Mom to Isaac Thor
Born Sleeping March 4, 2011
Making the decision to have another baby was a long and prayerful process. We had a desire to add to our family and felt we were in a position to do so. Isaac was to fill that final child chapter in our book of life. Little did we know that his chapter would take the turn it did while changing and blessing our lives the way it has.
Our first two children (Chad and Annie) are 3 years 3 months apart, which for the longest time (and in comparison to many others) felt like eternity. Little did I know that the next gap would be even larger – and not by choice. The first two were conceived and born without any trouble and none of my sisters had experienced any losses, so we were completely confident in my body’s abilities. We tried again when Annie was about 3 1/2 but soon met the long battle of unknown causes of pregnancy loss. After enduring 3 miscarriages in 2006 (6 weeks, 10 weeks, and 8 weeks) and a military deployment that forced a waiting period, our attempts were met with a negative pregnancy test for months. At the end of 2007, my doctor recommended I take Clomid to help jumpstart whatever was going on in there. After two cycles, I was pregnant. We were elated, yet cautious. This felt like our last chance. I was monitored closely, and it was quite apparent from the very start that something wasn’t right. At about 8 weeks, an ectopic pregnancy was apparent and terminated with D&C and methotrexate. We were crushed but also felt that maybe this was the answer to a fervent prayer about whether to continue trying for more. That was it. We decided we were done. The losses were too much to bear. I couldn’t fathom losing another. Our doctor advised us to wait one menstrual cycle before taking the steps to make our decision permanent. We watched my cycle very carefully, or so we thought…we found out a short 6 weeks later that we were expecting again. To say I was petrified would be an understatement. The pregnancy was actually fairly easy, looking back, but filled with immense fear. All hope had been lost from the prior losses. Even the night before Eastyn was born, I still thought something was wrong or going to happen. He was born via c-section, a healthy little miracle, in November 2008. We had conquered pregnancy loss, or so we thought.
With an age gap of 6 1/2 years between our 2nd and 3rd, we always left the option open to add one more to our family. Four felt like the right number for our family. We didn’t feel complete after three. Having Eastyn boosted our confidence and created a renewed sense of hope. We thought our baby loss days were behind us. The doctor who delivered Eastyn also offered hope. She said, and even encouraged us, that we should have no troubles getting pregnant in the future. At Eastyn’s ripe ol’ age of 1 1/2, we decided it was time to start trying again. We were elated that pregnancy came quick and hopeful that this was going to be as uneventful as the last one. The magical 12-week mark meant we were safe to tell, and we created a fun video to share with the world.
We were referred to see a perinatologist for some concerns my doctor had, but she assured us it was just precautionary. The specialist also did not see any need to worry. I have a brother who died shortly after birth from osteogenesis imperfecta, so they wanted to check his bones and overall structure. Also, with my past history of pregnancy loss, it wouldn’t hurt to get a deeper look. This ultrasound at 18 weeks on February 16th, 2011 confirmed that he, our sweet baby boy, had everything he was supposed to and was right on track for a July delivery. His heartbeat was absolutely beautiful (yes, it can be beautiful!) and there was nothing revealed that would cause alarm. I secretly prefer boys (don’t tell Annie—I love her to pieces and wouldn’t trade her for anything!), so I was thrilled with the additional news that we were expecting a boy. This doctor had a terrible bedside manner and I never cared to see him again, but I am thankful for the time I had to see my little guy alive and well. I was so excited to be his mommy. We had an indescribable bond. I believe I felt closer to him in the womb than any of my other children. I was determined to enjoy this pregnancy, and that I was! We went home from the ultrasound with great news to share with the kids. Annie was disappointed, of course, but she soon realized she would always have her own bedroom and not have to share the crown in this house. That softened the disappointment a bit!
