Thursday, September 14, 2006

what it's like

Well, since you all have pretty much given me permission to say what I want, I guess I will.

***

This week I would have been 36 weeks pregnant. I know this because I wrote the week count in my datebook on every Wednesday, stopping at 38 weeks. Daughter was born at 38 weeks, so I thought it reasonable that this child might come early as well. The October page still has "due date" written in, and "BABY!" written across the top. What do you do with that sort of thing? Cross it out? That doesn't seem right. So I've left it alone, and maybe I just won't look at my datebook for the month of October.

At this point, 4 weeks before my due date, I was planning to pack my bag. Again, because our first child was early, and also because one of the side effects of the medication I took during the first 5 months of the pregnancy is pre-term labor. I figured I should be ready, just in case.

***

During what was to become the final week of my pregnancy, I thought it seemed the baby was moving less. Yes, really, this is not just a hindsight thing, I really thought it. But I figured, no way, everything is fine, we've made it through so much already...my little trooper and I were just fine. I was having what I now understand were early contractions, which made me keep thinking she was moving in there. I'd feel a lump under my ribs and assume it was her little foot, or hand, or head. It was, but not because of a kick or a movement. Just a contraction moving my body around hers.

For some reason, all that week, I pestered my husband to take Friday and Monday off. I thought a long weekend would be fun, and the weather was supposed to be fantastic. I wanted him to go to the doctor with me, and then we could have some family bonding time.

Friday, August 11, was a beautiful day. We got snagged in some construction - and there was also an accident right in the construction zone - so we were a little late to my 10:45 appointment. I apologized to the nurse who took me in, and we chatted about dumb stuff. She asked me for a urine sample, weighed me, took my blood pressure. She asked about the baby's movement. I explained that I thought she was moving a little less, and more deliberately, probably due to her size. She must be getting bigger, I said, at 31 weeks it must be getting tight in there. She agreed and took me to a room, and brought my husband and daughter in.

The doctor came in and asked how I was feeling. We chatted, and bantered about guessing the weight of the baby. I seemed bigger this time, I said, so how big did he think the baby would be? Haha, we laughed, and he squirted that goop on the heartbeat monitor. I laid back, and he started to listen for her heartbeat. Hmmmm. Couldn't find it. We were still in good humor. Where was she hiding? Let's try higher. Now lower. Maybe over here. The doctor felt my belly to figure out where the baby was positioned. When he turned the monitor back on we heard a fast heartbeat - but it was mine. My pulse was through the roof because suddenly, I knew things were very bad. The doctor said, ok, let's get you over in the sonogram room. We'll check things out.

We had to go hang in the waiting room until the sonogram machine was available. There were 3 other pregnant women sitting out there.

A few minutes later we were called in. There were 2 nurses in the room with the doctor. What?

I laid down again. He squirted the stuff, turned on the machine. I felt sick. I knew.

"I'm sorry," he said.

***

If you are me, here is how it goes from that point:

You stagger from the doctor's office in disbelief. Your baby is dead. It is all you can think as you try to walk. You have been told to go straight to the hospital, where labor will be induced. You cannot believe you have to go through labor and delivery now. NOW. RIGHT NOW.

You call your parents, who are at that moment driving from Chicago to Des Moines for a wedding. You have cursed cell phones in the past, but are so thankful for them at that moment. You half-sob, half-scream the news to your mom, who for one horrifying moment thinks you are telling her you are having the baby right now, and then finally understands that's not quite the case. No mom, no. There is no more baby. The baby died. Please come home.

You drop off your daughter at your in-laws and head downtown. Somehow, your husband is driving, crying, and trying to comfort you at the same time. You arrive at the hospital, and stagger in, red-faced, crying, shaking. It is broad daylight and people are everywhere. You don't care, and vaguely realize this must be what "being in shock" feels like.

The hospital staff is expecting you. They have you sign 2 forms and quickly usher you to room 6, at the end of the hallway. You think things will happen right away. You are wrong.

