Writing and running have long been my outlets. I am writing this not for pity, sympathy or attention, I am writing for myself and also in the off chance that someone going through a similar situation who is as lost as I am feeling, may find something helpful in this post. And I’m writing it now because I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past 51 hours.
Pregnancy is all about statistics. Numbers are thrown around all the time. 80% of all couples get pregnant within six months of trying. 40% of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Once you hear the heartbeat, the percentage of miscarrying goes down to 5%. There is 50% viability at 24 weeks. And a 0.59% chance of having a stillborn baby. We were the 0.59%.
Everything this time was perfect. My out of control white coat hypertension was minimal (meaning my blood pressure in the doctor’s office was closer to normal than ever). At 15 weeks my favorite ultrasound tech snuck me back and told me that we were having a girl. It was easy to pick out a name, Charlotte Kathryn. Charlotte because I have always like that name and Kathryn was the name of my grandmother. She was due in the spring, right smack in between Chase’s third and fourth birthday. I pretended that I was nervous about having a girl. I am a tom boy, I love sports, hate hair, and have loved being a mother to a son. Secretly I was ecstatic about the prospect of having a mini me. A blonde haired, blue eyed little person to follow me around the kitchen baking cookies and cupcakes. Someone who would have the same relationship with me as I had with my mom. A little girl born with a protector, her big brother ready to look out for her and at the age where he would be a huge help to me.
Despite everything seeming fine, at the same time, I had a feeling of dread about the entire pregnancy. I had three or four dreams about miscarrying and I never had a single dream that I was pregnant. No milestone was enough to ease my mind. Time DRAGGED by. At 11 weeks, 4 days, I thought I was having contractions, so I went to the doctor. I wasn’t. At 19 weeks, my ultrasound was fantastic, but they wanted me to get another ultrasound to monitor some fluid back up in her kidneys. But other than that, things pointed to everything being ok. I started feeling her move at 14 weeks and felt her every single day from that point on. At 18 weeks, she was moving so powerfully, that you could see my tummy bump multiple times during the day, but that feeling never subsided.
I acted weird the entire pregnancy. I had written my usual Christmas letter to go with our Christmas cards and had stuffed, stamped and addressed the envelopes a week ago, and had left them sitting on the island in our kitchen. Although I was thrilled at the prospect of having a girl, I had hardly purchased anything. At this stage in my pregnancy with Chase, I had already registered two places, purchased a crib, mattress and a changing table. This time, I had bought one single pair of pajamas. It was almost impossible for me to admit that I was pregnant. I am not sure I said the words, “I’m pregnant” more than a handful of times. I still tried to hide my quickly becoming visible bump from everyone. I almost begged my husband to not go to his company holiday party last weekend. No milestone was enough and most of my google searches were related to fetal viability, miscarriages and even stillbirths.
I was obsessed with advancing through the pregnancy. I had four different countdowns in spreadsheets to march closer and closer to my due date. I had little reminders of everyday passing by everywhere. I had enough cotton balls for removing makeup set out to take me until late February (I counted them), I rationed body wash so that it would last for months. Chase was born at 34 weeks, and I kept thinking, “if I just make it to 34 weeks…” I didn’t mind being pregnant (my only complaint was heartburn), I just couldn’t get to March or April fast enough. I was obsessed with getting to six months or 23 weeks because I felt like it would be harder for things to go wrong after that.
At twenty-two weeks, three days, I noticed that this crazy child (who I could feel move every hour day and night), hadn’t really done much moving. I had been on my feet most of the morning, which makes it harder for me to feel, so I took a shower and laid down and she started doing her crazy kicking and punching again. Unfortunately that was the last time I truly, honestly felt her. Two days later I asked a friend if I could borrow her Doppler because everything I perceived as movement could have been digestive. I was stuck back in the, “was that a kick?” constant questioning of the early second trimester. After thirty minutes of searching for a heartbeat we couldn’t find it and decided to go to the hospital. At 22 weeks, 5 days, our girl was gone. A reminder that sometimes statistics don’t work in your favor.
I am a very optimistic person. I am always looking for the silver lining. I’ve thought of a couple. First, I’m having a huge glass of wine at every meal over the holidays. Maybe even breakfast. Brad and I can go on our annual anniversary vacation in April. We can take Chase to Disney World for his fourth birthday. We could be at the viable stage. Or even full term when this happened. But the truth is, I am completely heartbroken. I try to be strong for myself and Brad and my family, but here I am days later and still struggling to hold it together all the time. Which I totally realize is normal. Although I hate to get emotional in front of people, I am allowing myself to grieve, which is probably the toughest part of all.
