Nine years ago today, we delivered our son stillborn at 25 weeks and 2 days pregnant. The days, weeks and months that followed were the most difficult of my life. The story that follows is my son’s birth story. I wrote this originally on a blog I set up to document the next steps in my journey to heal and become a mother, not really knowing where the road would lead. At the time, I shared it with a handful of people in my family and supportive moms from The Bump, but today I am sharing it with anyone who feels they would like to read it. Instead of thinking about a clever post to mark this day, I thought the best way to honor him would be to simply share his story.
Unlike adult death, people rarely talk about the death of a child because it upsets the natural balance of life. Babies are not supposed to die. Most people cannot deal with the thought so they shy away from it, or run away as quickly as they can.
This is long and it will be raw. I’m not going back to edit it so I’m sure you will find many mistakes. As I mentioned in my Friday post, I wrote this a few days after he was born through a tear-filled haze. I’m lucky my brain was still functioning enough at that point to type at all. I needed sleeping pills to fall asleep and get through the nights without nightmares. I had panic attacks where I would hyperventilate. I was broken and I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to put myself back together.
The other thing I am doing for the first time here is that I’m going to share photos of Alexander. They are further down in the article so if you don’t want to see them, stop reading. Some of these photos were taken by a company called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep that works with hospitals (I think around the country) to take photos of babies in transition (that will soon pass) or babies that have been stillborn.
I know you may be thinking that photographing such a thing is morbid. I know you may think it’s wrong. You are welcome to your opinion. But know this, these are all the photos that I will ever have of my son. There are no pictures of him growing each month of his first year, no smash cake photos, no pictures of us on vacation and no picture of him with his younger siblings. This is it. We had less than one day to build a lifetime of memories and I will not apologize for that day or for photographing it.
With that, here it is our story.
I needed to write this down before I started to forget. This story won’t make me look like a saint, in my thoughts or actions, there is one part in particular concerning my husband, Kevin, that I will always regret. This story may be a little convoluted, especially once I was admitted to L&D for delivery. It won’t be grammatically correct in every single sentence nor will it have perfect spelling throughout, so if this annoys you then brace yourself. This is my story of my life with Alexander as I remember it. It will have as much detail as I can retain in this moment and hopefully as much emotion as a written word can convey. It will be long, but nothing worth telling is worth giving an abbreviated version of.
My son, Alexander James Q, was born still Monday, June 20, 2011 at 2:18 p.m. He was 12.5 inches long and 1 lbs 9 oz. He was my world. He was my third pregnancy and after two losses in 2010, I really thought 2011 would be our year. Needless to say, this was not the case. His heart stopped beating the morning of June 19 at 25 weeks and 2 days.
Alexander was a very active baby. Even though I had an anterior placenta I started feeling regular movement at about 17 weeks and 4 days. I had gotten random pops earlier, but week 17 is when I noticed him every single day, and it made me so incredibly happy. I thought he would be our take home baby even though I didn’t see myself giving birth in September.
The week before he died we had reach viability stage with him. At about 24 weeks is when most doctor’s will try and save a baby because they can make it on the outside world after that, although it is very far from optimal. The week to 24 weeks felt so long and then once we reached it, the week to week 25 felt even longer. For some reason I had such an odd feeling happening on the inside. I felt like we weren’t going to make it to 26 weeks for some reason, but I wrote the feeling off as fear, at first.
The pregnancy had been emotionally and mentally difficult for me. Physically I was fine with the nausea in first trimester, felt happy when my boobs ached from the hormones and even when sleeping became uncomfortable I just chalked it up to practice for the long nights after he was born. However, in the second half of 2010 we had learned I had a clotting/folic acid absorption issue called MTHFR. At first I could never remember the acronym, but then my sister-in-law mentioned that her friend had it and they called it motherf*cker. To me it seemed it literally was because I blamed it, and so did my doctor, for my two earlier losses. In December we started seeing a Reproductive Endocronologist and he did more testing on me. He took 15 vials of blood and tested me for everything under the sun. I came back with two other issues – borderline thrombophillia and high levels of natural killer cells. Thrombophillia is another blood clotting disorder and the killer cells are the cell that literally kill diseases in your body. Mine were trying to kill my children and without treatment the chance to carry a baby to term is said to be about 20%, according to various web articles.
While waiting to do more testing of my uterus and tubes, I magically got pregnant again sometime around January 7. My cycles are long and abnormal. I’ve learned throughout the last year and a half that I don’t normally even ovulate until Day 30, about 16 days after a normal cycle, so I am sure about my date and Alexander’s first dating ultrasound confirmed it. I started my pregnancy on Endometrin (progesterone) supplements, my folic acid pills, a baby aspirin a day and the steroid prednisone to help combat my killer cells. I also started intralipid treatments for the killer cells, an experimental (read: insurance doesn’t pay) treatment that was supposed to give me an 80% chance of getting a baby. Much better odds in my opinion. However, the cost was extreme and my husband didn’t really believe in it, but I didn’t care. I would have done anything for the little boy inside of me at that point, and yes, I knew he was a boy right from the start. I just felt it.
After some issues with the RE’s office (Let’s just say his wife is not my favorite person and I’m not sure why she is involved with speaking to patients.), I had made it to second trimester. Kevin and I had our NT scan and everything looked perfect with our little baby. His nasal bone was in place, his neck fat was 1.2 and our odds of Down’s Syndrome based on this info and my blood test was 1 in 1,400. Things were looking up.
The beginning of second trimester was hard for me because you are in limbo, living somewhere between a loss of symptoms and feeling any movement. However, thanks to my doppler I made it through. When we hit 16 weeks we went for an elective gender scan because I am generally an impatient person. It was April 16, two days after my husband’s birthday, and I thought it would be a fun way to start off the day before we went out to celebrate with a good dinner that night. We found out he was a boy and I was elated. I wanted him to be a boy so much for my husband, who thought it was a girl. I wanted Kevin to have all the experiences with a little boy. In the very beginning we had made the decision this would be our last try for a biological child and if he didn’t make it we would be looking at adoption. I wanted to be able to give him a little boy if this was it for us. I wanted him to experience that. After learning about our little boy, we went to Buy Buy Baby and purchased a light blue Gund Teddy Bear for him and then went to Kevin’s parents to share our news. Even though I had said I wasn’t going to tell people his gender, I couldn’t not tell our parents. His mom had a blue balloon and pink balloon hanging from her lights and we popped the one that the gender was not. They were all shocked when the blue balloon was left standing. On Kevin’s side there are six grandchildren and out of those only one is a girl. Our little boy was lucky number seven.
