Friday, October 15, 2010

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day

**As a disclaimer, I will say that there are pictures of my stillborn son at the end of this post. It may be uncomfortable for some to see. **

Today is October 15th. For those who don't know, it is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This blog is fairly new, and I've talked mostly about my daughter and parenting, but what I haven't addressed are the struggles I faced on my road to becoming a mother. I won't go into detail (at least not today) about the actual fertility issues. I will simply say that getting pregnant was not easy for us. There were major issues and we were told IVF was our only option. We were excited, overwhelmed and cautious when we got pregnant through a frozen embryo transfer (FET) the cycle following our fresh cycle IVF.

When you need IVF to get pregnant, there is a certain level of anticipation that something might go wrong. The process itself is stressful enough, but what I'm talking about is after it's over and you have had success and you are pregnant. I did a ton of research before my IVF. I knew that I was forcing my body to do something that wasn't coming naturally. I knew that it could mean the pregnancy wouldn't stick.

I'm not a person who keeps things to myself. Even though I feared that I could lose the baby, I told my friends and family right away. Even my coworkers knew fairly early on- mostly because I couldn't stop puking.

You always hear about the first trimester being the time you should worry. I remember being 12 weeks pregnant and thinking "am I safe now that I hit 12 weeks, or do I have to wait till I'm officially PAST 12 weeks before I can stop worrying about a miscarriage?". I made it past 12 weeks and I felt a little relieved. My morning sickness was still pretty intense... I remember practically eating the entire contents of Nadine's pantry while baking Christmas cookies because I would puke if I didn't have a constant stream of food in my mouth. But I told myself it was all ok. I would throw up and think "this means my baby is growing". And he was.

I had my monthly doctor's appointments and everything was going well. I still had morning sickness pretty bad, even into my 5th month, and I was absolutely exhausted all the time. But, hey, that's pregnancy for you. I was so eager for my 20 week ultrasound. I was convinced from day 1 that I was having a baby girl and I managed to convince everyone else of the same. My mom came to our appointment that day and we all reacted with a bit of shock when the ultrasound tech showed us a picture and said "there's the penis!"... apparently "it's a boy" wasn't explicit enough for her. I had never pictured myself with a boy, but I quickly adjusted my view. We made our way to Babies R Us right from the doctor's office and bought my sweet boy, Nicholas, his very first outfit.

It's pretty ironic that this visit was the turning point for me as far as fearing that I wouldn't take a baby home. I finally felt confident that everything was going to be fine. I could see my life with my son clearly and it was wonderful. I never imagined that he would never wear that first outfit, or any of the others I bought for him from that day till the day of my 24 week check-up, a month later. I could never imagine that as I shopped for baby clothes and started a registry, my tiny, perfect son was dying inside of me.

It was March 19, 2009. I was in a good mood, because my morning sickness was FINALLY subsiding. I stepped on the scale at the doctor's office and was surprised to see I had lost 2lbs. "It's that fat baby boy eating all my food", I thought. As we waited for the doctor, I remember hoping my son had turned into an odd position...somewhere the doppler couldn't pick up his heartbeat so I could get an ultrasound again. Ultrasounds were always the most fun. When the doctor came in and actually couldn't find his heartbeat, I smiled a little to myself... he was listening to his Mommy already! It never occurred to me that he didn't have a heartbeat anymore. Not even for a second. I was just anxious to get my ultrasound and see my boy again.

I expected immediate recognition of the sound of Nicky's heartbeat. I expected "there it is!" from the ultrasound tech. What I got was silence. Several uncomfortable minutes of silence. Is everything ok?. Had they missed something? I just had an ultrasound last month! I feared that they found some sort of birth defect that they missed last time. The only thing she said to me was "I need to get the doctor" and she walked out of the room.

