March 30, 2017
Day 1 of My Stillbirth Story
I go to my regular prenatal checkup. Most of my visits have been with Kaiser’s midwife, who normally just uses a Doppler. This week she is on vacation, so I’m scheduled with an OB-GYN who happens to be open for this time slot, which works with my work schedule (I hate missing work). This means I get an ultrasound today! I haven’t seen baby since my anatomy scan in early January.
I’m lying down on the patient chair, and when the doctor comes in, we chitchat about how much this baby has been moving around, kicking, doing somersaults . . . those are all great signs, she says. As she gets the ultrasound going, I tell her I do not want to know the baby’s sex. She sees baby’s head, and she says it’s in great position, head down, facing back. She measures it, measures perfectly. She scans other body parts then goes to the heart. She is having trouble finding the heart because baby’s back is toward us. She thinks she finds it. I ask where it is, because I can’t see it (which should have been clue number one as I know what a moving heart looks like on an ultrasound). She struggles a bit more . . . she also has trouble picking up sound. I ask her if she’s kidding. She says no, let me get a second opinion. Worry turns into panic in a split second. I’m wide-eyed and waiting for the second opinion. She asks me when was the last time baby moved. I scan my memory and think hard . . . OH MY GOSH I don’t remember it moving last night. I feel like a horrible mother to not remember, nor did I keep kick counts. It moved in the morning . . . but. . . . OH NO. No, no, no. . . .
Second opinion comes in . . . she’s leaning over me squinting at the screen. She grabs the device and scans me herself. She’s looking and looking . . . she thinks she picks up a very faint but very slow heartbeat, but never sees movement on the heart. She looks at me straight in the eyes and says, “We need to go to labor and delivery now.” She grabs me by the hand, grabs my work bag, and moves at lightning speed.
I cannot soak in what is happening. It becomes a blur. I don’t remember walking down, across the street, and over to the other building. During this walk I do remember asking a thousand questions back-to-back. But I also had to call my husband, call my best friend, who was supposed to be there for my birth in May, and then call work. I had to start teaching soon, but I wouldn’t make it. By now I’m feeling lost and panicked. I ask the doctor, who is still leading me by the hand, if this means a C-section. She tells me if in fact there was a heartbeat, it was too slow. I asked if she could somehow jump-start the heart. I don’t remember what else I asked, but I understood it either meant baby is gone or baby could come out via emergency C-section, but likelihood of survival was close to zero. I could still not comprehend how these choices could be my only two choices. This was all surreal, it wasn’t really happening.
We make it to labor and delivery, where doctors shout at one another in a frenzy. Three doctors gather around the ultrasound machine. I’m just operating in shock mode and still not really understanding what is quite happening. They all look at the screen, another one tries . . . then suddenly, all that rushing and madness comes to a halt. All the tension in their shoulders drops simultaneously as they gaze at me, lying there with wide, questioning eyes. Finally, one of them says, “I’m so sorry.”
Then it registers. THIS IS REAL. THIS IS HAPPENING. I cover my face and lose it. Everything was going just fine. I was so close to the end, just shy of eight months. Baby was strong and healthy. I have to start all over again? I miscarried just last year! This is a cruel, sick joke. Why did this happen? I come in and out of waves of emotion and logical thinking. I ask them to tell me the sex of the baby since it didn’t matter anymore. It’s a boy. Of course, since my motherly instinct said it was a girl. I needed a name because I didn’t want a blank death certificate. Taking a baby home nameless is one thing, but laying it to rest without a name is not right. I take more time to cry, because this is so so sad.
When my husband, Alex, and my first son, Essi, arrive, I’m in a private delivery room. Essi knew Mama was sad, but I could tell he was confused yet knew something was up. He stood there with eyebrows up, shrugged his shoulders, and said, I don’t know. He did this several times. Alex and I hug, but he has to tend to Essi, and I still need more time to understand everything.
I ask the doctors what happens next. They explain how I will be induced. I want to understand each step and the names of drugs and devices used. I ask about whether I might be able to find a reason, and they tell me oftentimes there isn’t a reason. When baby is birthed, sometimes there is an obvious umbilical cord issue. If not, autopsy is an option. Genetic testing looking at the DNA, rather than just the chromosomes, is another option. But often, there is no answer. I ask if I can donate its organs. Unfortunately, no. I ask if I can wait to do all this, to which they say of course, though perhaps not wait a week. All I knew was that I didn’t want to stay in the hospital that day. They show me the schedule for inductions, and I decide on Sunday night, which buys me almost four full days. I choose night because the first part of induction I’m hoping I can sleep through. They tell me that in the meantime if I feel feverish or any flu-like symptoms or have signs of labor, contact them immediately. I need to go home. I need to process all this. I need to make a plan.
