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Challenge: Pregnancy and Infant Loss

We Lament

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I wanted to have children my whole life. I loved my mother completely and couldn’t wait to be a mother just like her (well mostly just like her) when I grew up. The husband part I was never sure of, I couldn’t imagine such a thing, but the kid part I knew for certain I wanted in my life. I was sure when the time came I wouldn’t care if they were boys or girls but if I was going to have my choice, it was going to be boys and a lot of them. And then imagine my surprise when I found myself the subject of interest of a man with whom I was completely smitten.

Stephen and I met while we were volunteering on a middle school youth retreat. We are both kid people. We like to play. We like acting like kids ourselves. We like being with kids. We married knowing we wanted kids one day. I wanted them right away but Stephen wasn’t quite ready, then Stephen was ready and suddenly my being ready was put to the test. And turns out I wasn’t quite ready. Or was I? How could I know? I took this question to my mom and Stephen over and over. And then over and over again. For the entire two years we had been married I charted my cycles dutifully to prevent pregnancy. And one month I thought I might be late. It wasn’t that I was late yet, but I didn’t feel a period coming on like I normally did- honestly it was probably all just wishful thinking on my part. But when I thought I could be late something shifted in me. But the next day my period arrived and I cried and cried. Part of me had wanted to just have the decision made for me and part of me realized what I wanted was in fact to be pregnant without having to risk hoping or wanting to be. Saying outlaid I wanted a baby felt so so risky to me. So exposing of my hearts deep desire to grow a family with Stephen. Admitting I wanted a baby left me vulnerable. And I hated being vulnerable. But there I was in tears and admitting what my heart wanted and the next month we used our charting skills in a new way and actually tried to get pregnant. 2 weeks after ovulation worked itself out to being a week when I was in St. Louis without Stephen. He and I talked each day on the phone and on the day when we could know if my temperatures stayed spiked or dropped I lied straight to his face. Next month buddy. Well keep trying I lied. And it felt good, because that morning I learned I was pregnant. I woke up at 5am because I couldn’t sleep I was so excited and I tried oh so hard to keep myself in bed until 615 when I could take my temp and then go pee on a stick. And when those 2 pink lines appeared immediately I can’t believe I didn’t wake my mom on the spot. As a general rule, I don’t have patience. Especially when I am excited. I just walk around practically bouncing off the walls. So I had to keep it together and temper myself and somehow was going to have to do this for one more whole week until I could see Stephen in person and tell him our news. When I was younger I saw a tv show where the wife surprised the dad with the news they were pregnant and from that moment on I was thrilled to get to somehow surprise Stephen with the news we were pregnant. To say Stephen went all out on our engagement would be an unbelievable understatement. It was perfectly crafted beginning to end- the execution of it all went a little differently but that’s a story for a different day. And the crux of the engagement was story.

Stephen proposed to me with our love story and every anniversary adds a chapter. I didn’t have any second thoughts when I realized that how I wanted to tell him I was pregnant was by adding a chapter to our story. So I worked out all the details. And it was perfect. I surprised him. So much so that as I was reading the story to him and read out the part about being pregnant it passed right by him, he missed it. I looked up from my chapter and saw his blank look and I kept on reading. It was another sentence or two before he stopped me and said “wait. Are you telling me you are pregnant right now?” Yes Stephen! yes! I am! We are!

It was bliss. Until about 3 days later when I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I have never been so tired in all of my life. I didn’t know all the rules so I immediately cut out all coffee and oh how I had loved coffee. I don’t know if it was just the loss of caffeine in my life or the fact that I had added on a signifiant commute and found myself waking up way too early for my pregnant preferences but I was exhausted and that is putting it mildly. Pregnancy was no joke. And then about a week or two after the exhaustion set in oh my, then came the nausea and throwing up. Everything. All the time. Because water was too warm. Or too cold. Or because I could smell food in the air. Or because of absolutely anything at anytime we would have to pull over or Id have to run off the couch and find myself throwing up. Everyday for about 10 weeks I threw up all over Bozeman Montana. And I have known pregnant women who relish the fatigue and the nausea and the throwing up because it helps them know things are good. I was not that woman. I was overwhelmed. I woke up and started crying almost immediately. I just couldn’t imagine having to do more days of early rising, carefully monitoring every aspect of my day to try to keep from throwing up only to certainly throw up anyway. I was in a fog. And the only reason I was able to even be given that grace was because Stephen was holding our life together. I say I woke up, but really it was Stephen who gently woke me each morning and helped me get to the bathroom to shower and throw up. And then he had my tea ready, not too hot and not too cold ready for my drive. And he had my lunch made with plain crackers and Tillamok medium cheddar cheese sliced ever so thin so that I would get at least a little diary, protein and fat but almost not even have to taste anything. Then when I would get home from work I would open the door to our perfect little apartment overlooking the Bridger mountain range, not that I actually noticed or cared in those weeks, and would completely collapse on our couch. Stephen would wake me to eat a tiny little something and then would accompany me on my almost guaranteed trip to the bathroom to throw it right back up. And then magic happened.

