Disclaimer: This story contains details and images of child loss and grief that may be triggering to some.
“Today is my due date. This is the day my son, Kieran, was supposed to enter the world and complete our little family. Instead, I delivered him on June 4th, four months too early. We are thankful we had the opportunity to meet him and hold him so we could say our hellos and goodbyes. But with his birth and death, my world came crashing down. When he died, a big piece of me went with him. I didn’t just lose a baby that day, I lost a lifetime of hopes and dreams for my son.
I will never get to watch him grow up, teach him to read and walk and talk, read him stories, learn what his personality is like, and celebrate all his milestones and accomplishments. I will never meet the woman or man he would marry or meet my grandchildren. I was robbed not only of my baby, but of the life we were supposed to spend with him.
I also lost the joy and innocence and blissful naivete of pregnancy. Once something goes horribly wrong with your unborn baby, you will never enjoy a pregnancy again. You will never feel safe under the assumption you get to take a living baby home at the end of it. I now know all too well there are no guarantees. Just because you’re pregnant, that doesn’t mean you will get to bring home your baby.
Of course, at the beginning of my pregnancy, I knew about the risks of miscarriage and tempered my happiness and expectations accordingly. But with each uneventful day that went by, I grew more and more secure. I thought I would get to bring home my baby and watch him grow up. Once I passed 12 weeks, I relaxed a little bit. When I sailed past 20 weeks without a single issue, I felt pretty certain everything would be okay.
I was in the home stretch! My cute little baby bump was starting to show, and I finally looked pregnant. My registry was complete, baby shower scheduled, car seat ready and waiting, and stroller research done. I was ready to enjoy the second half of my pregnancy and meet my baby on October 11th.
I was almost 5 months pregnant when I lost Kieran. I thought I was out of the danger zone and in the home stretch, especially because I hadn’t had a single blip with the pregnancy, and all the testing had come back clear. I had no idea my 20-week anatomy scan would reveal that Kieran had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia and all his bowels were in his chest cavity, allowing no room for his lungs to develop. Due to COVID, Sean was not allowed to be at the ultrasound, so I was all alone when my world shattered.
I hear the doctor’s words, ‘Jennifer, I have some bad news. Would you like to get your husband on the phone?’ in my head 20 to 30 times a day and sometimes in my nightmares too. With those words, life as I knew it disappeared, and my days went from the bright technicolor of a blissfully happy and smooth pregnancy to somber black and white.
What followed were days of appointments with multiple specialists, and the news getting worse and worse with every expert we talked to. I had an ultrasound and fetal echocardiogram at UCSF and received more sinister news about Kieran’s birth defects. The statements ‘constellation of anomalies’ and ‘I’m sorry’ were some of the ones that really emphasized to me just how broken my baby was, but mainly it was the doctors’ faces. The sympathy, pity, and pain were evident, even with masks covering most of their faces. Their eyes! I’ve never seen such pity.
Rather than bring an innocent child into this world only to suffer and die, we made the heart-wrenching decision no parent should ever have to make. There are actually some fates worse than death, and Kieran facing the absence of any intervention from us was one of those. We could not do that to him, it simply was not fair. As painful and heartbreaking as it was to end the pregnancy, it was a lot better than watching a tiny baby unable to breathe, endure major surgeries and painful interventions, only to die before ever seeing the world outside the hospital walls.
The decision was the single most selfless act of motherly love I could ever make, and as I spared him from a short life of pain, I condemned myself to live the rest of my days in darkness. My heart and life are incomplete, with a huge gaping hole Kieran was supposed to occupy. Yet, I would do it again and again if I had to because all my son ever knew was the warmth, comfort, and security of his mommy’s body. He never knew pain or fear or cold; He spent the 5 months he was with us feeling nothing but love and for that, I am eternally grateful.
I’m also grateful for the choice we were able to make, thanks to our country’s and state’s abortion rights which are now being threatened. No one wants to have a late-term abortion. It is a desperate option to spare an innocent child from a painful death or to save the life of the mother. It is never something entered into lightly. No one gets to the second or third trimester and then goes, ‘Oh, wait a second, I should do something about this pregnancy.’ The women who end pregnancies this late are broken-hearted mothers staring down the barrel of a gun, having to choose between two horrific scenarios. Later abortion exists as a merciful and compassionate alternative to a fate worse than death.
This option is now being threatened. Some politicians try to paint abortion as an evil thing done by irresponsible monsters. I am not a monster. I am a grieving mother who took on a tremendous amount of pain in order to spare her baby from unspeakable suffering. Medical terminations exist to spare helpless babies from a painful death or to save the mother’s life. Without this choice, thousands of babies would suffer needlessly, women would die, and parents would have to watch their children endure futile and painful interventions only to die days, weeks, months, or worse, YEARS later.
We have to speak up to preserve this essential right and make it less taboo. A woman suffering tremendously with the grief of her baby’s death should not have to hide the details from the world for fear of judgment. She should be able to grieve openly and honestly and receive the same amount of support and care that her peers who miscarried or had stillborn babies received. I’ve found myself speaking vaguely with coworkers who say things like ‘Aren’t you about to have a baby?’ or ‘When are you due Jen?’ and then kicking myself later for not having the courage to speak up and tell the truth to help dispel the stigma associated with terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons.
Insurance companies should cover medical terminations and no woman should be forced to travel out of state to say goodbye to her baby. I am fortunate I was able to have my labor and delivery at the same hospital we were supposed to deliver Kieran alive today. There are women in my Ending a Wanted Pregnancy support group who live in states where their compassionate medical terminations are illegal, so not only did they have to endure the ordeal of traveling out of state to say goodbye to their babies, but then their insurance companies refused to cover the procedure because it was done out of network. My $3,000 bill put me in the more fortunate tier with many of my fellow baby loss mothers having to pay tens of thousands of dollars on top of our huge emotional and physical toll.
There are plenty of women in my support group who used to be staunchly anti-abortion and anti-choice, thinking they could never,ever have an abortion, not even in the case of a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis. Yet, they still chose compassion and mercy for their babies. Until you’re thrust into that impossible position, knowing if you continued the pregnancy your baby would have a short life full of pain and suffering, you simply do not know what you would do. So, we should keep that choice in the hands of the women who are unlucky enough to have to make the decision. No one else has any idea of the pain and trauma that comes with a severe prenatal diagnosis for a very wanted baby, and no woman should be forced to carry a baby to term if their child will only suffer and die.
The days between my anatomy scan and my labor induction were excruciating. Every time I felt Kieran kick, my heart shattered that much more. Forcing a woman to endure months of that would be torture, as would bringing an innocent baby into the world for the express purpose of pain and death. No family should ever be forced to endure that. Life has been inexplicably cruel to us, but at least we didn’t have to watch Kieran struggle. I had to walk out of the hospital with empty arms after having my baby, but at least my baby didn’t suffer.
Today, I should be holding my newborn baby for the first time but instead, I will be scattering his ashes. Yet, I am grateful. I’m grateful I had this choice to make for my baby, myself, and my family. I’m grateful Kieran never had to suffer even a moment of pain. I’m grateful that I got to hold him and say goodbye. But above all, I am grateful for the honor and privilege of being Kieran’s mother. Those five months I had with him living and growing in my belly were overwhelmingly the happiest and best months of my life and I cherish every second he was here with us. I just wish today I could be holding my son for the first time and getting to say hello instead of goodbye.”
This story was written by Jen Smith, and originally appeared here. Submit your own story here,and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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