Mom to Harlow
Born April 2, 2012 at 28 weeks
My thoughts and hopes with telling Harlow’s birth story and continuing our journey is that we may be able to help other Angel Mommies feel like they are not alone, like they are “normal” in their thoughts, and like they can make it through. It’s also to help those in our lives feel more connected with Harlow and me, to know how truly real she was, and will continue to be so in our lives. Because we are so far from friends and family, I was unable to share my pregnancy with everyone, besides pictures. And I was deprived of sharing it during our trip home since we fell short on time. So I will share what I can of our time with her, and our memories. And in this time after…I will find my new self, as my life has changed.
Birth of an Angel:
On Sunday, as I lay on the labor and delivery bed and found out I had lost my precious baby I had been taking care of since the second I found out we were expecting…my world completely fell apart. I had never been so excited for anything in my life, and to be growing and carrying a life within me, made up of my own blood along with Jonny’s, continued to be a miracle to me within itself. I couldn’t believe that something had happened, and I didn’t even know. What? Would the cord be around her neck? They told me that we may or may not find out within the next 24-48 hours when I came back for my induction. And as I said, that night, I prayed. I read to her. We cried. And I did not really sleep.
On Monday, the 2nd of April, I woke up and began to cry before I could even function in any way. My heart ached for things to change, and as Jonny held me and I broke down all I could say was, “I don’t want to go…I don’t want them to take my baby.” I wanted to keep her safe, where she had been for the past 28 weeks. Did I keep her safe? I believe so…but my mind will play tricks on me later. Mom arrived at about 2:30 and went right to sleep; we were up early as I was getting Piper ready to bring to a friend’s house, and getting myself ready for the hardest day of my life. I went in to the girls’ room, where my mom was staying, and she asked me how I was doing…this question would start here as being difficult for me to answer truthfully. I broke down again. I didn’t know what else to do. It was time to get ready and a little before 9 we left for the hospital with the bag I had packed full of a few items for me, and a couple items for my sweet little Harlow.
As we drove in to the parking lot of the hospital, I had Mom park in the “expectant mother” parking and had a sad moment where I thought, “This will be the last time I can park here,” and my heart broke all over again. We walked in and found the 2rd floor, where we’d find my midwife waiting for my arrival. This really was the beginning of the end.
They brought us to our room at the very end of the hallway, room 210…as far away from any other babies and pregnant women as they could get us. And this is where we would stay until we left (instead of moving to postpartum like other mommies do). Here there was a dark postcard on the door with a leaf on it, and it was to make others aware of our situation and bereavement needs. This is where Patty, my midwife, introduced me to Kathy (who was in charge of the bereavement team), and we would begin speaking of our plans for Harlow. Sadly, when she began to ask questions I was ready for them. I knew what to expect and what I had to do. We would talk about how Patty told me I could get an epi or get knocked out (some people just didn’t want to be a part of this tragedy) and how I agreed to get an epi so my body didn’t need to go through any more than it needed to, just as Patty suggested after I told her I wanted to still be a part of the process, and hold her when she came. We spoke of how we’d like pictures taken of her, that we wanted to get a hold of the lady who does free hand and feet moldings for stillborn families, that we have decided to have her cremated by a local funeral home so that she could be with us always since we weren’t always going to be in the area, and I also told her my plan of what I had brought for her and how I’d like her wrapped in the blanket we had, and that I brought 2 infant cuddle bears… one that she would take pictures of and leave behind with us along with the blanket, and one that she would be taken away with. I also asked if I’d be able to go home with the typical hospital blanket all babies get… I wanted to leave with as many things to remember her and our experience by as I could. We also learned in this time that Kathy had lost a daughter…at 18. Her heart was tender and she understood how hard this would be. She was very gentle with us, and sweet, and I appreciated that she got what I was going through in some way. I already had the thoughts of wanting to join in some way to help other angel mommies.
After Kathy left with all the info needed, it was time for me to get into my hospital gown so we could start the induction, which could take anywhere from 12-48 hours since my body was not ready in any way for what we were going to force upon it. So, in to the bathroom I went to change. This was the first step towards it all. Next, they would take my blood pressure, get my IV ready (no IV,. just a prep) and Jonny and my mother left the room so that they could check me and insert a tablet-type medicine into my cervix to thin it out and start the process. And let me tell you something…I was not ready for that! It was uncomfortable and not so fun, and naturally I had to joke with my midwife about the “not so fun parts” of all this and how I didn’t know they could get that far. Lol! Ouch. And there I had to sit for the next 45 minutes without getting up.