I get a lot done with what remains of the day. First thing is reaching out for help. I contact my doula-now-midwife and other doula friends, I connect with others who have had stillbirths, I notify friends whom I just need to ask for emotional help . . . I am able to garner a wealth of resources and get into action. Because of my emotional state, I was not able to talk to anyone. It would have been impossible to even try to complete one sentence on the phone without breaking down. Thank goodness for texting and messaging, and thank goodness for friends. I delegate and ask for help, contacting the resources provided to me. It felt like I was preparing for my own death. In a way I was, because I was going to lose a part of me forever.
March 31, 2017
Day 2 Making Plans
I wake up and hope, as with my miscarriage, that yesterday was all a horrible dream. I’m mad at myself for letting my guard down. I thought I was in the clear because I was in the third trimester. I feel like an idiot. I cry more. It doesn’t feel real yet because I’m still carrying baby. I hang on to hope that there was some misdiagnosis. I think maybe by having those few additional days it will allow baby to miraculously revive itself. I believe in medical miracles. But there is definitely no movement. My womb feels heavy and silent.
Alex had fallen asleep with his head next to baby, both hands on my belly. He was certainly more spiritually connected to baby. He had a dream the night before that his own heart had stopped. Which reminds me . . . yesterday the slow, weak heartbeat that they thought they heard was most likely mine, picked up from an artery.
I don’t remember what other thoughts I went through, but in the stillness of dawn and left to my own ruminations, it wasn’t pretty. I text/message friends I think might be awake, because I start feeling lonely and I don’t like where my head is going. I contact Midwest and East Coast friends, international friends/family, people who I wouldn’t be bothering so much at that hour. I know I don’t have much time to be this sad because when we all wake up, I have to put on my game face for Essi’s sake. I forgot where I read it, but it stuck in my mind that children shouldn’t have to mourn the loss of their parents too. I didn’t want him to lose the parents that he knew. Yes, I believe it is healthy for him to see my emotions, and he is very emotionally intelligent and empathetic. However, I knew it would cause confusion if I explained the loss while still visibly carrying baby. Today was not the day. So, we had to continue being the parents that he had—attentive, playful, fun, emotionally responsive, etc.
That meant SeaWorld was still on. We had promised him earlier in the week that Friday we would go to SeaWorld. During the drive I sporadically break out into tears. The news is still so fresh. I touch my belly every now and then. How could my baby have been so alive and then suddenly gone? At SeaWorld, we are able to operate right back into parent mode. We share laughter, have fun, enjoy one another, find joy in how alive Essi is . . . it’s good for us. For dinner we grub on some good food, and I eat and drink whatever I want. At the end of the day we check into our motel and settle down for the night. Essi is being especially hilarious looking at himself and dancing very strange moves in the full-length mirror.
That’s when I notice that my belly looks different. It has dropped more and become smaller. It had shrunk. It wasn’t full and round. I couldn’t believe the change. It made sense, as there were no fluids moving around to maintain live cells. I was in fact losing fluids in several organs. I try not to dwell on this. But at bedtime something Essi likes to do is play hide-and-seek with my protruding belly, or just hug it, or pretend parts of his face are stuck to it. When he did this tonight, it took all of me to not break apart. He won’t have opportunities to do this anymore. We still had to explain to him that baby was gone.
That night I cry more. It is when I do my hardest crying. I allow myself to do this when Essi doesn’t see me. In my sorrow, I’m still able to get a lot done, as I did throughout the day. My dear friends came through for me in full force. One contacted the funeral home to arrange for cremation, another researched permits for scattering of ashes, yet another contacted a nonprofit that sends volunteer professional photographers for stillbirths. So many more were there for me emotionally. I can say I felt far from alone. I am also extremely indebted to the doulas, who were the first sources of information. They offered themselves as resources and support, and so much of me being able to just keep it together was because of them. I was able to shift my mind-set about a number of aspects in planning and preparing for this journey, namely the birth. Doulas are a special breed of people.
