Jenn and Nic Hepton struggled with infertility for 10 years. In 2013, Jenn was pregnant with twins and had to terminate for medical reasons (TFM); she went on to suffer multiple miscarriages. In 2017, Jenn and Nic’s daughter, Loey, was stillborn. They describe the impact compassionate care can have on grief; the experience of losing their twins was completely different than that of their daughter, largely because of how their loss was acknowledged by Jenn’s healthcare providers.
JENN: My babies.
NIC: My daughter. My twin sons.
JENN: I’ve had many different experiences in my grief journey. It started when we lost our twins. And that was termination for medical reasons. And that was a really difficult pregnancy. So the grief actually started really early. The whole thing was so traumatic because every time we went for an ultrasound it was bad news. Then they said we had to terminate one, so then we were grieving that one. And then sadly we had to terminate both.
NIC: We’d started grieving had throughout the course of the pregnancy, but the reality of you experiencing that loss hits you in the face when you’re in the hospital, and you’re- you’re making some really, really tough decisions around the- the future of- of health of your wife, your partner, and of your unborn babies. We were very, very unknowledgeable about grief. We had no idea what was about to come and hit us, and so we wanted to move on. And thought we could move on in a linear way as quickly as possible, and just found out it wasn’t that way.
JENN: Then after the loss of our twins we had several miscarriages. And then we were pregnant with IVF with our daughter in 2016 and we lost her at 39 weeks and five days. When we had to terminate our twins for medical reasons, the care around that was very highly medical. But there was no talk about the grief. There was no care around that.
NIC: And I think in a way, we thought the grief would be easier if we didn’t prolong it. And we thought that if we could make it as surgical as possible, it would be easier for us to- to move on from it. And that’s- that’s not the case at all. Like at all.
JENN: it wasn’t ’til we lost our daughter Lowy that I realized that I had PTSD for five years. You know, I’d go into trauma loops. Or I would go into a ball in a corner and start crying and shaking, because I was unaware that I was holding trauma. When we lost Lowy, the support was different. The hospital was amazing. And they gave us time to grieve, gave us time to hold her. Social worker came in about three times a day. So she gave us this space to grieve, but she also made sure to let us know that she was still there if we needed her.
NIC: It’s the hardest thing in the world to stay in a hospital room for two days with your dead child. And … but it’s the only thing that enables you to walk forward. I wish we’d known just how important it would be for us to build some kind of special bond with our children, no matter how small. Even if it was an image, because that’s the only thing you get to take forward.
NIC: Grief shows up not in the way you expect it to. Um, it’s messy. When you hear about grief, you hear about there are stages to grief. And you move from stage to stage, and that’s just not true at all. Um, you might move from stage to stage, but then you … It’s not linear. You- you never … You’re never recovered.
JENN: I struggled with grief or trauma for five years not knowing it. Affecting my career, ’cause I was a schoolteacher. Didn’t want to go back teaching children. I was triggered constantly. Affected my marriage with my husband ’cause I wasn’t communicating. Affected my health. And it wasn’t ’til the awareness was there, and the permission to grieve that I was like ... like I literally took a deep breath. I went ... (deep breath) right, no duh that you’re going through all this. It’s because you’re grieving. You’re grieving your pregnancy, you’re grieving the loss of your twins. But you’re also grieving the way that you were treated. And that ongoing trauma that was there in so many different ways.
JENN: How people support you in your grief makes a huge difference. I don’t think people understand that this is ... forever. It’s not something that you get over. Fast forward 10, 20 years, I’m still going to be in my grief. I may walk into a grocery store and see a girl that looks like Lowy or will remind me of Lowy, and I might start crying, 20 years later.
JENN: Grief is painful. Grief is suffering. And it is uncomfortable. And as a society, we have been taught that pain is not good. We don’t want to feel pain. You need to feel pain to understand what joy is.