January 20, 2014

Finding Healing and Hope: Sherie's Experience of Having a Stillborn Baby

By Sherie
Introduced by Amy

I am so humbled and grateful that my sister, Sherie, agreed to tell the story of her first child, Jana, here on SOM.  I was 14 when Jana was born.  I hope for those who have also experienced losing a baby, that Sherie's story will help you feel less alone.  And for those of us who haven't experienced this, I hope it will bring you, like it did me, a better understanding of how to reach out to those we love in their sorrow.  Everyone has different ways that they grieve as well as different beliefs about life and death and faith; this is Sherie's story.

My husband and I were expecting our first baby the beginning of April 2002 and were very excited.  We got the nursery ready, had a baby shower and I filled my days with preparing and planning.  We decided not to find out the gender to add to the surprise.  All of my check-ups were normal and everything was going great.  Late one night when I was 38 weeks, I began to have contractions and went to the hospital as they got stronger.  I was admitted and hooked up to the monitors watching my contractions and the baby’s heart.  I remember like it was yesterday as I watched her heart rate.  I saw it drop from the healthy range down to 40 beats a minute, then to zero… Before I could react, the nurse came in and tried everything to get the baby’s heart rate back on the monitor – moving my position numerous times and even scratching the top of the baby’s head, but nothing worked.  She called in my doctor and he did an ultrasound on the baby’s heart.  It was completely still.  I was quickly wheeled into the operating room and they began to prep for an emergency c-section.  In five minutes time we went from everything looking good to facing the worse possible outcome.  I remember turning to Austin and with shock and devastation on my face then feeling the searing pain of the first incision just before I went out.  The next thing I remember was coming out of anesthesia and hearing Austin on the phone with his mom.  It was then I learned we had a girl.  I heard him say that she wasn’t breathing on her own and wasn’t doing well.  I tried to internalize this for a minute before opening my eyes.  A few hours later I was able to see her in the NICU.  She looked perfect – weighed 7 lb. 4 oz, lots of dark hair, a beautiful little face.  She was unconscious and her chest was rising and falling sporadically – trying to breath normally, but not able to do so.  Hours later, that stopped and she never moved again.  At this point I still held out hope that she would make it out okay – maybe have some physical or mental problems, but live.  Shortly after our doctor informed us, through his tears, that she had no brain activity.  Machines were keeping her little body alive, but she was gone.  We were absolutely devastated.  Almost all of our immediate family came from Idaho and Colorado to see her the following day.  That evening my husband and I were able to hold her in the NICU with our family looking on.  A few hours later in a private room, we held our little angel, then let her pass.  We named her Janna.

We held a viewing and funeral service for her a few days later.  The chapel was completely full of fellow church members, family, and even a few of the staff from the hospital.  The words said about God’s plan, life after this, and eternal families were so good, but at the time I could only focus on the fact that my baby was gone from me.

What was/is the hardest part of losing Jana?

It was so hard looking forward to a baby, with all the planning and preparing and excitement that comes, then going home empty-handed.  Later, I was grateful I didn’t have older children that would be grieving as well.  After recovering physically, I didn’t have anything to do because I had only planned to take care of our baby.  I really wanted to do something for her – I wasn’t able to bathe her, change her, dress her, and as her mother, needed to do something.  I decided to make a photo book and spent hours meticulously working on it.  I included pictures of her, cards that were given to us, scriptures and sayings that brought me comfort.  The nurses were kind to give us anything that they could from the hospital – the blanket that she used, her onesie, the tape and cords that monitored her vitals, a stuffed animal.  They had even made casts of her feet and hands, which I love.  I keep all of these in a special box.  The book was very therapeutic for me.  Not only in making it, but looking through it often during the first year and now on her birthday and to share with my children.  I also wrote the whole experience in my journal which took over two weeks.  It was so helpful to get all of my feelings out - the disappointment, sorrow, but also joy in being a mom even if I had to wait to care for our baby.  I cried all over the pages which are wrinkly from my tears.  I went to the cemetery often in the beginning.  When I went running, I would stop by there and spend a few minutes letting out a little more grief.