Some final things I did that night: Decided I needed a plan for telling people. I did not like being caught off guard yesterday at Vons when the cashier asked me, “When is your due date?” I froze, I scanned left and right searching for how to respond appropriately. In that awkwardly long amount of time that passed, she filled the space with, “Oh, you don’t know.” I snapped back with, “Yes, I do. It’s just that . . . I . . . today I found out that . . . the baby is no longer alive.” She immediately felt bad and became speechless. I scurried away and cursed to myself for being unprepared for such an interaction. I would not let it happen again. I knew I would not be able to handle an onslaught of questions and comments upon my return to work when I will clearly look different. I needed a plan for my classroom, and an age-appropriate way of telling my students. I requested the school social worker be involved to help. I asked my student teacher to please make lesson plans for the substitute.
When my head got out of work mode, I jumped right back into emotionally taking care of myself mode. I decided I wanted a piece of ash jewelry, the idea first introduced to me by a doula. At first I thought it was weird. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I also joined a Facebook group for stillbirth support, thanks to a friend who relayed the info. I found so much support through fellow moms, many of whom had lost their angels at full term, past thirty-seven weeks. A handful had experienced multiple stillbirths. My head could not wrap around the amount of grief we all carried. Luckily, if you could call it lucky, I found the group before delivery. Most had found it afterwards. I received a plethora of helpful advice, but no one could answer my most pressing question: How do I prepare to see my baby? I had never held a dead body before. I had asked the doctors yesterday so I wouldn’t be too shocked. They mentioned some details that I specifically asked them for, such as color and skin condition. While I tried to imagine what that might look like, I had no idea how to prepare emotionally.
No one could help me.
April 1, 2017
Day 3 Who Will I Become?
While I didn’t get much sleep, I did do a lot of research in the wee hours of the morning. My two main goals for these days were to be as prepared as possible and to enjoy the time with my family in order to experience joy in the way we knew how before being hit with life-changing grief. I needed to have some sense of control over some of this. It really did feel like I was preparing for my own death. If you’ve ever watched the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, what I was living felt so much like the ending of the movie when the android child is able to have just twenty-four hours more with his mom, and he was going to make every minute worth it. No, I wasn’t dying. But a part of me was, and I knew I was going to come out of this experience a different person. That’s what scared me.
Fear shadowed me that day. Not only was I scared of who I would become after all this, but I was also afraid of the induction and the entire labor and delivery. I knew that induced labor tends to be more intense and painful. I was afraid of the pain. I was also afraid of what the doctors had said about my placenta. They said they would gently pull on the cord to try to help remove the placenta. I did not want them to do that. I carried intense fear that something would go wrong there, that I would hemorrhage if they did that and then I would need to have a hysterectomy. Then I was mad at myself for feeling afraid of all of this, because those fears can actually get in the way of labor. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was scared of seeing baby and of how I would react.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a doula that I reached an epiphany. I wasn’t going in for a medical procedure. I was preparing for birth. This was a birth. I don’t know why I didn’t see it this way at first (in retrospect, probably because I associated birth with a live baby). Once that “aha” moment struck me, I knew what I had to do. Preparing for birth is something I knew how to do. In fact, I had already prepared for this birth . . . albeit with a much different outcome. All I needed to do was tweak my birth plan for . . . a stillbirth. Right, that’s all.
Throughout the day when my friends checked in on me, I responded that I was strangely level-headed. It was kind of weird. I must have been in some sort of acceptance stage. It felt calmly reassuring, like I was doing a good job of handling all this . . . for the time being. I actually believed everyone when they told me I was strong, and that they always knew me to be strong. All the stages of grief, however, would be reset, and I’d cycle through them again once I saw baby.
Our family enjoys a nice breakfast on a perfectly beautiful day. We dine outside all together in a patio area where our dog, Nyima, was also allowed. Pancakes, French toast, eggs Benedict. Again, we share a lot of laughter and joy. I am taken aback, though, by my own profile when we pass by store windows. My belly had shrunk considerably even from just the day before. I catch myself examining my profile every chance I get. I may never see this view again.