I’m not only mourning this baby, I am devastated for so much more. All I wanted was a normal pregnancy. One that went full term, with a healthy baby that can stay in our room as soon as it was born. Maybe I could see what labor was like. When we checked into the hospital on Tuesday, and I caught whiffs of all of the familiar smells of Labor and Delivery, I was suddenly hopeful. This was just some fluky thing, she was facing the wrong direction, kicking my internal organs, and everything was fine.
Even though deep down I knew something was wrong. We went to a Christmas themed park the night I started worrying and I was irritated at all of the kids running around. And all of the babies, in all of their adorable snowsuits. There was even a little girl in front of us named Charlotte. Then Monday, I cried all the way home because I was so worried that there was something wrong after not feeling any movement. On Tuesday, I called the doctor and despite a reassuring fetal kick test (so I thought), I was second guessing myself and still was worried that something was wrong. Sometimes a mother’s instinct knows best.
The Labor and Delivery wing is not made for parents of stillborn babies. The bulletin board in my room says “We are having a BOY/GIRL/ It’s a SURPRISE!” It talks about labor progress, and asks for “Name Chosen.” There is a cart filled with diapers and wipes. A warmer for when the baby is born. The entire room mocked me. Happy families in the hallway. Carolers singing because of the holidays. A lullaby over the intercom comes every time a new baby is delivered. There are baby pictures down the hall and babies crying in the room next door.
Worst of all, there is a scarlet letter placed on our door as a bereaving family. A small postcard with a leaf and a single raindrop in the middle to signify “Death Within”. We are outsiders there and it warns the nurses, “Careful with this room, they don’t have anything to celebrate.” I feel like I am going to be branded with that for the rest of my life.
And here is the cruel irony. No labor for first child (he arrived via c-section before I could go into labor), full labor for the second stillborn child. It’s the dirty little secret that they don’t tell you about. If your child dies inside of you, there are very few safe ways to get it out. The main way is the way that you would deliver any baby. Induce labor. Pain and pushing. Delivery. The only difference is that normally you reach with open arms for a bundle of joy that is crying for your comfort. Meanwhile, we asked them to take Charlotte away so that we could do the crying. She lay on an inactive warming machine less than five feet from us for over an hour. She looked like she was sleeping with nothing wrong with her. We kept waiting for her to cry out for us. In the end we left the hospital with a small box of keepsakes including feet/hand imprints, hair snippets, photos and a death certificate.
I still can’t wrap my head around it. We had less than a 1% chance of this happening and of all of my friends, family and even acquaintances, there is only one other person that I know who has had a stillborn baby. Of course I wonder if it was something I did. Did I take too many Tums? Is it because I didn’t stop drinking coffee? Was it because I slept on my right hand side and not my left? Were my showers too hot? What about the glue they were using on the roof at work when I was four weeks along? Did I want it so badly that I caused this to happen? How could it be that just two days earlier I felt her and even saw her moving around? What on earth happened in those two days?
At the same time, I am so grateful that this happened at this time of year. We always have a strong family support system, but it’s even stronger around the holidays. It is a time filled with family and love and that is exactly what we will need. Any earlier or later in the year and it wouldn’t be quite the same. Until the holidays, which will be tougher than I could have ever imagined, we have so many amazing friends and co-workers who are going out of their way to express their concerns and condolences.
It is going to be tough. Really tough. I didn’t know I was capable of producing so many tears for a complete stranger. Or for anyone for that matter. But again, I am trying to look on the bright side. We have a beautiful, wonderful little boy who owns my heart. There are so many others who don’t have that much to show for it. I am reminded of the quote, “Is it better to have love and lost than have never loved at all?” Worst things could have happened and happen to countless others every single day. Maybe I will decide that this is it and we won’t try again for another baby. I’m not sure I can take the stress and worry all over again. That it could all still end in heartbreak. It would be easy to say I’m done, but I don’t know if I am ready to throw in the towel. I really wanted another baby. I really wanted a little girl. I was so happy that we were heading in that direction. I do know this, I am going to hug my husband a little closer (he has been amazing through all of this), snuggle a little more with my little guy and enjoy some time at home with friends and family for the holidays.
As hard as this has been for us, I have still been blessed with an amazing, active, sweet son and my life doesn’t stop just because someone else’s has. There will still be tears, sadness and grieving, but life goes on. Chase is very much alive and depends on me to be there for him. Despite the time of year when this happened, it is a season of joy and love. Thank you for all of the thoughts, prayers, love and overwhelming support we have received from everyone. Enjoy the holidays and be sure to hold your loved ones extra tight : ).