My Stillborn Baby Still Counts as My Child

Sebastian-Smart-cropI am a mother to Sienna, Sebastian and Tennyson.

Today marks the second anniversary of the birth of our son Sebastian, who was stillborn at 38 weeks on April 6th, 2014.  Up until the point that we lost him, he was a healthy, lively little baby kicking around inside me.

For a while now, I have repeatedly been asked a very difficult and indeed painful question (often by friends who are only too aware of our tragic loss).

Are you going to have a 3rd child? 

From a stranger this question is more understandable, even if it is a touch intrusive. But from someone who knows me, I am staggered. Do they not count Sebastian as our baby because he died? Even though he was alive in me for 9 months, just like their own babies, who they were fortunate enough to hear cry when they were born?  I gave birth to our son too, naturally and yes, it was cruel, heartbreaking and utterly horrendous but we got to hold him just like they held their babies. The difference was that we had a funeral for ours 10 days later.

When answering this question, I will sometimes immediately correct the person and say, you mean our 4th baby?  And of course I get hit with a scrambled apology and the question is presented again in a different way.

But sometimes if I am caught off guard, I don’t correct the person, and I simply say that we would probably like another baby.  Then the guilt immediately hits me and stays with me all day and sometimes for many days. I feel then as if I allowed the dismissal of Sebastian’s existence.

There are many stages of grief. Two years on, they are all present for me.  There remains in my mind and body the disbelief, anguish, sadness and, especially when this unthinking question arises from friends, the guilt.

Sebastian will always be our son.  He will always be remembered, he will always be loved and he will always be sorely missed. Sebastian did exist and he is a very real presence in our family every single day.

I don’t want to sound bitter. I admit I am sometimes angry. But, I’m also thankful my friends’ babies were born healthy.  I’m thankful too that we got to see Sebastian and spend time with him before saying goodbye. I’m thankful for our firstborn daughter, who gave us strength to carry on.  I’m thankful for my husband who is the most incredible, strong and selfless man and I’m thankful for our second son, Tennyson, who arrived almost exactly a year to the day after we lost Sebastian.

This experience has also taught me to be gentle with my own words when I speak to any woman of a certain age, I do not make assumptions in inquiring about her fertility–now or past. When I see a woman without a child, I think: You don’t know her story.  She may not want a child.  She may have suffered countless losses.  She may be trying desperately for a baby to no avail but by asking the question, it may cut deeper than we know.

I just don’t want people to dismiss our first son.  I implore people not to be careless with their words.  If you must ask if we would like another child, why not ask exactly that:

Are you thinking of having another child? 

Any mother who suffers a stillbirth will have challenges in their everyday life that will make them ache for the child that isn’t with them. From simple things like filling out forms where you have to state how many children you have to seeing children the same age that your child would have been. I just urge you to recognize and respect that any child born to a mother counts. More often than not that baby was loved and longed for from the moment it was created.