Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Birth, Loss and In Between


Since I was a young girl, I dreamed of being a mother. Throughout my adult life, it was the moment I most anticipated. When I finally fell pregnant, it was a surprise, one my husband and I welcomed.
At 20 weeks, we found out that our son had a heart defect. We were devastated. Doctors said it may be a marker for some major genetic disorder. We spoke to a genetic counselor, who spent most of her time trying to convince us to terminate the pregnancy. I couldn’t even think about such a thing, feeling him kick and knowing he was living inside me.
We decided to keep the baby and as the pregnancy progressed, things began looking good. The doctors told us he had a 98% chance of surviving, albeit with some limitations, such as being unable to play contact sports and requiring several surgeries throughout his life. Despite this, he could lead a fairly normal life. We were ecstatic.
He was born at 37 weeks. My labor was extremely difficult. With every contraction, my baby’s heartbeat stopped. I was told in my Lamaze class to relax during contractions, but seeing the baby heart monitor stop at every contraction made being calm impossible. I had to wait to do an emergency C-section in the morning, when the doctors finally arrived. Because I was unconscious at his birth, I never saw my baby with his eyes open.
He lived for only eight days. They were the hardest eight days of my life. Sometimes he was doing well, but more often he had “dips” and doctors just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Despite the antibiotics and constant care, he couldn’t seem to kick the respiratory problems he had developed. He was unconscious the whole time because they kept him heavily sedated to minimize his pain. I longed to hold him, see him awake and look into his eyes, but alas he left us.
Grieving for him has been the most awful and devastating thing I have ever experienced. Although I have already seen the requisite therapist for my loss, talked to numerous people, joined support groups, and even written publicly about my son, I cannot help but feel misplaced.
I began feeling lost when I was sent home from the hospital without my child. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I no longer felt him inside me and knew I would never feel him again.
I had all of the things ready for his arrival, but no baby to use them. I didn’t know what to do with his baby clothes and furniture. I tried to put them away but the uncontrollable crying prevented me from doing so. Eventually, my mother and sisters took care of this for me.
Soon after my son’s passing, my family and friends bought my husband and me a ticket to Hawaii to get away and grieve in private. To this day, I cannot remember which island I went to or what I did the whole time in Hawaii. My only memory is standing in my towel in the hotel room and watching my breast milk seep through the towel and crying.
In the Pashtun culture, we celebrate the 40th day after childbirth by the mother officially bathing, praying and giving money to charity. New mothers do not have to pray while they are healing from the birth of the child. So when she begins to pray, on the 40th day, it is a mark of celebration. The maternal grandmother also gives new clothes to her daughter, prepares food and buys sweets, which are to be distributed among family and friends. My mother made me the food and had my new clothes ready after I showered, however, I did not have any sweets to give away. I followed tradition, with the knowledge that while this was a celebratory time for most mothers, I was grieving my empty womb. On my prayer mat, I cried throughout my prayer. It was my mother who consoled me and told me that God loved me and that is why He tested me with such a difficult test. She said she prays that God takes away my tears and soon blesses me with another child. She loved my son as much as I did and grieved not only his loss, but her daughter’s broken heart.
For some reason, I ended up going to my postpartum appointment all alone. Ashamed, I sat in the waiting room and prayed none of the staff remembered me or asked me about my baby. I watched other expectant mothers and mothers with newborns with a longing I will never be able to describe. Inside the examination room, I cried openly with my wonderful doctor, who did the same. Although her kindness helped me through a difficult appointment, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be in a building with all of the happy mothers. Surely, there was a place for someone like me.
I am unable to see other children his age without bringing him up. I have been known to make perfectly normal situations awkward by asking how old a child is and then commenting, “Oh, he/she is my son’s age.” Oblivious and even enthusiastic mothers ask where my baby is and respond with shock and uncertainty when I tell him he passed away. The worst was when I did this at a wedding. I made one mother so uncomfortable, she avoided me for the rest of the wedding. I felt like a leper. I couldn’t enjoy the beauty of it. I didn’t even notice the intricacies of the flower arrangements or the color of the bride’s dress, which I usually do. My husband and I left right after dinner.
The feeling of being lost has stayed with me almost a year after my child’s passing. We have been blessed again and I am expecting my second child on the birthday of my first. When asked if this is my first child, I have to think about my answer. Do I want to answer honestly and say “no” but then have to explain my first child’s death? Or do I want to say “yes” and just let strangers remain ignorant, “oohing” and “aahing” at how “life changes once you become a parent.”
I will always feel like I have lost something. But with prayer, a good husband, wonderful family and friends and mostly time, I find myself learning my place in life again, where I am the mother of two children—one in heaven and one inside me. This knowledge makes me stronger. I am learning to no longer be unsure about what to say concerning my son. And I also realize that because my loss was so great, I am forever altered.