What helped? What brought you comfort?

A biggest source of comfort was and is my knowledge of life after this and having faith in Heavenly Father’s plan.  Many times I felt the presence of angels comforting us and our families, bringing peace, and holding us up.  Especially the night we let her go and we were left alone in our hospital room, I expected to feel overwhelming pain, but instead felt incredible peace and contentment.  I knew she was in God’s hands and I would be with her again.  I also held on to the promise we have of being sealed as a family forever through covenants we’ve made in our temple.  The sentiment “Live to hold me again” became meaningful as well as this poem which I quickly memorized and repeated often to myself.

Little hands held in mine -
Sweet, tender touch!
 So brief the time
Thy gift of love was given me
Before those hands returned to Thee.

 Dear Savior, hear my heartfelt prayer.
Keep them safe within Thy care
Until the time thy gift can be –
Those Little Hands restored to me.
                             Georgia Jensen Blosil

It was incredible the amount of love our family and friends showed us.  We received flowers, cards, phone calls, little notes, letters, food.  Something came every single day for a month after.  It’s really hard to go back to “normal life” when your life will never feel normal again.  When people acknowledge that and make sure you know, in any way, that they are thinking and praying for you, it is so appreciated.  I had ups and downs during the following months (and year) and these acts of kindness made it easier to bear.  A month after, one woman that I didn’t even know well that lived close by brought me a big box of icecream sandwiches and just gave me a hug and said eat them when I needed them!  It was perfect.

What would you say to mothers who have also lost a baby, whether during pregnancy or later?

Find something you can keep to remember, treasure, and share with others – a book, a toy, a blanket, pictures.  It’s so nice to have something physical to hold and look at – especially years later.

Be patient with your grieving and let yourself feel what you need to so you can begin to heal.  There will be times when you feel okay and happy and times when you feel the pain acutely – it’s okay and normal.  I know women who already have children then have some type of baby loss (miscarriage, stillbirth, crib death) might feel guilty that they’re feeling so much pain when they have other healthy children.  Whether it’s your first or tenth child, it will always hurt to lose one in any way and you shouldn’t add unwarranted guilt to what you’re already going through.  After I had our second baby, the first week she was home I cried every night realizing what I really missed with Janna.  I started to feel guilty, as if I wanted my first baby more than my second, but then knew it wasn’t true and it was just a part of the healing process.  Also don’t dwell on ‘what ifs’.  It’s easy to fall into a depression thinking of all the things you could have done differently and wonder if it somehow was your fault – those type of thoughts are natural to have, but if dwelt upon, can be impede healing, add more pain, and usually are completely ungrounded.  We never know exactly what caused our baby’s death (decided against an autopsy) and when ‘what ifs’ began to creep in, I reminded myself I didn’t do anything wrong during my pregnancy and it was just something that happened – and to focus on healing.

And try to be patient with people around you – I knew it was awkward for some and a few comments were hurtful even though they weren’t meant to be.  People might offer advice that is terrible or not their business – obviously they don’t understand, but keep in mind they were trying to helpful.  Don’t let it bother you.  It’s better to recognize their good intentions and be grateful for it than allowing in more pain by their thoughtless comment.

Take care of yourself – emotionally, physically.  Spend some time with people you can talk to and get away to do something fun!  It’s okay to be happy and have fun when you’re ready.

What would you say to those mothers who haven't lost a child?  What would you want them to know?

Be careful what you say about your own kids around others.  I remember hearing someone say, “She cries so much at night, I can’t stand it!” and thinking to myself, what I would give to have a baby keeping me up at night.  I know we can’t be positive all the time and getting little sleep is definitely hard, but be sensitive to those around you and be a little more grateful for your baby “problems”. ☺ You never know what others are going through in their desire to have children.

How can women reach out to their friends/relatives when they lose a baby?

