Rey’s birth and death, “but I found myself wishing for congratulations instead of the ‘sorry for your loss’ type of communication. I’d still had a baby. I wanted people to congratulate me on her life.”
I realize that Villegas’ story isn’t anywhere close to sunshine and roses. I have not experienced this particular agony of motherhood, but I love some people who have. I think of my friend Jenny and her little Oliver Wyatt, who lived only 35 minutes after birth. I think of Lauren and her Lincoln Matthew, who was born sleeping. The reason I tell their stories and Villegas’ story and April Rey’s story is because each of these little lives is worth SO MUCH, and 100% does deserve to be celebrated, honored, and remembered.
My friends, if you know a mama who has lost a child in any way, whether before birth, during birth, shortly after birth or years down the road, please speak their names out loud. Honor their mother by letting her know that you remember and value their child’s life. I cannot imagine people not knowing that my child ever existed, or worse, acting like he or she never did.
To all the mamas writing these beautiful essays so that we might know their children, thank you. You are doing a hard thing, and it matters. As does your baby’s life, no matter how long or short.
Please read more about Trisomy 13 at Mama’s Organized Chaos.