Caution: this post will probably be sad and very long.
I was thinking of posting this yesterday, but it was my anniversary, so I didn't. Plus, I didn't want to post two too serious posts in a row. I want this to be a happy blog. But I do feel that this is an important thing to share. It is a rather important part of my life now and I want to be able to refer to it here without people wondering "What is she talking about?"
I was pregnant at the beginning of this year. 21 weeks pregnant and filled with happy dreams and thoughts of a baby due in May. How fun it would be to have a tiny baby with me on all my activities this summer! I'd take him to Old Songs festival and dance to the folk music with him there. I imagined tying him to my back or front (I plan to be a baby-wearer) and picking summer berries with him. I'd take him for my hikes and sit on logs or rocks in the woods to breastfeed him. And on the weekends John and I would take him to the beach with us. We would be a real family, the three of us. And all our plans and ideas for anything happening after May of this year included a third brand-new person.
note: I didn't know he was a boy at the time; we chose not to get an ultrasound because of expense and we didn't have any insurance. But in proper English grammar "he" is appropriate if you don't know and less bulky than "he/she" so I always referred to the baby as a "he" to keep it simple and grammatically correct.
I hadn't realized at the time just how much love and eagerness we had put into my pregnancy and the product thereof. I certainly did everything I could to make sure I was healthy and the baby was healthy, starting even before conception. I took folic acid and gave it to John too so all parts of our future baby would be protected from spina bifida. I didn't really know what it was, but I definitely didn't want our progeny to have it. I stopped drinking alcohol once it was a possibility that I was pregnant. No babies with fetal alcohol syndrome for us! I read up on preconception diets and pregnancy do's and don'ts. Do get regular exercise - I started walking and stretching every day. Don't smoke - duh! Neither John nor I have ever smoked anything in our lives, and I didn't plan on starting while pregnant. But I made especially sure to stay away from any kind of second-hand smoke. I was going to do everything right.
When the happy day came when the pregnancy test was positive I wandered about in a dream planning my homebirth, reading about The Bradley Method and natural childbirth and looking up midwives in my area. I ordered my prenatals and omega3 fish oils to give my baby a brainy headstart. Our kid was going to be a genius, John and I both agreed. And maybe he would have been. We'll never know.
What we do know was that he was healthy. Incredibly well formed, handsome for his age and size. All the right organs in all the right places. He enjoyed kicking up a storm whenever I was resting on the couch, reading or crocheting, and frequently while lying in bed trying to fall asleep. I didn't mind. I loved feeling my baby. I became so accustomed to those kicks that even when he was gone I thought I was feeling them. And he had bravely kept up that kicking, even in the last hours of his life, when his home, my womb - the safest place on earth, supposedly- failed him and emptied itself of all amniotic fluid.
I think back to those days before it happened and wonder "if I had known, if I had called the midwife earlier, gone to the hospital before it was too late, could we have saved him?" The midwives and doctors said "No." But I wonder still. Maybe they're just trying to make me feel better. After all, "What if's" And "If only's" can't bring babies back anyway.
It was new year's eve and I felt the baby settle a bit, what felt like lower in my womb. He seemed to be directly on my bladder. Even when I didn't actually have to pee, I felt like I had to. Frequently, when he kicked, it felt like he was kicking my bladder. It was vaguely uncomfortable but I had heard that it was quite normal to feel a constant need to pee and I've heard and read about many pregnant women complaining of a baby being on their bladder. I brushed aside my worries and enjoyed a new year's eve party with friends, toasting the new year with sparkling cider and then scurrying off to bed to get a good night's sleep.
It occurred to me the next day that the real reason I was feeling uneasy was the change in my discharge. It had become watery and there seemed to be more than usual. Sometimes, I would feel the wet leak into my underwear and think I had peed some. That had happened occasionally, though usually along with a sneeze or a cough. It didn't feel like anything had escaped my bladder though. I thought to call my midwife, but I had only just called her the day before about some blood spotting. She said it was due to the intercourse we had had, and not to worry unless other miscarriage symptoms happened. So instead, I googled my problem. I found that sometimes it was amniotic fluid, but that usually was a light yellowish colour and smelled strange. My discharge didn't smell like anything and it was very clear. But then I read that sometimes it didn't smell like anything. I also read that when you get into your second trimester (which I had reached a few weeks before) your discharge becomes more watery. Well, that was probably it. I figured. And tried really hard to dismiss the knot in my stomach. I'm feeling it now, just thinking about it. Why didn't I call my midwife then?