On Easter, we made a cake for my side of the family that was colored blue inside. (I should note, when I speak about my side of the family it means – aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. My mom has four sisters and two brothers and I am the oldest grandchild of 19. We are all pretty close to say the least.) My uncle started taking bets for everyone and during dessert we cut into our cake and everyone was thrilled, even though the majority guessed girl.
Somewhere during this time I started reading to Alexander. It would make him wiggle and I loved feeling that. It would relax me and I would often fall asleep to feeling him move. We would read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and “Goodnight Moon.” We bought these the same day we bought the teddy bear. Somewhere along the way, I also picked up “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and would selectively pick poems from there. Let’s face it, some of them are really disturbing and I didn’t want him having nightmares. We would often end with The Unicorn, a poem about why there aren’t any unicorns left in the world. Basically, they were playing and didn’t get on Noah’s Ark. I hoped that Alexander would get my husband’s logic in life, but I also wanted him to get my sense that there is a little magic in the world and something bigger than him/us.
We had a scare around 18 weeks and were sent to labor and delivery because the on-call doctor thought my water may have broke. When I called I thought she would just tell me that I had peed on myself, but off to L&D we went. Luckily, my water was in tact and not even leaking and they did a full ultrasound on our little guy. The u/s tech said we should call him Sonic the Hedgehog because of the way he was constantly moving and rolling. It was during this trip we learned that he had something called echogenic bowel. It means there was a bright spot on his bowel, which could be a softmarker for Down’s, a sign of Cystic Fibrosis, a sign of growth issues that could lead to death or it could just be calcium deposits and mean nothing at all. Cue my freakout. We had a Level 2 ultrasound about a week later at 19w5d and the spot was still there. We declined the amnio because I just wasn’t comfortable with the risks involved, but we tested me for infections and the CF gene. Both parents need to have the CF gene in order for the child to even have a 25% chance of having it. My doctor said there was a bigger chance it was nothing verses something. Once we were cleared for CF (I am not a carrier), I calmed down a little. Our risk of Down’s was so small and he moved so much, I had a hard time believing someone who was so active was not going to be ok and basically perfect. We had been scheduled for a growth ultrasound at 25w and 5d to check in on his growth. We never made it to that ultrasound.
During week 23 I had another trip to L&D. I had a pain in my stomach area, just about an inch above my belly button. I went on Thursday of that week at 23w6d. I had had the pain for four days by that time and it was constant. It hurt so bad by the end of the night that it hurt to breathe and I would cry to Kevin. Walking hurt and moving in general hurt. Tylenol didn’t help it either. But at L&D they did a full upper body ultrasound on me and found nothing. They did a heart tones ultrasound on Alexander and found him to be moving like crazy and with a perfectly normal heartbeat. What I mean by “heart tones” ultrasound is a picture with the squiggly lines below his picture that showed the movement of his heartbeats. That’s it. My husband didn’t come for this trip, but was surprised when I told him they didn’t look closer at Alexander. Looking back, this would have been our chance to catch anything that might have been wrong. Once the ultrasound results were in I was cleared and sent home, in pain.
At 24w and 3d (a Monday), I went for my monthly RIP test. This is the test that tests my killer cells levels. I felt good about this test because I knew the levels would go down after treatment the previous month. My number had been 13.1 the month before. A normal level is 10 and I had never been that throughout the pregnancy, but once we were out of first trimester my levels kept going down with treatment and were ok. However, that week, my anxiety went up for some reason. Alexander’s movement had been off feeling starting that Tuesday. I started using my doppler every day again to check in on him. He really didn’t like that thing so I always, even since 10w, I try to use it for only a couple seconds once I find him. The first day I felt him (14w5d – early, I know), I broke out the doppler a few minutes later and got two more pops right where the head of the doppler was at. It was nothing short of amazing. So, when I started using it again that week, he frequently gave me a good hit/kick and I would stop. I told him that if he would just move like normal and not freakout mommy we could avoid the doppler thing all together, but it wasn’t working.
As the week went on I felt him less and less. Now they will tell you that this is ok before something like 28 weeks, but I knew in my heart something was going on. I tried to convince myself that babies had quiet days. He had had them before and then two days later would be back to normal. On Thursday of that week, I felt him quite a bit and it was more like normal. For some reason, I still used my doppler that day – twice. I had been panicking about a study that had come out that week from Australia that discussed sleeping patterns and stillborns. Basically, women who had stillborn children reported laying on their right side at night in the days leading to their baby’s death. I had nightmares about it that week and my body was killing me from staying on my left side all night, even though multiple doctors said it was fine to sleep on your right or your left and I would generally flip flop every time I got up to use the washroom.
On Friday of that week we had hit 25 weeks and my Kevin had been previously given a small promotion at work. They told us to go out to dinner on them, so we did. We went to a tapas restaurant that night and I told Kevin I as nervous because I hadn’t felt the baby much that day. He tried to relax me, often the voice of reason in our relationship, and I drank a non-alcoholic sangria. I figured a sugary drink would help, but only got about two kicks from that. This was not normal by any means. But still, I tried to relax and we ate. I convinced myself I was being paranoid. I refused the unpasteurized goat cheese dish that I had asked the waiter to double check on, but felt ok eating a piece of mozzarella. I had been very careful throughout the pregnancy about what I ate. No caffeine, no lunch meat (eventually I did eat some after heating it up for 40 seconds), no drinking, no odd fish, etc. I had done it all right for the most part. We went home and used the doppler. We found him on my lower right hand side and felt good about his heartbeat. It was between 155 and 162, right where it always is.
That Saturday morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and went to the bathroom. I felt Alexander bopping around inside of me and relaxed. I felt like it would be a good movement day and I went back to sleep feeling him kick and punch me. When I woke back up around 7 a.m. he was quiet. I used the doppler again and found his heartbeat right where we had found it the night before. It was at the same level and he hit me right away. I put the doppler away.
