Natalie Morgan fell asleep one night feeling her unborn daughter, Eleanor Josephine, kicking inside of her. When she woke up the next morning, she knew something was wrong. When she and her husband, Brian, arrived at the hospital, their greatest fears were confirmed: Eleanor had died.
After delivering her stillborn daughter, the Winter Garden, Florida mom took to her Facebook page to tell Eleanor’s birth story, and to encourage parents of infants to cherish every moment — even the sleepless nights and crying.
“There will be times your child will scream and cry any time you try to put him or her down. Or they'll cry even as they're in your arms and you've done everything you can possibly think of to get them to stop. There will be sleepless nights, multiple diaper changes in a matter of minutes, spit up in your hair, pee on your shirt, and poop in your hands, and again — so much screaming from the baby, and probably from you as well. Every time that happens, every time you feel frustrated and want to run away, please remember my story,” Morgan wrote in the post, which has since gone viral.
Later in the post, Morgan candidly tells the story of Eleanor’s life and death, her delivery and ultimately saying goodbye to her daughter.
“They offered me an epidural, but I couldn't do it. I needed to own it. I needed the pain, the agony, and misery to mirror what I felt in my heart. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Ever. Dealing with the unbearable contractions, the ring of fire, the tearing... knowing that all of it was for nothing. I was delivering a lifeless child. There would be no happiness at the end of it to help me forget the pain. The pain, unlike my baby girl, would live on forever,” she wrote.
Morgan concludes the emotional post with a plea to parents: “All I ask of you is when you have your dark moments with your baby — when you're at your wits' end and feel like you can't go on anymore when you're only getting an hour or two of sleep a night — instead of begging your child to go to sleep and being swallowed up in your frustration and exhaustion, find the tiniest bit of strength within you to keep going, and say a prayer of gratitude for your child, as difficult as it may be in that moment. And if you would, say a prayer for me and all the mothers whose children were taken from them too soon. Say a prayer for my sweet, sweet Eleanor who never got to know life outside my womb.”
Morgan says what began as a small expression of her deep grief has resulted in a storm of support from all over the world — parents frustrated with their crying newborns have reached out to thank her for changing their perspective, while parents of stillborn infants have offered her a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
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“I’m not the first mother to have a stillbirth, so my story is not unique — but they’re so rarely talked about, and I had no idea how utterly traumatic and devastating of an experience it is,” Morgan told TODAY Parents. “And, because stillbirths are so rarely talked about, I think there exists this vague notion — even if it’s only subconscious — that those babies never existed or never really mattered.”
The March of Dimes defines stillbirth as when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks gestation. According to the organization, stillbirth affects 23,600 babies per year in the United States. 1 in 160 women — fewer than 1 percent — will give birth to a stillborn baby.
Morgan says that, since Eleanor’s birth, she has often had to suppress the urge to shout to the world that she did have a daughter who lived and who matters to their family very deeply.
“Her birth story was the one and only story of hers I would ever have to tell, and I had to tell it,” she said.
Morgan also has a 22-month-old son, Alfie. She says she remembers saying she hoped Eleanor would be a better sleeper than her son was as an infant — a comment she now encourages other parents not to make.
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“I knew that many of our friends were having similar nights with their children or were about to once their babies were born. I knew they would have so many moments of aggravation and desperation, but I wanted them to know how unbelievably worth it those moments were,” said Morgan. “Not even a month ago, I was talking about not looking forward to the dreaded sleepless-night-newborn-phase; and now here I am willing to trade absolutely anything in the world to be going through it right now with my daughter.”
As Morgan and her family continue to grieve, she says she’ll still tell her story on Facebook, in hopes of keeping Eleanor’s memory alive and encouraging others to cherish the moments they have with their babies.
“I think it’s every parent’s fear that their stillborn child will be forgotten. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that there will always be a piece of our family missing, and no one but us will know it,” she said.
“I want to reiterate that a stillborn child is still a child that lived. I know this to be true because I felt my daughter move. I felt her dance. I felt her live within me. She may never have taken a breath outside my body, but she was a person who existed, who mattered, and who was and is loved to heaven and back.”
This story was originally published on Oct. 9, 2015 on TODAY.com.