New Years day was a Saturday. And it came and went without much happening. Sunday, my knotted stomach continued as the watery discharge did. And sunday night, while using the bathroom, a flood of liquid trickled into the toilet, it was definitely not pee. It was definitely not regular cervical mucus. I paled. I panicked. I told John. He told me to call the midwife right away. I desperately hoped to her reassuring me that I was silly to worry and get some sleep. Instead, she told me to meet her at her office as soon as possible. We got there around 9:30pm.
She did a test on the mysterious fluid, which I felt leaking a whole lot more after the gush. As far as her tests were confirmed, it was amniotic fluid. She sent us to a hospital she worked with to do further tests and see if we could save the baby.
Before heading to the hospital, John and I stopped at home to pick up some items - toothbrushes, books, a change of clothes. We didn't know how long we would be there. I grabbed my camera. I had read in "What to Expect when You're Expecting" That after 20 weeks, if you had to give birth, or went into labor, there was a slim chance the baby would survive. I held on to that thought with all my might. I brought my camera in case I had to give birth (I had no signs of going into labor). We'd have pictures of his first moments of life. John and I prayed the whole way to the hospital. I was feeling jarred, but hopeful. John kept saying it would be fine. He told me not to worry. It was going to be okay. I let myself think "Maybe it will be okay."
It wasn't okay. We endured tests from the moment we got to the hospital at 11pm until around 3am, when the current doctor on staff told us that as far as she could tell my womb was nearly devoid of all amniotic fluid and the baby probably wouldn't survive. "But" She told us, "We'll have to wait till morning, so we can do further tests with a much higher quality ultrasound machine to really see what's happening." John and I slept at the hospital, fearful for what the morning would bring.
I remember when I gave up hope. Or I thought I did at the time. We waited for the ultrasound technician to be ready, and breakfast to come. I wasn't hungry, but I forced myself to eat. From what the doctor had told us, if the ultrasound confirmed what she was afraid of, inducing labor would be our best option. I shoveled down unsweetened cream of wheat, barely tasting it. Around this time I caught John's eyes. They were wide and sad. He took my hand and whispered "we can try again."
My heart failed. All along John had been telling me it would be okay! If he had given up hope, it would definitely not be okay. "No!" I said. My voice caught and my objection turned into a sob. "Please, don't say that." I said. I wanted this baby. I didn't want to have to try again, I didn't want to have gone through all that- the hoping, the dreaming, the morning sickness- only to have to try again. Tears filled my eyes.
"I'm sorry." he said. "You're right. It will probably be okay." But I could tell he didn't mean it.
We went across the street where the little ultrasound office was located. They looked at our baby. He was strong and had an amazing heartbeat. He was in a womb that was empty. He had no chance to survive inside. And then another doctor came in to talk to us. At 21 weeks, life outside the womb was "inviable" she said. But, but, but? "What to Expect When You're Expecting" said.... Were my thoughts. She told us she was sorry. She told us our options: To wait until the baby died and let my body naturally go into labor, or to be induced and have the baby as soon as the pitocin went to work. The first option included the risk of infection and being monitored for up to a few days depending on how soon my body decided to expel a dead baby. We chose the latter. And then I realized I hadn't quite given up all hope until now. John was crying. I was crying. I was thinking "I've never seen my husband cry before." And I kept wishing I still hadn't seen it.
To make it worse, we had to call people and *cringe* tell them our terrible news. We called our friends first. We had had dinner plans with them and we called to tell them we wouldn't be making it and why. They immediately came to the hospital to see us. We called our pastor. He and his wife also came. I called my parents down in the Keys. My dad prayed for us and comforted me over the phone. He sounded very sad. He really likes having grandkids.
