October is national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance month, and it is a month that means so much to me. Often times mothers and fathers who lost a child, from pregnancy and beyond, feel like they can not speak up. They are told to move on, to cope, to not speak out of fear of upsetting others. We can not allow the silence of those who are hurting, speaking out is the first step to healing. Pregnancy and infant loss remembrance month is all about supporting your friends and loved ones and learning how to cope and help each other heal. The loss of a child does not only affect the mother, it affects entire families. Please take time this month to lend an ear to someone you know who has been effected by a loss, take someone out to coffee, show your support and that you care. 1 in 4 mothers suffers the loss of a baby, no mother should have to cope alone.
8 years ago, on the 17th of October, I gave birth to a beautiful baby and 9 painful days later she was gone. . .
I always imagined how I would give birth, it would be a magical experience at home with a midwife and my husband. It began as planned, my water broke and In the wee hours of the morning I felt the labor pains. I bounced on a yoga ball, took hot showers and got massages from my husband. The labor pains got stronger and stronger but my body was not progressing. I was transferred to a hospital where I was induced to speed things along. I was exhausted and could barely push but after a long labor she was finally here.
I remember knowing something was wrong the moment she came out, the room went silent and no one would look at me. A nurse came over to my side and held my hand, she told me to touch my baby to let her know I was here. Her face was blue and she didn’t cry, the doctors pressed buttons and began to yell. I tried to pick her up but a team of doctors came in and whisked her away. I was tired and confused and I jut wanted to hold my baby.
I got dressed and waited. . . Hours later a nurse came in with my baby in an incubator and told me that she was sick and that they were transferring her to Johns Hopkins Hospital. They told me to go home and rest, that Johns Hopkins is the best hospital in the country and everything would be ok. I went home and tried to sleep but my mind was racing. I sobbed into my pillow and begged to be taken to the hospital. We were given a room and told that we could only stay one night because they needed the room open for other parents.
The first time I saw her in the NICU was the hardest, she was attached to so many machines and her face was so swollen from the fluids that she could barely open her eyes. I spoke to her and she turned to look at me, they told me to have hope. I pumped breast milk for her and kept extra in my freezer for when I could bring her home. The doctors would come in while I was visiting and say ‘You know she is very very sick’ and ‘She is the sickest baby in this room’. I looked around and every baby was so tiny, preemies, and my baby was so big and looked so normal and healthy ‘looks can be deceiving’ they said ‘She is very very sick’.
My daughter had a tough time coming through the birth canal, there was miconium in my womb which caused an infection in her and in me and as she was coming through the canal she was inhaling that poison and getting sicker and sicker. The doctors did not see it in time, had they known when I arrived I would have been rushed to an emergency c-section but everything appeared normal and I delivered a sick baby. The miconium poisoning caused my daughter to be born with cerebral palsy because of the lack of oxygen and because the poisoning was so severe she also suffered from persistent pulmonary hypertension.
After a week in the hospital a team of doctors called us into a conference, they sat us down and told us that Paikea had lost all brain activity. We were told that to leave her on the machines would be to give her a life of machines, to never eat or speak or move. Paikea was gone and we were keeping her from peace by keeping her attached. We decided to remove her from all of the machines and when she was 9 days old they placed her in our arms and we said goodbye.
This month is very important for everyone to recognize. We all know someone who has lost a child or a friend or a relative, and it is so very important to understand how to support them in their time of mourning and over the years as anniversaries come around.
When I first lost my child I didn’t have a very strong community of people around me; my family lived far away and I was new to the town I lived in. I had to learn how to cope on my own and with the support of my husband, and I have come up with a lot of ways to support someone who is grieving. Over the years I have written for several publications about how to support your friends who have lost a child.
Two of my favorite publications I have written for are the worst zine and don’t leave your friends behind. The worst zine is a compilation of stories on grief and loss, and how people have coped with their losses. My article on my experience losing my daughter can be read HERE (on page 11) and you can buy a copy of the zine and other amazing zines HERE.
Don’t leave your friends behind is an amazing zine about how to support your parent friends, and is run by two of the most amazing mothers I have ever had the privilege to meet. Vikki Law is a writer, photographer, prison abolitionist and mother of color. She is also the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2009). China Martens raised her daughter as a single mother on welfare and working poor while continuing to put out The Future Generation, the longest-running parenting zine in the history of the Western world. Her daughter is now grown and her zine has been anthologized into the book The Future Generation: The Zine-book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others (Atomic Book Company 2007).
I wrote a short guide for don’t leave your friends behind on how to support someone who has lost a child, based on what I felt I needed at that time. You can read it in issue #4 online HERE (on page 29 of 38 when viewing online) and you can find out more about the zine and the writers HERE. (ED. This zine is now a compilation book which includes my guide to supporting your friends through grief. You can find it HERE)
Before the day is over and when you have a moment of quiet, I would love for everyone to take just a minute to have a moment of silence for every parent who has ever had to suffer the extraordinary pain of losing a child. Let us collectively send a feeling of hope and comfort for all those who are grieving.
In the summer of 2012 Indie Ogden donated $2000 to the TEARS foundation and I want to encourage you all to continue to support this amazing group. Your generous support last year helped pay for bereavement counseling and funerals for grieving families.
I want to leave you with this poem my father wrote for my daughter Paikea. As always, dear readers, thank you for taking the time to read and support Indie Ogden; for this I am eternally grateful.
The wave of life crashed upon our shores and left us with our gift.That gift was a little girl called PAIKEA, the “Whale Rider.” She rode the great whale through our hearts and minds and showed us how precious is life. We were alive and full of love and joy. Her eyes were as blue as the deep ocean from which she came. Her hair was as full as the glass that we toasted for her arrival. She is the “Whale Rider.” But the journey here was long and hard for our Whale Rider and she was weak. She longed to stay but knew her time here with us was short. We caressed her and embraced her with our love, preparing her for her journey that we sadly knew had too soon come. The wave came back and took our Whale Rider, as it was her time. Our hearts were broken from sadness and we yearned for the joy and love that our Whale Rider bestowed upon us, but we realized that she was not ours. Our Whale Rider will ride the wave of eternal memories. We are pained but our hearts feel joy and love knowing that she is free to ride again. She will live forever in our hearts and minds. She is the Whale Rider.