In the afternoon we head to a dog-friendly beach in Carlsbad and hike down to the water, where we fully take in the beauty that nature offered. The only problem was that when I went to use the restroom, I had a bowel movement, at the end of which I felt strange yet familiar pressure. It was almost as if I could try to push and the baby would come out. I started to freak out. Had my water been leaking and I didn’t realize it? No, my water didn’t have to break for me to be in labor. I hadn’t noticed any signs of labor. Did baby’s head just descend farther down and was simply creating more pressure? Was my water about to break? Would I be going into labor soon? I contacted a doula and asked her for advice. My fears were eased, but I knew we had to head home. I felt I might go into labor that night.
On the drive home back to LA, I sit on a towel in case my water breaks. When we arrive home, I get straight to work on editing my birth plan and hospital packing list. I begin packing in case I need to head to the hospital this evening or in the middle of the night. Fear still lingers within me, but I push through. I’m a doer. When I set my goal on something, I try my hardest to make it happen. That level-headedness I had earlier was what carried me through the day and helped me to do what I had to do. This was the person I knew myself to be.
Would I still be her in the end?
April 2, 2017
Day 4 Induction and Labor
I don’t remember much of the details of this day. It was just filled with lots of last-minute preparations and getting mentally ready, like getting my head into the game. Tasks were accomplished in a very matter-of-fact manner. It felt kind of like a normal day.
I know I showered. Alex played a soccer game. He also went to buy an outfit for baby so we could have the option of dressing him, though it was hard finding something small enough because I anticipated he’d be around four pounds. Both of us continued trying to find a good name. We had been looking online the past several days, but nothing was feeling right. We were the type of people who had to see the baby (or pet) before deciding on a name. The only difference in this case was that the name we eventually chose did not necessarily have to be easily pronounceable in Spanish and Korean (for our parents’ sakes) as we had done with our dog and our first living child.
I also finalized details on my birth plan and printed multiple copies (for shift changes). I double-checked that I had everything on my hospital packing list. Made a run to Sprouts to put together a snack basket for the nurses. This was something I had wanted to do with my first birth, but Essi decided to come out four days sooner, so I wasn’t able get it together in time.
And Essi . . . throughout all this we focused on being our usual selves for his sake. He hadn’t lost his parents, and I was determined not to let that happen, though I was still afraid of what would happen after this night. When I woke up on this morning, I was reminded of how blessed we were to have him, of how joyful it was to wake up next to him each and every morning. I explained to him that tonight I would be sleeping at the hospital, and he and Daddy would sleep at home. He asked why. I explained that Mama had to go to get the baby out. Why, he asked. Because . . . the baby is not alive anymore. Baby died. Why? I don’t know why, m’ijo, but Mama is sad. Are you sad? No—video games!
It was so weird to be a part of this conversation. At first I wanted to be offended. Why are you not sad?! Why are you changing the topic when I’m trying to talk to you about something serious? But then I realized that he doesn’t see death the way we adults view death. He doesn’t see it clouded with grief coupled with a deep sense of loss. He doesn’t process death the same way we do. It was so interesting to witness. Later in the day I tried to bring it up again to see what he understood: Essi, where is Mama going tonight? Hospital. Why? Baby dead. Is Mama sad? Yes. Then he changed the topic again.
We arrive at the hospital at 8:00 p.m. It feels weird to walk in and say, “I’m here to check myself in to labor and delivery” while carrying my thirty-three-pound toddler. I’m sure the front desk folks don’t see that every day. I meet my best friend, Meisha, who will be staying right beside me through this entire process. I am given the same room I was in on Thursday. Wow. Back here again. I would call this place home for two to three days, although since I’m a second-time mom, it would likely be one to two days. Part of the reason why I didn’t want to stay here the day I found out was because I wasn’t ready to stay for that length of time with zero preparation. The other reason was because I wanted to give my body time to naturally prepare itself for labor, namely give my placenta time to detach itself from my uterus, and hopefully allow my cervix to dilate.
I hear myself operating in a very businesslike manner. I pull out my manila folder and hand over my birth plan to the nurse. She is really sweet and gets things going in the system. I meet the doctor on duty and give her a copy of my birth plan as well. After introductions we are able to take our time to settle in. We feel quite comfortable. Alex goes to get some Thai food for dinner for all of us. It’s funny, because the last meal I ate before going into active labor with Essi was also Thai. We hang out, eat, occasionally I have to answer some questions when staff come in. I have to say, the staff was incredibly respectful of our family time. But it’s getting late, and Essi needs to sleep. When he and Alex leave, I immediately miss them. Despite that, I had a mission to accomplish. I had to birth this baby on my terms.