Everyone is so gentle with you. The nurses get you set up with a gown and help you into bed. You are sobbing uncontrollably.

A resident comes in to do a scan, just to confirm. Maybe there is a mistake! You know there is not, but you hope for a few minutes. He squirts the stuff, turns on the machine. No, there is no mistake.

"I'm sorry," he says.

For the next 5 hours you are visited by many well-meaning people. You wish they would all go away and just let the doctors get the induction started already. First the nurse assigned to you sits with you and s l o w l y goes over everything that will happen. They will give you a suppository that makes the cervix dilate. You will wait 4-6 hours, and they will check your progress. Some people need one dose, some need up to four. It could take up to 20 hours for things to get going. Then maybe you will need pitocin to make your uterus contract. We'll see.

The nurse tells you all this, then leaves you alone to be with your thoughts.

You are visited by the hospital chaplain, with whom you sit in a lot of uncomfortable silence. He prays with you and for you, and assures you that the baby can - and will - be baptized right there at the hospital.

You are visited by a bereavement nurse. She is so kind it makes you cry even harder. She explains what will happen again, and you want to tell her that quite frankly, you understand. You just want to get it over with now. But she is so gentle and sweet that you just cry and nod as she talks. She explains the bereavement program and brings you literature. She also brings in several lovely handpainted boxes for you to choose from, to hold your memories. Then she presents you with a choice of burial gowns and bonnets, booties and blankets. From these you are invited to choose the first and last outfit your baby will ever wear.

Everyone keeps asking if you have a name picked out for the baby. You make the decision you'd been waiting to make until you saw her, and suddenly she is named.

Your original nurse comes back in and apologetically asks you to sign paperwork authorizing an autopsy. She asks you about burial. Burial? Oh sweet Jesus. Burial??

Throughout this, your husband sits by your side and hands you tissues. He is in shock too. He fields the phone calls from your parents as they try desperately to get from the middle of the highway in Iowa to an airplane that will bring them home.

Finally, 5 hours after your arrival, a resident comes in to give you the medication that will make everything happen. You are then hooked up to that uncomfortable contraction monitor around the belly. You notice the silence. There are supposed to be 2 belts, one for contractions and one for the baby's heartbeat. You wear only one.

To everyone's surprise but your own, contractions start in earnest. You understand this is because your baby has been dead for days, and your body knew it. Fast forward several hours, and your body is doing everything on its own after only one dose of medication...it knows what to do.

You are given an epidural quite early. There is no reason not to have it. The doctor who gives it to you really stinks at it and it hurts. He gives you way too much and your chest becomes numb. You shake uncontrollably and struggle for air. You vomit, but can't really control the sensations that make you vomit because you are numb almost to the neck. The epidural is turned down and you can breathe again. They give you more fluids and you stop feeling nauseous.

You start to think that this really must be a nightmare. It cannot really be happening.

Your parents arrive. It is the middle of the night and everyone is exhausted. You, your husband, and your parents all try to sleep a little while you wait. A resident comes in to check you. 4 centimeters. This is taking forever. You are so sad you think you might just die. For real.

Within moments of this last check, your body apparently goes into overdrive. You feel a popping sensation and pain. You holler, and tell your husband to get someone. The resident and your overnight nurse come in and discover you are delivering your baby. Your parents leave the room, and a bevy of nurses come in. You are scared and crying uncontrollably. Your husband holds your hand and tries to get you to look at his face, but you can't. You just keep crying, "no, no, no" as your tiny, tiny baby slips from your body. It is 3:30 a.m. The nurse says, "your baby is here." You say, "no...now it has to be real. Now it has to be real."

Your baby is cleaned off and brought to you, wrapped in a blanket, wearing a hat. She is so perfect and so beautiful that for a moment you forget she is not alive. You will her to breathe as your tears fall onto her tiny face. She has one eye open and you know it is so she can see you, so she can get a good look at her mama. No, she is not breathing, she is not alive, but it isn't creepy and it isn't weird. She is your baby. That's all there is.

