Mom to Jack Wyatt
Born and died March 19, 2013
Ann Arbor, Michigan
My first trimester had been pretty rocky – I had a what they called “threatened miscarriages” but after no miscarriage actually happened and my hormone levels kept rising – we were eventually told I had a subchorionic hematoma (or blood clot in the uterus) and to try and stay off my feet as much as possible and hope it cleared up on its own. That was stressful and scary. Around week 12, the ultrasound showed no sign of it! We were overjoyed. Then around week 16, more weird problems. I was having trouble urinating – I would feel like I had to go really bad, but nothing would come out. I went into the hospital and they diagnosed me with a super rare condition called “incarcerated uterus”. What happens is that the uterus gets trapped under the pubic bone as the baby grows, which blocks off the urethra, making it impossible to urinate. They had to keep me in catheters for 3 days (so not fun) – then they tried to physically move it out by hand, but it was excruciatingly painful for me, so my Dr. booked an OR and they gave me a spinal, then popped it out and into place. I could describe how scary and painful this whole ordeal was–but it seems almost trivial now, given what happened six weeks later. This was nothing–Jack was still alive, and that’s what mattered.
After the uterus procedure, nothing weird happened for five weeks. I had my 18 week ultrasound, which revealed what I had known all along somehow anyway – it’s a boy! We were so excited. At 20 weeks I had another check up and things were looking 100% perfect. My doctor gave us the “okay” to travel. My husband Martin and I wanted to take a “baby moon” and go to the big Island of Hawaii, our favorite place.
Things seemed to be just fine now, and everyone kept telling me “After all you’ve gone through, the rest of your pregnancy will be smooth sailing!” I was nervous about going so far from home, but decided they were right. It would be fine. My doctor assured me I had nothing to worry about, and that the second trimester was the perfect time to travel. I was 21 weeks at this point.
And the entire trip was amazing. Martin and I were the happiest we’ve ever been – everything was just paradise. We still took it pretty easy–slow walks on the beach, boat rides, and some snorkeling. We were really excited to be parents soon, since all the weird scary things seemed to have come to a halt, we felt good. I went shopping and bought Jack some baby shark socks and a tiny hawaii t-shirt. I had been so stressed the previous weeks from losing my job and other things that now seem trivial, but once we got there all the stress melted away. I took photos of my belly. I was so proud of that belly. We talked to him. For the first time in my life, I felt so calm, so beautiful, and so happy. We started calling him “Jack” and never stopped. It just somehow, without a doubt, sounded right. It was just like, oh yeah! That IS his name!
On the last day there I was feeling some minor cramps but according to my baby books (which I had brought with me) this was normal and sounded exactly what they call round ligament pain, so i didn’t worry as I knew he was growing a lot. Plus I had seen my doctor the day before we left and she said everything looked perfect, so i had no cause to even think something could have been wrong. We had the red eye flight back at 9 p.m. Monday night. When we were boarding the plane my cramps started to continue and I started to feel like something might not be okay but tried to relax because we were literally boarding and i figured it was okay. After about 2 hours in the air when I went to the bathroom I was bleeding a little and starting to panic. Martin told the flight attendant who said she knew there was an OB on board. The OB came over and talked to me and said I could be just dehydrated and told me to drink a ton of water and try to relax. She said plenty of women get some spotting during the second trimester.
A few more hours went by and the cramps were hurting more so the flight attendant called the paramedics in LA and told them to meet us at the gate. Everyone on the plane was instructed to stay seated until I got off. Everyone was staring at me, and the paramedics escorted me off and out of the plane to a wheelchair and then to an ambulance. I told them to please take me to a good hospital with a women’s triage. The woman pushing my wheelchair whispered in my ear, “It’s a boy right?! I can tell by your face! Your baby is going to be just fine, I know it.” I believed her.
When I got to the hospital, I quickly realized that the paramedics just took us to the nearest hospital to the airport. It was by no means a good hospital. ( For reference, in case anyone is familiar with it, it was Centinela Medical Hospital in Inglewood, CA.) There seemed to be no patients anywhere and only a handful of nurses, none of whom spoke much English. All were Hispanic or Filipino. Which was fine, i’m not racist obviously, except I was terrified and couldn’t understand what most of them were saying. (Normally I wouldn’t find it necessary to even note that fact, but I think that it’s important to the story to mention that no one was really clear with me and how not understanding a lot of what was being said, made it a lot scarier than it should have been.)
