I knew this journey was going to set me apart from other moms and make me feel isolated, but the day I no longer fit into my maternity jeans these thoughts were again confirmed.
That’s right. My maternity jeans were too big and I was sad.
A discovery other moms would rejoice at—in fact, I had done just that after giving birth to my first child. But with the second child, it was different. Shedding the weight and the change in my body signified not only a physical transformation, but also confirmed that I lived in a world where every day I was one day further away from the last time I held my second child, who was stillborn.
Yes, the pregnancy weight was coming off, but the weight of grief and loss was piling on in a manner that could not be seen so profoundly on the outside, but was there all the same.
Before becoming the mother of a stillborn child, I knew relatively little about the subject. I mean, what kind of parent thinks of stillbirth? Why would you think it could happen to you?
I grew up in Minnesota in a culture of relatively optimistic people. If you were pregnant, you were not going to think of the possibility of stillbirth.Yes, you would worry about making it through the first trimester, and then hope that the 20-week ultrasound came out normal. But at that point, you think you’re home free. Why would you ever put yourself into a position to worry about something as remote as stillbirth? Surely all that worry would be for nothing.
In November 2016, I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant when my son Torben was stillborn.
What started out as a lazy Sunday ended in a manner that has overshadowed the last eleven months of my life. At a time when I should have been deciding what type of diapers my son would wear, which body wash would be appropriate for his sensitive skin, and which outfit he would wear for the photography session I had booked, I was instead thinking about a funeral, cemetery plot, and a life without my son.
The dream I had been so excited for not only the previous thirty-seven weeks, but eight years since I met my husband (having two children, two years apart) was lost the moment my son’s heartbeat could not be found on the ultrasound machine. And as if the magnitude of losing a child was not enough, I have learned the ancillary feelings that come along with it are just as unpleasant. The jealousy of seeing anyone with multiple living children. The guilt associated with not knowing the exact moment your child’s heart beat last. The frustration of not being able to concentrate at work like you could before the loss. The anger associated with the whole ordeal.
I recently read the book “Rising Strong” by Brené Brown, which stresses the importance of focusing on the rising process after loss or failure. That process of rising from the low point to a place in which we are comfortable with our story is, according to Brown, the “rumbling.”
Right now, I’m rumbling with a lot.
I’m rumbling in a year of firsts. But not the firsts I planned for—the first smile, the first time eating solid foods, the first birthday. Instead, those firsts include the first Christmas without my son; the first day back at work without my son; the first family vacation without my son. And the first time I couldn’t wear the pants that so closely hugged my pregnant belly, where my son lived for thirty-seven weeks. These firsts have been hard. Some of them have been anticipated, while others could in no way be planned for or anticipated.
While I should be worrying about finding my almost one-year-old son the perfect shoes for taking his first steps, ensuring his favorite toy is always within reach, and living life on the fumes of raising two children while my husband and I both work as attorneys in private practice, my worries are now different and I am deep in the rumbling.
I rumble with being a mom to my three-year-old daughter, while grieving the loss of her brother and the friendship they would share. I rumble with being a wife to the husband who held my hand during the worst of my contractions and encouraged me during labor, knowing full well our beautiful son would not cry upon entering this world. I rumble with being the lawyer I once was; with the fight and ambition to argue over things that seem so insignificant now in the grand scheme of things.
This rumbling is not fun, and it is not easy, but I can tell it is necessary. If my biggest rumbling was fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans, I would welcome it with open arms. Instead, I am rumbling in a life where my outer, physical shell is the same as it was before the stillbirth, but the inner person is so profoundly different, she cannot figure out how to reconcile the past and the present.
So at this time, I remember something an older and wiser opposing attorney said about life: “Life is stages.”
If that’s true and this is the stage where my too-big maternity jeans bring me the blues, so be it. It is appropriate for me to be sad. But I also hold onto those old jeans knowing that maybe one day, I will be back in a place where adding to our family is again the right fit. Then, I’ll hopefully take those jeans out and wear them with pride and remember how far I’ve come not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Becky Duffy is a Minnesota native who came to Des Moines for law school and the warmer winters (only half kidding), and has been here for 9 years. She is married to Keith and is the mother of Cici (3) and a stillborn son, Torben. Becky is learning to navigate life post-loss and has found coffee, swimming, and her spunky toddler very therapeutic.