That's when I started to cry. Rodolfo told me not to worry, that everything would be fine. It wasn't. My doctor came in, briefly looked at the ultrasound and said to me "I'm sorry, Jaclyn, he just stopped growing". It took me a second to realize that she didn't just mean that he was too small. He had stopped growing because he died. I fucking lost it. I sobbed hysterically for the next 20 minutes or so. The doctor left the room to give me and my husband a few minutes alone. I called my mom and blubbered into the phone "HE DIED MOM, HE DIED". I was so hysterical that I had to say it half a dozen times before she could understand me.

At that point I was told I needed to make a decision about how I wanted to proceed. I could have labor induced. No, definitely not. I wasn't ready, I was terrified. I couldn't spend the next day in the maternity ward, laboring with my dead child. I couldn't. My only other option was a D&E. I said yes without really knowing what it was. I was then given medicine to dilate my cervix and told to be at the hospital the next morning for my surgery. My doctor offered her condolences. I asked if she had an idea as to why this happened. She said she could run some tests but that with a D&E there is only "tissue" and it can be hard to know for sure. That's when I realized that what they meant was that they would rip my baby apart and pull him out of me in pieces. It was absolutely horrific to think about.

I went home and was in shock for the rest of the day. I sat on my couch and didn't even cry. I just stared into space and didn't know what to do. It occurred to me that maybe I made the wrong choice, but for some reason I didn't feel like I could change it now. I thought maybe I could bring on labor and my son would be born before the D&E. So I walked. I took my dog and my husband and walked to the ice cream shop a mile from my house. As it turned out, that did put me into labor.

I was given painkillers and took some as my labor got progressively harder to handle. By midnight I was waking up every 5 minutes or so with contractions. By 2am I didn't know how much more I could take. I called my doctor and she told me I only had a few more hours till I had to be at the hospital and asked if I thought I could make it. So I stayed home till 6am, then made my way over. By that point I was having contractions every 2 minutes or so. I remember waiting in the lobby of the hospital for my husband to park the car and thinking that I didn't yet look pregnant enough for anyone to realize I was in labor. People probably just thought I was whiny and fat. By the time we made it up to the surgery floor, I was begging for painkillers and told them I needed a wheelchair because I simply couldn't walk anymore.

The operating rooms were running behind and my contractions came fast and hard. I begged for meds that never came. My nurse was warm and comforting and promised that she would get me something as soon as she spoke to my doctor. When they were finally ready to bring me in for my surgery, it was after 9 am. They told me to use the bathroom before they got started and I did. I was actually wheeled into the bathroom on a gurney because I was unable to walk and having nearly constant contractions.

After that they had me get into a wheelchair and told me they were bringing me to the operating room. As I stood up I could feel the sensation that something was coming out of me. The medication I was given to dilate my cervix was in the form of medicated sponges, so I assumed that was what I felt. Nonetheless I was concerned and started shouting "something is coming out!". My nurse rushed me to the operating room, where I stood to get onto the operating table, begging them to knock me out immediately. But then I saw the sponges on the floor. I turned to look at them and my water broke. It was brown. Meconium. Fetal distress. It made me wonder if he suffered at all. It made me so sad.

A moment later, I was looking at my son. He had fallen out of me and onto the operating room floor. The nurses and my doctor all yelled at me that I shouldn't look, but I wanted to see him. I told them to please bring me my child. I saw him for a moment. He had my husband's lips but he looked like me in every other way. Then my doctor told me they would still be doing a D&C, because it was very common for the placenta to stay attached at such an early stage of pregnancy. As they brought the gas mask to my face, I just remember saying "I want my husband to see him". She told me she would try...that wasn't good enough. I looked at the nurse right in front of me and told her firmly "I want my husband to see him". She said ok and then I was out.

I don't remember the surgery at all. I didn't even have the recognition of time passing. I woke up in another room with no idea how I got there. I woke up in a clean, dry gown (as I went under, I was wet with amniotic fluid and shivering cold) with no idea who saw me naked. It was a very strange sensation. Rodolfo was there waiting for me to wake up. A few minutes later, they brought us our son.

