Voices: Seeking support in stillbirth, infant death
Editor’s note: October is Respect Life Month, and with that in mind, I share with our readers this heart-wrenching piece from my co-worker and friend. Stillbirth is a difficult subject to talk about, but just because it’s hard does not mean it should be minimalized or left alone. These parents need our prayers and our loving companionship during these difficult times.
By Gina M. Dominguez
I was in my third trimester of pregnancy when, as part of my work as a translator and Spanish-language editor for the Austin Diocese, I corrected a text from the USCCB about the compassion and charity expected from the members of the church toward parents who have lost a child through miscarriage. As I worked on that article I felt great compassion for those parents, and I never suspected I might need the same compassion later myself.
Just a few weeks later, I woke to my normal routine. A couple of hours into my daily tasks, I realized I had not felt movement from the baby I was carrying. Worried, I told my husband and, after a few minutes of anxiety, we decided to call the doctor who suggested that I eat something sugary and lay down on my left side. I did this, but still no movement, so the nurse told me to come to the doctor’s office right away.
After a thorough inspection, the doctor told me the saddest words I have ever heard: my baby’s heart had stopped. There was no warning. All the ultrasounds had looked good; all our tests had been normal, but after eight months, my pregnancy and my son’s life came to a sudden end.
In those moments, my husband and my first-born son, who were with me at the doctor’s office, hugged me tightly. I sat up very slowly and, at that moment, resolved to surrender my life and the life of my baby to God’s will. It was the toughest moment of my life, the moment a mother fears the most.
After this painful moment, things started happening quickly. During the ride to the hospital, I couldn’t believe the day we had been dreaming about for eight months was here, but definitely not in the way we dreamed it. That same night I checked into the maternity wing of the hospital. There I spent the saddest, most surreal night of my life. Having given birth once already, I knew what to expect and I feared it because I knew this time the baby would not cry, I would not take him home, take care of and nourish him. How could I go through all the physical pain of birth when my grief was so great? Only with the help of God and of our family.
Our beautiful son Jorge Cristobal was born asleep at 7:41 a.m. on Dec. 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
I have a couple of reasons to share this. First I want to give witness to my faith in God. He never abandons us through the battles of life, even during acute moments of physical and emotional pain. My husband and I felt his grace during the time we spent at the hospital. God manifested his love for us not only through the people who took care of us there, but also by pouring strength and hope into our hearts.
He sent us comforting messages through many friends, church and family members from whom we received the biggest tokens of love. And most importantly, it was God who allowed me to pay the last homage I could give my son through my physical body: to give birth to him with courage, with deep love and great dignity.
Second I want to reach out to hearts. In my time of need, I didn’t know, off the top of my head, of any ministry where to find Catholic people ready to deal with such a painful and difficult subject, to support me through such a test to my faith.
I tried to look for help in different people of our Catholic community, including my own pastor, and I realized that there was much confusion on this subject and therefore, many of the people I turned to for help were not able to offer me, my husband and my son the support we needed. It was not because of a lack of charity on their part; it was because of a lack of knowledge about the subject.
I am convinced that we as Catholics have, as one of our most important missions, to help those who are grieving. But in order to do that, having good intentions is not enough. We should be informed and should not be afraid of discussing the most painful subjects, such as stillbirth. We need a community of parishioners, deacons and priests educated about the inability to conceive, miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death; about how each of these losses, though in many ways similar, also differs and merits a unique response.
A Catholic woman going through what I did should know whom to call, without having to do a lot of research and without having to knock on so many doors. And we the church must come to meet her, ready to learn, ready to understand.
Stillbirth is a subject that almost no one talks about because it is very sad and for some uncomfortable. Therefore few people understand the subject and are willing to talk openly about it. This too often translates into isolation and loneliness for the bereaved parents in the subsequent months when their hearts need so much help to heal.
We have the tendency to believe that because we never saw the lost baby, his parents haven’t bonded with him during the pregnancy, or that the baby didn’t really exist or have his dignity. However, my son did exist in the physical world and he still exists in the spiritual one. He is as real and as loved as my living son. It is a mistake to minimize or ignore this fact and the magnitude of this type of loss.
I pray God will allow us to be faithful apostles with courage and open hearts at the service of others through every suffering and stage of life. All the Holy Innocents pray for us!