Being pregnant

After a parent‘s worst nightmare, we welcomed a rainbow

Just days away from the due date of our second child, the baby stopped moving. We had no choice but to live through our worst nightmare—stillbirth.

Photo: Ian Hunter

Photo: Ian Hunter

When my wife, Michelle, was pregnant with our first son, I had such a fear of the unknown. Would he be healthy? Would I know what to do? Despite 10 months of reading baby books, taking prenatal classes and researching car seats, I never really felt ready. Until I held Nathan in my arms, there was always a constant buzz of worry. But nothing prepares you for parenthood quite like being a parent, so when my wife got pregnant a second time, that sense of dread completely evaporated. There would be even more love to go around our house. I was so excited that my son, Nathan, would have a baby brother.

We painted the room and tucked all the tiny sleepers away in the dresser. We bought a double stroller, installed a second baby monitor and converted one of our spare rooms into a “big boy” room for Nathan. The three of us were totally ready to be a family of four. Of course, somewhere in the back of my mind—a place I didn’t like going—there was a shadow of fear that something bad could happen.

I just never expected it would happen to us.

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It was a regular Sunday morning and we were on our way to visit my family, who live about an hour away. On the drive over, Michelle became very tense, saying quietly that she hadn’t felt the baby move all morning. I brushed it off—she was worrying for no reason. She probably didn’t feel anything because we’d been in such a rush packing things up and tending to Nathan. I told her not to worry.

Shortly after we arrived at my parents, though, Michelle’s anxiety grew and grew. I could see it on her face, and that’s when I began to panic. I called the hospital and the operator recommended that we come in so that Michelle could be examined. We left our son with my parents and rushed over. That drive was the longest 20 minutes of my life. Michelle barely said a word. I couldn’t get us there fast enough.

As soon as we arrived, a nurse ushered us into a small room to perform an ultrasound. I sat in a chair beside the bed, feeling utterly helpless as the nurse tried to find our baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler. For an amazing but brief second, it sounded as though there was something. I was convinced I’d heard that reassuring beat and took a deep breath—I was ready to let out a sigh of relief.

But I was wrong. The heartbeat wasn’t there. It was Michelle’s heartbeat, the nurse gently explained.

There must be something wrong with the equipment. Maybe the baby is in a weird position. The ultrasound will show that everything is OK. These hopes looped through my mind like some desperate mantra.

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Then the ultrasound tech also failed to find a heartbeat. The doctor confirmed our greatest fear: Our son had passed away, just days away from his due date. Michelle burst into tears and I immediately went into shock. I felt nothing and everything. We just sat on the edge of the bed and held each other, but our nightmare was just beginning: Michelle still had to go through labour.

Since we were away from home, we had the option of delivering at the local hospital or returning home and delivering at our registered hospital the next morning. We made the decision to wait the extra day.

After an indescribably horrible, sleepless night, Michelle was induced and delivered our son. I tried my best to do whatever any father would and help her through the contractions. Mostly, I felt helpless, numb and grief stricken.

When our son, Cameron, was delivered, there was a heavy silence in the room. When Nathan was born, it was quite the opposite: There were many nurses and doctors and even a few students in the room. It felt frantic—but a good kind of frantic. This time was the complete opposite. Michelle and I needed a moment to compose ourselves. The nurses swaddled our son in a blue-and-pink-striped hospital blanket and brought him over to us.

When the time came, I was relieved to see him. He looked so peaceful and angelic—almost too perfect to be real. It felt comforting to hold him in our arms. I never expected to feel this way, but a great sense of calm came over me as I held my son.

Cameron had some of the same features as his brother, Nathan—most notably, the dimple on his chin, just like the one I have. His fingers and toes reminded me of his big brother, but at the same time, Cameron was unique and special in his own right.

We took pictures, bathed him and dressed him in a white robe and a blue hand-knitted toque. I told him he was our little angel, and I made sure to touch each one of his toes and fingers to give myself that mental imprint of how he felt and looked. He was as beautiful as I could’ve imagined. I remember telling myself, Take all of this in now because this is how you’re going to remember your son for the rest of your life. How he looks now is how you will always envision him.

While we had about three hours with him, it felt like only three minutes. We said our last goodbyes and handed him over to the nurses. We left the hospital feeling utterly empty.

At home, we were greeted by family—parents, brothers and sisters from both sides—all of whom had stayed over and helped take care of Nathan. It helped to have them waiting for us, but I felt like I was trapped in a terrible dream. Every sound, every smell and every sight felt both hyper-real and fake. Everything was too much.

In the immediate days afterward, we had to make decisions that no parent should ever have to make. Where should we bury our son? What colour should his tombstone be? I have no idea how we made those decisions, but at the time, the pain and grief were so overwhelming, I was numb to everything.

We still don’t know why Cameron died. Oftentimes with stillborn children, there isn’t an explanation. But of course, no answer could provide us with any sense of comfort. No test results could ever bring him back.

At our son’s memorial, the celebrant said something that will always resonate with me: “Those who are too perfect for this world don’t have lessons to learn; they only have lessons to teach.” Every day since then, I’ve thought of those words, and I’ve tried to live each day to its fullest. Before Cameron, I don’t think I really understood how delicate and fragile life is. I didn’t understand how precious my own life was until his life ended before it even started.

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Just like a wave, the grief comes and goes. Sometimes, it comes with a warning: Certain situations, settings or things people say will trigger memories; other times, it comes completely out of the blue, and it’s debilitating. My counsellor likened my grief to a suitcase of rocks that I have to carry around with me everywhere. Some days, that suitcase feels like a thousand pounds; other days, it might feel a little lighter, but that suitcase is always with me wherever I go.

So, too, is the memory of my son. He will stay with me wherever I go.

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Author's son lying down on bed with new rainbow baby Hannah

Nathan and his baby sister, Hannah. Photo: Ian Hunter

I have a happy update to report. This spring, Michelle and I welcomed a rainbow baby into the world. I had never even heard of the term until we lost our son Cameron. My wife told me how it’s given to children born to parents who had experienced a similar loss to ours. They’re called rainbow babies because they bring such happiness and joy after a dark time.

Hannah has brought a tremendous amount of light into our lives. That’s not to say we are “fixed.” The heartache of losing a child never goes away, but what Hannah represents to me is hope. Hope that life does get better, hope that you can feel happiness after loss.

At times, we’ve felt guilt, giving love to this child which was supposed to be for another child. When I look at her, I often think of Cameron and wonder what he’d be like if he were here. It’s gut-wrenching and often too difficult to even think about. But at the same time, it also brings me great joy to have this little gift named Hannah; a baby girl we never anticipated or expected to have, but a daughter we are so blessed to have.

When I first found out Michelle and I were expecting another baby, in the back of my mind, I thought that the arrival of this child might alleviate some of the sadness of losing Cameron. I discovered it doesn’t work that way. The love for a new child never replaces the love for a lost child. Part of my heart will always belong to him. We may have two children at home, but we’ll always be a family of five.

Michelle and I felt it was important to link their names somehow, so we decided to carry on Cameron’s middle name, Ray, as one of her middle names. We altered the spelling slightly to Rae, but that way, Cameron and Hannah will always have a special bond.

She’s more precious than I ever could’ve imagined. She’s the most brilliant rainbow I’ve ever seen.

Read more:
Miscarriage and pregnancy loss: Causes, treatment and research
Coping with miscarriage: Grief, recovery and how to tell people
The baby girl I almost had