The most difficult journey of all

Date: October 2009-April 2010

One of the photographs taken the night our baby was delivered.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I worried. I knew the statistics about babies born to women over 40. I knew I was at a greater risk for all sorts of things–miscarriage, Down Syndrome, and other chromosomal abnormalities. Also, I had lost a baby 13 weeks into my first pregnancy many years ago. And, even though I went on to have three healthy babies after that, I remember never feeling completely at ease with those pregnancies until I passed the 13-week mark.

Those first three months were difficult and I tried so hard to not worry. I prayed and prayed that our baby was healthy and focused all of my efforts on getting through those initial weeks.

Just after the first trimester, I met with genetic counselors and had an integrated screen done. The results of that initial screen were very reassuring. The risk of our baby having any genetic defects were extremely low. Imagine how relieved we felt. Those promising test results, and the fact that I sailed through the first trimester without any problems (except for the minor morning sickness), brought me a great deal of peace.

The worrisome part was over, in my mind, and I could enjoy the rest of the pregnancy. I stayed active by walking and doing an occasional yoga session. I continued to take my vitamins, I ate healthy foods, and looked forward to our baby’s arrival. With each doctor’s visit, and feeling those reassuring movements, I felt confident that nothing would go wrong.

Midway through the pregnancy, I joked about how old I was to be having a baby and how many years would be between our youngest and her brothers and sister (11, 14, and 16 years). Her due date was May 5th, and I thought that “Cinco de Mayo” would be a great day to be born–in the spirit of festivities and celebration. And, even if we didn’t hit the exact due date, I thought that spring time was an ideal time to be born. Besides, I was teaching classes and my classes would end by the second week in April–I couldn’t have timed things more perfectly had we tried! I looked forward to our baby’s spring birth, and enjoying a 12-week maternity leave well into the summer. Things seemed to be falling in place quite nicely.

We had no idea that things would unexpectedly go so wrong.

My pregnancy was normal in every way up until the last five weeks.

Starting the middle of March, at 33 weeks, I noticed sudden swelling in my feet and I developed a headache. I wasn’t too concerned because I thought maybe I had overdone things a bit and I spent a lot of time on my feet. I discussed this with my doctor at my next appointment as this can indicate pre-eclampsia.

Over the next couple of weeks, I was asked to go into the doctor’s office and have blood pressure readings taken. I was also asked to complete blood tests and a 24-hour urine collection (not fun). Despite resting for an hour each day, my blood pressure continued to rise, and I still experienced swelling in my feet. At that point, my doctor recommended that I go on bed rest for four hours each day and that I take my blood pressure three times a day and inform her of the results. I commented that, “we just need to buy time,” and she agreed.

At 37 weeks, the scheduled ultrasound showed a slight decrease in amniotic fluid but my doctor was not concerned. The baby’s weight was estimated to be 6 lbs. 9 oz.  so she certainly wasn’t too big. I was told to do another 24-hour urine collection and have more blood work done. The blood test results indicated low blood platelet levels. My husband was at this appointment with me and we told the doctor that we had our hospital bag packed and in the car—from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. that morning, we were timing contractions, thinking that we may deliver that day. The doctor offered to schedule an induction to take place either April 28th or 29th because, “we don’t do elective inductions until 39 weeks.” She said, “this would be a good weekend to have the baby,” however, if things happen naturally because it was her weekend to be on call. Oh, how I wish that would have happened.

Instead, two days later, I woke up with a bad headache and took two extra-strength Tylenol. I worked in the morning and came home for my suggested bed rest. In the afternoon, I still had a severe headache. I took two more Tylenol, and the pain still would not go away. I called the on-call doctor, told her my symptoms, and she told me to go to the hospital to get evaluated. I stayed at the hospital until 1:30 a.m., hooked up to monitors and suffering through a near migraine. Because the baby’s heartbeat was strong, there were no indications she was in distress, and because my blood pressure remained low while there, the doctor who was on duty felt that we were fine to go home and advised me to call my regular doctor the next day.

I called the doctor’s office the next day, reported what happened, and I requested an induction. Her nurse called me back later after speaking with my doctor and says that the induction would be scheduled for April 29th. I remember thinking, “I just have to be patient and wait a few more days.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played the “what if” game with myself over this–wishing we had experienced a different outcome than we did.

I woke up in the middle of the night–at about 3:00 a.m. on April 21st.

That, alone, wasn’t unusual since I had been experiencing sleepless nights for weeks. I didn’t feel the baby move, though, and I remember not liking that. I also reminded myself that babies slow down their movements a lot just prior to being born. I felt as though we were getting very close to finally seeing our baby and I remember being glad that I had an appointment scheduled the next morning. I knew I would feel relieved to hear her steady, strong heartbeat echoing from the monitor.

The next morning, as with the previous four appointments, I was hooked up to the fetal monitor, told to put my feet up, and was handed a juice pouch.

This time was different.

This time, there was no loud, echoing heartbeat. The nurse’s assistant tried several locations and reassured me by saying, “Sometimes I just can’t find it, I’ll go get the nurse.” The nurse came in, and also moved the monitors around. Still, no sound. She had a look of concern on her face but cheerfully said, “I’m just going to have you go downstairs to have an ultrasound so we can see what’s going on.” When she went downstairs with me, and sat by my side while we waited for about 15 agonizing minutes, I felt dread.