We spent the next weekend in St. Louis on a short family getaway. We happened upon a massive clearance sale at The Children’s Place and stocked up on baby boy clothes. He was going to be the best-dressed baby come the next winter. At $1 and $2, the prices couldn’t be beat. I even picked up matching sweaters for the 3 boys for Christmas. After returning from the little getaway, the week became unusually busy. I had noticed that he wasn’t moving as much from the previous week, but I figured I’d just been too busy and didn’t notice the movements as much. At almost 20 weeks, the movements weren’t normally very pronounced so I didn’t really worry. I had started feeling him move at about 11 weeks, which was the earliest of any of my children. I felt him most when sitting at the computer. He liked to poke at my pelvic bone, so I’d sit in that position a lot, just to feel him move around. When I noticed his movements had slowed (or possibly stopped) I’d sit there just waiting and eventually feel a little twitch that assured me all was well. I really didn’t think anything could be wrong.
On Tuesday, March 1st, we were scheduled for a regular visit with my doctor. It was my 20-week visit. I was 20w1d. Since I had an ultrasound with the perinatologist just a week and a half prior, I was not scheduled to have a scan at this appointment. My regular OB was off on maternity leave, so I was seeing one of her partners, which I was ok with. We planned to leave the doctor and go to the baby store, then off to the airport to pick up grandma who was coming to spend two weeks. She was coming to stay with the children while we took our very first cruise (and really our first BIG adventure away from the kids! Over 13 years of marriage deserved a little getaway.). We arrived at the office about 5 minutes before our scheduled appointment time. It didn’t take long for them to call us back – all FIVE of us (including the rather large fire truck Eastyn found in the foyer that he refused to release)! It was a little exam room, but we made it work. When the doctor came in the room she probably thought we were crazy but didn’t seem to mind. I apologized for dragging all the children with us. I explained that they had wanted to hear the heartbeat and were with us to pick up grandma from the airport. We made small talk and discussed the upcoming cruise. She took out the Doppler and started searching for his heartbeat. I was certain she’d find it pretty quick but didn’t start to panic when she couldn’t immediately locate it. She mentioned that the report from the perinatologist stated that the placenta was anterior (in the front) and that may be making it harder to find. Looking back I know it was just an excuse to help soften the blow. She continued to have trouble finding it, and all I could think of was the prior week of not feeling him move. Those few minutes of searching for the heartbeat were like an old movie reel playing in fast forward through my mind as it raced through every moment, every movement, every thought of worry. Chad and Annie looked at me in my now panicked state. Their eyes showed concern as well. I could tell from the doctor’s voice that she was concerned too, and I immediately grew extremely afraid. We instructed Chad to take the other two out to the waiting room while we had an ultrasound. We’d come out to get them in a moment once we knew everything was all right. Luckily, they had no idea what was going on.
We sat in the room for what seemed like eternity. It still feels like it was at least 30 minutes. It wasn’t, but it certainly felt like it. The tech came in and led us to the ultrasound room. Her demeanor was very solemn. I think she knew what she was going to find. She put the monitor on and started looking. I quickly said, “He isn’t alive, is he?” She softly shook her head no. I remember just burying my head into Ryan’s chest and sobbing. The tech held my hand and explained that she needed to get some measurements and would then allow us to go back to the room to talk to the doctor. She apologized probably 10 times in the short 3 minutes we were with her. She did show us where his heart was and that there was no heartbeat. It still to this day brings immense tears when recalling that moment. The feelings of incredible shock and fear still haunts me and brings on some of the most intense feelings I’ve ever felt. What I wouldn’t give to go back and see that it WAS just the placenta and I really had nothing to worry about. I can’t go back, but really – sometimes I feel like I would give anything…
Upon returning to the room and visiting with the doctor, she gave us three options for delivery. Because my other three children were all delivered c-section, this would not be treated the same as others. The three options were to 1) have a D&E (which she encouraged – err! It is similar to a D&C but would be performed at an abortion clinic because I was so far along—seriously—I would not get to see him or have any physical remembrance of him. This was not an option for us personally.), 2) vaginal delivery (which could take up to 3 days because they would have to go extremely slow to avoid possible uterine rupture), or 3) a repeat c-section (with great risk of never being able to deliver another baby because of the type of incision they would have to make). She sent us home with these options and told us to call in the morning with what we had decided. We left that ugly awful terrible room with a deceased baby in my belly and all our hopes and dreams for him shattered.
