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Stillbirth means that you did not miscarry. It means that your baby died after 24 weeks in your womb. Whether it was classified as early, late, or term stillbirth, it still means that your baby didn’t get a chance at life.
You were elated when hCG was found in your urine and in your blood. You got into your highest heels and danced without music, chanting thanksgiving prayers to God who had answered your prayers after a decade of supplication. When the pregnancy sickness started, people comforted you, telling you it was “good sickness.” “After nine months, you will not remember any of the suffering,” they said in an attempt to console you. As the weeks turned to months, there was a placenta and an amniotic sac. Then a heartbeat and brain waves. Then the embryo made it into a fetus and the hands, fingers, feet and toes formed fully.
The first trimester screening came and passed. The results were positive. Your precious baby was healthy. Soon after, your uterus and the skin of your belly began to stretch as your baby grew. Then you began to feel the flutters. Later on, the kicks. Your little one was very active. You couldn’t wait to meet the love of your life. You shopped for baby supplies. You read books and articles online to learn about newborns. You noted tips, pieces of advice and strategies from older moms.
One day, you noticed no movement. You drank cups and cups of cold orange juice while you waited for signs of life. After a long night spent casting nets, you rushed to the hospital and demanded a scan. “Your baby has no heartbeat”, the technician said confirming that which you had feared the most. Your world came tumbling down. Just like that, without any forewarning, your expectations were cut off. The new life you had envisioned with your beautiful baby will not manifest. The future that might have been will never come to pass.
Stillbirth means that dilation and evacuation is not possible. It means that you had to give birth to your baby. Whether through a vaginal or cesarean delivery, it still means that your baby will never go home with you.
You accepted natural birth when it was recommended to you but you refused an epidural when it was offered to you. You needed to feel the pain. You needed to suffer for her. You needed to go through it. Labour was induced to ripen your cervix. Your contractions started as the medications took effect. They wheeled you into a room at the far end of the ward, away from tired joyful mothers and crying newborns. Because there was no risk to your baby, her heartbeat was not monitored, and help did not come right away when you used the call button. The longer your labour lasted, the more pain you had to endure and the more your baby’s condition deteriorated in your womb.
Finally, your cervix opened up enough for your waters to be broken. You wept relentlessly during those two long days you labored in vain and pushed forth a dead baby in the same ward where others were giving birth to live babies. As they rejoiced, holding and creating a bond with their baby for the first time, you were crying and holding yours for the last time. As joy superseded their labour pains, emotional pain overtook yours. When the midwife asked you if you wanted a picture with your baby, you shook your head. In later days, month and years to come, you will be angry with yourself for not taking a picture of her in your hands, and for not washing and dressing her by yourself. The baby clothes you bought were too big for your little angel so the hospital offered you small clothes donated by associations. “They are specially made for prematures.” The midwife told you. You cried all through the night because you hadn’t thought to bring a blanket for her to be wrapped in. You were angry with yourself because neither her clothes nor her blanket was bought by you.
Sadly, stillbirth means that you’ll still need postpartum care. It means that you’ll still have postpartum bleeding, uterine cramping, and perineal pain.
Before you left the hospital, you had to make decisions about autopsy, about funeral and about registration of a stillbirth. They were the hardest decisions you had ever had to make. Ones you wish you didn’t have to make. As other women were leaving the hospital with their healthy babies, you left with your baby’s photos, hospital name tag and footprints. Upon arriving home from the hospital, flowers, plants and chocolates from loved ones had taken up space on your kitchen counter. Instantly, you were drawn to the peace lily so you picked it up and began looking for a home for it. When you noticed a small white bloom in the middle of the green leaves you broke down and cried, apologizing to the daughter you will never meet.
Just when you thought that it was all over, it really was not because your milk then came in. So, in the following days, you had to express your swollen breasts to relieve the pain. Daily, you would bind and ice them to stop them from producing milk. The pregnancy apps that you had downloaded continued to send you notifications about your baby’s growth rate so you deleted them. Targeted ads put ‘everything baby’ everywhere you went on the internet so you cleared your cookies. The baby registry you had started kept sending you “a gift is on its way” emails so you cancelled it.
You have stretch marks to live with, muscles to tone and extra kilos to get rid of. Many nights you found it difficult to fall asleep and when you finally did, you had nightmares and woke up on soaked sheets. You wondered what to do to the cot you had bought and the room you had decorated, to the toys that will not be touched and the clothes that will not be worn. Finally, in spite of yourself, you made a shrine of it.
Ayo Deforge is a Nigerian writer whose works have appeared in Brittle Paper, Ayo Magazine, Kalahari Review and elsewhere. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1982. She graduated from Lagos State University where she studied the French Language in 2008. She moved to France in 2012 and is currently working on her debut novel, Swept Away. She is represented by Jessica Craig at Craig Literary.