this is motherhood {too}: Dawn’s story

July 13, 2018, This is Motherhood Too, 5 Comments

This story comes from my midwife, Dawn Henderson. She was present at both of the boy’s birth and years ago, the day before I found out I was pregnant with Florence, I was at a birth with Dawn as the doula. 

Our second daughter, Audrey, was stillborn in February.  Our story is told on Apple Blossom Families Blog here .

Mothering a dead baby has brought me a greater understanding of grief and how bad we are as a collective culture when faced with grief, especially grief that involves the death of a child.

I wrote this journal entry on May 26th, 2018:

Three months into grieving the death of my unborn daughter, Audrey, the pain has not lessened.  We continue on with every day life, as do our friends and family.  We involved many people in her death, so there are many people to remember her and acknowledge her intrauterine life, as well as her after-death time in our arms.  This acknowledgement has been so important to my process. To be able to speak freely to friends and family who met Audrey, or who were expecting and excited to meet her, keeps her alive.  I have also surrounded myself with things that remind me of her.  I’m all about amethysts now – her birthstone. I have a waterbottle with an amethyst in it, an amethyst ring, a bead on a necklace.  I have a bellycast from a few days before she was born, pictures of after, a memory box, and jewelry made from her dried placenta. I have the mug made by a dear friend, that I drank tea out of at her birth, now deemed ‘The Audrey Mug’.  I pumped breastmilk and still have some in my freezer, the rest was donated to BC Women’s Hospital.  At first, these tokens were distracting (making, collecting, pumping all takes time!), now they bring comfort and, often, sadness. This is literally all I have of my baby.

The farther away her birth and death day become, the stranger life seems. I have such a craving to have people who know about her existence ask me about her – but I know that most won’t, as our culture, I’m learning, seems to ignore death and grief to extremes. There are a few brave souls who address Audrey’s death head on, others who mention ‘the circumstances’, but more who say nothing. It hurts. Sometimes I just want to scream, don’t you know I had a baby!?!? Why aren’t you asking about her? 

Today seemed particularly hard. I encountered two people who had seen me very pregnant, and knew Audrey’s story, but I hadn’t seen or spoken to them since Audrey’s birth. I had the expectation that they would say something. Neither did. I went home that night and had a big cry and a ‘this isn’t fair, this isn’t how it was supposed to be’ moment. I should be holding Audrey. I should be figuring out how to juggle two kids. Norah should be a big sister to a live baby. Life shouldn’t just be going on as normal.”

I didn’t really finish the rest of that journal entry. It ends fairly abruptly I still feel much the same. I’m learning to navigate how I want to parent Audrey, how she fits in to our family. Do I mention her when people inevitability question me about my kid(s)? I struggle with this particularly at work, as I’m a midwife. Clients usually want to know if I’m a mom and I often talk about my first daughter Norah, or my own births. So when the question of ‘Do you just have the one?’ comes up, I struggle to answer. It’s a tribute to Audrey’s memory to mention her, but I also don’t want to make people uncomfortable, especially pregnant people who may already be worrying about pregnancy and all the unknowns motherhood holds. Most of the time, at work, I just answer, ‘One, she’s 3 and a half.’ But it hurts to not answer truthfully; that I’ve grown, loved, and birthed two daughters.

I’ve been experimenting with mentioning Audrey to random strangers who ask things like ‘How old is your daughter?’ (asking about Norah), ‘Do you plan to have more?’ – ‘Actually’, I say, ‘we had a daughter in February who died at birth.’ The conversation ends quickly after that, which saddens me. I’d love to tell them her name, show them my necklace. Perhaps the next person who asks about our family will not be frightened from the conversation, but will get to hear me speak of Audrey with love, tenderness, and pride.

Mothering a dead baby is invisible mothering. We are always thinking of our babies, alive or otherwise, but it’s taboo to mention the dead ones. My aim, is to continue speaking of Audrey as freely as I can, when it seems appropriate. I won’t hold back my love for her because death and sadness makes people uncomfortable.

