Mom to Jonah Bentley Willis
Born still February 1, 2012
Harper Bailey Willis
October 18, 2012 – October 19, 2012
I was 26 weeks and 4 days pregnant with my first child. My husband, Aaron, had been out of town for a National Sales Convention for work. I went to Dr. Bruhn on Tuesday, January 24 for my scheduled appointment. This was the only appointment that Aaron had not been able to make so Sarah, my twin sister, went with me. At this appointment I had to do the whole glucose tolerance test thing and I was thrilled when the nurse told me that my blood sugar levels and hemoglobin were both perfect. Dr. Bruhn got out her hand-held Doppler and listened to Jonah’s heart beat at 150 beats per minute. She assured me that everything looked great and she would see me back in four weeks.
After this appointment, the rest of the week I kept thinking that it was strange that I had not felt Jonah move since Tuesday, or was it Monday? I couldn’t remember the last time that I felt him move and that was bothering me. Aaron came home on Thursday and I told him that I had not felt Jonah move. He assured me that he was probably fine and I was just trying too hard to feel him move. I figured Aaron was right and I tried to push the thought to the side. Well, by Sunday I could not push it away any longer. That afternoon, while getting all of our documents together so we could get our taxes done, I decided I would drink a Supernova Mountain Dew. I do not normally drink regular drinks, especially not Mountain Dew because it is loaded with calories, sugar, caffeine and I would rather eat my calories in chocolate than drink them! But, I figured this drink would definitely make Jonah move so I drank the whole thing. And there was nothing. I remember going to church that night where we were having a “Fifth Sunday Night Sing” and all I could think about was why hadn’t Jonah moved. I remember feeling mad and angry but not really knowing why. I sat with my hand on my stomach the entire church service. After church on Sunday nights, Aaron and I always go to Wal-Mart and get our groceries for the week. While there, I bought a fetal heart monitor, even though I thought it was ridiculous that it was about $25…but the price didn’t matter if I could get some sort of peace-of-mind. When we got home, I and Aaron and Ruby (our Weimaraner and baby girl!) piled-up on the couch with the fetal heart monitor. It had two sets of ear buds so Aaron and I could both listen at the same time. I searched and searched but I figured I was either missing Jonah’s heartbeat or I didn’t know what I was doing. We listened for my heartbeat, Aaron’s heartbeat and even Ruby’s and we heard everyone’s, but I just could not get Jonah’s to pick up. I finally got so frustrated and gave up and we all went to bed.
The next morning I went to work and I emailed my Aunt Debbie, who is the head of OB at the hospital in town. When I didn’t hear back from her a couple of hours later I decided I would just call her. I went downstairs to my friend’s office so that no one would hear me and get in my business; after all, I was probably just being a worrywart. Amanda let me use her phone and pretty soon I was explaining everything to my Aunt Debbie, fighting back a lump in my throat that just appeared out of nowhere. We decided that I would stop by the hospital when I left for lunch and Aunt Debbie would try to see if she could hear Jonah’s heartbeat. My boss said for me to take as much time as I needed and I called Aaron and told him that I would call him as soon as I was done so he would feel better as well.
When I got there, Aunt Debbie took me into a room and used a big monitor to try and hear the heartbeat. After it didn’t work for her she went and got the hand-held Doppler, saying it usually worked better for her than the big monitor anyways. While she was running it all over my stomach, I couldn’t stop the tears anymore. Dr. Bruhn had never had a problem finding Jonah’s heartbeat so why couldn’t we find it now? I just knew, deep down, that something was not right. Aunt Debbie told me to stop crying, that everything was fine and then she stepped out of the room for a moment. When she came back in, she brought a midwife in with the older ultrasound machine that they use on the OB floor. The midwife began searching for the heartbeat with the ultrasound and told me that there was no fluttering of the heart on the machine. She wanted to admit me and have someone from Radiology to come and do a more high-tech ultrasound. By now I was crying, I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Aunt Debbie called Aaron to tell him that he needed to come to the hospital. When Aaron got there he busted out crying and asked me what was going on, what had happened…By the time I told him that they couldn’t find Jonah’s heartbeat, the lady from Radiology was there, ready to do an ultrasound. She looked for several minutes and took pictures, only to turn her head towards my Aunt Debbie and shake her head. I just fell apart right then because I was so confused, so hurt and just so shocked that at one minute everything was fine, and the next minute my whole world was upside down. Several of our family members and a couple close friends stopped by in the next 30 minutes that followed to cry with us and to show us that they care. Ultimately, we decided that we wanted to go see Dr. Bruhn, my regular doctor, because I was still going to have to deliver my Jonah…just because he was gone didn’t mean that it was all over right then.
