Ten years ago today, I gave birth to my stillborn baby boy, Gemeriah. In case you don’t know what stillborn means (no judgement, I didn’t until my first year of motherhood), it’s an infant born dead. I’ve never been silent about my loss. I’ve always faced taboo subjects head on; this being the biggest one that became a part of my life in my 20’s, and aged me internally by about a decade.
Now, I could sit here and write all the things I’ve done since my loss to create awareness, offer support to women with losses, leave a legacy for my baby boy, etc…etc… but I cannot reduce this post to that self pitch of awesome human trying to empower everyone. I am a flawed human, on a constant journey of growth and healing of my own. The intention of this post is simply this. As I stop and reflect on my 10 year Angelversary, all I can think about is the women I’ve had the privilege to be in service to at their most vulnerable stages after loss, or their friends/relatives who reach out desperate to know what to say or do to help them heal. I feel a sense of obligation to share in depth and raw form what going through this experience is like, for whoever is meant to read it.
So here we go…
April 23, 2009 … started off like a regular day. My oldest, Izzi, was 22 months old, and I was 33 weeks along into my second pregnancy. I was slightly on edge that morning because I’d had stomach cramps the night before. They passed quickly however, so I didn’t think much of it. As my doctor reminded me often, indigestion and acid reflux are a common side affect of pregnancy. Trying not to be that paranoid pregnant lady that goes to the doctor over gas, I wrote it off as that. Izzi and I went off on our morning playgroup. I couldn’t shake the thought that my baby wasn’t moving as much as normal (if at all). It was one of those internal conflict moments where I wanted to keep calm, but my intuition was aware something was not right. I couldn’t wait to go home and do the orange juice test, to make sure everything was okay. In case you’re not familiar, the “orange juice test” is when you chug OJ, lay on your side, and wait for the sugar to make your baby in utero an Irish dancer. I already knew if I called my doctor about my concern over lack of baby movement, they would tell me to do this. I fed Izzi after playgroup, put her down for her nap, and began the OJ test. I drank. I waited. I was calm. I got nothing. I drank and waited some more. I was slightly less calm. I waited…and waited…and felt nothing. Still telling myself everything was fine, I called my doctor for further validation. They of course told me to do the OJ test. The one moment I was proud of myself this entire day was when I was able to confirm, I had indeed already done the OJ test. They sent me immediately to the hospital. I was a bit surprised by this. I thought they would at least squeeze me in to their office, check the heartbeat with a doppler (little mic held to mom’s belly to hear baby’s heartbeat), maybe have me pee in a cup (which I was always ready for), and send me back home. Going to the hospital seemed so … serious.
A lot of thoughts went through my mind at this point. First of all, should I wake Izzi up and go? Should I pack an outfit for the baby in case he comes early? Should I call Peter and ask him to come home from work, even if this ends up being nothing? Should I go alone? Should I be worried? Sad? Anxious? I really had no idea what to think. I called Peter and had him come home and stay with Izzi so she could keep napping. Even though it was scary to go alone, I didn’t want to make a “thing” by having company, or telling family members, to potentially find out later it was nothing. I grabbed a book (“Twilight”…embarrassingly enough). I figured I was about to spend some down time in waiting rooms, checking in, and doing nothing. I wanted to be well prepared.
I arrived at the hospital. Needless to say, there was no time to read. They were expecting me. They took me straight to a room. A nurse with a doppler walked in immediately. Now let me intro this doppler scene by saying that, I’m a small person. These dopplers have picked up heart beats on my babies since 8 weeks gestation. I was sure that the minute she put that anywhere near my belly, I would hear it (especially this far along), would breathe a sigh of relief, and go home. She placed the cold gel on my belly, put the doppler against it, and began to search. We got nothing. She assured me that sometimes babies rotate and do weird ninja stuff so we should not worry. She kept searching. We got nothing. She searched some more. We got nothing. She searched and pressed down even harder…nothing. At this point, I was not calm. I knew we should have heard something by now.
In my head, the bargaining had begun. “Dear God, please let my baby be okay and I promise to be the best human on earth.. …I’ll never tell a single white lie again….I’ll donate everything and more”…etc. The negotiations were in full force at this point. I was desperate. The nurse kept a forced smile on her face, but I’m fluent in eye language, and I knew she was worried for me. She stepped out to get an ultrasound machine. I was now scared. I was scared to get confirmation of what I felt deep down was the case. She rolled the ultrasound machine into the room. She put more cold gel on my belly (as if that was the problem..not enough cold gel), and began to check on the baby.
