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  • Writer's pictureJulie McCoy

“There is no heartbeat.”

“There is no heartbeat.” Exhilaration to despair in a second. This can’t be. Look again. All in a second. There are no words to explain it unless you’ve experienced it. No words a mother expects to hear when she goes in expecting to come out knowing what color clothes to buy for her new, perfect baby. A perfect pregnancy….how does this happen?

Now, what? Go home. Let us know if you want to deliver this baby tomorrow or Friday. Wait what? Deliver? My older son was a c-section. I was told I would never have a vaginal delivery after him. I can’t labor my non-living baby. Don’t worry, you can have all the drugs you need. There is no baby to protect anymore. No appetite, no sleep, thankful for prescription Xanax from my OB to calm down. Hours on the internet all night with no resources to be found in this small town. Do we have a funeral? Do we baptize this baby? Wait….they didn’t tell me if it was a he or a she.

We survived when we didn’t think we would. We didn’t have any resources, but people came out and told us they have a miscarriage or a stillbirth. We were grateful for these people. We buried our son and took a vacation. We did all we could to explain to our then eight year old where the baby went. We listened to “at least you can have other children” and “God needed an angel.” It took everything I had not to scream at people.

But everyday we survived. I had to find a way to do my part to change this culture, and honor these babies who would never see light. I needed to surround these families. So, here we go. My husband and I started a non profit agency, Steps for Samuel, with the mission statement “Honoring Angels, Aiding Families, Educating the Community.” We soon learned that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (who knew?!). He died in July and by October we had an awareness walk coordinated in our city. A small group of family and friends walked to raise awareness. We grew the event and added Comfort Kits (for parents AND siblings) to be given out at the hospital where I delivered our Samuel. Here we are, hosting Holiday Dinners right before Thanksgiving at our office for families to kick off the holiday season (that they can’t avoid) to have a safe place to grieve prior to the celebration of the season. And Yoga!! Grief Yoga instructed by a trauma specialist yoga instructor. Connection. That is our goal. Self care. Seeing how our body DOES in fact serve us, negating that idea that we did something wrong and that is why our baby died. We laugh, we cry, we say our babies names, we do art projects to memorialize them. We connect, when others want to isolate and stigmatize us. They don’t want to talk about the death of a baby.

The stages of grief are not linear. I still get angry. Often I think, “Samuel would be starting Kindergarten today” or “Our older son would have been such an amazing big brother, look how he’s helping that kid.” It brings me to tears. And that is ok. Perfectly ok. Not a place to live, but ok to visit. There was no bargaining, only denial. I couldn’t bargain back a heartbeat. The Kubler-Ross stages were written for a dying person, not someone who is grieving (although I didn’t know that then). I learned that the dual process model of grieving fit much better for this situation. You go in and out of grief, because money still needs to be made, other children still need fed, baths still need given and yards still need mowed. Somehow you find the balance between allowing yourself to grieve and doing all the things. You find ways to honor your little one. You create new traditions (like hanging a stocking on your mantel with his name on it. Somehow Santa still delivers a Christmas ornament to his stocking every year.)

One of the things that Samuel and our family have made happen, is to allow families to hear their baby’s name again. After our candlelight vigil and reading baby’s names one year, an older man came and embraced me with tears in his eyes. He said “Thank you. We haven’t heard our daughters name in 30 years.” It’s important to find the way for your baby to make a difference, even if that is donating to a toy drive in their name. When that tradition no longer serves your grief, that’s ok too. This tradition is for your healing, not for your baby.

Sometimes when a server yells, “McCoy party of 3” I still wince….it should be 4. But just like the day they said “There is no heartbeat,” visibly we were only three, but we were still four, and I still carry his spirit within me. Just because you can only see four, doesn’t mean we aren’t a family of four.

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