I feel the need to document, the need to put it out there and tell the world my story.
I find myself telling strangers, the ones I buy coffee from or the bill collectors on the phone for no reason at all. It’s like I can’t hold it in. It’s all I have most of the time and so it just comes out. At first I’m smiling and then I speak the words and tears swell up in my eyes and there it is, it’s left my mouth and is floating in the space in front of me- “I just lost my son”.
We found out we were pregnant on July 23rd, 2013. That seems like a lifetime ago. Every day for the 247 days after we spent thinking about, dreaming of, and preparing for the arrival of our son Hayden. Pregnancy lasts a really long time now that I look back, it is for that reason it’s not only a baby I lost but almost a full year of my life spent nesting for one. The body of a woman is an incredible thing and mine changed dramatically. At only 5″2 with little legs and feet I carried a GIANT belly, my bones shifted and ached keeping me up at night, my throat burned from the constant acid re-flux I experienced. I started negotiating with myself the importance of picking up objects I dropped because bending over would take a substantially long time to recover from. All of these changes and pains worth it and even comical and the butt of many jokes because we were awaiting our first child and he would become the joy and responsibility we both longed for.
Nothing in this world could have prepared me for this. There was no indication that anything would happen to change our near future and to rupture our dreams of holding our perfect and living son in our arms by the arrival of spring. We attended prenatal classes weekly for 10 weeks and not once was there a fear instilled to the possibility of stillbirth, I researched everything I could on delivering a baby to prepare myself and nothing scared me, my doctors’ appointments were perfect and healthy and gave no preparation for the possibility of my baby being born dead. It was completely and utterly out of the question. I even remember skimming through one of my childbirth books in my last few weeks of pregnancy looking over the examples of birth plans. There was a page that allowed you to indicate your wishes should your baby not make it and I DISTINCTIVELY remember turning the page without a second thought on the subject.
“I never imagined myself the kind of woman who would be touched by a tragedy.”
That just won’t happen because I am healthy, the baby is healthy, I am only 25, and I never imagined myself the kind of woman who would be touched by a tragedy like that. It just wasn’t going to happen because it’s 2014, the advances in science and medicine are reassuring and I have never known anyone who lost a baby in childbirth.
On March 26th, a Wednesday, Nick and I went in for our weekly check in with our obstetrician. I was 3 days overdue and had been trying EVERYTHING to induce labor. I had received a membrane sweep the week before but was only 1 centimeter dilated with a still thick cervix. My entire week’s only focus was to try anything that could encourage this baby to make his way out of my body and into my arms. Walking, sex, raspberry leaf, stairs, pineapple, nipple stimulation- you name it! If you could find it on the internet I was doing it, I no longer cared about the credibility of old wives tales I was on a mission and would take the advice of a house plant if I could end the agony of pregnancy and of waiting to meet my precious little boy. I looked like a mild version of the Joker sitting in the doctor’s office that Wednesday with a pale pink rash curving out on either side of the corners of my mouth thanks to having devoured an entire pineapple to myself the night before while walking in circles around my apartment. Another sweep, this time my cervix was 75% effaced so things were looking up. She laughed at me for my efforts and we all smiled about the situation that would inevitably end very soon. We set and induction date for April 1st (Nick thought that would make a really funny birthday for Hayden) and went on our way with the reassuring final words of our doctor “I would be surprised if you didn’t go sooner!”
For the rest of the day I was having a lot of lower back pain and hoped it was a sign. I checked my trusty Google search results only to find that some women have back pain for a week before they go in to labor, so I put it out of my mind and felt a sense of comfort that even if he didn’t come that night or by the weekend I would have him before a week’s time. I remember that evening perfectly. I was so uncomfortable and tired of walking around and bouncing on my exercise ball that I had propped myself up on the couch and we planned to spend the night watching movies. Nick decided we needed pizza and even though it was horrible outside with slush and snow he managed to get the car out of the driveway to pick up our order, only to return soon after empty handed having forgotten his wallet. We laughed, we were happy, we didn’t think anything as horrible and tragic as this would occur less than 24 hours later.
That night in bed I woke up with horrible back pain. I felt a boost of energy and was wide awake talking to Nick as I bounced on the exercise ball next to the bed. The pain was only in my back but was coming in waves like contractions. When they got really bad I called the hospital at about 4:30am, they told me to stay home. The contractions started to wrap around and were definitely felt both in my back and front and were 7 minutes apart lasting over a minute. Again the hospital told me to stay home, this was at 8am. I was told to stay home until they were 2 minutes apart for 2 to 3 hours straight. I tried my best to listen to that nurse and sat in the hot bath for a while running the hot water over and over again with each contraction. I called my friends and my family and let them know Hayden was coming soon and Nick prepared everything we needed for the hospital. I stalled as much as I could hearing the tone of the nurse’s voice in my head which sounded so unconcerned and so unwelcoming of my presence this early. I held on to Nick in the kitchen every time a contraction came, they were now 4 minutes apart and VERY painful. With my arms around his neck I swayed and we practiced rhythmic breathing together until each one passed. In the short moments of peace between the pain we smiled and laughed and felt together the excitement that came with knowing our first child was on his way.
