My daughter, Nora, was delivered into this world, dead at 40 weeks and 4 days after a perfectly normal and healthy pregnancy. She was stillborn due to an infection that was from the normal bacteria in my body, that my immune system could not fight off or protect her from. Her delivery story is below. (I don’t call it her birth story because she did not have the chance to be born awake into this world.)
She was dead, stillborn, but I was still proud — I knew my daughter was going to be born dead. But, not at first. When my husband and I arrived at the hospital, 40 weeks and 4 days overdue, we were excited about finally meeting our little, baby girl. It was 3 a.m. and I sat on the bed as the nurse put the fetal monitor on me to prepare for the long journey of labor. The fetal monitor couldn’t detect a heartbeat, which was usually so easy for the doctors to find with the Doppler wand. Nora was a strong baby, a kicker, and her heartbeat was pulsating from 12 weeks.
When the nurse couldn’t find her heartbeat, I got scared. “Is everything okay? Everything will be okay. Nothing is going to happen to MY baby, not us. I just worry too much. It must be the fact that I’m having contractions that they can’t find a heartbeat. The doctor will know what to do.” All these thoughts went through my head.
Then, the doctor came in with the nurse who rolled the ultrasound machine in behind him. I could feel that this was not going to be good. The look on the nurse’s face was that of terror, which caused fear in my heart. The doctor placed the ultrasound goo on my stomach and placed the wand on top of my large belly. Then she was on the screen, like she had been so many times before. But, wait, she wasn’t moving. The place where her heart should have been fluttering was still. Her image on the ultrasound looked like a portrait. No movement. The doctor kept searching, and stared at the ultrasound, for what seemed like hours. I knew. She was dead. I knew.
I had a contraction then, and in my mind I said to myself, “Just say it! Just say it! She’s dead. My baby is dead.” As this realization played over and over in my head, it was interrupted by the turn of the doctor’s head and a simple, “I’m sorry. Nothing.”
That is when, as a therapist, I could read the shock and denial all over my husband’s face and with his response, “What?! Are you sure? Is there anything we can do?” The doctor replied, “I’m sorry, she is gone.”
Nick burst into tears. I watched him as if life was passing in slow motion. The memory of this moment is forever engraved in my heart of my husband as he was told his child had died, before she ever entered the world. His feeling of elation, excitement, and pride that he had 30 seconds ago as a father-to-be ready to meet his daughter on her day of delivery, had vanished with the words, “I’m sorry.”
Even with life moving in slow motion, I still had my wits about me. I reached for Nick and pulled his head into my chest and close to my belly where my daughter now lay dead, with the nurse and doctor staring silently at us. I asked them politely to leave and they did. Nick and I wept. I said I was sorry. Nick cried. My worst nightmare had come true.
The doctor came back in a few minutes later and I asked, “What do we do now?” He said, “We deliver the baby.” I asked for a C-section. The doctor said no, that it wasn’t in my best interest. I was shocked, angry, and at a loss. I thought to myself that this is unfair. I don’t want to deliver her; I don’t want to be awake for this. I don’t want to go through this emotional pain. Who cares about the physical pain, just rip her out of me. You already told me my baby is dead, why do I have to suffer the emotional and physical pain of delivering her. Do something!!! Be useful, I was thinking. You couldn’t save my baby, but maybe you could save me some pain and suffering.
That was not the case. I would then spend the next 12 hours in labor. The nurse asked me after the doctor left, “What is your birth plan?” She was well-meaning and kind, but I thought to myself, “Are you nuts, lady? There is not going to be a birth. Just the delivery of a dead baby.” I replied out loud with a flat, “I don’t want to feel anything.” They gave me an epidural and the next 12 hours were the longest of my life.
I had wonderful nurses who helped me through the delivery process. The doctors made me labor down, which was basically waiting for my body to decide when and how it would proceed with labor. I wasn’t keen on this plan. I didn’t want to wait. I was so done. I wanted her out. To make matters worse, I had a fever that kept rising. It was 102.9 for hours, even with them giving me antibiotics. I would start to shake from the infection that we learned had caused her death.
I started to worry about me. “Was I going to die too?” I looked over at Nick and I could tell he, too, was concerned with this question that I had not uttered out loud. He kept trying to tell me it would be okay. I told him not to say that. He had said that when we were waiting to hear Nora’s heartbeat, and everything was not okay. He seemed to understand my request, and never did utter those words again that day. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if he has since.
The emotions that had accumulated in Nick’s body over the death of his daughter, and then the idea of possibly losing me, caused him to rush to the bathroom to vomit four times. I could hear him throwing up as I lay helpless in my hospital bed shaking uncontrollably from fever. My heart was aching for Nick, for Nora, for me. I didn’t want to die, even though a part of me just had. I needed to live, if only to save my poor husband from suffering another loss. He had just lost his daughter; I was not going to let him lose me.
My new doctor came in and I bombarded her with questions about my health. I finally asked pointblank, “Am I going to be okay?” She reassured me that I would be fine, unlike the previous doctor. I also believed her, because she didn’t come by too often or make a fuss over me. I knew in the world of medicine, the less you actually see the doctor, the better. After hearing this news and while waiting for the contractions to get closer, Nick passed-out on the pull out chair next to me. He couldn’t take the emotions any longer. He needed a break. He needed to sleep.
Later, when he woke, I would ask him if he needed to get something to eat, go get coffee, or talk with our family that was waiting in the room next door. He wouldn’t do it. He politely refused to leave my side, no matter how much he needed to eat or get a cup of caffeine. In my deepest, darkest, moment of despair, I felt so much love for this man and with his quiet actions of protection of me in that delivery room, I knew he felt it for me too.
The time finally came when I was to give birth to Nora. The doctor came in and the two nurses, Jen and Rosie were holding my legs, while my husband was by my side holding my hand. It was time to push. It was time for this nightmare to be over. Or was it time for my nightmare to truly begin?
I pushed and pushed, but Nora would not come out. The epidural was wearing off and we needed to speed up the process. She was dead, so she could not “help” they said. The doctor used a vacuum to assist. It didn’t work the first time, or the second, or the tenth time. I lost track how many times the doctor tried to vacuum her out as I pushed through a contraction, and the suction cup of the vacuum would pop off and blood would spatter everywhere. It was horrifying.
And then it happened. She was delivered. There was no sound. No crying, screaming, or movement. But she was here, all 8lbs and 5oz of her. They laid her on my chest. Again, another moment when time stood still. She was beautiful. She had dark brown hair, long lush eye lashes, soft chubby checks, a small button nose, and big luscious lips. Oh, how I loved her lips. She was perfect. She felt perfect as I held her on my chest and in my arms, and in that moment, I was proud. I had that indescribable feeling every mother talks about when their baby is born. It was the worst and best moment of my life. I had gotten to meet my child. The child that I had so lovingly cared for and we had prepared for these last 9 months. She was breathtaking. That moment was breathtaking, not just for my joy and unconditional love I felt for her, but also for knowing that this moment was all I would have with her. For that tiny millisecond I had forgotten the horrifying truth and lived in that moment of happiness of seeing my daughter for the first, and what would be my last, time. It was unbelievably breathtaking.
She was born dead. Stillborn. But I was still proud.