Not being my first baby, or ultrasound, I knew what I was seeing was not good. Even though babies look like all sorts of little aliens in utero, one thing is constant from the very first ultrasound; they have a small flashing object in their center. That is their heart beating, and all that really matters. That little thing is potent enough to make pregnancy feel real and give you tears of joy when you see it at just 8 weeks. My baby had no small flashing object. Everything was oddly still. She kept searching and searching (and in my mind just stalling) before she looked up at me, and asked me if I was there alone. When I said yes, she grabbed my hand tightly, and told me the words no parent should ever had to hear, “I’m so sorry, but your baby has no heart beat”.
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
I’m sorry for the language, but no other words can describe this moment. I sat there in shock. The nurse stared at me with pity and confusion. She was waiting for me to react. I think she would have been less concerned if I had busted out in an ugly cry, or called someone. But, I wanted to sit there alone, in shock, and hope this was not really happening before allowing myself to feel. It made no sense. How could this happen? How is this possible? I’d had a miscarriage before but at 33 weeks, babies can die? I was not even a high risk pregnancy. I was at my OB appointment 4 days ago and everything seemed great. I have clothes at home ready for him. I have a toddler at home who is excited to be a big sister. This cannot be happening. I teach Bible study at church and we tithe regularly. We’re good humans. WHYYYY????!!!!
Operation Hospital Begins …
Just as the shock began to slightly wear off and I was entering numbness, followed by extreme sadness, the nurse went from looking at me with pity, to looking at me like a patient. Yes, she was kind and felt bad for me, but she also had a job to do. She switched gears from woman looking at me with pity, to full on medical talk. She began explaining what was about to happen.
That’s when I learned, I was not going anywhere for the next 2 -3 days. I was about to be induced to go into labor. A full out labor, like you would for a living baby. Except at the end of it would be my lifeless baby. A reminder of my failure as a mom to keep him alive and thriving. What kind of a fucked up punishment is this?
The nurse left the room to let me make some phone calls and “get comfortable”..whatever that means. I think she really wanted me to have that solid ugly cry (which I got plenty of in the next days, weeks, months, even at times years). But the shock had to wear off first. Calling people was hard. It meant accepting the news enough to now have to give it. I called Peter. I wish he’d been there so I would not have had to say the words, “you need to come to the hospital, our baby died” out loud. I texted a friend to see if she could take care of Izzi. And then, I called my parents, which was very hard. They live in Texas. Immediately my dad started looking at flights for my mom to be with us as soon as she could.
I was then admitted to the hospital and checked into labor and delivery. Except, I was in the sad section of labor and delivery. Yes, we have our own wing. The other rooms in L & D have balloons, storks hanging on their doors with baby names, and are bursting with sounds of babies crying and family joy. The wing I was taken to was depressing, quiet, and like walking into a nightmare. I’m not sure what would have been worse; being in a wing hearing babies cry knowing mine would not, or being in the taboo wing of the hospital were you deliver a baby that goes from utero, to your arms, to funeral.
From the moment I changed into a hospital gown, everything became a blur. I was so numb. The nurse poked me 4 times and popped 2 veins trying to get my IV in. I didn’t care. Part of me wanted to feel pain because I felt I deserved it. They began the pitocin to induce labor. Nurses, doctors, and staff were in and out. Every time a new person came in, they would say the words “I’m so sorry for your loss”, which stung every time. They asked so many questions. I just wanted to be left alone. But they were important questions like, “will you be wanting an epidural” or, “are you allergic to any medication.” I wanted time to deal with the emotional aspects of all of this and save medical talk for later. But the clock was ticking. It was medical procedure time. At some point they gave me a medicine to “calm down.” I was confused because to me I was calm (on the exterior). I wasn’t throwing anything or yelling at anyone. I was numb and felt lifeless myself. But I took their advice and took it. I remember dozing off, closing my eyes, and seeing dancing ponies at one point. Nothing against dancing ponies. They’re fierce. But, that’s when I realized they were trying to knock me out with drugs without me having asked for it. So great, now I was being treated like somewhat of a mental case that should go to sleep, just because my situation was uncomfortable to deal with. That would have been the easy way out. NOT how I operate. The reality is, how do you sleep through this? How do you sleep through labor, grief, life changing news, and the unknown ahead of what it will be like to deliver your dead baby? You don’t. You just wait…
April 24, 2009 ..
During my 12 hours of labor, it was impossible not to replay moments of my life. I blamed myself for anything I could have done differently to change this outcome. I could have gone to the hospital when I first had those stomach pains. Maybe I should have not been so active when pregnant. Maybe I carried Izzi too much. The self-blame game and “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” thoughts poured in; as if I wasn’t going through enough of a punishment already.
