He Was Born Still: Fetal Death In Utero
Just two months ago my husband and I were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first baby, a boy we had not yet named.
Today we are mourning the loss of our first baby, a boy we named Kenneth Paul.
Because of this I have changed. I did not want to change, I liked who I was, but I did anyway. All the self help books I have read told me this would happen and they were right. I am a different person because my baby died.
November 1, 2010 was the day I got the news our baby boy no longer had a heartbeat. I had a routine doctor’s appointment on that gorgeous fall day. I was nine months pregnant. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except I had noticed our boy was slowing down on the kicks. Must have been gearing up for his big arrival I thought.
My appointment was at 1:30pm on a Monday and I arrived right on time. The nurse called me back and asked the same question she has asked for several months.
"Baby moving ok?"
"Yes”, I replied without hesitation. “Well wait, yes and no. I don't know if I felt anything yesterday."
The nurse did not try to locate my boy’s heartbeat but instead she took me back to a fetal monitor just to check things out, make sure the baby was not under stress and to see if I really was having the Braxton hicks contractions I thought I was. She put me in a recliner chair and I joked at how nice it was, like pampering the soon to be momma by getting her off her swollen ankles!
She then began searching for our boy’s heartbeat....and searching and searching. She got close to the monitor to try to hear something, anything. She tried to feel for the baby to see where he was. After a few minutes she moved me to a different room for an ultrasound. I’m often asked if I was worried at this point. It is hard to explain how I felt then. I was worried that something could be wrong, sure, but did I think my baby was dead? Not a chance. I was supposed to deliver him any day now. Just one week prior to this day the nurse picked up his heartbeat without a hitch and I felt good, strong kicks. There was just no way he could be dead.
Once in the ultrasound room the technician slathered some gel all over my big belly and flicked on the machine, the machine that was set up with the screen turned away from me. I had a bad feeling about that. She waved the wand over my belly for what seemed like only five seconds and silently nodded to the nurse who left the room. This is really bad I thought. I mustered the strength to finally ask what was happening.
“Is everything ok?”
The ultrasound tech replied, “I'm not going to lie to you. I can't find a heartbeat."
At this moment my world changed. Life as I knew it changed. The new me was born. I crumbled. This was not making any sense to me. I’m nine months pregnant with a baby. There has to be a heartbeat. I wanted to scream “What do you mean you CAN’T find his heartbeat? FIND IT!” That is what I wanted to say but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.
My very first thought was that my husband had no idea we had just lost our son. My parents, his parents, our brothers, sisters, friends, NO ONE knew and they were all going to be crushed and I had to tell them.
The next few hours are somewhat of a blur. In that time I was told we should go to the hospital that evening to induce labor. There was no point to put off the inevitable. “Wow, I still have to go through labor”, I thought. Somehow I thought I would be exempt from having to do that. Wasn’t it painful enough that my baby died?
I made it home at the exact same time my husband was getting home. I could not call him with the news because I feared he would have thought I was in labor. For several mornings leading up to this day I would jokingly tell him “Have a good day and I will call you if I go into labor!” A call form me mid afternoon would surely be mistaken for some good news. Instead the doctor had called him to tell him his unborn son had died and he needed to meet me at home. I got out of my car and collapsed into his arms. I will never forget the look on his face or the feeling I had at that moment. I thought I had let him down. I missed the warning signs and now we are left with a dead baby. I have ruined our lives. I was devastated.
Driving to the hospital was nothing like I had imagined it to be. I imagined I would be in pain with contractions and my husband would be elated as he made jokes to take my mind off the pain. The scene I had pictured was loud, chaotic and exciting. Instead we were mostly silent.
We got to the hospital at 7:00 pm November 1.
Our son, Kenneth Paul, was born twelve hours later at 7:00 am Tuesday November 2, 2010. He weighed 6lbs, 8oz, was 20 inches long and was perfect in every way. I glanced at him as they took him to clean him off and fell in love immediately. Love at first sight by its true definition.
We spent that day, our son’s birthday, with him. We held him, kissed his forehead, talked to him, loved him and even baptized him. Our parents got to meet him too. The most bittersweet moment in my life was introducing our son, our precious still boy, to our parents. I was truly so very proud to show him off. I’ll never forget this scene. It was me, lying in the hospital bed as the nurse came in the room with our freshly cleaned baby boy. She handed him to me and I beamed like any proud mom would. Our parents surrounded my bed and just cried. I continued to smile. I was so happy to have him in my arms.
Later that evening came the most difficult moment of my life thus far. We had to say our final goodbye to our son, the boy we had just met and fallen in love with. My husband and I were left alone. We were a family at last. Again, with the bittersweet moments. How happy we were to be there with our baby! But we knew we had to let him go. And so the time came to say goodbye. We took turns holding him and talking to him. His cheeks were getting cold so I caressed them to keep him warm. I told him over and over again just how much I loved him and that I was so sorry this happened. I could not have told him that enough. Calling the nurse to take him was impossible and I'm not sure how I managed to do that but I did. She came in and gently took him from me as I sobbed.
Since this day I have changed. Like I said before, I never wanted to change; I liked myself and my life. I had a lot of things to be thankful for and I still do in fact. But I will never be the same. I am now a mother without a baby. I have been pregnant and given birth but have never heard the sound of my own child cry. I will always carry the burden of what could have been.
I now find myself trying to live in a world where life keeps going no matter how much I want it to stop. I have an adorable one year old nephew but I found it difficult to be around him in the first few weeks. I have a niece scheduled to arrive into the world in March and I want nothing more than to be so excited to meet her. Instead I am so sad that my baby died.
In the first days after losing our son I searched feverishly for something to read that would give me some glimmer of hope. I ordered several books and eagerly checked the mail each day hoping they would arrive far ahead of schedule. I needed something or someone to tell me they had gone through what I had and they were ok.
I did not find the comfort I was seeking thkrough the books after they did arrive. Instead the books were telling me how sad other woman in my shoes felt years after losing their babies. Great. So now I’m sentenced to a lifetime of sadness? I read about other woman getting pregnant again only to find even more sadness as they were now trying to bond with their new baby while mourning the one that had died. Awesome. So I guess even getting pregnant again won’t help?
I really only found my glimmer of hope in a dear friend I’ll call Cali. Cali reached out to me just days after I lost my son. Cali lost her son too seven weeks to the day before I did. She and I began exchanging lengthy emails which led to weekly phone calls. From the first email I wrote back to her I trusted her completely. I needed her. She could help me like no one else could, I just knew this.
We now use our email exchange to pour our hearts out as we are truly the only people who can understand one another. We talk about our sons often. It is a time and place we share that is safe. We can talk freely about our boys, the sadness that lingers, the way our bodies have changed and most importantly the ways in which we feel happy again.
Through our email exchanges we have started to tell a story. The moral of our story is simple. It is ok to feel happy again after a baby dies.
To feel happy after losing a child is a fine line to walk. I fear telling anyone if I have a happy moment because they might think I’m ok, that I’m “cured” of my sadness, when in fact there is no cure for this type of sadness. If I am sad around the people in my life they may think I’ll never be ok.
Cali has helped me to realize that I have begun a new life, like it or not, and walking fine lines is part of that. The day I lost my son my world changed. The people in my world have not and so I must learn how to adapt to them, not the other way around.
And so here I am, ten weeks out from that dreaded day and ten weeks into my new life. I do not know where this new life will take me yet; my story is only just beginning. What I do know is that my story has hope.