At 9 weeks we began interviewing midwives and at one of our interviews the midwife asked if we wanted to try to hear the baby. No guarantees of course, I was only 9 weeks along and she made sure we knew not to expect anything. But she put her little wand on my belly and after just a moment of searching there was the most magical thunderous beating I had ever heard. And I knew I would throw up again and again for that little person growing in there. It wasn’t all for naught. I was growing a person and it was so so hard. And hearing him connected me to him and I was willing to do anything for him. That night we decided we needed to name our growing little heartbeat and we decided baby Bozeman was promising and Bo came naturally from that and stuck immediately. And for Bo, I was willing to do pregnant another day even though it likely meant extracting pickle shards from my nose.

For 10 weeks we had told almost no one our growing news. I wanted to tell my mom in person and while I had been with her when I found out I wasn’t with Stephen and couldn’t tell my mom before I told Stephen. And she and I talked nearly every single day on the phone but she wouldn’t be visiting us until I was 10 weeks along. Telling my mom was almost as magical as telling Stephen had been. Almost immediately when she landed in Montana we went back to our apartment and played for her the recording of our little Bo’s heartbeat. She was hilarious and overjoyed. She didn’t sleep a wink and was at all the cute little grandmother shops (thats what I learned that day to call all the very cutie boutiques that mothers themselves can’t afford to purchase anything in but grandmothers can’t help themselves) waiting for their doors to open. Stephen and I woke up to my mom with coffee and breakfast already made, a dozen red roses, baby blankets, onesies, toys, and the softest stuffed animals. She was filled with joy and her outlet that morning was shopping and it seemed she bought all that Bozeman had to offer in the way of baby goods. And suddenly and wonderfully, it was all even more real. She was sworn to secrecy but by the end of her visit we had told the world. The secret was out and we were thrilled, we were having a baby. Never in the history of time had there ever been a baby any more wanted that our Bo and we were thrilled with our friends and family’s outpouring of support and delight. Also during my moms visit, my throwing up slowed down. I threw up just a few times that week and she was immediacy declared the best grandmother in the universe already.

She had to leave but she had done more than we could have hoped. We were thrilled and ready. In so many ways the fog was lifting and we were finding our way. With my mom supporting what Stephen had suggested all along, I put in my two weeks notice at my job with the ridiculous commute. We had our midwife picked and felt very excited about her and her proximity to Dave’s Sushi where we had decided we would go after each appointment. The veggie roll had been good to me during my sick times and it had remained my faithful friend. The week of our 14 week appointment was action packed. On Monday I was at work sitting on a yoga ball at my computer and felt so profoundly Bo diving right into my lower right side, I can feel the exact spot where he touched as I write. I felt unsure if it was possible so early but also completely sure at the same time. Oh the wonder and delight of growing and carrying that little guy grew exponentially every second. Tuesday was uneventful as far as I remember. Wednesday I was sitting at my computer on my yoga call, doing closing paperwork and probably at least occasionally checking out which tiny little snowsuit we would get to purchase once we found out if Bo was a boy or girl, when I felt another new feeling. But this one was so different from the one where I felt him doing flip turns. This wasn’t exactly uncomfortable but it stopped me and caused me pause. I just stored it away and decided this would be the perfect intro into our midwife appointment on Friday. I had an appointment at a different building on our campus about an hour later and as I walked over to it, I felt it again. Not painful but noticeable and stopped me in my tracks. I had that long commute home and called Stephen who told me to call my midwife so I called my mom who told me to call my midwife and so realizing I really had no one else to call, I called my midwife. I described it to her as best I could and she said it didn’t sound like something we needed to deal with more immediately than our appointment in just two days but to pay attention and let her know if anything shifted. The next day was my last day at work and I didn’t care. I had eyes only for Friday’s 10am appointment with Stacy. Stephen and I drove and felt comforted that I hadn’t felt anything more odd and hadn’t had any sort of bleeding. In fact that Friday morning I woke up and could so clearly see Bo tucked down into my lower right side, right where he had nudged me just days before. We felt encouraged but ready. We arrived, I walked into the bathroom first thing because he was defiantly putting the pressure on my bladder already and was reminded of my anxiety when I saw the tiny little diapers on her changing table in the bathroom. We went in and tried to have small talk but she very astutely asked if we should start with the heartbeat because she could tell I wasn’t going to relax until we heard him.

