Today is my eldest son’s birthday. It is also the anniversary of his death.

It is a complicated story. I had triplets and then my membranes broke at 22 1/2 weeks. My first son’s death was foretold before his first breath. A real life fairy tale curse.

I knew I had no magic to break the spell. After all I am an OB/GYN and when membranes rupture so prematurely delivery is almost guaranteed by 48 hours. I needed at least 10 days. However, I am also human so by day 3 of the pas de deux between delivery and death hope began to root. Maybe I would be in that very lucky minority who hangs on for a week or even two? Maybe I would take all three home? I resented this hope because my training told me it was a lie and yet I couldn’t stop myself. Turns out hope was a better analgesic than anything science had to offer although it gives one a hell of a withdrawal. Everything has a price.

By the end of the third day I could almost see the possibility of success, like turning the dial on a radio and passing what seemed like a station if you strained really hard and listened with the ear of faith. Bias is a bitch. Then it all vanished in seconds. I was a parent and then I was not. My son lived three minutes and then I was left as alone as a human can be.

Subtraction is the worst kind of maternity math.

Everyone who came into my room wanted to know what had happened. I guess I did too, but less in a practical way (I mean I was there) and more in a why me kind of way. Over and over again I had to recount the most painful moment of my life, the story of how three became two, to visitors who ignored the no visitors sign. To medical professionals who couldn’t be bothered to read my chart or if they had they didn’t understand it. Read the fucking chart or ask my doctors I wanted to say, but my brain wasn’t working right and I was trying not to get upset and rupture the next set of membranes.

The worst was the woman from the Ministry of Miseries who insisted that keeping my son’s 1 lb. body in the morgue was some kind an imposition and if I didn’t figure out what to do with it before she went on vacation off he would go to a pauper’s grave. I just wanted him in the same building until I delivered, I had some odd notion that I needed to keep my boys physically close for as long as possible, but she was determined to make me the protagonist of a short story about the horrors of neonatal death co-authored by Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.

There was so much badness. partly because it was a medical emergency and partly because some people were thoughtless or horrible or both and also because for the short time Aidan lived people were slamming needles and things into me so I couldn’t see him or touch him while he lived. The memories of my first-born are simply the things that were done to me to keep my other two alive. That is just so messed up there is no other way to say it.

Dealing with Aidan’s body almost killed me. If I hadn’t had my other two boys when I picked up his ashes I could have seen myself just walking into traffic with the urn. I don’t know if I would have done it, but people need to know that is how bad it can be. Maybe it was just that bad for me. Maybe not. Every time I read about a new state law forcing arrangements for fetal remains I feel this scab break. I feel the pain of these women I will never meet. Leave them alone I want to scream. Man’s inhumanity to woman runs deep.

There was kindness too. My secretary who stepped in to ward off horrible people with horrible paper work. The neonatal nurses who paid silent homage to Aidan by naming my boys triplet B and C when they were born at 26 weeks. Another administrator who stormed down to the blood bank when my boys were born and needed immediate transfusions because she was a match.

I have a photo, the kind where they dress your dead baby up to not look like a dead baby or at least they do their best. The photo arrived weeks later. It’s ghastly. Maybe I am just too much of a realist but I just don’t want that image as my memory. I do have the little outfit they dressed him in and that is something special. I feel the wool on my finger tips and there is little speck of his blood and that tells me he was real. I truly have nothing else tangible.

People knit those little outfits. That is a great kindness. Someone also did their best with the photos and the developing and such and so years later you realize there was a lot of behind the scenes kindness and that helps.

Sometimes it’s all good and you only see two children in photos instead of two and a space. Sometimes you run your fingers through two heads of hair as you are all snuggled on the couch and you feel two different textures, but sometimes your hands also search for the feel of the hair that isn’t there. Would it be like one, the other, or entirely different?

Questions with no possible answer are hard and they never stop. I am used to quieting my own voice, but unfortunately the innocent questions of others do continually take you by surprise.

“How old are your boys,” nameless person asks.

“Thirteen,” I say.


