Pregnancy and Infant Loss: The Things We Keep

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October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Today is a day I honor my son who was stillborn June 20, 2011

When we moved last year, I went through my closet piece by piece, deciding what I would take to the new house and deciding what I would donate. There were the usually things – jeans I only dream about fitting into again, a shirt I wore over a decade ago that I also had hope for, shoes that were no longer practical for my life, work clothes I no longer needed…but then there was one thing that stopped me from browsing through the hangers and gave me pause.

In between discarded formal dresses, my wedding dress and blazers for work was a turquoise blue, maternity shirt. It was sleeveless with a V-neck and flowers embroider on each side. It gathered below my breasts and then A-lined out to make room for my once pregnant belly.

Long after I had given all my other maternity clothing away, this shirt stayed with me collecting dust on the shoulders where it hung on the hanger.

This was the shirt I wore the day we buried our stillborn son on June 24, 2011.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss - The Things We Keep

Funeral attire

The morning of the burial I sat on the ground of our closet debating what to wear. Do I wear all black? My life felt that way then. It was heavy, dark, suffocating and filled with horrible thoughts that were only held back by the shock I was still experiencing. There were many moments where I literally couldn’t breathe. Kevin bought paper bags and would run to grab one the second I started hyperventilating and convulsing.

I decided that all black was not what other people would want to see. I’m not sure why in that moment I decided to care about what other people thought. I had very little regard for their thoughts and feelings in general as I waded through the heaviness of the days and months following Alexander’s death. But, I did.

I looked through my other options. My stomach was still swollen and yet somehow so much flatter – empty – at the same time. My breasts were swelling and filling with milk even though there was no babv to feed with it.

That ruled out wearing something non-maternity. My nursing bras barely fit, there’s no way something made for my before-baby breasts and belly would.

I finally selected that blue top with the flowers. I thought that the blue would be a good way to honor the blue that I lost in my life. I thought that the flowers provided a spot of sunshine when all I could see was darkness.

Big, little decisions

I don’t remember anyone mentioning the shirt that day. I didn’t expect that they would, and I didn’t really care how I looked. I put on clothes and I walked forward into the second hardest day of my life, which followed the hardest earlier in the week.

What I do remember is the pain in my breasts when people would hug me. I remember the looks they gave me – some sort of mix of pity, disbelief and wonderment.

They were probably wondering if I had gone crazy. And, in a way I had for a time. I was broken. Lost.

The selection of a blue shirt was the biggest decision I could handle for a long time after that. Getting dressed was a struggle. Living was a struggle.

When the unbelievable day was over, I hung it on a hanger and left it there.

Seasonal Reminders

As the years passed, I’d stumble across it seasonally. I always clean my closet in the spring and before Christmas and donate the clothes.

Year-after year, I would hang onto the shirt. I didn’t even consider letting go of it. Without stopping I’d just continue thumbing through my closet for other discarded garments. I’d catch a glimpse of the blue as I passed and something that I keep locked away deep inside would ache. Thoughts of that day, that week really, would flash through my mind.

This year, when we moved, I removed that blue shirt from the hanger. I added it to an overly-perfumed garbage bag along with other clothes I was donating. Even as that thing inside me yelled and screamed and kicked, I didn’t look back. I sealed the bag. It was time.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss 

Loss is like an ocean. It’s vast, it’s deep and it seems to go on forever. You move through the waves that come over you and swim better through the calm parts. Still other days, all you’re able to do is tread water.

You hold onto these things because you can’t hold them.

Like a life preserver, you think the painful reminders of the past keep you afloat. But the truth is, you’ve already lost the most important thing.

After years, I’ve felt like these things have weighed me down. Like cement on my feet they pull me back under and I can feel that day wash over me again.

And it’s because loss goes on forever that I can’t afford the weight anymore. I may have let go of a piece of clothing, but now – years later – I know that doesn’t mean I’m letting go of him.

You take them with you…in your heart, in your head, in your soul. You remain forever changed for the better because of their constant presence in your life. You will never let go of them even if you decide it’s time to let go of the things. Just because you can’t hold them, doesn’t mean you can’t keep them.

For more experiences about stillbirth and miscarriage, click here.

33 COMMENTS

  1. This is such a powerful post. I am very sorry for your loss and I think you are so brave for sharing your story. I’m sure many women with similar experiences will find comfort in knowing they are not alone in their grief.

  2. Rachel, I am still so grieved and heartbroken for your loss. You are a strong, beautiful mama and I’m so glad you have two sweet littles here on earth. So much love for you this month as you remember Alexander. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. I can totally understand why you would want to hang onto that shirt. There are a few things that I’ve kept over there years but I’ve gotten rid of most things. I just didn’t have room to keep storing them and now that I downsized, I really need to go through my stuff again. Maybe soon.

    I have my wedding dress from my marriage that is falling apart. I was beautiful in that dress and it’s not the dresses fault things didn’t work out. I’m torn on whether I should keep it, donate it, toss it, or set it on fire. For now it sits in the closet, as I determine what I want to do with it.

  4. I am so sorry your precious angel is no longer on earth. I cannot imagine that kind of pain, but I am sure it was heartbreaking. I have lots of closet pieces.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. However, I’m glad that you could let go of the shirt. Although it is not the same level of grief, my dad died 4 years ago. I’ve been keeping things that remind me of him, but some of the items aren’t adding value to my life. Your last sentence really resonates with me, because I don’t need his stuff to remember him.

  6. Hugs mama!! I can empathize and love how you put this into words. There’s something healing about writing about all these little things that go through our head when dealing with grief and loss. No mother should have to pick out funeral attire for their child. I remember shopping for mine while recovering from emergency c-section and I kept the clothes for a while, but no longer have them. I have some other little keepsakes though.

  7. Grief has robbed me over and over of my ability to make choices, I thought I was alone in that. It is like I freeze and simply can’t make choices, even small things. I am so sorry you went through that too. I am glad you are making them now. We call it loss, but loved ones are always in our hearts and never far from thought.

  8. So sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your story. It must have been tough to write this but this will help mamas with same experience.

  9. I’m so sorry that you had to experience this. Thanks so much for sharing your story to help other moms who have experienced this.

  10. I’m sorry for your loss and can’t even imagine what you went through! I’m sure your story will help others dealing with the same circumstance!

  11. This happens all to often and I don’t understand with all of the medical advances why more can’t be done. I’m so sorry for your loss doesn’t even begin to cut it, but it’s all I have.

  12. I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like. Your post moved me to tears. Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. I know what it is like to have lost a child before getting to meet them. I thank you for sharing your experience. It is hard to deal with a loss like this, and your story is moving.

  14. This was absolutely beautiful! Yes, it’s sad. It’s horrific. But, it’s also hopeful and full of love. You showed us what it means to be human, broken and strong, all at once. You are amazing. I’m honored to have read about Alexander’s story as it continues through you.

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