In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I am sharing my birth story. I have dug deep into the burning places in my heart to help break the silence and lonely suffering of the trauma of experiencing still birth and baby loss. Please know, for those who have experienced this, this may bring forth triggers of your own pain. For others, it may be very difficult to read but thank you for helping to break the silence by listening and not turning the other way in the face of a heartbreaking story.
There are some experiences so deep in life that they can barely be expressed by words. Some are beautiful, some are tragic, some are frightening beyond explanation and some are all of the above. If I had three simple words to describe my birth story I would use those three words; beautiful, tragic and frightening.
It was Monday, March 31, 2014 at 6:30 a.m. My husband carried my hospital bag to the car, the one that I packed in tears the night before. The bag that meant this was really happening, the bag that every expecting Mama packs, but not like this. We drove to the hospital in complete silence. No words, no screams to demonstrate the pain of labor at every bump in the pavement. Just tears. And the cars around were driving to work and stopping for coffee. I remember looking off at them thinking I wish I were them, any one of them. I wish we weren’t driving to the hospital to deliver our deceased baby boy. But we were.
We pulled into the medical campus and began to sob, passing my doctor’s office where I grew to know my little boy and where I then grew to learn he was in heaven. We pulled into the parking lot and just sat in the car. No words. Just tears. We needed a few minutes to wrap our heads around the walk we were about to endure. The walk into the hospital, with a full belly. A baby I carried for 7 months, with no heartbeat inside any longer. It was a cloudy morning and I was grateful for that. We walked slowly to the hospital entrance. It wasn’t how I imagined. I had envisioned my husband rushing me in with a wheel chair, just like the movies. Me screaming, excited, scared and yet ready to meet my son. But it wasn’t like that. There was no excitement. The automatic doors opened before us and our story of Jake’s birth began.
The ladies at the front desk yelled in excitement, “Another One!!! This is our 5th baby this morning!” They were cheering. My tears were falling steadily behind my sunglasses. I didn’t respond. I just kept walking to the elevators but my sobs made way and I began to wail, the way a grieving mother does. And I fell to my knees outside the elevator doors. I could hear the ladies asking my husband if we needed a wheelchair, or help. And he had no words either. He didn’t respond. Instead he fell with me to the ground and slowly helped me up.
Labor and Delivery-straight ahead. We signed in and when the woman saw my puffy cheeks and red face, I assume she paired it with my name, quickly. She knew this wasn’t a happy story. She called for the nurse, “Mrs. H is here” in a solemn voice. The nurse came and we began the walk to my room. I couldn’t look up. I hid behind those sunglasses for months to come. Like a child. Like somehow, I could be invisible behind them. I was shaking, fearful that I would hear babies crying or another woman in labor. But I didn’t. By the grace of God, I didn’t.
The nurse’s name was the same as my grandmother’s who passed away 5 years ago. I knew I was in good hands. My grandmother and I were extremely close and her loss devastated me. The nurse began her intake questions and instructions. I became overwhelmed, almost instantly. I told her I needed an ultrasound first. I needed to be sure he was still gone. My heart needed to know that the miracle I had been praying for over the last 5 days hadn’t come true. So my midwife performed another ultrasound. The last time I would see my precious baby inside my womb. There he was. But no miracle.
The induction process was very different than I expected, and in my eyes, much more traumatic. There was no pitocin drip. My induction medication was a vaginally inserted pill every few hours that would soften my cervix and cause my uterus to contract, eventually stimulating labor. The physical process of the pelvic exam and insertion of the medication was something I still don’t how to explain. It felt like I was murdering my child who was already dead. Like my body was nothing but a machine that we needed to turn on and my son was nothing but an object that needed to come out. If I could outlaw that pill, I would.
