Mom to Elijah Daniel

April 12, 2017

Roseville, Minnesota

I first started writing this journal six days after I lost my only son, Elijah. Now, over a year later, I want to share my story to help any other mamas out there who may be struggling with their own loss. First, I want to let you know that I see you, I hear you, and I am so sorry that you are going through this unimaginable pain. Reading others’ stories has helped me know that I am not alone in this journey. Even though time has passed, my wounds still feel fresh, and my heart still aches for my son.

I currently have three daughters here with me on Earth. Two were “successful pregnancies” before Elijah was born, and my third was a “successful pregnancy” just over a year after Elijah was born; my rainbow baby. For me, my third pregnancy, Elijah, was going to be my last. Which meant I kept pretty close tabs on the pregnancy: wrote down exactly when I had my first pregnancy test, when we announced the pregnancy to friends and family, the first time we heard the heartbeat, first ultrasound, first flutters, and when things started to go wrong.

4/18/17 – Remembering Elijah Daniel

January 2017 – On Friday, January 20th I went into the walk-in clinic after suffering from a horrible cough and cold since the week before Christmas. The nurse-practitioner I saw was concerned that I had pneumonia because of the sounds she heard while listening to my lungs. She ordered a chest x-ray. The x-ray came back fairly clear – so she prescribed Augmentin for the sinus infection, which would also treat any minor pneumonia symptoms.

Feeling “off” and thinking the cause may be more than just the antibiotic and infection, I took a home pregnancy test Tuesday, January 24th. The test was positive. I immediately became frantic and worried because of the chest x-ray, antibiotics, and over-the-counter cold/cough medications I had been taking and the problems they could cause with the embryo and its development. I called the on-call midwife and she said the medicines and antibiotic I had taken were considered generally “safe” during pregnancy. She told me to stop taking any additional cold medicines and to finish the antibiotic. She assured me that if the embryo had been affected, it wouldn’t continue to develop and cause any further damage. (At the time, this was reassuring and I’m not sure why – she was basically telling me my baby would die, and if not that’s a bonus!)

March 2017 – After waiting many weeks, I finally had my first appointment with my midwife on Monday, March 6. My husband and two daughters all came along in hopes of hearing a heartbeat (we had been told we may not hear one depending on how far along I was in the pregnancy – we weren’t sure of conception date). My husband had never heard the first heartbeat with me from the two previous pregnancies, so I told him it was something I wanted him to hear. At the appointment, the midwife was unable to find a heartbeat, but felt that my uterus had grown, and confirmed that it is perfectly normal not to hear a heartbeat so early. During the vaginal exam, she discovered what she thought to be a cervical polyp which she said are fairly common during pregnancy and she wasn’t too concerned about it. She said she would talk to the OB/GYN to see if further steps needed to be taken.

After not hearing the heartbeat, and fearing the worst, I immediately set up an ultrasound for the following day. Tuesday, March 7th we were able to see our baby’s strong heart beat and active body. We learned I was 11 weeks along and would be due September 26th, 2017. Everything looked really good, though I later found out that there was a cyst on my ovary – another common development during pregnancy and the midwife wasn’t concerned and would keep an eye on it.

Over the next few weeks, we announced our pregnancy to our family and a couple close friends.

April 2017 – Wednesday, April 5 I thought I was able to feel baby’s first flutters – after this day, my world began to shatter.

After working Thursday evening, I noticed pink spotting Friday, April 7 and scheduled a check-up with my midwife. She was able to find a very strong heartbeat. I brought two daughters to my appointment since I’m a SAHM and didn’t have a sitter for them. I told the midwife not to bother with the vaginal exam since it takes longer and I didn’t want to deal with the meltdown that would have taken place. The midwife thought everything else felt fine and with the strong heartbeat, she wasn’t concerned.

After working in the evening of Saturday, April 8, I had severe cramping and bright red blood had replaced the pink on my panty-liner. Early Sunday, April 9, I went to the ER and was checked over. I had an ultrasound at 2:30 a.m. When the radiologist started the exam, she started with baby’s feet. I couldn’t tell if there was any movement and just wanted her to show me the heart! As she moved up baby’s body, I clearly saw that my baby was a boy! She then measured his strong heartbeat and I saw him moving around. I shed so many happy tears! Everything looked fine on the ultrasound. There was no bleeding coming from around baby or the placenta and my cervix was still long and closed. The ER doctor also did a vaginal exam and confirmed that everything looked great. I received a RhoGAM shot (since I’m A-) and was sent home with a diagnosis of “threatened miscarriage”. After sleeping an hour and a half we headed to Grandma’s house to dye Easter eggs.

