The first thing I said when Chet was born and placed on my chest was “He’s ALIVE!” I now know what it feels like to give birth to life. It feels miraculous! I’ve heard people say that during childbirth the veil between heaven and earth feels paper-thin. I have to agree. That’s true whether you have a live birth or a stillbirth. But somehow during stillbirth, paper-thin still feels far too wide. Because during stillbirth your baby is on the other side.
When I was pregnant with Ginny, I was always rubbing my belly. I loved feeling her move and react to my touch. I was always trying to figure out what position she was in. We would talk to her while rubbing my belly to bond with her. I remember when I showered, I would rub my belly and be blown away with the knowledge that my baby girl was growing in there. The morning after we got the news that Ginny had died, I showered before heading to the hospital. As if by muscle memory, I started rubbing my belly. My hands dropped and the first rush of anger fell over me. My baby girl was not growing in there. I felt foolish for rubbing a belly with no life – only death. How could I possible give birth to death? How could I possibly endure the physical and emotional pain? How could I carry the burden of death?
The doctor who confirmed Ginny had died told me that delivering her body was not an emergency. He said that some people want to deliver right away, some people wait a few days, and some people wait up to 2 weeks for their body to go into labor naturally. I chose to wait one day to give time for family to arrive. That one day was excruciating, and I have no idea how anyone could wait 2 weeks, knowing they carried death. What the doctor didn’t mention and what didn’t occur to me until the next day was that the longer you wait, the more signs of death are present on your child’s body when they are born. During labor my wonderful nurse had to explain this to us. I know it had to be so hard for her to say, and I know it was hard for us to hear. She explained that stillborn babies are born in a variety of conditions depending on how long it has been and the delivery. We should expect her lips to be dark as blood has settled in her head. We should expect her skin to be very fragile, peeling, and easy to tear. As tough as it was to hear, it helped me to hear her describe it. I had no idea what to expect. I asked her to clean Ginny’s body and wrap her in a blanket before handing her to me. It was important to me for Ginny’s body to not be covered in blood when I first saw her. I wanted her to be as pristine as possible; these would be the only visual memories I have of her body.
The moment Ginny was born – the moment I gave birth to death, I felt relief and heart-wrenching silence and peace and sorrow and love. God was very present in that moment. When the nurse placed Ginny in my arms, she did have dark lips and delicate skin. But I didn’t see only death, I saw her life! I saw physical proof of all those wiggles and kicks. Here was the person I had intimately known for the past 8 months. My heart burst with so much love! It burst again as I saw Daniel hold her. We treated her body so so gently; I didn’t want anything to damage her and my memory of her beautiful self. I wanted her to look as true to who she was alive as possible. Sometimes I wonder if we should have spent more time with her body, but I know each hour we spent with her she would look less and less like herself. I’m happy I have the memories I have. I do wish we would’ve gotten pictures of that moment though. The pictures we do have are from a couple hours after we gave her back to the nurse. The pictures don’t quite match my memory of her. I still deeply treasure them.
In His nearness during Ginny’s birth, God reminded me that that I did not have to carry the burden of death. Jesus has already carried that burden for me and for Ginny. And when I held her beautiful body in my arms, I was reminded that I did in fact give birth to life. Although her life was short on earth, she is alive in heaven. She’s just on the other side of that paper-thin veil.