We quickly gathered our worried children and headed to the van. They kept asking if something was wrong. I can’t imagine what was going through their little minds. We got to the car where both Ryan and I just completely broke. We sat in the car for a very long time and just cried. We explained to the kids what had happened. What do we do? Why was this happening? They had a whole new set of questions too. Was he really dead? Does this mean we won’t get to see him? It all seemed like a nasty nightmare that would certainly soon be over. We decided we would just drive the hour home rather than torture ourselves with a few hours in the city with nothing to do but cry. Ryan called his mom who was just getting ready to board her airplane. He told her what had happened and explained that we still needed her. Ryan then called his dad and I called my mom. We both just cried as we shared the news. Then came the long drive home. I sat there with my head in my hand and my elbow rested on the window ledge. At one point when my cries had softened, I could hear a soft cry in the backseat. I turned around and saw my sweet Annie all curled in a ball in her seat, softly crying into her hands. My heart had officially broken into a million pieces. It was then I realized it wasn’t just me with a broken heart. There was a whole team of broken hearts leaving the doctor’s office that day.
We had a visit that evening from our Bishop and one of his counselors. He gave us both a blessing that provided some needed comfort from our Heavenly Father, and we talked about our options. His counselor is an anesthesiologist and dear friend of ours. We were grateful for his loving advice as we made the decision of what to do. When he left, we knew that we would request to deliver vaginally. He explained as much as he could, or felt he was qualified to share, about each of our options and went into a little more detail about the procedures. It helped us confirm our feelings and desires. Many offered to go to the airport that night for us, but Ryan made a late night trip to collect his mom. He felt like he needed that time with her. I retreated to my bed where I don’t believe I slept even a moment the entire night. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m sure I cried for most of it.
The morning routine required we get up to send the children off to school. I remember walking around my own home like I was lost. Ryan asked me a couple times if I was going to call the doctor to tell her what we had decided, but I put it off for a couple hours. Calling her meant I was accepting the fact that I had to deliver him – NOW! Maybe if I didn’t call her his heart would start beating again and all would be well. My silly delusional antics soon let up, and I made the phone call. Her nurse informed us that when we left the previous day she had the feeling we’d choose to go that route, so they had already made all of the arrangements for us. We were to go immediately to The University of Kansas Hospital to deliver our baby boy. They requested that we arrive as soon as we could get there. It was an hour and a half away, so we quickly made the arrangements that we thought we needed to and left our home. I’m not sure Ryan and I spoke more than 5 sentences the entire drive. There was nothing to say. Normally our drives to the city involve small talk about the scenery or what adventures we were embarking on. This day the scenery was uglier than ever and the adventures were nothing that either of us cared to speak about.
When we arrived at the hospital, we found our way to labor and delivery on the 4th floor. We were met by the kindest staff I think I’ve ever encountered in a hospital. They had recently opened their brand new facility and placed us in the most secluded corner room with windows all around, far away from the rooms that might have any action during our stay. Rebecca was our first nurse. As this is a teaching hospital, there were – no kidding – about a gazillion people who came in and asked me the same exact thing repeatedly. And I cried the same exact cry – repeatedly. I remember when Rebecca came to hook me up to the monitors. I was sharing with her some of my story and she began to cry. It was the sweetest show of compassion. Her heart was truly breaking along with mine. She explained that her children were the same age as mine, and I think we are fairly close in age as well. She could sense the immense pain my heart was feeling and all she could do was cry with me. It suddenly became very real what was happening.
The doctor who was overseeing my care needed to do another sonogram to confirm the diagnosis. I just turned my head while she looked around. I did not want to see my lifeless baby again. She was so sweet and, after getting the images she needed, just said softly she was really sorry that the diagnosis had not changed. The team of doctors shared with us what the plan of action was. They would start with Cytotec pills placed near my cervix to induce labor. Since I have a scar (x3) on my uterus, the dose would be extremely low to avoid a rupture. Going too fast could cause the contractions to pop that scar open. Not what I wanted—at all! I was going through enough and didn’t need any other complications, so we were ok with going slow. A regular dose for this kind of delivery is 4 pills at a time. They started me with 1 pill. Surprising us all, I started pretty hard contractions within a couple hours. They grew concerned of me progressing too fast and the next dose was only half a pill. This stopped all progress and we were back to the start.