That night I had a wedding. I am, or was, a photographer for weddings and newborns. I made sure to start drinking my water for the day right away because it was an outside ceremony. I had only felt Alexander maybe twice before Noon so right before I let I check on him again. He was in the same spot and his heartbeat was normal. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was up though. Normally, I would feel him about 60 times a day. Two was just not normal for my little boy.
During the wedding, I didn’t feel him at all but I knew that was normal since I was so active. By the time I got home at 11:30 p.m. I had dranken about 130 oz of water and did not feel him on the ride home once. Once again, I dragged out the doppler for a few seconds and found him in the same spot with the same heartbeat. That night I fell asleep a little after midnight on the couch and woke up around 3:30 a.m. I thought maybe he was changing his sleep and awake patterns so I waited up, waiting to feel him. The rest of the night I felt nothing.
That morning I woke Kevin up around 7 a.m. It was Father’s Day and June 19. I had previously bought him a pair of Crocs for mowing the lawn (he wanted them) because he ruined all his good gym shoes wit grass stains. He had told me that he didn’t want a Father’s Day present, but I am stubborn so of course I didn’t listen. However, when I wrote I got the cards out that morning, I only filled out the one from our dogs and left the one that was supposed to be from the baby in the drawer. It just didn’t feel right to give him it for some reason. I figured it was my anxiety taking hold.
After I gave Kevin the present, I told him about how had felt nothing that night. I was silently freaking out. We got the doppler out and Kevin found Alexander’s heartbeat right in the same spot I had been finding it since Friday. It was 152, a perfectly normal heartbeat for him. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was still in the same spot though. I got orange juice, drank a glass and then laid on my side for an hour. I got nothing and called the on-call doctor. She said it was probably not a big deal, especially since we just heard his heartbeat, but if I was that worried we should go to L&D. Although, she did say if we went all they would do is listen to his heartbeat too. I lost it and my anxiety took hold, especially when Kevin told me he didn’t think we should go to L&D. I had been there about a week and two days earlier with my pain (which I still had, but it finally lessened the day before) and I know in his head he was being practical and thinking about insurance and the bills. As I was hysterically crying he put his arms around me and tried to reassure me. Then, I said something horrible. I told him if something happened to the baby that I would never forgive him. I regret this every single day, and even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true. I went upstairs and took a shower to calm down. We then decided to go out for breakfast and stop at Trader Joe’s for some dinner things for that night.
When we got home, I wanted to try the doppler again. It was a little after 11 a.m. I thought I had felt Alexander once or twice during breakfast, but generally I never have to think or wonder if it is him moving because it is pretty clear. Kevin put the doppler on my tummy and started to move it around. It was silent. No swooshing of the placenta, no movement sounds, no blood flow sounds at all. There was simply nothing. I started panicking and Kevin asked me to let him try it again. I said no. We were going to L&D whether he liked it or not. I called the on-call doctor and she said she had called them earlier to let them know I was on my way in and was surprised I wasn’t there. I thought she was doing everything in her power to make me feel bad. I certainly felt like a bad mother at that point for not going sooner and it was about to get worse.
On the way there Kevin and I barely spoke. I have a tendency to be really mean when I am stressed so I knew it was better to keep my mouth shut. He just held my hand.
We got there, parked and quickly walked inside. I was basically running. I’m pretty sure it was the fastest Kevin had seen me move the entire pregnancy. Somewhere inside I was busy trying to reassure myself that Alexander was fine. We got to the desk at L&D and they said they were expecting us earlier. I thought, must they all keep saying that?
When I got in the bed, the first nurse tried to find Alexander’s heartbeat and I knew it was over. I’m not sure what I was doing at this point. I’m sure there were tears, but I can’t remember an exact feeling. It was some weird mix of acceptance because I had known something was wrong and utter denial. Somewhere in all this, Kevin and I were hugging and I told him I loved him and didn’t mean a single word of what I had said that morning. I said I would never forgive myself for telling him that and I didn’t want him to feel blameful for even a second. In that instant, I knew I loved him more than I ever had before and I needed him to know that too. Nothing that happened in the next moments was going to change that and the amount of love I had for him was overwhelming me. He said he knew and he loved me too. It was so reassuring because I knew we would need that love now more than ever.
A second nurse came in and tried to find Alexander’s heartbeat. She had no luck. Kevin and I cried. I’ve not seen him cry a lot, but when he started I felt more pain for him than anything else I was feeling at that moment. I just wanted to make him better and make him stop hurting. I couldn’t lose him too. I asked that he call our parents and the nurse ordered ultrasound to the room STAT. For some reason, letting people know bad news as soon as possible does something for my coping, although I’m not sure what. At the very least, it keeps me from completely breaking down. Kevin’s sister knew we were going to L&D and his family was on the way, as was my mom. He told them that it wasn’t looking good as a few tears fell down his face and my heart completely broke inside seeing his pain and thinking of my poor little boy.
Apparently STAT does not mean the same thing to an ultrasound tech as it means to me because it took 20 minutes to get to our room. I knew it could take a few seconds for Alexander’s heartbeat to completely stop and each second seemed like forever. Somewhere I still had this small smidge of hope that he was hiding behind my anterior placenta or that it had dropped and they couldn’t tell it from mine, or had dropped so low that each single second was going to count now.
The u/s tech finally arrived and he was awkward. He wanted the light exactly right in the room and then started his examination. He didn’t turn the screen away from us. Normally, when you go for something like this they do, but in some way, I was a little bit thankful he didn’t because I could tell the second the screen flipped on that Alexander was gone. The blood flow didn’t look right and there was no Sonic the Hedgehog rolling around. There was no movement at all. He asked me to stay as still as possible. My body and stomach were shaking from the silent sobs. He zoomed in on where the heart should be and it was a silent, black space. After a couple clicks he looked back at the nurse who had her hands on my legs for support and shook his head. She said something to the effect of he’s gone and I said, “I know.” Kevin leaned over me and we sobbed. Everything in my body hurt. My heart hurt for my husband and child, my body ached to feel something to defy what we had been told, my head spun with the “What now?” thoughts.
Our nonrefundable crib had been delivered the day before and now there would be no little boy to sleep in it. There would be no little boy to watch play soccer or hockey or see in school plays. There would be no baby at Halloween or Christmas. There would be no cries in the middle of the night in October or toys to try and keep our dog away from. There would be no mouth to feed nor first words to hear. When I delivered my child there would be no cries of life, but only deafening silence. Our child had died and I was eating an omelet.
