Mom to Gregory Harrison
Born still on October 8, 2006
Getting pregnant and becoming a parent is supposed to be easy. That was what I had assumed when my husband and I decided it was time to start a family of our own. We had been together since 1995, married since 2001, had purchased our first home. The logical progression said that we should start a family. More importantly, our hearts told us it was time. As time passed, we felt that something was missing from our lives, and being parents was that missing facet.
I still remember the excitement of going off the pill. We were really doing this! Really going to become parents! And because so much in our lives had come fairly easily, we expected that becoming pregnant would come easily, as well. I mean, how hard could it be to get pregnant?
As it turned out, it was much harder than we had anticipated. Six months became a year. Nothing. I was tracking my cycles, checking my basal body temperature, and scouring the Internet for any idea that would make the process of conceiving easier. Then, we were completely derailed when some abnormal cells showed up on a routine pap smear. That led to a cancer scare (thankfully negative) and another six months during which we weren’t allowed to try to conceive. By the time we were able to even think about starting a family, it seemed like so much time had passed. And so much time continued to pass with no luck.
One day, on the way home from visiting family, I had a horrible dizzy spell. The world spun completely upside down, and I was sure that I was going to pass out. I bought a pregnancy test the next day, and for the first time, I saw those two, beautiful, pink lines. My excitement was tempered by the fact that I was having some spotting, though. When I went to my doctor’s for my first round of blood work, I told him about it, and he brushed it off, saying it was probably just implantation.
Except it wasn’t. And it didn’t go away.
At five weeks, I made my first trip to the emergency room, certain that I was having a miscarriage. Despite the bleeding, however, everything was as it should be. We chalked it up to overexertion and dehydration, and I made an effort to do less and drink more. Then, it happened again. A trickling feeling that sent me running to the bathroom and then racing to the hospital when I saw how badly I was bleeding. Only to be sent home because, again, despite the bleeding, all was as it should be.
This became my routine. A week in which I could just bask in being pregnant was inevitably followed by spotting, bleeding, and unanswered questions. I had ultrasounds and more ultrasounds, each one more thorough than the one before. The doctors scratched their heads in confusion; nothing could explain why this kept happening. Finally, my doctor put me on bed rest. Time slowed down to a crawl and we set our minds to just making it to the next week, with making it to twenty-eight weeks as our first big goal.
I remember how hard those couple of weeks were. My husband took complete control of all household responsibilities while still working full time and running me to the emergency room in the wee hours of the morning, as that was when most of the bleeding issue tended to occur. I tried to remain positive and hopeful and calm. I don’t think it ever really occurred to me that we could lose our child. That just couldn’t happen.
Except it did.
We made yet another trip to the emergency room. This time, however, it was not for bleeding (though that seemed to be ever present). This time I went because my lower back was in agony. It was all I could do to keep from screaming. The doctor checked me out and said it was probably a kidney stone. Great! On top of everything else that I was going through, I was having a kidney stone! They gave me a screen to pee in to catch the stone and sent me home with instructions to take some Tylenol and see my doctor the next day.
The next day, I went to my doctor’s office and told him what had happened. He did what had basically become a weekly ultrasound, cervix check, and pep talk. The ultrasound was fine; my cervix was solid. But I was bleeding fairly heavily and the blood was very bubbly. My doctor was afraid that it was amniotic fluid. And that was the first time that my blood ran cold and I could feel my heart stopping. He made some calls and set it up that if I needed to see a doctor that weekend, I should go to a semi-local hospital that boasts a state-of-the-art neonatal center. He began faxing my medical records and gave me the phone number that would go straight to the call center of the hospital.
I really didn’t think I would need it. I mean, hadn’t I been through this week after week? Still, my hands shook all the way home. And I couldn’t shake this hollow feeling that kept creeping into me. Each little kick in my belly was a relief, but I still couldn’t shake that horrible sense that everything was about to go wrong.
I awoke in the middle of the night on October 5th with horrible pain in my back. I stumbled to the bathroom and sobbed when I saw how horribly I was bleeding. I immediately called the number my doctor had given me, and they patched me through to the doctor on call. He was curt and basically told me there was nothing he could do. I was sobbing nearly hysterically at that point. I calmed down enough to call the answering service for my own doctor and the doctors with whom he shared a rotation. A female doctor, who had seen me once before, called me back immediately. I explained the situation and she calmly, but sadly, told me to get in the car and go to the other hospital. “They can’t turn you away if you show up at their door,” she said.
I stumbled into the bedroom and woke my exhausted husband. It was four in the morning; he had been up in the wee hours with me the night before. He was so tired and so sleep-deprived. He groaned, “Again?” and I snapped at him, “If it’s any consolation, I think this will be the last time we have to do this.” Strong arms enveloped me. I could feel him shaking against me.
I was already dilated by the time we reached the neonatal unit. I began to sob, and my husband had to sit, the color disappearing from his face. In twenty-three weeks, we had never truly considered that this pregnancy wouldn’t go to term. They admitted me immediately and started monitoring me and the baby. Contractions started very quickly after that.
The next thirty-six hours were a whir of tests and pain-killers and exams and visitors and tears. It became inevitable that this baby was going to be born far too early. We debated over whether we should induce full labor (we didn’t) and whether we should give him the name we had chosen (we did). We watched him moving and kicking on one last ultrasound, an ultrasound that couldn’t show us the hidden and irreparable placental tear that had doomed him from the start. We waited for the inevitable.
And then our son was born. October 8th, 2006. My husband clung to me as I pushed. There was a feeling of release followed by silence before the doctor said, “Nine o’clock.” I knew what that meant. He was gone. My son, Gregory Harrison–named for his grandfather and great-grandfather–was gone.
Six years later and the same horrible tears still fill my eyes. How we made it through those next couple of hours is beyond me. We got to see him, to touch him, to say good-bye to him. We marveled at how perfect his tiny little fingers were and murmured over how his eyes were just like my husband’s when he sleeps. We even giggled that he had inherited the family nose. And then we broke into more sobs. I cannot adequately express the awful pain of those hours. Only those who have held their still infant in their arms can truly understand that feeling.
After a while, we knew it was time. We kissed him and called to our nurse (an angel through that whole weekend), and we sobbed as she carried away our son. They sent us home a few hours later with a heart-shaped box filled with his knit cap, his flannel robe, and pamphlets on grief and loss.
My husband and I grew stronger in the days that followed. We made a promise to each other that we would share every thought and emotion that we felt, and that brought us closer together than I could have ever imagined. Our family members, friends, colleagues, and even strangers shared our tears and overwhelmed us with their compassion. There were those who weren’t so kind. The friend who told me that I would be a mother someday (I was already a mother, a fact she refused to agree with and actually argued with me over). The person who told me to just get over it because my grief was hurting her feelings. The people who thought they were being kind by saying that we were young and could still have more children. We learned a great deal about ourselves in those days and weeks that followed, and we learned a great deal about the people in our lives, too.
There is no instruction manual that can prepare you for how to grieve for your child. And there is no end to that grief. There is healing and there is moving on. There is life and there is putting one foot in front of the other. But that loss, that empty hollow at the center of my heart, those tears that overwhelm me at the most unexpected moments…that has never gone away. It is usually bearable, and it is sometimes well beneath the surface. But it is always there. I will always miss my son.
You can contact Nichole at firstname.lastname@example.org.