It was December 1, 2011 when I got a devastating call; my younger sister who was pregnant with her first baby could no longer hear a heartbeat. Adelaide, our family’s first grandchild, was going to be born stillborn.
My sister, Heidi Kim, has navigated grief in a powerful way. Nothing takes away the devastation of her daughter’s death, however her articulate and thoughtful insights surrounding loss prove to be a profound source of hope. I sat down with Heidi to dive in deeper on this important topic.
Can you tell me about what happened on the day the doctors realized that Adelaide’s heart had stopped beating?
We were having an otherwise healthy pregnancy. I went in for my 24-week appointment (about 6 months). My blood pressure was a little high; not extremely high, but high for me. They were a little concerned; keeping a close eye on it. Then, when they checked for her heartbeat they couldn’t find it. They checked on an ultrasound and still couldn’t find it. At that point, they sent us to the hospital to meet with a Perinatologist (an OB that specializes in high-risk pregnancies). They did another ultrasound and confirmed Adelaide had died. They induced my labor that night with a drug called Cytotec. I labored for 12 hours; giving birth to her the next morning.
It’s so heartbreaking. What was your experience like in the aftermath?
It was quite difficult—like I was in a fog. There are so many decisions that have to be made when a stillbirth happens; all very quickly. While I was still in labor, we had to decide on a funeral home, whether or not we wanted to hold her and if we wanted genetic testing or an autopsy. Then, we needed to decide if we wanted to plan a memorial. It was very difficult for me to make those decisions.
The physical recovery was also challenging. I experienced afterbirth contractions, continuing to contract after she was born. Your body doesn’t know your baby died. All the things that you have with a normal birth recovery, you still experience following a stillbirth. For me, my milk coming in was the most difficult. It was both physically painful and a horrible reminder that I had no baby to feed. We had a very difficult time sleeping and were just complete wrecks.
How have you found communities that were healing?
We found helpful communities both online and off. Our family, friends and church were beyond supportive; from feeding us, to letting us stay with them for a bit. I also benefitted from books, reading every book I could find about loss. I joined an in-person support group as well.
Many experts suggested I journal, but my brain wouldn’t rest enough for me to write. This was where I had my breakthrough. Instead of writing, I ended up journaling in videos on YouTube (vlogging). “The Story of My Stillbirth” was a particularly resonate video. I didn’t expect anyone to watch, I just needed somewhere to put my thoughts. In 2012, not many people were talking about loss on YouTube.
Things will never be the same. It’s okay to acknowledge that and it’s so important to know that everyone grieves very differently.
Fortunately, that has changed. Today, people are much more open. I was surprised to find that not only were people watching, but I connected with several parents going through similar losses; I made some really close and supportive friends along the way.
What has your life looked like in the years that have followed?
It’s been 6-and-a-half years since Adelaide died. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have two more little girls. Rosalind is five and just started kindergarten. Irene is two. They’re amazing. I think we’re probably more protective and anxious parents than we would have been otherwise, but we recognize that tomorrow is not promised. I think my husband and I focus on trying to remember the moment and value time right now with our kids. I hope I’m more patient too, but to be honest I’m not sure. Our kids are only little once. So, we make memories with them while we can.
How do you talk about the topic of losing a baby with your children?
For us, we do talk about losing Adelaide with our kids. We have an ornament with her name and birthdate on it that we hang each Christmas. On her birthday, the kids each purchase a toy and we donate it to a little girl that’s the same age Adelaide would have been if she had lived. Our 5-year-old understands that she had a sister who died and occasionally asks questions about her. It’s really important to us to answer her questions honestly and clearly. It’s not a constant discussion, but when it comes up we don’t lie.
What’s the most helpful thing a loved one can do to support someone going through a loss like this?
I’m not sure if I have any specific nuggets of wisdom other than things will never be the same. It’s okay to acknowledge that and it’s so important to know that everyone grieves very differently. Have patience with your partner if they grieve differently than you. My husband didn’t always find the same things helpful that I did, but of course, he was still grieving.
If you know anyone going through this, your physical presence is the best thing you can offer. You don’t have to say anything insightful. Just try not to say anything starting with “at least.” We especially valued when our community helped with our physical needs. We had friends who let us stay with them, who cared for our dog while we were in the hospital, who helped fix our car, who brought us dinner, who supported my physical recovery and who helped select the funeral home. Those who served in that way meant the world to us.
The community you’ve curated through YouTube sounds incredible. How can people follow your story further?
We vlog regularly about parenting, loss and family at HeidiKimTV.
Thank you so much for talking with Lightworkers about such a vulnerable topic. It’s truly an honor to share your story.