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A Diary: Reflections on the Path of Healing
by Debbie Rutledge
Notes, poems and
"My Story, finally..peace, healing"
Four Years later...

Dear Debbie,

I plan on using all you have sent me in a diary form. Your thoughts reflect your journey, and they will help others as they are trying to work through their own grief. Thank you so much for sharing....Marcia

To our internet friends..

Healing happens over a period of time

I have left many of Debbie's comments to me during the last few months. These help folks realize that we can reflect back to our loss and still "be connected" in a very wonderful way to the present.

"Spurts of understanding and release

My notes under "Allowing Grieving to Happen to Heal" maintain that grieving happens in spurts and over a period of time. We could not do all the grief work at would be too overwhelming. We grieve, go "on with our life," and touch back when we can and need to to heal some more.

Healing after "the subsequent baby"

For some, grieving the loss baby or babies is actually safer after other children have arrived. (I have seen this especially in Dads). I think this may be because some of the fear that we will "never have another (or the first) living child" is removed...then we can grieve more freely the one we lost.

These writings and thoughts are a gift from Debbie and her special baby, Sarah.

To reach Debbie...

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Sarah's Foot and Handprints...
May 16, 1995
14 oz.

Entry #1 ~ April '99

Sarah, stillborn four years ago... bond with a stillborn child
as much as with a live child.
I was as in awe of her as I was
with Jeanne when she was born.

Hi, I'm Debbie. I had a daughter four years ago.

It will be four years in less than a month. I was just over seven months along and had the feeling that something wasn't quite right.

My weight was too low, and I thought the ultrasound dates based on the babies size were off. Unfortunately, I was right.

I found Sarah's heartrate with my own stethoscope, at between fifty and sixty beats per minute. I knew immediately that there was no chance.

The next ultrasound confirmed this and I went to the IWK-Grace Hospital which specialises in OBS-GYN. I had a fabulous group of people to care for me.

I am a nurse myself...

...and that became a valuable asset when dealing with a husband who does not cope well with grief and for myself. I am glad we all got through it OK. He still does not like to talk about it, but I tend to be the opposite.

I was pried open, peeled back and not too much puts me out at all any more.

Sarah was born... three thirty am weighing only 14 oz. She looked like our other daughter, Jeanne. She had hands like me and ears like my husband. Internally her heart did not develope properly and as a consequence she was hydracephalic and her kidneys were aplastic and her brain barely developed at all.

The problems she had were there by seven weeks gestation and it is miraculous that she developed as far as she did.

Bonding with your stillborn child

What people have a hard time understanding sometimes is that you bond with a stillborn child as much as with a live child. I was as in awe of her as I was with Jeanne when she was born.

When someone asks how many children I have I think three( we have a son now too) and I say two. I had a dream about my Sarah when she would have been three months old. She was sitting in a baby recliner with a little lacy white outfit on and she was chewing her fingers and gooing and she looked directly at me and smiled.

I came to accept that while I would always be her mom, I just couldn't have her every day to raise.

I still dream of her a couple of times a year. She has light hair, very thin and straight like mine and she has a small face, like her sister and eyes like her brother. She always looks happy and she is safe.


I can honestly say she has had an impact on my life.
The things that used to upset me don't anymore.
I can thank her for a great deal.

Entry #2 ~ May '99
Sarah ~ stillborn May 16, 1995

I find it hard to know where to start every time I sit down to write this down....

I have written poetry for Sarah but have never sat down and written a larger account of WHAT HAPPENED...until now... Here goes. I wanted to say everything and I'm not sure that is possible. I will always have something to add.

To go back to the beginning,

I was mom of a two and a half year old, a non-working nurse and an expectant mom. I had a feeling that all was not right from early on.

I wasn't sure when I got pregnant and the results of the ultrasound, which gives a date according to size, didn't work with my "possibilities". I was right, unfortunately, but this wasn't confirmed until I was thirty-one weeks or so.

Things weren't "right"...

I used to sit down with my stethoscope and listen to my older daughter, Jeanne's heartrate, and I was having a difficult time finding this one so I sat down later at night by myself when there was no noise to see if I could hear it.

What I found was a very irratic heartrate between sixty and eighty. I thought it was my own at first but mine is not irratic. I knew immediately that she had no chance to survive. I knew that I felt smaller because I was smaller because there was little or no amniotic fluid and little or no movement.

The beginning of grief...

I went to the bathroom and vomited so violently that the vomit came up through my nose and I cried myself to sleep on the bathroom floor with Dennis' shirt which smelled like wood chips tobacco and hydraulic oil; a combination that still arouses those memories but is soothing at the same time.

The shirt is long worn out, but I still have it.