Do I tell the truth and run the gauntlet of questions or swallow the fire and say twins? Even on their birthday, now such a cause for celebration as they were the boys who almost did not live, there is no break. Especially on their birthday there is no break.

“Twins!” the person taking the order at the bakery would say. Now I just bake the cakes.

Even years later you can’t really talk about it. Trust me, nothing sucks the life out of a room faster than telling people you have a dead baby. Or had a dead baby. What is the correct terminology? It probably doesn’t matter. Or does it? I feel bad that I don’t know. So you join the saddest sorority. It’s not that you seek each other out, but knowing someone who has lost as I have and can still draw breath is a sort of comfort. I suppose it is like knowing that someone else has colonized the most inhospitable planet in the universe so at least you know it can be done.


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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I lost my first two baby boys at 18 and 19 weeks. I now have a beautiful, cheeky 4 month old baby boy, but it is still so sad to think of my little babies who didn’t get to live. No one understands really and I have heard so many well-intentioned condolences about my ‘miscarriages’. I don’t tell them that I was in the hospital for a week both times, in labour for days, and stupidly hoping that maybe I could hold on for weeks even though it was impossible. I don’t talk about seeing the tiny body being whisked away, seeing the tiny babies in their baskets and seeing the anguish in my partner’s eyes. Again, thank you for bravely sharing. I’m sure your story has helped lots of people. Aiden will always be in your heart and your thoughts, and even though he is gone, he has a Mum who loves him so much.

  2. I am a member of a group that no one wants to be a part of. I have a beautiful, one of a kind 8yr old daughter…and a son that I never even got to see the colour of his eyes. He would have been turning 12 this October. One week overdue and too late. Hours of labour for an outcome no one could ever be ready for. Stillborn.
    People just don’t understand the heartache and life it tears out of you. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets harder each year. People act like he didn’t exist. But he did, he does… And he is a part of my life always. No mother should have to bury their child…especially in such a cruel and horrible way. Holidays are bittersweet, enjoying with one child, and visiting the grave of the other. I am not a religious person…but I tell my daughter everyday that part of her big brother is inside her. That she is more special because he is her angel.
    Despite how awkward or uncomfortable it makes people feel ….
    I am a mother, a proud mother of not one, but two. I will always tell my story, and only hope it will help others find their voice and speak of their beautiful children…earth and Angel. ❤

  3. Love your articles. Love your style. Love your vulnerability. You are a superb human being and no doubt that Aidan would be so very proud of you. Much love from this unknown reader from across the globe.

  4. Dr. Jen – I recently read your piece in the Times on this very difficult subject. We lost our third, a handsome son named Owen on Sept 2 last year. He was 41 weeks – 8lbs 9oz and looked just like his older sister and brother. He died about 12hrs before I was set to be induced. All of a sudden he just stopped moving. Christmas cards this year were very hard, as you say. We are now actively trying for our fourth but it will appear to outsiders as though this next babe is our third. Still trying to wrap my head around that. Figuring out what to say in each situation is frustrating and nerve-wracking. Thanks for sharing on this very important topic.

  5. Thank you for this Jen. I also just read your piece in the New York Times this week. I am an OB/GYN also and lost my daughter when she was 10 days old just 4 months ago related to birth trauma. I am trying to figure out how to work again and wonder if you have any thoughts or resources. This is a terrible club to belong to and I am having an even harder time finding people to talk to as and OB who has lost her baby.

  6. Thank you for writing this. My son is two now — we lost his sister shortly after her birth. It was a complete shock. I look at my son and wonder what she would look like now…I watch him play and wonder what her favorite toy would be…and sometimes I see that empty space, where she should be playing beside him, and the grief is just as strong as it was that first day.

    It’s made worse by the fact that no one talks about these things. No one wants to think about losing a child – understandably so – and so it becomes a silent space in your life that no one dares touch. But I need to talk about her. I want to talk about her.

    I can relate, too, to that feeling of wanting to die when you picked up that urn. I wanted to follow to where she had gone…but my son needed me. He very literally saved my life. I am so grateful to have him.

