When Jessica Huchko, 35, a stay-at-home mother of three and caregiver from Watertown, CT, was instructed to return in a week for an ultrasound retest, she didn’t think anything of it. “So far my pregnancy had no issues,” Huchko tells Babble. “I never in a million years thought anything was wrong.”
Huchko and her husband, David, 39, a foreman, were especially thrilled to learn that they were pregnant with their first boy. Big sisters Kayla, 15, Isabella, 8, and Sophia, 1, were all looking forward to welcoming a brother into the family.
But when she went back for the ultrasound, she was told by her doctor that her baby’s heart had stopped beating. And in that moment, her whole world came crashing down. “I immediately burst into tears … I was hysterical. I couldn’t control my emotions.”
After speaking to the doctor about their options and calling her husband, who rushed over from work, the broken-hearted mother decided to take the weekend to decide what they wanted to do.
“It was our middle girl’s birthday the next day,” Huchko explains. “And we had plans to go to the aquarium with all our family and friends to celebrate. We decided we didn’t want to ruin our daughter’s birthday and have it be remembered as her brother’s death. So we went to her party and acted as if nothing was wrong. I acted as if I was still pregnant and everything was fine. It was so hard! I am not sure how I actually did that.”
After the weekend, Huchko set up an appointment to be induced and deliver her son. The experience, she says, was “extremely painful … both emotionally and physically.” After her son, Dominic Bryce Huchko, was born, she held him for hours. “He was beautiful. He was an angel.”
Her journey through grief was slow and painful. “The first week was awful,” Huchko admits. “I didn’t eat, I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t shower. I couldn’t be anything for anyone.” By the second week, she was able to take a shower and starting eating again.
“I still cried but at least I moved to the couch,” she relates. “I started going back to see my grandma and things started going back to normal … very slowly but it takes time. [The] hardest part is seeing people again. Because just when you think you can walk out of the house again, you bump into your pregnant friend or your neighbor or you have to just start facing life. Of course everyone wants to talk about it. And it’s so hard to talk about it. If you’ve never been through it, you have no idea how hard it is to tell someone your child has passed away. It’s gut-wrenching.”
The gut-wrenching hurt was about to continue for Huchko, when she set out to return the baby items that she had purchased in anticipation of welcoming her son. Just looking at her purchases hurt her more than she could explain. The double stroller sitting in her garage was especially difficult for her to walk past every day. So she waited one month until she felt ready, searched for the receipt, but couldn’t find it. She knew she would be offered store credit most likely, and was fine with that.
However, returning the items was not as easy as she expected.
At the customer service desk of Babies`R Us, Huchko explains that the attendant could tell that she was trying to avoid explaining why she wanted to return her brand-new items, still sealed in their boxes. Eventually she had to admit that her son was gone.
“Right there in my trigger moment, I had to say my son passed away,” she explains. “And I no longer can use them. Slowly a tear rolled down my face. She was stunned by my answer. She said, ‘I’m so sorry and then she said, ‘OK! Let’s get this going … she was very nice. She realized she had opened up a wound. So now she was trying to speed it up.”
Unfortunately for Huchko, everything that could go wrong with that return, went wrong. Despite the fact that the items had been purchased less than two months prior and the worker at the time, a friendly man named Mike, was there vouching for her, the car seat and stroller were not coming up in the system. As the line behind her began to grow, the customer service agent called the manager over for help and the manager again began questioning Huchko about why she was returning the items. With tears rolling down her face, Huchko again had to say the three most heartbreaking words: “My son died.”
But according to Huchko, the manager “did not change her demeanor, she did not say I’m sorry, she did not show any sympathy whatsoever.” The manager was able to locate the car seat, offering Huchko about half of the seat’s value, a number she expected since she did not have the receipt. The stroller, however, was a different story. This, the manager offered her only two pennies for.
“I repeated through my tears, ‘two cents?'” Huchko relates. “So I waited to see what she would say — nothing. So I said, ‘Wait, so you are offering me two cents?’ She shrugged her shoulders at me. The first lady stood behind her manager and mouthed to me, ‘I’m sorry!'”
With the line now “huge” behind her and no other registers open, Huchko says that she was “mortified, emotional, and nervous.” She found herself wishing that the manager would have pulled her aside to speak in private or sent another worker to help the other customers at a different register. Instead, she says, she remained rooted in place, crying, while her toddler daughter sat in the cart crying because her mom was crying.
“No one seemed to offer any remorse,” she notes. “It was by far a very stressful scene. I said to her, ‘Fine! Whatever … ‘ and I grabbed my gift card after she scanned it and ran out of the store sobbing. I watched as people were staring at me. Running to my car. I put my daughter in her seat and I got in and just sobbed. I texted a few people to vent and calm down before leaving and I just got the hell out of there.”
After sharing her story on Facebook and being contacted by Babies `R Us, Huchko says she realizes that she had the opportunity to make a difference for any parent returning items after a loss. Another manager at the store offered her the remainder of her balance and listened to Huchko’s suggestions that the store institute a policy and train employees on how to handle situations like hers.
“There must be an easier way to make returns for grieving parents and families,” Hucko explains. “How can I make this easier for them? A call ahead to alert the store? Bring the families to a more private area? Maybe even have something you can do online? I needed to make a statement to get them to change their ways.”
Huchko says that as a result of her speaking out about her experience, Babies `R Us has been in touch, offering gift cards to her children and assuring the grieving mother that they will be instituting coaching for employees on grief and loss. And while she is grateful that her experience has led to positive change, she says that she still hopes the company will go one step further to institute a special process for returns that don’t involve customers going to the store.
“I still feel there could be more than that,” she notes. “Privacy is key here. Set up an online step-by-step to help your customers through a return privately. [Surely] that can’t be too hard?”