It’s just me and Meisha now. When the doctor returns, we discuss our options. She explains that induction normally starts with a balloon (Foley) to open the cervix and also a dose of misoprostol to thin the cervix. Then when the cervix is “favorable,” I would get hooked up to an IV and receive Pitocin to start contractions. I understand that this is standard procedure; however, I’m determined to make this birth happen with as few drugs as possible. I trust myself and my body. We discuss further, and I am somehow able to avoid getting a heparin lock (I regretted getting one with my first birth), and the doctor also agrees to start with just the balloon. So, no drugs to begin. Things are looking good because I feel like I’m getting my way already.
At 10:45 p.m., the doctor comes in to check my cervix—I’m at one centimeter—and inserts the balloon. It’s not too painful, it’s bearable. She explains that it can stay in for twelve hours, or if I dilate to three to four centimeters, then it will fall out on its own, which would be ideal. I tell them I want to try to sleep a bit. We agree that around 4:30 a.m. she’ll return to administer the first dose of misoprostol. Sounds like a plan to me. I feel good, mostly because I don’t feel like I’m being treated like a hospital patient, nor do I feel like I look like one (just a gown, which was optional, and ID bracelet). I didn’t want to be hooked up to machines and fluids. A few times they mentioned the IV, but I kept pushing it, saying to do that later. I also prefer the freedom of movement during labor, so being stuck to things was not going to work for me.
Around midnight, Meisha and I get ready to sleep to prep for what’s to come. I remind her to remind me to breathe through my contractions. I tell her that if she sees me losing concentration or giving up, then she needs to lock eyes with me and tell me to breathe, to do the breathing herself so I can mimic her. I remember when my doula did this with my first birth, it helped tremendously. This was a mental challenge. My head had to be in the game, and I had to stay focused if I was going to do this without pain meds. While I was not going to have anywhere near the outcome I had planned for, with everything in my power I was going to have the birth that I had planned for, damn it. Yes, my baby was taken away from me . . . but I was determined not to have the birth I wanted taken away from me also. I was not going to leave it to chance or fate.
I—emphasis on I—was going to write that story.
April 3, 2017
Day 5 Birth and Death
I fall asleep in the hospital bed just past midnight. I’m able to get about four hours of sleep. At 4:30 a.m. I wake up when the nurse comes to check on me, saying the doctor will be in shortly to administer the first dose of misoprostol. She asks how I’m feeling with the balloon, and I respond that it isn’t too uncomfortable. I’m getting sporadic contractions but nothing to really indicate concern or progress.
At 5:00 a.m. the doctor comes in to administer the misoprostol. It’s quick and no big deal. I try to go back to sleep because I know I have a long day ahead of me. I need the energy and all the strength I can muster, both physically and mentally. I’m not able to sleep anymore, however, so Meisha and I talk. I don’t remember about what. Probably about how to help me when things pick up and about how sad all this is. Within an hour, my contractions begin to get regular. I ask Meisha to time my contractions, and she’s already downloading a timer app on her phone. After timing a few, she tells me my contractions are almost one minute long at three minutes apart. Wow, that’s . . . quite regular. The contractions also increase in intensity. Since it is around six o’clock and many of my friends, mostly teachers, are probably getting up by now, I text them and ask them to please send me quotes and affirmations of strength. I needed the reminders. It is getting painful already. I employ my best yoga breathing techniques and close my eyes with each contraction that comes. Each one approaches like a wave. I tell Meisha it’s coming, I inhale my breath to draw in focus, then I exhale deeply to send my body the message that we are in control. In between contractions I am able to talk to Meisha and check messages on my phone. I need to draw strength from fellow women and mothers. I need to feel surrounded by my community to push through.
The contractions become more and more intense. I find myself beginning to meet some of them with fear. Those are the ones that hurt the most, and it was exactly the same case with my first birth. I knew this was a mental challenge. What made this a bigger challenge, though, was that this birth was clouded by sorrow. And I could not explain to myself or to anyone else why I needed to have a natural birth again. There was no live baby to worry about receiving residual doses of certain medications. Why did I want to do it this way? I didn’t have an answer. I just knew this was what I had to do.
