Caitlin was born at 22 weeks, weighing only 13 ounces (369 grams). We wanted the doctors to take her to a hospital with a unit that specialized in micro-preemies, to work on her, to save her. They couldn't, they said. She was too small (less than 500 grams), they said, and her gestation (less than 25 weeks) was insufficient.
We held her for her whole life. We looked at her and wondered at the tiny perfection of her fingernails and wept at the transparency of her skin. We gave her the name of my grandmother, Libby, for her middle name. I told her story beginning with this blog post.
Since we lost Caitlin, I have wept with many other families who have lost their children. My friend Rock Star, who's little boy died at full term before he was born. My friend Rofu, who lost her twin boys well into the second trimester due to a rare genetic abnormality. My friend Donkey, who lost one of her triplets in the first trimester and the second at term, shortly before his sister was born healthy.
So many other families in our circle have experienced the devastating loss of a baby in late pregnancy or shortly after birth that it feels like it's nearly as common as having a healthy full-term baby. It's not, of course:
Rates of pregnancy loss decrease as the pregnancy progresses. Overall, about 10 to 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies and 30 to 40 percent of all conceptions end in pregnancy loss. Miscarriage that occurs at 13 to 14 weeks' gestation usually reflects a pregnancy loss that happened one to two weeks earlier. Approximately 1 to 5 percent of pregnancies are lost at 13 to 19 weeks' gestation, whereas stillbirth occurs in 0.3 percent of pregnancies at 20 to 27 weeks' gestation, a rate similar to that of third trimester stillbirth. (Source here.)
You feel like you can't go on, when you leave the hospital with empty arms. You feel like the rest of the world should stop, because yours did. You feel like the most important thing anyone could know about you is that you had a baby, and she died.
And for the first few months, for the first year, maybe longer, this is your life. You pull the seatbelt around your waist and you think, "I'm not supposed to have a waist yet." You go to church or for a walk around the block, and you quietly resent the pregnant women and any woman holding a baby. You avoid going anywhere near the strollers and baby clothes at Target.
You feel like your face looks different, that anyone who looks at you can see in your eyes that you had a baby, and she died. Maybe they can.
And gradually, but not linearly, you cry a little less, and then a little less. When you meet people, you are able to tell them that you grew up in Philadelphia, or that you still love to play softball. The conversation about the baby you lost is not always the first conversation any more.
Is it easier, or harder, or just different, to mourn a child with whom you never had a chance to create memories, compared to mourning a child that you've nurtured from infancy to almost manhood?
I think I need a little more distance from this present grief to really know.