  7. Dear Dr. Gunter, as father to a baby boy who is the light of my life, I want to offer another voice of sympathy for the loss of Aidan. Wishing you peace.

  8. I am so sorry for your loss and so glad your remaining triplets lived. What a nightmare that time was – our son’s sack ruptured at 20 weeks but he and his brothers made it to 27 weeks before being born. We were lucky but so frightened then.

    Thank you for your honesty and your information.

  9. I am mother of three with 2 living as well. My middle son, Ian, was stillborn at 33 weeks. You’ve hit the nail on the head here. Thank you.

  10. Thank you for articulating your pain. My sincere sympathy for the empty place in your life.

  11. I know, I went through IVF after many years of education, becoming a doctor, trying to start a family at 39. I got pregnant the first try on IVF after years of infertiltiy! It was a girl! We were so excited until they didn’t get her out on time. She died in-utero at 42 weeks. “Stillborn” Why did they let me go past-term with an IVF baby at 39 yrs old? I had developed a leak and lost my fluid over several days–I called the doctor and he said it was urine. He could have saved her, could’ve tested me, he insisted upon inducing me 5 days later, I begged for him to do it right away, he didn’t and she died the night before he was to induce her. She was perfect 9 lbs 2 oz, 22 ” my beautiful daughter. Dead. We were sent out the back door of the hospital without a wheelchair the next day! Every staff member asked where my baby was!!!! Why didn’t they know??? They couldn’t wait to get rid of me, their failure. Its been 18 years. I will never be the same. I went on nearly age 41 and had my miracle IVF boy (after being given a 10% chance) who is now a healthy, happy, wonderful 17 yr old. God Bless you Dr. Gunter! I don’t know how many kids to say I have either. Often times I will say “two” and talk about my son, when they ask about my daughter I say “shes not with us, but waiting for me in spirit”. I feel like crap when I say I have one child. Leaving with an urn instead of a child is beyond anything anyone can ever describe. I still talk about her, I don’t care what people think–but I never want to scare a pregnant woman, I just tell them to monitor their baby carefully and go in to the ER if they suspect anything wrong! Mom’s intuition–we often know or suspect something wrong, even though having you first baby is like having an alien in your body.

  12. Life is this big, rocky, complicated story and truth be told, people don’t wanna hear any of it and if they do, it’s just to distract them from their own misery. I love the joyful request for truth, honesty and stories that need to be told, honored and explored. Bring all of it on…

  13. Jen, I am so very sorry for your loss. This is not a club tht anyone should have to join, but unfortunately, there are way too many members. The loss of a child is the worst pain that a parent can bare. 11/1 will be the 5th anniversary of losing our Jesse. And every day feels just like the one before. The holes in our souls and hearts will never be mended. How can they be. We aren’t whole anymore. We are broken.

  14. Thank you for this. Before my parents met, i had two half-sibs. One died in the NICU, the other at the age of 2. I can’t imagine how painful it was for my mother, who, when i asked “Mommy, who’s that other baby in this photo?” always told the truth.

  15. When my baby died my husband wanted to go and see her in the morgue. I did not (I can’t explain it. I didn’t need to see her dead, whereas he needed to keep seeing her). However, I went to support him. In her little basket or box – I can’t remember what it looked like – they had put two toys next to her. Toys that were not hers. They were toys that they kept in the morgue for dead babies. Toys for dead babies. I am not a person who ever freaks out, but I freaked out then, insisting that those toys were not hers and they needed to take them away. I couldn’t go back to the morgue again and my husband could not forgive me for refusing to go with him. I’ve never been able to speak about the dead baby toys. Once I tried, but my throat closed up. This is the first time I’ve told anyone about it.

  16. Hello Jen thanks for all you do. Neonatologist here, glad that the NICU nurses called your babies triplets. I don’t know how long ago Aidan was born, but they do have something called a Cuddle Cot now. It is basically a bassinet with a cooling system so that families who have lost babies can keep them in the room with them as long as they need or want to. I don’t know if that could mean weeks but it would have given you more time certainly.
    Thanks for advocating for all women, mothers and babies. We need you! Thinking of you.

