Pushing to end preventable stillbirth in memory of Owen Nathaniel Vick
Although every loss story is unique, we can find connection & comfort knowing there is someone else out there who has been through something similar & understands how we may feel. I am sharing my journey so you know it’s possible to survive even this great tragedy. I’ll always grieve our son, but I have found ways to honor him & create a legacy of change in his memory.
Today I had to come in to an OB appointment I scheduled to look into some issues I’ve have with my period (truthfully since my first miscarriage, but none of my OB’s offered to help me find a cause until now). Whoever thinks your PTSD lets up after you’re done TTC is wrong!
Waiting in the same room as several women, pregnant with hope and most likely unaware of the risk of stillbirth, is my literal hell. I’m squirming and screaming inside, but holding it in. Let them enjoy their naive state, I tell myself. No, I would’ve wanted to know! My heart screams to me again. The horrible tug a war ends promptly as my name is called.
As I waited for the OB to go over my ultrasound results, I prayed fervently. “Please let me be ok. My kids and husband still need me. I know you and Owen want me to keep saving babies and I have more to do before I’m back with him”. A little melodramatic for what I went in for, but anything medical related becomes a worse case scenario fear in my mind now. Thankfully all went well. No bad news today. 🙏🏼
I scurry out, keeping my gaze straight ahead to avoid locking eyes with a pregnant couple that I pass. I say a little prayer, “Lord please keep their baby safe”, and I hop into my car. The wheels couldn’t take me away faster from that office.
I look to the clouds, as I often did after losing Owen. I noticed the sun shining, much like the day I left the hospital after delivering him holding only a small box of mementos. I take this as a reminder that my boy is with me telling mommy everything is ok, we can keep going together.
Anytime I get out of an OB appointment without an awful diagnosis is a good day for me and now I’m back to attending the ISA Conference to learn how I can help others keep their babies safe!
Have you ever wondered “why me”? When tragedy strikes it’s ruthless, cold and fast. It cuts you like a sharp blade then leaves you alone bleeding out, struggling to hold on for dear life. In the blink of an eye, my once perfect world was turned upside down. Of course, nothing is completely perfect, but I had it pretty good: A wonderful, adoring husband, a beautiful and sweet daughter, a long-awaited baby boy on the way, loving family and friends, good health, and all our basic needs more than met by our respective dream jobs. We had our share of stress, marital bumps, irritation with traffic, work issues and other dramas, but not anything major that we couldn’t handle. Looking back I can honestly say we may have even taken it for granted at times how lucky we were.
Yes, you could say life had treated me kind. Then the unimaginable occurred. I had recently quit my job, which was becoming increasingly more stressful, to take care of my health and that of my baby (as it had gotten to the point where my energy was so low I couldn’t physically make the hour commute to work anymore). One day, a day like every other since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I spent the entire day running around outside of the house with my four-year-old daughter. I had returned to work when she was only six weeks old with the support of family who helped watch her, but I always felt mom-guilt for having missed so much with her in those early years, so now I wanted to pack in as much as I possibly could before she was no longer the only child. This misguided notion makes me sad, even now, because I was so sure it was her last year as an only child and I was so worried about her having to share our attention, it never occurred to me that our second child was not coming home with us. That morning I took her to story time and the Tinker Lab at the library, followed by lunch at her favorite Mexican fast food place, Chipotle, then shopping for her dance shoes at a consignment sale before whisking her off to dance class where we met daddy.
Then we had dinner together at a Chinese restaurant we had never tried before (unfortunately that made my husband sick to his stomach that night) and I remember again thinking this could be one of the last family dinners out as a family of three.
I headed over to my friend Myra’s flower shop for the rest of the night to help her prepare for a bridal show that weekend then drove her half an hour out of my way to her house before finally getting home and crawling into bed. As my head hit the pillow, immediately my mother’s intuition kicked in. It was as if someone had sucked the blood out of my body, I felt a wave of fear so strong I jumped out of bed to go downstairs and stay up for a bit. Then I realized my son wasn’t moving inside of me. This wasn’t like him, he always moved. He moved so much that though I had heard of kick counting (not from my doctor, but from all the articles you read as an internet era mom), I rarely did it since he reached 10 kicks quickly, in under a minute. He was strong, vibrant, always moving about. Not today. I couldn’t remember if he had moved all day now that I was sitting down to think about it. I had been running around so much, I imagined it was my movement that kept him lulled to sleep. But after texting my sister, Karen, and my good friend, Mayla, freaking out about his lack of movement and following their suggestions (ice cold water, sugary drinks, sugary anything, shake him, make him move), I knew that something wasn’t right. I called the ER but they suggested to eat actual food then after another hour or two if nothing changed I should come in (ridiculous advice, I should have been told to come in immediately having had no movement for as long as I did). I stuffed my face with cold turkey meat and crackers. “Screw this, this isn’t working”, I thought. I ran upstairs with tears in my eyes and started dressing to run to the ER while my sick husband, Josh, woke and asked me what was wrong. I told him our baby wasn’t moving through my tears. He told me to calm down, lay down beside him so he could feel the baby. Placing his hands on my stomach for what felt like forever, Josh suddenly exclaimed that he had felt him. He wasn’t moving much, but it was nighttime, so he must be sleeping he concluded. I still didn’t feel okay. I had to go check his heart rate at the ER, then I could come back home to sleep. So, I told Josh to stay home with our daughter, Naomi, who was fast asleep while I ran over to the nearest hospital (only 5 minutes away) to check on the baby. Josh still felt like he had food poisoning and we didn’t have anyone to watch Naomi, but I honestly didn’t expect anything to be wrong and didn’t see the point of dragging her out of bed at 2 AM just to make a quick trip to the hospital.