In this time we just kind of sat around talking about who knows what. We also tried to lighten the mood as well…my mother had pointed out the elbow-length gloves in the bathroom (for when women labored in the huge tubs –that I wanted to use, but this situation changed it all) and I told her I wanted some. She just went with it, and put some in my bag for home as I joked about how it looked like they were delivering cows instead of babies in here. Right away I started feeling kind of crampy, but nothing much. Just felt like “that time of the month” at that point. And so we would wait. Patty was to check me every 4 hours, and to give me another dose. The next time she came in I hadn’t changed enough for her to even count it, so another dose was inserted and we all sat back and relaxed talking and watching some “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and other silly shows to keep our minds busy!
Time passed and after the second dose was another, and I was only a ½ of a finger tip thin (I believe you get around 4 in all). After hours, Mom suggested getting up to walk around –which didn’t really help because my body wasn’t ready for labor and certainly not active labor- and in my mind I did NOT want to walk around the dang hallway with the other expectant mothers…who would be carrying their babies home! I also didn’t want to really see babies either. But since it was a slower day, I gave in and just went to the end of the hall (a door away) and back. At the end of the hall was a huge window showing the sun shining, and the mountains of Idaho. I hated them at this moment. I hated the world. And my heart felt cold to the cruel trick nature was playing on me! Yes, it was beautiful out, but it was the darkest day my life had ever known just the same. So from then on I just walked around my room if I wanted to get up.
I had been getting uncomfortable from whatever my body was doing, and so was my back. They had started to monitor me by placing a device around my baby bump that told them of contractions. When I had let the nurse know -who was checking my blood pressure and temp from time to time- she offered up a “birthing ball” that I sat on for the next hour or so. I remember wanting Jonny to stop playing on his mini-computer and to start rubbing my back…but I didn’t dare ask. I’d just deal with it all. I knew he was keeping his mind busy so I tried not to get upset. And I got frustrated when mom kept offering up me getting the epi. No way…it was far too early, and I didn’t want it to slow my labor down to any slower than it already was. I’d take the pain. She didn’t realize that it did slow things down, and didn’t suggest it as much until I was getting way more uncomfortable. But I wanted to be in this process, and to feel what I could. In a way, maybe I wanted to feel the pain since my heart was hurting. I needed to know this was real.
During all of this I was talking to my friend Cheryl, the one person who would truly understand besides my sister-in-law, Adriane, who was checking in on me from time to time. Cheryl was keeping my friends on my forum updated –they had shut down the forum for the day to give us support…all that was posted on 4/2/12 was love for our family and caring thoughts. Amazing for people we’ve never met. Anyways, Cheryl and I chatted back and forth, I complained when I needed to and she listened. She helped and understood where she could. And my sister-in-law did the same. Having these two ladies who understood was like having an extra life-line I’m sure. I needed them because even my mother and my husband had no idea what I was going through. Thank goodness!
Any time I would get up I got super cold and shivered. And after hours and hours it started getting different. I would be hot one minute and cold the next. I was hurting but wouldn’t take anything. And then I started feeling exhausted. I was so tired from crying the entire day before, and that morning. I was unable to sleep. Then for the past 12 hours I had been dealing with constant pain in varying levels. I was starting to feel a bit worn out and I know Mom was at least tired. I think everyone was and I started thinking that maybe we should nap because we could be up all night. I asked my mom and husband, “If I sleep, will you?!?” I wanted them to be able to rest, and I knew they wouldn’t unless I was. The nurse had told me that it would take about 30 minutes for the guy doing my epi to come because he didn’t have anyone else in need of one at this time. I was wondering if I should just give in at this point…not because of the pain, but because I knew it was the only way I’d be able to sleep…and therefore the only way Mom and Jonny would sleep, too! Around then is when they had checked my temp and it was 103. They decided to keep an eye on it since I was hot and then cold and my cheeks were red even when I had the shivers. I had told the nurse that maybe within the next 30 minutes I’d have her call for the epi so we could get some sleep.
