Melissa Collazo is one of our Severn instructor team and a fantastic mommy to Mia and David. After time and healing following her loss, Melissa hopes to break the stigma surrounding infant and pregnancy loss, and to help the one in four mamas suffering a loss to find comfort and strength in their experiences. This post comes with a trigger warning for those who may have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or child.
The two words alone seem almost benign, but put together creates a situation that tests every facet of one's being.
Is it a taboo topic? Sure. It is uncomfortable to speak openly about such tragedy. But as an experience that affects 1-in-4 women, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. You need not suffer in silence. I have walked in your shoes, mama. And I have cried your tears.
I share with you my story of loss in hopes that it will provide you just a bit of strength, of courage, and healing.
Have you ever had a memory that stands out so vividly in your mind and heart that just thinking of it transports you to another time? A memory so powerful that awakens every single one of your senses and brings you back to that exact moment in body, mind and spirit? I’ll admit, I have a memory that rivals a certain lovable blue fish, but I can recall the day I found out that I was pregnant for the first time with such clarity and intensity it is as if it was just yesterday — cliche as it may sound.
I was out of state at the time attending training for the company I was working for. As I sat through the seemingly endless HR presentation I remember feeling slightly off, and having the urge to tinkle what seemed like every 20 minutes. On a hunch, I visited the corner drug store during our lunch break for a snack and to pick up a pregnancy test. I somehow managed to keep my cool throughout the rest of the work day knowing the little box I carried in my bag had the power to change my life forever. When I arrived at my hotel room, I headed straight for the bathroom.
Just a few minutes later, there it was. A faint, blue plus sign.
I immediately Face-Timed with my only mom-friend at the time to confirm that my eyes were not deceiving me, and then with my husband to give him the good news. I was bursting with joy, and fear, and disbelief. At the time, we were not necessarily trying to get pregnant, but we were not taking any measures to avoid it either.
On this beautiful spring day in May, everything just seemed to sparkle a little brighter.
Two days later, I returned home, and began the parade of doctors’ appointments. After my confirmation exam with my OB, I went in for the dating ultrasound that takes place at 8 weeks. The sonographer noticed that the baby’s heartbeat was a bit slow, but likely because the fetus was younger than expected. “Come back next week and we’ll check again,” she said. So we did.
At nine weeks, we got the green light that all looked well. It was at that point we decided to let our family know the exciting news. After having been together for so long (seven years), our families were thrilled about the prospect of a new addition!
Three weeks later was our 12 week ultrasound, aka nuchal translucency screening. Hubs and I were so excited to sneak another peek at our little nugget! While I lay there basking in the blue glow of the sonogram screen, I noticed our technician became quiet and began taking picture after picture. A short while later the doctor comes into the room looking grim.
This is where my memories become a little fuzzy.
She launches into a long, drawn-out explanation using multi-syllabic words I have never heard before like holoprosencephaly and cephalic disorder; ultimately ending with the words “not compatible with life outside the womb”. It was if a bomb had dropped. The only thing I could focus on my breathing — in and out, in and out. At that point, I was presented with a variety of options. While I respect a woman’s right to choose, I knew that ending my pregnancy at that point was not the way I wanted to go. I needed answers and I needed them now.
First came the transabdominal Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) of my placenta (ouch!), then an amniocentesis (ouch, again!), along with multiple visits to genetic counselors in order to retrace both my husband’s and my family medical history going back several generations, as well as “viability” ultrasounds every other week just to check and see if our little one was still with us.
The CVS results were inconclusive, but did tell us that our precious one was in fact a little girl. It wasn’t until the amniocentesis that the amazing doctors at John’s Hopkins were able to give me a clear answer to this terrible riddle. It’s called tetraploidy.
At conception, as my husband and my genes came together to create this beautiful little life, something went amiss and she ended up with 92 chromosomes instead of the normal 46 — 23 from Mom, 23 from Dad. To put that into perspective, those children born with more mild chromosomal disorders such as Down's syndrome or Huntington's Disease experience a genetic mutation of one single chromosome.
The prognosis was dire.
My team of doctors insisted that nature would take its course and that I was likely to miscarry naturally. However, week after week, ultrasound after ultrasound, our little lady’s heart continued to beat on. The power of my placenta, that beautiful tree of life, was acting as my daughter’s life support.
My husband and I insisted that as long as her heart continued beating what would soldier on; for her.
It was at the 20-week mark of my pregnancy that we received the irrefutable evidence we were searching for. As lay there for my bi-monthy ultrasound, we saw that her brain was gone; hydroencephaly had won. After consulting with our medical team, family, and priest, we moved forward with the option to induce labor. As painful as it was to come to that decision, it also brought relief that all of our suffering would be coming to an end.
On October 5, 2012, during pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, Gabriela was born still. We spent hours cradling her, kissing her, memorizing her face. She was a spirit much too precious for this world, and for four beautiful months I was her home, her life's blood, we were one.
Two years later, I am sitting at the dinner table across from my husband and to the left of my 18-month old daughter Mia, my belly filled with the life of a little boy on the way, when suddenly Mia looks up and begins to say the name “Gabby” over and over again. Looking over at my husband dumbfounded, both our eyes shining with tears, I ask Mia, “Is Gabby here? Please tell her ‘hello’ and that mommy and daddy love her very much.”
The experience of losing a child is one that completely changed me from the inside out. While incredibly painful and tragic, it brought out a strength in me that I did not know existed. It made me a better person, a better wife, and allowed me to celebrate every small milestone in my subsequent pregnancies.
So I say to you mama, hang in there. Stillborn is still born. They will always be your baby.
WHEN YOU ARE READY, JOIN ME IN FEARLESSLY PROCLAIMING, “I AM THE 1-IN-4.”
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To honor your little ones lost too early, we are hosting a special Stroller Strides class and service afterwards. You can find details here.
Melissa's words were originally published over at Uplifting Anchor.