When I was 21 I had my first pregnancy. It ended before I knew it existed. I was young, unmarried and the pregnancy was the result of a horrific event. I was sad about the miscarriage, and relieved; but mostly I felt guilty because I was relieved, and it changed my life. It made me realize that I really wanted to be a mother.
When I became pregnant two years later not much had changed. I was still young, still unmarried, but I was so happy. I knew this was a second chance and I wasn’t going to take it for granted. I wanted to be the best mother in the world. My family was not nearly as excited for me, which was understandable given the situation, but I had a strong support system of friends.
I couldn’t’ have asked for a better pregnancy.
Of course, I was exhausted, all I did was sleep and work. I didn’t have any morning sickness. I felt great, probably the best I had felt in my entire adult life. People said I “glowed.” Looking back, I probably looked so good because for first time since I could remember I was sleeping regularly, about 12 hours a night, eating healthier and taking vitamins.
Early on I had a little scare. When the doctor listened for the heartbeat, he couldn’t find it, so I was sent for an early ultrasound. It turned out that everything was just as it should be. I got to hear the heartbeat and watch this little life kick and wave it’s arms. I was amazed that tiny little human was moving so much and I couldn’t feel it. My due date of August 24, 1996 was confirmed. Even thought the ultrasound was too early to show the sex, I was convinced it was a girl, and I had a name picked out, Lexandra Lorene. I had heard the name Lexandra, and absolutely loved it; Lorene was my Grandma Opal’s middle name. I had always had such a special connection with my Grandma I wanted my daughter to have a special connection too. I had friends who gave me clothing, blankets, bibs, a crib, a walker. I had plans of breastfeeding. My life wasn’t perfect, but it felt right.
Everything was wonderful until April 14, 1996. It was a Sunday, mid-afternoon, I had been baking banana bread. I just didn’t feel quite right. I didn’t know if I was having contractions, it wasn’t really painful, it just didn’t feel right. I called the hospital and they had me come up to be monitored. After several hours of observations, the nurses and doctors sent me home and told me to stay off my feet and call if there were any more problems.
They didn’t seem too concerned about it.
The next morning I woke up early and I could tell something wasn’t right, I was definitely having some pressure in my back. I called the hospital and they told me to go ahead and come back up. By 8:00 after being examined I was already dilated to five. That is when I found out that it was too late to do anything. My labor had progressed so far that I was going to have a baby that day, and since I was only 20 weeks there wouldn’t be any extraordinary measures taken to insure the survival of the infant. The doctor would let my labor progress naturally and when I was fully dilated and my water had broken I would give birth.
The day was a haze of tears.
My mother was there I know I had friends and roommates visit, but I don’t remember much. The one clear memory I have is the nurse asking me if I would like to hold my baby after it was born. I said “No.” I thought, how cruel of them to make me stay here all day waiting to give birth to a dead baby, and then make me hold it.
Monday April 15, 1996 at 6:10pm, I gave birth to a 10oz, 10 1/4 lb baby girl. When the doctor said, “It’s a girl, would you like to hold her”, I didn’t even hesitate. She was my baby, my little girl, and she was alive and breathing, I could see her little heart beating. She looked perfect, all her fingers and toes, whips of dark hair on her head. I knew she wouldn’t survive, but she was alive now and I was holding her. I still feel her little hand on the pad of my index finger. I remember how she fit in the crook of my arm.
It was the best and worst day of my life.
She lived for 20 minutes, I held her for 45, and in that time I became a Mom. She died feeling safe, loved, and knowing that she was wanted. Lexandra Lorene Larson was laid rest April 17th next to my grandfather. It gives me comfort to know that she is buried there with family keeping her safe.
The third time I found out I was pregnant was the late fall of 1996. I was in a minor car accident. The doctor wanted to give me some pain medication, so he asked me if there was a chance I could be pregnant. I was a couple days late – I wasn’t trying to get pregnant so precautions had been taken, but I took a pregnancy test just to be safe. When the doctor came back in to the room and told me it was positive, I burst in to tears. He consoled me, referred me to a specialist, assured me I was in good hands. This pregnancy was not like the last one. I was a different person. I was still mourning the loss of my child. The hopeful, excited woman was gone and she was replaced by one who was scared of everything. I had one of the best OB’s , and she had a plan. I tried to hopeful, but the thought of losing this baby terrified me to my core. I was monitored so closely, many times I was at the doctor every week for them to check something. I made it through the first trimester and some of my anxiety diminished, but I still couldn’t let go and just be happy. Then I had another scare and found myself at the hospital having another ultrasound, to look for the heartbeat. The ultrasound tech assured me that she found the heart beat and everything was fine. I remember questioning her, because I thought the heartbeat that was found was actually my pulse. It seemed too slow to be the baby’s. She was very confident it was the baby’s.
