VANCOUVER – “What does life after losing a baby look like?” writes Emma VandenBrink, 17 days after her baby boy Reid, was stillborn.
Emma, daughter of Canadian Paralympian Rick Hansen, shared her heartbreaking story of her baby’s birth in a blog post earlier this month. Emma and her husband Aaron were due to welcome their baby into the world on April 4, but he died one day before his due date.
Emma has now written a follow-up blog post, ‘17 Days Missing Reid‘, in which she talks about the struggles she has faced since losing her baby.
What does life after losing a baby look like? I’m asking because I can’t figure it out. So far mine looks like sleep deprivation, like aching breasts as my milk comes in, and like my family has permanently moved in. I guess it still looks a lot like what life would have looked like had we been able to bring Reid home with us – that’s the cruelest part. To have the exhaustion, the dried milk all over me, and the family support but to have it all without my baby.
Emma says the first few days after losing Reid, she was angry. Even where she lives, in South Granville in Vancouver, was making her angry. She would see new moms and pregnant women, and pass the baby stores she would frequent while expecting, which brought her back to the fact she had to start living a life without her baby. “All of those beautiful things that used to make me so happy had become triggers,” she writes. “They were all reminders that other people were living their lives with their healthy babies.”
She writes that saying goodbye to Reid and leaving the hospital was very hard for her and Aaron.
Leaving my child behind made every mommy fiber of my being scream in protest. This is so wrong. I am forever grateful to our nurse at BC Women’s Hospital who offered to hold him as we left that room. She made it possible for us to remember leaving him in loving arms and not in a cold hospital bassinet with an icepack under the blankets. But we had to leave him just the same.
Leaving the hospital and walking through the maternity wing will forever haunt Emma. She and Aaron could hear babies crying as they tried to race to the parking lot.
As they were walking by the nurses’ station they saw a new father with his baby in his arms. “I would have taken that happiness from him if it meant I could know that joy,” writes Emma. “It was the first baby I’d seen since leaving Reid and my jealous rage latched on to that vision.”
After sharing their story about Reid’s birth, Emma and Aaron began receiving so many messages of support and love. One day, as she was reading emails, she heard from the father in the hospital. He told her he had seen them that day and his heart had sank when he saw they were not carrying a baby out of the hospital.
I wonder why God crossed our paths if even for the briefest of moments. You in your deepest pain, and me in great joy – all by the nurses’ desk. To be honest, I feel a very real, disconcerting unfairness in this all. And although I want to, there is no way for me to sense, even in the slightest, the dark corners of your grief. So, hold fast, just as you say, to the hope of His promise. Hold fast.
Emma writes that since reading his words, the rage has lifted from her jealousy. The new father helped her to see that the pregnant women and the new families were the ones who wished to share their pain the most.
“I am still jealous,” she writes, “jealous of all those families who are still whole and who will never experience loss. And my grief is still triggered by pregnant women and babies. But I’m dealing with it. It’s easier without the anger. I can accept that I will always mourn the loss of what I deemed a perfect life in the face of seeing others living it. Because I know that our sorrow will not be wasted. Our life is perfect in a way we can’t yet understand, and maybe we won’t ever. But I pray that we will. Until then I hold on to the belief that we will get our happy ending – it just won’t be the one we’d been preparing for over the past 9 months.”
Emma is now learning that Reid is still a part of their lives, but in a different way. She can feel sorrow at his loss, but she can also feel happiness. She says she sees Reid every day – in the Shoppers Drug Mart where she bought the pregnancy test – to her usual walk along Kits Beach.
“So I guess I haven’t really lost my baby, because he’s still here,” she writes. “It hasn’t been 17 days without Reid; it’s been 17 days missing Reid.”
“I just have to learn how to live without him being here physically – I have to learn how to live in a way that would make my son proud. So that’s what I’ll try to do as I continue to look for his little signs from heaven. With each memory of our time together I’ll picture his perfect, smiling, heart shaped face playfully looking down on me and I’ll do my best to smile right back.”
At the end of the post, Emma asks for tips from anyone in dealing with the jealousy and the triggers.