At some point within the next minutes our parents showed up, my mom, father-in-law and mother-in-law. My father lives in Colorado and no one could seem to reach him. I remember telling him a few weeks earlier that he needed to get a cell phone because if something happened with me or the baby we would need to get a hold of him. He had moved in with his girlfriend of six months and had no home phone, but this is another story for a blog that should have started 11 years ago or so.
Anyways, our parents cried and while I know I did, I also didn’t as much as I thought I should have been. Everyone else seemed so raw, so hurt and all I could think about is how sorry I was for everyone. I had let let everyone down – my in-laws, my parents, my grandparents and especially my husband and my baby. My stupid body just isn’t good at this and it had failed me once again when I was counting on it the most.
At some point the doctor came in and they gave us the option of being induced today or going home for a few days and then coming back fro the induction. That second part is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. No offense to anyone that has needed a few days, but I couldn’t imagine leaving and coming back to deliver my deceased child. I was afraid of labor, especially without the pay off of a take home baby. I said this out loud and asked about a C-section so I wouldn’t have to do it. This was not an option for me, and even though in that moment I wasn’t happy about it, it was the best thing for me and delivering Alexander was the proudest moment of my life.
They said labor could take six hours to two days. This was unbelievable to me. Two days felt like a lifetime to me. I know labor can take this long but you are supposed to get a baby at the end of that to take home and love, not a child that you have to give to the morgue. It wasn’t fair. It isn’t fair. Nothing was fair, right or just about this situation and it never will be, despite what people say. They also said that this type of labor doesn’t happen like “normal” labor and you can’t control it. They said that giving birth to a stillborn will happen slowly and then all of a sudden will happen all at once. I remember wondering if anyone has a “normal” labor to begin with. I didn’t think you could really control it no matter what.
I was wheeled to anther L&D room. It would be our home for the duration of my hospital stay. I remember the hospital being quiet and so still. It seemed appropriate for the moment. It seemed just like my belly.
Kevin went home with his parents to get a few things and let the dogs out before they started the induction. My mom stayed with me and I think my friend Emily had also shown up at this time. Calls started going out and coming into my cell phone. I started calling close friends. I had to tell my friend Laura in Michigan in particular. She was pregnant with her first child and was three weeks ahead of me. One of my best friend’s, her pregnancy had been a surprise and it had been physically rough on her. We shared stories when we were talked on the phone about her morning sickness, our poop (I lived with her. No topic is too gross), my anxiety, my killer cells treatments, our babies’ genders, bedding designs, fears of labor and more. Her shower is in July and I am supposed to go, but I already knew I couldn’t and wanted her to know as soon as possible. I also didn’t want her to find out from someone else. Looking back I think I should not have told her, but she would have found out because I posted on Facebook later than night. Like I said, for some reason, telling people kept me calmer.
We got a hold of my brother, Dan, who lives at Philadelphia and he cried on the phone with me. He was supposed to be Alexander’s Godfather. When I told him we were having a boy he said,”Yes! That’s what I was hoping for.” It was cute. He was so excited and he was excited in a way I had never heard him before. Now, all I could hear was sniffling on the other end of the phone. I sniffled with him.
Kevin came back and around 5 p.m. and they gave me my first vaginal suppository to start labor. I won’t lie. This hurt like a bitch. My cervix was still completely closed and high up so they had to so some serious reaching. In a way it is nice to know my body didn’t completely give out on me and that my cervix was holding strong, even after the LEEP procedure in 2002. Contractions started soon after the first suppository and they felt like period cramps. Sometime during this Kevin’s parents left and my mom, Emily and Kevin were left. Two of my aunts showed up at some point in the evening. I think it was around 8 or 9 p.m. In my head, I needed people to stay as long as possible because once I was alone, or just alone with Kevin, I didn’t know if I could hold it together. At moments throughout the evening I thought I felt movement. The nurse said since Alexander was in fluid he was still floating around bumping into things. I knew this, but somehow her telling me seemed cruel.
At some point, we had to make some decisions about things. Kevin and I had differing points of view on how to handle things with Alexander. I wanted to see him, have pictures taken and have a burial. Kevin didn’t even want to see him. That stung. I knew from working in the hospitals as a newborn photographer and spending so much time on The Bump with the ladies on the Pregnant After Loss Board that my time with Alexander would be precious and so short lived. Pictures were especially important to me because I never wanted to forget that little person who was kicking me for the last two months. I knew I needed to remember the moments. I knew I needed to feel the moments. After all, moments were all we were going to get.
My Aunt Vanessa, my mom’s twin, (seriously having grandmothers who could pop out four and seven children seems like a cruel joke) showed up. She was sad and crying like everyone else and again, in seeing her sad, all I could do was feel sorry that I had literally let everyone down. She was nice enough to take the funeral home list home with her that night to begin getting information and prices for us. I was grateful for this – for her time, for her energy and most of all for the fact that I didn’t have to do it and explain to funeral-home-type-people that my body killed my child.
Around 7 p.m., the nurses had a shift change and Lynette, my nurse, was leaving me with Jean. Jean had been a nurse for 33 years and honestly, I remember thinking you are way too old to be working. You should be sitting on a porch somewhere thinking about the good old days, not helping me deliver my dead child. However, she was great. Even when she tried to take the contraction monitor off and I got irritated with her, I liked her. I also liked the contraction monitor for some reason. It gave me a sense that something was happening inside me, even if it wasn’t supposed to be happening at all. At the very least it gave me something to concentrate on so she left me on it.
Emily explained to me that at some point the nurses will turn down the baseline for the machine so your contractions won’t register as high. This seemed highly unfair to me. When I got up to go to the bathroom we thought we broke the machine because we had to unplug it and then when we plugged it back in the numbers were so low. Jean fixed it. When it happened a second time, I let Jean win and she unhooked it. She smiled and I think she felt some little sense of accomplishment convincing me on this.
Emily stayed until about 11 p.m. She, Kevin and I just sat there talking about nothing. She rubbed my back and played with my hair – one of the true pleasures in life. Basically, Emily was the best friend a woman could have in this situation. I think she left when Jean came to give me my second vaginal suppository. This also hurt like a bitch and I was a little weirded out that it was Jean doing it.