Don’t ignore it and act like it didn’t happen.  I thought about our baby constantly and only after a year did I feel like I wasn’t in constant mourning.  I ALWAYS appreciated it when people brought it up – even though I would end up crying most of the time, it was so good to know people were aware plus it was therapy for me to talk about it.  It wasn’t as if I forgot about it and when someone brought it up, THEN I hurt.  The pain was already there and to know someone was aware of it and was concerned meant a lot.  And just like a new mom does, I WANTED to talk about my beautiful girl!  When they didn’t ask how I was or say something, it told me they didn’t care enough to risk a few uncomfortable moments if I got emotional or if they didn’t know exactly what to say.  I know it’s hard to know what to say, because nothing can “fix it”.  But I wasn’t looking for a solution - just to know others were with me in my grieving and cared enough to let me know.

Do something, ANYTHING to show you love them, are thinking of them, and hurt for them.  A hug, a note, dinner, a letter, flowers, take their kids for an evening, go to the park with them so you can talk – ANYTHING is so appreciated.  And it doesn’t have to be right away – their loss will be there for weeks and months to come.  Someone from our church brought me a very sweet Mother’s Day card over two months later.  A family member sent a kind letter four months after – it was wonderful to get something after the cards and calls stopped and flowers were thrown out.  After the initial after-math, continue asking how they’re doing.  Also remember important dates and do something – even just bringing it up in conversation.  If it was a miscarriage, remember the day they miscarried and their initial due date.  It’s so nice knowing others are right there with you as you struggle with the hard days.   I love when people have remembered my baby’s birthday – sent a card, an e-mail, or just said something.  A friend I hadn’t seen in years sent me a birthday card for my baby on her third birthday.  I was so touched she had remembered and took the time to send it, I was crying before I had it open.

How did you find hope to move forward and try for another baby after losing Janna?

I was very concerned about our next baby, especially not knowing Janna’s cause of death.  I wanted to get pregnant soon and was able to a few months later.  I knew though even if our next baby didn’t live, I wouldn’t regret having it.  After much prayer and promptings from my Heavenly Father, by the end of my pregnancy I felt peace that this baby would be healthy.  Our second girl was born three days after our Janna’s birthday - bald and perfect.

How do you talk to your kids about Janna?  Do you have any traditions or things that you do to remember her?

We’ve talked to our kids a lot about Janna.  We get out her book and things on her birthday and talk about it.  My kids are very open about her, which I think is important because she’s a member of our family just as much as they are.  I don’t mind if they tell their friends or bring her up when people ask how many kids are in our family.  I don’t include her in the number because it makes it awkward and confusing for the other person, but I know others who do include children they’ve lost – which is fine too.  I have a ring that I wear that has her birthstone – an aquamarine – and also had her name inscribed on the inside.  On her birthday, we visit her grave and bring flowers.  We’ve also started bringing balloons and releasing them together.  Our kids think it’s a fun way to “celebrate” her birthday and imagine they go up to heaven.

Sherie with Mia, her 6th baby.

It took me about five years before I had more feelings of joy and gratitude when thinking about our angel baby, than pain and sorrow.  Since then we’ve been blessed with five other children, which has filled the emptiness of my arms. ☺

I’m grateful now for opportunities to share our experience with those who have suffered similar losses and hopefully help them in their pain.

We love knowing we have a special connection to heaven.

Sherie, thank you for opening your heart to us.  Isn't she so loving and strong?

I hope it's ok to offer my perspective as a 14-year-old when Jana was born.  Not that my sadness would in any way compare to Sherie's grief as a mom, but losing a child effects family and friends too.

I remember waiting through the school day, watching other kids laughing and chatting, while I sat with a sick knot in my stomach, knowing that my parents drove through the night to be with my sister and her new baby.  I kept telling myself that babies sometimes have a hard time when they are born, they spend a while in the NICU, but they end up fine.  We drove the 4 hours to Provo with my grandparents after school....most of the rest is a blur.  