We stopped by our house to let Ruby out and to pack a bag just in case we needed it and then we headed to Thomasville to Dr. Bruhn’s office, who knew we were on our way. Once there, Dr. Bruhn explained what had to happen and we decided that we wanted to do everything as soon as possible, so as not to drag everything out. Dr. Bruhn pulled some strings so that I could still get an epidural even though I had not had the chance to sign up for one yet and it was decided that I would come back the next morning at 7:30 am to the hospital in Thomasville and I would be induced. We left and decided we were hungry and we wanted to just go sit somewhere and eat and talk, by ourselves. We went to Longhorn’s and we just sat there and ate in disbelief. Once we were finished, we went home to our Ruby and then family members trickled in to check on us until it was time to go to bed and get prepared for what the next day would hold.
On Tuesday, January 31, Aaron and I arrived at Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville at 7:50am, 20 minutes late. We are late for everything, so why not on one of the worst days of our lives, too? We went to registration where, FYI: the people checking you in know nothing about your story. The lady that was getting me registered asked me if this was my first child and I said yes, as tears started to well up in my eyes and stream down my face. She assured me that there was nothing to worry about and she kept on until Aaron had to tell her the awful truth that surrounded why I was checking in to be induced that day. I knew that she didn’t know but it still hurt…They loaded me into a wheel chair and took me to Labor and Delivery, with Aaron walking behind us the whole way. I fought back tears that whole ride and I remember thinking that none of these people that I was passing knew why I was there, none of them knew that I was being shuffled off to give birth to my son whose heart was no longer beating, none of these people knew that in a couple days I would be burying my baby.
Dr. Bruhn came in and did one more ultrasound, at my request, just to make sure that nothing had changed…and much to my dismay, nothing had changed. My nurse was a lady named Laura and she was so nice. I got into my hospital gown, with Aaron’s help, and once I got in the bed, Laura came and put my IV in. I don’t know why, but I thought that everything would go smoothly, seeing as how my child was taken away from me, but I was wrong. It took Laura three tries to get the IV started, but it was not her fault. I had not eaten since 5:30pm the day before and even though my veins were very visible, it took three times. Once we got everything situated, Dr. Bruhn came in at 9am to give me four Cytotec vaginally…and yeah, you read that right…extremely uncomfortable is all I will say. The Cytotec was what was going to induce my labor. So then we just waited. Aaron’s and my whole families were there all day, coming in and out of the room and the waiting room area to check on us and show their love and concern. My back started to hurt and I was cramping and just uncomfortable. At 3pm Dr. Bruhn checked me and I was only 1cm. dilated. So, she gave me some more Cytotec vaginally. She also said I could have some Stadall (sp?) to help with some of the pain. After reassuring me that it would wear off after a couple of hours, I decided that I wanted some. I just did not want to miss a thing, especially since I would only have so much time to hold and see Jonah, as opposed to the rest of his life. At 9pm, Dr. Bruhn checked me and I was around 2cm. dilated, but I was hurting pretty bad. They told me that I could get my epidural and it would probably help to relax me and speed things up so I agreed that it was time for that. Dr. Beason came up and did the epidural. Aaron let me squeeze his hands as hard as I could the whole time, and he was the absolute best partner ever to have while getting an epidural. My nurse Laura came and said goodbye and introduced us to our new nurse for the night, Heather. Then we waited some more…Dr. Bruhn came in and checked me around 3am, I was still 2cm and she gave me some more Cytotec vaginally. I remember falling asleep and waking up around 5am or so. I was sweating and burning up and I was so uncomfortable. My right side and right side of my back was hurting so bad. I felt like I was going to be sick and Aaron moved the trashcan near to the side of the bed for me, but I hadn’t eaten in awhile so it was just me, dry-heaving. I got Aaron to call the nurse because I told him that I needed Dr. Bruhn, that I just could not do this anymore. The nurse kind of acted like I was just a put-on and after gathering all of the trash in the room (!) she decided she would go call Dr. Bruhn. Dr. Bruhn came in around 5:40am and checked me and I was 10cm. dilated! She looked at me and said she needed me to push. I was so shocked and scared that the moment was finally here.
