When the Answer Was No: Grief After Losing Unborn Children

Posted on: May 03, 2017

Dealing with grief after stillbirth or miscarriage is a long, heart-wrenching road. I send all blessings and love if you, too, have walked this path.

I am one of those people who doesn’t take “no” for an answer.   One of my favorite mantras is “if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” So I always ask.

I also have a very, very, very strong will.  Did I say very? When I set my mind to something…consider it done. This unfettered drive and focus has served me well.

But one thing in my life completely flattened me, literally stopped me. My “no.”

No matter how hard I tried, no matter what hoops I jumped through, no matter how many prayers, letters, tears, appointments and pleas, I couldn’t have another baby. And I don’t mean get pregnant; I mean bring another baby into the world -alive.

Yes, I know I just said “another” so forgive me…please… if you have not been able to have one child. I know I am blessed beyond measure that I have three healthy children whom I conceived, carried, and delivered pretty darn effortlessly. I loved being pregnant and after having one baby, I saw myself birthing 4 or 5. So after baby three, I arrogantly counted the month in which I wanted my fourth child to be born and got busy. I had the control, right?

Well, I did get pregnant.  It took me longer…not in my timing but I carried this baby with such joy. Our three children were old enough to understand that they would have a new sibling so we eagerly shared the news.  Bad idea. The first most devastating thing that ever happened to me happened when the baby’s heart stopped beating. I lost him and delivered him stillborn at 20 weeks. His name is Ethan Curtis Zimmerman.  I picked him up in the hospital morgue in a tiny coffin and carried him to my hometown where we had a private ceremony and buried him at the gravesite of my Grammy. I wore a dress, brought a boom box and played a song at the gravesite as we said a prayer with our family Priest.  It was one of the most beautiful Fall days in October. I still smell the air.

The funny thing when you lose a baby in the hospital, they put a picture of a sad bear on your door so all visitors know what tragedy just occurred on the other side and then when you leave the hospital they wheel you out in a wheelchair and present you with a teddy bear to hold in your arms as you travel from your bed- the bed you last saw your child, all the way to your car where the empty car seat is set. As if holding the bear is supposed to make you feel better that your real live baby isn’t with you…. like some bait and switch or maybe they think you are too sad to realize that it is just a stuffed animal. I appreciate the gesture, but it didn’t help me.

Since all my pregnancies were so normal this could not be explained. The baby was chromosomally normal yet the fact that it was in the second trimester made everyone curious.  I got busy working on the answer to the mystery. I was still going to have a baby, so sad that it was not going to be this baby boy, Ethan, but I knew all things work together for God’s glory and I believe God’s glory was that there was another little human being meant to be in our family.

So now a little older, I knew the timing of getting pregnant was less in my control but I knew I would get pregnant again and I did. This time the doctor wanted to take precautions and I was sent to a hematologist to test my blood for a condition he suspected could’ve been the problem. Sure enough after about 40 vials of blood and couple weeks of waiting, I did have a blood clotting disorder and was instantly put on blood thinning medication injected two times a day.  This time I felt much more pregnant – nausea and extreme fatigue and I knew this baby was going to make it.

And then one snowy day with my three children in tow, I went for my regular check-up.  Feeling nauseated and tired, I remember sitting in the waiting room reading “Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel” over and over.  I went back to see the doctor knowing this was the exact month (and came to realize even the exact week) of the pregnancy that I lost Ethan. I didn’t expect what came next, the unthinkable, and with all three children huddled in the room with me.  The doctor could not hear the heartbeat. (What?)  He could not hear the heartbeat. (I’m dreaming, right?) We went into the ultrasound room…. It was gone, the image was dark, she was gone, I lost this baby too. I instantly laid back. I think I even passed out and I don’t think I came to for many months.  Days later, I delivered this perfectly healthy baby just like her brother in the hospital room, the same one with the sad bear on the door. We named her Elizabeth Dale Zimmerman.

The perfect ending to my story was ripped out of my heart, delivered and buried in another tiny little coffin at the gravesite with her grandmother and her big brother Ethan. This time it was a cold winter’s day, I wore a dress, and I brought a voice recording of my 5-year-old daughter reciting Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” and I didn’t move for months. Telling our kids was one of the most devastating things I have ever had to do- especially my daughter who so longed for a little sister.

I sat numb and raw all at the same time.

And then, as is my way, I decided this wasn’t the end. “No” was not an option.  I knew I could do it and I knew there was a baby to join the Zimmerman family. I dedicated the next two years of my life to solving this mystery. Why were these perfectly healthy fully developed babies dying inside of me? What was wrong with me? Did I not try hard enough? Was I not a good enough mother? Was I being punished for something I did in my life? Or was it just a test of my dedication and will? I wrestled with all of these questions and decided the latter was the easiest to deal with so I got busy.

I found a specialist in Chicago and went through the most bizarre battery of tests. I had more blood drawn than I think I have coursing through my body, and was tested for every possible disease and toxic exposure. I was on hormones, steroids, intravenous infusions, shots two times a day of blood thinner, and ultrasounds once a week. I shipped a dozen vials of blood to Chicago at the perfect day of each month and all of this in the hopes that I might get pregnant and my body would be properly prepared to carry a baby full-term. I had something called anti-phospholipid syndrome and natural killer cells that caused inflammation that was destroying and suffocating the life inside of me.  All the while, my heart was shriveling. My husband was supportive and along for the ride but all of this was taking its toll on me physically and emotionally. After several months of this regimen, I did not get pregnant and chose to stop this intense protocol.  And as most stories like this go, I got pregnant the next month. Of course my body wasn’t on this crazy preparation plan and I was very stressed and taxed from months of medication and intense focus. I lost this baby at week nine.  And wouldn’t you know, I got pregnant one more time. I lost this baby at week eleven, delivering my child in the bathroom stall at church.  I visit each week. That’s when it dawned on me that I had lost more babies than I birthed live.

The answer was no.

I couldn’t do this one, I was not in control and despite all the hours of crying out to God, of pleading with Him, asking Him to make His desire my desire, I still deeply wanted a baby.  My husband did not want to adopt, so our family was complete.

The answer was “no” despite years of asking. My happy ending wasn’t the one I had written.

Through all of this, I learned many, many lessons– too numerous to list and maybe I’ll save that for another post one day but the greatest lesson I learned is this: Motherhood is a gift for which to be grateful. Be grateful for every single solitary “yes” (even small ones) and never ever take one “yes” for granted.  I know now that sometimes a “no” is my “yes.” I am grateful for my beautiful family. I am grateful that the disorder I have only affects the pregnant me, and I am grateful for each and every one of my seven children – my three on earth and my four in heaven.

This IS a Happy Mother’s Day.

I’d love to hear your story so please leave a comment below.

Also, in my 5 Tips to Stand Center Stage, I share how to handle rejection with grace. To see this and the rest of the tips,  sign up here!