By Guest Blogger Anna Marie Smith
I remember that day like it was just yesterday. Actually, I remember more from what happened on that day than what I could ever remember happening yesterday. It was a Wednesday and I was pregnant with our first child. I was 40 weeks gestation and anxiously awaiting the birth of our beautiful baby. Every day was a gift…
My husband, Craig and I had waited to have a baby. We had been married five years and I wanted to wait until I had finished graduate school. For years, my family thought that I would never have children. Where I come from, if you are not pregnant by twenty-five, something must be wrong with you.
It was July 7, 1999 and I was overdue by one week. No one was really concerned. This was normal, right? I had felt the baby kick and had told the doctor that he had not been kicking as frequently. I had gone in for a stress test just a few days before and everything was normal. We were good – everything was good. I felt great! Besides having fat feet and a few extra pounds (well, a lot of extra pounds), I could not have felt better. The baby room was stocked and ready to go and we had finished our birthing class. Done. Now ready for baby!
That Wednesday morning was an odd one for me. I recall stepping into the shower and thinking “Wow, I haven’t felt the baby kick in a while.” I poked my big, round belly and waited for him to poke me back. It was always fun to get him moving. I am convinced that it was his adorable knee that would always jut out on my right side. It was round, pointed and hard. He didn’t respond. So, I poked him again, using both hands this time. Nothing. “He’s sleeping,” I said to myself, “and he’s tired of me interrupting his morning nap.” Nervously, I forced my thoughts to go elsewhere. Everything was good – we were all good.
I went to the doctor’s office that morning for my weekly check-up. I was elated. With all my joy and energy, nothing could change my attitude. I was going to be a Mom in just a few short days!!! Today would be the day that we would plan an induction if things weren’t moving along more naturally. I was ready. Whatever we needed to do, I was ready to bring this baby into the world. He was just taking his time and that was ok with me.
The nurse called me back to the sonogram room. I remember the two-piece short set I was wearing. Green stripes, soft, button-down blouse. Brown sandals. Hair pulled up on the sides. It was hot outside, clear sky and sunny. I remember so much of that day. I remember almost every detail…up until it all happened. My life was about to change and I didn’t know it. In just moments, my life would take a different direction and I would be a different person…..
As I write this, my heart gets heavy and my eyes swell with tears. Then, I start crying and stop again. “It’s been almost 10 years already,” I say, “When will this stop making my chest hurt deep, deep down?” Sure, I’m much stronger now than I certainly was then, but there are times like these that make me weak again. Weak and longing for the son that I never held. Longing for the son that I never heard cry or yell out, “Mommy look at me. I can swim!”
My story is about a mom who had a stillborn baby. It’s a story that makes people sad because of what happened, but at the same time, it’s an education. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there are 26,000 babies born still every year. That’s almost hard to believe and yet I hear about women all over the country facing similar experiences. Stillbirth is a topic that doesn’t get much attention and perhaps for good reason. When we hear about pregnancy, it brings joy and hope into our hearts. That’s the way it should always be. Yet, it is estimated that 1 in every 115 births are still in the U.S. (a “stillborn” is generally defined as a baby more than 24 weeks gestation). Unfortunately, the cause for most stillbirths goes unknown. I was no exception. Mac’s autopsy report came back reading “normal baby boy.” He was a beautiful baby – 7 ½ pounds and 22 inches long!
Since losing Mac (Douglas McCall Smith) in 1999, I have been actively involved in helping women, their families and friends deal with the tragedy of stillbirth. When I lost Mac, I was beyond devastated. I didn’t know anyone who had had a stillborn and I felt alone and desperate. While I sought counseling and read book after book, nothing seemed to help. Nothing seemed to connect to my story. I needed someone who understood my pain, someone who had walked this same path. For the next few years, I struggled. We went on to get pregnant again and have a daughter, Maddie. We also adopted our daughter, Lily, from China four years later. Having other children certainly helped in my healing, but this was a long journey and I knew that I didn’t want our loss to be in vain. I wanted to help other women. I didn’t want anyone to feel as alone as I once did.
So, over the course of 2+ years, I wrote a book titled, “Sleeping Angel: A True Story of a Mother of a Stillborn Baby” (available on all major book retail websites and through Tate Publishing). While the book goes into detail about what happened to me and the challenges a woman faces with having a stillborn, the book really provides help and guidance to family and friends who too, are hurting and don’t know what to do or say. So often people ask me, “What can I say to her?,” “What should I do?” The book provides two lists of “Must-Knows”: one for the parents of the stillborn and one for family and friends. For example, one of the tips from the parent’s list is “Get handprints and/or footprints of your baby.” When a mother has just delivered her baby that has died, this may be one of the last things she thinks of. It’s important for her and others around her to focus on what she thinks she will want of her baby after the delivery and long after she’s left the hospital. These are things that she can’t go back and get later and trust me, she’ll want them. Pictures, too, and lots of them.
For death in general, people don’t always know what to say or do. When a baby dies, it’s even more awkward. A tip for family and friends is “Don’t be afraid to mention the baby by name.” Moms of stillborns talk to me about how hurtful it is when people aren’t comfortable with talking about the baby. Mentioning the baby by name acknowledges that this baby was real and was loved. The baby was someone very special and deserves to be recognized. You wouldn’t be afraid to mention the name of someone who had lived for years and died, so don’t be afraid to mention the baby by name.
Next month will mark Mac’s 10th birthday. Most days, he’s still a baby to me. I do wonder though, when I see him again in Heaven if he’ll be grown or still be the beautiful infant boy I saw back then. Either way, I feel grateful for the days we did spend together and comforted in knowing that I have my own precious angel watching over me.