You kiss her over and over, and tell her all about the life she would have had. You tell her about her big sister, her grandmas and grandpas, her aunts and uncles. You tell her how much you love her, again and again, so she will know. The nurses are crying. Your parents come in and see her. They sob and sob. You realize you are sweating, soaking wet under your hospital gown, where you are clutching her tiny body.

You don't know how long you sit there with her. You are told you can have all the time you need. But how much time is enough time? You need her forever.

Finally, you hand her to the nurse. She gently, carefully unwraps your precious baby and places her on the scale. She speaks to her softly, lovingly. You notice and are so thankful.

They take the baby away and your parents go home. You and your husband fall into fitful sleep. Finally, he goes home to try and get some rest, and you sleep a little too.

When you wake up the sun is shining, the room is bright. You look around you in numb disbelief. The monitors are off, the IV is disconnected. It's over.

***

The day after, the baby is brought back and she is baptized. You sit in your bed wearing a hospital gown, holding your sweet child. Your husband is there next to you. A nurse and hospital chaplain are there. If you are me, your dad is there too. When it is finished, you kiss her one last time, tell her how much you love her, and then she is gone.

You go home. The nurse wheels you out in a wheelchair. You have a pretty box on your lap that holds baby clothes - to be given to the funeral home so they can dress the baby - and a set of footprints. The last thing you hear as you are wheeled down the hall is the sound of mothers in labor behind the other closed doors.

***

Your milk comes in. It hurts. A lot.

There is no relief. You just have to wait for it to go away.


***

The funeral is on Tuesday. You get up, get dressed, bathe your child, dress her, and get in the car. You drive to the church and see all the people standing outside, all family and friends. You don't want to talk to any of them. Your husband parks the car and you practically run into the church, alone, and stand sobbing over the tiny white casket. Later you find out all your husband's co-workers were already sitting in the church. Oops.

The mass is beautiful. The priest, the man who married you and baptized your first child, performs the service with tears in his eyes. He clutches a handkerchief and speaks from his heart. You are so grateful to him for this.

At the cemetary your mom has to practically lift you out of the car, because your baby is in a little box and your brain will not accept that. You make it to the side of the grave and stare at the casket as the prayers are said. Then you rise, turn, and walk away, leaving part of yourself behind.

***

When you give birth to a stillborn child, it is like someone walks up to you, rips your heart out, stomps all over it, shoves it back in, and says, "there you go. Carry on." At first you just stand there, shocked, not believing it could happen to you. But sooner or later the pain starts seeping from your heart to the rest of your body and mind. It is pain like you've never known.

Is there medicine for this pain? Sure. But it's not something someone can prescribe for you. It doesn't come off a shelf. The only way to get it is to make it yourself, from the things in your life.

For me, the "medicine" is made up of the people and things and activities that I love. A huge part of me is missing, and I have to make it up, rebuild it. I don't know what I would do without Daughter, who knew something was amiss and offered up a million kisses in the days following the funeral. She took off walking on the 17th, and I felt such joy at her accomplishment - more joy than I might have felt otherwise, because my heart needed to feel happiness so very badly. And my husband, with whom I disagree on a somewhat regular basis, and who doesn't mow the lawn as often as I think he should, and who tends to make a mess in the bathroom right after I clean it...well, I thank God for him too, because he is the kindest man I have ever known. His love and support were (and are) the biggest part of my healing process. We mourn together, and we find hope together.

And though it sounds dorky, I knit and I sew to help me heal as well. Actually, I guess it doesn't sound dorky. It's just another form of therapy. I have been doing both for over 20 years, and it feels normal and right to sit at the sewing machine or to have knitting needles in my hands. Making stuff is a part of who I am. Why else would my daughter, at barely 17 months, know exactly what to do with knitting needles?

