Published by
Stanford Medicine

Parenting, Pediatrics, Pregnancy

Losing Jules: Breaking the silence around stillbirth

My birthday is coming, and I’m dreading it. I can’t celebrate; I’d like to go to bed and wake up twenty-four hours later. It’s not because I’m a year older. It’s because it’s the anniversary of the death of my second child, Jules.

My experience is nothing unique. Death anniversaries haunt most people: the anniversary of the death of a parent; the anniversary of a friend’s suicide, the day a father or husband died in battle. My nightmare began on the morning of my birthday, three years ago. I was beginning my 38th week of pregnancy, and I felt great. All signs pointed to a normal, healthy baby. I woke up early the morning of July 30 and my water broke. With great excitement, I grabbed my overnight bag and headed to the hospital with my husband and my (then) 4 1/2 year old son, Miles.

Although I’m not religious, I baptized Jules with my tears and told him how much I loved him. Then I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life: I put him down, and I left.

We checked into the obstetric intake bay, and the nurse began to hook me up to a fetal monitor. She couldn’t get it to work and remarked that it must be malfunctioning. She brought in another monitor, and she couldn’t pick up the baby’s heartbeat on that one either. Then she brought in an MD with an ultrasound. I looked at the image of my beautiful son on the screen. There was no pulsing heart in his rib cage. He was dead.

I went into the kind of shock that people describe as “a bad movie.” Everything slowed down and became tunnel-like. I felt removed from the situation, almost observing the scene from a distance as the staff wheeled me to a room at the end of the maternity ward to deliver my stillborn child. I remember the rose a nurse placed on the outside of the door to mark that this room was different. She closed the door when the sounds of newborns drifted down the hall to my room. She was extremely compassionate and held me through some of my labor pains. I asked for Pitocin to speed the birth, and Jules was born quickly. His death was ruled a cord accident.

Jules was so beautiful, so perfect and so still that at first I was afraid to hold him. The staff wrapped him in a hospital blanket and put him in the baby gurney. A pediatrician came to give him a newborn exam with a mix of horror and grief on his face. Cautiously, I picked Jules up and held him and rocked him for a very long time. I desperately didn’t want to leave him there, and I desperately wanted to hold my living son, Miles, who was at a friend’s house. Although I’m not religious, I baptized Jules with my tears and told him how much I loved him. Then I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life: I put him down, and I left.

My husband and I went through a special kind of hell in the weeks and months that followed. My milk came in, and I had to bind my swollen breasts and ice them for days. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did, I had nightmares. Worst of all, we had to explain to our son Miles that baby Jules was not coming home from the hospital. Sweet Miles began our healing when he thought about this for a few moments, and said, “So, Jules is now a twinkle in Papa’s eye.”

The community wrapped its arms around our family. Our house filled with flowers, and we had more food than we knew what to do with. What surprised me the most was how many women reached out to me to share their own stories of stillbirth. In the first 24 hours after we got home, our neighbors came over to talk to us about their baby dying in-utero near term. Over the course of the next few months, I spoke to many women who had lost babies, mainly by stillbirth, but not exclusively. I had no idea that in this age of medical advancement 1 in every 167 babies in the United States is stillborn (.pdf). Just over half a percent (.6 percent) doesn’t sound like a lot – until it’s you. Statistically, this has probably happened to someone you know, but they probably don’t talk about it. I know of three people – either in my circle or once removed – who have had stillbirths since mine.

I describe the initial weeks after Jules’ death in military terms: It felt like our family took a direct hit. Over time, I became skilled in answering people when they asked, “So, how’s your baby?” Those questions lasted for a year and a half. I sought counseling with health professionals who had experienced stillbirth or infant death. I’m not Jewish, but I went to talk to a Rabbi. She helped me to understand a beautiful philosophy: that we owe it to the dead to try and live well and fully. I’m still here, and I shouldn’t squander my time. It’s not always easy, especially when someone asks, “So, you have just the one?” But I work hard to live well and fully every day, especially on the anniversary of what would have been a joint birthday for Jules and me.