The ER doctor said I should set up a follow-up appointment, so I scheduled one for Monday, April 10. I still had cramping Sunday evening, so was nervous what this all meant for my baby boy. At the midwife follow-up she checked for baby’s heartbeat. I had been expecting silence, but was ecstatic to hear another strong heartbeat and cried so hard that she couldn’t keep the Doppler steady on his heart so I could continue to listen. After settling myself down, I had her give me another chance to listen and enjoyed the sound of his beating heart knowing he was alive and well where he should be. She then performed a vaginal exam which, once again, showed no abnormalities. My cervix was thick, closed, and still long. However, she did see something of a whitish color coming from my cervix. I mentioned the polyp that was seen at my first midwife appointment. She said it may be that it drained and that was what was left – which could explain the bleeding. She couldn’t be sure and wanted me to follow-up with an OB since she hadn’t seen anything like it before. I scheduled another follow-up for Wednesday, April 12.

Tuesday, April 11 I had more severe cramping that started at 6 p.m. Throughout the day I had felt a tightening of my pelvic area that didn’t give me any pain, just a solid tightness in that area. I had Braxton Hicks with my second daughter, so I thought maybe I was having the same thing with this baby. I wanted to remain as positive as possible because the bleeding I had been experiencing had lessened since Sunday afternoon. However, at 11 p.m. that night I woke up due to unbearable cramping. I didn’t realize I was in labor – I wouldn’t have even thought of it because it was much too early to deliver my baby boy.

Wednesday, April 12 at 12:27 I called the emergency midwife line due to severe cramping. My midwife called back at 12:32 and we discussed if I should go to the ER to help better manage my pain or if there was something I could do at home – the pain was just too intense for me at this point. We were on the phone for 12 mins and then ended the call. I decided I would just “wait and see” because I had been experiencing cramps for about 1-3 hours every evening ever since Saturday night. When I stood up from the living room couch, there was an internal “pop” and no more pain. That’s when Elijah Daniel was born at around 12:40 a.m. I was only 16 weeks pregnant.

After I felt him “arrive” I said aloud, “Oh no, I’m so sorry my precious baby.” I then stepped into the shower, being that I’ve already had experience with two vaginal births, I knew it would be messy. I called the midwife back as I stood fully-clothed in the bathtub; I wasn’t ready to see my precious baby boy. I was discussing if I should go to the ER to be checked out. I didn’t have any pain at that point and assumed that everything had been delivered (I realize now that I was in shock, which is why I didn’t feel any pain). After I finally removed my clothing, I noticed a lot of clots and blood. The total time it took me to finally see my baby for the first time was about 20 minutes – though it didn’t feel that long to me. I took him out of my pants and my husband put him into an ice cream bucket. After I cleaned myself up and stuffed a bunch of washcloths in my pants (I didn’t have any pads in the house) I finally took the time to look at my baby boy. He was absolutely perfect: Ten fingers, ten toes, a tiny nose, a long face, and he was still in the amniotic sac. Though the umbilical cord had detached from the placenta, it was still pulsating which leads me to believe Elijah was still alive until my body failed him and delivered him much too early. My husband and I were both in shock.

At around 1:15 a.m. I decided I should go to the ER since there was a lot of blood. Unbeknownst to me, the placenta was stuck in my cervix and I was hemorrhaging. On the way to the ER, I had really bad cramping and could feel blood gushing. As I was in the waiting room, waiting to be examined by the triage nurse, I told my husband I needed help now; I was blacking out. My husband advocated for me and let the receptionist know how bad off I was – there were five people waiting to be assessed in front of me – so a fairly long wait just to have the triage nurse check me over before I even would have been brought back to a bed. After my husband talked to the receptionist again (for about the third time), the nurse finally took me back and took my blood pressure – I was clammy and pale – my blood pressure was in the 70’s so they rushed me back to a room and started two IVs and fluids right away. The ER doctor was the same “goon” I had seen on Sunday (I never stated how awful of an experience that Sunday  morning visit was, but trust me, it was horrible). The nurses took all the blood-soaked washcloths out of my pants and the doctor did a vaginal exam. He discovered the placenta was stuck in my cervix. He called the on-call OB and discussed the issue. Apparently she didn’t want to be bothered and was going to let the ER doctor remove the placenta (um, hello, you’re the expert! Sorry for being such an inconvenience!). Thankfully, the OB came to her senses and decided she was the better fit to be performing the placenta removal.