When I absolutely could not take it anymore we loaded up the car and left for the hospital. I remember making the comment that Hayden would be born on a beautifully sunny day, Nick told me not to count on it as I might be in there for a while and how he could even be born the next day. The radio was on and some man was telling a story about a turkey and the gift of giving. It really didn’t make sense but I found it funny and remember thinking this was what was on the radio the day I went in to deliver my son and how I wanted to remember it. I wanted to remember everything about that morning so I could one day tell Hayden the story of his birth.
I want to note, and it should be noted because it is part of the tragedy, that one of the women from our prenatal group was heading in to the hospital to deliver as well. I knew this because she was due 3 days before me and we walked around the mall together aimlessly a few days before both trying to induce labor. We sent texts everyday “anything?” “no, you?” “nope”. She was being induced on the 27th and told me she was already at the hospital. I told her I would see her there. Unfortunately only one of us left the hospital with a son.
When we arrived at 11am he dropped me off at the front doors and I waited for him at the entrance as he parked the car. Near me sat a very old man and he took one look at me and made a comment like “Well, you look like you’re ready to pop!” I told him I was having the baby today and he sort of nodded and then looked away. A contraction came again and I held on to the bench as I tried to work through it without making the strange rhythmic chanting sounds that seemed to help. I tried my best to suffer in silence in such a public place. When he came through the doors we quickly walked towards the elevators, I knew I had about 3 minutes until another contraction came. I was right outside the doors of labor and delivery when one came and I held on to the railing on the wall for dear life waiting for it to pass. A nurse walking out noticed me and had the door held ready for me to enter when I could manage to walk again as she called out to the others to find a room. I got the first room in the hall, which was the same room we viewed the month before when we had our tour of the wing and the same room I had on Sunday the 23rd (my due date) after going in to check on the baby because I couldn’t remember the last time I felt his movement- of course, everything was fine then and I was just being paranoid. He was already so low that movement would be less and they sent me home with a chart to keep to track. Only 6 movements in a 2 hour period once a day was needed for my peace of mind.
The nurse, Megan, began calling me “mama”, gave me a johnny shirt and robe and had me change in the bathroom. When I came out I told her I had originally hoped to not have any drugs that would get to the baby and make him sleepy as I had had a breast reduction a few years back and wanted Hayden to be alert when he came out as to increase my chances of breastfeeding with him. The thought of being unable to give my baby breast milk haunted me throughout my pregnancy and I joined networks and groups regarding the issue and borrowed BFAR (Breastfeeding after reduction) books from the library. I even made delicious lactation cookies the week before and ate them ritualistically and with purpose. As I look back now, all the worries I had about little things concerning the care of my child seem so meaningless and in vain as the real concern was whether I would even have a child to fuss over such things for.
Now it gets really hard..
This is the part of my memory that is in an out of a very dark place- a place that could make me as dark as it is.
This is where I almost lost my mind and sometimes still lose it..
Megan laid me down on the bed and began getting me ready for the monitor. I told her I still had those yellow straps given to me by the nurse who put me on the monitor 4 days ago and told me to keep them for next time as it was a waste to keep throwing them out. Megan grabbed new ones from the drawer and sarcastically said she wasn’t concerned about the hospital’s budget. I laughed a little. That was the last time I would laugh without a heartache behind it.
When she couldn’t find a heartbeat the room was silent. I kept looking at Nick who was sitting on the chair across from me near the window. I panicked a little but at the same time I didn’t believe it. He was too low right now, my heart was too loud. She said she couldn’t really tell if the faint beating she heard was my heart or my baby’s and left the room to get the doctor. As soon as she left Nick got out of his chair and began moving the monitor around my belly. We had bought a cheap Doppler called “Angel Sounds” from Ebay early on in my pregnancy and he was always the best at finding the baby’s heart. I suppose the name of that little Doppler is a bit ironic now. More panic ensued as he still couldn’t find it and we were both silent and waiting in shock. The possibility of this couldn’t be. We were JUST at a healthy appointment listening to his perfect heartbeat. The doctor came in with a lap top connected to an ultrasound and she put it on me immediately. She watched the screen for a moment in silence, the tension in the room was so tight. Nick, the nurse Megan, and a male doctor in residence I had met the day before at the clinic were all around me. She then turned to me-this is the part that hurts the most to remember- and said “I am so sorry”.
