Mom to Annie Grace
Stillborn October 4, 2011
St. Paul, Minnesota
I was sitting at a restaurant with my daughter, my mom, and my husband. A young girl, probably around four, started belting out the lyrics to ”Tomorrow” from my favorite childhood movie, Annie. “The sun will come out tomorrow,” she sang. Tears streamed down my face. Just days earlier, my daughter was stillborn. Her name was Annie.
I’ll start from the beginning.
My husband Jonathan and I found out we were pregnant for the second time in May. I took three tests, just to make sure, and made an appointment with my doctor. We were thrilled and a bit surprised, too. It took us a while to get pregnant with our now two-year old daughter, Evelyn, and we didn’t think things would happen so quickly. I was in a friend’s wedding that coming weekend, and my sister’s wedding was coming up in a few short weeks too. It was such a fun and busy time.
I felt great, like I did with my first pregnancy, and the first few months of my pregnancy were pretty uneventful.
When I hit the seventeen-week mark, I started lightly spotting. I also had some back pain, which felt a little like kidney stones. I called the nurse line and they told me to come in to meet with my doctor. After a routine exam, he, too, confirmed that I was spotting. He explained that since it was dark brown, it was “old blood”, which isn’t as alarming or scary as bright red blood. Regardless, he scheduled an ultrasound for me the following day just to be safe.
During the ultrasound, the doctor and the Sonogram Technician studied everything for a long time. They couldn’t find the source of the bleeding. “Sometimes people just spot when they are pregnant,” we were told. The doctors weren’t worried, and said our baby was perfectly healthy. Jonathan and I were relieved. We learned we were having another baby girl! Evelyn would be a big sister, just like me. She was thrilled. She started referring to her sister as “Baby Sadie,” after a little girl at day-care. We had dreams about our growing family: the first big trip we would take as a family of four, which “family car” we would buy, what we would name our baby girl.
We had a fun but busy end to our summer. We enjoyed a long weekend at my parents’ cabin, celebrated Evelyn’s 2nd birthday, and I prepared to begin my 10th year teaching kindergarten.
The pregnancy scares continued. I called the nurse’s care line regularly about spotting or other issues. The receptionist knew me by name. I began seeing doctors almost weekly. But they could find no cause for the bleeding. The baby was fine. Again, our nerves were calmed.
During my twenty-second week, shortly after arriving at work, I started spotting bright red blood, the ”scary blood.” I called the nurse’s line. They told me to come in immediately. I knew things were serious this time. I called my husband and very anxiously drove to the clinic. I was bleeding a lot. Once again, they began with an ultrasound. And once again, our baby girl’s heart was strong. We were so relieved. Tears streamed down my face, and Jonathan’s, too. Despite careful examination, the doctors still could not find the source of the bleeding. We went home.
The following day, the bleeding continued. I called the nurses, and yet again, found myself at the doctor’s office. After a routine exam, my doctor told me he wanted to do a cervical procedure called a colposcopy. During the exam, I heard my doctor and another doctor discuss what they found. I could tell they weren’t sure what they had found, but I knew they were concerned. The nurse put a box of Kleenex on my chest. Uh, oh. They found something. My doctor told me they found some “abnormal tissue” and he needed to do a biopsy. So right then and there, alone in a cold exam room, my doctor did a biopsy. Thoughts of my baby and thoughts of cancer crept into my head. I held it together the whole time I was in the room, grabbed a bunch of Kleenex, somehow scheduled a follow-up appointment for two days later, made it out to my car, called my husband, and fell to pieces.
I went to work the following day preoccupied with thoughts of my baby and the biopsy. We knew we would get results in a few days. “Hopefully by Friday,” I remember my doctor saying.
On Thursday I started bleeding bright red blood even more so than before. I knew that I would be bleeding because of the biopsy, but not like this. I was covered in blood. I called my clinic and left a frantic message. They never called back. (Later I learned that they had lost power). Frustrated and confused, we called the care line later that evening. A few hours later, we were in the Labor and Delivery ward of the hospital.
The nurse put on a belly band on and checked to see if I was having any contractions. Nothing. The baby’s heart rate was fine too. Relief. Three doctors, along with the nurse, were able to find the source of the bleeding and get the bleeding under control. More relief. While we were there, my biopsy test results came in too. Everything was clear. I was fine. The baby was fine.