Then followed the longest 5 minute drive of my life, followed by a short greeting at the ER desk, “my baby isn’t moving” the words sounding foreign even to me as I spoke them, tears swelling. They tried to calm me down, assured me that everything would be fine and quickly got me in to a room. The nurse hardly acknowledged me and told me to change into a hospital gown in the restroom and come back out to lay down for her to check the heart rate. I sat there for what felt like forever as she finished inputting my information in the computer. Why wouldn’t she check the heart rate first? Isn’t this serious? Nothing was done yet. Finally, she strapped the monitor on me. With my husband on the speaker phone, we heard it. There’s the heartbeat! He’s okay! Is he okay? The nurse told us his heart rate was at 80 secs. Is that good? I didn’t know, but they will do something if not I expected. Right? Is he alright? Nothing. I lay grasping for hope, but full of fear with my intuition kicking in again. It doesn’t feel right.
They had a woman do an ultrasound on me while they waited for the doctor on call to arrive (Dr. Nguyen, who also happened to be the doctor I saw most during my pregnancy from Facey Medical Group). Nothing. No conversation, no clue of what she was seeing. I tried to lighten the mood by asking, is it still a boy? She dryly replied, “That is not what I look at when I do these”. What does that mean? Okay, I waited. And waited. Then another nurse came in. The doctor is here, he wants to know the heart rate. “Now?” the ultrasound tech asked annoyed that she was being interrupted. “Yes now, the doctor wants to know” the nurse replied. Shouldn’t they have been monitoring that the whole time I wondered? “50 beats per minute” the tech responded. I’m not a doctor or nurse but that didn’t sound good and from the looks on their faces, it wasn’t. Shortly after, in what felt like a split second, the room was full of nurses and my doctor shouting out orders to prepare me for delivery. I was so stunned by the sudden decision, I could only utter, “What”? The doctor said this was the best chance for our baby, he needed to come out now because they didn’t know what was happening to cause his heartrate to plummet so drastically. I was panicked. Thoughts flew through my mind; My husband wasn’t even here, it’s too soon, he’s not old enough to come out yet. The doctor allowed me to call my husband as they quickly wheeled me into the delivery room to prep me for surgery. I can barely remember what happened next, though I know Josh tried to keep me calm and said not to worry he would be there soon and everything would be okay. Next thing you know, they were placing a mask on my mouth and nose to put me to sleep. I wasn’t aware that they had to put me under and instantly I was fear stricken asking the nurse what they were doing. She said this is what they had to do to get the baby out faster and instructed me to relax and count backwards. All I could do was pray to God in that moment to please let me live, I needed to be here for my husband and daughter, and please protect our son. Right then I was going to say his name, Jackson, which is the name we had decided on, but I heard a voice speak the name, Owen Nathaniel, then everything turned black.
Josh got my friend Mayla (who had been texting with me earlier and was waiting up to hear back from me) to hurry over to our house to stay with our sleeping daughter while he flew over to the hospital. When he arrived, frantically running, he ended up in the elevator with the NICU doctor (Dr. Zaman) that was supposed to be in charge of our son’s care after delivery. She was casually wandering to the nurse’s stations, catching up, meanwhile my husband in a frenzy was sprinting towards them trying to figure out where we were. He was finally told where to go and he walked into the most traumatic scene a father and husband could witness; several NICU nurses huddled around our tiny son pumping on his chest trying to bring him back and his wife laying lifeless on an operating table. He will never get over that sight. They told him they had tried for thirty minutes to resuscitate (the first half of that time without the NICU doctor and the nurses having no success; It was only after she arrived that they were able to get a heartbeat with medication, but by then it was too late) and they announced his time of death. Nothing can prepare you for that moment. My husband was destroyed as they handed him his perfect, but lifeless son. Our whole world was just demolished in an instant and the only person he wanted to talk to, his wife, was still being closed up from the crash c-section surgery and unconscious on the table beside him. I can’t imagine that horrific feeling and how awful it was for him to have to wait for me to wake up to relive the tragic news as they told me what had happened.
When I awoke, I was in a dark haze from the medication, but I knew something was wrong. Josh sat silently, but I could tell he’d been crying and the doctor was asked to come in to speak to us when they saw I was waking up. It was as if I was hearing them talk under water. It didn’t make any sense. I wailed like a wounded animal. How could my son be gone? NO, this wasn’t true! It was almost his due date (two months exactly to the date), he was supposed to be with us soon. We cried together; Josh holding me literally keeping me from crumbling onto the floor. I can’t remember much more than that. I was asked if I wanted to hold my son. I said no at first, I couldn’t bare to see him dead. But they insisted that I would want to and my husband encouraged me saying he was beautiful still, or something to that effect, which would make me feel like it was alright.
When they handed me my baby, I was instantly in love. I don’t know if I cried or just held him and kissed him. I was devastated that he wasn’t living, but I was so thankful to see him and be able to hold him. I know I cried inconsolably for the days to come, but whenever I held my baby, all I could feel was peace and the deepest love.
I knew my time with him was short, but I didn’t know what I was allowed to do or could do with my dead baby. So, in my list of regrets is that I never got to bathe him, dress him in an outfit, take a lock of his hair or a mold of his hands and feet, sing or read to him, and of course so much more that I won’t get to do now that he’s buried. But thankfully a kind nurse that was watching over us offered to baptize my boy for me in the hospital and though I was too broken to be there, my little brother, Amado, offered to go along and participate in this ritual. He said, “He deserves to have one of us there”, which was sweet coming from my little brother who normally isn’t very emotionally expressive.
Amado also stayed overnight with me in the hospital because we had decided that Josh needed to go home to sleep with our daughter, who at that time didn’t know what had happened and might be afraid if all of a sudden her dad and mom weren’t with her. My brother held me as I wailed in the middle of the night, completely devastated and reliving the moment of finding out I had lost my baby every time I awoke. It was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. As was his style, he didn’t say much, but I was comforted by his presence. Since my family all live a five hour drive away in San Jose, they were slowly trickling in to visit me and Owen in the hospital (my sister didn’t get to come though because she had just given birth the month before me). I also had a handful of close friends pop in too.