I write this with mama bear instinct and fierce protection over my daughter and my memories of her.  I also write with an understanding and forgiveness for people who become uncomfortable in these situations, knowing that before Audrey, I was also quiet about death and found it a difficult path to navigate. But I hope that by speaking of it, over and over, we will all be able to see that by being able to love our babies freely and speak of them without inhibitions, grief lessens just a bit and love blooms. This is motherhood, too.

By Dawn Henderson.

Photos by Katie Cross Photography. Clothing provided by June Isle Clothier.


  • Reply Shannon Piché July 14, 2018 at 2:16 PM

    Dawn and Family.
    You don’t know me but I have been thinking of all of you daily since the birth and passing of your dear sweet Audrey. Unfortunately, we have much in common.
    Firstly, my second daughter is also a February born Audrey. Secondly, I too, am mother to a child that is not here. My Jérémie was born October 28th, 2016 (also with Jessica there) at only 23 weeks and survived 29 hours, and I held him as he passed. I have walked, am walking, the same grief road. I too ask the question of how to include and not forget him in a world that doesn’t want me to answer that I have 3 kids. But I include him anyway. As a postpartum doula however, I too, shield my clients from worry.
    My heart hurts for you. I think of your Audrey often, I have cried many tears for you all. I never got to meet her, but I remember her, from her pictures and your words, and I will not forget that she existed and was loved, and so deeply desired.
    Please never hesitate to contact me.
    Shannon Piche (Jess has my info!)

  • Reply Paula July 14, 2018 at 8:35 AM

    Beautifully written Dawn, especially your feelings when asked about your family at work. That has always been difficult for me, when asked how many children I have I always think three and say two,. Unless I find myself in that room, as you will, with the family that totally understands your pain and you theirs. You are uniquely qualified to be amongst their best care providers. I haven’t seen you yet since you lost Audrey but hope you will share your jewellery and a hug when we see each other.

  • Reply Klara July 13, 2018 at 9:20 PM

    My situation might be a bit different (our 8 year old daughter died unexpectedly after her brain had swelled due to pneumococcal meningitis, she was gone in just five hours while we were desperately waiting for the critical care ambulance to take her from our local hospital to BCCH), but I’m very familiar with the awkward abrupt end of conversations. I too struggle with the whole how many kids do you have question. Your job does make it quite hard to bring this topic up. It is very considerate of you to worry about the emotional reactions of your clients. I would remove the guilt for not mentioning her in this type of situations, because it is clearly to spare your clients’ feelings. In other situations I think if I would ever see that person again or not. I no longer explain to strangers. Our friends and wonderful neighbors do mention our daughter a lot, but it is because she was part of their lives, she created memories with them, your little girl never had a chance to do that, so as harsh as it may sound she didn’t exist as a part of their lives. We found that when we started sharing our story and were very open about our loss (we do live in a small town in a fairly tightly knit community) suddenly people we haven’t even really knew started to share the very painful stories of theirs that they couldn’t share with others, because they wouldn’t understand. Suddenly confessions of close relatives suicides, stillborn babies emerged. I couldn’t believe how many people lived around me with this deep pain they couldn’t share (sometimes even their own family members didn’t know the true story). We now share our story of loss and no longer apologize for our tears on the days when mere mention of our girl’s name brings an unstoppable stream of tears into our eyes, because grief for your child is like that.

  • Reply Kate July 13, 2018 at 7:57 PM

    Thank you. I’m almost 6 years into mothering a dead baby and its still hard. Easier than it was, but hard. It’s hard having two beautiful kids running around and one who isn’t.
    Thanks for being so open. We are not alone in our grief.

  • Reply Kerri July 13, 2018 at 6:53 PM

    Audrey, “noble strength”. Thank you for having the courage and strength to share your guys’ story. It is heart-changing ❤️

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