The following Monday, my doctor informed me that endometrial tissue, which forms inside the cervix during pregnancy, had somehow formed outside my cervix in my case. And that’s what was causing the bleeding. Though it was a rare occurrence, I was fine. My baby was fine. I would probably continue to bleed, but hopefully wouldn’t see any more bright red blood.
The rest of the week was pretty calm. My bleeding returned to the dark brown blood and everything seemed fine. We were in the clear.
I remember really looking forward to that upcoming weekend, after so many days of feeling scared and anxious. We went to story time at a local book store on Saturday and had a “family day” on Sunday. We stayed home in our pajamas most of the day, just playing and having fun. These would be my last “happy” memories being pregnant.
Monday night Evelyn started crying. She told us her “tummy” hurt, something she had never said before. Sometimes I like to think that maybe, just maybe, she knew something was wrong with me. Something was wrong with the baby. I let her lay with me until she fell asleep.
Throughout the night, I kept leaking fluid. I figured it was related to all of the spotting that had been going on for the past several weeks. I called the nurse’s line that morning to let them know about the fluid. They decided I should come in to the clinic, just to be safe. When I arrived, I learned that my doctor was at the hospital and that I would be meeting with a midwife instead. She was very sweet and through tears, I filled her in on the past seven weeks of my pregnancy. She decided to take a swab and send it to the lab to check if I was leaking amniotic fluid. When she took out the swab, I could immediately tell by her face that she was very scared. She left the room. I heard her talking with doctors in the hallway. She came back in the room and told me we needed to walk down the hall for an ultrasound. After so many visits to my clinic, I never even knew they even had an ultrasound machine; we always drove downtown for our ultrasound visits. The midwife asked me if my husband was coming, something they never ask. I knew it was bad. We ran down the hall to a small, dark room, where she and another doctor performed an ultrasound.
When I think about my whole pregnancy, beginning to end, the only memory that I desperately try to block out is what took place in that small, dark room. In this room, scared and alone, I learned my baby had died. Her heart was no longer beating. I can’t bring myself to record every moment that happened in this room, but I remember screaming out loud. Screaming for my daughter. Screaming for my husband. When he arrived a few minutes later, we were sent to the hospital.
My doctor was one of the first people we saw when we got there, which was helpful. He confirmed that our daughter had died. Her heart was no longer beating. My water had broken. My placenta had detached from the uterine wall. She was gone.
I received an epidural and over the next several hours, labor was induced. At 11:13 p.m., with my husband by my side, our daughter was born. She was silent, stillborn. But she was still born. She is our daughter. And she always will be. We spent the next hour with her, holding her, kissing her, loving her.
We hadn’t picked out a name before that day; we thought we had plenty of time. We decided on Annie for her first name. Her middle name: Grace. It just seemed perfect. Because that’s what she was: Annie, full of grace.
A wonderful photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep volunteered her time to visit the hospital and take photos of Annie. They are absolutely beautiful photos, and among the only ones ever taken of our second child.
We held an intimate service for Annie a few days later. Evelyn, a typical busy two-year old, sat perfectly still the whole time, as if she knew how important and special this service was. Afterwards, we released several pink balloons up into the heavens in Annie’s honor.
With amazing family, incredible friends, and support from so many, we are getting through this. Somehow. But it’s not easy.
In the days and now weeks following Annie’s stillbirth, I find myself covered with a blanket of grief most days. I found out that I tested positive for Factor V Leiden, which causes my blood to clot, and wonder if my body let me down. Did I not drink enough water? Should I have noticed her decreased movements? What if I would have gone in sooner? Some days the blanket is heavier than others, and some days it is lighter. I try to stay positive, as much as I can, because Annie is a positive part of my life. And she always will be.
And now I find myself back in the restaurant with my family, just days after Annie died. The small child is singing the song “Tomorrow”. And though it’s not easy, I smile, thinking of Annie. Because the sun will come out tomorrow. And when I see it, I will think of her.
You can reach Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can view her husband’s video tribute to Annie Grace at http://www.youtube.com/user/jonathanblake1#p/a/u/1/Zd92rtjYDNU.