Mom to River Angel Marshall
Stillborn April 8, 2012
Smith Falls, Ontario, Canada
There is Grief and there is Gratitude.
Life can be so very cruel on occasion. I could list a dozen examples, heck, if I really tried I could probably list a hundred. What would be the point?
My personal tragedy isn’t unique to me, although my experience of it, and how I react to it and how it has changed me is unique.
After months of trying to get pregnant, Jason and I came to terms with the fact that we were unable to conceive without assistance. We contemplated seeking fertility treatments, but in the end we decided that was not the best option for us. We had a few reasons for coming to that decision; mainly there was a financial consideration, and secondarily was the concern about how hormone treatments might affect my already fragile emotional state, given that I suffer from anxiety disorder and depression.
Imagine our surprise when a few months later we found out that we had conceived without any assistance. We were thrilled. We were going to have a family, after all. It was as much of a miracle as we ever thought we would be blessed with and we were extremely grateful for it.
Throughout the pregnancy, I had fears and doubts. At first, I didn’t trust the three positive pregnancy tests. Once my OB confirmed the results, I started to worry that something would go wrong. I constantly worried that I would do something, eat something, drink something, consume something, come into contact with something that would harm the baby. Before every pre-natal appointment I would ask Jason, “What if there’s no heart beat?”
Despite all my fears and doubts, the pregnancy was fine, the baby was fine, everything was fine.
I finally relaxed and accepted that this was actually happening. We were going to have a baby. I was excited and anxious.
We received baby furnishings, clothing, blankets and toys as gifts from friends and family. We set up a crib in our nursery and a bassinet in our room. We went through boxes of tiny little shirts and pants and sleepers and socks and exclaimed over how adorable it all was. We discussed our parenting values and how we planned to raise our child. We read lists of names, and disagreed on our preferences, and eventually came to a compromise.
On March 26, we had our second trimester ultrasound scan, and I again worried that some physical issue would be discovered with the baby. When I found out that I had an incompetent cervix, I didn’t worry one bit because I had previously read about the condition in one of my pregnancy books and I knew the treatment was to stitch the cervix closed to reinforce it until the end of the pregnancy. It was going to be a simple fix.
I was rushed to the hospital in Kingston by ambulance, and the labour and delivery team there explained that the situation was far more serious than I had imagined, and that the surgery was not guaranteed to be successful. I signed the release and had the surgery and everything seemed to have gone well. The membranes didn’t rupture, the baby was not in any distress; I was sent home and told to take it easy.
I took it easy, but I was not specifically told to be on bed rest when I was sent home. I didn’t run around, but I also didn’t stay put.
A week later, I went to the hospital for a follow up ultrasound, and as I got out of the car, my membranes ruptured. I was again rushed to the hospital in Kingston by ambulance. The labour and delivery team explained the dangers of pre-term labour, and that infection was another concern. I was admitted to the hospital and would be staying there until delivery.
Another week passed, I stayed in bed much of the time, I was treated with prophylactic antibiotics, and the baby’s vital signs were monitored and were strong and healthy. We were optimistic that we would make it to 34 weeks gestation and be induced on June 17, 2012. On Easter Sunday, April 8, I was going to have a steroid injection that would help the baby’s lungs to develop. During breakfast, the baby’s heart rate was elevated. The nurse returned after breakfast to take the baby’s vitals again, and the heart rate was still elevated.
We were moved to a labour room and hooked up to a continuous fetal heart rate monitor. The baby’s heart rate remained elevated, and the doctors told us that we might have to induce immediately since it appeared that an infection was causing the baby distress. And then, the baby’s heart rate decelerated into the normal range and we thought for sure that everything was fine and this had just been a blip. And then, suddenly the baby’s heart rate fell, and continued to fall, and then it stopped.
I was rushed into surgery, and an emergency C-Section was performed, and the Neo-Natal team attempted to revive the baby – a daughter.
She didn’t survive.
We named her River Angel Marshall.
We don’t know why we lost her. Was it because I worried too much in the early months? Was it because I had terrible allergies, and I took medications to relieve the symptoms? Was it because we opted for the cervical cerclage? Was it because I didn’t go on full bed rest after the surgery? Was it something else entirely that we haven’t even considered?
They asked us if we wanted to have an autopsy, but I couldn’t bear the idea of putting her little body through additional trauma.
I’ve recently written a post exploring the idea of fairness, or rather unfairness, because the truth is that Real Life is Not Fair. It isn’t meant to be fair; and when we expect it to be fair, we can only be disappointed. Rationally, I know that I should choose to accept the fact that life is not fair and move on.
Grief is not rational.
Grief wants to know why, when we had accepted that we would not have children and had found a way to be happy in that life, did God – or mother nature or fate or the Universe or whoever or whatever – bless us with a miracle pregnancy, and then abandon us halfway through. We had achieved acceptance; why rock the boat? Why taunt us with our dream and then snatch it away?
Grief is demanding of answers, grief screams its discontent to the heavens and waits for a response that will never come. Grief wants someone to blame, someone to punish, someone to claw at and tear through. Grief wants many things and cannot have any of them.
Thankfully, grief does not come to us alone, but brings an equal and opposite twin: gratitude.
Gratitude may not be rational either.
Gratitude doesn’t need to know why. Gratitude reminds us that we were blessed with a pregnancy when we thought we would never be pregnant. Gratitude reminds us that we were blessed with five months with our daughter, five hopeful months when we shared tenderness and love for her and nurtured her. Gratitude reminds us that we gazed at her darling face, and held her tiny perfect body in our arms, and bonded with her in a loving atmosphere for two days. Gratitude reminds us of everyone in our family who also gazed at her, and held her, and bonded with her; and all those who couldn’t meet her but who loved her.
Gratitude is what saves us from blaming ourselves when grief cannot find anyone else to blame. Gratitude is what prevents us from punishing ourselves, from clawing at our own skin and tearing through our own chests to expose our breaking hearts. Gratitude wants nothing but to envelop us in a protective embrace and allow us to work through the hurt and the pain and the anguish without destroying ourselves.
Erin blogs at http://survivingriver.me.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.