I’ve been wanting to write this for a while now but it never seemed to be the “right” time. I have kept that night close to my heart but have managed to get a lot of the details out of order and confused in my head. My mom was thoughtful enough to take photos immediately following Caleb’s birth. It must have taken an incredible amount of strength to do what she did; looking at the photos I know it must have been difficult to hold the camera steady to capture those precious moments. I will forever be grateful to her. These photos tell a story that although I was present for physically, my heart was trying so hard to be somewhere else, where Caleb’s heart was still beating and where Caleb would hear our voices as we told him how much we love him…
We found out I was pregnant on December 20th after being told my ovarian reserve was low and if we ever planned to have a family, we’d probably need donor eggs and I.V.F. I have PCOS and after years of disappointment and unsuccessful fertility treatments, we finally came to terms with the actual reality of our situation. We were completely surprised when I got that positive pregnancy test! All of our prayers had been answered! We were finally going to be parents!!
By the end of January, I was nearing the 9th and 10th week of pregnancy and I was getting really, really sick all the time. I wasn’t able to eat and when I did, I couldn’t keep it down; fluids weren’t staying down and I had absolutely no energy. On January 26th, I was taken to the hospital for the first time. I was in and out of the hospital for severe dehydration a total of 9 times over the course of two months. My veins began to stop cooperating and they would collapse or roll preventing the IV catheters to be inserted. Eventually I ended up with a PICC line in my right arm. That required daily trips to the hospital’s infusion suite to either have fluids administered or a line flushing.
During the course of Feb & early March, I lost 40 pounds.
Once the PICC line came out, I begun to feel better. I was into my second trimester and our baby was very healthy. He was gaining weight like he should and everything seemed to be normal. The nurses at the hospital always gave me a hard time about not coming back until my due date in August; I just told them I was picking out my “A-Team” for labor and delivery. Little did we know, I wouldn’t be delivering at that hospital. Nor would I be delivering in August.
April 11th, at 21 weeks + 2 days, I noticed blood. I was completely panicked. In 2006, I had an early miscarriage at 7 weeks and it had been weighing heavily on my mind the entire pregnancy. So my husband rushed me to the emergency room where they discovered I was 4cm dilated. I was told I had an incompetent cervix and would need a cerclage (stitching of the cervix). My doctor explained that this hospital isn’t prepared for such an emergency and so I was put into an ambulance and rushed to Norfolk General, about an hour away. By the time I reached that hospital, my membranes had ruptured. I was taken to the high risk OB ward and was expected to deliver that night.
We prayed for a miracle. We were told that if we could maintain the pregnancy until week 23, the baby would have a chance for survival, that the hospital would be able to try and save his life. So, we prayed and prayed and prayed some more. We prayed for God to keep Caleb safe, we prayed to thank him for the blessings we had already received, and we prayed that the doctors would make the best decisions.
On April 17th, at 22 weeks + 1 day, I woke up very early. The nursers were in the room checking my blood pressure, temperature and Caleb’s heart beat every four hours. I also had nausea medication and other pills that were being administered on a regular basis. At this point, I had been off the IV fluids for nearly 36 hours but decided I wanted to go back on them because I had already vomited twice that morning. I was afraid of getting dehydrated again. The nurse attempted to place the IV back in the site they already had but it was clotted (someone wasn’t flushing it like they should have been). So, it required a new site. It took 45 minutes and 3 different nurses to finally get a needle back in me. It was a really rough start to the day. The nausea medication made me very drowsy and so I ended up sleeping most of the morning hours.
That afternoon, around 3:30, I started feeling like I had trapped gas. I remember telling my Mom that it felt strange and that I wasn’t sure if it was gas or not. She called the nurse and she put the heart and contraction monitors on me. She said baby Caleb was doing fine and that the monitor wasn’t picking up any contractions. But, things progressed. The pains continued and began coming faster and before we knew it, we were timing contractions.
I was rushed to labor and delivery and for the next five hours I was in labor. I remember asking the doctor if he was going to save my baby. He just said, “I’m sorry…” and I went to pieces. I was hysterical. I couldn’t believe this was happening. After all the years we had tried to have a family, to be given the gift of a pregnancy, and to have our son taken away from us. For what? Why were we being punished? What had we done to deserve this?