When Emily left and it was just Kevin and I, we cried a little more. We cried for ourselves and Alexander. I’m not exactly sure when we settled on his name, but it was the name I had wanted. Kevin had been trying out several names so he only called him Alexander some of the time, but I knew after I pushed him out that I would win on the name. I just thought my sweet boy would be alive when that happened.
Kevin stayed by my bedside for a long while. He felt like the couch/bed was too far away. He hugged me, he kissed me and in general just loved me. He was simply amazing as he cried next to me. We talked about things and tried to make sense of everything in our heads. Nothing was adding up. We knew even if we had gotten to the hospital sooner, that Alexander could have already died. We knew even if they had gotten him out through an emergency C-section, there is a good chance he would have still died. We knew no matter what we did, the end results still would have been very similar. Looking back at this, it is amazing how rational I was at the moment. As the days wear on, I feel I become less and less rational about this. I think more and more that there is something we could have done. I think about a woman from The Bump who was two days ahead of me and delivered her little girl at 23w6d. She is alive, going through a lot, but alive. Why isn’t my child?
Kevin tried to get me to stop blaming myself, but all I could think was that I had done something to kill my little boy. My blood clotting or I had eaten something…I thought about that mozzarella I had eaten during our tapas dinner, or the marinated olives; or the Jimmy John’s I had eaten (heated up of course) the week before. I couldn’t let it go that it was me. I still can’t.
Shortly after that, Jean became a pill pusher. She wanted me to take pain medication and a sleeping pill, and eventually she talked me into it. I was afraid I would sleep through labor, but she assured me I wouldn’t. She was right. She also tried to talk me into the epidural at this point, but I didn’t feel like I deserved it. She said they wanted me in as little pain as possible, but I felt like I deserved the pain. It was the very least I could do, at least for the moment.
Sometime around 3 a.m. I woke up from my contractions. I was having them about every two minutes and they felt like very, very strong period cramps. Nothing completely unmanageable, but nothing I would sleep through either. I cried then alone in the dark. Everything seemed so unreal at this point. I was alone with my thoughts and knew I just wanted to sleep through all the questions, non-answers and devastation I was feeling. Kevin was asleep in the corner on the uncomfortable couch bed thing. I beeped for Jean and let her know I thought it was time for the epidural because I wasn’t sleeping at all. She seemed thankful almost and called for the anesthesiologist.
They kicked Kevin out of the room for the epidural, although I have no idea why. It was simple and easy. After months of blood tests and having blood drawn at least twice a month for something or other, the numbing pain medicine felt like a prick in the finger. I had gotten used to people poking me and was happy to do it for my baby throughout the months. Now I was happy to do it so I didn’t have to think about what was happening. I never saw the needle and only had one contraction through it. Jean was there to hold my hands and altogether it took less than two minutes. My legs quickly got tingly and numb, and they let Kevin back in. Then I slept for another two hours, and I only vaguely remember Jean coming in to give me my third suppository just before 5 a.m. I was dilated to half a centimeter.
When I woke up at 5:30 a.m. it was Monday, June 20th. It was my baby’s birthday, although I didn’t know that then. I cried and Kevin woke up with me. I was determined to have Alexander that day so we didn’t have to stay in the hospital.
I don’t know what happened to the next two hours but around 7:30 a.m. Kevin’s mom showed up. She had been crying and throughout the day she lost it a couple times. This was shocking to me because she is so strong and it was also so incredibly sad. All I felt like I could say to her was, “I’m sorry.” Kevin hugged her when this happened and she cried more.
The new nurse with me that morning was Deb and she was sincerely one of the best people on Earth. I am grateful I had her the day I delivered Alexander.
My mom showed up around 8:30 a.m. and I found out they got a hold of my dad. She may have told me this the night before but I have no idea when I heard it now.
Then, I started throwing up. Apparently this is a side effect of the epidural. They had only been giving me ice chips since about 8 the night before due to this. It happened a couple times and Kevin just held the little bucket under my face as it happened and my body heaved. He is easily grossed out so I am surprised he was ok with this. He gags when the dogs throw up. I apologized to him. It was all I could do for anyone. He said that he just wanted to take my pain away so I didn’t have to go through this. I wished neither of us were experiencing this.
Around 9 or 9:30 my usual doctor came in. When I saw him I said, “I was supposed to keep this one,” and my eyes welled up with tears. He was the main doctor I saw at the practice and when I had seen him for my first few ultrasounds in early first trimester he tried to reassure me that everything was going to be ok. He had even said “I think you’re going to keep this one.” When I reiterated this to him that day all he could say was, “I know.”
He checked me and I was at about 2.5. (I think. This is where everything gets really fuzzy.) They only needed me to be at a 6 to deliver Alexander because they believed he was going to be only a pound. I knew he would be bigger, but then again, I was the one he was always pushing on and I was the one who knew something was wrong in the first place. I knew him better than the doctors and my instincts had been right so I chose not to believe them when it came to his size.
My doctor thought maybe I would deliver Alexander before his hospital shift was up because I had progressed so quickly. He said he would be back to check me. I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the morning. I don’t even really remember who was there that morning. At some point, my father-in-law showed up and I was happy he was there for my mother-in-law. One of my aunts was there for my mother too I think and Becky, a friend’s mom who married Kevin and I came, as well as Emily again.
I think my doctor checked me at 11:30/Noon before he left. I remember being amazed by my progress. I was at 3.5/4 with someone at some point. Then the last time I was checked was with the after noon doctor and I was at 5.5. We kicked the family out soon after that.
The afternoon doctor was the doctor who performed my D&C last year. When he walked in I told him,”We have to stop meeting like this.” He apologized for our loss. Kevin was happy it was him because he didn’t want negative feelings or feelings of loss associated with our regular doctor. I guess that he was trying to find an upside.
The doctor checked me and was able to feel Alexander’s head. I remember feeling a lot of pressure on my left side and Deb said it was probably my baby’s butt. He said to try and push. Something happened where he decided it wasn’t time yet. Kevin thinks I took a No. 2 on him. I hope not.