  17. *HUGS* thank you for sharing your story and i’m sorry you went through this pain. your deep compassion and willingness to do more than the minimum for your patients is surely related to your own experience. i love that you write with careful well-researched rationality and also a beautiful connection to the human feelings behind a medical issue.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your very personal story, and for putting into words some of what I felt when our son was stillborn at 26 weeks, almost 6 years ago. As I waited in my hospital bed for the induction to progress, I had a strong certain feeling that if I could have swapped my life for his, so that he could have had a chance to live, I would have without a second’s hesitation.

    Today we are the incredibly grateful and fortunate parents to an almost six month old daughter, who is here thanks to the miracle of modern IVF and the kindness and generosity of a gestational carrier. Truly such a gift and miracle she is.

    My sincerest condolences on your loss of Aiden.

  19. I agree with Bett. This is a beautiful, poetically-written, heartbreaking piece. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m in tears at my screen and so very sorry for your loss.

  20. Dr. Gunter, would you please submit this as an opinion piece to the New York Times? It is deserving of a wide readership. Thank you for sharing, and may you and your family be surrounded by light and love.

  21. My mom had a stillbirth at 9 months when she was 18 and never was able to carry to term again ( many, many miscarriages). The doctor knew something was wrong the day before and had her come to the hospital that night without telling her why. But, she had a foreboding and stopped by the drugstore to buy a baby brush and comb to reassure herself. Years later, my parents adopted first me and then my sibling. When I was an adult, my mother told me she was galvanized when the state agency told them my birth date. My birthday was her baby’s due date ( the stillbirth happened a week before that).

  22. Thank you for sharing this. I’m currently awaiting the birth of “Baby A”, knowing that Baby B will be stillborn. You named so many of the questions and fears and emotions I’ve been experiencing in the weeks since we discovered her heart had stopped while his kept beating. Thank you for letting me know I’m not completely alone.

    1. We are in a similar situation. I lost a twin at the beginning of my second trimester. I struggle when answering questions about my pregnancy. I avoid announcements and conversations about my pregnancy. I don’t tell people I am pregnant with twins because baby B’s heart has stopped but she will be delivered with baby A. The pain of the loss is almost unbearable because as the author said, you cannot tell people about your dead baby. I have told very few people and most cannot (do not try) to understand the grief. People do not want acknowledge difficult emotions/feelings.

  23. Dear Jen,
    I am crying here in front of my screen. My second son was stillborn at 39 weeks. He would have been 12 this year. You never forget, and the pain of treason when you chose not to mention the dead child because you can’t trust yourself to explain without breaking down… People don’t get it. Lucky them.
    I am mother of 4, parent to 3. It’s always good to meet a sister.
    Take care

  24. A very well written and brutally honest account of losing a son, so thank you for sharing. I might, if you don’t mind, be tempted to ask if you had any advice to those who have friends or acquaintances who have suffered this, or intrauterine demise and how you approach them? With as much thoughtfulness and empathy as you can is my takeaway.

  25. I’m sorry for your loss. My stillborn baby’s birthday is coming up next month. It wasn’t just you.

  26. My condolences for all of you. My own children’s twins only survived long enough to form their little pockets, then were absorbed. (The pockets were visible at the confirmation ultra sounds at 6 weeks), but it was so early and we only knew because it was IVF. Your losses were so much more serious. Mostly, I’m just wistful.
    Mom, however, probably understood very well. Her first was stillborn at 8 months, I was born at 7 months. My sister was baby C after her co-trips were stillborn. They had probably been dead a long time, since she was 9 months and over 7 pounds. Gramma said it took quite a while to convince her my sister was alive. I remember when she miscarried my brother’s co-trips.

  27. I’m sorry for you and your families loss. The hardest thing for you all. My daughter in law carried twins, she knew there was a problem with one early on. We have one amazing grandaughter, but as we keep reminding ourselves, we have two grandchildren.