Labor was intense. My mom and husband were right by my side the entire time. Holding my hands, reminding me to breathe, giving me something to focus my sights on. Looking back it seems that those five hours took only a few brief moments. It’s amazing how time seems so distorted.
I remember being told I was fully dilated. I remember the doctor telling me that Caleb’s heart had stopped beating. I remember just wanting it to all be a dream. His cord became trapped and was compressed. Then, I pushed for an hour.
Caleb was born at 8:54pm & was placed in my arms after being weighed and measured. He was 14 ounces in weight and 10.7 inches in length. His little nose and ears were so tiny. His ten fingers and toes were so perfect. He was a perfect combination of both my husband and I. And he looked so peaceful.
Since Caleb was premature, my placenta didn’t want to detach. For the next several hours, my doctor tried to manually extract it (ie: hand inside tugging, pulling and tearing at it). It was so tightly attached that she was unable to remove it. I was in such excruciating pain. I was given pain medication (on top of what was given to me during labor). Eventually they decided I would need a D&C to extract what was left. I handed Caleb over to my husband and was whisked away to the operating room. I was put under anesthesia and my memories of the moments before are very traumatic, very painful. I can still see the oxygen mask being lowered onto my face. It’s the last thing I remember before waking up coughing. I was back in the labor & delivery room I was in before. I was only gone for 30 minutes.
Both of my parents, my brother & his wife, Chris’ dad, and my aunt and uncle were all with us that night. They each had the opportunity to hold Caleb. Unfortunately, my actual memories of that night are shotty at best. I have little puzzle pieces of memories scattered about in my mind, all out of order and all jumbled up. It was around 5:30 am when my husband and I were taken to another room to rest.
The day after delivering Caleb, we were able to spend time holding him, loving him, & praying with him. We were visited by friends and family who were all able to meet him and hold him. It was very important to us that we shared Caleb with those we loved and with those who love him.
Two days after delivering Caleb, on Thursday, April 19th I was released from the hospital. Handing Caleb to my nurse for the final time was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life. 8:30 a.m. on April 19th was the last time I ever held my son. Just 35 1/2 hours after he was delivered. Just 36 1/2 hours after his heart stopped beating.
That evening, we met with the funeral director and planned a funeral for our son. How do you plan the funeral for your child? How do you decide where you want to lay your child forever? How do you decide what type of flowers and music you want?
Somewhere during that painful process, we decided that it was very important to us that we celebrated Caleb. It was important that we sent praises to God for giving us a son. It was imperative that although we were in mourning, that we would have a beautiful service full of love and joy. We chose a message about Caleb and Joshua, two very faithful followers of Jesus who were allowed to enter the Holy land. In Numbers 14:24, Caleb is called Jesus’ servant, an honor above all others. We chose music that lifts our spirits and sends praise to Jesus. The band was incredible that day and really brought hope, peace and comfort to both Chris and I. “You are life, you are life; In you death has lost it’s sting…” (Forever Reign by Hillsong)
On Saturday, April 21st, we buried our son under a beautiful blooming dogwood tree. I was adamant that the funeral home not put up a green funeral tent or the fake grass mat. And when we arrived that morning for the service, his resting place looked so beautiful. The white petals of the tree were falling like snow, they covered the ground all over. The wind was lightly blowing as if to kiss our cheeks. It was perfect. His final resting place is in the Garden of Innocence, with other babies who’s lives ended too soon.
I have since found myself in the darkest of places, with aching arms and a broken heart. People who were once my friends have pushed themselves away because they don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to act. Normal activities like taking a shower, eating and driving to work are no longer the same. Then I discovered that normal doesn’t even exist anymore.
But then, God sent me gifts. Those gifts came disguised as new opportunities, laughter, and new friends. Friends who really get it. Friends who understand how it feels. And although I would never wish this upon anyone, I am elated to have met some of the incredibly amazing women who have been sent to me. And I realize that among the many reasons I will never fully understand, there are reasons for losing Caleb that I do understand. And maybe they aren’t reasons, but instead tributes to the children we have lost. By forming these exceptionally strong bonds with women I have never met, we are honoring our babies. We are celebrating their lives and we are each strengthened by one another.
My new normal is cluttered with tears, fading memories and disappointment. But my new normal is also brimming with deeper love, new friendships and true hope.
I continue Caleb’s Story here.