Unfortunately, About One In Four Pregnancies Ends In Miscarriage, Stillbirth Or The Death Of A Baby
A tragic statistic
Every parent-to-be hopes for a picture-perfect happy ending: the birth of a healthy baby. Unfortunately, about one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a baby during his or her first year of life.
While a number of books have described the experience of perinatal loss through a mother's eyes, William H. Woodwell, Jr's, book Coming to Term: A Father's Story of Birth, Loss, and Survival is the first book to describe a father's experience of grief and loss.
His twin daughters Josie and Nina were born 16 weeks prematurely when his wife Kim developed severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome -- a life-threatening condition that necessitated an emergency cesarean delivery. As Woodwell recalls, "The picture-perfect 1990s delivery, with the mother awake and alert and the father on hand to share in the moment while offering whatever emotional support he can, was not to be ours."
Both girls survived the delivery, but like all babies born this early, they faced roughly 50-50 odds of survival. In the end, Josie survived and Nina didn't, and William and Kim found themselves in the emotionally devastating position of having to grieve the death of one baby while caring for the other. It didn't help that Josie was still in the woods herself. William and Kim were faced with the very real prospect of losing her, too.
Fortunately, Josie managed to overcome the medical challenges she faced during the early weeks of her life and -- shortly before she reached four months of age -- she was declared healthy enough to leave the hospital. Today, she is a healthy four year old with few lasting effects from her early arrival other than a mild case of cerebral palsy.
Sharing the experience with others
Woodwell decided to document his family's experience with premature birth and perinatal loss in the hope that doing so would help other parents. Writing the book also allowed him to try to make sense of what he'd been through -- to process what he was thinking and feeling: "Until you've lived through it, it's hard to understand just how deeply you can be affected by the death of a baby."
According to Woodwell, parents who've experienced the death of a baby need to know that their grief journeys may follow different routes. Fathers sometimes fail to understand the extent of the personal connection that a mother feels with her pregnancy and her baby, and mothers may find it difficult to understand how their partners are able to go to work and otherwise carry on with life when they themselves may be falling apart.
But no matter what path your healing process follows, it's important to acknowledge that you have just lived through a traumatic experience that will affect you deeply. As Woodwell notes, "By acknowledging that this event will affect you in a profound way and that there's no use in 'fighting it,' I think you inoculate yourself from feeling weak or vulnerable when those feelings and memories inevitably well to the surface and you're face-to-face with what happened once again."