Everything fell apart around me. I didn’t understand and I began shooting out questions through tears. “What?” ..”What?!!!!?” .. I even slapped myself in the face to check if this was a nightmare. My boyfriend held my hand tight and we both began to cry. Megan cried too and the male doctor in residence looked at me with sad and pitiful eyes and left the room. I think his heart broke for me, whose wouldn’t?
After that it all became surreal. I kept asking if it was something I did and was patted and told it was nothing I did or could have prevented and that these things just happen sometimes. They both left the room to leave me and the father alone for a few minutes to grieve together.
“He held my face in his hands and we both cried for the confusing and unimaginable loss of our son.”
He held my face in his hands and we both cried for the confusing and unimaginable loss of our son. I kept telling him I was sorry and he kept telling me it wasn’t my fault. I don’t think I thought it was either, I think I was just really sorry for him that his son died inside my body and that this was our reality. More contractions came and now I hated them. There was no point to my pain and I became angry. When they came back in the room I told them I wanted all the drugs I could get because I didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t remember what I was given or how it was administered. Morphine? But I didn’t have an IV at first. They told me I would be delivering him naturally as it was safer than a C-Section. The thought of that was hard to take because I just wanted him out of me. I didn’t want my dead son in my belly anymore. I didn’t understand how I would have the strength or will power to push my baby out of me knowing there would be no cry. They wheeled me in to a specialist’s room who performed detail ultrasounds to see if there was any indication as to why this happened. The nurse’s station was crowded with a circle of nurses who stopped talking as I went by them and looked at me out of the corner of their eyes.
We watched our baby on the screen, his perfect four chamber heart motionless. The specialist looked at all his organs and could not find anything wrong or suspicious, just that he was not alive. She estimated his weight at 8 pounds 9 ounces.
We returned to the room with the window, the room we heard our baby’s heartbeat in with smiles on our faces only four days ago, the room we asked questions in about the labor process while on our tour a month ago. I called my mother who was 4 time zones away in Alberta to tell her and she cried for me and told me she was so sorry this was happening to me. I called my best friend (who was also pregnant), the last time I had spoken to her I was in the tub earlier that morning describing what labor felt like and laughing before hanging up as another contraction came. Since I was 3 months ahead of her in our first pregnancies I was always the one to update her on what to expect and how things worked. It was like I had the extra bit of wisdom for this new experience we were both going through.
A different woman came in with a cart full of endless vials for blood. She was going to start drawing blood although I am not sure why. I have always had a fear of getting blood tests. Throughout my pregnancy any time I would have to go in for regular blood tests the staff all knew me and kindly took me to the back room intended for children with Disney character stickers on the walls where I could lay down, have my mini panic attack, and then get a banana Popsicle afterwards. It was cute and kind of special. This time it was no picnic. No amount of banana Popsicle or images of Donald Duck could lessen my anxiety that was about more than the 12 vials of blood she was about to take but about the fact that I was still in labor with my dead son still inside me. At that point I could handle some stupid blood tests but I couldn’t handle her. As she prepared my arm for the needle another horrible contraction came and I asked her if she could wait while I worked through it. She actually looked down at her watch and said “I can wait a minute”. I could not believe this woman. If I wasn’t fighting the pain of my contracting uterus I would have had words for her but instead I shot a dirty look around the room to make it known that this was NOT ok. I was thankful when she finally left.
Things became a blur after that as they hooked me up to IV’s and pumped me full of fentanyl and morphine.
“They moved me to a dark room at the end of the ward and dimmed the lights.”
I was given pictocin too to help speed up my labor. Nick called his parents and they came in right away. I was in and out of consciousness for the next 8 hours. They moved me to a dark room at the end of the ward and dimmed the lights. My boyfriend stayed by my side as we all waited for the delivery. Just before I was fully dilated around 7pm a nurse came in to tell Megan her shift was over but she told her she was staying for this. I really appreciate that. Nick and I will both always remember her as a part of that day.
When it came time to push I gave it everything I had and delivered my perfect son at 7:56pm on March 27th. He weighed 8 pounds and 3 ounces and was 21 inches long. I looked down and saw a lifeless little body with dark hair laying on the table next to the placenta. I saw the cord and couldn’t believe how big it was. Nick told me later he could see that it was wrapped around his shoulder and neck.