At 16 weeks I went in for a cerclage stitch, which would hopefully keep my cervix from dilating, and prevent me from going into premature labor. I was admitted to the hospital, done with pre-op, and it was time for a last minute routine ultrasound before surgery. While the doctor was performing the ultra-sound, she was so quiet, and has this look of trying to hold concern. I couldn’t see the monitor, I asked “Is something wrong?” I don’t remember what she said, because I was already imagining the worst. The doctor came back with another person for a second opinion. They didn’t have to say the words from me to know it was over, all I remember doing was screaming the word “NO!” over and over. I think my mother and grandmother were both holding me down. There was nothing that could be done – the baby had no heartbeat. Since I was already scheduled for surgery, they took me in for a D&C. I didn’t get to hold this baby, didn’t get to tell him goodbye (I always think of that baby as a boy). He too is buried with my grandfather.
I was 25 years old and I felt damaged, broken, scared, and worst of all I hated myself. I was a woman and I couldn’t do the very thing my body was designed to do. I felt like I had killed my babies. I had some tests done to get some answers as to why this could have happened, but nothing was ever found. My life went on, I worked, celebrated with friends and family, had relationships, but I had so much anger inside of me and so much guilt, there wasn’t room for anything else. It took me years of therapy to realize it was ok for me to feel angry, and guilty, and most of all it was ok for me to feel happy. I moved into my thirties and after making some major life changes I was finally ready to start thinking seriously about marriage, but I still wasn’t sure I could handle another pregnancy loss. I had survived these three, but I wasn’t sure I could survive another.
My husband and I were married in 2010. He had been married before and had two children. I knew early on in our relationship that he couldn’t father more children. At first, it was so hard for me to be open to completely loving him. I was 35, but I could still have children, I wasn’t too old. That first year of our relationship I took things as they came. I had never had a relationship with a man who I completely trusted . I believed him when he said he loved me, and I admit it took me a little longer to tell him. Once I opened myself to him I knew that he was the only man for me. He loved me the way I always wanted to be loved, and I felt free to love him. On July 15, 2008, the anniversary of our first date he proposed. I didn’t even hesitate when I said yes. I knew I was giving up having children of my own. There was a part of me that felt relieved, it was out of my hands. I also struggled with the feeling I was just giving up. Occasionally, I still have dreams where I am pregnant or having a baby. I will wake up and the feeling is so real that for a moment I can’t believe it’s not true.
When I became a licensed child-care provider in 2005 I had no idea the impact that career change would make on my life. I did it because the child-care center I worked for was closing and there was a need for providers. I didn’t realize then that these children I care for would become such a part of my heart. Most of the families I care for don’t know my story. I don’t know how to begin to let them know how humbled and grateful I am that they choose me to be a small part of their children’s lives.
How do I tell people my story? There is no segue. It is hard for me to share those bonding stories of pregnancy, labor, and birth with other women, because my stories don’t have happy endings. Sometimes I do feel cheated out of that experience, but I never want to make people feel awkward in struggling to find the right words of comfort. There are no words that take away the pain or make moving on with your life easier. I will never get to hear my child call me “Mom”, I will never get clumsy made Mother’s Day cards, and I also will never experience the feeling of “empty nest” when my child leaves for college. Every day is just a little bit easier. You find yourself crying a little less, smiling a little more. One day the pain that once overwhelmed your soul becomes a precious memory that you want to hold on to. Acceptance doesn’t mean you forget, for me it meant moving on and embracing all the good with the bad, the anguish with optimism, loving the people in my life that are alive, and remembering the people that are gone.
“Not all scars are visible. Regardless, they are usually painful when you first get them. But with time they might fade or they can remain and become a beautiful reminder… that you survived.” – Jose’ N. Harris.
For more stories of men and women who share grief over the loss of a child click here.