Finally I was like, “Please, can someone just make sure my baby is okay?” They hooked me up to a doppler and there was his heartbeat, nice and strong, and for some odd reason this is when I first felt him kick. The nurse was like, “He’s fine! Your baby is fine! Feel that strong kick?!” I relaxed a lot more and thought maybe it would be okay. I remember staring at the metal hook that my IV was hanging on, and it was rusty. Well, so they don’t have a lot of money in downtown LA, to get new equipment… still, I’m sure we’ll be fine.
They next took me to an ultrasound where I got a really rude and mean tech who kept answering her phone while she was doing the ultrasound, and she told Martin he had to wait outside, which really annoyed me, as there was no reason he couldn’t be in there. They made him wait alone and terrified, in this 1950s-style windowless room with an ancient sign on the door that said “Fathers Waiting Room”. All this time, I was still feeling Jack kick, so I was telling myself it was going to be okay. She took forever to finish it, and said nothing to me. When she was taking me back to the room I asked her if everything was okay. She was like, “There is a bulge in the cervix.” I had no idea what that meant but tried to tell myself it was something minor.
I still hadn’t seen a single doctor, and almost 2 hours had gone by. The nurse who was helping me wasn’t too bad but hard to understand. She kept saying “Baby will be okay!” and touching my arm. But after talking to the ultrasound tech, she came over and said, “You are dialated to 4cm and there is a buldge, which means you might be in pre-term labor, but if we just lay you in an inclined position you can relax and it will be fine.” She said, “You might have to stay here for 3 weeks, but if you don’t move, the baby will be okay.”
I thought to myself, “Okay, don’t move for three weeks in this hospital far away from my family. okay, you can do this.” I kept telling myself no matter what, we would get through it. We had been through so much already in this pregnancy and Jack kept pulling through with no issue. I felt like I could handle it.
I kept asking when I could see a doctor, and they said “There is no doctor here. we paged one but she has to take a shower and do some other things first. She’ll be in at 8 a.m.” (At this point it was 6 a.m.) I was in total shock that I was at a hospital with no doctor, and that the one that was willing to come had to take a shower first and run some errands, while my baby and I were in danger. I felt rage just run through my veins but I was completely powerless.
Martin tried twice to call my hospital here in Michigan to see what we could do. The nurse at University of Michigan had to page a doctor (my doctor was off that day) and they had to call us back. Meanwhile they said, “We are going to admit you.” so they wheeled me into another room that resembled a supply closet, and tilted the bed so my head was low and my pelvis was higher and told me this was the only cure, and to try and relax.
I still could feel him kick and thought, “Okay, I’m in the worst hospital in the entire world, but we got this. Jack is fine, I can feel him, and I got this. Nothing is going to happen to my baby.” So I lay there for 2 hours, trying to relax. I could actually feel the contractions slowing down and felt it really would be okay.
Then a large, very angry looking woman comes in the door and introduces herself as Dr. Beverly. She is frowning. We have now been here for 3 hours and this is the first doctor I’ve seen. She sits down, spreads my legs and rudely says, “let me know when your’e ready.” I asked her ready for what? And she said, I need to check you. My legs were shaking because I was so scared and she throws her hands up in annoyance and was like “I’m not going to sit here all day.” I took a deep breath, crying the entire time, and she crammed her hands inside me really brutally, and says, “You’re fully dilated, this is an inevitable loss,” and walked out the door.
I immediately lost it and started crying really hard, and my water broke everywhere right after that. The nurse went back out and told the doctor my water just broke. University of Michigan called back and said I needed to get to another hospital immediately and find a real doctor. We told them my water broke and they said that was it, nothing could be done, and that I should stay there because I needed to deliver him.
Looking back now, I am scared that everything was fine and that this stupid doctor broke my water. When we got back to Michigan my doctor said that normally no one should EVER do an exam like that when you’re contracting because it could cause the water to break from the pressure.
The nurse checked again and was like “Oh, God. You’re not fully dilated, you’re only 4cm.” (10cm is fully dilated). But once your water breaks, there is nothing they can do for the baby. Meanwhile, the doctor just left and told the nurse I would have to deliver the baby and that she didn’t have to be there for that.
The nurse that I was left with also did not speak much english but she was far more kind to me than anyone else had been so far. She told me that Martin and I had to make a choice – we could wait for it to happen naturally – which could take up to 2 days and would be really dangerous for my body due to potential infection – or they could induce me, which could take anywhere from two to twelve hours. We weren’t really in the right state to make decisions, as this all happened really really fast – but they kept telling me there was absolutely nothing they could do to save him because they don’t have a neo-natal unit, so we decided on the induction. They gave me some medicine and we just waited.
