Mom to Eliza
Stillborn December 6, 2010
St. Louis, Missouri
In early December of 2010, I was thirty four weeks and three days pregnant with my first child, a little girl. We called her our “Baby Duck.” I’d had an easy, uneventful pregnancy, and even in my third trimester, I felt good. The timing seemed to be perfect for our baby, who was due in January, and I joked that the only people more excited about this baby than my husband and I were my parents. I remember thinking at my baby showers how lucky my baby was to already have so many people who loved her. I couldn’t wait for her to meet all of our friends and family.
On Monday, December 6th, I spent my day at work. I teach English at a university, and I taught two compositions classes and a literature course that day. As I was lecturing in my afternoon literature class, I felt some tightness in my abdomen. It wasn’t painful, and I really didn’t think much of it. I’d been feeling the baby squirm and kick, and I’d occasionally had some ligament pain in my uterus, so I was quick to shrug off this sensation. After all, I had lots of other things to think about—it was a week before my semester ended, and I had papers to grade and final exams to write. I had Christmas shopping to do, a nursery to organize, and adorable baby clothes that still needed to have their tags cut off and washed and put away. I was so looking forward to school being out and having time to do all the “nesting” that I wanted to do before the baby was born.
Monday night was my evening for prenatal yoga classes. When I got home from work, I changed into my yoga clothes and decided to try to grade a few essays before left for class. As I was grading, I felt a tightness in my belly that I could no longer ignore, and I finally realized that I could be having contractions.
Because I was only 34 weeks along, I assumed it was preterm Braxton-Hicks contractions. I grabbed one of my pregnancy reference books and it said that I drink a glass of water and lie down on my side. My husband called on his way home from work and I said, “I think I might be having contractions.” After fielding several unmerited worries and concerns throughout my pregnancy, he chuckled and said, “Are you sure?”
I explained that I was lying down, but that the contractions were getting stronger and closer together. By the time my husband got home from work, they were so intense that I no longer wanted to lie on my side, but instead was on my hands and knees on the floor, waiting for each contraction to pass. My husband immediately got on the phone, talking to my OB, our doula, and the instructor from our childbirth classes. After hearing how intensely and how often I was having contractions, my doctor instructed us to go directly to the hospital.
I had a couple of very strong contractions in the car on the way there. I remember my husband holding my hand and saying to me, “You know this is going to be okay, right?” And I nodded. We both really believed it would be. I thought a c-section and a preemie was my worst-case scenario. I think that I really believed I’d get to the hospital and they’d give me something to stop the contractions. It truly never crossed my mind that we might lose this baby.
We checked into Labor and Delivery and were quickly taken to a room. A nurse used the Doppler to find the baby’s heartbeat, but she was unable to pick it up. She said that the doctor would come in with an ultrasound machine. By this time, I was so focused on getting through each contraction that the fact that she couldn’t find a heartbeat registered with me. I was a little worried, but I simply thought that the contractions were interfering with the Doppler. My husband had gotten pale, but he kept holding my hand and telling me that he loved me and it was going to be okay.
Then the hospital OB on call came in with the ultrasound machine. She said, “I’m sorry. We don’t know when, but your baby has died.”
I was in so much shock, I couldn’t even cry. Instead, I puked.
She checked my cervix and told me that I was fully dilated. She said that I would deliver “imminently.” I still couldn’t quite grasp that my baby was dead.
All throughout my pregnancy, I had planned on having a non-medicated birth. I really wanted to deliver naturally, without drugs or an epidural. Now it seemed pointless. The nurse we had was so very kind. She suggested that if I got something to help with the physical pain, it might also help with the emotional pain. As much as I liked her, I thought this was the craziest thing I had ever heard. There was nothing that could help with the emotional pain, and if anything, I felt like the physical pain was a distraction from the reality of what was happening. I refused the epidural and any narcotics. I was afraid that it might slow down my labor, and the last thing I wanted was to make this ordeal last longer than necessary. The contractions were painful, but they weren’t unbearable. What was unbearable was the fact that my baby was dead.
I delivered my baby at 8:42pm, one hour and three minutes after the time we checked into the hospital. A total of three and a half hours from the time I first realized I was actually having contractions.
We spent the rest of the night at the hospital, sobbing, holding each other, and holding our sweet baby girl. We named her Eliza. We marveled over her soft cheeks, her long eyelashes, her tiny hands, and her perfect feet.
At some point, we notified my parents, who live several hours away, and they made plans to drive up right away. We couldn’t wait for them at the hospital, though. I had to get out of there. All I wanted to do was go home and hold onto my husband and cry. Ironically, I’d had a remarkably easy delivery and recovery, and I was able to check out of the hospital less than twelve hours after we’d checked in.
We walked out of the hospital without our baby, taking only a memory box filled with her clothes, her handprints and footprints, and a little lock of her baby fuzz hair. It was a completely surreal experience and possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience or something, that this couldn’t be me. This couldn’t be my life. It couldn’t be my baby who was gone.
I had many blood tests and we did a full autopsy and pathology report, but there was no explanation of why Eliza died. All tests came back normal, and we are simply left with the mystery and sorrow of losing our baby girl. My doctor explained that sometimes there just aren’t any answers.
It has now been over a year since we said good-bye to Eliza, our Baby Duck, and I know that there will never be a day when I don’t miss her, and my heart doesn’t long for her and the person she could have been. Grief gets easier to carry, but of course it never quite goes away.
As this year as passed, we’ve found that the sorrow of her loss can only be matched by the love that she brought into our lives. Although we’ll always miss her, we also find that we are grateful to her for showing us our full capacity for love. We hope that someday we’ll be lucky enough to bring home Eliza’s brother or sister, and that as we move forward, our lives will continue to honor the baby girl we love so much.
Brooke blogs at http://bythebrooke.blogspot.com.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.