What can I say? I've experienced more heartbreak than I thought was ever conceivable. Ever.
During my entire pregnancy, I've read blogs of others who have given birth to babies suffering with seizures, born 3 months early, or dying shortly after birth. I've read about their coping processes. I felt sorry for them. (I read lots more happy blogs, too, in case you want to call me crazy). I have friends who have had countless miscarriages, continue to struggle with infertility, and have tried everything just to become parents. Coming to terms with our tragedy now, perhaps that was a helpful way to lead me in the direction of grieving. We both always saw our lives as pretty much perfect and wondered why we had everything. We got pregnant the very first time we tried. Neither of us had ever had a real tragedy or dealt with death in any close way. Sure, we've had older family members die. But those family members died generally of a sickness or were much older and had lived a full life. Death is a part of life, but it's simply not fair to endure it without having experienced life. So, those perfect lives I mentioned we had (successful in school, educated, happily married, own a house, great friends...), well, there will always now be a scar and void in that "perfection" we have.
We thought we were in the clear. Throughout the entire pregnancy, there were very few concerns. He always measured smaller, but not a concerning size. He was breech, but the external version had nothing to do with his death. I fell, but on my bottom-- again having no impact on our child. We thought that at 38 weeks and 5 days, our perfectly full term baby would be perfect upon birth, even if he were early. I mean... that's an entire week after full term is generally defined and we passed the mark.
Everything, and I mean everything was defined by us having a son. I wouldn't make appointments, dinner dates, nothing in hopes that I would have a child that consumed our every moment. Andrew was in our every single thought.
When you're pregnant, there is just nothing that can compare to the feeling of having your child growing within you. It's God's perfect place that he designed to protect and nurture babies. I was that perfect place for Andrew... all until sometime between Saturday night, December 4th and Sunday morning, December 5th. We had a doctor's appointment for our 38th week on December 4th at 10 a.m. and heard his precious heartbeat once again-- counting the days to actually seeing his gorgeous face. We left with confidence as we had for awhile now. Though still zero centimeters dilated, I was certain we'd have him within the next 17 days-- because they wouldn't be cruel and allow him to be born on Christmas. (In hindsight, I could care less when he was born... as long as he was born alive). Like I said, his organs were fully developed and we were over the bump of nervousness that usually determines sustainability. He was moving fine on Saturday.
Sunday morning, December 5th, I didn't feel much movement, or any at all. I wasn't thinking about that though, because about an hour after waking, I starting having an intense single cramp in my abdomen. I thought... surely it's constipation or something of that nature. Yes, I tested the theory. Okay, but no relief. About an hour later, the pain worsened and it turned into intervals rather than a direct, constant feeling. My amazing husband was on the Internet searching as we all tend to self diagnose. At this point we did not think it would be contractions. I had never had a contraction before. Not even a Braxton Hicks-- whatever those feel like. By the time we actually started considering I may be in labor, we counted. I called the doctor to tell her that I was having sharp pains that lasted for about 30 seconds and came every 3 minutes. She said, "Call back when they are 1 minute long"-- 30 seconds is not enough. Okay, I get it. Many women call thinking they are in labor and freak out. I wasn't trying to be on that statistic, but this pain was intense. So intense that I vomited because of the intense pain. At this point, Ray was timing them and we were certain I was in labor at this point-- active labor. He counted and called the doctor. It took them awhile to get back to us (about 30 minutes), but we started driving. We assumed they were giving us time because since this was our first baby, we are probably the most prone to overreacting. Ray feverishly walked around cleaning the house during our wait and grabbed our bags before leaving.
We arrived at the hospital sometime between 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. and Ray dropped me off at the door as he parked the car. I continued to have 1-minute contractions spaced about 2 minutes apart. They weren't getting easier. Once he walked in, we headed up to labor and delivery. I was taken into a "checking" room as they intended to dismiss my labor cries and send me home. But... I never went home. This is where my life will be changed forever. This is where I become forever scarred, bruised, broken, and saddened. A piece of my heart is gone.
I lay down on the bed and the nurse strapped me with a fetal monitor. I've had this done numerous times before, so I know the procedure quite well. Usually, since I'm a smaller person and he is a full grown baby, they find it immediately. This time was different. She searched all over my belly and we heard nothing but the faint sounds of my own heartbeat. When she called on her phone for backup to assist in finding the beat, I looked at Ray and we both just had a look of disbelief. Right then, I really needed no more evidence that something was seriously wrong. We had about 4 nurses in the room and then the doctor came in with the ultrasound machine. Again, I'm really used to seeing that machine in action and his heartbeat. Nothing. At that moment, I experienced shock for the first time. Nonverbal, wide-eyed, tearless, shock. Then, hyperventilation. I began to shake and remember saying that I could not physically stop myself from shaking. I was wheeled down to another room-- the room we're now convinced is the "death" room in the L&D ward. It was located far from any other delivery room in a corner. Later, Ray told me that instead of a stork or some beautiful mark on our doors (we had 2 entrances), we had a falling leaf with some bereavement poem behind it. I didn't hear a single baby the entire time we were there. Not a single cry. Not my baby, not any other baby.