So then the contractions started after about 20 minutes, and it was excruciating. This went on for about 4 hours – which is insane to me, because for some reason time had stopped during that entire time for me. Towards the end the pain was so bad I was starting to really lose it. We hadn’t taken any birth classes yet, I had no idea how to cope.
I still kept thinking that he might be okay when he came out, so that’s how I got through it. I couldn’t feel my hands or my face, I think that was the anxiety. The nurse asked if I wanted an epidural–which I had been fighting the whole time, but I finally gave in and said yes, and this was after 4 hours. She left to go get the anesthesiologist and as soon as she left, I knew something was happening, he was coming out. I screamed for her to come back in and she came back in and was shocked he was coming out.
I delivered him and she pulled him out and set him next to me. Martin was crying (I had never seen him cry until this day) and told me to not look at him. I felt like my heart had broken open and spilled out all over this sad, stupid room. Was this a nightmare? Surely it could not be real. I kept telling him to please let me see him and finally he let me, and I understood why he didn’t want me to.
He was just a little baby. Our amazing, little baby boy. Jack. Our Jack. He was beautiful. But purple, and not breathing. Everything fully formed. Long legs like Martin, cute little button nose, sweet little mouth open a little bit. Beautiful features. Nothing out of place, he was perfect, which I think is why he didn’t want me to look. It was so hard to believe this was actually, really happening. He weighed 1 pound. Much bigger/longer than I thought. They didn’t give us a measurement, but I would say he was probably 12-14 inches long at least – my baby bump had only recently “popped out” and I remember looking at him thinking wow…he was in there!?
It was just so devastating, I didn’t even know how to process this. Why wasn’t he breathing!? I screamed at the nurse. She told me the cord had wrapped around his neck on the way out. Every fiber of my being shattered. I don’t know where I went, but I wasn’t there any more. At least it didn’t feel like it. My brain had shut down.
And then we were just alone with him and me lying in a massive pool of blood for like 20 minutes. No one in there with us. We were just sobbing. The nurse came back in, finally, cut the cord and cleaned him off. She wrapped him in a towel and put him back in my arms. I was absolutely hysterical and could hardly breathe. I just couldn’t comprehend how just a few hours earlier we were on the beach and dreaming of our lives with Jack. Now he was lifeless in my arms.
Everything for the next hour was really hazy but at some point I got cleaned up and Martin went out of the room to talk to his brother, who lives in LA and came by to be supportive. I remember telling Martin it was okay, and to go see his brother, because he was super upset and I knew his brother would help. But then I was alone for a really long time with Jack. He was over in this tray on a counter. I think I mentioned before this room was like a supply closet.
I kept looking at him and I thought, I need to hold him right now, but I was still on the IV and the stand that the IV was hooked up to was tied to this table. I tried 4 times to get away from it. I remember reaching to try and get him but it was impossible. I tried to pull the cords from the wall and that didn’t work either. I rang the nurse bell a hundred times, no one came in.
So I just lay there and this is my biggest regret, because I could have been holding him, and he was all alone on that table in a tray, while we were alone for an hour. I should have ripped out the IV and held him. I just didn’t know what to do. I hate this part of the story. I should have held him for every single moment that I could. I literally just couldn’t comprehend what had happened.
It was like I mentioned before, my mind had just shut down. I recently learned from a therapist, that this is what happens in trauma. The emotional side of your brain floods the logical side of your brain, and nothing works as it should.
All this other stuff happened next like they finally came in, took pictures of him, took a print of his feet (which I have on a card about loss that’s written all in Spanish, which at the time had no no idea what it said, but later we googled it and it was a poem about loss.) Weeks later I felt LIVID that this shitty hospital didn’t even have English versions available, but I had a necklace made with the actual prints engraved on it from My Forever Child, so I was glad at least to have them, even if in Spanish. Later they gave me the photos of him which are a head shot and a full body shot. At the time it seemed like we’d never be able to look at them again, they were so heartbreaking – but now I actually look at them every single day. I’m so grateful for these small things we do have. Especially the photos.
No one tells you this at the time – especially in a hospital that resembles a third world country. There are so many things in hindsight we wish had been explained to us. Next they asked if we wanted a priest. All I could think was, that it was really hard to believe in God right now, so I said no. Actually I think in my head the actual words were “Fuck God, there can’t be a God, if there was, why would he allow this to happen?!” Then they brought in a bunch of paperwork asking if we wanted him cremated or if we wanted the body. We were like, well, we are from Michigan so how does this work? Do you send him to us? and the nurse was like “Ooh… i’m not sure how this works.” and left. No one came back or gave us any more information, but they did tell me they needed to move me to another room. We felt confused and helpless, and there was no one to help us figure things out.
