Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why June 18th Breaks My Heart

I wrote this in June, 2001.

Nathan, My Stillborn Son

On Monday, June 18, I woke up with cramping in my lower abdomen. I got up in a fog (as usual) and went off to the bathroom (as usual). I was 37 weeks along, so I was antsy about the waiting. This was my second pregnancy, though, so I felt that I had a clue about what to expect.

Well, after about fifteen minutes had passed, I realized that I'd had this cramping three times. I thought to myself, "Wow, that kind of feels like contractions." They were mild, however, and I had no back pain with them so I wasn't too worried, and I told my husband to go off to work as usual. As time passed, they immediately started to come stronger , more painfully, and started out in my lower back and spread to my abdomen. Finally, at about 7, I called the OB on-call and he said that it sounded as though I were in the beginning of labor, and to come on in to the hospital.

I called my husband at work and told him and then realized that I was starting to bleed a little. I knew that this was normal with rapid effacement and dilation, and since I had been fully closed up and not effaced at all just days earlier at my internal, I thought, "Wow! This is happening fast."

I got my daughter Natalie and went downstairs and woke up my sister-in-law, Mary (Thank God she was there, as you'll see) and told her that she needed to drive me to the hospital since I was in labor. I called a neighbor to watch Natalie and we took off. The pain got worse and worse in my back. "Oh great," I thought, "Back labor." and when we were about 7 minutes out from the hospital, I felt a warm gush as my waters broke. I started stuffing paper napkins down my shorts to keep from getting her seats all gross, when I saw that the fluid was very bloody. She floored it and I waddled into the hospital and they whisked me up to the Family Birth Center.

I got there and they saw the blood and sort of said, "Wow, you must be really dilating fast." They checked me and I was at 5 cm. Then they hooked me up to a fetal monitor and found a strong heartbeat of 120. It wasn't until they put the pulse monitor on my finger that they saw that they were picking up my heartbeat on the fetal monitor. Then, I had two OB nurses searching for my son's heart beat as we waited for my OB to arrive. She got there not long afterward (at the time it felt as though hours had passed, I was in so much pain and now was worried for my son). She checked me and attached an internal monitor, and broke my waters. What came out was a rush of bright red blood mixed with the fluid. She saw the fetal heart rate was all over the place, and I saw from the look on her face that it was bad. She ran (I'm not kidding) out of the room and I heard the words "abruption" and "emergency c-section" and I knew in my heart that my son was dead.

They wheeled me into the OR. As luck would have it, she had an entire OR staff prepared in one room to do a scheduled hysterectomy. She ran in and told them to move their asses to the next room to do an emergency section for a placental abruption. They moved fast. By now, on the operating table, I was shaking, freezing cold, seeing flashing spots and fiery arcs in the periphery of my vision, and lightheaded. As the anesthesiologist put the mask on my face to give me oxygen, my throat closed up so that I felt as if I couldn't breathe. I got more and more panicky, certain that if I let them put me out that I would die. I remember starting to shake and seize and then nothing.

My next memories are spotty. I'm being wheeled out, screaming and crying, asking to see my baby though he was lying right there on my chest. I was asking if he was ok, though I knew he was gone. Then nothing. Next, I'm in a recovery room with my husband by my side, I'm on morphine asking him if the baby was ok, and he tells me that he wasn't ok, that he was stillborn. Tears, more tears and sobbing and pain, lots of physical pain. My OB came in, crying, telling me that there was nothing that could have been done. She explained that I'd had a complete placental abruption. I had almost bled to death, and it was fortunate that I hadn't died as well. She told me that placental abruption is the number one obstetric cause of maternal deaths in labor. It came as a double shock because I was not at high risk. I'd had the perfect, beautiful pregnancy, just like my first. Not even morning sickness. I was strong and healthy, and happy.

My husband brought my tiny boy in for me to see, touch, cuddle and kiss. He was mottled purple, red and blue, but beautiful, perfect and tiny. If he'd lived there would have been nothing wrong with him. I held him a couple times, but it was too much for me to cope with, so they sent him back to the nursery, but he was there when I wanted him.

Because time was of the essence, she'd had to cut me from my navel down to the pubic bone to get in quickly to try to save the baby and me. No cute little bikini cut for me. I looked like one of Dr. Frankenstein's rejects. Still there was nothing that could have been done to save my son. She said that the placenta could have pulled away from the lining when I was in the car 7 minutes away, and by the time I got there he might already have been gone. So many people came in to tell me how lucky I was to be alive and still have my uterus (does anyone really think that I will ever want to go through labor again?). I had the entire OB nursing staff, no fewer than four anesthesiologists, two OBs and our pediatrician/ neonatologist (who worked on our son for a long time to get him to breathe to no avail) all tell me that there was nothing that could have been done, and NO WAY I could have known.

I told myself again and again that if I had only gone in earlier instead of trying to "suck it up" and deal with the pain, that someone would have seen something and our son would be here with me right now, breastfeeding. I would be sleep-deprived and hormonal and cranky, but blissfully happy to hold my little son. Instead, I am in physical pain, and emotional agony. I feel as though I am ready to fall into an abyss on some days and on others, it's as if it hadn't happened. I half expect to look down and see my beautiful, big, pregnant tummy, with my little boy kicking and punching away inside.

My recovery in the hospital was excruciating. I needed a blood transfusion, and there were a few occasions where staff came in and asked me about my baby, not knowing that he had died. I cried on just about everyone who worked there, and cried myself to sleep clutching the blue hand-knitted blanket he had been wrapped in.

