Life is made up of fleeting moments. Some you catch hold of and can fully enjoy. Some fly by so fast they are a blur in your memory. Then there are the ones that change your life forever. These, I guess, you would call turning points. These moments change the direction you thought you were going, for good, bad, or indifferent. Some of these moments come about on purpose, like getting married. Some happen as rights of passage, like graduation. Others happen as a cruel act of fate.
Our family recently suffered from one of these moments. It’s a moment in time where literally everything froze and then broke into thousands of little fragments. Shards of a direction we wanted to travel, shards of a memory we wanted to embrace, shards of a life that was taken before it was given.
February 25, 2018 will forever be our baby girl Grace Anne’s day.
I was 28 weeks and 6 days pregnant with our second little girl. Everything was going according to plan with our pregnancy. Two weeks prior we had heard a strong happy heartbeat. I was sluggish and starting to swell but felt fine, and Grace was giving me little kicks here and there. We had been renovating the bedroom that would be Grace’s and our daughter Madelynn was super excited to be getting a baby sister to play with, feed, and teach things to. Our little family was growing by one more set of little feet, and we were all anticipating her arrival in May.
Little did we know our world was going to change so quickly and devastatingly.
February 21st, a 60-degree Wednesday, I took Maddie for a play date at the park with a few of her friends. I wasn’t super energetic and my ankles were still swollen, but I chalked it up to six busy workdays as a server. I just needed rest. I went home that night and did just that. I put my feet up and rested on the couch. Thursday came and went without much to note. Friday and Saturday I was back at work. It wasn’t overly busy but I was moving. When I got home Saturday night, I was pretty swollen in my legs and ankles and super tired. I had noticed that in the busyness of work, I really hadn’t taken a second to feel Grace moving.
So when I sat down, I had some soda and ice cream to see if I could get her going. It was the first time that week I not only got a little time to think of just her, but I panicked inside a little. I calmed myself down and told my husband I felt we should call the doctor Sunday morning.
That phone call was the beginning of the end. Those days, looking back, should have been noticed by me more. I should have paid more attention to my sweet baby Grace. I should have felt my body wasn’t supporting her. I should have called sooner. I should have . . .
Sunday morning, I woke up feeling better. I wasn’t swollen and had more energy. I put off calling the doctor because I felt good. Maddie had a birthday party, and I had a baby shower to attend. Halfway through the shower, it hit me—I swelled up, I felt tired, and Grace hadn’t moved. I called my husband, who called the doctor, and I raced home. Still not thinking anything bad had happened to Grace but felt like I might need to be monitored. I didn’t know why or what was wrong. I was just off. We left my 4-year-old with my mom and went to the hospital.
The first nurse came in with the fetal Doppler machine. She was talking with us about how I was feeling, so I didn’t even notice she was having trouble finding the heartbeat. She excused herself and went to get the sonogram machine and the doctor. The doctor started to poke around looking for the heartbeat. She had a small, tight expression on her face, like she didn’t believe the picture.
This is when time stopped ticking, voices became jumbled, faces a blur, and my whole world fragmented around me.
I can vividly see the sonogram in my head even though I never saw it. I can vividly see my husband’s broken heart and face of disbelief. I can vividly see every person’s saddened face. Then she spoke the words, “I can’t find a heartbeat, I’m sorry, your baby is no longer with us.”
The sound of those words was like thousands of windows breaking at once. It was deafening and so lonely. I instantly felt isolated, empty, and alone. My husband was there, we were holding each other sobbing, the nurses and doctors were there, but my little angel was gone. The minutes after hearing those words were probably the longest in my life. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Trying to wrap my head around my baby no longer breathing. I thought of a million questions. How long was she like that? Was she in pain? Why? What happened? Why did my body fail her? Why did I fail her? And then reality hit again, she had to come out, how was she going to come out?
I felt like everything was in slow motion. Nurses and doctors coming in, moving us to a delivery room, calling our parents and siblings, it all seemed to be moving so slowly around us. Our nurse, Jess, she stayed with us the whole night. She was supposed to leave but she didn’t, and I was so thankful—I needed her. She kept me focused, helped explain decisions we had to make, and just helped me deal with everything I was going through.
She contacted my actual doctor, Doctor W, because she knew I would feel better if my doctor could be there. Doctor W had just come home from a vacation with her family, but she drove right to the hospital to be by my side. She and Jess walked us through some tough decisions. We had to decide between labor or C-section, but since Grace was breech, the doctor was afraid of complications during delivery. So we went with C-section.