In the first few days I couldn't knit, couldn't concentrate on a pattern, couldn't make my hands work together. Of course, I could barely sit up straight and really couldn't even speak without starting to cry, so I probably expected too much of myself if I thought I could knit. At first this scared me, because I thought, it's second nature to me...what do I do if I can't even do this? But it slowly came back to me, and the result is what probably looked like a frenzy to all of you, but really was just a report on all I'd been doing over several weeks.

So. I don't know what else to say. I hesitate to push "publish" on this one because it is DEEPLY personal and was so hard to write. You should see the pile of tissues here on the couch next to me. But I have spoken (written?) my heart, and there you have it.

18 comments:

Renee said...

Kate,
thank you for clicking the publish button.
I think it is the most brave, heartbreaking, true post I've ever read.

Ann-Marie said...

thank you so much for sharing that with us.
i am sitting here at my computer with a pile of kleenex beside me.

hugs to you.

maybe you should do something special on that day in october...

Dwayne, Jenny & Hendrik said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I have been crying along with you as I have lost two babies early on in the past year to miscarriages and it still hurts. Thank you for your honesty.
~Jenny

Pam said...

I sit here after reading all that you have gone through and continue to endure and I can't help but feel so incredibly selfish. Everything I have worried about over the past few days and been upset over or let bother me is just so completely insignificant.

My heart aches for you and your family. Thank you for sharing with all of us and I hope that in some small way this will help you continue to cope and heal.

Karen said...

My heart is breaking. And breaking. And breaking.

Thank you for trusting me (us) with your heart and sharing with so much honesty. This is so painfully and beautifully written. You are an amazing, strong woman even if you don't feel it right now. Keep going, Kate.

Teresa said...

You are stronger than I ever imagined. I just hope, that if I ever need to be, that I could be that strong. Thank You so much for sharing this. Tears were streaming down my cheak, when Lil Bit, knowing what to do, started BITING me! Kinda rude, but it worked.

Scoutj said...

This made me cry. I just can't imagine. I can't. I wish I could reash out and give you a bug hug. My heart hurts for you and your family.

Sending you so much love.
xo

April 1930s said...

I just sit ... my fingers are heavy on this keypad ... what do I say? my face is wet from the tears ... I just reached up with my shirtsleeve to wipe them.

Oh, Kate - you have been on my mind, and I have thought of and prayed for you. I cannot praise you enough for writing this... giving me (us) the opportunity to cry with you - have a glimmer, inkling, morsel of what you are feeling.

Dear Sweet Jesus - I love this Sister-in-Christ.

To you I will write what I wrote for my friend, Tam, at her daughter's funeral (written as if your little girl were speaking to Jesus in the most adorable little voice, while sitting on His lap - her hands on His face and a gentle, sweet glee with her smile):

.... For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you....

Anne said...

Kate - I can't find words, but just want to assure you of more prayers being said over here in the UK.

Kristi said...

Kate - thank you for such raw honesty, love and beauty you have shared with us. I only hope that by hitting the publish button you have brought a tiny bit more of healing to yourself.

I feel such sorrow and pain for your loss right now, your suffering is so evident in this post.

Words fail, please know my heart and prayers are with you. Although we have never met and although I did not find your blog until your beautiful baby girl had passed away I think of you daily and pray for you.

God bless and comfort you, your husband and Daughter.

HangerMom said...

Thank you for sharing, so that we could share in your tears and better understand your pain. Hopefully helping you to heal through that sharing. My heart broke for you all over and more so, as I better understand the agony you've been through, and still go through. You're still in my prayers. Be strong.

Ruth said...

Dear Kate. Thank you so much for sharing what you've been through ... I am struck by the fact that your parents and I must have been on the same Iowa highway at the same time ... as my family drove past Buffalo I remember thinking, "This is where Kate lives!", and then coming home to find -- to my horror -- what you had been enduring as I'd been passing through.

My heart aches for you and your family. You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

Leslie said...