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Sabina currently lives with her husband in Berkeley, California. She holds a B.A. in political science, and works as a Human Resource Manager at a small company. Proud of her bicultural upbringing, Sabina is currently working on her first novel about growing up in America as a Pashtun American. She is determined to complete her novel by the end of this year.

Leave us a comment!

  1. Commentsheather   |  Sunday, 29 January 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I can’t imagine what you experienced, but you convey it in a moving, brave way.

  2. CommentsDaisy   |  Wednesday, 01 February 2012 at 5:20 am

    Your son will always be your son, even if he’s not physically here on this earth. He was a person, with a name and identity and you can always keep that name and identity of his alive with you.

  3. CommentsEileen   |  Wednesday, 01 February 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I agree–Ibrahim and your experiences with him will ALWAYS be with you, and NOTHING, not even the birth of another baby will take that away from you. The pain will remain but lessen over time, only to come back when something triggers a particular memory. People, culture aside, have difficulty dealing with loss. The wedding story well illustrates how she had no idea what to say to you. She probably felt pity, but didn’t know how to express that. If it was a Pakistani wedding…I wonder if it was because they aren’t always open about things like that. For example, people in Afghan/Desi cultures don’t tell people they are pregnant. They tend to keep it quiet from anyone outside of the family until you read on facebook that they all the sudden have a baby. It really surprised me when I saw this happening but I understand where the tradition came from.
    I’m excited to see your second son grow. You will be the most loving and caring mother possible–this I know. You will tell him about his brother, and keep his memory alive because that memory will always be alive within you and your husband. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy.

  4. Commentski   |  Wednesday, 01 February 2012 at 2:43 pm

    hi hun, im so sorry for your loss and i am glad you joined our group and i really hope you can find some comfort with us xxxxx

  5. CommentsJanine Massocchi   |  Wednesday, 01 February 2012 at 2:56 pm

    . This is a bereavement group for parents who have lost angel babies, babies born sleeping, infant loss, sids, or any loss of a child. So please feel free to add yourself if you need any kind of support xxxxx

  6. CommentsLani Wageman   |  Wednesday, 01 February 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Dear Sabina,
    This was such a sad story. No Mother should have to feel the pain you have experienced. I pray for your new baby and hope all goes well. I would not deny that you had a baby before, as he was such a big part of your life. I would just say that you lost an infant shortly after birth and are now looking forward to a new child.
    Best wishes

  7. CommentsPaula   |  Thursday, 02 February 2012 at 7:56 am

    Thank you for sharing your soul. I remember meeting you when you were pregnant with your son. And I remember Aimee’s sadness when he passed away so young. No one should have to experience tragedies of the likes, but such is life, for reasons unknown to me. Rejoice in the joy that life offers. My best thoughts for your second child and a smooth delivery.

  8. CommentsJulie Corby   |  Thursday, 02 February 2012 at 11:29 am

    So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. CommentsSoniah Kamal   |  Thursday, 02 February 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I’m so sorry to read that you, and your husband, and your families, and even little baby had to go through this. I went through something similar, and returning home is to experience an empty nest of a horrific sort. Thanks for writing this.

  10. CommentsSaturday Surfing — Au Coeur   |  Saturday, 04 February 2012 at 6:55 pm

    […] Birth, Loss and In Between, InCulture Parent — A heartbreaking piece about dealing with losing a baby. […]

  11. CommentsHunzo   |  Saturday, 04 February 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story with us Sabina Jani. I am currently pregnant with my first child and I can’t even imagine the depths of your heart break. Your mom is right, God loves you and your son even more. God did not want him to suffer further on this world, that is why he was taken to heaven so early, where he will be waiting for you. I am sure he has made you and your husband more beautiful and stronger than ever. I will remember you all in my prayers inshallah.

