Risk of stillbirth. I had heard about it before and seen it when I was reading pregnancy books, but I always put it out of mind. That won’t happen…next page. I associated stillbirth with the 1950’s and 60’s – an era before today’s advances in modern medicine, where society lacked greater knowledge and understanding about so many different diseases and disorders. But that’s the thing about life; it has a funny way of showing us the impossible is actually possible.
On July 19, 2017, I went in for my routine 37 week doctor’s appointment. I was officially “full term” according to doctors. I just couldn’t wait to not be pregnant and finally meet this baby. I was ready. Mark was able to leave work around lunchtime to meet me at what we thought was a “routine” appointment. My normal doctor was out of town, so I was scheduled to see the nurse practitioner. Mark and I were chatting and in walked the NP, a lady we had never met. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just seemed off. We made small talk as she pulled out the doppler and placed it on my tummy. Nothing. That’s weird I thought, it must be broken. The NP read my mind – she was going to get a new one. I was a little nervous, but I reassured myself that nothing was wrong. She came back with a new doppler, but the same thing – no sound. She moved it around a lot and asked me where I typically felt the baby move. Mark and I looked at each other, and now, I was nervous. She wasn’t talking and I knew something was wrong, but I told myself it wasn’t and everything was going to be fine. I reassured Mark. It’s that thing people sometimes do (ok, maybe just me) — you keep telling yourself one thing because if you don’t say the bad thing, then it won’t happen. The NP stepped out to get the ultrasound machine. She put the wand on my belly and still no sounds. Mark starts asking questions. I’m reassuring myself in my mind, saying out loud that “it’s going to be fine.” But I’m scared. She says she has to get a doctor. “This isn’t good,” I thought, all the while still reassuring myself. “You’re technically full term and nothing can happen to your baby at this point. Everything is going to be fine.” The doctor on call came in, introduced herself, and took over the ultrasound. Mark continues asking questions. The doctor says she needs a minute. But I knew it was bad. Her face doesn’t look good. I said to her: “You don’t see the heartbeat, do you?” She nodded her head and said, “No.” That was it. Our baby was dead. Shock. The ultrasound technician from the maternal fetal medicine office across the hall comes in to verify. “I’m sorry,” she says. “There is no heartbeat. Your baby is gone.” “Ok, ok, ok….,” I think to myself. “Something was wrong. Something happened. Something wasn’t right with the baby. This will all be ok.” We start talking about delivery. Mark is upset, but we can’t get upset right now. We have to get this baby out of me. We schedule an appointment to come back to the hospital in a few hours for induction. We leave. Shocked. Stunned. Surreal. Sad.
Less than 24 hours later, on July 20, 2017, I delivered our stillborn daughter, Greta Kathleen Milton. She was perfect. 10 fingers. 10 toes. A head full of thick, dark, and curly hair. No apparent defects. As I looked at her, I realized, we were ready for her to be part of our family, but God had other plans.
Over the following months, we ran every test in the book. Something had to be wrong. We had to get an answer. But that’s the thing about life and God’s plan, you don’t always get an answer. Such is the case with us. We don’t know what happened with Greta – all the tests were normal or inconclusive. This was an unexplained stillbirth, something we came to learn is surprisingly common in the case of stillbirths. Something that no pregnant woman (at least me) ever thinks can happen to her, but it did. It’s taken a long time to accept that there is no answer.
Mission of Greta Gives Hope
In the short time since we have lost Greta, I have learned so much. We have decided to use this experience to help others and to give back; because that is what Greta has given us. She has shown us what tragedy is and what hope looks like. She has shown us how fortunate we are to have such an amazing support network of family and friends. We created “Greta Gives Hope” to show people that even when life gives you the unexpected, and even when you think life can’t get any worse, there is still hope. There is always hope.
Our mission is to provide financial and emotional support, particularly mental health resources, to families who have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child. We have learned in the year since losing Greta died how important it is to take care of our minds. To seek out help and intervention to make us our best selves. Greta has shown us that. She has taught me more in the last year than I think I knew in my whole life. And I know she has touched a lot of other people’s lives. She never ceases to amaze me.
Over the course of the last year, Mark and I have been dealing with the aftermath of losing our daughter. I never thought it was possible to experience such a range of emotions. We have had highs and lows, good days and bad. The good days are good. We look around us and we see our healthy son Fred, we are planning for baby #3 due in October, we hang out with our friends, and we share birthdays and holidays with our family. And then there are the bad days. The days where the grief hits you like a ton of bricks and you can’t seem to function. The days where it takes everything you have just to put one foot in front of the other. The days where the sadness feels like it will never subside. Those days are hard. Those days are the worst.
Mark and I realized very early on that we were fortunate. Our family and friends provided a wonderful and loving support system. The outpouring of love and support we received after losing Greta was humbling and inspiring. I’m not sure how we got so lucky. Despite this amazing support, Mark and I realized early on that we were going to need professional help. I had been seeing a therapist before we lost Greta, so I began seeing her a few weeks after Greta died. It was much needed. It was so great to have an outlet for someone to listen to me and talk through my pain and feelings. I began dealing with the reality of losing my daughter and all of the emotions that surrounded my unimaginable loss. It was so refreshing to be able to talk so honestly about my loss. It was at this time that I also encouraged Mark to see someone. I knew he was hurting and I was incapable of helping him through his own wave of emotions. He agreed to see someone and found solace in working privately through his feelings of sadness and helplessness over the loss of Greta.
In addition to the individual work we were doing, Mark and I began attending Mercy HeartPrints meetings, a support group for people who have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child. When Mark and I walked into our first meeting, we were surprised at how many people had a story just like ours – an unexplained stillbirth. It was so very powerful to meet people who knew exactly what we were feeling without having to explain. The simple nod of a head or cracked smile showing they knew and understood what you were saying. This was helpful, but Mark and I still felt sad and lost. At the suggestion of my therapist, Mark and I decided to see a therapist together, one specializing in family and grief therapy. Going to therapy together and talking about our feelings and emotions and getting everything out in the open was such a vital step on our grief journey. The therapy doesn’t take away our loss or magically make us better, but it does provide comfort and healing during a time of great difficulty. We learned so much about ourselves and each other and I believe we have come out stronger as a result.
As I reflect on this last year, I barely recognize the person I am today. I am stronger and more capable than I ever thought possible, but also more sensitive and aware than I ever knew I could be. That’s the miracle of children – they change us in ways we never thought possible.
Over the last few months, Mark and I began talking more and more about Greta – about the impact she has had on our lives and those around us. It was when we started talking about her and smiling that I realized how far we had come. Along the way, Mark and I decided we had to do something for her. After some discussion, we realized that we wanted to help other families who have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child, so we created Greta Gives Hope.
It can be extremely difficult to navigate the fog of grief after losing a child, but Greta Gives Hope will help guide other bereaved parents through the healing process. We want those suffering to get the help they need without the stress of finding out where to turn for help or how to pay. Greta Gives Hope will strive to provide the resources and support these grieving families need.
Thank you for taking the time to read our story. And more importantly, Greta’s story.
President of Greta Gives Hope, Inc.