As we waited for about another hour my shivering got worse and my entire body would tense up and shake (as if the tension I already had wasn’t enough), but my face was bright red. My temperature was checked again and I was at 104.7 –that’s when Patty got in touch with a regular OB/GYN and I was told at this point I wouldn’t be able to get an epi due to my health. They wanted to make sure that I was ok. The doctor came in and told us what may happen…that this could be due to the meds, or due to my body trying to reject my baby within me now. If I didn’t get better and my temp got any higher I’d have to be brought in for a vertical c-section. There was also a risk that in doing this c-section that it may be followed by a hysterectomy because of infection and them opening me up. I knew at this time it was serious because Patty’s face changed to serious, the doctor was very concerned, and my mother and Jonny had heartbreaking looks of concern as well… I told them, “Stop! I’ll be fine… we don’t need to make a big deal out of this.” But Mom or Jonny pointed out how bright red my face was, and how my body was trembling from shivering. The first step was to start the antibiotics and the doctor broke my water as well to see if that might help the labor along. The IV and antibiotics made my arm super cold and my body just could not stop shaking, so to get me to rest they were going to call in some morphine. Since that would take a while they gave me some Nubane to hold me off. This drug would not take the pain away, but would make your mind feel like you’d “forget” about it for a little while. That “little while” of rest was about 45 minutes. As soon as the drug was in my system, I had to close my eyes because I felt kind of dizzy. For those 45 minutes I was awake but kind of out of it. I could feel my belly’s pain starting from lower and getting higher. I paid attention to it but relaxed at the same time. I remember one loud yell of a lady giving birth from someone within the L & D and pointing towards the door and saying, “Yep…I hear that one.” I knew how she felt! The pain started getting more intense and it got to the point where the drugs started to wear off and I could no longer over-look the pain of labor. They needed to get the morphine in because I was told I didn’t need to go through the hard stuff!
As I started to communicate to them that the pain was getting bad, it had been about 45-55 minutes since they were all in telling us about the c-section and checking my no progress. The fear at this time in my head was, oh my goodness, there’s no way I could go through 13 more hours like this after doing 13 of the constant pain I’d had all day. Then contractions got harder, so much so that I was trying to just breathe through them but nothing was working. I began to tear up through the pain and eventually cry…because they had said I could get an epi ,so I didn’t have to go through this. I tried so hard not to cry and hold it in but I just couldn’t. So why weren’t they helping?!? They had just gotten the morphine and put it through my IV but it needed time to kick in. Time was not on my side, I couldn’t handle the pain or the thought of doing this for hours and hours. I wasn’t prepared. And my mother and Jonny had no idea what to do. Once I started to get emotional I felt like they sat or stood there helpless…trying to get me meds since they weren’t working yet. I can only imagine how it felt for them at that time. I know they were worried. I was scared to do this for another day. The pain was too much…I kept waiting for it to kick in. But because I was a few minutes from being checked we were unsure of what my body was doing. The nurses were trying to help but it just wasn’t happening fast enough.
And in one of my strong contractions everything in my body shifted and changed…she was coming. I felt her drop down. So during the pain I was also trying to communicate that I felt like I had to push and that she had just dropped, and as my mom ran out to get Patty, I stuttered to Jonny to lower my bed from the sitting position I was in. All I could say was, “Oh my god, oh my God,” and then the pain slowed for a bit. Patty ran in and sat at the bottom of my bed and checked me. I remember asking, “Is she right there?” and her telling me, “Yes.” She was crowning. I looked over at my mother to my right just standing there with the nurse, unsure of what to do. She didn’t know if she should go or stay. I’m glad she stayed. Jonny was to my left and I was pretty calm. With the next contraction we agreed, I would push my angel out.