We had to decide on an autopsy or not. How she would be buried? Or cremated. When and where? So many decisions a mother and father should never have to face? I was shaking uncontrollably. My blood pressure was so high, I couldn’t stop crying and my head was just a mess. Nothing made sense. I was asking again, Why did this happen to my sweet baby? How did I not know? Then it was time, I was being walked down to the OR. This was it, my baby was coming out, and I would never hear her cry.
Dr. W and Jess literally held my shoulders while I sat to get the spinal before the surgery. They worked together in the operating room to get baby Grace out as quickly and smoothly as possible. During the procedure, my blood pressure skyrocketed. I was given some magnesium to control it. Jess stood by my husband and me trying to keep us both calm.
Once Grace was out, Jess asked me if I wanted to see her, I was so broken I just couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her. She took baby Grace and my husband to another room so he could be with Grace and came back to me. She told me how beautiful she was, with blond hair and the cutest little nose. Jess eased me into thinking of how I needed to see my baby, hold her, smell her, remember her. When I was stitched up and moved into another room I realized how much my heart ached to see my little girl. I needed to hold her. My husband brought her over to me.
I held my beautiful baby girl for hours. I snuggled her, my husband changed her and took her footprint, we kissed her, watched TV with her, talked to her about her big sister Madelynn, had a priest come in to bless her and took pictures of her throughout the night. She was so perfect. Her nose and the swirl in her blond hair were exactly like Madelynn’s. Her tiny hands had little nails, she had the lightest eyelashes and eyebrows and the smallest little pink lips.
I will never forget her beautiful face, her smell, and the feel of her in my arms. These were the best worst moments of my life.
Several hours later the nurses came in and asked if we were ready to have Grace go to her new room and us to my room. I broke. I realized Grace would be alone, in a cold dark drawer somewhere. She would be alone. For six months, she and I were never alone. I couldn’t handle thinking of her without me and me without her. I begged the nurse to make sure she had warm clothes, a blanket, and a little piggy toy they gave us. They promised they would and even took pictures of her with the piggy for us.
We were sent to the postpartum floor and given a room at the end with a butterfly on the nameplate. The butterfly symbolized to the staff that we had a “fetal demise.” I was grateful for the butterfly as the staff who came in and out was very careful with how and what they said, but I was so angry we had a butterfly. I wanted Grace.
Hours ticked by, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was in pain, I couldn’t think clearly, and my blood pressure was still out of control. I was going nuts sitting in the hospital without having my baby to hold, feed, and snuggle. Again, nurses, doctors, family, and friends floated in and out of our room. Everything was a haze. No one’s words made sense to me, I couldn’t focus. I was empty and broken.
Finally, I was able to be released from the hospital. I was so happy to get out of there but leaving was horrendous. Everything crashed down on me again. My baby was being left behind. I was being wheeled out without the excitement of bringing home our new baby. As we rolled past other rooms, hearing the sounds of happy families, I got angry. I forced my husband to let me walk out instead of being wheeled.
I cried as we walked past the baby balloons. I cried as we walked past the expectant grandparents and friends. I cried as I got in the car with no new bundle of joy. I cried as we drove away, and I thought of Grace alone.
I was hollow. I am still. I’m just an empty body moving through my days, pushing past my grief and guilt to make sure my 4-year-old still has a present mommy, my husband has a present wife, and my family and friends have a present me.
But in all reality, I’m a shell.
I constantly think “what if?” I’m filled with guilt over so much, not knowing she wasn’t OK in my belly, making silly statements like, “I can’t wait until she’s out so I can feel like me again,” or, “I can’t believe we’ve decided to go back to sleepless nights and diapers.”
I would give anything to have my swollen ankles and big belly back. I’d give anything to be up all night because of feedings and diaper changes. I’d give anything to have a rewind of the past month so I could fix everything. Instead, I’m up all night because of guilt and overwhelming sadness. My body has begun to return to pre-pregnancy, but I don’t feel like me. I’m not.
I’m a fragment of myself. I lost a part of me. A part that grew in me for 29 weeks—a part that I will never get back. I feel so lonely and empty. I feel like I’m in a fog, a nightmare I’m begging to wake up from but never come out of. Some days are better than others where the darkness isn’t so blinding, but I won’t ever be whole again or feel normal again. This is my new normal.