Thursday I was released, and in a drugged stupor stumbled around my house as my friends and family tried to help. Friday morning was the funeral mass. Next to the moment of actually knowing that he had died, it was the most excruciating experience of my life. My husband & I cried the whole time. The priest, a man in his 50's or 60's actually started to cry during his service, and we heard constant sniffing and sobs from the congregants. My dad sat next to me and held my hand the entire time, and my husband & I clutched each other in shock and disbelief. My husband & I processed out to the hearse, I carrying the casket spray of white and purple flowers with a ribbon "To our beloved son Nathan, Love Mommy and Daddy" as he cradled the tiny white casket in his arms. No one should ever have to place a tiny casket bearing the body of their baby into a hearse. It is just so wrong.

I could go on and on about what happened next at the reception, and how I was brought to the ER that night for an anxiety attack (or mental breakdown??) and how awful it is, and how if I hear one more person say, "It's part of God's plan," I'll scream. "Yeah, well I had a plan too, and in MY plan, I got to keep my son."

Everyone says that the road to healing from a loss like this can take as long as two years. It hasn't even been two weeks. How can I live this hell, or some version of it for two years?

My traumatic experience goes on and on. I wish that mine was a birth experience which, though painful and unfortunate, ended happily with a living baby instead of a funeral and Xanax.

In the weeks afterward, I regretted only holding him on two occasions, but I realize now that even if I had held him every minute that I was in the hospital, it would not have been enough. What are the minutes of four lousy, pain-filled days compared to a lifetime that was never meant to be? I have only the memories of holding him. Although he was full-term and weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces, it was like holding a dried husk of wheat, he was so light. I felt as though I had to hold him tightly so that a breeze could not take him away from me. We never got to see his eyes or hear his voice or even see a flicker of movement cross his face, just shadows and our tears spilling out. Also, we have the fantasies of what might have been: how Natalie would turn out to be a bossy big sister and how he would retaliate by being a pesky little brother. Family trips in the car would have been filled with commands like: "Don't touch your sister!" or "Stop looking at your brother!" Most of all, our house would have been filled with even more love and laughter than we already have. These fantasies, 7 pictures, a green knit hat, blue knitted baby afghan, and some inked footprints are among the meager possessions we have to remember him by. I look at his photos every single day, just to make sure that I don't forget his little face, which already seems like that of a stranger, yet so familiar to me.

This process of grieving is a rough road, parts of which you can only travel alone. Slowly, they tell us, it will get better, and you will see longer stretches of good moments among the bad ones, then the moments will turn into days, then weeks and on to months. Nevertheless, you never forget, but merely try to find some peace.

June, 2001


Michelle at said...


I just read your column about your beautiful son, Nathan. I cried right through it. I am so sorry for your pain and loss. Although, I've never had a stillborn baby, I've had three miscarriages: 14 weeks, 3 weeks, and 17 weeks. I just had my third one on June 10th, and I am still hurting. Somehow, there is this strange, comforting sisterhood with women who've lost their babies. I wish you peace and joy with the children you've been given to raise.


Andrea said...

This just about broke my heart and I cried through the whole piece. As a mother of three, I can only imagine the pain you experienced, and I'm so sorry this happened to you. Although it was eight years ago, I'm sure you experience the pain of losing your beautiful son as a permanent part of life. No one should have to lose a child.

B said...

Michelle, thank you for your comment. I am so sorry to hear of your losses. (gentle hugs)

"Somehow, there is this strange, comforting sisterhood with women who've lost their babies."

It's true. It's a club no one really wants to be in, but I've fond a great deal of support from other women who've suffered similar losses.

I wish you a peaceful recovery. xo

B said...

Andrea, thank you for your heartfelt comment.

It does seem odd to me sometimes that after all this time it can still hurt so badly.

It is just so wrong that a parent should lose a child. There's no explaining it away.

Nej said...

Jody said I should check out your blog, so I came here today and read your entry about Nathan. My day is March 10, 2005....we lost our son, I was 20 weeks pregnant. I too am left with a few pictures, a knitted hat, and a tiny set of footprints. I am left with guilt (was there anything I could have done to prevent this? & why do I answer the many children do you have? with '2' (even though Phoenix was here and is a part of us) and fantasies of what it would be like to have him here now as a 4 yr old. Even thought life goes on...I can't help but 'mind the gap' that is present everyday between my 7yr old daughter and 3 yr old son.
Thank you for sharing.

B said...

Oh, Jen. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I identify so much with what you said here.

I hate that question, "How many children do you have," because when I answer honestly, I get "that look" from people. I'm sure you know the one I mean. It's that panicked, "OMG what do I say to this person" deer in the headlights sort of look.

If I try to think of other people's comfort level and say that have only two kids, then I feel as though I'm betraying my son.

I'm also acutely aware of the gap between my 10 year old and my 6 year-old. Nathan would be 8. He'd sit right between the girls in the back seat of the car.

I'm so sorry that you also know what this feels like.

Ineke said...

hi michelle, i stumbled upon your blog today and just read your post about losing Nathan. I don't know what to say. I cried and i felt bad and guilty my pregnances went right and sorry and overwhelmed and ....
big hugs from the other side of the ocean.

B said...

Ineke, you should never feel guilty or sad about your blessings.

I don't begrudge other women their happy, uneventful pregnancies and beloved children because my son died.

As difficult as the whole ordeal has been, the most difficult part of it has been accepting that sometimes these things happen for no good reason. I have had the hardest time accepting that the unfairness of it all is a hard fact of life.

Being angry at other women for their living children would not help me heal, nor is it a great displacement of my negative emotion.

Thank yo for your comment. :)

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