Silence After a Stillbirth Is Deafening -- and Painful, Say Parents


Jean Brawn, a hair salon owner from Maine, said the insensitivity after the stillbirth of her daughter, Julia, still stings after 18 years.

She was three weeks from a scheduled cesarean section because of pelvic problems with her two previous two pregnancies when the baby's cord became compressed.

"It was a Sept. 7 delivery date and things were going as I thought they should have," she told "I don't think the pregnancy was much different [than the others]. I had some stress at work, and my back was hurting."

Although she was close to delivery, Brawn decided to attend the wedding of her younger sister five hours away by car and boat in a remote part of the state.

"My feeling was that's when things took a turn," she said. "During the wedding I was having somersault issues with the baby turning around and kicking. … But post-ceremony, there was no activity."

After the weekend, she saw the doctor, who found high sugar levels and no heartbeat. "It was difficult, there was nothing to say," she said.

"They shuttled me down the hall and it was the technician's task to locate the heartbeat and when she didn't find one, she left the room," said Brawn. "Here, I was in a room by myself. Then she comes back and we go to the doctor's office -- the real one with the books. He was a young doctor in his 30s, and he looked at me and said, 'I don't even know what to say.' To me, this is the worst thing that ever happened.

"I felt so much despair," she said. Her induced delivery was scheduled for Aug. 16, Brawn's birthday.

"With Carrie (her first child, who is now 23), it was not fun and I had a lot of problems, but at least you know there is something waiting for you in the end," she said. "It was very quick."

"A stream of relatives came in who felt they should come," said Brawn. "No one knows what to say, and they get that horrified look on their face and don't say anything."

Brawn went home with a photo of her daughter and had her cremated and the ashes sit in an urn. She and her husband are still searching for a meaningful way to memorialize Julia.

"I am a true believer in fate, and everything has a reason even though we don't know most of them," said Brawn. "At the wedding Carrie was a flower girl and she entered down this super steep, awful hazardous staircase. Carrie slipped on stairs and caught herself. And I wondered for long time, was that a trade-off?"

But she also realizes that had Julia lived, she would have had her tubes tied and her 17-year-old daughter, Emily, a special child who "goes to her own drum" would never have been born.

For a time, Brawn changed her birthday, which she forever associates with the stillbirth. Family and friends know it is a day she feels depressed, takes time out and listens to music.

Today, she tells friends who ask about how to handle a stillbirth to say honestly, "I don't know what to say -- what can I do?" or "Do you want me to listen, to give you a hug? Is there something that you need?"

In the years since the stillbirth, Brawn said one of the hardest memories is the silence. "People closed up," she said. "I left the hospital and everyone went silent -- like the white elephant."

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