He was on a fluffy white surface- maybe a blanket, I'm not really sure. I remember how tiny he was- only 9 ounces I would later find out. He looked like a doll. He was mostly wrapped up, so I spent a few minutes looking at his perfect face, then I took his hand and compared it to mine. His entire hand was the size of the tip of my thumb. I was vaguely aware of someone taking a picture in the background. I held him for a few minutes, then kissed him goodbye 3 times on his forehead. That was the last time I ever saw my son.

When I look at his picture now, as I sometimes do, I'm shocked at how he looked... he was purple and covered in blood. That's not how I remember him at all. He was angelic, perfect. It was unfathomable to me at the time that he wasn't just sleeping or something. He looked exactly like I pictured he would. My nose and cheeks, my husband's lips. I always pictured him with hair, but he was too young to have any yet, so that's all I can say I was surprised by, that he was bald. I wish I had taken more time to look over his whole body... to see his tiny legs and feet and butt. To take more detailed pictures of him. The ones I have are blurry and at an odd angle. I wish I would have given him a bath and maybe put a little hat on him so I could have something concrete to hold onto and say "this belonged to my son". All I have now are 2 blurry pictures and the few outfits that were the first I chose for him. And pictures of the things I registered for that I imagined he would love and use for his entire babyhood. I have so little... I have to truly cherish those few reminders.

I've felt like a mother ever since that day, March 20, 2009. It's odd because outsiders don't see you that way. If my child had lived even one day outside of my body, if he had grabbed my finger or smiled at me even once.. if I had one picture of him when he was alive, it would be so different in the eyes of everyone else.

I guess I can say that, up to that day, I had been lucky in not ever losing someone who was very close to me. So I can't really compare the loss of my son to anything else, but I can say that with the overwhelming grief came a crushing sense of guilt and responsibility. I tried to remind myself that I wasn't to blame, and now I can see it with a little more perspective. But the truth is that it's hard to see it any other way. I was the one and only person charged with caring for him and ensuring he was safe. I was the one who noticed he was moving less and didn't want to seem like one of those paranoid pregnant ladies so I never called my doctor. I was the one who left him on the floor of the operating room instead of picking him up like I wish I would have. There are just so many regrets, so much lost.

Today I have Caitlyn and she is amazing. The fear that something will happen to her never leaves me, and was especially terrifying during my pregnancy. But at least now I can look at her and know she's ok. I think of Nicholas every day. Each night I ask him to watch over his baby sister. I don't feel overwhelmingly sad every day anymore, but it's the little things that hurt the most. As I watch Caitlyn grow, I'll sometimes picture a boy version of her and know that I'm missing my Nicky. I think of how she won't ever know her big brother. As Halloween approaches, I imagine them in coordinating costumes. The reality is that if Nicholas had been born when he was supposed to, I wouldn't have ever been pregnant with Caitlyn. But I can't think of it like that. When I imagine how our life would be different if our son had lived, I don't imagine a boy instead of a girl. I imagine them both, very close in age as would have been the case if I had gotten pregnant again right away, growing up together.

So on this day, I wanted to talk about the child I lost. The child who has just as big a piece of my heart as Caitlyn does. The child I only ever got to kiss goodbye. He's mine and I'm his. And I miss him every day. I wanted to recognize that lost piece of my life. As with any mother, I think he was perfect and beautiful and special. He liked Skittles and sleeping late. He was here, if only for a moment and I want people to know him.

Below I'm going to include his photo. I don't have any pictures of him alive, unfortunately, so please be prepared for what you will see if you choose to look at these pictures. I don't think it's weird but it may make some people uncomfortable to look at them.


Jen said...

This is really beautifully written, I am so very sorry for your loss.

Mother Knows Best Reviews said...

This is so absolutely, wonderfully beautiful. Remembering Nicholas with you.