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Jessica’s Story, Part 7: Look For Ways of Remembering a Lost Baby and Validating Your Experience

Part 7 of 8:

Even when a baby will not survive birth, parents have fully experienced that baby’s short life. Jessica recounts the importance of consciously making memories during pregnancy and at birth.

To read Jessica’s story from the beginning, see Part 1.

A Note to Our Readers: Carrying To Term had the privilege of speaking with and learning from a mother who chose early pregnancy termination following prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition for one of her babies during twin pregnancy. The following conversation addresses difficult subjects that may be triggering.

Jessica speaks with raw honesty and emotion about coping with a prenatal Dandy-Walker malformation diagnosis during twin pregnancy, arriving at the choice to terminate one twin, and being pregnant with the living twin while continuing to carry the body of the twin who died. Her story sheds light on the importance of informed consent, and the tragic experiences that can occur in the absence of informed consent and the shared decision making process between doctor and patient. 

Remembering a lost baby can be critical to a parent’s mental health and well-being. I don’t think it registered before the termination procedure that I would be carrying and delivering a baby who had passed. I was able to carry both of my girls until thirty-one weeks when my water broke. 

I was hospitalized in an effort to stop my labor, and I stayed in the hospital until I went into active labor at thirty-three weeks. I delivered my girls by emergency C-section. It was during this experience that I really began to see the realities of the choice we made, and how much informed consent might have changed our experience. 

Legal definitions

Since we terminated Maeva’s pregnancy before twenty weeks, it was an early pregnancy termination. That means she was never recognized as a stillborn baby. She was not given any documentation recognizing that she lived at all; that she was a person. As a result, Memphis is considered a singleton baby, not a twin. 

My health care team did not recognize Maeva as a baby. She was considered a product of conception, and the assumption was that, as a product of conception and not a baby, I wouldn’t be attached to her. So, I was not asked if I wanted to see her. 

Emotional consequences

It never crossed my mind to ask to see her because of how the health care team handled her at the time of her birth but also because of how the doctors had talked about her and her condition at birth at the time of the termination.

What doctors seem to miss in this situation is that there is some sort of intangible attachment that happens between a mother and a baby, and that attachment was there for me with both of my girls. It was never recognized by my health care team. While it would have been difficult to see her, it would have been my only time with my baby, and for remembering my lost baby. It should not have been up to my doctors to make that decision for me. 

A need for validation

Six months later, when I spoke with the hospital’s bereavement committee, I learned that I could have seen her. Learning that has been one of the hardest things since her birth because it felt like another experience of not being informed so I could truly consent. It’s another loss. Sometimes, I feel a little bit crazy for mourning and remembering a lost baby that I was never able to see, but she was a person and deserves to be mourned. I wish I had had that option.

We are living in a society that deems anything that makes us uncomfortable as bad and to be avoided at all costs. What my doctors didn’t understand is that I had already lived through the most painful days of my life during my twin pregnancy, and no matter what she looked like, my lost twin child was a baby. Seeing and holding her would’ve helped me know that she was real.

The power of closure

Knowing what I know now, it makes me very sad to think about the fact that I missed my chance to see and hold my baby girl. I think being able to see Maeva might have resolved a lot of “what ifs” for me. It would have given me a priceless memory, allowing me to say hello and goodbye. 

Some days, this experience feels like a dream, because I don’t have anything tangible to hold on to. I think getting to hold her would have helped this feel more real. I am not the only woman to experience this loss, and it’s something that has to change.

Jessica’s story helps raise awareness about the importance of presenting pregnancy continuation as an option to ensure women and families are fully informed about their choices, and able to knowingly consent to the right choice for them. 

Check back soon for Part 8 of Jessica’s story. To start from the beginning, see Part 1.

About Jessica

Jessica and her husband Peter are high school sweethearts who have been together for 11 years. Together, they are parents to son Maverick and daughter, Memphis. They are also parents to Maeva, Memphis’ twin sister who was diagnosed with Dandy-Walker malformation, tethered cord, and intrauterine growth restriction during Jessica’s twin pregnancy. Jessica is a stay-at-home mother to her two living children, who understands how important remembering a lost baby can be. In memory of Maeva, Jessica is an advocate for raising awareness about the need for reliable resources to enable informed consent following a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. Jessica and her family live in northern Ontario, Canada where Peter is stationed in the Canadian Armed Forces.