The hours are passing, and I’m still laboring in the bed, alternating from lying on my left side to the right side and back again. I hold on to the side rail through each contraction. Meisha is sitting next to me continuing to time each one and also applying counterpressure to my hips. I mess up on my concentration on several contractions, and I curse out loud, “Damn it, I f—ed up that one!!! Oww . . . it huuuuuurts!!!” I’m losing my mental focus. I’m feeling defeated. I can’t keep going like this for hours more, probably until afternoon or evening. That is too long for me. I’m sad that I feel defeated. My mind keeps going to morphine, especially as I calculate time. The only things that seem to help are when I tell myself that it’s just pressure, not pain. I also tell Meisha to tell me that, to repeat it. I ask her to please remind me to breathe. She does. She is an amazing support, and I know I could not make it through any of this without her.
At 9:00 a.m., just before the shift change, the doctor comes in to administer the second dose of misoprostol. She had explained earlier that each subsequent dose would be applied every four hours and was usually given about four times. Nevertheless, as she stands there, I explain to her that my contractions are intense and regular. In fact, they are picking up. I tell her adamantly that I do not believe I need another dose. We negotiate as my contractions continue and intermittently interrupt our conversation. In the end, we agree to hold off on the second dose until 10:45 a.m., when the balloon will be removed (twelve-hour mark). At that point we’ll check my cervix to see how much progress has been made in opening and thinning it, then we’ll decide if we need another dose.
The staff leaves. It’s then that my body tells me to get up out of bed and move around. I had been saving my legs for when I needed them, and this was it. I get up and walk around the room aimlessly while making a sound that is a cross between a groan and a hum. I walk and sway. I am in a trancelike state. When a contraction comes, I lean over onto something and try my best to remember to breathe through it. They are painful, more than I ever remember the pain to be. I’m also not afforded the time in between to catch a breather in order to prepare for the next contraction. They have picked up. I ask out loud to no one why they are so close together, and why they hurt so much. I know what time it is, so I’m scared. If these contractions are this painful and it’s only 9:30 a.m., I will certainly not make it through to the end like this. I have so much more to go. I’m not even at three centimeters, because the balloon would have fallen out of me by now. I tell Meisha I think I need to consider morphine. I need help, I can’t keep going at this rate. I’m not strong enough to do this. I’m disappointed in myself and devastated that I have to deviate from my plan. I keep pushing through the contractions. I keep talking nonsense. I tell her it would be so much easier to just cut me open. I tell her I can’t do this. And when I keep hearing myself say that I can’t do this, I really frighten myself. Those are transition words, but I was far from transition. It was me admitting defeat.
At 10:00 a.m. I tell Meisha that I want the balloon out. I feel like it is creating additional pressure. She picks up the phone to call the nurse, and right as she does my balloon falls out. She tells the nurse, and they come in to remove the attachment from my thigh and clean up the floor. I feel slight relief of pressure but only for seconds. My mental focus is revived briefly as I tell myself I must be at least three centimeters . . . but I quickly remind myself that ten centimeters is so far to go. The contractions continue just the same as before. I want to cry. The doctor rushes in and patiently waits for me as I handle the contractions with my best breathing. I ask her to please check my cervix. I tell her I might need morphine. She waits for me to lie down on the bed, but the contractions keep attacking me with no time in between. I cry out to her that I’m so sorry, but I’m scared that if I lie down and get a contraction, I won’t be able to handle the pain. She says she’ll check me as quickly as possible. She is still patient as I contract while leaning over the side of the bed. I keep apologizing, and then I finally muster up the courage to throw my body onto the bed so she can check me.
“Janet, you’re ten centimeters.”
What?! I freeze, wide-eyed. I’m at ten?!?!? No wonder I was saying things that one would say during transition. I was in transition. This was it.
“You can push if you want. Do you want me to break your water?”
“Yes!—No. Wait! Someone call my husband. Someone call the photographer!”
Then I’m hit hard with the worst contraction yet. I am on my side and writhing in pain. Through my clenched jaw I groan that I can’t do this, it hurts too much . . . and when I catch my breath, I realize how insane I am to even consider waiting for anyone or anything. This needed to end, and it was all right if Alex wasn’t there for the moment of delivery. I plead to the doctor to please break my water. She turns around to the table of instruments to reach for the hook, but in that moment I push and break my water. I tell them I’m going to push, and they respond that I can go ahead and push. And I do. I can feel the baby’s head crowning. I stop to ask if they think I will tear. Was the baby’s head big? Should I push slowly to avoid tearing? I control the pushing to a medium pace and feel the baby’s head come out. I push again and feel the body come out. I don’t look closely at baby because the first glance I get of him I can’t soak in. As baby’s body rests on my lower abdomen, they clamp the umbilical cord so that I can cut it. Once cut, I ask for baby to be placed on my chest, but I turn away when I see him.
