Losing My Son at Birth Was the Most Traumatic Experience of My Life

January 12, 2018

After the stillbirth of her son, Danette May hit rock bottom at the age of 29. But instead of continuing to sink, she chose to rebuild her life. Now, the motivational speaker and fitness influencer is using her new book, Rise Up: An Unforgettable Journey of Self-Love, Forgiveness, and Transformation, to inspire others to do the same. Here, May shares how her healing process began.

Do you know how you feel about something deep down inside? It’s your intuition, and often you can physically feel it. These days, I’m hyper-vigilant about honoring my intuition. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Ten years ago, I lost my son at birth. But it wasn’t just the fact that I lost him that made it so hard to overcome. Rather, it was my failure to listen to my inner knowing that if I had listened, everything might have been different.

Tuning myself out began early in my relationship with my then-husband. I met him in college and he was the kind of guy you wanted to be around – kind, loyal friend, happy, confident, pleasant. I’ve always considered myself a good girl – the type who does everything right – so I wanted to marry someone who was also well-liked and a good person.

Like a “good” couple, we waited until we were married to have sex. But once we started being intimate, I felt limited sexual attraction or desire. The sex was actually painful. But I didn’t listen to my body – or consider that it might be telling me I was on the wrong path – I just thought there was something wrong with me.

Deep down, I never wanted to get married. I had a feeling that it wasn’t right. But I ignored that gut feeling and kept moving forward.

I continued to cruise the controls for years. I am committed to my marriage and have a daughter who makes my life a happy one. My husband is a great father and a fun partner. Of course, like all couples, we have challenges. My husband seemed to lose one job after another without much explanation, and that bothered me.

Finally, I got pregnant again, and when I was seven months pregnant, my instincts became more important than ever. I sat down and tried to feel the baby move. I stroked my belly, trying to wake him up. But nothing happened. I had a feeling that something was wrong and I should go to the hospital. But there was another voice telling me not to overreact or be paranoid. So instead, I got up and did the dishes.

On the day of my next doctor’s appointment, I started bleeding and then had contractions. We rushed to the hospital and they hooked me up to an ultrasound machine. There, I heard every mother’s worst nightmare: silence. We were told there was no heartbeat and they needed to induce me.

I prayed to be strong, that I could accept what was about to happen. I had an epidural, so I didn’t feel any pain. The medication kept me calm, but I was also in emotional and mental shock. I heard someone say, “He’s here.” As soon as he arrived, my doctor said, “Your son is not here. He’s passed away. Do you want to hold him?”

They put him in my arms. He wore a little hat, wrapped tenderly. He was so small, with soft skin, perfect lips, and his father’s nose. I held him in my arms for hours. Finally, the nurse told me that they needed to take him away and I had to say goodbye.

We went back to a house full of clothes my son would never wear, and most nights, I cried myself to sleep. My heart was breaking. My body ached from delivering a baby and longed to release the milk that no child would drink. I fell into a deep depression and I didn’t leave the house for three months.

Things continued to change as I tried to pull myself out of the darkest place I’d ever been. I heard that, of course, exercise could help with depression, so I started taking daily walks around our neighborhood. I also went to the library to study nutrition and started making all the superfood meals I could eat. Slowly, the fog cleared. And as time went on, it became more clear to me that my relationship wasn’t improving.

A week after we lost our son, my husband lost his job, and I realized it was his seventh job in two years. I began to suspect that my husband wasn’t the man I thought he was. But it was too confusing to figure anything out. Then I got pregnant again, a baby girl, on the same day we lost our son, and I couldn’t believe it. It felt like a true miracle.

I had a healthy baby girl. As she was born, the fog lifted even more and I began to trust myself to listen to my heart’s call. I felt more and more awake every day and I could hear my inner voice telling me that my marriage wasn’t for me.

I remember a defining moment when I was standing in the kitchen, bent over the counter, trying to decide if I wanted a divorce. I said to myself, “I can stay in this marriage and pretend it’s wonderful, or I can leave.”

Staying felt much harder. Like carrying a 100-pound backpack on my back and hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, so I decided to leave. I thought everything would be peaceful, just like our marriage has been so far. But I was wrong. After my husband and I separated, I found my credit card declined at the grocery store. I went to the bank and found that he had withdrawn all of our joint accounts. I had two hungry children and no money to buy food. I went home and had my kids comb through every single coin in the house and we found $47.63. That was all the money I had in my name. That’s when I made the choice to do the work to make sure I never betrayed my instincts again.

The lotus flower really grows in the mud and silt. It absorbs the mud and silt and grows into this beautiful, delicate flower. That’s how I see the healing process. It takes your pain and uses it as a gift to help you grow.

I started focusing on three things that I could do each day that would help me heal. The first thing was to eat something green. I ate at least one vegetable.

Then I made sure to move my body every day with the intention of healing. I don’t do this to look good or because I’ve heard HIIT or SoulCycle or Zumba is “the answer”. I’m doing it to stay in touch with my inner self.

The third thing I do is say words of love to myself, each and every day – even if I don’t believe them.

One morning, I sat down and wrote out everything I wanted to be.” I’m a good mom, I’m a financial success. I’m making money whether I’m working sleeping or playing. I’m growing in success, love and abundance.” And then I said those words out loud. It was listening to my own hard work that taught me to trust my new path.

After years of thoroughly practicing these self-love techniques, I felt so much better. My business was starting to take off, I was in a happy relationship with a new man, and my kids loved him. Things weren’t as heavy and I had some strength. But I still needed to forgive myself. So I spent a lot of time imagining forgiveness. I would look myself in the mirror and say these affirmations.” I forgive you for being disobedient, I forgive you for marrying someone you shouldn’t have.”

It’s really, really powerful. It took me five years, but I’ve finally made it to a place I can be proud of.

When we’re going through tough times, it seems hard to practice self-care, make that green drink, move our bodies, or do the work of forgiveness. But it’s not hard. It’s hard to feel unworthy. Feeling like you don’t matter is hard.

Small hinges can move doors. You can stand up from wherever you are right now. I did it, and you can too.