What Nadav Taught Me: Self-Preservation

1 Mar

Nine days gone. It feels like longer.

I don’t quite know how to put it into words yet, but I feel like a completely different person. A better person for having carried him and been his mommy for such a short time.

Today, I went out with my mom to buy Shmerson a new pair of shoes and pick up some other things for the house. We shopped, and it was nice. Then we passed by this stall that sold these stretchy rubber balls that my nephew used to love when he was younger. We both lingered there for a second, and then both of us had to run to a closed stairwell in the mall to cry.

It’s strange the things that trigger the grief. A few days ago it was loading dishes in a dishwasher. Last night it was giving Luna a bath.

But the light is not lost, and it’s getting brighter. I’ve gradually started  getting back to work, which is doing me a world of good. Keeping busy really is the best therapy. I’m still physically wiped, so I’m taking it easy, but it’s a start.

Each day things get easier as the ugly memories fade and the beauty of our Nadav remains. Inch by inch, slowly, grief is being replaced with love and light from our baby boy. Which brings us to another lesson.


Just a note: This post is about a difficult decision I had to make. It is not an easy post to read, just as it was hard to write. I also want you all to know that I am not judging other women who have made different decisions in similar situations. Each person knows their own limits, reactions and needs, and every individual does what is right for them.


Let me start with an explanation: Jewish tradition dictates that a baby is not considered a person until they are alive outside the womb. As a result, Israeli hospitals act a bit differently from other countries when it comes to stillbirth, or the term I really don’t like “late term miscarriage”.

When we realized that Nadav was lost, we were visited by a hospital social worker, and I asked her about our options for after the delivery. All I knew were stories that I had read through our little ALI community. I had no idea how things were done in this neck of the woods. She told me that usually nothing is done, but that if we wanted, we can ask the medical staff to do something.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I hold him? Should we have someone take a picture? Should I do anything at all? A lot of the emails and support I got from other Baby Loss Moms during that first day suggested I hold him, or at least have someone take a picture.

Immediately when hearing about my thoughts on the issue, my entire family said I need to do nothing. I shouldn’t look at him, hold him, or have anyone take pictures.

They know me, and they thought I would be doing myself serious damage with any of these options. Shmerson had already decided for himself not to see him or hold him. He knew it would upset him too much in the long term.

On the other hand,  I went back and forth on this decision for hours. I finally decided to call my psychiatrist. If any of this was going to cause me permanent damage, or on the other hand, help the grieving process, he would know.

After telling him of our situation, I immediately asked for his feedback on this issue.  He told me that he has seen countless cases of mothers coming to him even decades after their loss, and those images haunting them in very damaging ways.

In my case, he said I was in danger of it being even worse than that. My “official” diagnosis is PTSD characterized by internalized OCD, depression, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Or in short – my effed up brain chemistry causes me to have cyclical repetitive thoughts that create anxiety and non-functional depression.

He told me – and I quote – “You don’t need those images in your head. The way your mind works, they will haunt you in very damaging ways and only make the PTSD you already have even more massive, and more long-term. Don’t hold him. Don’t take pictures, and don’t even look at him if you can avoid it.”

Of course, the “expert opinion” still didn’t mean I had made my decision.

I knew that Nadav wouldn’t be alive when I delivered him. I knew that for some women, seeing or holding their babies helped them. And I knew that somewhere inside me, even though he was going to be tiny and not fully developed, I wanted to see his face.

Still – my entire family was adamant. Shmerson especially: “Don’t do it. It isn’t going to be him that you deliver. He is already gone. Holding him or seeing him will not help him, and it will damage you.”

I knew they were right. But I felt selfish. How could I not hold him? How could I treat this little tiny being – my son – as if he wasn’t there?

Because he really wasn’t there. He was already gone. And I was – am – still here.

And I need to be here. I need to  preserve myself and my sanity so that I can go on. For him and for the siblings he will have one day.

So after a full day of internal debate, the decision was made.

The staff at the hospital was given strict instructions: Don’t let her or her husband see him. Be prepared to take him, covered, out of the room immediately after delivery.

I delivered our Nadav 9 days ago. The hardest moments for me are the ones where I shut my eyes and I can still feel his tiny body leaving mine. They are not moments of peace, they are the moments of true terror. I can only imagine how much worse these moments would be had I looked at him or held him.