We went over to her table, she pulled out her wand, and we waited. She searched and searched and we began the process of trying so so hard to not know what we were coming to know. She had already told us in our previous appointment that at 14 weeks he would be too big to dive away from the wand anymore. She tried to come up with an alternate reason why we couldn’t hear him. She assured us she could feel my uterus was just the size it should be and perhaps we needn’t worry. She tried but we knew. She encouraged us to go to the hospital and get an ultrasound. “You will either find out today you are not as far along as you thought or you will not hear good news. But at least you will know.”

We booked the ultrasound as soon as we could but we still had to wait. Not nearly soon enough Melissa, the ultrasound tech took us back to a room. Again the wand to my belly and on the giant tv screen right in front of our eyes was the most perfect little baby you have ever seen. Except he wasn’t moving. Melissa was moving her wand and making measurements and walking us through what she was measuring and how Bo was measuring at 16 weeks and how I was likely further along than we knew. I had charted correctly, so I knew this wasn’t accurate but it also confirmed he wasn’t smaller than we thought and it wasn’t just that he could still swim below the doppler. Stephen stood right beside me on my left hand side and we held held hands. And we watched Bo already knowing what we knew. I knew because he should be moving. I had already felt Bo and knew he was so very active. But Bo wasn’t moving anymore. Melissa finally with tears in her eyes said “I am afraid I do not have good news for you.” She got the radiologist to come in and remeasure and confirm. I don’t remember much of what he said. What I do remember still haunts me. You can tell by the thickening of his skin that he has been gone for about 3 days. Like lightening I was thrown back three days to the Wednesday when I was stopped in my tracks by something unidentifiable happening. I felt my baby die in me. He also said something that remains a point of uncertainty and contention between me and Stephen, but what I heard was something about him suffering. I don’t remember what exactly but he said it. And Bo suffering in me is really more than I can bear. I do not feel like I could have saved him, but you know I have wondered. But the idea that our child could suffer in me, the one given the gift of responsibility to protect, nurture and grow him, well that sent me right back into my fog. Although not yet, because we had decisions to make. We had to go back to Stacys and learn our options. I called my mom on the way and told her the news. Her grandbaby had died. He looked perfect and big and likely had pinched his own cord and that was all we knew. But could she come please and as soon as possible?

Stacy presented us with options and the wisdom to choose relatively quickly so we didn’t just churn and churn. We went home and sought counsel. We each called several friends and family members hoping someone would have the magic answer and we began to plan for a D & C the following day and then to return to St. Louis so we could be at my home and have my mom mother us. Then I spoke with one of my dearest friends and she said “I think this is a good plan. This was you can just get it over with and begin to heal.” Get it over with… it struck a chord in me. I didn’t want to get anything over with. This it was the birthing of a baby I had come to know and love. And then again, I knew what I knew. I knew I wanted to labor and bring forth our child even though our hello would be our goodbye. I got off the phone immediately and told Stephen. He hadn’t known until I said it outloud but this was the only solution that brought some semblance of peace to him as well. So we packed an overnight back and chose the option Stacy presented to us and went to labor and delivery to be induced with our firstborn.

On our way out of our apartment to the hospital we received two packages. One a super soft baby blanket where on one side was a sweet pale green and the other side white with little pale green elephants with a matching little hat. The other package was from my big brother. He sent a book called “Memoirs of a Goldfish”. The sloppy inscription was in his handwriting, that looks exactly the same as it did when he first learned to write at all, was the most beautiful thing, “Welcome Bo to the family. Its just a little responsibility, a lot of fun, and more love than you can imagine. We love you already. Your Uncle Luke”. We drove to the ED holding these gifts and I was still so full. The admissions process was a blur, it probably always is. We finally, through a whole lot of confusion and frustration, reached our birthing room around 6pm. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We weren’t hungry but Stephen felt like we probably needed to eat and went reluctantly in search of food with the promise that since my mom was in the air working her way towards us, I would call my sister in law Elisa and talk the entire time he was gone. But instead in came the nurse. I don’t remember her name anymore only that she was an experienced nurse but new to Bozeman. She and I connected immediately. She was kind and seemed to feel everything I was feeling yet was still able to function and manage me in ways where I didn’t feel managed only cared for. Her husband had taken a professor job at MU and that very day their daughter Callipso had taken her first steps. Stephen came back and all he had missed was me doing all the admissions paperwork. He had a bag full of odd and end food and all I can remember was a burrito and a block of cheese. As he pulled each item from the bag he already knew he hadn’t known what to get. There was nothing to get. We were not able to think about things like what food we might need. We were consumed elsewhere. Him being back bolstered my spirts and gave me the strength I needed to endure what was to come. Shortly after 8pm on October 8, it was the nurse I liked who administered my first dose of the misoprostal. It was not her but the experience that was so utterly violating.