I did. At 11:59pm on the night of April 2nd, Harlow came out and Patty was looking down at her, but I couldn’t see her yet. “No cord?” we asked. I think she maybe wiped off her face and body a bit and then asked me, “Do you want to hold her, or do you want us to clean her off?” I told her to go ahead and clean her…and then in the same breath I decided I wanted to hold her. I wanted to see my baby, my daughter. And in that second between Patty wrapping her to her lifting her to me…I then felt the most beautiful feeling in all the world, a mother’s love. Nothing could compare that that moment I laid eyes on my baby. MY baby. Well…OUR baby. She was so much more than I had pictured. I had seen other angel baby pictures, but not really babies that were as far along as my Harlow. She looked just like a newborn, but petite. She had light hair, her eyes were slightly open, her lips were just open enough to see her little tongue on the tip of them, her fingers were long, her nose was adorable…she was perfect. She was beautiful. It didn’t matter that she had gained her wings. No one could take this moment from me. I just stared at her. And her daddy and my mom came in to see our sweet baby. After looking her over they took her to the nursery to get her washed up as they do with all babies. She was no different in that moment.
I knew at this point that it was time to give it one more push, and so I did…afterbirth. And if anyone knows me, you know I should maybe be a nurse because I’m very interested in things not all people would be. So I asked to see the placenta. Patty brought it over to me in the bowl they place them in and showed it to me…I asked how it looked and she said perfectly normal. She picked up the “sac” that it was connected to and showed me just how my baby was protected within me, and with the umbilical cord attached as well. It sounds so weird I’m sure, but to me it was amazing. It was my baby’s home within me; it’s what kept her safe. It was her lifeline… and to know that the cord was not wrapped around her just made me question what had happened to my perfect little girl.
They finally brought her back to us, wrapped in her blanket that I had brought in, with her infant bear to cuddle, and wearing a crocheted hat, gown, and booties that were hand-made by a group of ladies in the area. It was no surprise to me that she was brought back in yellow… our little sunshine as we had agreed the day before in all our hurt. She was our shining light in all the things that had been going wrong around us. Someone must have known. We were told that we could have as much time with her as we wanted. That we were on our own time…they could take her way for a little if we wanted, but that we could have her till whenever we were ready. The thing about stillborns is they’re unlike adults when they pass. They may get dry skin or color can change a bit, but they stay pliant for days.
So as we held her and looked her over…. I would put my finger under her hand and it was as if she would try to hold on. I kept waiting for her to grab hold…for her to take a breath…for her to let out her first cry. But I couldn’t cry at this time, I was in awe. Brandy was the nurse on call for our bereavement group and she was the one who took care of little Harlow. She took pictures, dressed her, and brought her in to us. She showed us what a full head of hair she had, and that when you played with it…it curled. There was no doubt that she would have had blonde curly hair and Jonny thought, “My chubby, curly, blonde haired Girl Scout,” like my picture he had looked over a million times. Next, Jonny held her and I got some pictures on my phone, then mom had a turn as well and Brandy made sure to get some pictures of us all with Harlow. We just couldn’t help but to talk about how perfect she was. I took off her bootie to inspect her long feet and we noticed that her second toe was longer than all the others…just like Jonny’s feet, and just like my mother’s. She really was perfect in every way…2 lbs, 14 ½ inches…exactly where she should have been for beginning her 28 weeks of gestation.
It was about 2am at this point and we knew we needed some sleep. They brought the “baby bed on wheels” to my bedside and Jonny laid Harlow inside it as any parents would do, so she could “sleep” beside me. I took a few more pictures as everyone began to fall asleep and I just stared at her for as long as my eyes would let me. Then I allowed myself to fall asleep, and woke up just before the nurse came in to give me my 3rd round of antibiotics at 4:30am. I had just gotten back in to bed from a bathroom trip when she walked in. I just wasn’t able to sleep, and my mom woke up as well. With Harlow by my side they checked my temp (which was back to normal), checked my blood pressure, and the nurse pushed on my stomach to make sure everything was doing ok so far. Mom and I talked for a while, and I held my baby girl. I couldn’t get enough of her perfect little hands and her perfect little fingers that so easily wrapped around my finger. My goodness, how she pulled on my heartstrings!!