Rebecca, our nurse for the day, was set to leave at shift changes that night. She assured me that she would find the best nurse on duty to care for me through the night. She did an excellent job. I felt blessed to have Kristine (I believe was her name) as my nurse. She offered a sleeping pill, and I gladly took it. I was exhausted by this point and really just wanted to sleep it away. She would come in throughout the night to take my vitals but never really said anything. In the early morning before the sun came up, I quietly started asking her questions about herself. It was just the nudge she needed to begin sharing her feelings. We had a sweet talk in the dark of the morning. It is one I will remember and cherish. She may not realize it, but she touched my life that day.
A new nurse came on Thursday morning and honestly – I don’t remember her name. She was not very kind is what I do remember. She was pretty much non-existent throughout the day, which I was fine with. They tried a half pill again. When that did nothing, they went back to a full pill for the next two doses. I was so down in the dumps and felt awful. The contractions were mild and uncomfortable. All I wanted was to hold my living children a little closer, but they were over an hour’s drive away – safe with my mother-in-law. I knew this, but I still wanted to see them. We had talked about Ryan leaving to get them, but that would leave me alone in that painfully quiet room with the chance of labor progressing while he was away. A dear friend offered to bring them all to the hospital that evening. The doctors agreed to hold off my dose that evening until after they were gone.
Before they arrived, we had one of the sweetest experiences. I like to call them my “Grateful Moments.” These are quiet tender mercies reminding me of a much higher power who was watching over and protecting us. Ryan left to get some food. The dinner the hospital brought was terrible. The other meals hadn’t been “that” bad, but this one was just nasty. I wanted some good Panera Bread, and I gave him a long list of things just for me. Food seemed to be a good comforter and I was going to indulge! When he came back with the food, I saw tears in his eyes. He recounted a story of what had happened while waiting for our food. He was required to wear a badge while in the hospital that gave him permission to be there with me. It said he was a visitor in Labor and Delivery… He forgot that he had it on while ordering his food. The lady who took his order asked if his wife was having a baby. He quietly told her that our baby had died and I was delivering him. He said he didn’t know what else to say and didn’t expect anything in return. Her demeanor immediately changed. She had already charged his card by this point and handed him his receipt with a very sweet compassionate, “I’m so sorry.” He watched them preparing a meal in the back. While most of it appeared to be ours, he said they had added something to the bottom of the sack that he did not order. Once the bag was all packed, this same sweet lady brought it to him with a receipt in her hand. She explained that she just couldn’t charge him for the food and had refunded our card for the amount they charged. They had also included a whole Danish cake for us to enjoy. His story may be different, but this is what I recall him telling me. We shared some tears that evening as we recounted all of the “Grateful Moments” we had experienced in the prior few days. God had an amazing hand in our lives, and we were seeing it unfold right before our eyes.
The kids came that evening for about an hour or so. Eastyn was as busy as ever and just wanted to push all of the buttons. He loved riding the laundry hamper rolling cart around the room, and the older children helped him cruise around. If only the nurses knew what was going on in there… Annie just wanted to be close to me and Chad was okay to just chat (it’s a pre-teen thing, I’m sure). They were worried but felt better seeing me safe and in good hands. That little visit gave me the strength to carry on. I cried when they left and only wished they could stay there close to me.