Those visits meant the world to me because in that extremely sad and uncomfortable situation for them, they decided to show up for us and sat with me as I held my son and talked to them. I remember my florist friend, Myra, sat beside me for a long time and I was holding Owen feeling so full of love for him and just happy that I could chat with someone who let me feel like a normal new mom with my baby in my arms. She didn’t bat an eye at the fact that he wasn’t alive and she sweetly confirmed that he was such a beautiful baby as she held him too. Although he had turned purple long before most of us saw him, he was still the most adorable, perfect little boy in the world to us. Owen looked just like his big sister and dad with a handsome split chin, a long skinny body, his toes curled on the side like his daddy’s, and he had dark blonde hair (which was wet when I saw it and then hidden under the beanie that volunteers had donated to the hospital and the nurses put on him before they handed him to me wrapped in a matching blanket). I wish I knew the color of his eyes, but I imagine they were brown like mine. I also don’t know if he had dimples like Naomi and Josh, since we never got to see him smile, but I have a feeling he did because that trait runs prominently in my husband’s family. Everyone who held our boy was silent, deeply saddened but also admiring how big and fully formed he was at 31 weeks and 2 days. Though he was born two months early, he was already a big, healthy boy at 4.1 pounds and 18 inches long, thanks to his genes from his 6’7” tall daddy. That’s part of the reason why the doctor said they tried to resuscitate for so long. They said they thought he should have made it and they didn’t know why he didn’t survive. We were talked out of having an autopsy by the NICU doctor when she came to see us soon after I had awoken. She described the process in a gruesome way and also emphasized that they don’t always find answers from the autopsy and insurance doesn’t cover it so many parents wish they hadn’t done it or opted not to. I wish now I had so I would at least have a little more closure knowing what could’ve been wrong or if the report came back with nothing, then I would know it was all due to the slow reaction of the hospital in getting him out and the way the NICU doctor failed to arrive to help resuscitate him until it was already too late for him to survive. To this day I think that’s why she encouraged us not to have the autopsy, so we wouldn’t have any legal recourse or proof of her negligence. But in that moment, we agreed not to autopsy because we wanted to keep our baby’s perfect little body intact and let him rest in peace. In truth, no reason for his death would have given us any additional solace. He was still gone, it didn’t matter why at that time.
In the moments that followed we had to make all kinds of difficult, definite decisions for our son’s burial. Of course we had never imagined ourselves in this situation and had no idea what to do. They had a sweet older woman come speak to us about options, so we quickly selected burial at the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery because she said they had one of the cheapest prices and it was nice there. I wish we had thought more about cremation because now that we have moved across the country we are far away from him, but Josh still insists that he wouldn’t have wanted to cremate. It’s a hard, nearly impossible decision to make with such little time and no matter what it still is horrible that our son isn’t alive. Another blessing was that the nurses had offered for a volunteer photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep to come take professional pictures for us. I denied the offer several times because I thought Owen had changed so much and I wasn’t sure how those photos would look or what I would even want them for since my son was dead. Luckily another nurse that came in on a later shift convinced me to do it because as she said if I didn’t want to see them right away, I could just put the photos away and if I ever wanted to look at them at least I had them. I finally agreed to let the photographer, Tony Berru, come the morning before we were discharged, but I asked for him only to photograph Owen’s little feet and hands, nothing else. However, as I was awake early (I couldn’t sleep knowing it was my last day with Owen), I had time to think and felt an urge to take a photo with Owen, so I called Josh to tell him since we had already said our final goodbyes together the night before and I wanted to check if it was okay with him if I saw Owen again to take the photo. He said of course I could do whatever I wanted to. By the time the photographer was ready for me to come in having taken the photos of Owen’s hands and feet, Josh had arrived to pick me up. I asked if he’d like to join me, which he decided to do and I’m so glad he did because it’s one of the only photos we have now of us together with our son. It was done very tastefully in black and white and using only the light of the window because Tony had not come prepared to take portraits. He was so kind to photograph us on the spot like that. I remember him sweating and working hard to set us up just right by the window. He later told us he wasn’t even sure how it would come out because he didn’t bring lights and he was just praying to God to please let the picture turn out for us. They really are stunning photographs that captured our love for our baby and each other. Tony even had canvases of the pictures he took made for us to display at the funeral; This man was an angel. He also provided me with the compassionate feeling that he saw our son as a beautiful, sweet baby, and didn’t seem to be at all phased by the fact that he was no longer living. I’ll never forget every person who gently held him or spoke to me while I had Owen in my arms and gave me that proud momma moment of knowing I had birthed this precious child of God and they were blessed to be meeting him, even if for just a short while.
Thankfully my good friends took over with helping me coordinate the funeral services too. They handled the flower arrangements (of course Myra created the most beautiful casket and burial flowers with a brown stuffed animal that we still use in photos today as Owen’s stand-in) and Mayla helped put together a lovely program that Myra and her daughter made for me with everything I wanted in it.
When I was discharged, I remember that bright sun shining on me again as I waited to get into the car sitting with empty arms in a wheelchair. The weather was in stark contrasts to how dark I felt. It cruelly pointed out how the rest of the world was moving on as my life was completely torn apart. My saving grace was Naomi, my sweet four year old whom I had the honor of being a mother to and had to now find a way to be a good mom to still. If it weren’t for her sparkling smile and the responsibility I felt for not letting this loss take her parents away from her, I don’t know if I could have come out from the darkness. Mayla came along to our meeting at the cemetery to help us make choices since I knew we would be emotional and not able to decide. I made myself leave the hospital as soon as they would clear me after my c-section because I didn’t want Josh to have to go there by himself.
