You will survive. You will come out the other side. You won’t get over this, but you will get through it.
I remember hearing these words from people over and over again when our daughter, Helen James, was born sleeping. I could not comprehend what they were saying or how that would even be possible.
I don’t want to survive. I don’t want to come out on the other side. I just want to be with my daughter.
That’s all I kept thinking. Simple as that.
But somehow, one year later, my husband Joel and I are still standing. We love each other, our friends and family, and our daughter Helen more than I ever thought possible. I never dreamed that experiencing the death of my own child would teach me how to love more fiercely, how to be grateful for the smallest of things and how to not take one second of this life here on earth for granted. But here we are.
Our daughter, Helen, was born sleeping on June 5, 2018, when I was 38 weeks pregnant. The term “stillborn” felt a bit foreign to me then, and it still does now — somehow that term makes me feel like other people don’t think our baby was real, that she was actually born. But we know better.
We know Helen was alive and well with me for nine months — that she was a beautiful 7-pound, 7-ounce baby when she came into this world. She was perfect in every way. She had a head full of hair, long toes like her dad and the cutest button nose I’d ever seen. Holding my daughter was by far the best thing that I have ever done in my life, and I long for the day I get to hold her again.
The cause of Helen’s death was never determined. There were no visible signs of issues with the umbilical cord or placenta when I had a C-section. We chose to have an autopsy, but that also did not provide any answers. Looking back now, I’m not sure that a concrete cause would have provided us the closure we need, but we knew we had to try to find out what happened.
One year later, I’ve replayed everything I did throughout my pregnancy trying to pinpoint that one thing that ultimately hurt my daughter. Deep down, I know I won’t find answers down that road, but as a parent, how can I not feel that I have to take some of the responsibility? Right now, that seems like something I will struggle with forever. But over time, I hope the pain and guilt will subside.
One thing that helps is having a mission — somewhere to funnel our grief and confusion and love and energy. The hospital where Helen James was born had a device called a Cuddle Cot. This cot turned out to be a life-changing device that allowed us to have Helen in the room with us for three days while friends and family traveled from near and far to meet her. Joel and I are firm believers that the Cuddle Cot is a crucial part of acceptance and healing when experiencing the loss of a baby.