For the first few days I felt terrible about my decision. Like I had abandoned him. I had left him all alone and didn’t hold him or look at him. I felt like a terrible mother.

In one of my darkest moments all I could do was scream about how he must have been so cold and alone, and how could I have let that happen?

But in clarity, I know it wasn’t him. He had left hours before, while he was still with me. He was not abandoned. He was loved beyond measure.

I know the decision we made is not what’s right for everyone. But it was right for us.

It means our memories of him are of his little trampoline parties after I had eaten too much sugar.

Of the little dances he did when we saw him on the ultrasound.

The dreams we had of his perfect – alive –  smiling face.

The tiny kicks I had started to feel just days before he left us.

Those are happy memories of him, not marred by the images that could have taken over. Seeing him or holding him would not have helped HIM, and it certainly wouldn’t have helped us.

Despite those darker moments, I understand that now. I know that I made the decision that was right for me.

The decision was one of self-preservation. Something I had never even considered before.

I was always the masochist. The one to subject myself to unnecessary pain and guilt, for no other reason than to punish myself. For who knows what.

Not this time.

This time I chose to preserve my mental health. To not pile on even more nightmares.

We have enough of those as it is. Adding more would have done no good to anyone.

So I thought of me. My future as a mentally stable, happy mother to the children we will have one day. Our future as a family, always missing our firstborn, but being good parents to the siblings he will have one day.

Self-preservation is really Ok sometimes.

Thank you, Nadav, for teaching me that.

Maybe I didn’t like to hear

But I still can’t believe

Speed Racer is dead

So then I thought I’d make some plans

The fire thought

She’d really rather be water instead

And Peggy got a message for me

From Jesus

And I’ve heard every word

That she was saying

And I know I have been

Driven like the snow

This is cooling

This is cooling

This is cooling

Faster than I can

This is cooling

Faster than I can

So then love walked up to like

She said I know that you don’t like me much

Let’s go for a ride

This ocean is wrapped around that pineapple tree

And is your place in heaven worth giving up

These kisses

These kisses

And Peggy got a message for me

From Jesus

And I heard every word that she had said

And I know I have been

Driven like the snow

This is cooling

This is cooling

Faster than I can

This is cooling

Faster than I can

Yes, this is cooling

This is cooling

28 Responses to “What Nadav Taught Me: Self-Preservation”

  1. Heather March 1, 2012 at 20:03 #

    Mo, you are simply an amazing woman. What an awful decision to make. But the thing I agree with – he had actually “left” long before and he was still with you.
    Please know that you are still in my thoughts and prayers. You and Marwil are never far from my thoughts.

  2. Rebecca Pallack (@RPallack) March 1, 2012 at 20:07 #

    I’m so very glad that you made the right choice for you. I’ve never been in that position to have to choose and I too have PTSD so I don’t think I could have looked and survived.

  3. Cristy March 1, 2012 at 20:21 #

    Years ago, it never would have dawned on me that decisions like this are made. Nor would I have guessed that their were opinions on the matter. You said it best: this decision is a personal one that is very dependent on the mother, the father and the family. For some, holding their child gives them a chance to say goodbye and is a source of comfort. For others, this is terribly traumatic.

    You made the best possible choice for you. Don’t ever apologize for that. At no point did you abandon your son. You were with him the whole way and I’m sure he knows how dearly he is loved. He has an amazing mother and that will never change.

    Thank you for sharing all of this with us, Mo. This is hard. Very hard. Your bravery during this time inspires me.

  4. Sunny March 1, 2012 at 20:40 #

    Mo, yet again I marvel at your strength and courage. I’m glad you made the decision that was right for YOU. You have nothing to feel guilty about.

    You ARE an incredible mother and I salute you.

  5. teejay March 1, 2012 at 20:49 #

    It breaks my heart that you had to make a decision like that. I’m glad that you did what was right for you. I don’t know that I would have been able to put that much thought into it as you did. See how strong you are? Even in the depths of unimaginable pain and suffering you were strong enough to seek help and make a very informed decision, even though I know it was probably one of the hardest decisions you’ve ever had to make. And I pray with all my might that you never have to make a decision like that again. For such a little guy that was with you for a short time, Nadav sure taught you a lot. And for that I am grateful.