In the terrible days that followed, I was overwhelmed by flowers, cards, texts, and calls from those who knew and loved us. I could barely get out of bed because I was still recovering from my c-section and had milk coming in that was excruciatingly painful and a cruelty of nature to still produce milk when I had no baby to feed. But also, my spirit was so crushed, I felt like doing nothing more than trying to sleep to let my mind rest from thinking about what had happened. To call it depression is an understatement, but doctors offered me medications for that, which I refused. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to medicate this loss away, the grief had to be felt and I would have to find a way to live with the pain of losing a child, so suppressing those feelings with medication didn’t seem like a solution to me. I did eventually see a therapist, who thankfully was able to get me disability pay (for post partum depression, which was only part of what I was going through, but what the government approves as a reason for financially assisting a family), so I didn’t have to return to work. I don’t think I could have faced any of my former colleagues or clients after having left on maternity leave without returning with a living baby. Most of my clients were young couples planning their weddings at our venue, preparing to embark on the first of the hopefully many joyful occasions of their lives together. The thought of having to tell them about how I had been pregnant, but lost my son at almost full term made me want to avoid conversation with them at all costs. I didn’t want to be the one to burst their bubble by bringing to their attention that sometimes our lives don’t turn out as perfectly as we had envisioned and in the real world, terrible things can happen to anyone. Not to mention, who wants to listen to a bride or a planner complain about something so trivial as the flowers they want being unavailable when your baby just died? I didn’t have it in me at all to pretend to care and I am just so thankful for my therapist who gave me the ability to have some money coming in, so we could then rearrange our finances, downsize to a smaller home, and live off Josh’s income, to allow me the time I needed to heal (physically and somewhat emotionally) and redefine what I wanted my life after loss to look like. Unfortunately, Josh didn’t have the same opportunity and as the sole provider, he did have to return to work (after a short time off that his employer graciously extended to him). I am sure the burden of caring for his broken wife, his toddler that still needed our full attention, and keeping our family afloat financially made it impossible for him to even think about dealing with his own grief. Everyone would ask how I was doing, which was very kind, but I know they hardly ever checked on him. Also, he didn’t like to talk about it because that was truly the most traumatic, worst day of his life, which he did not wish to relive. This was painful to me since I wanted to know he was hurting as much as I was and missing our son too, but I know it was Josh’s survival mechanism to just push through the emotions and try to be normal, strong, and level-headed for the rest of us. That’s not to say he didn’t grieve. I know he did. In his own private moments and at our son’s funeral, where I took my turn trying to be the strong one.
The day we buried our son was one I wish to forget, yet I will always cherish. It sounds weird to say the later part of that admission, but there were so many blessings that day, I can only explain it as “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”-Philippians 4:7. I knew that morning would be difficult, so I had asked a makeup artist friend of mine, Alex, to come to my house to help me get ready. I’m not shallow and I rarely wear makeup, but I for some reason felt if I could just get myself to look like I wasn’t crying all night and pull myself together to put on this event for my boy, I would somehow survive what I had to do; Bury my son and say goodbye to him forever. As it turns out, Alex had also survived losing a baby, so she knew firsthand what I was going through and in her sweet manner made sure I felt cared for and prepared me to face the world outside of my room (which I hadn’t left except to eat and see my daughter for the past few days). I remember us laughing, comparing our Mexican grandma’s feisty personalities, and distracting ourselves from the reality of what was to come. Alex was another angel that God put in my path to guide me through the darkest of my days. I put on a dress my mother-in-law bought me, which was a little big, but it was something I knew I would never want to wear again, so that didn’t matter. Our family all got to the funeral home where we had our son’s casket open for a viewing for the immediate family and close friends to say their goodbyes. Owen had been dressed in a little blue fleece bear outfit that was one of the few clothing items we had bought for him since we had all his sister’s gender neutral newborn outfits to use. He also had a striped onesie with a knight on it (his first name, coincidently means Little Warrior).
They also put makeup on him, so his skin tone was more natural and he looked more beautiful and peaceful than ever laying there in his tiny white casket. Slowly as everyone went up to see him, they all spoke loving words and prayers over him and I felt nothing but pride. I knew our son was the most perfect angel they ever saw in their life. My dad sobbed over Owen’s casket when it was his turn and my mom prayed and walked them back to their seats. I myself didn’t cry when I saw Owen because like every other time, all I felt was my love for him and complete peace when I was close to him. Plus, I’m sure I was trying my best to remain in control because I didn’t want to cause anyone else further pain by seeing me fall apart.
Josh, on the other hand, finally got to release some of his grief when we spoke to the crowd of friends and family gathered around the burial site; He could barely thank them for coming through his broken-hearted sobs. I didn’t want to say goodbye once we were preparing to lower Owen’s casket; Knowing that we would never be able to be physically close to him again tore my heart right out.
Our daughter was there, watching the ceremony, so I told the priest I wanted to keep the message upbeat and happy, then release balloons at the end so all the kids could enjoy sending Owen’s balloons up to him and avoid being too aware of all the crying around them.
We didn’t have Naomi meet her brother in person. I always wonder if she would have been traumatized seeing his dead body or felt just like we did, so happy and proud that she wouldn’t have noticed. But to protect her, we decided not to and so the only memory she has of him was in my belly (which she kissed and loved on every day), at his graveside, and in photos we showed her after. When she finally saw a photo of Owen by my bedside and asked whose baby that was, she was sad to know that it was her brother and that she didn’t get to hold him like we did. She was so little, I don’t think until that moment she realized that he was actually here at some point, but I also don’t believe she realized that we didn’t get to hold him alive, that he was dead when we saw him. So as a parent, I think we just did what we thought was best for her at the time and add it to our list of what if’s, not knowing if it would have been better for her to get to hold her brother too.