  28. I was a mother of two beautiful and healthy children. We desperately wanted a third. This was is 1976. We had one miscarriage. Then a full term pregnancy which ended in a still born birth. I was never allowed to see that baby. He was whisked out of the delivery room wrapped in what looked like a napkin. A full term 7lb. 14 oz. baby that I never saw, never touched, never held, but never forgot. Emotional recovery was very hard and explaining to my two older children was very hard. Our baby was circumcised even though he was dead, so he could be buried in our cemetery – all which happened with hours of his natural dellivery, because he had to be buried by sundown that day. There is a gravestone on that baby’s grave. He was real. That was 41 years ago and I have never forgotten anything that happened that day, because those memories were the only memories to have made his presence real for me. You love what you have created and what you carried and what you delivered, whether you ever got to touch or see. You never ever forget. And the memories of that day will be with me forever. The memories are my gift.

  29. Beautiful and bittersweet. I can fully picture you running your fingers through their hair, wondering if Aidan’s would be the same or different…and I’m wondering, too. You did an amazing job of sharing your thoughts and emotions. I’m so sorry you have this story to tell💕

  30. I want to say something erudite and wise. All I have is pain for you and your sisters. I cannot imagine the sense of loss. I wish you peace.

  31. Thank you, Dr. Jen, for sharing this most personal and horrible of experiences. May it help other mothers in the same tragic circumstances.

  32. Even now, when my daughter would be 30 years old, I still stumble when people ask how many children I have. In my heart, I have two beautiful, strong, and exceptional daughters. But only one of them…the 28 year old…walks this earth with me still. That’s a lot to drop on someone in a casual setting. So I say one…and pray that my eldest daughter who waits for me on the other side will forgive me for a lifetime of slights.

    A fellow member sorority that no woman wants to join.

  33. I’m so sad for your loss, and so horrified and angry for the way you were treated. It is stories like yours that remind me how important it is to be human first and a doctor second, and that drive me to teach this to my students and residents. I grieve for your loss. I hope you find comfort in knowing that your bravery in sharing can inspire some of us to try to make the next generation better.

  34. What a moving story. I had 2 miscarriages before having my son so I understand how thoughtless and hurtful people can be. I love my son more than life but I sometimes wonder what his siblings would have been.

  35. I’m so sorry. My son died 2 summers ago when he was 23 months old. People can be so rude and not even realize it. They ask prying questions that aren’t even appropriate in polite conversation. They want to know every detail of it and that’s just wrong. And yes, being part of this awful sorority really sucks!

  36. It’ is so telling of the bleak, agonising horror experienced in your situation, that English doesn’t even have a word to describe a mother who outlives her child(ten). It’s almost as if by not naming it, we can pretend that it isn’t real.

    You are a wonderful woman, and your strength is obvious. You are sharing Aidan’s story, that of a tiny boy who may not have lived long but who, through you, is making an impact in this world.

    Thank you for sharing the painful details of Aidan’s short life with us. Thank you for representing your fellow mothers, and for refusing to hide your grief in the shadows, so that people can carry on pretending that this doesn’t happen.

    For as long as your words here exist, Aidan will always be remembered by everyone touched by his story.

  37. Jen – I’m so sorry for your loss. Every day is precious with your boys. God’s way of making us understand the trials of our patients.

  38. Dr. Gunther thank you for sharing your story… Our heart goes out to you

    Thank you for all the hard and dedicated work you send us about the modern day charlatans…..

    I think the Kardashians will be next in the perfume and body cleansing business…. Anything for a buck….

    There is a sucker born every minute..

    Thank you


    Thank you and best regards.

    George Lyons

  39. Such a powerful, important story — especially coming from you with our experience and deep insight into women’s lives. I appreciate your telling this, it helped me understand what this loss means and how long it means. Thank you.

  40. I’m so sorry for the loss of your baby and the thoughtless, unkind people. Sharing such a personal story will resonate with so many other women who have lost babies. This seems like an issue where women need to support one another more than we do.

  41. Beautifully written. I hope some people will learn something from your pain. He will live on in your memory and so don’t feel you have to stop remembering or speaking of Aidan.

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