“Please cover his head,” I ask through streaming tears. They get a beanie and a blanket. I look at the body and turn away again. “Please cover the parts of his skin that are . . .” I can’t finish my sentence. They cover up baby more. I look once more to receive baby, and I have to turn away again. “Please rearrange his limbs so they don’t look all twisted . . .” I needed him not to look like a dead body. I needed him to look like a sleeping baby. I can’t stop crying. I finally hold him. He looks so frail, so peaceful, so innocent . . . I couldn’t protect him.
When I snap out of it, realizing my birth isn’t over, I ask if the placenta has come out. Negative. I try pushing it out. I can’t. They wait. I look more at my baby, I keep hearing myself repeat, “This is all so sad. I can’t believe this is my story . . .” I repeatedly tell baby that I’m so sorry. I’m reminded my job isn’t done when the doctor says, “Janet, it’s been twenty-five minutes. We need to get your placenta out. I’m going to pull gently to help out, though.” Okay. I tell Meisha to make sure that they are indeed pulling on it gently. Yes, I say this in front of them. I push a few times. Nothing. I ask what will happen if I can’t push it out. They say they will have to go in manually to remove it. My eyes widen, and I say no, I don’t want that. I ask them to remind me how I need to push, where I need to focus the pushing. They said just like a bowel movement. I give one good push and birth my placenta.
And it is immediately evident: a likely link to his death. It has something to do with how the end of the umbilical cord was attached to the placenta. It was nothing that could have been detected or prevented, nothing that could have had something done about it. The doctor showed me how the cord was attached to the membrane and explained that it was slightly detached. At the time, it was reason enough to me. Something went wrong. I had suspected a cord issue, though this was something I had never heard of. It would be sent to pathology to be examined thoroughly, and a sample of my placenta would be sent to test the DNA for genetic defects, just in case. There was no rhyme or reason that this happened, so really no clear reason. (Pathology results two weeks later confirmed that there were no genetic abnormalities with either myself or the baby, and we were both perfectly healthy. But one year later I looked back at the timeline of events and realized that the only thing I had done differently was receive the Tdap vaccine, which has never been tested on pregnant women nor is there any knowledge of whether it causes fetal harm.) I was 1 in 160, which is less than 1 percent. I thank my body for knowing what to do, and I appreciate myself for listening to my body. I was able to avoid an IV, Pitocin, pain medications . . . I fulfilled my birth plan.
The staff is wonderful about granting me and my family time with baby. As time passed, his body was quickly deteriorating. When Alex arrives with Essi, he spends time with baby. He tells me that Essi understands what happened, that baby’s spirit is now with the stars. Meisha, who I cannot thank enough for being by my side through all this, takes on the role of playing with Essi while Alex and I get time with the baby. We take photos, we talk, I cry, we hold him, we are present in the experience together. We take in all the little details, his perfect little hands, his big feet and long toes, his tiny eyelashes, lips that look just like Essi’s . . . And Essi wants to, and gets to, briefly meet his baby brother. Hours pass before we know it. We could get all the time that we want, but baby’s condition is worsening, deteriorating quickly. It is not how I want to remember him. It is time to let him go, our beautiful baby boy. We call in the staff and say we’re ready. They bring in the memory box and take footprints, handprints, and hair clippings. They wrap him up and place him in a tiny burial box. To the very end, Alex and I discuss a befitting name. When they come to fill out the death certificate, we finally have a name for him.
Our baby’s name is Kamali. In Arabic, Kamali means spirit guide; protector. His spirit will always be with us (we know, as he has shown us signs), and we will wait for him to return to us, or for us to join him.
We will always remember him. He will never be a passing memory. We will speak his name, we will share stories about him, we will celebrate his birthday and honor his life, he will forever be our son. I end my stillbirth story here, but for me there is no ending to this story. I will eternally carry with me the immeasurable grief and pain of a mother’s loss.
Mama will always love you and remember you, Kamali.