Mom to an early miscarriage (2005)
Sky Gabriel, stillborn December 14, 2011

Portland, Oregon

Sky Gabriel was born still on December 14, 2011, 2 days before his due date. This is his story, or, more accurately, our story of his life and death. I’m sharing this story because it is so very important to me that Sky be remembered. I hope hearing his story is as encouraging and healing for you as sharing it is for me.

I’ve been married to Sky’s awesome daddy since 2004. We caught baby fever after an unplanned pregnancy and very early miscarriage in 2005, and patiently (oh, who are we kidding –impatiently) waited to try to conceive again until early 2011. My positive pregnancy test showed up one month early – we planned to start trying to conceive in April, and got pregnant in March, with a due date right in the middle of Joel’s finals from nursing school. Oops.

When I was about 10 weeks along, little baby-in-utero was informally christened “Zesty,” in a conversation that went kinda like this:

[family friend]: M, did you know that Lani has a little baby in her tummy? Do you think it will be a girl or a boy?
M (4yo): A boy!
Joel: And what should we name the boy?

So, from then on he was Zesty, to the point that his baby shower was citrus-themed.

It’s so comforting to think of all the happy experiences of his life in utero. He was surrounded by music and laughter every day; he never heard his parents yell or snap at each other; he must have memorized Vivaldi’s Gloria – the choir Joel and I direct performed this fall. Purring kitties napped on my lap almost every day. My brother had affectionately nicknamed him “Spud,” and little Zesty-Spud-Sky had dozens of people fighting for babysitting rights: our housemates, teenagers from the youth theater program that we direct, family (he was the first grandchild), church friends, classmates…he was such a widely and eagerly anticipated baby!

Joel had been trying to hear Sky’s heartbeat with his stethoscope every few days, and on Sunday the 11th he was finally able to catch 8 precious beats. I’ll never forget the surprise and joy on his face; that was the last moment we know for sure that Sky was alive.

Monday, December 13th  was a busy, busy day! Braxton-Hicks contractions were coming regularly, and I looked forward to the next week with anticipation! I thought I felt him once or twice that day, but on Tuesday I didn’t feel him at all. I was determined not to freak out too much, but by Tuesday night I was worried.

We had been at Joel’s office Christmas party that evening, and when we got home at about 9:30pm I did a kick count and texted my head midwife, Kori. I was unsure after the kick count (there were some strange feelings), so she told us to meet her at the birth center.

11:30pm. Shivering with cold and nerves, we hustled into the dark birth center with two sleepy midwives and strapped on the fetal monitor. No heartbeat. Kori switched to the Doppler, and in the space of 45 seconds her expression changed from concerned, to shocked, to panicked as she found my heartbeat (racing fast enough to be confused with baby’s), but never his. Grasping my clammy hands, she looked in my eyes and said, “Lani, I can’t find his heartbeat. We’re going to need to go to the hospital for and ultrasound, and I don’t think your baby’s ok.”

They offered to drive us the few miles to Emanuel Hospital but we declined. I was too shocked to do or think much, and on the interminably long, five minute drive to the hospital I asked Joel over and over, “It could still be ok, right? He could still be fine. This is just a bad scare.” He agreed, and I allowed myself to live in a daydream of years in the future, when we would look back on that night with relief and fond memory of the trials of uncertainty that first time parents go through.

We met the midwives at the hospital and were immediately admitted into labor and delivery by our sweet nurse, Heather. She ushered us into an out of the way room with no bed; my midwives set about finding me a bed while I numbly stared at the fuss, wondering why on earth I needed a bed. We weren’t going to stay here, right?

The bed was soon procured, and the night obstetrician, a gentle, soft spoken man, set up the ultrasound. He asked several preliminary questions – when we last felt him, what his heartbeat had been, and performed the ultrasound. He studied it for maybe 30 seconds, looked at us, and said, “I’m sorry. Your child has died.” Our composure was crushed; one awful sob was torn from my throat (there’s truly no other way to say it) and we wept for a lifetime of agony compressed into one, maybe two minutes.

I don’t know when I realized that the world had not stopped, that machines were still beeping and clocks ticking and the doctor blinking and my heart beating, but when I did I started shaking uncontrollably. The crushing, suffocating realization that I was still physically one with my dead child terrified me, and without opening my eyes, I asked, “What do we do now?”

The next few hours are a blur. I know that they took my blood pressure and it was extremely high – 190/110 – and this sent the doctors and nurses into a tizzy over preeclampsia. I knew I didn’t have preeclampsia. I told them I didn’t have preeclampsia, that I was just in shock. They drew blood for a battery of tests, my 3 midwives were making plans in the corner, my head was pounding and my eyes were dry and hot and my shaking body was rustling the sheets, my husband was crying and giving my longish medical history to Heather, who had shiny black hair and a kind face. A confusing blur of lights and faces and needles as the wee morning hours ticked off. A hostile ultrasound tech with an Eastern European accent performed a long ultrasound, taking many measurements as my midwives eyed her askance like 3 mother lions. I didn’t want to see the screen; I looked in my husband’s red eyes instead.

