From the moment she learned she was pregnant, Jessica Rankin loved her unborn son, Bishop. And when Bishop was born without a heartbeat, her sadness was as profound as it would be for any lost loved one.
That’s the greatest misconception about miscarriage and stillbirth, she says: people may assume that a woman would mourn differently — or less — because her child had died before entering the world.
“I felt like it wasn’t OK for me to experience the same type of grief as if I had lost a close family member who was older, as if his life wasn’t worth as much grief as someone else’s who had been out of the womb longer,” says the Gulfport resident. “I went through the stages of grief the same as losing anyone else. They were necessary for me to heal.”
Now a mom to two rumbustious boys, ages 5 and 9, Rankin recounts the loss of her first child in her book “Mommy Loves You,” which will be available on Amazon this spring. The work is a collection of journal entries she penned as she worked through her sorrow.
“I had thought my journals contained sadness and grief only, but what I discovered was that my journals contained the hope of Jesus on every page,” she says. “In all my memories, I could see Jesus leading me down a path of healing, and I was inspired to write the book.”
A TABOO TOPIC
Celebrities like Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen have publicly shared their own miscarriage experiences, and Rankin appreciates their efforts to destigmatize the issue. She’s met many women who have suffered through the same sense of isolation she felt after Bishop’s death in 2010 — which happened in the eighth month of her pregnancy.
Until then, her pregnancy had progressed normally, and Rankin and her husband, Nehemiah, were thrilled to welcome a child into their family. The first sign of trouble appeared during an ultrasound, when the doctor was concerned that the baby was underweight for his gestation age and recommended a stress test.
The test revealed the baby had no pulse, and Rankin was confused. Hadn’t she just felt him move the day before as she stood in her kitchen? The doctor must be mistaken.
“I was in complete denial,” Rankin says.
In the early hours of Aug. 6, 2010, she delivered her stillborn son and had no idea how she and her husband would recover.
“We had already set up the nursery; the room was complete, and our home was set for the arrival of a baby,” Rankin says. “We had to return home from the hospital with empty arms and broken hearts.”
In the aftermath, Rankin was embarrassed to share some of the thoughts she was having, even with her spouse, and felt no one could understand the emotions swirling inside of her.
“I felt guilty, which lead to shame,” she says. “I was ashamed my son had died while inside me. I am his mother; isn’t it my responsibility to keep him safe?”
STARTING TO HEAL
Rankin stayed away from places where people knew she’d been pregnant and also avoided talking about it. During the preparations for Bishop’s funeral, Rankin and her husband received contact information for the Women’s Resource Center, which they turned to for counseling services.
“These sessions gave me the first tools I needed to process the grief,” she says. She urges other moms who’ve experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth to mourn the loss of their child and “know it is a process that God will walk through with you if you let Him.”
In hindsight, Rankin says the stillbirth made her and her spouse more appreciative of parenthood. Many times, as she’s watched her husband play with their sons, she’s reflected on the desperation she felt soon after losing Bishop
“It felt hopeless, like we would never be blessed with children,” Rankin says. “I look at them, and know we are truly blessed.”