In the meantime, my contractions are beyond excruciating. I was dilated from 4 to 7 centimeters in about an hour. Being the carrier of a confirmed unresponsive baby, I had a million extra tests to be administered before they would consider an epidural. It just seemed unfair. I am in pain as any other laboring pregnant woman, yet I get no reward. I endure the same pain but have nothing to smile at in the end. Blood was taken in large amounts, an IV was placed and another ultrasound machine and technician came in. This time, she was testing the amount of amniotic fluid to see if that was any cause for the distress. Nope, normal. My water had not broken. Once all of these tests were done, I received an epidural.
Then, all was calm. There was no one in the room but people looking at me sadly, apologizing, and walking out. We sat there, still in shock and nervous of the next step. It's one thing to know you will be walking out of the hospital alone, but it's another when you know you'll come face to face with your child at some point. I wasn't nervous about the birthing process. I would have done anything to assure he would be alive, crying, and well when the day was over. The irony is that I was terrified of giving birth before this day. For some reason, when you're in emotional pain, physical pain is almost nonexistent. We sat there crying, in shock, talking through the worst day of our lives. Talking about how impossible it could be that this could be happening to us. We were prepared. We have it all together. We love God. We attend church, pray, and love others. We volunteer, give, and still, we must experience this.
At about 7:45 p.m., I was told that I would have to start pushing as I was completely dilated. This time I can remember both vividly and abstractly. It wasn't me inside my body. I remember them coaching me and my wonderful husband by my side. My water broke at 7:51 as I heard the nurse tell the other. At some point, they made me stop to wait for the doctor to arrive. She arrived and I gave birth to our child. Lifeless, but infinitely more beautiful than I ever conceived. I did not want to see him until he was cleaned off and they took all of their information. He was taken from the room and the rest was silent. I was shaking incessantly as I could not control the nerves that rushed in my body. I would be meeting my son for the very first time. A son who moved within me... who I loved SO much. But, he would never see me. I would never see his naked body or his eyes. I would never see him smile, laugh, or move. Shaking.
It was anticlimactic. Rather than hearing the words of how many pounds or the length, Apgar scores, or anything else, I just heard talks of no cord issue, no blood clots, no placental issue, no evidence of a problem.
At 9:04 p.m. on December 5th, I gave birth to an angel.
I had to ask the nurses how much he weighed and how long he was. They wrote it on the whiteboard in the room. 7 lb. 6oz. and 19.75 inches long. Perfect baby boy. They just kept telling me how beautiful he was.
Having not seen him yet, this is probably the time nurses began to share their heartbreaks. It seems like that is a human response to when others suffer. People search for something to level-out your feelings. I met 3 nurses who gave birth to stillborn children. The great news was that they all went on to have 3-5 more children after their tragedies.
We met our son around 10 p.m. that evening. He was infinitely more gorgeous than I ever thought he could be. He had a beautiful nose, mouth, cheeks, ears, hands, feet, and even little eyelashes. His hair was a light blond shade and he just looked at peace. I was terrified, but once I saw him, all I wanted to do was hold him and touch his still-warm body.
Around 11 p.m., the hospital provided us with a baptism and that was wonderful. He was dressed in a gown and given to God. He was always God's, really. This is the best way we knew to memorialize him.
At 1 a.m., people from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep came to take photos of us with our son for the very last time. We were never to see him again after these minutes. While I felt this was something our child deserved... to have a family portrait with parents who could not possibly have more love for him, it tore us apart once again. Every encounter with him caused us to wail.
The next day brought infinitely more tears. The other doctor I saw frequently in the practice (the celebrity) came in early morning. She was also devastated. We talked it through and she gave us research she's learned about stillborn births with no explanation and promised to continue searching my file for information. She promised us there was nothing we could have done and that we followed all that we could to assure a healthy baby. Most importantly, she helped talk us through the future. She talked counseling, occupying our time, joining a group of support, and having more children.
The truth is, as soon as we found out Andrew would never come home with us, we wanted to fast forward or rewind. We wanted a re-do. A restart button. A do-over. I wanted to fast forward to pregnancy #2 as fast as humanly possible. As insensitive as this may sound to anyone reading, those who have had a stillborn child see life differently. Every woman I have talked to in my same experience (firstborn, stillborn) wanted to immediately start again. It's not that you want to cover up your first baby and mask the emotions, but because we know we'll never "get over" our son. We'll never be done mourning him. The longer we prolong having another child, the less healthy it will be for us. Plus, we were told that you are infinitely more fertile right after giving birth. Your body is ready to be pregnant and it's had practice.