I was booked for an ultrasound three days later and I said nothing about what I had found; maybe I wanted to believe that I was wrong and the ultrasound would say something different.

I started smoking a lot which everyone noticed. I remember looking for the "look" that would eventually come over the technitaians face which appeared very quickly. I was sent A.S.A.P. to my doctor who sent me to a gynecologist whom I knew who sent me to Halifax to the Grace Hospital.

I wanted to crawl under a rock or something and forget I was alive, but I was convinced to go to Halifax. This all happened so quickly. They were all right, it was the best place to be.


My husband...

Dennis is terrified of hospitals and best left at home. He faints and is taken to the door in a wheelchair.

At the hospital Dennis called at least three times a day. He took care of all the funeral arrangements and bought flowers. His mom visited and so did his sisters.

Being a nurse I am comfortable with the hospital, and I had seen enough to know what was coming. I was angry about having to have labor pains?!

I was reliant on my mother...

.. for moral support which didn't work. She treated my circumstances like I had overcooked the meat for supper. I felt like an inconvenience or like I had a bad cold or something.

My mother consented to look after Jeanne but would not help me go to Halifax because she had to go "shopping". At the time I was hurt and angry and it still bothers me. I didn't know what was wrong with her. She still doesn't recognise Sarah. Too bad for her, I guess.

My sister...

...was a godsend and did everything she could do to help out for which I will always be grateful. I guess my parents are doing the best they can. They have rarely had to deal with a loss, it just hasn't happened and I think we are a little emotionally stunted.

My grandmother...

...went through this too and she was good to talk to. Over the last year or so she forgets that the "children" are mine. ( she is ninety four).

Hospital experience...

The hospital was terrific.

I had an ultrasound when I got there which showed me in detail what was wrong with Sarah, which by that time I wanted to know and as much as possible. The septum in her heart was almost completely missing so her heart looked like a sack flopping around. That problem with her heart contributed to the fact that the rest of her anomalies, aplastic kidneys...etc. The doctor gave me a blow by blow description, and it left no doubt in my mind as to what came next.

I watched her struggle... was the last time I would see her alive, all curled up in my pelvis. Part of me wanted to have that struggle over.

She died through the night. When I awoke in the morning my pregnancy symptoms were all gone. I felt lonely drinking a glass of juice that would normally make me sick. It took awhile before I could drink orange juice and enjoy it. I sat ther in the bed and cried.

I spent the next four days having my cervix opened.

It is easier to have a full term baby because your cervix is thinned and ready to open. It took over twelve hours to deliver a child that only weighed in at fourteen ounces.

Part way through the labor I started thinking that Yes this can happen to me. It happens 3% of the time.

It's strange that I forgot a lot of the information that I knew as a nurse, but it did come back after or during the course of events. We remember as we can cope I suppose. Prior to this time I could only think NO NO NO.

Eventually it became OK - I have to do this.

She was baptised and named Sarah.

I thought the name never really goes out of style. I had about an hour with Sarah. She had fuzzy white hair and my fingers ( grandmothers, too), Dennis' ears and thick feet. I have three pictures and her footprints and handprints( they are so tiny) and a couple of hairs that I found later.

After the birth, I shook for two days,

.. my blood pressure went up as did my temp and heart rate but nothing showed up on my blood work.

The Confusion of Going home...

I was glad when it was time to go home, but a bit scared, too. In the hospital the staff has a good idea of "where" you are but the general population in your day to day world often doesn't.

Coming Home...

The chaplain..

..told me to call when I felt the need which turned out to be something I did for the next year. My mom did look after Jeanne which was good, Jeanne was comfortable there. I was so glad to see her when I got home.

Jeanne thought I was angry..

at her for something and that was why I went away. It took a few weeks to get her feeling good about all that. She saw the pictures of the baby, "mommy's teddy" and gradually came to the understanding that mom wasn't mad. We snuggle a lot and she slept with me for awhile.

Both Dennis and Jeanne curled around me at night.

Dennis got the information and the pictures a little at a time until he had it all. I forced that a little but he needed to acknowledge her and he did. He doesn't like to hear a whole lot about it, but he knows everything.

I have as much a bond with Sarah as with Jeanne and Logan.

In those first weeks at home we had an obit in the paper. I discovered exactly what an obit. is for. A lot of people were coming up to me and saying "Oh, you had the baby, what did you have ?" It was uncomfortable for everyone. It also made everthing a little more official and final.

Confusion and pain..

I have all the papers including the burial ones. I found that I need to talk every now and then (five times a day at first). I had a poor ability to concentrate on anything so I scrubbed my walls for a week or so, which was therapeutic in that it didn't require a lot of thought and the worse that could happen was a bit of water on the floor. Then, gradually, I got to more complicated things, like being able to put stitches on a knitting needle and count them without being distracted.

