I am the mother of three, but only two are with me. My second child left us at the very end of the pregnancy, 37 weeks – and like half of all stillbirths, no cause was ever identified by my doctors.
I discovered my third pregnancy right after the first quarantine lockdown in Paris began. How, you may ask, did I stay hopeful? From the second I learned that I was pregnant again, it was about honoring the short life of my second child, my first daughter. By honoring her place in our family, it allowed me to later make a place for her sister who was growing within me.
While pregnant with my third child, I knew I wanted to be present for her, not dwelling on the past or looking ahead to a future that none of us know. I meditated, taking time to connect with her by counting her kicks. I fed my pregnancy altar each morning with art and flowers. I cooked for friends, sending them meals in Ubers. I practiced yin-yoga really to feel settled in my pregnant body. I danced. And I prayed, because the One who takes away is also the One who gives life.
It was important for me to show constant gratitude for my firstborn. Homeschooling him kept me “here,” rather than pulled away by scary thoughts. And when those thoughts did inevitably creep in from time to time, acknowledging them, letting them go, and coming back to my family was my practice.
I made the decision to keep this pregnancy a secret. After the death of my baby girl, it was so hard to have to show up each day at my son’s school and face the horrible silence from the teachers and other parents. Noticing how taboo stillbirth is for so many people is one of the reasons I speak up about my experience now. It seems that, even today, only some religious and philosophical traditions are comfortable with the idea of death.
The birth for my third child was planned at 37 weeks via C-section because that was the term when the heart of my second baby stopped. During the entire pregnancy, my baby and I listened to Coltrane together, so that is what we played all throughout our hospital stay. I have no words to describe what I felt when I heard her first cry.
As a mother, as a Mama Glow doula, as a prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, my work and life will always be dedicated to supporting other mothers. I am usually so discrete about my personal life, but in sharing my story I want to be here for all the mothers who came back home with empty arms and a heavy heart. Some mothers wear their babies in her heart, and though their arms may be empty, they will never be invisible to me.
When it comes to miscarriage or stillbirth, it is important for me to make clear that pain is pain and all loss has to be acknowledged, no matter how long the pregnancy was. If my story is yours as well, I hope that reading those words (and listening to what I was not able to express) will help you to keep your faith, keep your strength, and keep your willingness to stay soft and kind, so that you may receive grace again.
As I am writing this text, my baby girl is breast-sleeping. And I am smiling upon you.
Sam Guelimi is the founder of Ici Selfcare in Paris and is currently working on a kids’ book about stillbirth, inspired by the belief that we all have to replace silence with storytelling in order to heal.