Mom to Lauren Joy
Born sleeping September 28, 2011
Japan (formerly from Florida, USA)
I had never really planned to have children. Even as a young girl, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to have children. So, when my boyfriend and I found out I was pregnant in February of 2011, I didn’t quite know how to take it. I was shocked, confused, and terrified. My boyfriend felt the same way, but we decided almost immediately that we would keep the baby. We also decided that we wanted to get married. I had never imagined that I would be four months pregnant when I got married, but that’s how life turns out sometimes.
Physically, it was an easy pregnancy. I never got very sick and only felt terribly nauseous when I rode trains. Emotionally, it was a roller coaster. We lived in Japan at the time; I had been there three years, my husband four. We loved it, but getting married and being pregnant so far from home – having never met each other’s families – was a very strange thing. I was just over two months pregnant when the Great Tohoku Earthquake struck. At the time, my husband had been working in a town three hours away by train. With everything shut down, he walked and hitch-hiked 70 miles back to me. It took him 24 hours, but he made it back and promised he would never leave me alone again, a promise he has kept since.
Being only about 100 miles from the Fukushima power plants, we worried about radiation. My doctor didn’t, and I trusted him, so I stopped worrying. And he was right. At every single appointment, our baby looked wonderful. Perfect size, perfectly made, perfectly healthy. And stubborn! The baby kept its back to us, refusing to show off boy or girl parts. We had ultrasounds at every appointment, but it wasn’t until the 31st week that the doctor pointed to the screen and said, “Ah! Ovaries! It’s a girl!” My husband was ecstatic. I think he loved the idea of having a girl more than I did. He talked to her all the time. He sang to her every night. Summer was incredibly uncomfortable for me, but he took the best care of us that he could, and he did whatever he could for me. I never realized that I could love two people so much.
By the 37th week, I had not yet felt so much as a twinge of a contraction. My cervix had not even begun to soften yet. We had moved, and I was going to a new doctor, who was concerned about the baby’s size. She was not quite 7 pounds – normal for a Caucasian baby, but heavy for a Japanese one. I was not concerned, but I was ready for her to be born! My mother would be arriving at the end of my 38th week, and I didn’t want her to have to wait long to meet her first grandchild.
On September 22nd, we went in for our weekly appointment. It was a Thursday; usually we went for appointments on Friday, but that week, it was a national holiday, and only the ER would be open. Again, she checked out beautifully. Heartbeat fine, activity fine. Our doctor was concerned that her heart was a little big, but when he brought in another doctor for a second opinion, she said it looked fine. And her heartbeat was so strong. I remember looking at the ultrasound screen and thinking that very soon, my little girl would be in my arms.
The next day, I thought the baby was quieter than usual. My husband tried to reassure me, as did his mother, who we talked to on Skype. “The baby’s just getting into position!” she said excitedly. We decided that was it – the doctor had even mentioned it. She was lower and had less room to move. She would be coming soon!
Saturday afternoon, while my husband was at work, I realized that I hadn’t felt the baby move all day. I did the drinking and the counting thing. Nothing. I felt a faint movement while I was cooking dinner. When I told my husband, he tried to reassure me again that she was just running out of room. He laid down with me and wrapped his arms around my stomach, singing to her. For a few moments, I felt a couple rhythmic movements, like when she had the hiccups. It was the last time I felt her move.
On Sunday, I e-mailed my husband and work and told him we had to go to the hospital. We decided to go on Monday – I don’t know why. It was stupid. The hospital was 90 minutes away by train, and only the ER accepted patients on the weekend. We tried to convince ourselves that this wasn’t an emergency. It wasn’t until much later that I understood that if we had called, they would have told us to come in. If my Japanese was better, I would have gone by myself anyway.
We went in on Monday, September 26th, and for the first time, I saw how worried my husband was. At the hospital, they brought us into the examination area immediately. Normally we had to wait two or three hours, but the nurses tried to keep us calm, assuring us that things would be alright. I think they knew, though. They just didn’t want to crush us. They were so kind to us, so gentle.