Upon their leaving, the doctor came in to place another dose of Cytotec and give me a sleeping pill. At that point, the contractions really started, and I asked for more pain relief. I was authorized a Morphine pump and requested it. I did not want to feel any of it. I felt numb on the inside and wanted to be numb for the external pain as well. In the morning when the shifts changed, we were given a much nicer nurse. I believe her name was Marcie. When she drove into work that morning, she probably didn’t think about what she was going to face that day. Maybe she had personal battles she was fighting at the moment, but I was so grateful for her gentle caring nature this particular Friday in my life. I needed her. She was concerned about the slow progress I was making and said she was going to talk to the team of doctors to see what they could do. They came in to talk to me about some options to speed it up. They of course did not want to go too fast, but there were some options. The same doctor was on who had been there the first day and she recommended that they place Laminaria (sometimes known as “seaweed sticks”). I was okay with this and 4 of them were placed inside my cervix. After a few hours and upon checking, I was finally making progress and dilating. The Cytotec had thinned me out but no dilation was the concern. This was the final push I needed. By noon I was having contractions that the Morphine just couldn’t handle, and I requested an epidural. After a failed attempt by a resident, the assisting doctor placed a good line. When the doctor had checked me before the epidural, I was dilated to a 6. She said I could deliver at any time because he was so small. The anesthesiologist was the only doctor in the room with the nurse when I felt a great gush. Just as they inserted my initial dose of meds via epidural about 48 hours after my initial dose of Cytotec, he was delivered mid-afternoon. I don’t even remember the time. It is recorded in paperwork somewhere but seems so unimportant. I called to the nurse and she ran over. She called for help and the room flooded with staff. I quietly buried my head in Ryan’s chest and cried. It happened just like that – nothing spectacular. No grand entrance. No sweet cry to make the pain worth it. No soft forehead to kiss. Nothing.
They informed me that he had come out all in one fell swoop. The sac was still holding everything in, so I didn’t have to deliver the placenta. This was my first vaginal delivery, so I had no idea what to expect. They said this was the ideal way to deliver. While he was much smaller than other babies, all 11 ounces of him, it was STILL a delivery of a baby with the SAME precautions taken and risks associated. While I knew his spirit had left this earth some days prior, his body was now a reality in my life. He was a part of me. Something tangible that was evidence he was a little person with a body. Marcie asked if it was ok to take him to clean him up. She said she would let me know when he was ready and we could choose when we wanted to see him.
After the nurses cleaned me up and left the room, we began to discuss names more seriously. We had talked about them briefly in the days prior, but we hadn’t really settled on anything for sure. We knew we wanted to name him. We have a little system for naming our children, and we wanted his name to start with an I. Of all the names I had looked at or thought about, Isaac was my favorite. When I mentioned this to Ryan, he liked it too and that was that. His first name would be Isaac. But what about his middle name? The day was very gloomy with rain and thunder. I was so out of it that I said, “Let’s just name him Isaac Thunder. That way we’ll always remember what kind of day it was.” I wasn’t really thinking, you see. I just wanted a quick solution to my current predicament. I didn’t want to have to name him yet. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, so I was quite bitter, I guess you could say. Ryan was thinking a little more clearly and suggested we find a name that means thunder. He mentioned Thor, and I loved it. Isaac Thor. It just kind of fit. He was the little thunder currently shaking our lives and a little thunder we would not soon forget. His name has become a symbol of our love for him – true inspiration.
We waited about an hour to see him. I didn’t feel ready, but Ryan finally insisted that we have him brought in. He was wrapped in a crocheted bunting that was donated to the hospital. He was in one of the infant carts that all newborns are transported in. They considered him our baby just as they would any baby, and for that we were thankful. The nurse gently placed him in my arms and told us we could keep him with us as long as we wanted. He was beautiful. While his skin was still quite transparent and rubbing off in some areas, he was perfect. We counted his ten fingers and ten toes. We looked at every piece of his body and shared some of our dreams and aspirations for him. We cried and laughed. We took some pictures and tried to make the most of the time we had with him. The most heartbreaking part of the entire experience was when Ryan cradled him in his arms. He held him like he had our other children and just cried. It was at this moment that it all became real to him. He had not carried Isaac in his body. He had not felt him kick yet. He did not have that connection that I did, and now he was there. Reality was there. He was forced to face it. He did not want to let go and held him for a very long time while I closed my eyes and rested. It was more difficult for me to see Isaac this way. I had pictured him moving inside of me as a little baby, alive and well. I wanted to hold onto those memories. This moment was the only connection Ryan would have to him, and he was going to savor every moment of it. After about two hours, we finally released him back to the nurse and turned in for the night.