After terrible bed-side manner and basically saying what an inconvenience I was (because the call woke her from a deep sleep) she warned me what she was about to do would be extremely painful, but would probably save me from having to do a D and C. Before she started, they gave me Fentanyl (which did absolutely nothing to ease any pain) and then she worked her “magic” while telling me to relax (more like yelling at me not to fight). My natural instinct was to fight for my life as she was surely pulling out all of my insides with her bare (gloved) hands. I finally told my husband and the assisting nurse to hold me down because there was no way I was going to calmly breathe and relax through the procedure. Finally, she felt she had removed all of the placenta and couldn’t see any signs of more.

They did an ultrasound to confirm as best they could that all the “contents of pregnancy” had been removed. When the ultrasound picture showed an empty uterus where my baby boy was active and his heart was beating strong just a few days prior is when I finally lost it and sobbed. I couldn’t catch my breath and finally let the reality sink in: My baby boy was dead. I was transferred to the Labor and Delivery floor for observation and recovery. I’m so happy I was transferred to this floor. In the ER, my baby was a fetus and things were referred to as the contents of pregnancy. Elijah’s birth was labeled as a “spontaneous abortion”. I guess he wasn’t a life in their eyes. Everyone was cold and simply doing their job – not considering my loss and trauma. In contrast, the labor and delivery nurses on the maternity floor were so soothing and comforting. They asked his name and when he was born. They gave us time with him – though we didn’t look at him again. My husband took pictures of Elijah while we were alone in the ER before being moved to the maternity floor.

Eventually, the nurses took Elijah. They came back with a memory book for us. They took his footprints, printed off a foot-band that he would have worn after birth, wrote out a “Welcome Baby” plaque along with his weight and length that would have been taped to his bassinet. They cleaned him up and placed him in a cloth made from old wedding dresses. They asked one more time if we wanted to see him all cleaned up and commented that he was a beautiful, perfect baby boy.

At the time, I did not want to see Elijah again. It was too painful and I thought I already had what I needed of him (the pictures taken in the ER and the footprints the L&D nurses took for me). Now, I wish I had taken some “cleaner” pictures of him. Sunday night, when I was feeling especially sad after a day spent with family “celebrating” Easter, I looked at the photos and was a bit shocked. The pictures are so horrific (I can’t think of a better word right now). However, that was the reality. It was a horrible, bloody, shocking, and awful experience.

Friday, April 14 I had a follow-up ultrasound to check if all the “contents of pregnancy” had been removed. There was no D and C needed.

Monday, April 17 I had a follow-up phone conversation with my midwife. The pathology test results had been released and I wanted her to explain them a little better for me. The results showed there were no problems with Elijah, but possible issues with the placenta. I don’t know for sure what happened – there were signs of blood clots in the placenta and the amniotic fluid showed signs of an infection. I don’t know if that means I had an infection that spread to the placenta, or if something didn’t form correctly within the placenta. I never really pressed to get the answers, I was basically told by my midwife that she didn’t know and I left it at that.

The midwife comforted me by telling me I did nothing to cause the issues with the placenta. I had no symptoms, there was nothing abnormal found on the ultrasound Sunday morning, and I had two successful pregnancies with no prior miscarriages. There was nothing that could have been done had they found the issues within the placenta. At 16 weeks, Elijah’s fate was sealed.

At the time, I felt at peace thinking I did everything I could have to help my baby. However, now that over a year has passed, I feel so much guilt. I feel guilty that I didn’t hold my baby boy and wrap him in a special blanket and take pictures with him in a sweet itty, bitty hat. I feel guilty that my body failed him, but somehow managed to bring three perfect, living daughters into my life. I feel guilty that I didn’t fight harder and go see an OB/GYN when there were major concerns (to me) with the polyp and cyst, and then later with the bleeding and cramping. Would an OB/GYN have been able to save you? Would a sonographer better trained at looking only at baby ultrasounds have spotted something the ED radiologist missed?

After a lot of anxiety and fear, I now have my rainbow baby and love her to pieces, but miss you every single day – Elijah Daniel. I will continue to hold you in my heart until I can hold you in my arms for the very first time.

You can email Stephanie here.

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