Mom to Carpenter

Born to Heaven February 19, 2011 at 23 weeks 6 days

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

In 2008, I was at a crossroads.  Continue dating a person everyone (including myself) knew I shouldn’t be with, or be alone in what seemed to be a couples-only world.  A night of crying and drinking with my best friend cemented it for me…  But I have never been a solo kind of person.  So, I vowed that day that I would find my future husband in the next man I met.  So, I signed up for eHarmony, met Mike, went on a date and started talking about marriage–all within about a month of my vow.  11 months later, we were engaged.  11 months after that, married.  And just 5 days after our one year anniversary, our daughter was born. 

So, it should come as no surprise that a couple of crazy kids like us would be all gung-ho about having another child right away.  It made perfect sense–my sister-in-law was pregnant, so we could get through together.  I was already staying at home with my daughter–I could get back to work sooner if our kids started school around the same time.  So, twelve weeks after I gave birth to my daughter, I got pregnant.

Now Mike is an equal opportunist, but every baseball-loving, shotgun-toting, carpenter-by-trade wants a boy to teach “boy things.”  Luckily, in January we discovered my husband would have an heir.  We had decided before we even started trying what the name would be.  John Carpenter Vorys II, named for Mike’s grandfather.  Of course, he was a carpenter.  So are both our dads.  And my brother.  And Mike.  So, it was perfectly appropriate, even if everyone thought it was strange.    My priest had asked us to set up a party for Mardi Gras in the church basement.  We’re party-planners for generations back, so that’s what we did.  My sister-in-law and I handled it since my mom was out of town.  She was 27 weeks pregnant.  I was one day shy of 24.  We worked quickly to get out before dinner was served and instead snuck out to have dinner with our family and friends.  During dinner I was freezing and kept asking people if I had a fever.  Of course, in my true strange fashion, I’m always freezing when I’m pregnant, so everyone easily brushed it off.

After chattering my way through dinner, we went back to the church to clean up after the party.  We were practically running to get everything loaded up while partygoers were still willing to help.  As I hurried back in from my car to grab more, I tripped in the dark.  A friend, Mandy, spotted me as I stumbled four steps before finally falling flat on my pregnant belly onto the blacktop.  Mandy panicked and helped me up, but I didn’t seem hurt and we laughed about it after a few minutes.  The way I stumbled, I was very low to the ground before I fell.

Of course, my sister-in-law/best friend, Nicole, panicked.  She demanded I go tell Mike immediately, so we headed back to her house and let him know.  Since I only seemed concerned about freezing to death, he wasn’t worried.  But I was freezing to death.  When we hopped in the car for our hour-drive home, we cranked the heat to 90 degrees and I snuggled in a blanket.

When we finally got home, Mike put our daughter to bed while I piled on warm clothes and hopped in bed shivering.  He checked my temperature–103.  (Pick up sleeping baby…jump in car in my jammies…heat back on 90.)  We rushed to the emergency room and they sent me straight up to labor and delivery triage.  The nurses there stripped me down, covered me in heated blankets and hooked me to the fetal heart rate monitor.  I’ve never been so nervous in my life, but there’s not a lot of room for panic when you still have to deal with an exhausted infant.

We waited forever for a nurse to come in.  Jessica was a kind person and tried to help me calm down.  However, it’s hard to calm down when she continually tells me she can never get those machines to work properly.  (Why do hospitals never have the best OBGYN equipment?)  So she found my heartbeat.  Not Carpenter’s.  Nurse #2 (who I dislike to the point of blocking out her name) said my heart rate was high from my fever and it was almost exactly the same as my son.  That’s why they couldn’t hear it well, but it was there.  She sent for the ultrasound machine.  When it arrived, it was accompanied by a doctor.  She tried to ease my stress and tell me I would be fine.  Then she turned on the machine.  I could barely see it from my angle, but I knew what I was looking at.  I’d done this baby thing before.  But she didn’t say anything.  Another doctor said nothing.  I knew.  I knew from the very beginning.  I could plainly see what was on the ultrasound.  I said, “He’s not moving.”  No one spoke.  I repeated myself.  Then I yelled.  “Why is no one answering me?”  The doctor just took my hand and said, “I’m sorry.”

Mike and I both freaked out.  Someone must have taken our daughter out of the room.  I just kept screaming, “I’m sorry,” and he said, “It’s not your fault.”  I knew this rationally, but what else was I supposed to say?  We started frantically calling everyone, starting with Nicole and my brother.  They jumped in the car to come watch our daughter for us.  I tried to call my parents who were out west for the week.  I called my dad’s cell.  I called my mom’s.  I called the hotel and accidentally got disconnected.  I called again and ripped the guy’s head off.  Apparently Nicole called my cousin who called her dad who called my mom, and that’s how they found out.  I have no idea what I said to anyone.  What can you say?