Before I started pushing, they asked me if I wanted to hold him and take pictures. I didn’t know what I felt about that. The idea of taking pictures of my dead baby seemed strange and morbid. When he came out though, all I wanted was to see him. They cleaned him up and put him in my arms and his father and I both stared at his gorgeous face in both awe and agony. Family came in (his family, not mine as mine were all miles away) for the next few hours as we all held him and passed him around. It didn’t feel like he was really gone at first. I believe part of him was in that room still. He had my lips and eyes and his father’s facial structure and ears. His hands and feet were so big for a newborn and we were right in our predictions during the pregnancy. We used to joke about how big he would be as a child and adult. Nick would tell people I was going to be the first woman to ever give birth to a baby bigger than she was. You could clearly tell he would have been a big healthy boy and eventually a towering son over his little mother. My heart cries for everything he would have been or could have been every night when the room is dark and silent and I am left alone with my thoughts.
I slept fine that night in the hospital all doped up and exhausted from labor. Nick didn’t rest as easy on the cot next to me completely sober with his painful heartbreak. They gave me an ativan before bed for my nerves and to help my sleep and I asked if he could have one too because I knew his anxiety was overpowering and difficult for him to manage. The nurse told me he wasn’t a patient and walked away. That made me angry. He lost a child that day too. He held his dead son in his arms and kissed him goodbye. The next morning when I realized this was not a joke I felt a scary depression start to roll in. The room was dark and ailing and Nick was still lying on his cot but I knew he was awake. I needed to get up and I went in the bathroom and started washing my face and applying makeup. I had brought my makeup bag thinking I wanted to look nice for the first pictures of Hayden and I. I put my eyeliner on darker than normal that morning. I was a dead baby’s mother and so that felt appropriate.
We couldn’t leave until the social worker came in to speak to me. I prepared for her entry placing my chair perfectly next to my boyfriend’s and she came and sat across from us with a pile of papers in her arms. She had empathetic eyes and carefully chosen words but she directly them only at me. She didn’t look at him once. I kept looking at him after she would say something to try to provoke and remind her that there are two people in this room who just lost their child, not one.
The paperwork had all been done the night before after they took Hayden from us. I couldn’t see straight to write so Nick filled them out. The chosen funeral home for him to be sent to after the autopsy, his stillbirth registration… At least he was given a name and would be documented somewhere and our future relatives could find him when they search their genealogy. What a sad and pathetic kind of “at least”.
“It is in the past and we could have done nothing different to prevent it.”
There is a lot of anger in me that I am not allowing myself to feel. I am not letting myself get carried away with it because I know it’s useless, futile, and only going to poison me. The bottom line is that nothing about the way this worked out for us can change. It is in the past and we could have done nothing different to prevent it. If I allow myself to wonder about when it happened, when Hayden took his last breath in me I start to lose control. I had been in labor at least 6 and a half hours before I finally went to the hospital. Why did I listen to that stupid nurse who advised me to stay home as long as possible? If I had of went in earlier they would have caught the baby in distress and did something about it, saved his life. Why didn’t my doctor send me in early for an induction, she could clearly see how uncomfortable I was and how my little body was struggling to hold the weight of my belly. On my due date he was perfect and healthy and breathing, the day before my delivery he was the same. Why would this happen in the last few hours I had him inside me? How is that fair? Why was I the only woman in my prenatal class who would not take home a baby? I was the one who asked the most questions, took it so seriously, took the advice, took all my vitamins and iron pills. This was my first child and I needed him.
Everything after is just a series of sunrises and sunsets made up of the two of us trying to get by each moment without surrendering to the dark sides of our minds. It has gotten easier and the closeness we share is all I can thank for my ability to still be standing. We have already packed up Hayden’s things and got them out of the house, we have already received all the condolences we are probably going to receive from those around us. The world is still turning, tacky commercials still play on the radio and we still have to shovel our driveway. The world doesn’t stop for you when you experience a tragedy, nor do people. They are really really sorry for our loss but they continue on with their day and take funny pictures of their cats and go to sleep easy. Nothing changes but us.
I am changed forever. I feel too young for this kind of burden but there is no age limit for tragedy. This has and will make me older. I am a mother even though I have no child. My breasts leak milk (to my surprise) yet I have no baby to nurse. My body is scared with marks of his presence, my hips are a little wider and I’m still bleeding. My belly jiggles when I laugh and even though I can barely eat I’m still 20 pounds heavier than what I was 9 months ago. I created a perfect life and it died inside me. I created a love inside me bigger than the universe and carried it for almost 41 weeks. I felt its kicks and hiccups and that love is still here it just has nowhere to go.
Maybe it does, though, and maybe I don’t always see it clearly but it’s manifesting every day. In a greater love I can give myself than I had before for being proud of my strength and of the woman I will become because this happened to me. In a greater love for my husband who I am married at the court house in June because this happened to us.
I know this will never go away but I want to imagine I can live with it. I want to imagine that I will accept this as my fate and make peace with it. I think peace is the light at the end of my tunnel and only my two feet can get me there. I would like to imagine my son Hayden is watching me and I would like to make him proud.
Photo credit: adapted from mescon | Flickr