The doctor said that sometimes that during this process sometimes people will have a contraction, barely notice it and deliver the baby. This shocked me. I wasn’t sure how delivering Alexander was going to be, but I never in a million years thought I would do it without knowing. Deb told me if I started feeling a lot of pressure or like something was between my legs then I needed to let her know. I called her a lot. My epidural had been topped of that morning so while I felt pressure and my tingly legs, there wasn’t much else to feel. It was hard to determine when I thought I felt something between my legs because everything was pushing on that area.
Finally it was time. The doctor came in and checked me and apparently Alexander’s head was really low and everything was ready to go. Kevin held my hand and I told him not to look. Even when we were planning on having a live baby we had decided he wouldn’t look because I didn’t want him to have that image in his head forever. Now it was more important than ever to me that he didn’t look.
The doctor told me to push and I started having my baby. I don’t remember how many times I pushed, but he let me get breaths in between. I looked over at Kevin once during the time I was pushing and saw his eyes were squeezed shut. His head was turned slightly towards the back of the bed. It almost looked like he was in labor. (Emily later told me the nurse said I pushed three times.)
With one final push, Alexander was easily out within minutes. Even with the tragedy of the situation, it was the most amazing moment of my life. I don’t know how to convey how wonderful it was with words, especially because I know it is something I shouldn’t look at it that way because my child wasn’t crying when he came out. They wrapped him before lifting him up and I saw his feet dangling out. His giant, beautiful feet. All I thought was, please give me my baby. I need to see him. I need to hold him. I need to love him. Both the doctor and Deb said he was perfect and I didn’t care if they were lying to me because I already knew he was.
I delivered the placenta as Deb cleaned up Alexander and frankly that part was a piece of cake. (Most of labor was really. The epidural is magic.) I barely felt it. I know it is because it was so small. Now, I had told myself that I wasn’t going to look at it, but I wanted to see it so I stole a look as they put it in a dish. The doctor said it looked normal with the exception of how the cord was attached. A normal cord goes into the placenta and then starts dispersing; however, Alexander’s cord started dispersing first. Deb told me when they know live babies have this it usually means and automatic C-section for the mother. I wonder why none of the ultrasound techs ever mentioned this. I never had any preconceived notions about how labor should go, like some people. I knew I wanted an epidural, but wasn’t set on a vaginal delivery if things needed to go differently. My one, main goal was to get my baby out alive and healthy. Obviously, I failed at this.
When Alexander was clean, they handed him to me. I was barely aware anyone one else was there when I saw my sweet boy. He was absolutely perfect. The amount of love I felt for him the second I saw him isn’t even capable of being captured in words. I was also so proud of him. I was proud of him being born. I was proud of him for existing. I was proud he stuck with me for so many months. I was proud of every single kick he had kicked and heartbeat he had lived, even if they were only the heartbeats inside of me. I was proud of him and wanted to show him off to everyone.
I knew Kevin didn’t want to see him originally, but somewhere along the way he changed his mind because he was right there too. Maybe he felt he didn’t have a choice. At any rate, I was glad he was there. Alexander looked like him. He had Kevin’s chin, lips and bone structure. He had my father-in-law’s nose. He had little wisps of white hair and his eye lashes were a whitish color. I knew pigmentation started sometime the week of his birth so I had expected that. His skull bones weren’t fused yet so they overlapped a little bit from me pushing him out, but to me, it didn’t look odd, just perfect. I unwrapped him to really look at him and I was even more amazed. He had extremely long legs and giant feet and hands for his size. No wonder I had felt him so early and so often, those things were huge!
Then I found a little piece of me in him. He had my baby toe. Now, my baby toe is downright ugly. I call it the hunchback baby toe, and Kevin and I had joked earlier in the pregnancy about him getting it. Now that he had it, it wasn’t ugly at all but just beautiful. It was so cute and small on those giant feet and I was so happy to see some of me in this boy who looked so much like his daddy.
Kevin and I sat there and cried some more. The first words out of my mouth to Alexander were, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t do this better for you.” I still think this and probably always will. We told him we loved him to the moon and back, and we told him it was time to play with the unicorns from the Noah’s Ark poem. I touched his face and felt his skin. He was warm. Part of me thought that once I had him near me maybe his little heart would start magically beating again. Of course, it didn’t. He was still. His neck was weak and he was so tiny that I was afraid I would break him just be touching him. I also knew that there was no way I wanted to let him go, even though he was already gone.
I believe just after this the photographer came in. The hospital uses as service called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep for babies that have passed away. Our photographer was Erica and I will always treasure the photos she took of Alexander. They are all Kevin and I will ever get so they are more precious to me than gold. Kevin, and I think everyone, was leery of the whole picture idea, but I knew I would need them and I knew one day they would get it. Aside from his individual pictures, we took a family picture that I am having printed for our bedroom. Today I often sit just looking at some of the pictures, loving him that much more. Kevin calls them the Big 5 because there are five of them that I pull up at once and just stare at. I leave the computer running as I go to sleep so I can fall asleep looking at him.
During the photo session, Kevin held Alexander for the first time. The photographer laid him on his tummy on Kevin’s forearm for a picture. I couldn’t get a reading on what Kevin thought of this. He held him again, normally, when they came to take out my cathedra and epidural. I don’t remember exactly when this happened in the order of everything, but I snapped some of my favorite shots of the two of them together at this point. The light hit them perfectly and Kevin was just looking down at him, letting it all sink in I assume. At one point he lifted his hand to his forehead and cried just for a second. My camera was going and caught this moment. The picture is so sad and so devastatingly beautiful. When I showed it to Kevin his eyes filled up with tears again and he had to look away. I was proud of him for holding Alexander, especially when he didn’t even want to see him. At some point I asked him if he was ok with it all. He said yes and kissed me. He said he was glad because he would have just written him off if he had never seen him.
Once we had a little more time with the three of us, we let our parents in. The three of them circled my bed with Kevin and cried. They took turns holding Alexander and talking to him through their tears. They were also amazed at his long leg and giant hands and feet. I showed them his baby toe and was astounded by how much he looked like my father-in-law, and it is not just because he was bald. I noticed maybe for the first time how much my husband looks like his dad. They had the same chin and lips too, just like Alexander’s.