Jonah was breech and we knew that from the beginning. I didn’t have to push for too long and once I knew Jonah was out, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Babies were supposed to be crying once they entered the world, but in our room there was no sound at all. I was so scared of what he might look like and I was so completely crushed that my baby boy was gone. The nurse got Jonah bundled up in a blanket and handed him to me and Aaron. We held him and we just cried. Jonah was born at 5:54am on February 1, 2012. We told Dr. Bruhn to please tell our families in the waiting area that we had him but we did not want them to remember him that way so we did not want anyone to come into our room. Jonah was perfectly formed and 2lbs exactly and 15 inches long. He had dark hair and his eyes were just beginning to not be fused-shut. But, because I have a small pelvic area, it was difficult for me to have him and because his skin was very delicate, he did not have much skin at all on most of his body, except for his perfect little head, arms and feet. While I was still holding him, the door to our room opened and my Mama and my older sister, Erin, walked in. I told them we did not want anyone to see Jonah and I went all hysterical on them until they left the room. I somehow got myself together and called my Mama and told her they could come back, I was sorry. Apparently, they were not in the waiting area so Dr. Bruhn did not tell them not to come in to our room and our nurse did not stop them either. My Mama, Erin, my sister Sarah and her husband Clint, Aaron’s parents and his sister Ashley and my Aunt Debbie were the only ones to see Jonah. Our nurse now was Michelle, and she took Jonah and took some pictures of him for us and she made footprints and handprints for us and looking back, I am so glad that she did all of that.
Well, like I said, I thought everything would go smoothly but I was wrong. The placenta did not want to come out so Dr. Bruhn said she would come back in an hour and try to get it out again. Over the next several hours, Dr. Bruhn tried as well as Dr. McCollum, several times. They eventually gave me some Cytotec orally to see if it would help the placenta to come out on its own, but that did not work. They finally decided to take me to surgery and do a D&C to remove the placenta. I still remember the look on Aaron’s face when they took me to the elevator and he could go no further. He looked so scared because he was so worried about me and he was so mad about everything I had had to go through so far. After I woke up from the surgery, they took me to the third floor of the hospital, not OB. They say it is cruel to keep you on the same floor as all of these other moms and dads that are happy and welcoming their new healthy babies into the world so that is why they put you on a different floor. But, part of me thinks they do it because they don’t want those happy moms and dads to see the harsh reality that not all pregnancies and births end happily, and they don’t want to dampen those new parents’ enthusiasm. That’s just me, though…
They finally released me from the hospital on Thursday, February 2, around 2pm. When we left the hospital, Aaron and I stopped by Belk to see if we could find anything to wear to Jonah’s funeral and then we headed to Moultrie to the funeral home to make all of the arrangements. At Cobb, the funeral home, we decided on a graveside funeral, for anyone that wanted to attend, and we decided on the order of the service. Next, we went to pick out a plot for our sweet baby boy…the most awful thing a parent should ever have to do, decide where to bury their child. Then, we went to Flowers by Barrett, and spoke with the florist about what we wanted for Jonah’s funeral. We went home and some friends and family stopped by until it was time for bed. Aaron and I asked that people please give us space that Friday, so we could just rest and be alone with each other. The funeral was that Saturday, February 4 at 11am. And, it was really beautiful…as much as a funeral can be, especially that of a child. And we went home empty-handed, because our Jonah was in a coffin, never to be held by us again.