Finally Jonny woke up around 6 and that’s when the day nurse had come in. We had met her the day before and as she walked in to see our little angel in my arms…she teared up. “She’s so beautiful, and so perfect,” she said as she came closer. You see, I don’t think they see many stillborns this far along. Patty had said that maybe once a year they will lose a baby, but usually it’s around 20-22 weeks or earlier. And Roxy, our day nurse, had lost a little girl of her own many years ago (and then went on to have 5 more daughters!!), so I think that this hit close to home for her. Harlow wasn’t as little as the other stillborns they usually saw. She was even more developed. She was the cutest little thing…and she really touched Roxy. Every time she came in to check on us she had tears in her eyes or cried along with us. And this day…I was much more emotional. Because I knew what this day ended with…
We ordered from hospital breakfast (not so fancy) and ate a few bites. It’s funny because for a little while, things seemed so normal. Unfortunately, within the next couple hours we would find out how far from normal we really were! But for now we held her tight. A girl had come in to take molds of Harlow’s hands and feet. She entered and commented on how beautiful she was, and was very gentle with our baby girl. What a sweet thing she was volunteering to do…a keepsake of our favorites of Harlow!
I think by this time we were just passing time and trying to take in what we could. Jonny and I started calling her our little “squishy” because as we passed her off to one another and pulled down her hat it squished up her little face a bit until we fixed it. So cute. I also read her “Ollie” as I had throughout my pregnancy just about every night. I needed this time because I would never get it back. Somewhere within this time they had told us that I’d be able to leave around lunch time, just so they could monitor my health and make sure all was well. Every time I went in to the bathroom I had wished the situation was different and I pictured myself laboring in the tub and going home with my baby in the end. As time passed I started to get more upset because I knew that our time with Harlow was getting shorter and shorter. We didn’t want to stay for days. We wanted to remember her in her perfect image as she was then. And so mom suggested that maybe we allow for them to call the funeral home so that they could come and get her soon. I waited a bit still…no need to rush it. I wanted to at least do it on my time to some extent. But, I felt everyone getting antsy and knew that it would be time to leave soon. Ugh. So with a little more time passing I let Roxy know that they could contact the funeral home soon.
As we were taking in time with Harlow, knowing our bonding would be ending far too soon, Roxy walked in and I saw other people walking behind her. I knew that this was it, and couldn’t help but to cry. Craig, the director, came in to speak to us for a bit and I had signed the papers to hand Harlow over to them. He asked for us to communicate exactly what we wanted for Harlow and what she would be sent off with. He was very sweet and informed us that this was actually quite hard for him as well and that he would take very good care of her as I requested. Roxy had brought in a sweet little white outfit that Harlow would wear when they took her away, and told me that I would be able to keep her yellow hand-made outfit she’d been wearing. She asked my mother if she wanted to change her, but she just couldn’t. I said no as well…it was just too hard to think at this point. She asked if I wanted her to be brought back so I could see her in her white outfit and I said no…because I felt that if I had seen her again I would never let her go. And at that moment, that is my one regret. I wish that I had seen her all dressed in white. That I kissed her one more time. But I didn’t. Mom held her and said goodbye. Then I held on to her and kissed her, and Jonny took her and placed her in her “rolling bed” and they wheeled her away. That was the last time I would EVER see my baby. The last time I placed her hand around my finger. The last kiss I would ever give her. The last time my eyes would take her in.
It was the most beautiful and yet cruelest day of my life. My life was changed forever. I was going home with an empty belly, and empty hands. What had we done to deserve this?!?! I hated life. I hated that everyone I knew was holding their babies. Babies were being born all around me… and yet I was the one who couldn’t go home with hers. I’d never know the feeling of that first night at home with baby, first breath, first cry, breastfeeding, changing diapers, nothing. BUT, I did know a mother’s love. And I will always hold on to that.
So after breaking down it was time to gather my things together, get changed back into my normal clothes, and walk out those hospital doors empty on the inside and out. I remember being wheeled down to the doors and thanking Roxy for everything. We grabbed a couple sandwiches for home and walked out into the world. The world that was still perfectly functioning as it always did… while our world was falling apart. It was the hardest day of my life…and yet I wouldn’t change a second of it (besides the outcome, of course). I really wouldn’t and I want everyone to know that. I wouldn’t take back a second of my pregnancy, or the pain of labor, or the heartache I will carry for the rest of my life… because it gave me Harlow. It gave us our angel baby… our perfect little angel baby. And for that, I am eternally thankful.
Jennifer blogs at http://www.babyrocketfield.blogspot.com.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.