After about 20 minutes, it was extremely important to me that we had him baptized. This was important to me even before he was gone and I was thinking about when we would do it after his birth. Now, it was more important then ever to me because if they didn’t let my little boy back into heaven, I was going to go up there and kick someone’s ass. During all this, maybe it was earlier in the morning, the chaplin had come in and given us communion. Kevin took it even though he isn’t Catholic, but I figured after this he deserved it. At that time she had said anyone could baptize him so we had Becky come into the room and do it. She poured some blessed water over his head in the name of the Father, Son and Holly Spirit; said some prayers and it was done. Short, sweet and just a perfect little, private family moment.
After he was baptized we invited the rest of the guests in to see Alexander. Emily and Megan (sister-in-law) were there, my Aunt Lisa was there, my Aunt Vanessa showed up, my Grandma Leah came and so did my Grandma Char along with Grandpa Dave and Aunt Vickie. Of course our parents were still there too so it was a full house in our room. My grandparents took turns hold him and I remember thinking that I didn’t really want to give him up for a second, even if it was for them to hold. I just wanted every second of him with me.
Then, around 5 p.m., we kicked everyone out. We were exhausted and just wanted more time with our little boy before we had to give him away. People seemed to understand and soon we were along again and we cried together holding him. After days of being strong for everyone else, we sat there and silently cried with one another for everything we had lost in the last two days. We kissed, we told one another we loved each other, we told Alexander we loved him and I apologized more to both of them. I couldn’t shake the pain I felt inside and had been able to block it all out while everyone else was there. I tried to appreciate just holding him.
Deb gave him a bath for us once everyone left. She asked if I wanted to do it, but honestly, I had no idea how and he was so small that I was afraid with him being slippery too it would be a bad combination. She did it right on the bed with me. She put a towel underneath him and basically gave him a sponge bath. It was the first and last time we really got to see him all spread out and I was just so in shock by how long he was. His little tummy poked out perfectly too.
During the bath his mouth opened, and both Kevin and I gasped. I’m not sure why we had that reaction, maybe because it looked like it happened all on its own. In reality, Deb had moved his jaw bone in washing him. He looked even more like my father-in-law with his little mouth open. It was sweet and heartbreaking knowing he didn’t do it on his own.
Deb wrapped him up after the bath and then got us to order some food around 6:30. She told us we could keep Alexander with us that night. Originally we thought, no, we would give him to them. But during dinner Kevin told me it was ok if we kept him. I think he felt the complete breakdown that was coming once I had to give my child to someone to bring to the morgue. I was grateful for this, thanked him and told him I loved him again. I couldn’t tell him I loved him enough.
We barely ate any dinner so soon I climbed back in bed to hold my baby boy. I asked Deb if he would start smelling. I felt so insensitive asking this. She told me no, but that he would get more pigmented and be red by the morning. I felt I could handle red as long as he was with me. I laid down on my side (my IV had also been taken out at some point) and laid Alexander next to me. Kevin came and sat as close as possible in a chair. We stayed like that for awhile, just enjoying whatever family time we had left. Then around 8:30 we put Alexander in one of the plastic beds they have for the babies and got him right up next to me. Soon after both Kevin and I fell asleep.
I woke up around 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, and was crying. I had to use the washroom and when I was done Lisa, our new nurse, came in to give me some pain medication and she handed me Alexander to hold. He was colder now when I touched him. I sat there and held him and cried. Kevin woke up when he heard me and was right there by my side for about an hour. I eventually made him go back to his little couch bed and he fell back to sleep. I just sat there holding my boy and crying silently, wondering how I would deal when they took him from me and wondering what I did wrong in my life for this to have happened. I replayed large things to small things, but nothing seemed to add up to enough to cause this pain. Alexander was our third pregnancy and we were still going to be going home childless.
Kevin woke up around 5:30 a.m. and we knew we would have to say goodbye to Alexander soon. They kept telling us we could keep him longer, but I knew no matter how much time I had with him that it would never be enough. Plus, he was also starting to not look so great. He was very red that morning and cold. Kevin tried squeezing into the bed with us that morning so we could all huddle together for our last few hours as a family.
A new nurse (no idea what her name was) came in just after 7 a.m. and brought us an outfit to put Alexander in. I knew he wasn’t there but for some reason I hate the idea of him going into his coffin naked or just in a blanket. She brought us a little Christening outfit with a cross embroidered on the front and a little yellow hat. I had been pulling the hats off him because his skin was loose and they would push it all down, but this one looked just right. I took some more pictures. I took some more pictures of Kevin holding him in the morning light and then Kevin took some of me.
We were then left alone for a few minutes to say goodbye. We cried over him. We told him to make sure he played with the unicorns, we told him we loved him so very much and again that we were sorry. I couldn’t express how much I loved him or the pain I felt in giving him up. We soon buzzed for the nurse and I reluctantly handed him to her. My tears started falling faster and some other nurse walked in and stood there. We watched the first nurse take him away and I wanted to scream as loudly as I could, but the second nurse just stood there awkwardly. I’m not sure what we finally said to get her to leave, but when she did nothing could keep the tears in. Kevin and I hugged each other and just sobbed. I let out wails and this made Kevin squeeze me tighter. I felt like they would never stop and I’d never be able to cry enough to express how sad, angry and sorry I was. I was sorry I had brought this child into the world just to die before actually living in it. I didn’t want him to have to do that. I didn’t want him to have to feel his last moments and know it was getting tougher. If he was smart enough to kick the doppler, he was smart enough to know something bad was happening to him. I just wanted to take that pain away. I just wanted to be able to take Kevin’s pain away and I just wanted to stop everything bad from happening. I’ve never felt so helpless and lost in my entire life.
Somehow, we dried our tears. We knew our mothers would be showing up soon. At 8:30 a.m., Kevin’s mom arrived and mom mom showed up about a half hour half that. Basically, we were just waiting for the doctor. During the waiting, the funeral home we had selected called and said they hadn’t heard from the hospital yet with orders to come and get Alexander. Kevin had to go track down awkward nurse, who was apparently our nurse for the day, and get her to call the funeral home.
