Over the weekend we passed a rather bitter anniversary. It was two years since the day we found out our first baby had died in the womb. Last year I passed the anniversary by trying to ignore it. I was pregnant again and spending all my time being overjoyed for that. It helped a lot and I was able to pass the day in a happier state than I thought would ever be possible. As the anniversary approached this year, I was able to be aware of it and take an inventory of my feelings. They are different this year than they were last year.
A friend of mine inspired me to choose a new perspective. She had a very similar experience with losing her first baby just a couple of months before I lost mine. I read her blog post about their second anniversary of loss. She and her husband embrace the day and remember their daughter, while I have tried to push the thoughts away because of the pain. I regret that decision. Ironically, the feelings I have clung to and talked about are the feelings of loss and grief rather than sharing about my baby. Ever since I delivered our son I have been afraid that I would forget him. That is the last thing I want to do. This year I chose to take joy in the experience of having him for as long as I did and not focus on the sadness of losing him. I didn't talk about it to anyone at all (until now), but I was actually able to think of the day with gratitude for the time I had and thoughts of when we will be reunited, when I will be able to hold him and tell him how much I love him. Thank you, Stephanie, for inspiring me. I am also going to follow your lead in talking about the experience of those two days. I never want to forget.
Three weeks before the ultrasound I knew something was wrong. I had hit my belly pretty hard against the ironing board and there was some pain. I hadn't hit it hard enough to cause any problems but I knew something was wrong. As I prayed for comfort and to know that everything was all right I had the distinct feeling that I would not have this baby, but that I would have one later. I was not ready to accept that. I desperately wanted to keep my baby, so I cried myself to sleep that night and spent the next three weeks finding things my body was doing to prove that the pregnancy was still healthy.
I went in to the doctor on Monday, April 23 for my 20 week appointment. I was very excited for the ultrasound scheduled for the next day that was to tell me if I was having a boy or a girl. The doctor asked me if I had any concerns and I told him I was feeling great. When it was time to listen for the heartbeat I waited expectantly, but heard nothing. The baby had hidden from the doppler before, so I didn't worry myself. The doctor helped me sit up and the look of concern on his face surprised me. He told me that he should have found the heartbeat easily at this point in pregnancy and that he was worried. He said an ultrasound would detect one better than his doppler so we should set up an appointment. My denial was such that I told him I had one scheduled for the next day and could wait until then. He had the nurse call around to see what we could find for an appointment ASAP, anyway, and kept me in his office. When he left the room I realized it was worse that what I was letting myself believe and the tears came.
My husband was in a final exam and I couldn't reach him, so I called my mom to take me to the ultrasound appointment. I left a message at his work and at home. By the time my mom arrived I had gotten to him and told him we were picking him up. I was in no state of mind to realize that I hadn't told him what was going on. On the way out the door my good friend was coming in for an appointment with her son and I told her what was happening and cried some more. After my mom got there we picked Eric up and went to the hospital.
I was a wreck by the time we got in to the ultrasound, having remembered my feelings from three weeks before and knowing what it meant. Oddly enough, I remember little things like what I was wearing that day (a pairing of shirt and jeans that I refused to wear together with my second pregnancy), the feeling of the warm transmission gel on my stomach, and just how dark the room was. The ultrasound tech asked us a couple of questions and knew what he was looking for. We were not shown the screen, but my mom could see. She didn't say anything, but sadly shook her head at me. The tech said he wasn't supposed to tell us anything, but that he wasn't going to make us wait. He let us know that the baby had, indeed, died. He told us the baby had developed to 16 weeks, that there was something on the back of the baby's neck, and that he couldn't determine if it was a boy or a girl. He gave us a few minutes alone to cry and hold each other before he called the doctor.
I spoke to the doctor on the phone and we discussed options. I could wait and miscarry naturally, be induced, or have a Dilation & Evacuation. He refused to perform the D&E himself for fear of bleeding and because we were set to leave on a cruise two days later (our planned "babymoon"). He suggested the induction and gave me information about all three options. I took his suggestion and he said he would set up the appointment at the hospital.
We spent the next few hours at my parents' house. I really don't remember much about those hours except that I felt numb. I didn't want to feel anything because feeling something meant greater pain than I had ever known. All I know is that I cried unashamedly.
We went in to the hospital at around 10:30 pm and they started me on aggressive induction medicine (one that is not used in live births) half an hour later. The transition from no physical pain to excruciating pain was very rapid. I declined an epidural, but had them give me a different medication that lasts for 55 minutes, but can only be administered every 60 minutes. Those five minutes were brutal. What I didn't know at the time was that I was having one long contraction (tetanic). There was no rest period without the drugs. After three doses I agreed to the epidural and was able to sleep through the rest of the night.
At 10:20 the next morning I felt something pushing on my catheter and called the nurse in. It was the baby delivering. He came in the sac, which was a blessing because I didn't need antibiotics. They wrapped him up in a cotton bunting and a tiny crochet blanket. My husband and my mother were there when the bereavement lady came in to take pictures and make hand and foot molds. We took turns holding him. I can still remember his weight and length in my hand. He had passed away long enough before that his features were not as sharp as they once were. When it was time to take pictures I couldn't let her take any of the three of us together. It was just too hard. We have all the pictures that she took of him, as well as the blanket, bunting, and the molds of his hands and feet. The foot molds are my favorite. They are perfect and beautifully tiny. When people came to visit us during those first few weeks afterward I took great joy in showing them molds of my baby's feet.
I was worried about how he would look after the nurses and my doctor talked to me. I thought that his lack of resemblance to a baby and his coloring would be something I wouldn't be able to handle. He looked very much like a baby and his coloring was fine. I hadn't been sure that I would want to hold him, but I'm glad I did. I needed a bit of connection with my baby. We didn't hold him very long. I felt like I had said my goodbyes the day before and didn't want to drag it out. I remember at one point looking at him lying on the table and I commented, "He looks like a liver." That may sound a little heartless, but it helped me to remember it was only his body and that he was somewhere else, doing what was asked of him.
After a while a nurse came in with a certificate and asked us for a name for the baby. We didn't have one and chose not to pick one. It was another thing that was too difficult. That was also the reasoning behind allowing the hospital to dispose of his earthly remains. We asked that he be tested to find out what happened, but the results were inconclusive. We can only guess at what happened, but I figure it was a neural tube defect that showed itself at the back of his neck.
I did my best for the next while trying to deal with the grief and with moving on. It felt impossible for me to go back to being a happy person. When the world shatters around you and you are caught in the rubble it becomes all-consuming. There were mornings when the sadness was completely incapacitating and all I could do was lie there and wail. It happened at church, it happened at school (though, thankfully, never while I was teaching), and it made a lot of people worry about me. With time, with prayer, and with a large amount of loving support from family and friends I came out of the crushing despair. The experience is one that I would never wish on anyone or choose to live through, but what I learned is sacred and special to me. I have felt the hand of the Lord resting on my shoulder and holding me up when my own strength failed me entirely. I cannot properly express my gratitude for the time I had with my son. I never felt him move and he was never able to look at me, but I was always thankful to know that I had him even for that short amount of time. It made me appreciate my second pregnancy and reminds me that every second with my daughter is a beautiful gift. I usually feel like a first-time mom, but there are wonderful moments when I feel like a mother of two. I am glad to remember my little boy and from now on I choose not to wallow in the sadness of being without him, but to rejoice in the time I had with him before and the time we will have together in the future.