When Hello Means Goodbye
By: Tracy Gilmour-Nimoy, M.S., LMFT, PMH-C
Over the edge of an exam table, my feet anxiously dangle; I can hear the sound from the crinkling paper as I nervously shift, my eyes desperately locked with my husband’s. A week of multiple diagnostics and appointments has led us here—in a doctor’s office three hours from home, as we wait for a team of specialists to enter. I am thirty-two weeks pregnant with our first child, and something is seriously wrong.
After completing a new set of tests and careful review of my entire medical chart, three hours have passed and they confirm our worst nightmare: our precious baby has suffered a severe stroke and our pregnancy is no longer viable. A diagnosis so rare, that it has about a .0001% chance of occurring. It is the sort of thing that one hears about, but never thinks will happen to them, the makings of a true nightmare. Their mouths continue to move as my brain begins to comprehend what they’re saying.
My heart cannot—will not understand. I feel a sharp pain in my chest—the shattering of my heart into a thousand little pieces that will never again become whole.
I hunch over, rolling my body into a ball; my eight-month pregnant belly the only barrier preventing a total collapse. My husband, two physicians, and my sister-in-law, surround the exam table, enveloping me in a tight hug as guttural cries flee from my tightly wound body.
Back home in San Diego, we arrive at the hospital for the scheduled induction, because when there is a late-term loss, there is still labor. Babies who die do not disappear; they are delivered—born.
I enter the hospital through the main entrance, landing in a lobby filled with expectant mothers and their excited families. There are hands holding congratulatory balloons and stuffed animals, hands rubbing bellies, and faces—all dressed in smiles.
I take a seat in the furthest corner, as I try to prepare for what’s ahead. There will be no balloons or stuffed animals, no smiles on the faces of my family.
I am preparing to say goodbye before ever getting the chance to say hello.
They escort me to a room at the end of a long hall where I’m instructed to disrobe and change into a hospital gown.
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The induction is brutal lasting 48 hours, with providers inserting medication, instruments, and hands deep into my body. My body attempts to resist in defiance, but the induction works harder, with a balloon and hook to facilitate dilation and the breaking of water.
Sweating, shaking, vomiting, and a slight fever last for only 30 minutes—active labor, they tell me. I feel pelvic pressure as the nurse checks and leads my limp legs to stirrups, numb from the epidural. I push only once and it’s over.
Cleaned and bundled in blanket, they hand her to me. I gaze at her precious features—the cutest little nose and full lips.
She is a creation from a love so pure, my sweet baby girl, Addison.
With music playing we pass her back and forth—a fleeting moment as a family of three. I hold her close to my chest and see my husband begin to panic.
They take her from me and place my legs back in the stirrups; blood pours from my body, painting the bed red. Plugs are forcefully ripped from the wall as I’m wheeled into the operating room.
Two surgeries in two hospitals; no anesthesia. Instead, I remain utterly cognizant, my mind captive.
Still numb from the epidural, I feel nothing but the stress from a panicked medical team; voices echo as they rattle off commands.
With four ports for blood transfusions, I hear myself ask questions—questions no 29-year-old should have to ask.
“Am I going to die? Am I going to be infertile?”.
I feel someone rub my arm as words of reassurance are offered, “we’re doing everything we can for you”.
Confined to the operating table I focus on my breathing; my eyes hold the gaze of the bright ceiling light.
I spend days in the ICU before being transferred to the acute unit; a week later and I’m discharged home, where I enter a postpartum period no one prepared me for.
What happens to the mom who loses her baby?
People assume that because there is no baby to care for, there is no need to heal. The expectation is to return to work after six weeks, because there is no reason for more time off—there is no baby to care for.
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What they don’t know is this: a woman who has a stillbirth goes through everything a woman with a healthy baby goes through: a pregnancy, a delivery, and a postpartum recovery. The description is in the name—stillbirth is still birth, with one major exception—her postpartum body will be a reminder of all she has lost, as she grieves the death of her child.
The lack of trauma-informed care and awareness surrounding women’s health and maternal mental health should’ve made me feel angry, but it didn’t—it made me feel sad. It made me feel sad for all the women and families who desperately need support and for the providers who though well intended, usually fall short.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I couldn’t help but think I was part of the problem.
I had never received any training or education to work within maternal mental health, though I received extensive training to work with most other populations. I was part of the problem, and I was determined to do better. In the months after my loss, I became certified as a Perinatal Mental Health Professional, and I have since dedicated a portion of my practice to working with other families who have experienced something similar. I speak and write openly about my story, because I’m motivated to help change a system that just doesn’t work.
When someone dies our love for them does not, nor does our relationship with them; it changes. There’s no getting over, only getting through—and that’s all any of us can really do.
About Tracy Gilmour-Nimoy
Tracy Gilmour-Nimoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional with a private practice in San Diego, CA. She is a fierce women’s health advocate and since experiencing the loss of her first child, has dedicated a portion of her clinical practice to working within maternal mental health. She is currently working on her memoir and writes a weekly mental health blog on her site, that can be found here. To learn more about her and read some of her other published pieces, click here.
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