Jeanne was my comfort

The only thing that didn't feel like a burden for awhile was looking after Jeanne. At times I felt caged and hyper and running in circles and that was when I would put down whatever I was trying to do and go talk to some one.

Down the path...

A lot of the things I normally did held no interest.
It was a couple of years before that was put in perspective.

"Elephants in the room..."

I remember the doctor telling that I "had the labor and the delivery to face". He was wrong, the real grieving didn't begin until after the birth. The labor and the delivery were only the second elephants I had to swallow, the first being the initial shock. It was like someone put three elephants on a plate in front of me and said "ok, now eat!"

I felt "branded"

Other people also have some strange comments and I felt Branded. I used to force a smile with most and speak. Once the ice was broken, people can see that you really only have one head and two eyes, just like everyone else. You cry the first few times and then it gets easier.

Subsequent Children

Sarah was born in May, I had another miscarriage in July and was pregnant again in August.

I am happy to say our son, Logan was born July 29,1996 after a miserable pregnancy with genetic tests and placenta previa and bleeding and finally a boy who weighed nearly nine pounds (I weigh about ninety pounds soaking wet so he was a surprise). I had a 6.6 hemoglobin but was very happy.

I celebrate Sarah's short life, and I dream of her occasionally.

She is happy, with thin hair, long gangly legs, and giggly. She always tells me not to worry; she is ok.


We start making connections again when we are ready...a little at a time.

Other people don't stop because we are grieving and maybe their momentum gets us going again. I remember the first time I laughed after Sarah's birth and it felt like a strange defeature on my face.

Pain, blame, forgiveness...

I also caught a glimpse of my own face in the mirror once and it stopped me short. There was my father's face after his brother died. I looked pained, distracted and strained. I can now spot that "look" a mile off.

I am lucky in that I realised early on that what happens happens and no one is to blame. Death, while unpleasant is a natural thing too and it can happen to us all. I didn't blame anyone. My heat goes out to those who do blame either themselves or some one else because the road "back" is going to be long and rough.

Sarah's birth was the first time in my life that I felt truly needy.

Usually as a nurse I was on the other side of the fence. I am lucky in that I can usually manage to express whatever feeling I have. It doesn't matter what my feelings are but how I act matters.

Unexpected moments of peace

Some things were reassuring too. I woke up one morning and saw a doe deer in our yard with two fawns. They were pretty in the mist in the early morning. I watched them for about twenty minutes. Time is wonderful too, I hate to abuse an old cliche but it does heal all.

I am left with the memories of my daughter
and a mother's love and that goes on forever!


Entry #3 ~ May 99


Expectation and hope of you
swelled inside me for seven months
I imagined your eyes and nose
it made me smile to think of your
laughter, your toes
and soft hair.

But you were born; a
flower not meant to open
crammed into the world
by my shuddering body
to lie still beside me, curled
in your blanket.

Family comments drift past
"you won't have to raise an invalid"
"you've been blessed
be grateful for what you have"
" maybe you need a rest"

I am not grateful
my heart screams "no"

God gave you a soul
I loved your fused eyes and tiny nose
I loved your long fingers,
your soft hair and wee toes
and time will only make you more beautiful.

Debbie Rutledge
June 1995

Entry #4 ~ May 99

Daddy's Gift

The gate creaks as it opens
and I walk in on the soft ground
toward the back of the enclosure
where the tiny children are found
quietly sleeping.

A gentle breeze is blowing
in this warm sunny place
I want to caress your tiny face
my hand fidgets as it remembers

I wonder what hand wrapped you
in a blanket as you slept
and are you warm enough with out
your clothes that I have kept
at home with me.

I wanted a white dress
with tiny pearls and soft lace
around the collar and bonnet
to surround your face
like a frame.

But as I draw closer; I see
pink petals float and drift
from the flowers Daddy
left you as his gift
covering you like a blanket.

Debbie Rutledge
June 1995


the hands who listened and cared,
who sat with me and shared something of themselves

the hands who offered hope
when my other friends could not cope with me

the hands who covered me with a warm blanket
when I shook uncontrollably from the pain

the hands who touched my tears and my labor,
who soothed my fears away.

the hands who wrapped her tenderly
and held her up for me to see a little girl

the hands who made the hat and tiny clothes to wear
I could not believe they were so small

the hands who printed her feet and fingers,
you gave me a sweet and endearing memory.

the hands who made me tea
and propped me up to drink it
quietly with no need for words.

the hands who annointed my childs head
unrepulsed and pointed out my child's soul

the hands who let me touch
again my child's soft hair
stuck to the bloody stain hidden in her bonnet.