We were given the customary options of going home and waiting for labor or inducing that night in the hospital. The doctor encouraged us to induce because of my blood pressure, but they were respectful of our choices. I couldn’t fathom the thought of going home. After consulting with my midwives, we chose to induce. I had been having regular contractions for a week and was so hopeful that I might already be in early labor, but the exam revealed that I was soft, closed, 60% effaced and -2 station. The nurse and my midwives projected that I probably had 48 hours of induced labor ahead. 48 hours. I remember clutching at Joel’s arm, and telling him very calmly that I was terrified, that I was afraid of all these interventions and afraid of birth and afraid of this death inside me and afraid I was going to die. I told him that I could handle physical pain, but I couldn’t cope with the fullness of both physical and emotional pain at the same time and needed something – I didn’t know what – to help with either or both. He promised that he would take care of me and make sure I had what I needed to get through. (I should insert here – he had just graduated from nursing school and is a natural birth advocate, so putting my medical situation in his hands was the most natural thing in the world.)

At 3 am I received a vaginal dose of misoprostol, IV sedatives, and Joel crawled into the narrow hospital bed with me to try to sleep.

We slept off and on until sometime around 7am, when Joel started to call family, work, and housemates. Throughout the morning he had to repeat our awful news, over and over, many times.

I was already starting to have strong contractions around this point but didn’t realize it at the time. I had taken my hair tie out and spent the entire day twisting and fiddling with it in my left hand, never losing track. (They say you’re supposed to bring something to focus on during labor…i suppose a hair tie is as good as anything.) They brought oatmeal, but I didn’t have any. Bekah (my sister-in-law) arrived with our birth center bags, Starbucks, and a big hug. I was only on very low doses of Ativan and Dilaudid, but by 9am I was almost completely out – sleeping between most contractions and hardly aware of anything outside myself during the contractions. I think my body was in total shock and knew that my mind needed to shut down to get through it – I was on so little medication that I can’t think of any other explanation.

I received my second dose of misoprostol orally at 9am, and labored throughout the morning as family and close friends came and left, holding my hands, crying, talking to Joel. I was always holding hands – Joel’s, Bekah’s, my parents’, midwives’, others…I remember being startled at the changing hand sizes.

Despite the agony of that day, there were humorous moments. My oxygen levels dipped as I slept between contractions and Joel would patiently hold an oxygen mask over my face. Every time I woke up for a contraction I would bat the mask away, and ask what it was. Joel would wait until I finished the contraction, start to tell me, and before he finished I would fall asleep again. Every 3 minutes for 2 hours. And, for the 2 seconds at a time that I was lucid, I couldn’t understand why the whole room was giggling at me!

At 1:30pm I had received no pitocin and only two doses of misoprostol, so Joel asked the doctor to check me again and administer more miso if needed. The doctor checked me and was shocked to find that I was fully dilated 10 hours after the induction began.

Sometime around this point the doctor tried to break my waters but was unable to, either because they’d already broken or because the baby’s head was “corking” them too much. We never quite figured out what happened there, but circumstances led us to assume the latter.

I started pushing halfheartedly at about 1:30, but didn’t start to put much effort in until 2:30. I remember how the contractions and pushing felt, but I don’t remember anything about how I reacted. People tell me i whispered, “Ow, ow, ow,” and looked in Joel’s eyes during the contractions, but I wish I could remember this part. The switch on my analytical brain was flipped so solidly off by this point that I only really remember the hands holding mine, the sensations in my body, and Joel’s voice repeating, “You can do this. You’re so strong.”

I came back into full consciousness in the last hour of pushing, and my baby’s little body slipped out of mine at 4:10pm, approximately 18-24 hours after he died, less than 13 hours after my first dose of misoprostol. There was no first, plaintive wail. No resuscitating. No Apgar score. No birth certificate. His very long umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice, twisted all about his body and inserted into the membranous sac instead of the placenta. These complications almost certainly caused his death.

The nurse wrapped him in a blanket and placed him in my arms. I was too shocked to cry. My entire pregnancy I had a hard time believing that I was actually having a baby, a sweet small sum of Joel’s and my genes, with an entirely new and unique spirit. And here he was, real, perfect…and gone. I remember being so frustrated at the tears blurring my view of his beautiful body and face. I didn’t want to cry; I wanted to see him!

We named him Sky Gabriel. He was 7lbs, 5.5oz, 20in long, had his daddy’s high cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, and his mama’s turned up nose and long eyes.

My parents, brother and sister-in-law, our housemates, and a few close friends came, held him, and cried. We took pictures. The people from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep took pictures. The hospital took hand and foot casts. We chose not to have an autopsy because the cause of death was fairly obvious and I wanted to keep his little body close as long as possible. We hugged him, cried, kissed his cool face. That night I carefully arranged his body in a bassinet, and we slept in the little hospital bed next to him, waking to touch him and talk to him and hold his icy hands.

The next day we were discharged from the hospital at around 11:30am, and took him to the funeral home. We held him until the very last minute we could, and when I finally gave him to the lady at the funeral home, she was crying.
And we drove home without our baby.

Lani blogs at

You can contact her at

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  1. Lani, I am so sorry for the loss of Sky. I have also had an early miscarriage and a stillbirth. I have said a prayer for you that God would comfort you, and that you would hold your baby again one day in heaven.

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