Finally, the doctor showed up. I think it was around 10:30. Time seemed to not really matter now that Alexander was gone. I didn’t know this doctor. My office has about five doctors that you generally rotate between, but because I was sort of a different case to begin with, we were able to stick with my normal doctor throughout most of the pregnancy thus far. This doctor was very nice. She sat with us and answered all of our questions. She said the way his cord was attached wasn’t a big deal because she delivers live babies like that all the time. She gave me instructions on how to take care of myself and then said they were worried about me with postpartum depression. I had taken medication for depression in the past, just after college and around 25. I hadn’t been on it since being with Kevin, but she was still concerned about me and this really concerned Kevin as well. She told me I needed to come to the office in two weeks for a follow-up and she wanted me there first thing in the morning so I wouldn’t have to wait with all the pregnant women. I thought this was very kind of her to point out. She also said the doctor who delivered Alexander had cancelled all the rest of my appointments for the pregnancy, and that she would write me a prescription for a sleeping pill. During the conversation, I looked up at the sky, took a deep breath and with my voice cracking asked when (or really if) we could try again. I shocked myself with asking this question. The second it entered my brain I felt bad. I didn’t want to try again. I didn’t want someone to replace him, but for some reason I thought it would be important to know. “Six weeks,” she answered. I gasped at this and I think rolled my eyes. Six freaking weeks! No, I thought. Just no. Probably not even six months, if ever again.
The anesthesiologist also came in during this time to check my the spot where my epidural had been. It looked good so they both released me.
I started sobbing after they left. We weren’t supposed to be leaving without a baby. We just weren’t. He wasn’t supposed to be dead. He was supposed to be with me still. Kevin held me and our moms left the room and let me cry. He calmed me down after a few minutes and we gathered our things hurriedly. I need to get out at that point. I needed to go home and see my dogs. They had always been able to make me better, but this was a tall order even for them.
I put on some clothing Kevin had packed for me that first night when he want home, a pair of black pajama pants and one of his T-shirts. I looked at myself in the full-length mirror and my belly looked so small. For as much as I complained about my weight throughout the pregnancy, I missed my big belly and I missed Alexander being in it. I started crying a little and Kevin once again put his arms around me.
Our moms located a wheel chair and we were off. While I was waiting for Kevin to pull the car around another woman had been released with her baby. Why did she get to take home a baby but I didn’t? I saw her reflection in the revolving door and turned away and closed me eyes. I saw the nurse who wheeled me down look up at her and then at me. She knew I saw her. A few tears trickled down my face and my heart ached as I thought of my baby in the morgue.
When Kevin pulled up we decided we were going to go to the funeral home to get it all over with. They were supposed to meet us in our hospital room but I didn’t expect to be released so early. It wasn’t even 24 hours after Alexander was born and I hadn’t even gone No. 2 yet, which I thought was a requirement before release. So, I called the funeral home and she mentioned that Joel, the guy who was taking care of everything, was at the hospital now. We decided to just meet him in the cafeteria since we were all here. Kevin’s mom came with us and we sat at a table to take care of arrangements for Alexander.
Joel tried to offer words of encouragement and said he was also there to pick up Alexander so he wouldn’t be in the morgue any longer. For some reason even though I knew the basement of the funeral home wasn’t much better, the idea that he wouldn’t be at the hospital without us was somewhat comforting.
Then, we did leave and left our little boy. We made a quick stop to pick up my sleeping pills and some pain pills. I picked up on some attitude with the girl at the pharmacy counter and snapped at her. Kevin told me that he thinks I should take a boxing class to get some aggression out.
Upon arriving home, our dogs greeted us and were so excited. My cousin had been staying with them and we wondered what had happened to make them act so crazy. Normally, they jump all over us for about 30 second, we let them out and everyone relaxes. No matter what we did though, they would not calm down and unfortunately they didn’t take away any of my pain. My poor doggies. I knew I had expected too much of them. Kevin said he thinks they went so crazy because normally when we come home we are just as excited to see them, but this time we weren’t happy to be home with my belly empty. He said he thought they stayed excited for so long because they were trying to get the normal reaction from us.
There were special bottle I ordered on the table and all our ultrasound photos of Alexander. I cried when I saw them, Kevin cried as he put them in the nursery closet along with the rest of Alexander’s things. He moved the unassembled crib into the nursery (it had been in the hall) and shut the door.
Today, nothing in life feels right. Nothing feels normal and nothing feels good. Kevin is trying to get back to normal and doesn’t cry each day like I do. He is worried about me and frankly so am I because I don’t know how to get better. I don’t know how to feel good again. I can’t sleep in my bed because it reminds me of reading to Alexander and waking up to him moving all around. We’ve been sleeping on our couch with the dogs. Tonight I think we will have to sleep back in our bed. Kevin’s back is starting to hurt and he has been working again since Monday so I know it isn’t good for him.
Today I am also supposed to call a number to find a therapist and get a can of paint. Since Kevin has gone back to work he is giving me little tasks to do each day. It is probably good that he is trying to get me out and moving. If it were up to me, I would sit here all day without him. This week has been harder. When he is home, he lightens me up. I feel like I have to be better for him. With him gone, the emptiness and loss consumes me.
I’ve visited Alexander every day since we buried him. He is only about five miles away, but his burial is a story for another day. I need to get up and go see him now, and get my can of paint. Even if I’m not really living, life somehow goes on.
Below is a poem I wrote for Alexander about the day we buried him. It isn’t perfect, but it is what I hope he knows and feels each day, wherever he is.
I buried you today and felt my heart sink.
As I watched them lower you into the ground I didn’t know what to think.
My head ached and my body felt weak,
I knew there were no comforting words to speak.
Nothing could make it better or stop the pain
The tears fell down my face heavy as pounding rain.
I cried for your life and the future that you will never see.
I cried for your father and the mother that I will never be.
People say there’s a purpose, a reason for why this was your fate,
But I know there is no way that my heart will ever relate.
Each day I feel more lost and empty without you inside me
This just isn’t how life is supposed to be.
As they covered you with dirt I tried not to jump in too.
Your father had his arms around me but I felt as if life were through.
They say you’re in heaven and looking down on us with love
but I’m having a hard time believing it all exists up above.
If you’re there somewhere know that I could not love you more.
I will never stop thinking of you, my little one that I adore.
The moment you were created, life changed for me
In my heart our family instantly became three.
Please know that I will always miss you each day
No one could ever make my love for you go away.
I hope some day I’ll be with you, wherever you are.
In my heart I pray that even though you’re gone, you never go too far.
– By Rachel Quenzer –