Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Nedra; I am 33 years old and was born and raised in Aitkin, MN and still live close by. I am currently a stay at home mom with odd jobs around town. I volunteer in our school while I am going to school online to become a teacher – when I grow up! I love scrapbooking, reading and crocheting in my spare time when I’m not running kids or watching them play sports.
Growing up, how did you feel about parenthood?
I have always enjoyed children and always imagined I’d have a few- like 3. I was always babysitting and always had kids with me everywhere I went. When my husband and I got married, we talked about 4 children’, so that we didn’t have a middle child.
We started foster care shortly after being married and tried to get pregnant right away, but it took us four years before conceiving. In the interim, our first foster care placement of two boys (biological half -brothers) were adopted into our family. Our family has grown bigger than planned, but I wouldn’t change that for anything.
You’re an experienced mom and you know what pregnancy is like. Did your pregnancy with Noelle seem any different than what you’d experienced in the past?
My pregnancy was great- actually better than my previous pregnancy. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary at all.
When did you realize something was wrong?
We were excited to ‘see’ the baby at our twenty-week ultrasound. I remember we were scheduled for an afternoon appointment and the hospital called to say they had a cancelation and wanted to know if we could come earlier, which we did.
As we were in the ultrasound room- my husband and I talked about our other ultrasounds and how our last daughter took forever to get measurements because she was so active. The ultrasound technician didn’t really say anything back, so we talked between the two of us. I thought it was odd and had a lingering feeling something was wrong but didn’t really know until later.
How did you feel when you saw that ultrasound?
I knew something was off when she printed our pictures and said she had to talk to the radiologist and left. I freaked out and my husband reassured me that things were fine. My reply was, “She never told us a heartbeat, they ALWAYS tell you the heartbeat!” He tried to reassure me again that things were fine.
The tech and the radiologist came back into the room and said they had called my doctor and he was on his lunch and would like to meet with us. Nothing was said. I just knew in my heart that it wasn’t good. I just kept looking at the pictures and just crying. I can’t quite put into words how I felt- angry, sad, frightened, upset, abandoned- it was definitely a flurry of emotions that were hard to understand and recognize at the time.
What happened after the doctor discovered that Noelle wasn’t alive anymore?
Our doctor, who also is a family friend, was devastated for us and he could barely squeak out the words that there wasn’t a heartbeat. He had delivered our three other children and wasn’t quite sure how to handle this with us other than to just sit and cry with us.
He gave us our options (to be induced or wait it out and see if my body expelled the baby on its own) and told us how things would work. We opted to be induced and I went in the next morning. As I was on Pitocin, my body took over and delivered Noelle. She had gotten a knot in her cord and it had wrapped around her teeny little neck twice. She weighed 9.6 ounces and was as beautiful as her siblings.
She had the same nose as her sister, the same earlobes as her brother and the same mouth, just like all of the kids. Amazing that such a tiny little thing can already be such a little human at that size. A good friend of mine that has taken many of my kid’s photos heard about what happened and came in with her camera and took pictures of us while holding Noelle. That is something I can never repay her for and that I hold dearly to my heart. It was something that I never thought I would want to see, but those pictures now give my kids, my husband and myself a great sense of love and joy when we see them.
How did your other children react when you told them?
Our children were very sad. The two oldest boys stoically cried quietly while our daughter (who was 7 at the time) just wept uncontrollably. Our youngest son (in Kindergarten) just sat there, we assumed he wasn’t quite sure what we meant and didn’t understand the situation. The next day in school, he broke down as he told his teachers that his baby had died. All of the kids had a rough week dealing with our loss.
You were pretty open and honest about your family’s experience. How did people react to that? Did processing the experience publicly help you heal?
At first, our loss seemed intensely private and only something that Josh and I felt that we wanted to share between the two of us and our kids. It was our baby and no one knew that baby yet- just us. But our community had a different plan and poured out their gifts of empathy, sorrow and grief. We soon discovered it was more than just our family feeling the sadness.