They took me back to a delivery room, explaining all the way that even though it would be an induction, this would be a completely pain-free process…Okay? It wasn’t until we got into the room (which was exactly like the one we delivered my daughter in) that I understood.  I was going to have to deliver a dead baby.  I panicked.  I screamed.  I told them all NO.  But there was no other option.

I told them I live in fear of needles, so they brought in their best IV girl.  Perhaps she was drunk…or her title was completely undeserved.  I’ve never had so much pain from an IV.  To distract myself, I began asking the gaggle of nurses around me what their best baby-name stories were.  Apparently there’s a child out there somewhere named Meconium.  Mike sat on the couch talking to the doctor.  I was so glad that he wasn’t getting lost in the shuffle.

My family came.  They camped out in my room for what seemed like days, trying to help make this process easier by treating it just like every other delivery in our family.  We cried.  We laughed.  We took pictures.  I told my sister it was just like normal, except instead of saying hello we were saying goodbye.  I was in a special part of the delivery floor…reserved for the sad mothers.  I’ll never forget listening to the mother next to me sobbing.  I’m sure she couldn’t understand all the kids running around my room and the loud chatter.  I hope we didn’t make her story worse.

My favorite nurse, Jen, was with us all day.  She was in charge of explaining the whole process to me.  Of course I understood the delivery and recovery.  She was there to help me with our plans for our son.  She showed me little gowns and hats and explained that if I wanted, the delivery nurse would take photos of him.  I thought this was strange, but she assured me it’s what I would want.  Jen gave me a whole box of items.  Then she helped me call funeral homes.  If you’ve never had to buy an urn for a baby, they are obscenely expensive.  I actually loved the planning process.  It was the one part of this nightmare I had some control over.

My parents arrived at about 7pm on Saturday.  We talked for a while before the doctor came to check my cervix.   While Mike and my parents stood in the hallway, the doctor (the same one who delivered my daughter) examined me.  He leaned back to the nurse, Hayley, and said, “Let’s get Dad in here.”  She grabbed Mike and he sat down beside me.  I couldn’t feel anything, but I know Mike was watching.  Within a minute of Mike sitting down, my water broke.  I panicked, demanding I wasn’t ready, but seconds later Carpenter was born.   No crying.  No sound.  Just silence.  And then Mike’s sobs broke through.  I just sat there, holding him, not sure what to do.

I asked Hayley to clean him up before I saw him.  I was scared to death.  But she washed him a little and wrapped him in a blankie, then gave us a moment alone.  I don’t know how long we held him, pulling back the blanket to peek at his cute little body.  Hayley came back in with a camera and dressed Carpenter in the little gown and hat.  She posed him with his teddy bear and the rosary my parents bought him.  I was exhausted, but just before I fell asleep I told Mike to get pictures of his feet.

When I woke up, he was still in the bassinet, right next to my bed.  They wanted to move us to a recovery room, so I got up and ready.  We rolled down the hall to a part of the hospital I’d never seen.  We were put in the gynecological surgery recovery, along with hysterectomies and the like.  They put a sign on our door–a single Ginkgo leaf with a teardrop–that signaled to people that we were in mourning.  Thank goodness for that.

My family came in again which was a welcome change from my short naps interrupted by hysterics.  I couldn’t sleep.  I just went from panicking to staring lovingly at our son.  We were allowed to keep him with us as long as we wanted, so we had him baptized in the hospital.  It was a gorgeous ceremony and my niece sat on my lap as I cried.  She was only 4, but she kept wanting to see him.  Even now she mentions him almost daily.

Eventually we were left alone, just me, Mike, my brother and Carpenter, and we sat around talking.  My brother has such a kind heart and a soft spot for kids.  He’s such a tough guy, though, such a comfort to have with us.  The funeral home director came in.  She talked to all of us about how she would take care of our little boy and she helped us trust her.  We didn’t realize until she was done talking that this was it.  She was taking our son away and we would never see him again.  The panic set in again, but we pulled it together to say one last goodbye.  She left him tucked in his bassinet and wheeled him out of our room.

That was the last time I saw my son in person.  Every day I see his pictures.  Every day we talk about him.  My family talks about him.  My niece tells me she knows what he’s doing in heaven, which is mostly hide-and-seek with my grandmother.  And I try my best to find new ways to keep memories of his short life around me all the time.  Because 24 weeks wasn’t enough.  24 weeks is not the end of the story.

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  1. I’m so sorry for your loss, mama. My daughter was stillborn at 38 weeks. We live pretty close to each other!

  2. Hi Molly! Feel free to email me sometime if you want to talk! Annie.vorys@gmail.

  3. Beautifully written Annie. I felt the same way about planning our son’s service. I’m so sorry for your loss of John Carpenter.

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