It took several hours and doses to begin contracting. I was offered an epidural several times. I didn’t want it. I never wanted it. I wanted to give birth to my son the same way that I originally planned, naturally. So much of this was already taken from me. And I still had some control over this piece. I wasn’t afraid of the physical pain. It couldn’t even scratch the surface of what my heart was feeling. A very small list of visitors came to visit the first day. They offered distraction at times but honestly, the look in their eyes said it all. This was simply awful. There was nothing comforting to say. This wasn’t going to end well. The pain was only just beginning and we all knew it.
About 4 hours into the induction, I was given paperwork to fill out. I had to decide what to do with “the remains.” Yes, the remains of my entire world being ripped right before my eyes. With trembling hands and more tears, we filled out the funeral home information and signed the release of my unborn away to a funeral home. I held my belly and sobbed. I didn’t want to give him away. This wasn’t how this is was supposed to be. Not any of this. Then the questions came of autopsies and skin biopsies of my still yet to be born baby. I wanted to scream for everyone to just get out and leave me and my baby alone. I couldn’t fathom the thought of his body being mutilated even in his death, so I decided no. Don’t touch him. Don’t you dare touch him.
My doula was by my side along with my husband all day. He didn’t want to leave. But there was this one moment I remember clearly that I wanted him to go eat. I needed a moment to be alone. To stop trying to be strong. So he went to the cafeteria. And I sat with my doula, one of the most precious people in this world who made our story more beautiful than I believe it would have been without her. I barely knew her aside from childbirth classes but I felt an immediate bond with her. In these hours, she was my angel. We sat, we talked a little, we prayed and we cried. And cried. And cried. She had never witnessed a still birth and neither had I, so we were in this together. Two women, almost strangers who share the same passion for the beauty of childbirth walking through the tragic side of this reality. It doesn’t always end happily. It doesn’t always end in a crying baby. And we were about to be the proof of that.
After about 13 hours into the induction, my labor began to speed up. I breathed through every contraction. My family was in the waiting room. The staff was in and out of the room and my husband was holding my hand. We were about to deliver our son. I can’t explain what happened next because it still blows my mind. I had about 15 minutes of the most calming, beautiful feeling. My body was tingling from head to toe, there was no pain and life felt so incredibly calm. I laid there just embracing this euphoric feeling. I later learned that this is a chemical release of endorphins that typically happens during natural childbirth, to help aid in bonding between mom and baby. This can happen during birth and shortly after. My doula had never seen this happen during a chemically induced birth. She was amazed. Hormones or not, it was the only 15 minutes during that experience that I felt at complete peace. I felt the Lord heavy in that space like I never have before. It was the most beautiful 15 minutes of my life. I was literally high on love. Just love.
And then the contractions stopped. Completely stopped. My body was tired. My heart wasn’t ready and God knew that. So despite medicine and everything we just witnessed, my baby wasn’t ready to come yet. The midwife convinced me that I needed to sleep a few hours to regain some strength before I got the next dose of induction medication. Sleep? Was she crazy? They gave me a cocktail of medications through my IV that gave me some rest. I’ll never forget the way that medication felt when it hit my body. I began to tremble, felt extremely cold and scared. I began to panic at this feeling of no control and my husband sat in bed with me, using his steady voice to remind me that I was okay. He rubbed my hair until I drifted off. I woke up 3 hours later holding my belly. The moment my eyes opened, the tears began to fall again. This wasn’t just a dream. This was happening. All.Over.Again. I woke up holding my belly and crying for the next six months. Every. Single. Morning. And sometimes, I still do.
I took a shower. I wept again in the shower, caressing my big beautiful belly, knowing this would be the last shower in which I would see that full belly filled with my baby. I don’t know if all women feel this way but during my pregnancy my shower time was such a sacred experience. This bare body exposed to myself was such a gift. I always had 15 minutes to pause and just embrace it. And this would be the last time.