  6. Finding My New Normal March 1, 2012 at 21:09 #

    I completely understand your situation. When my son was born I didn’t hold him either. I just couldn’t do it. I was totally freaked out and didn’t think I was strong enough to see him either. I came to find out later that this made me very unusual in the BLM world.

    It took several days before I felt strong enough to see him. And even then it was only for a few minutes. I just didn’t want to remember him that way. Because like you I felt that he was already gone. The hospital did take some photos but I’ve never seen them. They are keeping them at the hospital for me in case I want them.

    I too have questioned my decision, but have come to accept that I did what I could at the time. It’s not like this is something we think about in advance and plan for. It just happens and we have to react. As you said, we go into self preservation mode.

    I remember writing about it about a year ago on a day when I was being very hard on myself. I will share the link in case you want to read about it. http://findmynewnormal.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-couldnt-i-have-held-him.html . I have since come to terms with things, but grief is a process and this didn’t come right away.

    No one should judge us for the decisions we make during a time like this. We just do the best we can.

    You just did the best you could!

  7. Living Our Life In Cycles March 1, 2012 at 21:20 #

    Such a difficult decision to make. You definitely have to do what is right for you and it sounds like you were able to figure that, as challenging as it may have been. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts. ❤

  8. AlexMMR March 1, 2012 at 22:03 #

    Mo, I made the same decision you did, for the same reasons. And while I have fleeting moments where I wonder if it was the right thing, or if I should have done differently, those moments are really fleeting. My husband and I are both convinced that we made the right decision.

    I took it a step further and opted to have them surgically removed rather than to deliver. I’m also obsessive and my already tenuous grip on sanity and survival would have been destroyed by any tangible memory. I knew that I could not survive the delivery experience and really needed to just go to sleep and wake up with everything all over.

    If you had opted to look at him, hold him, it still wouldn’t have been enough. The guilt would have been about not being able to hold him 5 minutes longer, to have not studied the shape of his neck a little bit closer. Unless we take our babies home and help them grow into adults, it can never be enough, it can never be satisfying, and we’ll always feel guilty about what more we could have done, even though we really couldn’t have done it.

    By leaving the existence of my girls vague, I can imagine them however I wish. If I need a visual to think about, the last one I have is seeing them swim around on the ultrasound, little legs bending and kicking out again. It’s a much better memory than anything they could have shown me in that hospital. Seeing them after birth, too tangible, the deaths would be too real. When I think of my girls, I’d much rather remember them dancing.

  9. someday-soon March 1, 2012 at 22:40 #

    Tears. I can’t imagine making that decision. You are such a strong, lovely woman and I can see the hope that Nadav gave you…and it’s beautiful!

  10. Life March 1, 2012 at 23:01 #

    I’m glad you were able to make the right decision for you.
    I have tears in my eyes reading your post….

  11. Her Royal Fabulousness March 2, 2012 at 00:22 #

    Mo – the fact that you have the strength to write to us blows me away. You bring tears to my eyes. I have often wondered what I would do in your situation. Since reading TTC blogs, and seeing the photos people have taken of stillborn babies, it makes me wonder what I would want if I was in their shoes. I find the photos incredibly painful. I can definitely understand how you would want to avoid having those images in your head. Instead, I think imagining Nadav how he would have been if he had been born and lived might be a more comforting thought. Or, perhaps how he is in spirit, with you. I am sending you so much love.

  12. Athena March 2, 2012 at 00:23 #

    You made the decision that was right for you. You are a good, kind, loving and caring woman and mother.

  13. kasey March 2, 2012 at 01:16 #

    Thank you for sharing. My heart breaks, but your words are beautiful and you inspire me.

  14. (In)fertility Unexplained March 2, 2012 at 01:19 #

    It is amazing and a testament to how strong you are that you are able to write so clearly and eloquently about your loss.

    I am just in awe of how you were able to let Nadav teach you these lessons, to change you in these important ways. You are so clearly a wonderful mother, and he was a wonderful son.

    I am so, so, so sorry for your loss. No one should ever have to feel this pain.

