BookShelf: Losing My Baby

Shannon Gibney (l) and Kao Kalia Yang (Photo by Sarah Whiting)

First contractions

Shannon: I finally sat down, after sweeping the floor and washing the dishes. My stomach was rumbling, but I was convinced that I had no time to eat. I needed to pay some bills, and then pick up my son from camp. Then I felt her, pushing at the walls of my uterus. Beginning her long demand of arrival.

Kalia: Far beyond me stood Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America — 20,310 feet above sea level, shrouded in gray clouds. Far below its immense height, the wind was cold and clear. It blew my shirt into my pregnant belly. I covered it with my hands, a layering I hoped would keep the baby inside of me warm. I took a deep breath. I felt my baby kick. For a moment, the clouds cleared. I could see the tip of Denali. I expelled the breath inside of me.

The first sign of something wrong

S: The midwife moved the microphone around my protruding belly, as she had done at least 12 times before. My husband sat on a brightly colored divan just a few feet away, checking his phone. The midwife left the room, and then came back in. She was holding a new baby doppler machine. After a few minutes, she left the room again and came back in with a juice box and a larger machine with straps and a monitor. I began to cry.

K: The room was dim. The technician looked at the screen as she moved the ultrasound probe around my slippery belly, pushing into soft flesh. The room was quiet. I could see my baby curled into a ball, turned toward the dark of me. The technician took the probe off my belly, examined it, adjusted the volume on the computer, resettled the probe. No movement. No sound. I tapped the side of my belly. Wake up, Little One. Wake up.

The second thing that was wrong

S: The midwife called the chief midwife, and they told me that they could not find my daughter’s heartbeat. We drove like maniacs to the downtown hospital, where they hooked me up to an ultrasound machine. I saw her there, on that blue screen, not moving. Nothing was moving. Nothing at all. Even the doctors did not want to move. But they had to. They had to tell me that my baby’s heartbeat had stopped.

Can you start it again?” was what I thought. Even though I knew it was a broken idea as soon as I thought it. An untenable question. But still, it bubbled inside me. I ran to the bathroom so it wouldn’t burst. Then I ran the water and screamed at the image of me in the mirror.

K: Two doctors came into the ultrasound room in their white coats. They were both women. The older one walked to the monitor. The younger one saw my bare foot and placed a hand on it. She squeezed.

The older one said, “I am sorry. Your baby is dead.”

I said, “No, I just heard the heartbeat ten days ago. I felt a kick just five days ago when we were in Alaska.”

The doctor said, “From the swelling of the baby, he died about a week ago.”

Nothing would ever be right again

S: My foot was poised on the flush of the toilet when she rushed out of me, finally. Finally.

A doctor caught her, white and thin and long and silent.

They walked me to the hospital bed and I held her. Fingered her slick, curly hair. And the howl grew in me, deep in my chest. The knowledge that I had only ever known her as she grew inside me was a sinkhole in my brain. I could not bear it. The lack of her screams. She was dead. She was mine.

K: I was not ready to see him. I was not ready to say goodbye to the hopes and the dreams that had brought him to life. For 19 weeks he was inside of me, tucked close to my heart, giving my life new joy, excitement, anticipation, and expectation. So, I held him for as long as I could, my body no longer a vessel for his life, but for his death.

When I could no longer hold him inside, when he was more air than flesh, he slipped from me. I held him in my cold hands, unable to protect him or me from the coldness of life and death.

He looked just like me, a face I would see reflected in my daughter and my sons — but in that moment, all I knew was that I’d never see him again, my baby Jules.

Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, activist, and the author of “See No Color” (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a young adult novel that won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Young Peoples’ Literature. Her new novel is “Dream Country” (Dutton, 2018).

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer. She is the author of “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” (Coffee House Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Readers Choice, and a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Asian Literary Award in Nonfiction. Her second book, “The Song Poet” (Metropolitan Books, 2016) won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Creative Nonfiction Memoir. 

Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang recommend these books for healing from loss

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir By Elizabeth McCracken

All About Love: New Visions By bell hooks

The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times By Pema Chödrön

What’s on your bookshelf? Send us 400 words about your booklife, plus your list of 5-6 related books by women authors:

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