Every time John and I would manage to dry our tears and regain some composure, another person would find out and call, or come into see us and they'd be crying and we'd start all over again. It was terrible. And wonderful. We realized how many good friends we had up here.
Well, the pitocin kicked in and I went into labor. John and I hadn't started practicing the Bradley method together yet, but we both new the basics and put what we knew into action. I relaxed as much as possible and he held my hand and massaged my back. The midwife told me that my contractions and labor would be the same as if I were giving birth to a full sized baby. The only difference would be the actual pushing part. I had read so much on pregnancy and childbirth that I felt as prepared as I'd ever be.
Somehow, four hours went by. It felt so short! I kept my eyes closed nearly the whole time. I stayed as relaxed as possible and let my body do its thing. As long as John held my hand I felt okay. He left once to try and eat some food they had brought to him, and I felt completely deserted. He abandoned his burger and stayed by my until the end. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I felt this was a little unfair. I knew he had to eat, but I couldn't let him go. I needed him too badly. I also kept thinking, "wow, I have an amazing husband. How do women give birth without their husbands by their sides?"
I had to pee the whole time and it was really getting ridiculous. The midwife attending me let me try once, but it was in the bed that I was to try and I simply couldn't. I remember her checking to see how dilated I was and telling me it was okay if I wanted to push. Well, I didn't want to push, but I wanted to be done, so I did. He was a breech baby. His tiny body slipped out quickly and then I had to actually work his head out. That was hard. But it was short. I think. I felt so gross having half a baby hanging from my body and working up a sweat to push out his head. Head-first babies seem to have a lot going for them, kept thinking. Then it was over. I had my baby. A boy.
So he was a boy all along. I thought so. Then again, I had a 50/50 chance, so...
There's the facts: He was long and skinny and his skin was wrinkly and kind of see-through. He hadn't developed fat yet. His eyes hadn't finished perfecting yet so his eyelids were still fused shut. His fingers were lanky, one wrist was bent weirdly, like it had been broken during the rough birth. His head seemed much too big. He had some reddish abrasions and there was dried blood on his face. The midwife gave me a warm wet cloth to wipe his skin, but it was so delicate I was afraid to wipe him almost at all.
Then there were my feelings: He's perfect. He's beautiful. He's tiny. He's mine. I love him. The nurses gave him a little yellow preemie hat. We took a lot of pictures of him. We both held him and kissed him. We named him Solomon.
We spent another night there, at the hospital, with our still-born baby in a bassinet beside our bed. The next day we made arrangements for his incredibly small body to be cremated. I was numb after the birth. I had just gone through a very real labor and birth and after I went home, I had no baby to account for it. My womb was empty. My arms were empty. A mother without a child When it sunk in, I cried for a long time. On and off. John and I went home and slept. Friends brought us food, they cleaned our house, they invited us to their homes for dinner. One of the deacons in our church paid for my mom to fly up and be with me. We loved the company. It was better than being alone to think about it and cry. Of course. We did cry, but over the weeks it was less and less. John was an immense comfort. I wouldn't have gotten over it if it weren't for him. But then, like he said "You wouldn't be dealing with this if it weren't for me." True.
In one of my sketchbooks I have the quote by Christina Rossetti "Better by far that you should forget and be happy than remember and be sad." And it's true for me. Of course, one has to allow themselves to grieve, but after a point the grieving doesn't help any more. It's like beating a dead horse. And even the sympathy gets old. I never knew how to respond to it. "Thanks" "I'm sorry too"? I won't forget Solomon, but I can remember him now without sadness at his death and the circumstances surrounding it. (Though I admit to shedding quite a few tears while writing this.)
So, nearly three months later, I feel pretty well recovered. My body is finally healed (though that was quite an ordeal in itself.) One more period from now and I have the doctor's go-ahead to try again. And I'm looking forward to it. I want to try again now. I'm willing to go through it all again for a live baby. Solomon can't be replaced, but he can have siblings.
Here is a link to photos of my first son:
please be warned that while he is a fully human-shaped child, he was a little undeveloped yet, so they might be somewhat disturbing and very sad to the weak of heart.