When got moved to another floor where they hooked me up to more machines and left us there over night. We cried and held each other for what felt like 6 days, but was about 12 hours. During this time we never slept because a new nurse would come in every hour to take my pulse, give me random shots and take random blood samples. One nurse kept calling us “mom and dad” which made us furious, as she obviously hadn’t taken the time to read the chart, but both of us were too broken to say anything.
So now we were going on day 3 of no sleep and in the morning checked out to fly back to michigan. In the airport we were basically zombies, considering in less than 24 hours we had gone from the happiest week of our lives, to flying back home with no baby. I kept listening to people around us complain about the stupidest things and I just wanted to scream.
On the plane we pretty much just held each other and continued to cry most of the way home. It occurred to me then, that we left him in California. We left our son in California. No one had explained to us about how to get him back to Michigan. I just wanted to die. I wanted to open the plane door and just jump. All I could think of was how he was perfect – nothing was wrong with him – and how he fought so hard through everything to stay alive and it was my body who betrayed him. My stupid dysfunctional, weak body. I also thought about a stupid Facebook post I had made a few weeks earlier about being lonely and how pregnancy could be lonely. I lost him and I should have never been lonely. He was with me then. It’s like karma, it’s like I deserved it. Or so I kept trying to tell myself.
Luckily, my awesome and amazing mom, got the head of cardiac surgery at the hospital on the phone – who was apparently really really nice and kind – and he personally tracked down Jack’s body. They had him sent to a funeral home here, we had him cremated and we got a beautiful baby block urn with his name and birth date engraved on it. We keep it in his room, which was almost finished. We are both so happy and relieved that we got him here though. I was so destroyed about all of it, and also about leaving him there alone. Meanwhile, our entire house is a reminder of him. I had bought him some clothes already and like I said, we had started working on the nursery. But luckily no crib yet. There are baby books everywhere – I had bought every book that exists. And now those books sat around my house, just constant incredibly cruel reminders of a life I no longer had.
Postpartum has been really really weird. Those first two weeks were the worst. I kept thinking we should finish the nursery in case he comes back. Get the crib. I kept thinking he might come back. This finally went away a month later, when the harsh reality finally started to seep in. Before we got the ashes, I had to sleep with a box of his clothes and his pictures next to me at night. I kept trying to find ways to have him inside me in any way that I could. But it’s impossible. Everything now is a reminder that he’s gone and I am empty. My stomach is flabby and feels like an empty shell. On day three my milk came in and my breasts were in excruciating pain. But the mental pain was far worse. There was milk coming out, and no baby to feed. I wanted to die. The hatred towards my body just kept getting more intense.
I constantly google “22 weeks old premie survival” and sob at the stories of babies who lived. I know it’s unlikely, but still. He had been such a fighter the whole time. Who knows.
I know this is a very long story and probably hard to read as it’s really messed up, but thank you for listening, whoever you are. Martin described it to someone else as “like a nightmare we both got thrown into together, inside a little ball, and they just shook us for two days, then let us back out. And now we can’t see which way is up, or how to find reality.” – that’s pretty spot on. We still don’t know why I went into pre-term labor. There were no signs of infection.
One thing I know, is that i’ve never loved anything so much in my entire life. The moment I saw him, I just knew. I understood everything anyone had ever told me about being a mother, all in that instant that I laid eyes on him. Life isn’t fair. Such a small statement that everyone makes a million times in their lives for various reasons.. but so actually true. Martin and I were never going to be those annoying parents who have annoying kids. Or so we told ourselves anyway. We would build forts and create imaginary worlds and never give him processed food. He would know he was loved every day.
We are great people – kind people – people who wanted this baby so very, very much. I stopped drinking caffeine, diet pop, soft cheese. I took my prenatal vitamin every day. I read every book available on babies and pregnancy. I stayed away from all chemicals. I talked to him, read to him, imagined our future together.
Jack gave me something great, that no one can ever take away. He made me a mom for the first time, and it changed me in a million ways. He will always be my first born, my first baby. Now that a month has gone by, I’ve started to try and take what most people say with a grain of salt. Especially “time heals”. Time never heals the loss of a baby. Time may make it easier to slowly return to “normal” life – but you have a new normal. A normal with a hole in your heart, a painful hole reserved for him.
Jack Wyatt Sager. I love you and miss you more than words can describe.
Kelly has written more about Jack’s story at http://mylifewithoutjack.blogspot.com. (You’ll need to request an invitation to read her blog.)
She can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org