My pregnant belly is noticeable. I'm at the point where strangers see me and ask, "When are you due?" and "What are you having?" and "Is this your first child?" They're all well-intentioned questions, but it's the last one that gives me pause every time I'm asked. In the few moments I have before I need to open my mouth and say something, I have to ask myself: What should I share? What will this person's response be, and how much will it upset me? Should I just lie and say "yes"
The truth is, this is not my first child. I was pregnant in 2012 with a baby boy. On the morning of my due date, Dec. 26, I woke up with labor pains. Having had a healthy and totally uneventful pregnancy, I assumed that going into labor on my actual due date was a good sign that everything was going to go well. My wife and I live about 40 miles outside of New York City, and our doctor was based in Manhattan, where I would deliver. We rushed into the car and arrived at the hospital in less than an hour, which was an unusually fast trip, but it was the day after Christmas, so traffic was light.
I was taken to the Labor and Delivery Unit, where I was immediately assessed and taken into the delivery room. Still assuming that everything was going well, I shared my birth plan with the nurses. I wanted to have as natural a birth as possible. But then I noticed the worried look on the doctor's face as she told me I needed to push because we needed to get the baby out now. It was less than 20 minutes later that I heard the words I never imagined I would hear: "I'm so sorry. Your baby is not alive." I was completely confused. How could this be? There must have been some sort of mistake. But it was true. My baby boy had died in my womb and was stillborn.
When we woke up that morning, we knew our lives were about to change forever. We just had no idea that it would be in the way we never could have expected. Instead of waking up in the middle of the night to feed our newborn, we woke up in the middle of the night with anxiety and grief. Instead of working with a lactation consultant on the intricacies of breastfeeding, I was instructed on ways to dry up my milk supply. Instead of marking the weeks and months of how old our son was, we noted how long he had been gone. Instead of regular doctor appointments to measure his progress, we had weekly grief-counseling sessions.
Our friends and family surrounded us with tremendous love and support. We worked with a grief counselor who helped us through the fog of mourning. We supported and loved each other, and through all of the tears and difficult moments, we held each other. We think about and miss our son every day.
Whenever I see a child around the age he would be, I think of him and what he would be doing had he lived. And even though he is not here with us physically, he is with us all the time. He has made me stronger. He has made me grateful for little things in life, and most of all, he made me a mom for the first time.
When we reached the painful one-year mark, we acknowledged that we had made it through many of the "firsts" that other new parents celebrated, and we mourned.
As we entered into year two, we took the difficult step of going back to our doctor to try to conceive again. After two years of several failed IUIs and a miscarriage, I got pregnant via IVF.
Each day and week of this pregnancy has been filled with fear and anxiety, but we also have waves of joy and hope. We try to hold onto those moments and let them in. People ask us if we are excited, and the answer is yes—but we are also scared to let ourselves feel that way. As I feel my baby bumping around inside me, I can't help but think about the movements I felt in my first pregnancy. And in the moments when I feel nothing, I have to keep my panic in check until I feel another little heel or elbow giving me a poke in the ribs.
It has been three years since we lost our baby boy. It is surreal to think about what life would have been like, and frankly, it is just too hard to go there. Instead the last three years have been consumed by grief, endless efforts to fill the gap in our lives, and the ongoing challenge of moving forward while honoring our baby.
Now when I am asked, "Is this your first?" I respond honestly and say, "No. It is not. We had a son who passed away." Sometimes people respond by saying they're sorry. Sometimes they just say "oh" and look so stunned that I change the topic of conversation as fast as I can. But recently, after giving my response, a kind woman said, "I am so sorry to hear that, but it is so good that you mention him. What was his name?" His name is Emilio Gabriel Vela Meeks.