I received my next dose to get my labor moving again. In these next few hours I made my wishes known for what I wanted after my son was delivered. And there were a few more visitors who came in the height of my contractions. Their eyes ached at me and I wanted to leave the hospital with them. They brought me warm packs in exchange for my stubbornness against an epidural. The pain grew deep into my back and wouldn’t release. We tried every position we could. We tried essential oils. We tried breathing exercises. The labor was becoming relentless and I didn’t care. It gave me something else to think about besides what was about to come. My midwife sat with me to talk about the epidural again. She asked me why I was so hesitant. I told her that I wanted to honor this birth like I had originally planned. I told her that I wasn’t sure if I would ever to get to experience child birth again and I wanted to feel this. I needed to. And her response was simple but I’ll never forget it. She looked at me with empathetic eyes and said “You are brave, but Lisa, none of this is how you originally planned. You don’t deserve this pain on top of what you are already feeling in your heart.” She was right. But I was stubborn.
Stubborn until the labor had reached 30 hours and my uterus became more at risk for erupting. My doula talked to me more about it and I surrendered. I knew she understood my intentions and she respected them this long so I trusted her opinion on what was best for my body. It wasn’t about pain at that point. It was about allowing my muscles to relax long enough to dilate without risk for physical damage.
During the epidural I sat at the side of my bed, hunched over hugging my husband who was standing tall holding me. The only word I could find to describe that moment of getting the epidural was defeat. I felt my own fight had been lost and again, the tears just fell and dropped onto my legs. And I secretly apologized to my baby for not being strong enough. I asked for the epidural to be just enough to relax my body but to wear down for the hour of birth so I could give experience the feeling. They agreed and did their best. And it worked. I couldn’t feel the pain of contractions as much but I still felt the pressure a little and I could feel my feet, which I now know is pretty unheard of. The epidural wore off right before I began pushing. It was the perfect medium for what I needed. Praise God yet again.
There was a watermark on one of the ceiling tiles from an old leak. I was fixated on it at times. So much so that I told the staff they needed to change it after I left. They agreed. It was distracting and I couldn’t help but think how I got the sad story and the ugly birth room. I hated that spot. It bothered me more than it should have but it gave me a place to focus my anger. I listened to my birthing playlist the entire time. It was a mixture of worship songs that gave me strength and helped me feel close to Jesus during the darkest hours of my life. I felt him. I felt him there and so did others. He carried us through the darkest hours of our lives, just like He promised.
When my labor picked up I became extremely scared. I was so afraid to let go. I was afraid to push. I was afraid of what he would look like. I was having fears of his body not coming out in one piece. I was afraid of the silence I knew was coming. I was afraid that I would never recover from this heartache. The fear was more intense than I believe I showed. When I knew it was time to push, I called for the midwife. “It’s time” is all I had to say.
I pushed for maybe 10 minutes. My doula led me through a beautiful image to help me release during that final push. She told me to imagine letting go of a balloon but always keeping my eyes on it as it floated away. On my final push, with eyes closed and palms open to the Lord, surrendering all I had to him, I saw my grandmothers face appear. She gave me strength. And then the pressure released and so did everything inside of my heart. I began screaming and screaming as they took my son to clean him off and assess whatever they were assessing. I was screaming, my body was shaking and my husband was holding me and then it all gets a little cloudy. I think that’s when the shock set in.
I remember reaching for my baby. And they gave him to me and I fell in love regardless of the lack of breath in his lungs, regardless of the silence or the lack of color in his body from no blood circulation.
And then his nose began to bleed and I screamed and handed him to the nurse. This was death. This was the reality of death. In my arms. My baby, dead in my arms. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t save him. So I began to panic. And the room began to spin and couldn’t hear what people were saying. I looked up and saw my husband holding him and the heartache intensified. He began to wail, sobs I have never heard from him in my life. He was losing it too. And there we were. New parents together, in pure chaos with our dead baby in our arms. I don’t know how to name what I felt for the next few moments. It’s hard to remember the details. I was somehow holding him again, but I had no words. And then the midwife lifted my blanket to check my blood loss and I don’t know why but I looked and I saw the cord still attached, just lying there in the bed. I know it’s an ugly detail but it’s what I remember. The same thing that nourished his life, caused his death. I wanted it out of me. That image still haunts me.