Debbie Rutledge
June 1995


the heart holds it well
quietly beating
silently bleating;

a sad song
and as time passes
the shock fades
and the knife blades
grow dull

but the signs remain
and the hearts cries
are caught in the eyes
like a reflection.

Debbie Rutledge
June 1995


they are
hard to endure.

You can
never quite be sure
of them.

do they chatter
do they
really matter
at all.

Are they
anything like me?
a tear, a wish
they are.

Debbie Rutledge
June 1995

Entry #5 ~ May 29, '99 - Becoming "internet connected" and sharing...

Hi Marcia,

Pregnancy Loss sites

So good to hear from you! I got the computer in February, knowing absolutely nothing and learned a little before going on the internet. My first evening alone with this wonderful internet I started looking for sites such as this one. The first time I looked up that first evening, three hours had passed...after that I tried not to look up!

Eventually found this site and I knew I liked it immediately...

..the warmth, the graphics are friendly and everything is pleasing to read and well arranged. I takes a short time indeed to see the amount of work that is involved.

There are supposed to be two groups of contact people locally, but I have never been able to contact either of them. I heard a similar comment through a friend who had another friend in a similar situation as mine.

Support of "those who have walked the walk"

I cannot complain about the health care professionals who helped me; they were fabulous and so were my friends and my sister but nothing takes the place of speaking to another person who has had the same experience.

My grandmother had the same experience, almost to the letter but she is very old and frail and sometimes no longer remembers that I am old enough to have children. ( I will be forty in October )

Also the internet is anonymous

which must be great for really shy people or for people who get little or no family support. I am not usually shy. Becoming a nurse has a way of curing that, and I don't feel the need for anonymity, secrets are usually a source of pain unless they protect some one else.

...a large sense of relief since sending in my story. I feel a lot lighter.

I sent another letter - I made a few notes and wrote a longer letter as I had more time to think and did it at a time when I was less likely to be disturbed. I wasn't discovered typing until I was nearly finished and then my two-year old son decided that enough is enough. I also sent several pieces of poetry, Daddy's Gift , Miracles and People....On that note I shall say bye for now and take care. I usually read something from your site once a day and have had a large sense of relief since sending in my story. I feel a lot lighter. Debbie

Entry #6 ~ June 13, 99 - Life goes on as normal now...


This week has seen us through the first round of chicken pox. I suspect the next round to follow by Wednesday or Thursday. My daughters class at school had eight children show up out of twenty-six...the rest had chicken pox.

We are also busy planting our garden...Logan at nearly three understands not to dig things back up once we have planted them this year so we are hoping it will be a little more productive.( I suspect the growing season here is a little shorter than yours and the summers a little cooler.)...

I have another poem for you, one I started three years ago and finished this morning....

The Wheat Field

the field is beautiful in the morning
and I like to sit awhile and admire it
cradling my cup of tea;

the warm sun glistens on the
dew, warming the ground and me
and soothing my heart

It is really just the shaggy leftovers
from last year growing up, not a wheat
field in the tradional sense anyway,
and it has gone to seed but I like
it moving in a gentle yellow sway.
I like the rustling sounds.

It is this wonderful morning that makes
me scoff at my own childish notions
of His many forms; and the idea
that He can only be found amid
the crashing noise of thunder storms
and lightning bolts;

Worlds crash without thunder and lightning.
It happens on pretty sunny days as
well as torrential rainy days
God is my faith, my truth, my way
and even my atheism

I turn to my pajama clad little one playing
at the edge of the field, peering in
talking, so it seems to the stalks of wheat
but I look closer and also see the child I lost
toes wiggling in the soft peat
smiling and happy.
Then further in I see two
more bobbing smiling shapes
my other lost ones
the children I never saw
also happy in the sun
smiling and unaware

Suddenly the field holds them all,
like a large open heart
it has room for all
I see millions of little treasures
held safely in the yellow wall
of wheat

their souls are not lost at all
they are safe; loved
warmed in the heat of the same
hand that sent the rippling breeze
to gently caress my field of wheat
in the morning.

June 13, 1999

Marcia...Take care and thanks again. I am easy...take your time! I don't rush very often any more and I don't expect anyone else to. I lose too much and miss too much when I rush.

Entry #6 ~ June 20, '99

Hello Marcia, thought I would send along Sarah's foot and handprints. There is also a photo. Most people find the hand and footprints endearing but the photos are disturbing to some. Sarah died at least three to four days prior to her birth and most people are not prepared to look at them. take care...Debbie

Sarah's Picture...

Page "2" of Debbie's Thoughts....

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