Mom to Baby K
Stillborn at 22 weeks 2 days
September 15th, 2009
I had my first son in June of 2007 and he was a happy, healthy boy. My pregnancy was in most respects, a breeze and though the delivery had a few minor complications, everyone was no worse for the wear. We really felt lucky that everything had gone so well. When he was almost two we decided to start trying again. It has never seemed to take very long for us to conceive and this time was no different. Within a week of trying we had conceived. I felt a difference in this pregnancy, fairly early on. I may have been mildly nauseous with my first pregnancy, but I never vomited. This time, I vomited easily and frequently. Sometimes it was so violent; my husband would find me crying on the bathroom floor. Nevertheless, my ultrasound at 8 weeks showed a little heartbeat and what I called our little “gummy bear.” The doctor prescribed some medication for the vomiting and off I went. Because we went out of town and soon after my doctor went out of town, we weren’t able to get my next ultrasound scheduled until my 21st week, but we were all convinced I was having a girl. My mom said that was why I was so nauseous and why I carried the baby differently. In my gut I knew it was a girl as well, but I also felt like something else was wrong. I had hardly felt the baby move. I convinced myself I was being paranoid and waited for the ultrasound.
My husband and I went in before he had to work that day. I remember the entire family being excited to find out what we were having, the thought had never occurred to me that something might be wrong, despite the fact that a friend had lost her baby at 17 weeks just a few weeks prior. I remember lying down on the table for the ultrasound and laughing with the technician as she got ready to take a look. It was when she got really quiet that I knew something was wrong. The heartbeat sounded great, so I wasn’t sure if I was being paranoid.
She continued to take measurements and I asked her, “Can you see if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t quite know yet,” she said. “Baby doesn’t want to move for me.” After a very lengthy exam (maybe 45 minutes) she told me she was going to get my doctor for a second opinion.
At this point I began to freak out while we waited. It took maybe a half an hour for my doctor to arrive and the whole time my husband was reassuring me that everything was going to be fine.
My doctor is wonderful and very up front. She took a look and did all the same measurements and then sat me up and told me. “I am going to send you to a specialist clinic across the way and have them take a look. The baby has some things that are concerning me and they are going to be the best people to answer questions concerning your pregnancy.”
I began to give her a barrage of questions which she answered politely and vaguely. When I headed across the way 20 minutes later, I still had no answers. The specialists there ran me through ultrasounds conducted by three different people, the final person being a doctor who specializes in pregnancy complications. He had a soothing voice and a kind demeanor. Even now when I think of him, my heart softens. They couldn’t have picked a better person to deliver the news.
He told me that our baby had a variety of abnormalities. They weren’t really moving so they still weren’t able to determine a sex. It would appear that they hadn’t moved in quite some time because they had begun to build up excess fluid under the skin that was making them at least a pound heavier than they should be. In addition, they had deformed hands that were clenched and wouldn’t open, the index finger overlapping the rest of the fingers and one foot that was twisted and malformed, bending in a way it shouldn’t.
The heartbeat was strong, but even the strongest of hearts wouldn’t survive this. He said the baby wouldn’t survive to full-term and even if he or she did, they would be too rigid from lack of movement, I wouldn’t be able to deliver the baby safely. If he or she survived that, they would die shortly after leaving the womb, because they would lack even the basic functions to keep themselves alive.
He didn’t know what was caused this. He had us conduct an amniocentesis to determine if it might be Trisomy 13 or 18, chromosomal abnormalities that had some similar traits, but he was doubtful.
I was crying hard when he looked at me and said “Now, do you have any questions for me, anything you can think of that you have been exposed to that you think might have caused this? I want you to ask me now so I can assure you that you did NOTHING to cause this and you can go home without any guilt on your shoulders.”
He was right, I was blaming myself. I listed everything: Tylenol, the one night my back hurt and I took an Advil even though I knew I shouldn’t, my cats, a bumpy car ride, antibiotics . . .” He assured me not one thing could have made my baby this way. He also told me that he couldn’t get a good angle, but he was pretty certain the baby was a girl. The doctor told me that I could go home and await the test results but that there would be no treatment for our baby. We had to make the decision to stop the baby’s heart now, or wait for the baby to die on their own.
My husband and I weighed the options. If we waited and the baby passed away closer to full term it would be even more heartbreaking. If the baby survived the pregnancy, the doctor told us that no one would deliver the baby just to see them die; the hospital would have to stop the heart before delivery. Most importantly, if I waited for our baby to die, they would do it alone. If I chose to stop their heart, I would be there with them.
Because of the timing of everything, our baby was old enough to where we had to make funeral arrangements before we did the procedure. The fact that I had the strength to walk into a funeral home and arrange a cremation for the baby I still carried inside me still baffles me. When we were at the hospital I was given the option of a D & E or delivery. The thought of a D & E broke my heart because of all it entails and even though I wasn’t sure how I would get through it, I elected to deliver her naturally, just as I had done with our son.
I went to the hospital and I had to lie very still as they stopped her heart. I stared at the screen of the ultrasound and cried, telling her that I loved her and that I would see her again someday. Then they put seaweed sticks in my cervix to induce labor and told me to come back tomorrow. I went home and cried and held my baby in my tummy, knowing she was already gone.
While I lay awake that night I thought about how many women in the past had done what I was just about to do. I did research on the internet and read stories from women in similar situations. Because of their courage I knew I could deliver her. I had my Mother-in –law, my Mother, two of my sisters and the three women I had grown up with since childhood there with my husband and I and we brought her into the world together to say goodbye. I used no medication, save something to calm my nerves. I screamed through every contraction and my husband and I worked through the labor. When she was finally born, the nurses wrapped her in preemie clothing and blankets and handed her to me. I looked at her from top to bottom and could tell how sick she was, but to me she was perfect. I saw past the deformities and saw that she looked like her big brother.
All the women in my family held her, took their time to say goodbye. My best friend, a photographer, took pictures of her and I that were so beautiful that when I look at them today I am still baffled by the beauty and tragedy of that single moment.
A week later we had her cremated after an autopsy that was conducted by Children’s Hospital. All test results and autopsy results were inconclusive. They could tell me what was wrong, they couldn’t tell me why. They also confirmed the doctor’s suspicion that she would have never moved due to what they called muscular myopathies. I went to the funeral home by myself to pick her up. Her little heart-shaped urn was so small it fit in the palm of my hand. It had her name and the date inscribed on it. On the way home I tucked it under my shirt and held her close.
Two years later, her ashes remain in a cedar box with all of the little clothes and the honorary birth certificate the hospital had given me, her death certificate, the journal I wrote to her in and the pictures we took along with numerous cards from well-wishers. Her ashes will go with me when I go. Until then there they sit in the little box I go through when I miss her.
In 2010 we had another little boy, but this isn’t his story, this is my sweet darling girl’s. We won’t be having any more children, so she is my only little girl. Because of her, I will always be a mother of three.
Stephenie blogs at pageturnershollow.wordpress.