MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – October 15 is recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. As it has been for seven years now, it was observed at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., with the Walk to Remember event.
A team made of a combination of staff from the Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology and the Department of Ministry & Pastoral Care filled out the program. 1st Lt. Andrea Suan, a Labor & Delivery nurse, served as the lead.
Suan performed the duties of the event’s master of ceremony as well as its lead coordinator. In introducing the main goal of the event, she told the gathered families, “It is a humbling privilege to share these raw and vulnerable moments with you; you are not alone in this journey.”
The event was filled with artistry in words and song with performers singing, playing the piano, reciting poetry and offering prayers. Three guest speakers spoke of their personal experiences with pregnancy loss, starting with Capt. (Dr.) Kelsey Robinson, the chief resident in the OB/GYN department.
“A lot of people think that working obstetrics is sunshine and rainbows and that everything is lovely every day, and that we deliver babies, and it's great. But there's a lot of really dark, and hurt, and grief that we see within our field as well,” she said.
Robinson had walked through the dark journey of pregnancy loss with patients over her time as a resident. But, she was unfortunate to experience it firsthand when, after some spot bleeding at 23 weeks, her own baby was likely to be delivered soon. She begged him to stay put so he could complete his development. But, he came at 24 weeks. He was born alive, but was so small and frail that he did not survive long.
“My husband, Zack and I held him, loved him and told him how much he meant to us. He died shortly and our arms and was surrounded by our love,” she said.
Those who speak of the experience of pregnancy and infant loss tell of a flood of emotions. Many were enumerated in just the three speeches of this event. Robinson shared her experience with the emotional journey.
“After he died I felt like a bomb was dropped on my life. I was so, so angry. I was angry at my body. I was angry at the world,” she said.
Bereft and unable to be idle, Robinson went back to work.
“When I got here at work, I was devastated again. I'm an OB/GYN resident. My job was to deliver babies, and delivering babies no longer brought me joy, it wrecked me,” she offered. “I expected the grief and I expected this to be hard, but I didn't expect to no longer enjoy my job like I did.”
The pain, confusion, anxiety and lack of joy Robinson felt led her to consider quitting her residency, moving away from the Pacific Northwest and seeking a fresh start. But, she didn’t quit and she didn’t leave. Instead, she shared her story, and a photo of her son, Jude.
“Thanks to my amazing support team – my amazing co-residents, the nurses here, and my family, and Zach, my husband – I survived,” she shared. “I figured out how to grieve my son, and honor him, and care for women in their pregnancies.”
Over the years that Madigan has hosted this event, it has provided a space of where the journey of learning to share, reconcile and live with the mixed emotions of loss can be one of vulnerable honesty and communion. Robinson spoke openly about that journey.
“I originally thought I wanted to speak this message of optimism and tell you the story that I suffered a tragic loss, and came out better on the other side. But, that won't be the whole truth. I want to tell you how strong you'll become, and that your loss will hurt less. But, that isn't completely true either. What I can tell you is that you will grow. I deeply wish that you didn't have to. I wish that you did not have to carry this burden. I wish that you didn't have to get stronger. I can tell you is that you will figure out how to carry this burden, and you will figure out how to grieve your baby and still live your life,” she said.
As verbal and expressive beings, humans look to put their experiences into words to share with others. This has been a repeated theme at the Walk to Remember event as well. Robinson, whose journey with this loss is a newer one, sought to assign it words of explanation and definition.
“Grief is a space left behind. Grief is the hard work of loving someone who is gone. Grief is something we will live with forever and something we will learn to accept as part of our story. Your babies will forever be part of our lives – your lives – and today we honor and we remember them. We honor their time with us, no matter how short, and today we don't feel so alone,” she said.
For the second year in a row, chaplain candidate 1st Lt. Jamaal Cox and his wife Beth spoke of the loss of their son, in his 32nd week of gestation.
Beth Cox shared that her son, Caleb, was a calm baby. He wasn’t a big kicker, didn’t move wildly, as some babies do during pregnancy. But, when he stopped moving in late August of 2018, she knew it felt different.
She called Jamaal, who was working in the Labor & Delivery unit at Madigan at the time. They discussed the range of things it could be and she could do to get some movement from Caleb. They decided she had better go to Madigan to check things out.
Calm and convinced that everything would be fine, after many machines, scans and doctors came and went with no resolution, Beth gradually realized that, when the awful words, “I’m so sorry, but your baby has no heartbeat,” were finally uttered, they had to be true.
Not wanting to be induced, Caleb Mark Cox was born on August 23, at 9:36 a.m. Beth and Jamaal had prayed for an explanation of what had happened to their baby. They found that the umbilical cord had gotten wrapped around his neck twice.
Beth confirmed what Robinson, and everyone in the room already knew. The loss of a child is a tremendous shock to the system; it is so unnatural that it is wholly disorienting.
Beth paused to mention the previous speaker.
“Dr. Robinson, I just wanted to thank you for your transparency and vulnerability, and sharing your story,” she said. “I am thankful for the gifts that you have to offer these women who are walking through this.”
The atmosphere of community, and the healing that can happen when grief is shared, was acknowledged by Jamaal Cox as well when he spoke directly to the fathers in the room.
“Walking through grief as the husband of the infant that you've lost is really hard,” he said. But, he added, there is relief to be found. “The big thing is, much like my wife talked about, finding that community is super important, and talking about it.”
After the ceremony, Suan spoke of her experience in planning and attending the event.
“It was a lot of logistical things to coordinate, but I feel the ceremony went very well, and I feel like the families got a lot out of it, a lot of comfort and healing for them,” said Suan.
She too found the words of an OB/GYN doctor experiencing pregnancy loss powerful.
“I feel like the most special part was listening to Capt. Robinson's testimony because she works directly with us as a resident,” Suan said. “It took a lot of courage, and she spoke very beautifully.”
Despite the grief and sedate atmosphere of the evening, there was also a palpable positivity to the words shared. Jamaal assigned words to his takeaway from his experience.
“As we do spend this time this evening, and today – October 15 – and honor our children, which is ultimately hugely important, we don't grieve without hope.”
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