A Doppler was strapped to me first. I had had that done only once before, but as soon as she turned it on and no sound came, I knew. She did what all nurses in that situation do: she readjusted it, she turned it on and off again, she clucked her tongue and said, “Let’s try the ultrasound. It’s better.” But I knew already, and she knew. They kept my husband out while a doctor I’d never met did the ultrasound. The nurse held my hand as he searched all over my belly, looking for what wasn’t there. I couldn’t look at the screen – I stared at the nurse instead. She looked at me with such sorrow, like she wanted to give me answers but couldn’t. When I started to cry, she left to bring my husband into the curtained area.
They took us to a little examination room while they brought down a wheelchair and began the process of admitting me. I cried the entire time. When they took us upstairs to the maternity ward, they did another ultrasound, which only confirmed what we already knew: our daughter’s heart had stopped beating. They put us in a private room and left us alone, and my husband put his head in my lap and wept.
After a while, our regular doctor came in and explained to us what was going to happen. I would have to deliver my daughter vaginally. For several weeks, he had warned me that if she got to big I would have to have a C-section; now he didn’t even mention it. I was getting the kind of birth I wanted, in the most tragic way possible.
It took two days for my cervix to cooperate and soften and dilate. On September 28th, I had finally dilated to 5cm, and the doctor decided to start the pitocin to hurry things along. A couple hours later, another doctor came in to break my membrane sac. They left us for me to labor alone. I did not get any pain medication – few hospitals in Japan offer it. I wept with the pain, and my husband wept with me. Eventually, I curled up into a ball and shuddered. After a while, I realized I was pushing – I felt the need to go to the bathroom. We were alone in the room, so I just kept doing what my body told me to do. A few moments later, I felt a burning sensation, a bulging. I reached down between my legs and felt something soft, rounded. I said softly to my husband, “Call the nurse. She’s coming.”
Things moved very quickly after that. The room filled with people, including the doctor’s intern and a midwife I had never met before. I pushed for what seemed like forever; I found it so hard to let go of my poor, darling daughter. Finally, at 3:44pm, Lauren Joy entered the world, silent and still.
The nurses took her to another room to clean and dress her, and the doctor told us that she and my placenta looked perfectly healthy. We had already agreed to an autopsy, so he asked if we wanted to see her before he made the arrangements. I immediately said yes; my husband hesitated. But when the nurse brought her in, he didn’t have the chance to turn away, and he later told me he was glad he saw her.
Our meeting with our daughter was terribly, terribly short. We did not get to hold her; we did not get to take pictures of her. We had only a few minutes, long enough to take in the image of our lovely daughter, so small and perfect. She was not even 7 and a half pounds, hardly the gigantic baby our doctor had feared she would be. The nurse held her up to us and said to me, “She looks like you. She’s beautiful.”
And then my husband started to cry, and they took her away. We never got to see her again.
We named her after our mothers: Lauren for his, Joy for mine. Two days after she was born, my mother arrived in Japan. The next day, she went with us to the funeral home to have Lauren cremated in Japanese tradition. The only other person who attended the ceremony was my husband’s boss, who had very kindly arranged everything for us and drove us everywhere we needed to go.
One month after Lauren was born, we returned to the States. I wouldn’t have minded staying in Japan, but my husband couldn’t stand the idea of going back to his job and living in the same neighborhood where everyone knew we were pregnant. We also wanted the solace of family and friends, most of whom we had not seen in several years. While the holidays were extremely difficult, they provided us with a healing comfort we would not have had in Japan.
Some days, I wake up – even now, four months later – and the realization hits me: my daughter is dead. I never imagined it could happen. After all we’d gone through, when we were so much looking forward to bringing home this precious baby girl, we were left with nothing. For the first time in my life, I really, deeply wanted to be a mother. And I am. But my child is gone from me, and it hurts. Every day, it hurts. I’m surviving, but each day is a challenge, a reminder that I don’t have – can’t have – what it is that I truly want: my daughter.
I miss you, baby girl.
Sara blogs at http://luckyredrabbit.com.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.