She Thought She Had Prepared for Everything, But You Can’t Prepare for This: Oliver’s Story
I pulled into her driveway with a few beers and my laptop. It was a Sunday night, and this was the last thing in the world I wanted to be doing — not because I had something better to do or anything like that, but because I was about to hear a story of the worst type of loss imaginable: the loss of a child. No one wants to start their week like that, especially not anxiety-ridden me.
Lauren answered the door and brought me into her office. It was well decorated, organized. I didn't know her very well, it seemed very … “Lauren.” She offered me the chair behind her desk so I could write. She took a seat on the couch directly in front of me.
We beat around the bush for a while, neither one of us bringing up the very topic we were there to discuss. The light conversation seemed to relax us both. It was time to get down to it.
I nervously began. “So …”
She saved me from having to ask.
“You want to hear about my baby — the one I lost.” Her voice was steady, but I could see the pain in her eyes.
I nodded, and she began.
Lauren had a textbook pregnancy. She approached her pregnancy like she had approached life: she was all in. Think organic food, yoga, and paraben-free everything. An ultrasound photo of her son was hung on the fridge, and another was sent to the grandparents. The closet in the nursery had adorable tiny clothes, hung neatly and organized by size. The nursery, by the way, had been designed on an inspiration board and was then executed perfectly.
Lauren had it all together. She thought she had prepared for everything.
But during her 35 week appointment, Lauren and her husband, Andy, received crushing news — the kind of news no parent wants to ever hear.
Their baby was gone. The doctor couldn't find a heartbeat.
They were sent to the hospital, where the horrific diagnosis was confirmed. Their baby was gone, dead. There was no fixing it.
By this point, Lauren was telling her story through tears. I wondered if she blamed herself, thinking she'd done something wrong. I didn't ask her if she felt that way. As a mother, I was pretty sure I knew the answer. I didn't need to make her say it out loud.
After the diagnosis at the hospital, Lauren's nightmare got worse.
She couldn't just go home to mourn the loss of her child. She still had a baby inside of her and needed to do something about it. Lauren had to deliver her son.
The nurses told her she could go home and think about how she wanted to give birth, but Lauren couldn't bring herself to do that. She had a dead baby inside of her and wanted it out.
She chose a vaginal birth and was induced that day. It did not take long for labor to start.
Her water broke and contractions intensified. Her pain must have been unbearable.
She got ready to push. I cannot imagine the hell of having to labor for a baby who was already gone. But she had no choice, and with one last push, her work was done.
On February 2, Oliver John Doyle was born an angel. He weighed 5 pounds, 5 ounces; he was 18 inches long.
I imagined that he was beautiful, but I never saw his picture. Lauren understandably kept that for herself. It made sense to me to keep something so important hidden, untainted by the world.
As Lauren continued with her story, my mind started to wander, my heart breaking for her baby. Oliver would never know the softness of his mother's skin or the warmth of his father's touch. He'd never cry or laugh or crawl. All of the work and excitement building up to his birth was for nothing. What should have brought joy and happiness brought heartache and loss.
Lauren and her husband spent the night at the hospital with Oliver, and the next morning, they went home empty handed.
Lauren found herself growing increasingly depressed and anxious. She told me she was sad all the time, that it was hard to force herself out of bed. She was broken-hearted and in a deep, dark hole that she saw no way out of.
But Lauren was a fighter and was determined to overcome her depression. She tried therapy, medication, yoga, support groups, and meditation. She and Andy made a memorial for their son in the yard. They planted a tree in their garden and hung a prayer flag to honor him.
With time, she found herself slowly crawling out of that hole. Having suffered from depression myself, I know how tricky this can be. The person that was sitting in front of me truly was a warrior.
Lauren has a rainbow baby now — the hopeful name given to a baby that was born after a loss like hers. Her name is Ellie, and she is truly loved beyond measure. Lauren still gets sad, of course — she misses Oliver. She thinks she always will. I think so, too.
I didn't understand at first why Lauren would want to share her story. I imagined it must have been dreadfully painful to even talk about. But she told me that I was wrong — that sometimes she liked to talk about it.
She told me that it was painful, yes, but that it also helped her to heal. She wanted other women who had suffered the same fate to know that. Sometimes, talking helps even if it hurts. That is part of why she wanted to tell her story. She wanted people to know that when something crushes you, you can put yourself back together. You don't have to be broken-hearted forever. You can love your lost child and simultaneously move on.
By this point, we were both crying. Her words inspired me. It would be easy to let her grief eat her up, steal her happiness and tint her view of the world. But she didn't let that happen to her. She dealt with her pain and moved on — all while loving her son more every single day. I was sitting in awe of a woman who had faced her worst nightmare and actually came out the other side with an abundance of love in her heart.
Lauren mentioned several times throughout my visit that Oliver had made her a better person. When I asked her how, she told me she'd explain in an email — that she'd been meaning to make a list anyways. I cried when I read it. Sincerity in every word.
This is what she wrote, directly from Lauren to me:
This is hard to put in words. A lot of these you have to feel the raw pain before you can start living them. But here I go.
- Find the silver linings, even when it feels impossible.
- Adjust your perspective because what you have can disappear tomorrow. This goes for anything, but parenting especially.
- Value each day deeper and be present.
- Life has highs and lows. Some lives have higher highs, and some have lower lows. Our highs are higher now because we have been so incredibly low.
- Life is precious. Do what it takes to make it your best life.
- When you realize that bad things can happen to you, it allows you to recognize when good things are happening, too. You don't just take them for granted.
- Be grateful for what you have because someone always has it worse than you. Always.
- And finally, my personal favorite, (because I have also found this to be true): You are so much stronger than you think you are.
Lauren sees signs of Oliver from time to time. When she is reminded of her angel baby, she is reminded of the lessons that he has taught her. It helps her to stay focused on what is really important.
On average in the United States, 66 babies are stillborn every day, according to the CDC. That is 24,000 a year — 1 baby lost for every 164 born. It is too many broken hearts to count.
Lauren wanted to share her story so that others could heal and know that they were far from alone. But she also wanted to tell her son's story to honor him.
I asked her how she would like people to remember her son, how to honor all the babies lost.
She wants love to come from her loss, kindness in place of pain. She just wants people to be nice.
So I ask you to join me in honoring Oliver and the countless babies lost.
Buy a stranger some coffee or leave your waiter a really nice tip. Just do something nice for someone and let them know why. I plan on leaving a note:
This act of kindness is in honor of Oliver and all the babies who were taken too soon. Please keep the love and awareness going.
We do not know the battles those around us are facing, but we can help by being kind. You never know — your kindness just might make someone's day or reach a mother who has also lost her child.
Be kind for Oliver.