I was pregnant and still visibly full of Bo, when I laid flat anyway. I could feel the little hard place that was him and he was wonderful. Being pregnant with him had grown into becoming wonderful. And I didn’t want him to come out. I wanted to continue to grow him. I didn’t want to be empty of him. So when I had to lie on a hospital bed and have a nurse inset something into me and then onto my cervix that would ultimately cause my body to release that which is so desperately longed to hold onto, I died a little. Violation. Stephen and I laid in the bed all night. My contractions being monitored and every few hours being violated again with the misoprostal. We cried and cried. We held one another. The nurses would have to come in still so often to take out all the wires and then rewire them every time I had to go to the bathroom. Which was often because I was still 14 weeks pregnant and he was still crushing my bladder. I lay there in a labor and delivery room staring at the empty baby’s bed across the room knowing my baby was never going to occupy that bed. Stephen dozed off just a little every now and then. I once asked Stephen for the water which was beside him and in his sleep he picked it up and moved it all the way to the furthest side of the table from me and fell immediately back to sleep. This did bring a smile from me and even a little laugh, which was enough to wake him. I drank the water and we continued to cry. I’m sure we talked but I don’t remember anything we said. Mostly I think we just cried and held one another. At some point some nurse, I don’t remember now who, made a point to gently tell us that when the baby was born to not expect a big full chubby cheeked full term baby. That we could not be sure what we would be able to see at all and that he could even come in pieces. It was horrible to hear this as an option but I was grateful to have proper expectations all the same. My tears never did run dry that night and I did eventually fall asleep sometime around 430am only to be woken up shortly thereafter with noises of celebration not far away. A baby had been born. Someones living baby was born in a nearby room and while they were so right to celebrate such a gift, it was a swift and deep pang. Then at 6am I woke up with my water breaking. I felt like I was peeing but it became clear quickly that labor had begun and he was coming. The nurses began telling me that unlike in natural labor where there are ebbs and flows to contractions when being induced once labor actually kicks in there is no pause. And I was contracted. Stephen labored right along with me. We hadn’t taken a birthing class, we were 3 and a half months pregnant but we did our best looking for comfortable positions. Then at 7am the nurses had their shift change. I was too deep into labor to much care but felt frustrated with the bustle the change brought and also sad my new friend would not be the one to see me through my labor.

Things settled down after the shift change and we were left mostly alone to labor and then while I was on my hands and knees and Stephen was pressing on my contracting back I felt that he was coming. He came out head first and his little left arm fell over his head. I immediately was pulled from the fog that had become labor and said out loud I want to hold him. Stephen wisely said, “no, don’t pull him” and pushed the button for the nurse. In she came and supported him while we waited for him to come all the way out. And he did. He was so perfect. 4.5in and .08 oz of sweet perfection. A boy.

During the night never once did it occur to us to discuss what we would do once he came. We hadn’t had the wherewithal to even wonder such a thing. But now he was here and we were holding him. And his little hand fit perfectly on my fingertip. And you could see the wrinkles in his hands, he had handprints. I am sure we just cried and looked at him and if we said anything at all it was just to marvel at how developed he was. I couldn’t believe it. And then in a quiet moment Stephen took out a bible and blessed him, he placed the name of God on him. I am just as overwhelmed at the holiness of it now as I was by it then. I sang to him a goodbye lullaby promising that God was watching over him. We had not planned for this. But we were doing it. And our time with our firstborn son was holy and beautiful.

The nurses offered helpful information for us. We learned there was a funeral home that would perform his cremation and that they would come and pick him up from the hospital and we could have his ashes the following day. We hadn’t thought of an alternate plan, we hadn’t thought of a plan at all; this is how it would go. The nurses took him to get his handprints for us and Stephen helped me step into a shower. “How can I shower Stephen? I will wash everything that I have left of him off of me? I don’t want to be this empty. Please. Please. Please.” He steadied me. I watched the blood go down the drain. I got dressed. They brought him back to us and we help him for a long time. More talking. We took pictures of him and we took pictures with him. And then we knew it was time to go. We couldn’t stay there forever. We had to leave. And we were leaving him there. I handed him over to a nurse and walked out of Bozeman Deaconess a living walking tomb. I once had been full of life. Then death. And now nothing. It is am emptiness I can’t even begin to describe.

And Stephen acutely aware of the ache that was beginning to occupy his arms. Like he knew he should be holding something but that we had nothing to hold. The nurses had given us a weighted teddy bear for just such an ache and for weeks he clung to that bear something fierce. It was really a perfect metaphor for indeed we were just barely hanging on.

We had done something hard. We had done it together. And that was something else we had. Each other. For as long as I live I will never be able to articulate the intimacy that we shared in the weeks that followed Bo’s birth, as we learned to live with his death. Whoever Stephen and I were before October 9, 2010 we were something richer, fuller, deeper as we emerged from that labor and delivery room. That is intimacy. That is connection.

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