After releasing the balloons to a song my husband chose for Owen, “Hero” by Family of the Year (played by my amazing DJ friend, Richard, who was an angel to download all the songs we chose last minute for the service), we left to eat at McDonald’s with our immediate family. That may seem like a strange choice, but honestly, I didn’t have it in me to plan where we would all eat after and I didn’t want everyone coming over to our house, so when we asked the kids where they wanted to eat and they shouted “McDonald’s!” that worked for me. If anything, it was already a surreal day, so where we ate (especially since I had zero appetite) was of no consequence to me and anything we could do to make my daughter happy was perfectly fine by Josh and I. So the whole crew of us, dressed in our Sunday finest, piled in to the McDonald’s off the freeway by our house and watched glazed-eyed as the kids ran around the playset completely unaware of the gravity of what we all had just experienced burying our precious newborn baby.
That was one of many moments to come where I felt like the rest of the world was still spinning, while my world had come crashing to a halt. No one seemed to notice my bleeding heart that was so tender to every trigger that kept reminding me of our loss, which at that time was everything and anything. As C.S. Lewis wrote and I can relate, his “absence is like the sky, spread over everything”.
There wasn’t one thing that didn’t remind me of Owen: a beautiful sunset, the warm breeze on my face, the sight of a butterfly, a baby or little boy, a pregnant belly, my daughter’s smile, children laughing…he was in it all. In time those signs of his presence would give me the same peace he did when he was here, but it was a constant up and down battle just to push through those first days, months, and years after loss. I remember clearly in the early days, not being able to stop crying, except when my daughter snuck into my room and sat quietly on the rocking chair beside my bed to be with me. I was comforted by her presence and also reminded that I still had her to live for and try to be the same mommy she had before, somehow, because she didn’t deserve to lose that mom. She held my face and forced me to look in her eyes then would give me the biggest smile, which made me instinctively smile back through my broken heart. Naomi, my purest, truest love, was the angel that saved me and brought me back to life. God knew I would need her, and I would do anything I could to be the best mother to her no matter the trauma we had endured. I would pick up the pieces of our broken lives and somehow show her that we would survive this together as a family, and we did. Grief is a long, lonely road. But I have found so many angels have come into my life along the way to keep me from losing hope, push me forward, and give me purpose. Our son, Owen Nathaniel, whose name stands for Little Warrior, Gift of God, is the angel that continues to light my way. I will never be able to understand why God took him home before his first breath, but I do believe Owen’s life will continue to give meaning to mine and I will forever be grateful that I got to hold him in my arms and be his mother forever until the end of time.
To end on a positive note, because my boy is one of the main reasons for everything good that I do and all that I aim to be. I wanted to share in this post that we have officially launched a non-profit with other bereaved families who lost their children to stillbirth and we are so excited for the change we are going to make in their memories. Though it’s too late for us now, we’ve learned so much in the five years after our loss and are determined to make sure we fight to end preventable stillbirths. Our son may not have a voice, but we’ll do everything in our power to make sure other families do not have to endure the loss of a baby if it can be prevented (which many can be). If you made it this far, I know you have a caring heart and will want to know what you can do to help us.
You can support us by following PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy on our social media pages and sharing our posts so that anyone who is a healthcare provider or is pregnant can hear our message before another baby dies that could have been saved.
In the U.S. 1/160 pregnancies end in stillbirth, which is 26,000 babies per year (more than SIDs and yet it is still taboo to talk about it so little is being done to prevent these losses). Silence and shame have kept families from speaking out, but no more! We’re here to share our experiences with prenatal care and our loss stories, so that we can save babies in honor of our babies that should still be here.
Thank you for all your love and support throughout the years. It truly means the world to us to know our son lives on in your hearts and is impacting the future in a meaningful way. There is no greater joy for a mother than to see her children’s purpose fulfilled, and I will always be Owen’s mom, the keeper of my son’s memory, and the creator of his legacy.
Here she is again; That viscous, heartless bitch, grief. She has no care for what day it is. She storms in, flinging the door wide open whenever she damn well pleases and ruins everything; Holidays, anniversaries, special occasions are all fair game. Four years after loss, her arrival has gotten a bit more predictable. We don’t feel the weight of her constant, daily presence like we did the first couple years. She’s more like the annoying uncle everyone puts up with at Thanksgiving and tries not to engage in conversation to avoid his off-color jokes. But that doesn’t mean she can’t show up without a moment’s notice and turn your whole world upside down again. People say grief comes in waves. In my experience she’s more of a tsunami attack. You can’t just wade in the shallow side of grief, she’ll drag you into the deep end and dunk you under as you gasp for air, crying out in vein for someone to save you. All it takes is a small trigger or a bad day for her to see her way in. Kick you while you’re down, that’s her style. A real bitch I tell you. But you know the weirdest part of this toxic relationship? Sometimes I see her coming and I invite her in. I welcome her like a long lost friend. Ah (sigh of relief), there she is, just when I was afraid I had “moved on”. That the pain of loss had decided to let go of my heart and somehow that means I miss him less. After a long spell of her silence, of being able to go through my daily routine without a tear, I feel somehow thankful when she returns and she reminds me of how much I lost, how badly I still long for my baby boy. She’s the only one who knows how truly broken I still am. She heard my guttural screams when I was told the news, “I’m sorry, we couldn’t save him. Your son died”, or some similar matter of fact statement that I couldn’t believe I was hearing as I was coming out of the black fog of anesthesia. My husband held my hand, tears flowing. Cries followed that sounded so foreign, but somehow were coming from deep within me; uncontrollable and piercing wails like a wounded animal. Only she knows how we sat together in the darkness every hour of every day after for months on end. I couldn’t imagine life without our son. The only moments I could see the light were when my sunshine came to my bedside to sit with me. My four year old girl, sitting sweetly in my rocking chair smiling at me and instinctively coming to my bedside to hold my face within her tiny hands making mommy smile back at her when I was at my worst. She kept me from being swallowed whole by grief in those early days. My husband too, with his rock solid strength, pushing forward, going back to work to keep us afloat and putting on a brave face though he was also fighting off grief and severe PTSD. God was there too, silent but steady, understanding all to well the pain of losing a child. He never left my side and kept promising me beauty for ashes, asking me to trust Him. Then inexplicably, somehow life continues moving on. We learn to cope, figure out ways to honor our lost loved one and by some miracle we can experience joy and hope again too. Grief takes a break, maybe she finds some other poor unsuspecting soul to ambush. Yet she won’t let you forget her, she comes back unannounced and as much as I dread that day, I can’t help but smile because I know she’s going to bring me right back to that place. That moment I held him in my arms for the first time, smelled his fresh baby skin, took in his perfection, every inch from his soft blonde hair, handsome cleft chin, long, thin body, down to his slightly crooked toes (just like daddy’s). He’s gone now, but he was here. He died in delivery, but he lived in me, and that’s where he continues to live today. Always in my heart, my son, Owen Nathaniel Vick. Grief lasts forever just like our love, they coexist hand-in-hand, and I’ve learned to accept the crashing waves that allow me to feel the depth of that endless love.