My heart goes out to you, I cried the through the whole post, am still crying, I am so sorry for you and your loss of your beautiful daughter. I know that that sounds so small compared to your loss but I am at a loss of words. I wish I lived closer so that I could run over and hug you and tell you all will get better in time, that she still is there with you in spirit. At a time like this it would be good if all knitters lived in one state so they could be there for eachother. I know that it isn't much but I am here for you. I am here for you....

tam said...

Besides being without much time to read anyone this week...I have purposely waited to read you.

April let me know you posted about the details of losing Baby Beth.

She reminded me later that I needed to read it. She told me how Karen and she wept through the entire reading.

I kept telling myself that I just didn't have even a moment to read. (Minniemee was a flowergirl and MrMagoo the ringbearer in a wedding this past weekend and I was making Minnie's dress..no time!!!)

What I realized as I reluctantly hit your link from my site tonight....is that I didn't want to read about it.

Despite having just passed six years from holding my baby girl as you did yours... (although We had to wait for her heart to stop beating As we held her...oh the agony)...the pain is sometimes still fresh. Especially upon hearing specifics from Mothers.

Please forgive me for my reluctance...please forgive me for my selfishness...I didn't realize it was at the time. I do now. (I am also painfully aware that this comment may seem to be about me, it isn't meant to be and that it is very long...I suppose I was so upfront so that you too see that these wounds don't ever leave...but they do change)

I made it through. But I know I put up some "barriers". It will all come to me later...the impact of your story that is.

Your story is so painfully beautiful. (yes, I said the word beautiful in relationship to the topic of death)

It is beautiful because of the love in it.

Because the hand of God in it taking care of you personally and through others who care.

Because of all the care you took to mark your calendar through the entire year in expectation and preparation for Elizabeth.

Because of all the sewing/knitting you were doing for her and the plans for matching outfits for Daughter (1) and Daughter (2).

Because you took ahold of the momentary courage of pressing publish after your incredible outpouring of fresh, terribly raw emotions.

Because already you are helping someone. You are just a few short (yet somehow agonizingly long) weeks out and you are already making an impact. (whether you are ready for that or not)

Praise GOD for you Kate!

AND Daughter AND Husband.

For ALL those here who support you.

PRAISE GOD ABOVE!

Jenn said...

Oh Kate. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. All I can hope is that someday your words will comfort another mother. We're still all here.

Rebekah Smith said...

Thank you so much for sharing your feelings at this loss. Nothing I can say can ease the hurt you feel, but prayers and your precious daughter will continue to comfort you. Your focus on knitting will provide an outlet that cannot be measured. You an my family remain in my thoughts and prayers

Siri said...

Oh my. I read this post the other evening and couldn't quite bring myself to comment until now. It brought me to tears, it made my guts and my uterus tie up in knots almost like having contractions, for the rest of that evening. I couldn't have ever imagined what you and your husband and daughter have gone through. Now, I have what can only be the smallest of inklings despite your descriptive and clear writings here.
Between the births of our two sons, I/we miscarried, at 6 weeks pregnancy. I, too, had had some idea somewhere in the back of my head that something wasn't quite right: where was the morning sickness and the fatigue this time around?
I had started bleeding and had contacted our midwife. She pretty well explained what was probably going to happen. Later that evening, while lying propped up in bed, fully aware of what was happening with my body, marvelling also that it knew what to do all by itself, I was knitting a baby sweater for that child. It may sound a bit absurd but I just kept on knitting. About eleven months later, almost to the day, our younger son was born and wore that sweater for the few days that he could fit into it, before quickly growing right out of it. Now, that sweater is worn by teddy bears and sock monkeys and is stained with blue paint in a couple of places.
Sharing in the honest way that you have can only help you and others to deal and heal. Thank you.

Liz said...

thank you for writing about this. You are eloquent about the pain; I connect most when you say, it isn't weird or creepy, it's my child. My husband began the heart attack that killed him on Sept. 14th, and I was surprised at how I felt about his body. We are creatures of spirit, yes, but we are creatures of our bodies, too. And those bodies matter. Peace and healing to you.