It has been a long road and I am sure that it is only going to get longer as the days go by. I have never experienced so many different emotions all at the same time. I am angry, bitter, sad, so sad…but I am also grateful. Grateful for the chance to have Jonah in my life. Grateful that Jonah knew nothing but love from me. Grateful that Jonah was able to show me the depth of love, for it goes much deeper than I ever imagined. Grateful that I will see him again one day, and all of these tears will be wiped away.
It is with a heavy, heavy heart that I tell you that Harper is now in Heaven with his big brother, Jonah. I am hurt and broken, twice over now. Words just can’t express the hopelessness and disappointment that I feel.
On Friday, October 12, we were setting up for a yard sale that we were participating in the next morning. From about 10:00pm to about 12, I was baking brownies and bagging them up to sell at the yard sale. When I went to get ready for bed, I found that I was bleeding a little. I immediately went into panic mode and I remember sitting on the toilet crying to God that this could not be happening! I thought I was fixing to lose Harper. I came out of the bathroom crying hysterically and I told Aaron (my husband) what was going on. We got out the Doppler to listen to Harper’s heart and we found it immediately. I wish I could tell you that this eased my mind, but it didn’t. We lay in bed talking and decided that I had probably just done too much that day and then I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning Aaron got up early and went to the yard sale. I got up and started getting ready but noticed that I was still spotting a little. So, I decided to call the on-call number for my doctor’s office just to run it by them and see what they thought. I spoke with Dr. Reed, the on-call doctor for that weekend. She told me to come in and they would hook me up to a monitor and do an ultrasound just to make sure everything was okay. I called Aaron and he came home and got me and we headed to Thomasville to the hospital. Once there, they checked me in, found Harper’s heartbeat with the handheld Doppler and hooked me up to a monitor to check for contractions. They then sent me to have an ultrasound and I must say this was the loooonnngggeeessstt ultrasound I have ever had! When I got back to my room, Robin, the midwife on call, used a speculum to check me and also checked my cervix with her fingers. She told me she saw that there was some blood but they couldn’t figure out what the cause was. They also informed me that I was having some contractions and they told me to drink about 100oz. of water daily because being the slightest bit dehydrated could cause contractions. They sent me home on pelvic rest. I found the couch immediately once I got home.
The spotting continued, but I did not feel bad, so I assumed that all the water I had been drinking was hydrating me and the spotting was just something that I should not worry about. I work at a desk all day so it is not strenuous at all. I went into work every day from 8 am to 1pm and then I would go home and get on the couch. On Wednesday, around 11 am or so, I started feeling really crampy. I left work and went home and got on the couch. I called my doctor’s office and spoke with the triage nurse. Since my pain was constant (like I fixing to start my period or like the first day of my period) the nurse told me that I should just lie on a heating pad and take some Tylenol. She told me that if it got worse to come in. For the record, I am not so sure it makes sense to EVER tell a pregnant woman to lay on a heating pad for cramps! But, I did what she said all while chugging water to stay hydrated. My pain stayed consistent, but it did not seem to get worse so I never called back. I did not want to be the “girl-who-cried-wolf”, and I had a doctor’s appointment at Shands in Gainesville the next morning. We were going to Shands to have an echocardiogram to check on Harper’s heart, because the specialist that I see found a hole in Harper’s heart and two choroid plexus cysts on Harper’s brain. So, I thought that I would just mention how things had been going while I was there because surely Shands would know what was going on.
The next morning, Thursday, October 18, Aaron and I got up and got ready to head to Gainesville. I noticed that my cramps were not constant now but that they would come and go. We were fixing to walk out the door and I suddenly had the urge to throw-up, and I did. This was very strange to me because when I was 10cm dilated with Jonah, I started trying to throw up (since I had not eaten in a long time I was just dry-heaving). Anyways, we headed to Gainesville. The whole way there I would grimace through the pain. Once at the doctor’s office, we waited for over an hour before we were called back. In the ultrasound room I started crying and I told the ultrasound tech what had been going on and that I have a bicornuate uterus and that my first pregnancy had ended in a stillbirth, etc. She did the ultrasound and the doctor came in and looked around and told me that Harper had a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), a.k.a. a hole in his heart. He told me that this could heal on its own or it could require surgery after he was born, but I should not worry about it. He told me that he wanted to send me to Pediatric Cardiology while I was there just so they could get a better look and also do the echocardiogram. I was on the brink of tears because of the pain I was in and because I just felt like something was wrong. He decided to do a vaginal ultrasound to check my cervix. He found that my cervix was shortened and dilated some (he never said how much). He was concerned that I could go into preterm labor as early as 21-22 weeks. I remember thinking, I am 21 weeks?! So, he wanted to admit me to Labor and Delivery and give me meds to try and stop the contractions that I was having and to stop the labor that was apparently beginning.