When does life begin? I know many have debated this issue and I won’t be the one to settle it here. Yet I feel inclined in my late night insomnia induced pondering to share my two cents.
Conception. No doubt about it. That moment when a very persistent sperm meets the specific egg that was dropped at that exact time of the month is the instant life begins. Yup, as soon as I read the plus sign on my pregnancy test I knew I was a mom. Ask any woman when she finds out she is pregnant and I think she will tell you the same thing. Of course it takes many more months to form a healthy, viable baby, but from the very start we already assume full responsibility for the care and growth of that baby in our womb.
Physically, some women go through many difficult challenges in their pregnancy journey (infertility, IVF, cerclage, bedrest, progesterone shots, c sections, and so many other serious medical issues) while others have less complicated pregnancies yet still also experience many of the same changes having to adjust their eating and drinking habits, take prenatals, go to countless doctors appointments and deliver (no small feats). Of course every mother equally sacrifices their bodies as they grow a tiny human inside their womb. Pretty sure we all in the final uncomfortable months wonder how we can possibly expand any further as our skin is stretched to the limit and we can’t even fathom there is any more room left inside for the baby to grow more. Yet somehow we do, and somehow that baby continues to grow and form until it’s time for that precious child to meet the world.
Emotionally, from the moment they conceive, hopeful parents prepare for their baby’s arrival and envision who that baby will become. A mother and father’s bond and love for that baby often grows exponentially along with every cell of its body. From the week to week updates on the apps or websites we check and the doctor visits where we can physically see the baby on ultrasounds, we know those little growing cells are alive and creating a being from day 1. But more importantly in our hearts that child has already taken his or her position in our family as our child and that will never change no matter what happens on the long road ahead.
I know there are those who will still debate this issue scientifically or rationally noting that at that first moment we can’t claim there is a living baby inside of a mother yet. I imagine these people have never been pregnant before themselves. I find myself hard pressed to believe that anyone who has carried a child and/or witnessed the miracle of creation for themselves as a father would be of the opinion that the mother wasn’t carrying a life, granted in its beginning stages, when they first got pregnant. While I don’t advise anyone to get pregnant just to see what I mean, I feel I can safely wager that if they did they would have to agree. You can’t experience the process of reproduction and watch your baby grow, develop likes and dislikes, flutter, kick, and turn in habitual and distinctive ways, without realizing that this very tiny being is becoming a unique person with each passing day and soon, if you’re lucky enough to get to participate in the miracle of birth, your awe will overtake any doubt as you behold that tiny, perfect little person and ask, “Wow, you were in there all along”? Yet somehow you have an instinctive sense of knowing that very child was in fact in there, growing inside of you, becoming who this child was made to be, and bonding with you from that very first second. If, I pray, when, your little one looks back up at you with their eyes full of wonder and you have the great fortune of seeing them continue to form and evolve as they get older, I am certain you’ll have no way of disagreeing that from the very start your child was alive and every moment of that life is a true blessing.
This isn’t a political debate, there is no hidden agenda or religious belief being pushed on anyone. Just the truth in my heart that I wanted to share with the universe tonight as a mother of five: one in heaven, two in my arms, and two more in the stars (though they only formed in my womb for less than two months each they are also a part of our forever family).
Owen, Jordan and Avery, I love you all just as much as your siblings on Earth. ????
Edit: This is my spiritual/personal belief about life, but I strongly support a woman’s choice and I know sadly many need to make a very difficult decision because of their baby’s condition or threat to their own life, etc. It is a very complex matter and my point was just to highlight how I have thought of all my babies as mine from day one and I especially feel protective over anyone who will question that my son was born, although he was born still. He was still born from my womb and will always be my son.