  15. Jay March 2, 2012 at 02:29 #

    I’m with you on this- he was already gone. Hinduism has this philosophy that the body is nothing but a garment for the soul. What you do in such a situation is an intensely personal decision to make. Each of us reacts to the exact same set of circumstances in different ways, and there is no right or wrong way. The one thing that all baby loss mothers have in common, they all loved their children intensely. That is the ONLY thing to hold on to. The rest, what you do, whether you take pictures or not- its just details, and there, everybody has to do whatever they feel compelled to do.

    You are an amazing, strong, incredible person—-there is no way you will be anything but the best of mothers, to Nadav, and the child/ren you will have in the future.

  16. Daryl March 2, 2012 at 03:52 #

    What a heartbreaking decision to have to make. I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you to write about this, and I am in awe of your strength.

  17. slowmamma March 2, 2012 at 04:11 #

    I made the exact same decision. In my case, he had already been gone for weeks before I delivered him but the essence was the same. I just couldn’t do it. As others have said, there is clearly no right or wrong decision to be made under these circumstances. If only we never had to decide…………

  18. Emily @ablanket2keep March 2, 2012 at 04:55 #

    Each time you post I am in awe at how strong you are. I am glad you made the decision that was right for you. Sending you and Shmerson lots of love.

  19. St. Elsewhere March 2, 2012 at 09:31 #

    I respect the choice you and Shmerson made, and don’t doubt at all the love you have for your son, Nadav.

    I am glad that you got to make a choice. That is the one thing that was nice in this horrible, horrible situation.

    I think I wanted to respond better to your post, but have suddenly lost the words to do so. These coming days are going to be hard ones….there is a lot of emotional and mental churning that will happen. Nadav has given you the right lesson. Remember it well for the coming days.

    Your song choice is very apt.

    Please take care.

  20. Kat March 2, 2012 at 16:22 #

    I agree with others, it’s really not even so much about what decision you or others make, but the fact that the decision has to be made in the first place. And for that, that you had to make the decision, I am so sorry. You’ve been sharing everything so beautifully. In addition to all your other amazing qualities you are truly an incredible writer. I hope that this is helping you as well because it means to much to so many people.

  21. Kristin March 2, 2012 at 17:23 #

    Mo, you made a very wise (for you) and very brave decision. I am so sorry I wasn’t here to support you when it happened. My heart and prayers go out to you and Shmerson.

  22. Christina March 2, 2012 at 17:29 #

    I don’t know how many times it’s been said, but it is completely and utterly true. You are A-freaking-Mazing! I couldn’t imagine having to make some of the decisions you’ve had to, especially this one. I’m glad you did what was best for you. And to write about such a personal and painful experience like this, I’m just blown away and have no real words to express my feelings.

    Still thinking of all 3 of you. Much love- Christina

  23. EB March 2, 2012 at 18:18 #

    I can’t imagine making that decision, and how hard it must have been. You did what was absolutely right for you. I have the same cyclical repetitive thoughts that have caused major problems in the past with my mental health. I have heard of other women holding their stillborn children and taking pictures, but I never thought what that would mean in terms of the way I personally process images and experiences.

    Still thinking of you and your family . . .

  24. flmgodog March 3, 2012 at 01:15 #

    Mo, you did what was right for you. I made the same decision almost exactly a year ago. The difference was mine was already gone and I chose to have it surgically removed. I wish with all my heart now that I would have held the baby but that is ONLY because the hospital made a huge mistake and we never got to know what we were having. That part of the story isn’t worth going into detail about.
    I commend you for doing what was right for you and for asking for help. That is incredibly hard. I have been thinking of you and your family. I know how hard it can be. BIG HUGS!

  25. Sara March 3, 2012 at 04:38 #

    I am so sorry that you had to make that decision. It’s a terribly unfair crossroads to find oneself in, and I can’t really imagine what it must be like to have to take that first step down the road that you choose. Having chosen, though, all that you can do is keep moving. It sounds like you made the best possible decision for yourself and your family, which is all that anyone could ask of you.

    Thinking of you.

  26. Miela March 3, 2012 at 20:38 #

    Sending you a hug and thinking of you every day.

  27. Rachel March 3, 2012 at 23:20 #

    Beautiful post. You are so strong. Still thinking of you and your family.

  28. Libby March 4, 2012 at 00:09 #

    I’m glad you were able to process this and come to a decision that was right for you. I cannot imagine what I would have done.

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