  12. CommentsMaryam   |  Saturday, 04 February 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Inna elahi wa inna elahi rajeoun. To Allah do we belong and to him do we return.
    I’m happy you have found peace and insha’allah you will continue to feel so with the second child.
    Thank you for sharing your story, truly touching.

    Allah pa man.

  13. Commentslaura   |  Tuesday, 07 February 2012 at 11:48 am

    I have a nephew who would have turned 10 last month, but only live for 30 hours. He was also my sister’s first child, & the first grandchild for my parents. We always count him among the cousins. Every year on his birthday, Memorial Day, & Christmas, the family goes to the cemetery so his younger brother & sisters can remember him. At Christmas, there is always a present in his memory of a book for his siblings, and a new ornament for the tree for each of them. I don’t know anything about Pashtun culture, but if there is a similar present-giving annual holiday, your new child may enjoy something similar.

  14. CommentsELA   |  Thursday, 09 February 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, I have a very similar one. I lost my second child, a baby girl last April.

  15. CommentsChristine M of Hartlyn Kids   |  Friday, 13 April 2012 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for sharing your story. I can completely relate to that feeling having lost my daughter and now that I’m expecting another child, ironically around the same birthday as my daughter, I hesitate to share with individuals if this pregnancy is my third or second.

    Our babies will always be a part of us!

  16. CommentsFinding my spirituality « Love, InshAllah   |  Thursday, 09 August 2012 at 9:00 am

    […] Khan-Ibarra is a freelance writer and editor, and her most recent work, Birth, Loss and In-Between appeared in the online magazine, In Culture Parent.  Sabina regularly contributes to her blog, […]

  17. CommentsMud Hut Mama   |  Saturday, 08 December 2012 at 11:59 pm

    I am so very sorry for your loss which you have shared so beautifully here. Wishing you and your family peace as you remember your firstborn and welcome your second.

  18. CommentsDoğum, kayıp ve yas hakkında – Dağ Medya   |  Tuesday, 18 December 2012 at 12:46 pm

    […] Sabina Khan-Ibarra […]

  19. CommentsDoğum, kayıp ve yas hakkında | Dağ Medya   |  Thursday, 27 December 2012 at 5:45 pm

    […] Sabina Khan-Ibarra […]

  20. Commentseva   |  Monday, 23 September 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Your story moved me because it was as if I was reading about myself. I too lost my daughter 2 weeks after she was born because of a heart defect. I never even got to hold her. Seeing pregnant mothers, mothers with newborns, mothers with babies, mothers with toddlers would all make me cry. A year later I got pregnant with my second daughter, who is 1.5 now. Holding her little, healthy body was something that helped me get over the hurt of losing her sister. It has gotten easier but there are moments when I look at her and cry because I now know how much her sister missed. It’s a wound that will never completely heal.

  21. CommentsThe Paths To My Heart | Love, InshAllah   |  Thursday, 07 November 2013 at 3:45 am

    […] more from Sabina: Finding My Spirituality ; Birth, Loss & In Between, and Raising a Confident Muslim Child in […]

  22. CommentsSalaam and Merry Christmas! | Love, InshAllah   |  Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 4:00 am

    […] more from Sabina: Paths To My  Heart,  Finding My Spirituality ; Birth, Loss & In Between, and Raising a Confident Muslim Child in […]

  23. Commentsmelinda   |  Sunday, 02 February 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Dear writer, i too lost my child, and to have read your article has brought me a comfort that only we mothers of babes lost can really comprehend. Each story is unique, mine was at 5 months when the doctors discovered her problems, i elected to end the pregnancy and had an excrusciating birth, after i held her warm body so sweet and small, lifeless but perfect. I too had months of grief, shortly after i also lost my father, perhaps in thier pairing i was comforted to know that they could knlw each other, in some dream of an alternate world for these two souls. I try to remember her, Piera as my child, and now with a healthy child i feel so blessed to be a mother. Thank you for sharing

  24. CommentsDoğum, kayıp ve yas hakkında - UzunçorapUzunçorap   |  Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 2:38 am

    […] Sabina Khan-Ibarra […]

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