Polly Stryker works as a producer and editor at KQED Radio, an NPR affiliate in San Francisco, where she lives with her family. She is writing a book called “Losing Jules” for her son, Miles.

Previously: A call to “break the silence of stillbirth”
Image of Jules’ footprints in featured entry box courtesy of Polly Stryker

9 Responses to “ Losing Jules: Breaking the silence around stillbirth ”

  1. Nneka Hall Says:

    My heart aches for and with you. My daughter, Annaya Marie, was born still on my birthday in 2010. In a few weeks, I will endure my sleepless night. But, I will celebrate Annaya’s life…. We will have cake!

    <3

  2. Zabrae Valentine Says:

    Polly–We love you Scott, Miles and little Jules so much; this is an eloquent and loving tribute to “our” precious little baby in the stars… (love also to the other moms, dads, sisters and brothers who know far more than any person should about your experience…) xo

  3. Debbie Howard Says:

    Sending you loads of love and strength Polly. I am currently making a documentary called Still Loved looking at families surviving the loss of their babies. We are making it here in the UK. We hope it will help break the silence and help others to understand what others go through when their baby dies. You can find out more at: http://www.stilllovedfilm.com and we are Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/stillbirthdocumentaryUK
    Best wishes to you.
    Debbie

  4. Katie Irish Says:

    Thank you so much for having the courage to be so open about this. We lost our daughter on her due date due to a true cord knot in 2012. Every day I miss Roxane. I had no idea how common stillbirth was until it happened to us. People talk about miscarriage, but no one talks about stillbirth. I had my son Desmond two months ago and am now trying to figure out how to answer the “Is this your first” question. Thank you again for encouraging the conversation about what has seemed to be taboo.

  5. Barbara Says:

    Heartfelt sympathy to you and your family on this sad anniversary/birthday. I am a Labor and Delivery nurse and well know the sorrows of what should have been a joyous occassion turned into the unthinkable. Jane Pauley made a film tribute several years ago called Some Babies Die and I found it valuable as my own experience was so limited. Best wishes to you and your family.

  6. michal Kenny Says:

    Dearest Polly, I’m so moved to read this and very sad about Jules’ loss. Thank-you for writing about it, for interacting with the experience in a way that others can connect with and understand. I appreciate being able to know more about this very sad loss. Lots of love to you all.

  7. Polly Stryker Says:

    To everyone who wrote, thank you so much for the beautiful comments. I’m humbled by the responses. I’m so sad to hear about other people experiencing a stillbirth, but statistically, it’s not surprising. I send you big hugs wherever you are.

  8. Tina Says:

    I lost my son just a few weeks ago in June to stillbirth. You are right, it’s “just a statistic” until it happens to you. Your story about Jules is beautiful. I love writing about mine too over at my blog, notsoblandlife.blogspot.com, it helps me process this thing that has happened to us. I wish more women would SPEAK OUT about it. Its amazing how many came out of the woodwork after we lost Jackson. I wish the world could handle talking about this, and hearing about it too. Maybe if more of them are aware, it would happen less? That’s a long shot, but you never know. Hugs!

  9. Heidi Chandler Says:

    Sending hugs and peace to you and your family. Your story is amazingly similar to my own – from the broken water in the middle of the night to the “broken” fetal monitor – it gave me chills to read it. I lost my daughter Avery in 2008 to a cord accident. I now have two little boys, and just about every time I go anywhere with them I get asked, “Are you going to try for a girl?” But I now am (almost) at peace, and not long ago I became determined not to squander my own life because of my daughter’s death. I was lucky enough to have my memoir – Avery’s memoir, really – published this June, and it was the best way I could think of to have my daughter’s legacy live on. Best of luck to you.

Comment


Please read our comments policy before posting

Stanford Medicine Resources: