Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rage and Raising Awareness

Yesterday, I experienced anger like I had never experienced before. Anger that I can only describe as rage. I've been angry before, really angry, so angry that at least a few times in my life I have actually lost control and acted out physically. But this was something new.

As Tim, my mother and I walked along the main strip in Grand Bend shopping for new flip flops (my mother's way of making us feel better is to take us shopping), we walked passed a young woman, probably about my age, who was visibly pregnant and SMOKING. She made no efforts to conceal her behaviour - she just stood there, right out in public, belly protruding, hacking a butt. She wasn't just taking a drag either, she was smoking an entire cigarette.

When I first spotted her, I felt panicked. My heart began to race, and my stomach started doing somersaults. I pointed her out to Tim, but he couldn't see the cigarette in her hand, so he assumed I was making reference to the woman's overweight friend, who was also smoking. He tried to reassure me that the woman smoking wasn't pregnant, just overweight. This had me confused, because the woman I was referring to was so obviously pregnant. As we approached the two women, I asked Tim if I should say something, but still not understanding which woman I was referring to, Tim tried to calm me down, and again advised me not to worry, because the woman was just overweight, and not pregnant. We hushed ourselves as we walked by. Once we were out of earshot again, I said to Tim, "the woman in the pink, she's pregnant, look, and she's smoking". He then realized where the confusion had come from, and agreed, the woman I was referring to was definitely pregnant.

With confirmation from Tim that I wasn't going crazy, my sense of panic increased. I kept asking him, "do I say something? do I say something? what should I say?". I felt this overwhelming urge to protect that helpless little baby inside from his/her horrible, selfish mother. But then it occured to me, that was probably not the first cigarette that woman had smoked while pregnant and probably wouldn't be the last, and nothing I did or said was going to protect that helpless baby from the harm his/her mother was causing. That was when my panic, turned to rage - rage directed at that baby's mother. I wanted to turn around, walk back towards her, and literally claw at her face with my fingernails and scream. How could any woman fortunate enough to be carrying a child, knowingly do something that could, and likely would, harm her baby? My heart beat sped up even more, my face grew hot, it became difficult to breathe, and I actually held my hands out like little claws, ready to strike. But then, I didn't strike, or say a word, or even turn around. I proceeded into the store where we where headed and began to shop for flip flops.

Certainly it is better that I did not physically attack a pregnant woman standing on the street, but I wonder, had I calmed down and approached her rationally to advise her that babies can and do die, and that she should consider herself very fortunate to still be pregnant, would she have stopped smoking? Somehow, I doubt it. Even if I told her all about Isla, I have a feeling that the next time she had a craving, that woman would have lit up another cigarette. She may have thought about me and my baby girl for a moment, maybe even felt a twinge of guilt, but then she probably would have thought to herself, "so unfortunate, but something like that would never happen to me or my baby."

I was once pregnant and that blissfully naive too. I certainly never smoked or did anything else I thought would harm my baby. In fact, I did all the "right" things, like taking my vitamins and folic acid, eating healthy, and quitting coffee cold turkey. I even stopped using face wash with salicylic acid, because I read that the effects of topical acne medication on unborn babies has yet to be tested. But I did those things to give my baby the best start possible, not because I thought that after surviving the first trimester my baby could die.

So that got me thinking about raising awareness. I have yet to come across any Canadian statistics, but information I have read online indicates that one in every 160 to 200 pregnancies in the United States ends in stillbirth - that's more than ten times the number of babies that die from SIDS. Staggering. What is more staggering is that no one talks about it. My OB never warned me that stillbirth was a possibility. While the last chapter in the so called, "Pregnancy Bible" deals with the "complications of pregnancy" and discusses stillbirth, there was nothing in the chapter on the sixth month that warned me my baby could suddenly die.

Worse yet, when your baby does die, still no one talks about it. I feel this overwhelming societal pressure to pretend like Isla never happened. Despite Tim and I being very open with our grief, we have still heard our share of comments like, "you are young, you will have more children". We know that these things are said with good intentions, so we try not to be too offended, but it just goes to show that our society still does not know how to deal with stillbirth.

I was very pleased today to come across this recent article in the Washington Post on stillbirth - I was particularly pleased to read that a Bill aimed at stillbirth data collection and raising awareness and grief support services will be tabled before the U.S. Senate this summer. I still need to do my homework before I can advocate for or against the Bill, and any possible Canadian counterpart, but at least people are starting to talk about the subject.

I hope that this doesn't come across like I want all pregnant woman to be walking around expecting the worst. Like my mom said to me yesterday, "if people really knew what the odds were against delivering a healthy, full-term baby without complications, no one would get pregnant". And, while (if I am fortunate enough to get pregnant again), pregnancy will never again be a time of naive bliss for me, I certainly do not wish my friends to suffer the same anxiety, pessimism, and sense of detachment that I think is in store for me. I do , however, think people need to be more aware.

Be aware that babies can and do die, so DO NOT take your healthy pregnancy, healthy babies, healthy children for granted.

Be aware that stillbirth does happen, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Count your kicks, follow your instincts, and don't be embarrassed to call your doctor or proceed to the hospital whenever something doesn't "feel right".

Be aware that thousands of parents out there are have lost their babies and are suffering from a grief so devastating it really cannot be described in words. That grief needs to be legitimized and those parents need support.

So, in my own personal campaign to raise awareness and to celebrate our beautiful baby girl, with Tim's support and encouragement, I have decided to take this blog public and post a link to it on my Facebook page. EEK! I'm still a bit freaked out to be so "out there". Up until now I've been blogging to no one, as I don't think anyone is reading, and not wanting to diminish the death of our baby girl, we have yet to discuss the topic on Facebook for all our "friends" to read, but here goes...


  1. I can completely relate to all the thoughts and feelings you've expressed in this post - the anger that "how did I not know this could happen", the anger and frustration at pregnant women who don't seem to 'get' what a miracle they have growing with them & make choices that can harm their babies, the uncomfortableness that society has around stillbirth...

    navigating this new world and all the new information is so much to process, isn't it?

    I hope you'll keep blogging, keep sharing Isla's story.

    Much love to you...

  2. I too thought that at 39 weeks gestation, my Ella was safe and would be arriving shortly. She was perfect in every way, no indication of anything being wrong. Healthy eating, no smoking, drinking, drugs, caffeine, etc. for our little one...yet she died. I honestly didn't even know it was POSSIBLE. Not that I would have been prepared if I had known, but I feel like such a schmuck parading about for almost 10 perfectly blissful, ignorant months thinking I was bring a baby home. I thought we were in the clear with only a few days to go, and a totally "textbook" pregnancy.

    A girl I went to school with though I found out just gave birth to a healthy baby boy at full term...and was uses METH. Go figure that one out, it's so frusturating!!!

  3. i'm reading!
    you're right, telling that woman wouldn't have made a difference. my friend smoked during all three of her pregnancies and nobody could convince her to stop. but it used to drive me mad. all three are healthy kids though. i also knew a girl that did acid and meth while she was pregnant! another healthy baby. so why does it have to happen to us!? i thought i did everything right, no drugs/alcohol/cigs/caffiene, etc. and i ate organic, used organic products too. it simply isn't fair. not fair at all.
    and fyi, the US has one of the worst mother/infant mortality rates of any industrialized nation. our health care systems sucks and is a money-making business. it doesn't care about the welfare of mothers and babies.
    sorry for rambling....