I wasn't the most graceful pregnant woman. I was terrified of giving birth. But now, that's not the case. The silly things I've said I missed during my pregnancy I wish I could take back. I would be willing to do anything to assure that our child could be here with us.
On Andrew's birthday, I know two other people who gave birth that day. I know two other couples who welcomed their firstborns into the world just a couple days ago as well. As much as I want to say, "It's not fair", I know. I'm not jealous of their babies, but infinitely jealous that they are able to love their children and take them home. I don't want their children. I don't want any child. I want our Andrew. But, he is now with God. Tragedy occurs and God hates that... but it still happens. It happens to people with no warning, like us, and it happens to everyone.
As much as we felt taken care of at the hospital in that terrible Room 120, we felt there were a few things missing besides having our baby laying in the bed next to us. The next day, we were handed a paper to call local mortuaries for funeral/memorial/burial/cremation services. Talk about a shock. Two days prior, I was experiencing kicks and movements from my baby inside my body. I was counting the days until we could place him in his carseat, take him to the park, and see him smile. Two days later, I am signing autopsy paperwork and being told to call and price-check with funeral homes to cremate our child. Nothing, nothing is more painful than having to say goodbye to your baby. Luckily, the nurse offered to call around and set up arrangements for us. Less than 24 hours after finding out you will lose your child, giving birth, and staring at his face and we're required to price check for death services?
On Tuesday, we were allowed to go home. I was kept in the hospital a bit longer than usual because my white blood cell counts were higher than they should've been. They wanted to monitor in case I were to have an infection. I wasn't about to go back to that hospital again until I actually heard good news, so we stayed. The car ride home was infinitely harder than we thought it would be. I was wheeled out of L&D and sat in the wheelchair downstairs as I waited for our car. A woman sat with her 4-week early newborn in the chairs also waiting. She was laughing, smiling, and sharing her precious gift with all those around. I also had a baby, but I wasn't sharing him with anyone. I wasn't strapping him in his carseat or experiencing nervousness as we drove our precious cargo to his home and the room we had perfectly set for him. The laundry was done and everything was ready for his arrival. We drove home in tears. When we arrived home, I sat in the car as Ray found the strength to de-baby our house. Every single thing baby related (you can imagine our house was flooded with it as we were expecting him in just days!) went upstairs and is now sealed in what would have been his room. While coming home was difficult, the most difficult part was the silence. We hated how we left the hospital changed, but unchanged. We were changed emotionally, but all the hopes and dreams we had for the past year were shattered and the house we expected to share with our child-- the Christmas tree we thought would be his first tree and a place for our first family photo has vanished. Remnants are still around the house. Safety plugs, emails congratulating me on making it to my 39th week of pregnancy, diaper coupons... all triggers of emotion.
Visiting the funeral home to select an urn for our child was the most difficult thing I think I've ever endured. It was gut wrenching to write "mother" and "father" on that paperwork to know we never got to exercise those privileges. We never watched him laugh, open a Christmas present, or kick a soccer ball. Going to "pick him up" will no doubt be even more painful.
This entire story is sad, but the most wonderful part is having the love and support we've had from friends and family. Having moved here in March, we never anticipated the amount of love we would be given by these people. We joined a great group of 20's/30's at our church and have since been quite connected. We spend lots of time with these wonderful people and they have made a point to assure we are pre-occupied and not sitting in silence. As much as I hate talking and sharing my emotions (except via blog), I have been forcing myself in order to avoid depression. Postpartum is most common (for obvious reasons) among women who have lost a child. We asked our friends to just keep us company. We don't need gifts, condolences, Sympathy cards, or anything. We have enough reminders of our son. We have pictures with him, footprints, and plenty of other items that we can't possibly forget how much we are mourning. We just want to laugh, to talk, to enjoy the company of others to break silence. We had at least 15 visitors at the hospital including the pastor at our church site. The outpouring of love surely blessed us.
We should be hearing our baby crying, waking up all hours to feedings, and changing diapers. We're not. We're just crying.
Physically, I am still dealing with the pains of giving birth. My emotional changes far outweigh that pain, but it is cruel to feel what a new mother feels and not look into the eyes of my child. I cannot drive right now. I must heal. My milk has come in and my breasts are incredibly painful. They are meant to nurture my child-- the child I won't ever have a chance to nurture. I stare at a post-pregnancy body and have no reward to show for it. I don't care what my body looks like, but it definitely reminds me of Andrew. If I feel a growl in my stomach or a cramp of any kind, it takes me back to what it feels like to have Andrew moving inside of me.
We will always be in love with him. We may never see him again, but he was our child. He sure was beautiful. Godspeed. We are not done. We want children and we pray that someday we'll get to experience what it's like to watch our child grow.
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