Lately my expression of grief has been lingering in the anger phase more than usual. Probably because all my emotions of frustration and anger regarding the loss resurface every time we celebrate our son’s “birth” day (October 3rd). I inadvertently return to that earlier stage of trying to make sense of why we lost him and who was at fault. It’s an extremely lonely and depressing place to be, but I can’t escape it, it keeps me up at night and tortures my mind endlessly. Couple that with the perceived indifference or apathy that I feel others have toward our loss, especially now three years later, it’s a dark and alienating feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Clearly no one would dare say anything suggesting we move on or that they don’t see why I’m still grieving, but it’s what they don’t say. The difficult moments when I or my husband decide to tell someone we lost a son don’t happen as often as before. But when we do, especially when he shares our loss story (because he doesn’t express his grief as much as I do so when he opens up about our son I know it took a lot), I would expect that the person listening could offer their condolences. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy conversation, but a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” would be much less cruel than silence and a change of topic. Why is it that people skirt passed uncomfortable conversations about grief? I guess maybe they think if they talk about the loss then we’ll be reminded and somehow hurt more? I know it’s hard to go there and feel empathy for someone when they’ve experienced the unspeakable and some people are surprised by the shocking, sudden knowledge that we lost a baby so they just don’t know what to say. But coming from a loss mom, if you don’t know how to react just say whatever you can come up with: “I’m sorry”, “That must be so hard”, “I am here for you”, “Can you tell me about him?”, anything, just don’t stay quiet please. It breaks our hearts our child is no longer here and your avoidance of talking about him doesn’t help. If anything it dishonors his memory and makes us feel even more alone.
And since social media is where many interactions take place these days, if you see a post about a person’s loss, please don’t “Like” it or nod and keep on scrolling. And if you planned on just tapping the sad faced emoji (????), reconsider and kindly take a moment to write out a sentence. Again it can be brief, but it means so much if you acknowledge our pain with a few words. I hope my advice doesn’t come off preachy, but I’ve experienced this enough times in three years and I know people mean well, so I’ve decided to share my feelings to tell others who want to be there for us and anyone else who lost a child that it’s okay to talk about our babies. We crave hearing their name and knowing you still care.
If you’re a loss parent reading this and you feel alone, you aren’t. I’m sorry we are here in this unfortunate club together, but I am glad that we can offer each other support knowing exactly what one another is going through. I will always be honored to hear about your child and grieve them with you. Please tell me about them. Comment with your baby’s name and story below, share my post, and let’s keep talking and honoring their little lives. I miss my son, Owen, just as much yesterday, today and always. It is still so hard, but on the good days something or someone reminds me of him and I can smile because he is mine and I am his forever. ????
Had a hard night. Just looking through old photos on my phone to try to delete some and make some memory space. I was looking at the days before losing our son. How naively happy we all were. Then all of a sudden, complete and utter heartbreak and unimaginable sadness. I didn’t know this could happen during a perfectly normal pregnancy. I wish I could go back and tell myself that day we lost our son to take a trip to the hospital earlier just to check on him, but I had no warning signs until that night when Owen stopped moving. Why did we have to go through this? Why did we lose our strong, sweet boy?? Being pregnant with another rainbow still doesn’t make me feel any better. If anything I am more saddened that we lost a perfect baby and we have no promises that this time will be different. All this aside, I am very thankful that I’m alive and have a chance to be a mother again to a son who I know I will love as much as Owen. Just wish things would’ve been different and he could be here too.
June 14, 2017
My new purpose since our loss is to spread awareness about kick counting and trusting your intuition in your pregnancy. Don’t take no for an answer if you feel that something is wrong. Be the annoying patient that calls or goes in whenever you feel something’s off. Always push for the extra tests and scans you need to feel at ease. Worst case scenario they find something wrong and you can try to save your baby or yourself. But hopefully everything is fine and you can go back to being blissful and excited about the miracle growing inside of you. All I want is for you to be able to bring home a healthy baby, so I don’t recommend putting blind faith in your medical team. They can be busy, overwhelmed with clients and confined to what they can offer through routine healthcare based on the rates insurance companies pay them, so it’s up to you to be your own advocate and more importantly to be your unborn baby’s voice. I don’t know if any of what I’m saying would have saved my baby boy, but I feel in my heart that it could help you. Please try not to stress, but be an active participant in your prenatal care. I pray that you will have no complications and enjoy every second of this miraculous process. And please, if you have a healthy baby at the end, know how blessed you truly are and treasure that little life!
Praying for all of you and cheering on every mom out there fighting for their baby’s survival through a high risk pregnancy. You are my sisters and my heroes.
Sometimes others have better ways of communicating how we feel. The documentary “Jacob” by Shawn Lovering did just that for me today. Watching the imagery of a mother walking aimlessly, searching for her son who also wanders alone through golden fields captures my heart’s constant search for my little boy as the days go by. Nothing about time helps to end our grief. Where there was love there will always be a feeling of loss and an aching urge to see them again. Especially with it being a year after our son’s original due date, I can tell you that some days it may get easier to live with the weight of that sorrow but it never truly goes away. Thinking of my sweet boy Owen, today, and always. ????
You can watch Shawn Lovering’s short but meaningful documentary here: Jacob
And while you’re here, could you please help us with these issues that are so important to grieving parents by signing this petition created by another angel mom? It takes only a second & means so much to us. Thank you! Click, sign & share: Petition to protect viable fetus rights
Almost a year baby boy. Can’t believe how much we have endured in such a short amount of time. I feel like I’ve aged so much more than a year. Pretty sure I look like I have physically, with all the tears that have continued to swell out of my eyes and the crop of new, spiteful little grey hairs that have sprouted from the constant stress. But emotionally I notice the changes even more. It makes sense, I’ve carried the burden of your loss daily for over ten months now. Sometimes the load feels heavier, the pain sharper. Other days, my heart is lighter, more focused on the present. But it’s always there, making itself comfortable in the complex fabric of this messy, imperfect, yet still beautiful life.
Being your mom and having held you are of course counted as great blessings. I know I am lucky to have experienced your life for 7 months inside of me and that we were able to meet you, even if it was tragically after you had passed away. Is it greedy to wish for more? Some women don’t get this far in their pregnancies. I know this. I’ve lived this (and sadly witnessed it too). How heartbroken I have been, losing two pregnancies in their early stages before and after losing you.
