Grieving while pregnant

by Barbara Rubel, MA, BCETS, D.A.A.E.T.S.

The doctor held up my newborn and said, “It’s a boy.” A moment later, he held up the second arrival, and announced, “It’s a boy.”  Only a moment passed. My heart filled with anticipation as he held up the third arrival, and proclaimed, “It’s a boy . . . triplets!” I told him that Fred MacMurray would be proud referring to the television sitcom, My Three Sons.

Due to the high-risk level of my pregnancy, I was on bedrest for three weeks in a private room on the maternity ward in a section of high-risk mothers. Later in the day, a nurse helped me sit up in bed and told me that she was going to bring in the babies for their first feeding. Although after a cesarean delivery to triplets, weighing 5 lb; 5 lb, 11 oz; and 6 lb, I was emotionally and physically drained, I was excited about having my babies with me, alone, for the very first time.

I had yet to name the babies, and so they were Triplet #1, Triplet #2, and Triplet #3. The nurse wheeled in one of the babies and announced, “Triplet #1.” As she said it, I noticed another patient, a young woman, in the room opposite mine. She sat on her bed facing my door. She stared at me as Triplet #1 was brought to my room. Although excited about the baby, I could not help but notice the tears streaming down her face. I was not aware that she had, that same morning, given birth to a disabled infant who died during childbirth.

The nurse placed my baby next to my bed and went to retrieve the second of my triplets. After a moment passed, she returned with the second baby. The nurse cheerfully exclaimed in my doorway, “Here’s Triplet #2.”  As I looked up to watch as the triplet was brought in for his feeding, I noticed the patient across the hall. She gasped and loudly cried out, “Two babies? Why does she have two babies and my baby died?” The nurse did not say a word and left my room to retrieve Triplet #3.

Because I had a cesarean delivery, I could not get up to close the door.

I knew that Triplet #3 was about to be wheeled in. I was torn between the joy of being with my three sons and bearing witness to another woman’s painful experience of grief caused by the death of her infant. I was wracked with guilt as Triplet #3 was wheeled into my room. The young mother screamed at me, “Three babies?  She has three babies? That’s not fair. Why did God give her three babies and take my baby?” Without saying a word, the nurse immediately left my room and walked into the young woman’s room across the hall and closed her door.

I had a sense of what this woman was feeling because I too, was grieving.

Only three weeks before the birth of my triplets, my father died by suicide. Being in the hospital, I could not attend Dad’s funeral or partake in any mourning rituals.  Whether a baby’s sudden death or an older person’s sudden death, we are impacted by traumatic loss.

Over 30 years have passed, and I have found meaning in my father’s suicide. I honor his memory by speaking about suicide awareness. I have continued the bond with him. I recognize the ongoing impact suicide has had on my life by speaking about suicide awareness openly in my keynotes and trainings.  I have made meaning of my experience and hope that the woman who lost her baby, has also made meaning out of her loss.

Barbara Rubel, MA, BCETS, DAAETS, Speaker and Author, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide (3ed) (2020). Diplomate, American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress in collaboration with the National Center for Crisis Management.

Website: www.griefworkcenter.com

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