Our Saturday morning nurse was my Rebecca again. She admitted and released us from the hospital. We have a special bond with her to this day and are blessed to call her a dear friend. She brought Isaac to us in the morning and told us we could let him go and be released to go home at anytime we wanted to. Unfortunately, I told her I had an awful cramping pain in my lower leg, which prompted the need for an ultrasound to check for blood clots. This delayed our departure for a few hours. The nurses had put together a nice box with memories of Isaac. Included were the wrist bracelets he and I would have worn, foot and handprint cards, a bunting identical to the one he was in, and the crocheted blanket they had him wrapped in. They were all very nice and treasured memories, but my arms felt so empty. I wanted something to hold, something to fill that void. I can still feel the ache of my empty arms. Some days they ache more than others. I have not yet held a newborn infant and don’t know when I will be ready for that. I’m sure I will know when it is time. No mother should have to leave a hospital after delivering a baby with that empty feeling. It is one of the most painful heart-wrenching feelings a girl could experience. I don’t wish it upon anyone and only hope that others never have to experience such a pain.
While in the hospital, we had decided we wanted to have him cremated after his autopsy. At the time and with the limited knowledge we had, it seemed like the best choice. It was a very hasty decision. My mind was such a mushy mess. However, the week after coming home we started to feel that maybe we’d made the wrong decision. We knew that we would regret it the rest of our lives if we didn’t see if we could change our minds and get his body. It was over the weekend, so we decided to e-mail a contact we had at the hospital to find out if they had cremated him yet. We were elated to learn that he was in the morgue, and we could make arrangements to collect his body. It has been a blessing to have him buried in a place where we can visit regularly and our children can have some connection to him as well. His little place in this world is a very special place in our world.
We requested an autopsy and genetic testing be done to possibly determine the cause of death. We knew, and had been told, that there was a slim chance we would get an answer, but if we could, we wanted to find out what had happened. We also saw our primary care doctor who ordered a load of blood work, some I had never had before. The autopsy report indicated that numerous blood clots were present in the placenta, and a blood test revealed that I am a carrier of a copy of both the C677T mutation and one copy of the A1298C mutation of the MTHFR gene. While I am only a carrier and don’t actually have the defect, there are some researchers who believe this can be a cause for recurrent loss. It was ruled that he died from the blood clots in the placenta. He was perfect with no genetic abnormalities. I am grateful that we know, although sometimes I feel guilt for the fact that my body failed him. I would not have known, but it still pains me.
My heart is still healing but most days are pretty good. I can laugh and smile most of the time and have found joy in the little things again. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have bad days. It just means that the saying “time heals” really is somewhat true. I like to say that time makes it more bearable. I truly believe that every person’s time is different. Grief is a twisted process that is unique to every individual. To say that someone is taking too long to heal seems so unfair. This experience has taught me a lot about patience with others in their time of need, whether that be grief of just any old struggle in life. My needs are quite different than others, and we all need to be a little quicker to love a little more and pass less judgment. I read something somewhere at some point in the past months that said something like this – It isn’t that the pain is any less than it was the day it all happened. It’s like a person who goes to the gym to lift weights. The first time they try to lift 200 pounds it really hurts and is very painful but with time and practice they are able to carry that much weight with less (and sometimes very little) effort. It becomes easier to carry. It is still 200 pounds they are carrying, but it probably doesn’t feel like that. This grief feels the same way. The pain and heartache are still very real and weigh just as much as they did in March 2011, but I’ve been carrying it around long enough that the effects are less evident on the outside and just a little easier to bear.
Isaac’s clothes are still hanging in the closet. I see them from time to time when I go to put something away where they are hung. I have thought very often that I should donate them or something, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’m sure it is one of the things that will happen with time when I am ready. I have looked at his pictures a few times, but I find it very difficult to see him. We have been in touch with a photographer from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep who is willing to take the pictures we have and digitally edit them. She would also make a slideshow for us. I have not been able to take that step yet, but I can see it coming soon.
We love our Isaac Thor and are grateful for the brief moments we had with him on this earth. We look forward to the eternities where we will see him again. What a glorious day! He is watching over our family, and we feel lucky to have an angel among us. We are striving to make a positive experience from something that can seem so negative. We have great faith that he is ours forever and we will have the opportunity to raise him someday. Through comforting other families experiencing a similar loss, we hope to find greater healing in this process.