That feeling was confirmed when the ultrasound technician, with the nurse at my side, and all three of us anxiously looking at the video monitor saw no movement. No heartbeat. Heard no sound. The technician kept the ultrasound wand on my belly and the three of us watched for a full two minutes in silence. “Move, move!” I thought. “This can’t be real. This isn’t what is supposed to happen.” I’ll never forget the darkness, the silence, and the feeling of utter shock and sadness.

I was taken back up to the examining room and my doctor came in. I can’t remember a damn thing she said. I just remember that she took my blood pressure and it was really high. She told me that we would induce labor that day but I needed to go home and wait for the hospital to call me and tell me when they want me to come in. She probably said some words about what happened, but I can’t recall any details at all.

My husband was out-of-town–scheduled to return about two hours after my appointment. I drove myself home, alone, and I remember only two things on that drive. The weather and the crying. The wind was blowing so hard, the sky was black, and rain pelted my car–matching perfectly the emotions I was feeling inside. I screamed. I wailed. I sobbed. I also couldn’t stand the thought of telling my husband what we had lost. I knew he would be heartbroken. I was heartbroken.

After hours of crying and waiting at home until we could go into the hospital, we checked in at the registration desk. Despite telling the clerk why we were there–to deliver a lifeless baby–after filling out the paperwork, she cheerfully thanked us, told us where to go next, and said, “have a good day!” As my husband and I walked away from the check-in desk, and heard those words, we both looked at each other with expressions of disbelief. How could what we were about to do be in anyone’s definition of a “good day?”

At least the nurses in the maternity ward were expecting us and knew full well why we were there and what lay ahead for us over the next several hours. They had done this before. They knew the drill, and greeted us with gentleness and compassion.

We were taken to a darkened room. Also, the hospital was quiet. Thank God for that.

I was directed to change into a hospital gown and then I was hooked up to a blood pressure monitor and an IV. No fetal monitors, however. There was no need for that. No need for anything to monitor the steady “thump, thump, thump” of a baby’s heartbeat. Our baby’s heart was still. Her heart was silent. Our hearts ached.

Next, the nurses explained what we could expect. They also encouraged me to have an epidural. I readily agreed. Taking painkillers was not in my original birth plan but I now wanted this heart-wrenching emotional trauma to at least be physically pain-free. In fact, if they could have completely knocked me out, I probably would have welcomed the offer. Instead, I was given Pitocin to get contractions started, and the nurses came in to check on us every few minutes to find out how fast labor was progressing. It took hours. What I remember from that time is how so little of that night matched all of the happy scenarios I had predicted in my mind about what our baby’s birth would be like. My husband held me and encouraged me, but we both were bewildered about what it would be like to have our baby arrive in the way she did. She came to us in the middle of the night, in darkness and in silence.

The nurses told us many things that night in preparing us for the birth experience. One thing they said was that they had called a photographer to the hospital to take pictures of her after she was born. We didn’t know what to think about that. We were also told we would be given the opportunity to hold our baby. It was all so traumatic, we were so confused, we were so grief-stricken. We really just relied on others to guide us through that night.

The time came for the delivery. I remember saying, “I don’t want to push–that means I am giving her up.” But, alas, our baby was born.

There are no words to express that moment and those feelings. There are simply no words.

Our baby looked perfect and beautiful and I felt so happy to hold her after waiting  for so long. But there is no way I could ever describe to anyone what it is like to hold a newly born but silent and motionless baby. No one else could completely understand the emptiness unless they have experienced it themselves.

Not long after our baby was born, two women appeared at the doorway to our room and softly introduced themselves as the photographers who had been notified by the hospital. At first, they were intruders to me. They weren’t welcome and I felt as though they somehow wanted to violate our privacy by taking photographs. After they explained that the photographs were a gift to us and that we didn’t ever have to even look at them if we didn’t want to, and after one of them told us her own personal story, we agreed. One of the women had lost her newborn baby two years ago. Her baby was strangled by the umbilical cord as she was born and also arrived into his world lifeless–stillborn. Her regrets were that she didn’t allow enough pictures to be taken and she wished she had more tangible memories of her baby. Her story, and the demeanor of these two women convinced us that having photographs taken of our baby would be a good idea. They looked at our baby, commented how beautiful she was, and they held her with the same joy and gentleness that one would with a healthy, living baby. I remember being impressed by that. They were so reverent, so gentle, and so kind.

Time has given us no answers as to why our baby died. We had additional tests performed, along with a complete autopsy, and we still have no complete answers. Of course, I’m now sure that I was experiencing pre-eclampsia symptoms, but they were not alarming enough to prompt my doctor to intervene. Discussions with other doctors after the fact have indicated that my original doctor followed standard protocol and while some doctors would have been prompted to induce labor earlier, others would not have been. I can’t keep playing the “what if” game. I just can’t. We have to accept that sometimes horrible things simply happen and it’s impossible to go back and change the past–no matter how much we want to.

Since the birth and death of our daughter, Melanie Irene, we have been through so much–a funeral, having to explain to people what happened, going through the grieving process as an entire family, and being reminded on a daily basis that we should have a baby with us, but we don’t.

This has been a heart-wrenching journey for our whole family and it is one we will be on for the rest of our lives.

Running now, has taken on a new meaning, and I have my daughter with me on each and every run. I can feel her with me in the steady rhythm of my pace and in my breaths. I let my mind wander when I run and she is there.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by angie on July 14, 2011 at 8:01 am

    You’re always on my mind ❤
    xoxo – A


  2. Mia is always with me on runs. I talk to her and tell her stories about what an amazing Mom (and Dad) she has. I love you ! Niser


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