4Damani founder Crystal-Gayle Williams shares her journey through pregnancy after infant loss
Damani Williams was born in September 2018 at just 24 weeks, and lived for two days. His mother, Crystal-Gayle Williams, founded 4Damani — an initiative aimed at acknowledging and supporting grieving parents, and breaking the silence around pregnancy and infant loss in Jamaica. As Crystal-Gayle observes Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Remembrance Day with other grieving parents around the world today (October 15), she will be doing so with her rainbow baby and Damani’s little sister, Mila.
While little Mila slept blissfully one morning this week, Williams sat down with Bomb Jamaican Mom virtually to share her journey through pregnancy after loss, delivery and being a second-first-time mom. She shared that for over a year after Damani’s death, she and her husband decided to wait a while before trying to conceive again.
“We both decided it wasn’t time yet,” she said.
During that period Williams channeled her energy into building out the 4Damani community, and lobbying for more action on PAIL awareness in Jamaica.
“Since then, Jamaica has officially recognized October as PAIL Awareness Month, and our mamahood (private support group for bereaved moms) has grown in numbers, which is truly bittersweet, as it means more parents know the heartbreaking trauma that is baby loss,” she said. “We’ve also trained some healthcare professionals in Compassionate Bereavement Care and hope to continue doing so.”
At the beginning of 2020, on the advice of her doctor, Crystal-Gayle and her husband decided to try again. But after several unsuccessful months, baby-making started feeling less exciting and more like a chore. She also found out that a hormonal issue was lowering her chances of conceiving.
“But my awesome doctor reassured me and gave me some medication to help,” she recalled. “We tried to do things differently that month (wink) and I did a test the day before my period… And it came back negative.”
Disappointed but not defeated, she went about her week, planning to try again on the next cycle. But that period didn’t come. When she felt nauseous a week later and her mother jokingly commented that she was preggers (you know Jamaican moms are never wrong) her doctor instructed her to take another test first thing the next morning.
“On December 17, 2020, I woke up to pee and I decided to take the test at 4:30am,” she recalled precisely.
And the rest, as they say, was pregnancy. Overcome with excitement and anxiety, she shared the result with her husband in his sleep (which was very fitting, considering that a dream of his was coming true).
Despite having had discussions about pregnancy after loss with other moms in 4Damani who had conceived after loss, nothing could have prepared Crystal-Gayle for the emotional journey she was about to embark on.
“We kept it to ourselves until I was 12 weeks pregnant,” she recalled. “I was anxious. I wanted to take a test every minute of the day. I remember seeing a blood streak one morning and I completely lost it. It was then I knew I needed help.”
She kept comparing this pregnancy to her first, and low-key expected to hear unfortunate news at every upcoming doctor visit. When she made it pass the 24th week (the week in which she gave birth to Damani) the anxiety grew even more.
“It was hard to fully enjoy it as I knew all the things that could go wrong. I didn’t want to fall in love, only to say goodbye,” she said emotionally. “Being pregnant and getting memories of what was three years ago was truly bittersweet.”
But with prayer, a hiatus from social media, meditation, and the support of her husband, OB/GYN and community, the expectant mama learned to temper the anxiety with optimism and faith. She embraced the changes her body was going through, and treasured every reassuring kick from Mila… even if each one of those kicks threatened to dislocate a few of the mother’s ribs.
Mila Williams was born on August 11, 2021 at 11:08am via planned C-section. She weighed a kicking 5.5lbs and spent no time in NICU.
“Other than being small because of genetics and my size, she was healthy as ever,” the mother shared joyfully. “When she was born, she had the loudest cries, passed her Apgar with flying colours and latched within two hours of birth.”
While Mila won her battles one breath at a time, her mother was still fighting hers. Armoured with therapy, supportive words and encouragement, the second first-time mom fought away the feelings of guilt and sadness that hung like a grey cloud over the joy of having a newborn.
“I know that this baby isn’t a replacement for Damani and I have all the love to give to them both. Having his sister here doesn’t mean he will be forgotten,” she said. “If anything, her presence amplifies his death. I find myself wondering what Damani would be doing now. I should have two living babies. It’s just the reality of a bereaved parent.”
Now two months into nappily-ever-after, you’ll find Crystal-Gayle and her husband learning the ropes of childcare together.
“It’s nice having her all to ourselves because of the pandemic,” she laughed, making a shameless call for friends to send over food. “We miss sleeping more but we are loving it. We just need to find some time for self-care and intimacy, as we are more than just parents. Someone told me that parenting is a cloud of tired bliss and it couldn’t ring more true.”
The Williams family will always be complete with big brother Damani playing his part.
“Mila has gotten Damani’s hand-me-downs, like any younger sibling would. Damani will always be part of our family. We still speak about him and we plan to tell her about her brother when she is older,” the mother shared. “I am still very passionate about 4Damani – this initiative is dear to our hearts and continues to be a great way to honour our son, and other angel children.”