The first, before you, was our sweet baby Jordan who slipped away quickly and with the least physical pain. Still, I cried inconsolably over the weekend after bleeding more than I thought a person could. Having an ultrasound the next Monday to be told the baby was gone was just standard practice. We already knew. We silently mourned the baby we wouldn’t get to raise or see grow up alongside our daughter and waited to be able to try again. Back then I knew miscarriage was the loss of a child, but I let the doctors convince me that the baby was just a few cells. They didn’t care if I flushed the baby down the toilet or named him or her. They didn’t want me to bring anything in for testing (doctors won’t help look into causes of miscarriage until after three losses) and we didn’t know what to do with the little bit of tissue we saw floating down the toilet along with all that blood. So much blood. I still have nightmares, a deeply rooted fear of seeing blood when I pee, and I even wake up from sleep every so often with a strange sensation like I’m miscarrying again. Now I regret that we didn’t honor that baby’s life more back then and after losing you we decided to give our much loved and wanted baby a name, Jordan. (Jordan, I’m sorry for everything we did or didn’t do for you while you were here. You know you meant the world to me and daddy and we love you like all our other children. You will be in our memories and hearts forever.)
Our other little angel, Avery, clung to me for several weeks after we were told the pregnancy wasn’t viable (the baby stopped growing at 6 weeks, but we didn’t find out until our first scan at 8 weeks). What a devastating moment. After losing you too, I allowed myself to believe that surely this time everything had to be ok. I prayed so hard (to God, Jesus, Mary, the Saints of pregnant women, anyone who I could think of) for this pregnancy to be healthy, to finally have a sibling for your sister to grow up with. Our dreams were again shattered. At first I hoped and prayed that maybe the doctor was wrong. Not likely with this doctor, he’s the best high risk doctor there is. Yet, I waited anxiously, fearfully, and yes, hopefully, until the day the painful experience of miscarrying Avery began. Nothing happened for over four weeks, so I never expected it would be that physically painful. I called the nurse at my doctor’s office panicking, asking if I should rush to them or the ER. No, she confirmed, labor type contractions are to be expected. Over-the-counter drugs did nothing to curb the immense pain. The only thing that I could think other than, God please let this be over soon, was thank you God for allowing me to continue to miscarry our baby naturally. I didn’t want to have to have a D&C. I just couldn’t bare the idea of having another baby ripped out from my womb and I hope to be pregnant again one day, God-willing, so I didn’t want to risk having my uterus scarred at all. Of course being put under for a procedure scares the life out of me too. The last time I was put under, I woke up to the devastating news that you were gone.
How could that have happened??? I’m still in total shock baby. I’ve fought depression like a fierce warrior with therapy, prayer, and of course, love and support from your daddy, your big sister and our family and close friends. I’m still fighting that battle. I can’t allow myself to be broken, lost, forever damaged by your death. I still need to be a mother to your sister, a wife to your amazing daddy, and keep living for them and everyone else who loves me. But it’d be a lie to say I feel better. No, I’m still devastated. Heartbroken. Traumatized. Angry.
Without the truth and justice, how could there be peace in my heart? God teaches us to forgive even those who have hurt us most. Those who don’t admit their wrong or offer an apology. Ok, you got me. I’m not sure I can do it, but I’ll try baby. Not for them. Not even really for me. I do it for you. For you and your siblings, my love, because I need to be able to join you all one day in Heaven. I know I have to accept this new reality even if I don’t understand it or think it’s right. What happened to you, to us. But in order to get to that place where you are, I have to learn to forgive. It’s not easy, but I promise I’m trying.
Still, my heart breaks every time I read your medical records. Relive that day. Discover mistakes. Tell your story. So I haven’t quite yet given up on getting to the truth. How could I? You were our sweet, healthy, perfect baby boy. The apple of our eye and daddy’s spitting image. Those dimples, your curved little toes, just like him. No I haven’t forgotten you. And I won’t let anyone else. I promise. Even if that makes them uncomfortable. Even if I lose their friendship. Who cares. You are more precious to me than a friend who doesn’t want to hear about what I’m going through. That’s not really a friend is it? It’s okay. I still have plenty of real ones and have made new ones too. Even some that are pregnant or had babies recently and still manage to sincerely feel empathy for us without letting their own fears keep them from being there for me. This experience of loss has taught me both who and what is worth my time as well as who I am important to. In the end, we owe it to ourselves to spend our time with only those who matter most to us because life is short. I have you to thank for that very clear perspective.
You, my little one, will always be in my ever present thoughts, be they of love, joy, gratitude, sadness, despair, frustration, fear, anger, isolation, anxiety, resentment or, in time, forgiveness. I may have to accept you are in Heaven, far away from my embrace, but I will always miss you and long to see you again Owen (my how I love to hear, speak and see your name, I wish that would be more often). For you I fight, our Little Warrior. I’ll be your voice and until there is change in prenatal healthcare, in the value of unborn babies’ lives, and in the stigma and silence of the loss community, I won’t just “move on”. Two words that should never be said to a bereaved parent, or anyone else for that matter. You’ve awakened me to a greater purpose. I wish it didn’t take losing you, Jordan, and Avery to do so, but I know now what God is asking of me. But better late than never right?
Owen, I know you are happy where you are and though you may see me cry, sometimes even collapse under the weight of it all, don’t worry. I know God is with me even when I feel completely alone. He will help direct my steps. I won’t ever lose sight of His love or the blessings He continues to shower us with, even in this our darkest hour. Love always outshines every other emotion. But we have to allow ourselves to feel, even if that means being hurt. Never forget Owen, your mommy may be desperately sad that you left us, but I will always be happy that you are our son. I know you’re probably learning to stand and take your first steps in Heaven (because your cousin your age is doing that too down here). How I wish we could be there to catch you and cheer you on, but we are so proud of you and look forward to seeing everything you can do one day. Sending so many hugs and kisses up to you, Jordan and Avery. Good night our little angels.