A few hours after the intense contractions began and my epidural kicked in, they let me know it was time to push. That moment was the most emotionally conflicting of my life. That excitement you get when it’s time to push your living baby after hours of labor still wanted to exist. However, I couldn’t help but think about how this was the beginning of the end. As soon as my baby was out, we were closer to it all being over. Not just the labor, but his presence in my life. He would no longer be inside me, or near me. I was broken. But I had to muster up the strength to push. So I did.
Cruel & Unusual Punishment …
After a couple pushes came out the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen. I will be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought he would look a little more, well, you know … dead. But he didn’t. He looked like a living baby that was just sleeping. His little hands were clasped together right under the left side of his chin. As soon as he came out, Peter and I both lost it. I had never seen Peter cry until this moment. This baby was perfect to us. The same love at first sight we felt when we had Izzi, we felt for him. Except, he was not here to stay. The best way to describe this is, cruel and unusual punishment.
They handed him to me and encouraged skin to skin contact, especially while he was still warm -unlike living babies, they let me know that mine would get cold, slightly purple, and a little wrinkly. So I held him close. I wrapped his little hand around my finger. In my delusional mind, I thought I felt him squeeze it a couple times. He still had that new baby smell which was also a pleasant surprise. I wanted to bottle it up and save it forever. I remember thinking (thoughts you never have when you give birth to a living baby) I hope my mom gets here soon so she can see him while he looks alive and has this smell.
I held Gemeriah for 2 days straight, only putting him down when I had to. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I remember looking over at Peter one afternoon while he was eating Chipotle and watching football thinking, I hate burritos and I hate football. But, he was doing nothing wrong obviously. He’d done enough crying and now needed a break from it. Men have that ability to compartmentalize feelings in order to operate that comes harder to us women, especially in a loss like this. I was consumed by Gemeriah, sadness, and postpartum-ness. Feeling him get colder through time was heart wrenching. I would pile blankets on him to try and warm him up. Until this day, I still hug my kids sometimes and thank God for their warmth. I will never take it for granted. I had moments when I had to remind myself Gemeriah was dead and not just sleeping. I had to fight the urge to want to nurse him, especially as I felt colostrum coming in. It was meant for him, and he was right there. Instead, I had to just feel soar.
The hospital staff kept doing their job. Some of the things they did were very sweet like, take a mold of his hand and foot prints for my keepsakes. Others, we were not prepared for. Having to answer questions like; “will you be wanting your baby cremated or are you burying the body” is not something you think about during your pregnancy. They asked us if we wanted to have pictures done and I remember thinking, are they F’in kidding? Why would we want to document this tragic moment of our lives. But they strongly encouraged it and although it was by far the hardest photoshoot to get through, I’m so grateful for these pictures and the photographer who took them (who I still keep in touch with to this day). I created a photo book with them that I share with my kids every year.
My mom finally arrived and my heart broke even more when I saw her. My mom is a feeler to the max. She operates on a heart over mind way, always. I tried really hard to not let her see me cry (but didn’t always succeed). She carried Gemeriah, just like she did Izzi when she was a born. She held him close, kissed him, smelled him, prayed over him, rocked him, and did all the things you would do to your living newborn grandson. I know this was really hard for her, but I’m so grateful that at least one family member (aside from Peter and I) got to meet and hold him. It helped validate his little life.
April 25 2009 …
Finally, the moment I had been dreading had arrived. After 2 days of dismissing them with a quick “no” when they asked me if I was ready for them to take Gemeriah away, that was no longer an option. I had to hear more words that no mom should ever have to hear, “I’m so sorry, but it’s time to say goodbye to your baby.” Until this day, this moment creeps up on me. I relive it in my head, and burst out crying at random times and places. How could I possibly, voluntarily hand over my baby? I love this baby! We just bonded! He’s still intact. Can I have more time? Why is he about to be put in a freezer, and then cremated the next day. What kind of mom lets that happen to her baby???!!! NOOOOO!!!
WHY???? God, please don’t let this happen!!!
But it did. I remember throwing myself over the small rolling bed they put him on, not wanting to let go. I had to be held back, as they rolled him away, and that was it.
They got me ready for discharge, brought me a box of his belongings, and rolled me out on a wheelchair. I felt empty and completely broken, as we passed through the depressing hospital wing I was in, followed by the cheerful one where the living babies got to be born and be surrounded by cheerful family members. It was just a painful reminder of what I lost.
Not the End…
Although this seems like the end, it was just the beginning. The beginning of a journey of post(stillbirth) partum, healing, and turning trauma into acts of service. I will forever be grateful that Gemeriah chose me to be his mom and carry on his legacy.