I remember little vivid snatches of time: first seeing my sister sitting in her hospital bed, with her husband Austin sitting next to her, with his arms around her--the shock when I saw their faces and finally realizing how real this was and that it wasn't just all going to be ok.  I couldn't fathom the depth of her grief.  She looked so fragile.  I had never seen my strong, sassy, funny big sister like that.  Everyone else was crying, hugging, and talking to them...but I didn't know what to do.  Hug her?  Ask her if she was ok?  Of course she wasn't.  I ended up running out of the room to bawl in the hall.  It hurt so bad, why was this happening to them?  I knew how excited and prepared my sister was to be an amazing mother, but now, her hope was being snatched away. 

I remember standing at little Janna's bedside, looking at her in the NICU bed with all of those tubes.  And, I am not exaggerating--Jana was the most beautiful newborn baby I have ever seen.  Just perfect, like a porcelain doll.  I remember seeing my brother-in-law with his arms around my sister at the funeral--like they were sheltering each other.  And going back to their house with all the red-eyed, somber extended family, and walking into the nursery filled with little baby blankets and clothes and a crib, that all needed to be packed away.  Jana was the much-anticipated first grandchild of my parents and my first niece or nephew...in that home, the sadness was so heavy.  Everyone ached for this good, young couple that we loved so much.  But, we could also feel God's love so strong!  His love carried my sister and bro-in-law thorough this time, and lifted our whole families.  Even though Jana only lived a day, she touched many lives.

I was so amazed to see my sister and her husband strengthen and hold each other through this trial. They chose to let this experience bring them closer to God and to reach out to others in compassion, rather than becoming bitter and closed off.  For myself, I remember as a 14 year old, this experience brought me my first strong experience of feeling that God was holding and lifting me.  I remember pleading with Him to provide a miracle, then feeling the peace He gives when He has to assure us that He loves us and is there to carry us, but He can't answer our prayer in the way we desire. 

Also, isn't it nice to get practical ideas for how to reach out when a friend is grieving for a child?  I feel so helpless as to how I could do or say anything that could help!  But it's nice to know that all we need to do is show love and be there for them.  And that is desperately needed.  

Have you ever lost a baby? (miscarriage, still-born, or after birth)  If you'd like to share, we'd love to hear from you in the comments.  It can mean so much to tell their story.  Has someone close to you lost a baby?  How did you help?

If this post meant something to you, please SHARE!  There are so many moms who silently grieve for their lost babies and so many others who desperately wonder how they can help and Sherie's story could mean so much to them.  We love you, mommas!

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  1. Thank you for sharing that story! It is sad, but the faith expressed here is so beautiful. It gives me hope and joy to see how others get through such difficult things and still can be happy. I haven't lost a child, but I still grieve for the children I haven't been able to have in the first place. I can definitely sympathize with how it feels to be around other moms who complain about their babies. If only they new how precious their child is!

    1. Elise, not being able to have the children you desperately want would be so devastating-- a cause for grief. I hope that you get to have the children you hope for! Thank you for your comment. :)

  2. I love, love, love this! Thank you so much for sharing, Sherie, and being willing to open up a very sacred and special part of yourself to us. I was so touched while reading this, and cried many tears. <3 Oh, how I wish we all lived closer!

    So much of what you wrote echoed my own thoughts and sentiments. I completely agree with being able to have something physical to hold on to helps when grieving later. I LOVE the plaster hand molds and wish I had some too!

    I've already shared tons on the subject, but something that happened to me recently that I really appreciated was this past October and November was the 2 year anniversary of Peter's life and death. We had just moved a few weeks before and barely had any friends, and the ones we did didn't know much about us (or even the existence of Peter). One lady I met at church and befriended I had added as a friend of facebook. She saw a random post to my blog on my facebook newsfeed, followed it, and read about Peter on my blog.

    Later she sent me a private message on facebook telling me that she had read about Peter and knew it was a hard time of year for me and that if I wanted to talk about him, that she would love to talk. Wow! It really meant a lot to me. A few weeks later on the weekend of Peter's death date, she called me to let me know that she was thinking of me. So, so, so thoughtful and appreciated. Even more so because my usual support group/friends were far away in our old city and I was feeling particularly alone with no one to remember him around.