Within 15 minutes the medical team was coming in, offering little information but saying people needed to leave and to take the baby out of the room. And I was so confused. They told me earlier that none of this would be rushed. Nobody would say what was happening. So my doula looked at me with big eyes and told me I was bleeding more heavily than I should be and that they needed to get my placenta out. Because his birth was pre-term this wasn’t a typical push and release the placenta out circumstance. The anesthesiologist arrived and I grabbed his hand and asked him to not give me anything that would make me forget these moments. I asked him to take the pain away because I didn’t want to feel anymore but I wanted to remember these moments with my baby. With tears in his eyes, he nodded to signify he understood. His eyes were kind and I felt safe with him. The doctor had to manually remove my placenta off of my uterine wall. And I felt the tear and I moaned. The bleeding stopped and I was fine. Physically.
Tragedy and trauma combined shaped the experience that I am still trying to process, 18 months later.
I wanted my baby back, now. My family entered the room shortly after and we took time embracing Jake. My husband and I read to him, sang to him and prayed over him. But the moments that I cherish the most were the quiet ones, when everyone left and it was just the 3 of us. We were finally alone with our son. There were tears, smiles and so many kisses. At some point my husband wanted to take a shower (weird things happen when you’re in shock) and I was so grateful for those 10 minutes alone with my baby. I repeatedly apologized to him for not being able to save him. I peaked at his body in its perfection. Every detail was present and just blew my mind. Just 2 pounds, 15 inches long and I stared in amazement at each detail, his blonde hair, his knuckles, his little knee caps, his fingernails, his tiny nostrils, toes, perfect little ears and puffy lips. I just couldn’t get enough of the details. And I held him on my chest, just pretending for a moment that this wasn’t real and that he was just asleep. I needed that moment.
13 hours after I delivered him I laid him in a wicker basket with a soft blanket and teddy bear. I kissed his forehead. The funeral director closed the lid and I never saw him again. My knees buckled in that hospital room and I fell to the ground, again.
I discharged that evening. And the walk out of the hospital was even more devastating than the walk in. I was offered a wheel chair but I refused. I knew if I didn’t walk out of that building on my own two feet than I would never walk tall again. I stepped out of the room, holding my son’s baby blanket and the arms of the kindest nurse and my husband. I sobbed with each step. We passed an excited Dad on the unit who just had his baby. My heart ached for my husband. I never asked him about it. We continued to walk. It felt like ages to the exit. We passed visitors entering with new baby balloons and fathers entering with car seats. And we just wept as we passed them. We drove home in silence and when we got home, we took several minutes before we could get out of the car to enter our empty, quiet home. The home we purchased to build our family in. The home that held a perfectly ready nursery for our son. Empty. Quiet. Our home has held that ache ever since. And his nursery still sits there, just the way it was.
Jake was returned to me a few weeks later in a tiny urn.
And I am still recovering.
I think writing this released some of those same tears and aches as I felt in those moments. Walking through his birth is something that I have avoided for a long time. But the truth is, it’s important to tell and to hear. Jake was not just a pregnancy. He was not just a story. He was a little boy who was loved beyond measures by a Mommy and Daddy who would have done everything to make his life a blessed one.
The trauma that emerges from the tragedy of losing a baby is one that is often overlooked by society. It is taboo. People don’t want to hear the details of the darkest moments of ones life. But the opportunity to share these details offers the wounded the chance to release some of the trauma from his/her mind and heart. In honor of October’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, thank you for reading a snap shot of Jake’s birth story and I encourage you to ask someone about their loss or maybe share your own. The more we talk, the more we heal.
Jake Edward. 28 weeks gestation. 2lbs .05 oz. 15 inches. April 1, 2014. 36 hours of labor. A lifetime of heartache and grief. I would it all over again just to be his mother.