Bella Mae Pepper Tansey was born on January 31, 2017. Unlike the details of her older brother and younger sisters’ births, I don’t know the exact time she came into the world nor her precise weight or length. It’s all a blur and that breaks my heart. I know she was born in the late afternoon, many excruciating hours after our doctor uttered the most devastating words Elly and I have ever heard: “There’s no heartbeat.”
Bella was due two days after her big brother’s second birthday and six days before Elly’s. She was perfectly healthy and absolutely beautiful. Sure, I’m biased, but unlike most babies (including our other children), Bella wasn’t a wrinkly blob. She had a full head of dark, curly hair and the most gorgeous face I’ve ever seen. Pudgy, rosey cheeks, long eyelashes, full lips, and a precious little nose. She was perfect. She was full-term – 41 weeks, actually – and passed away peacefully four days after her due date and just two days before the c-section date, which was scheduled for Elly’s birthday.
An amniotic band wrapped around the umbilical cord and, seven minutes later, she was gone.
I will never get to change her diapers, bathe her or watch her learn to crawl or walk. I’ll never hear her blow raspberries or stumble through her first words. I’ll never drop her off on her first day of school, teach her to swim, ride a bike or play hockey. I’ll never help her study for the big test or congratulate her on a job well done. I’ll never get to scare off her middle school crushes, hug her after her high school breakups or walk her down the aisle. There will be no father-daughter dance.
Unless you’re just in the mood for a good cry, you’re likely reading this because you or someone close to you recently lost a child. I am so deeply sorry for your tremendous loss.
After Bella passed away, I felt like I had gone from an overly inflated balloon, bobbing along so high that I might burst, to a very reduced, but not completely deflated balloon – just hovering. I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach those highs again. The deep sadness of the death of a child will always be a part of me, and of Elly. But I’m still a balloon, though. And a pretty fun one that a kid would pick at a grocery store or a county fair.
I have fun and I experience so much joy. I love Elly, Bella, and our living kids so, so much. I love life. It’s just a little different now. Yes, it’s been impossibly difficult at times, but I’m ok. I promise – and I don’t use that word often or lightly – but I sincerely promise that there’s happiness in your future too. You and your partner are strong and resilient. It may not feel like that in these darkest of days, but you will not only survive, you will thrive again. Step by step, moment by moment. You too will find joy.
This is the worst club in the world, and sadly, it’s less exclusive than we imagined. However, that means there is support out there. While you may be across the country or on the other side of the planet, and, at times, you may even feel like you’re alone in another galaxy, please know that you are loved and that we will always hold you and your baby in our hearts.
Be kind to yourselves and stay strong.
In the midst of our grief, I received the below wish list, which was sent to me by a friend of a friend whose child was stillborn. I found parts of it comforting after we lost Bella and it’s a good starting place as you begin piecing life back together. It’s also a good resource for friends and family looking to support loved ones in the wake of stillbirth or pregnancy loss.
Wish List After Stillbirth
- I wish our baby hadn’t died. I wish I had her back.
- I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak her name. Our baby lived and was very important to us. I need to hear that she was important to you as well.
- If I cry and get emotional when you talk about our baby, I wish you knew that it isn’t because you have hurt me. Our baby’s death is the cause of my tears. You have talked about our baby, and you have allowed me to share my grief. I thank you for both.
- Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t shy away from me. I need you more than ever.
- I need diversions, so I do want to hear about you; but I also want you to hear about me. I might be sad and I might cry, but I wish you would let me talk about our baby, my favorite topic of the day.
- I know that you think of and pray for me often. I also know that our baby’s death pains you, too. I wish you would let me know things through a phone call, a card or a note, or a real big hug.
- I wish you wouldn’t expect my grief to be over in six months. These first months are traumatic for me, but I wish you could understand that my grief will never be over. I will suffer the death of our baby until the day I die.
- I am working very hard in my recovery, but I wish you could understand that I will never fully recover. I will always miss our baby, and I will always grieve that she is gone.
- I wish you wouldn’t expect me “not to think about it” or to “be happy”. Neither will happen for a very long time so don’t frustrate yourself.
- I don’t want to have a “pity party,” but I do wish you would let me grieve. I must hurt before I can heal.
- I wish you understood how my life has shattered. I know it is miserable for you to be around me when I’m feeling miserable. Please be as patient with me as I am with you.
- When I say, “I’m doing okay,” I wish you could understand that I don’t feel okay and that I struggle daily.
- I wish you knew that all of the grief reactions I’m having are very normal. Depression, anger, hopelessness and overwhelming sadness are all to be expected. So please excuse me when I’m quiet and withdrawn or irritable and cranky.
- Your advice to “take one day at a time” is excellent. However, a day is too much and too fast for me right now. I wish you could understand that I’m doing good to handle an hour at a time. I’m living moment by moment.
- I wish you understood that grief changes people. When our child died, a big part of me died with her. I am not the same person I was before our baby died, and I will never be that person again.
- I wish very much that you could understand – understand my loss and my grief, my silence and my tears, my void and my pain. But I pray daily that you will never understand.