    And PS. Amy, I loved reading about your viewpoint, and what you went through/your thoughts and feelings during the experience too! A lot!
    I liked the Q&A format too!

    I just love you guys!!! <3

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Tracy! You are also a brave momma with a sweet angel baby, and I know for a fact you have also made a huge difference to other grieving mothers. And, YES--I wish we all lived closer!!! :)

  3. Sherie was my roommate when I attended Ricks. I cherish the friendship that I have with her and Austin...I've even been to the Harker Home! I remember when this happened and how sad I was for them. I cried through the whole reading. Thanks so much for sharing such a tender experience.

  4. Thanks Tracy! I'm so glad you agreed with much of what I wrote. I love what your new friend had done for you - such a simple gesture, but it means the world when the world around you seems oblivious to your pain. I was so moved by your story of your sweet Peter (and cried through it :) - one of these days we really need to meet!!

    Amy - thanks so much for your perspective <3. I've never heard how you experienced it and I was very touched by it. It was hard to feel kinda responsible for all the grief our family was feeling, but I felt very loved and appreciated knowing my family loved Janna and wanted her terribly just as I did.

    Amanda! Thanks for your kind words :). Love and miss my roommates!

  5. I was 13 at the time. I remember a lot of this vividly and I have never hurt more for someone else then I did for my brother & his sweet wife. What strength you two have and I agree with Amy that you used this devastating experience and became a stronger couple and closer to God instead of turning away from Him. This experience seriously changed my life – because I had taken life for granted. I’m one of those who wanted to talk about it but didn’t want to bring any more pain. Just know that I love you guys and your sweet family. God has definitely sent some of the best to your home – and for good reason. Thanks for sharing – I can’t wait for you to hold her again.

    1. Thanks Tanner. I love to hear how Janna's short life on earth touched people - that's exactly what she was promised in the blessing Austin gave her.

      We know and love you too. :)

    2. Tanner, Yes! I agree, it changed my life too...a turning point. It's a good thing Sherie and Austin had so much courage and faith since this experience brought so many others closer to God because of Jana and because of their examples. This is the first time I saw up close someone go through a deep loss...I saw how people can choose to respond in faith, despite their heartache.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. A friend shared this and I know it was not a "coincidence", I delivered my stillborn baby girl Ember Rose in November and my momma heart is struggling so much. I have four beautiful children at home that I am so grateful for, but I grieve for that sweet baby girl. I lost a baby in January of last year, then the twin to Ember in June, and then Ember in November. The only thing that gets me through is knowing I will raise the three of them and my two others I lost in miscarriages one day. This post was perfect and beautiful, thank you for sharing such a heartbreaking but beautiful post. Wish I could give you a big hug!

    1. Oh my heart hurts for you Stacey! Your pain is so fresh right now! I only know the loss of one baby - I can't imagine your struggle... and with little ones to take care of. Makes you wonder how much one heart can bear.... and possibly couldn't if not for hope in the atonement. And the atonement not only made the resurrection possible, but gave Christ the ability to understand all our pain. He knows exactly what you're going through when no one else does, and he overcame it all :)

      I would love to send you something if you're okay giving me your e-mail address and if you'd ever like to write me. I pray your heart will begin to heal and please know you're not alone - others (even those who don't know you:) understand what you're going through and will keep you in their thoughts and prayers. Take one day at a time my friend.

    2. Stacey, LOVE to you and your family!!! Ember is such a beautiful name.

    3. Stacey - my e-mail is rocketdog23@hotmail.com :)

    4. Thank you so much! My email is tshall1999@gmail.com

    5. Thank you so much! My email is tshall1999@gmail.com

  7. Oh, what a painful thing to go through. I'm so sorry for your loss. This information is great for people to know someone going through such a loss. It was very brave of you to share your experience Sherie. I know it will help people. Blessings.

  8. Thank you for sharing this! What courage you have Sherie!

  9. Thank you for sharing your journey. What a post!


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