After a couple of months, I decided that the best way for people to understand where I was in our loss was to talk about it. I think at first some people probably found it strange since it’s a topic that isn’t talked about much. Overall though, I found that it gave a lot of other mothers who had suffered similar losses a chance to talk about their experience with it.
Many of these mothers suffered their loss decades ago and never had the chance or opportunity to talk openly or grieve, just due to how differently stillbirth and miscarriage were handled back then- and still now. I think that my willingness to talk about it brought a lot of mutual healing.
How did you commemorate Noelle?
I wasn’t a fan of having a funeral, but my husband really pushed for one. Again, at that point, I felt this was a very personal loss. Eventually, I gave in enough to say that we could have a funeral, but only if it was just our family and our parents. I’m glad that he pushed me to do this, as it made for good ‘grief work’ and remembrance. I think it was also good for the kids since they never got to see her.
We celebrated Noelle’s due date last spring with some lanterns and we brought flowers to her gravesite for the summer. On her delivery date, I spent many hours crying while holding our newborn daughter. Our oldest daughter and youngest son like to draw, and many of those times, they will include Noelle in their picture as a star, which makes my heart happy. In October, for Stillborn and Infant Loss Awareness month, I made some fetal loss blanket/wraps and donated them to the local hospital for others who may have a similar situation.
How did this affect your family?
This has affected us all in many different ways. I believe that I have become a more empathetic and sympathetic person, knowing that we never know what other may be struggling with during their walk of life because grief comes in so many different forms. My husband has said that it has made him a lot more compassionate, strengthened his faith and taught him the importance of letting people help. A lot of good has come out of a horrible situation for us, which I never would’ve imagined.
How did you take care of yourself as you grieved? Were there any books/websites/platforms/practices that you found particularly helpful?
Grief is hard work! At first, I chose not to do anything in hopes that it would just disappear and I would be ‘fine’ as I always had been. After about 6 weeks, it was apparent that this was more than I could handle on my own. My husband found a grief therapist that we went to see together for about six weeks (eight sessions), which really helped me work through a lot of feelings and she also gave us ideas to work through our grief.
While going to counseling, she gave us an application for a place to go called Faith’s Lodge in Wisconsin that we decided to go to. It’s a retreat lodge for bereaved parents who have suffered a loss of a child- it was a great place to reflect, talk about Noelle with other bereaved parents and also to commemorate her as well.
I’ve also read a lot of articles on a website called Still Standing which has a lot of resources as well. It seems as though I ‘stumble’ upon a lot of different readings or articles via Facebook or online. It’s amazing how when you are faced with the loss, how things just appear. I’m sure they were there before, but I just never noticed them.
If we know someone who has experienced a stillbirth, how can we help? What are some things we SHOULDN’T say or do?
I think the best thing to say to someone is “I’m sorry” and “I’m hear to listen”. Try not to say things like “You can have more babies”, “At least you have your other children” or “I know how you feel”.
I was always frustrated when people said that because they weren’t standing in my grief and no one knows how MY grief feels. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I think that those of us who have been there, we share a similar feeling. Meals are also a great way to help out a family who is grieving the loss of a baby.
What advice would you give to a family that’s going through something similar?
I would tell someone that there is no perfect or particularly right way to feel or handle the situation. I also think that they need to know that they need to take the time to grieve. Many times, we just want to move on and ignore what happened. I would recommend that they would find some sort of grief counseling as well.
I know that I had my husband and family for support, but sometimes sharing your feelings with those you love seems like a huge burden for them to carry. It felt as though I was reaching out and saying “Help!” to my husband while I was drowning, but what good does it do when he’s drowning himself? It is almost easier talking to a complete stranger about how angry, sad, frustrated, etc. you are about losing your baby. Reaching out for support can feel very hard and strange, but it’s very beneficial to the soul to have someone to listen.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Nedra. Do you guys have any questions for her?