It took us about one whole hour to get from Dr. Eggerman’s office to Labor and Delivery because we had to wait on a shuttle and what not. Once we got to Labor and Delivery I was admitted and put on Morphine and Nifedipene and they gave me Zofran. The Morphine was for pain and the Nifedipene was to help relax my uterus so that it would stop contracting. I was in a triage room until they got me to another room. This room was a double room and about 20 minutes or so after I had been there a lady that was 40 weeks pregnant walked by to use the bathroom. She was in the bed next to me and they found her baby’s heartbeat and started getting her ready to take to another room so that she could deliver. It sounded like they had her baby’s heartbeat hooked up to a microphone and it was all I could hear. Aaron finally mentioned to our nurse that it was hard for us to hear all of that with losing Jonah and now being in preterm labor at 21 weeks. She assured us that she was trying to get us moved to another room as quickly as possible. Eventually I was moved to a room all by myself. Dr. Eggerman and a nurse came in after I had been given my three doses of Dilaudid to check me. I was told that I was 4cm dilated and that my cervix was shortening. I remember the nurse telling me that I needed to know that nothing I had done had caused this, nothing. I remember crying and shaking my head that I understood. They moved me to a delivery room, but I honestly didn’t realize that was what type of room I was in. I remember thinking that the contractions were still not stopping and why?! I was in so much pain and I was so worried. Throughout all of this, no one ever told me that I was going to deliver Harper that day, no one. I just kept thinking why aren’t the contractions stopping, why isn’t this medicine working?
I threw up a couple times throughout all of this. The last time, I sat up in a hurry and started throwing up in this plastic cup thing. While I was throwing up I felt a sudden gush and I swear it sounded like the loudest thing in the world. I immediately looked at Aaron and started hollering that my water had broken. Aaron told me it was okay and I hollered at him, in panic, “No! It is not okay! Aaron, my water broke, that is NOT okay!”, and he told me it wasn’t but it was, meaning I had to calm down. I remember feeling like I needed to do something, but how could I? It was too early for me to be giving birth to Harper. The doctor at my feet told me to push if I felt like I needed to. I remember babbling about how I couldn’t and then before I knew it, Harper was out and I could feel him moving a little. They immediately cleaned Harper up and gave him to us. Harper’s heart was beating and he would move his little hands and arms every now and then and he would take breaths of air. He was so tiny but he was so beautiful. I remember staring at him and thinking about how my body, my cervix, my uterus had failed him and that if it weren’t for my body, he would have made it and he would have been perfect. Aaron held him while a doctor dug around trying to get my placenta to come out. It was so painful and she just kept on until Aaron finally told her to stop, that I was in so much pain. They then decided that I would have to have a D&C to remove the placenta. Aaron and I continued to hold Harper and they took some pictures of Harper and of us before they took me to do the D&C. Throughout all of this, I lost half of my blood volume. So, they kept me and watched me to make sure my body was replenishing its blood supply.
Harper took his last breath sometime around midnight while I was in surgery for the D&C. Aaron feels like he was holding him when he took his last breath, and for that I am thankful. We are left with thousands of questions and we are so broken down. This was the last thing we expected, even though pre-term labor, insufficient cervix and retained placentas are all linked with having a bicornuate uterus. Everything just happened so fast. We ask for your prayers not only tomorrow but in the days and months and even years ahead. This is SO hard, especially on top of losing Jonah just eight months ago.
Abby blogs at http://www.searchingforjonahsheartbeat.blogspot.com.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.