Thanks for visiting No Twiddle Twaddle. I’m sharing my stories of birth and motherhood in a series called: Motherhood: A Journey of Laughter, Tears, and Love. You can start with my first and humorous account of my first child’s birth.
Today, I’m writing about my second child’s birth and short life. His birthday will be in just a couple days and October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month in the United States, so this post seems appropriate though its difficult to write. Stories like these are important as many women suffer in silence. Breaking the silence builds empathy and helps celebrate the love that we share as moms.
I was 22 weeks pregnant with my second child, feeling great and having no medical issues. My 20 week ultrasound had revealed we would be having a second boy. My husband and I were elated and I was just starting the process of sorting through clothes and baby items to get ready for the birth.
Then, I woke up one Friday and saw just one spot of blood. I had bled off and on multiple times with my first, but I finally decided to call the doctor. Just in case.
I told my doctor that I wasn’t worried. My son was still kicking and moving and felt fine. He said, “I’m not worried about the baby right now. I’m worried that you are dilating.” I drove to the doctor’s office immediately.
But, the visit was reassuring. I showed no physical changes of dilation and the baby’s heart beat was normal. An ultrasound was scheduled for Monday and I was sent home and told to take it easy.
I rested on the couch trying not to think about all the work that I needed to do, but instead of getting better I continued to bleed lightly and started having mild contractions. I phoned the doctor again. This time I was sent to the hospital for an emergency ultrasound.
My husband and I raced to the hospital. I was in denial that anything could be wrong and was just hoping to finish our visit in time for our evening plans. When my turn for an ultrasound came, I was relieved to see that our son was fine and that the placenta was still attached with no visible bleeding.
But then the doctor on call checked my cervix. I wasn’t worried, after all I was fine yesterday. But, the doctor’s face didn’t look reassuring this time.
“I’m sorry, but we will have to hospitalize you until birth,” she said. “You are two centimeters dilated and your bag of water is protruding. It looks like a balloon about to burst. If you lay very still, there is a small chance that your bleeding will stop, your bag of waters will retract, and we can perform an emergency cerclage.”
I was confined to a hospital bed and instructed to move as little as possible. Placed in the dreaded Trendelenberg position with my head significantly below my feet, I was extremely uncomfortable. At one point I could not stop coughing, and I asked the nurse if my coughing threatened my pregnancy. Her answer of “yes” chilled me.
We were visited by a NICU specialist and shown a chart where all the pain and joy of thousands was reduced to columns of numbers. Our baby had less than 5 percent chance of survival based on his age. While the prospect of a 24-25 week birth was still grim, in my situation it was the only miracle that I was encouraged to hope for.
But, I was confident that everything would be okay. Everything had been perfect and I was so healthy.
I woke up bleeding significantly and contracting. By mid-morning, my contractions were regular. I waited for a break in visitors to talk to my husband. I’m going to give birth, I told him. I can feel it, and I can’t stop it.
Shock took over and my thoughts became robotic in those hours. I calmly breathed through my increasingly more painful contractions and talked to guests who kept telling me that I would be fine. By late afternoon though, I asked the medical staff if I could change my position as my contractions were painful to the point that I couldn’t continue to lay still. Due to the bleeding, a magnesium wash or other medications were not an option to stop labor.
My body was killing my baby by giving birth at 22 weeks. I had no choice to comply. My emotions were so cold from shock and exhaustion that I almost felt almost nothing. I chose to give birth with no pain medication. The pain of birth was preferable to the raging pain inside.
When my little boy was born though, my shock turned to love. He was beautiful even at 22 weeks. True his coloring was dark and he was extremely thin like all young preemies. But, his face, hands, and feet were perfect. And, he was still living, barely by a strand. My miracle was that I was able to hold him living and let him pass away in my arms loved and secure.
Good hospitals perform simple death rites for parents who lose infants. The nurses dress the babies in beautiful homemade clothes, give the baby a bath, and take photos.
This process was a horrible experience but it was right. Our baby deserved to be treated like a human and shown respect.
I left the hospital Monday. I was exhausted and felt terrible, but the doctors wanted to discharge me and I was tired of the hospital. It was then that the reality hit me. Losing my child wasn’t the hardest part, the hardest part was going to be living without him.
When the aid came with a wheelchair to take me to my car all I had was a box of my baby’s things on my lap. The aid couldn’t seem to understand why I couldn’t stop crying, and mumbled something about how “she understood having lost a grandma.” I experienced for the first time the isolation of losing a baby, how so many people think that they understand but the people who understand the best never say so because they know they can’t ever fully understand your grief.
I felt such a sense of shame being wheeled from labor and delivery without my baby. I felt like a failure as a mother. I felt empty, confused, and burning with sadness.
Rather than going home to take care of a baby, I went home to grieving relatives and friends. I started the overwhelming processes of funeral planning while recovering from birth and of mothering one child while grieving the death of another child.
In the weeks ahead, life continued to feel like a cruel joke. My milk came in on schedule with no baby to drink it. My insurance company sent me brochures about well visits and the importance of breast feeding. My older child patted my belly still enlarged from pregnancy asking about the baby. And, I dreaded going out for fear that any numbers of triggers would send me into an emotional spiral.
The Conquering of Love in Loss
As time went on though, I began to understand that the sadness was just a part of my experience. That the sadness only existed because of the love. That love for my child was greater than loss. And, that I would never choose to let go of even my short experience with my child in order to not experience the pain of losing my child.
Spiritually, I experienced a similar emotions. God seemed absent and distant and reading the Bible was difficult. But, just like in The Princess in the Goblin, I felt the thread of faith running through my experience. There was always just the sliver of light to follow even though everything else seemed dark. The beauty and mystery of God that I experienced and wrestled with, I don’t believe that I ever would have seen except for the darkness.
Even though I would give anything to have my child back, I believe that he gave me one of the greatest gifts in his death. He taught me core lessons about who I was, what I believe, and gave me the courage to live life again after loss.
That’s why I want to remember Reuben today, and tell his story. I don’t want his story to be that his loss conquered me, but instead for his story to be that the love I experience in loss inspired me.
And, that’s why I would love for his birthday to see his life inspiring kindness. Would you consider doing an small act of kindness today or over the next week in memory of him? And, then sharing that story with me.
I can’t think of a better say to say “Happy Birthday, Reuben.”
Hi! I’m Bethany. I’m a mom, weekly Greenville News columnist, and co-owner of Kidding Around Greenville SC. Welcome to my parenting blog No Twiddle Twaddle, all about adding a little magic to kids’ lives through play and reading. If you are new, don’t miss these popular posts: Skin Therapy Play Dough, Sticky Blocks, and 50+ No Sew Halloween Costumes. You can join me on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest (I’m a BHG.com Pinner Pro!). Subscribe via email to get my updates straight in your inbox.