That first listen to the heartbeat is nothing short of intense and mind-blowing. We were all three there–a wiggling toddler held tightly in her Papa’s arms as he managed to focus a little attention to the screen showing us our second Baby P.
All the questions leading up to this point were about, “how can we have two little ones so close in age?” Sergio would say, “We just can. It’ll be fine.” I, however, was terrified of the thought. Having a split-level house is just a constant effort to keep one from tumbling down the stairs. But, I felt it was time to begin trying, too. It was while I was visiting a good friend in Florida (picking out her wedding dress) that I realized I was probably pregnant. Ruthie and I returned home, went shopping for a test and there it was–two lines.
We began making immediate accommodations for having two under two. A second car had to be bought that could hold two car seats and all their baggage; baby gates that could help keep Ruthie from hurting herself too badly; and ramping up the cloth diaper supply. It was happening.
I thought I was sick with all-day-morning-sickness with Ruthie, but this felt way worse. I imagine it was because I tried not to be for the sake of Ruthie. I mean, how terrifying would it be to hear your mama endure an exorcism each day? I quickly popped and really splurged on maternity clothing this time, too. I signed up for StitchFix because they just added maternity to their line up for their addictive program. Of course, because this was going to be our last pregnancy. Two is enough and all we needed to be a complete family.
Doctors visits happened with adorable ultrasounds of Baby P that I sent to everyone. We made the news Facebook official at 14 weeks. That’s enough time to wait, right? You’re over the first trimester scariness, feeling a little better and wanting to share your happy news. Plus, there’s just no hiding that baby bump much longer than that.
At my 15-week appointment, my new Atlanta OB/GYN gave me the MSAFP test that screens for defects like spina bifida. So confident after having a perfect little Ruthie, this test (like the others) never worried me. I took the test on a Friday and by Tuesday saw that my OB was calling me. That’s too soon for good news. I was on my way to pick up Ruthie from daycare and knew I shouldn’t answer that call. I did. Whoever it was talking said that I had a positive screen of elevated AFP hormones, or something like that. “All this means,” he said, “is that you need more testing. Would you like to see a genetic counselor and possibly undergo amniocentesis?” “Uhh, I guess,” I managed to say as tears streamed down my face.
Now, I have to tell Sergio that there may be something wrong with Baby P. What does this even mean? I had no idea. Something could be wrong with the baby’s spinal cord, the placenta or brain. I had taken 800 mg of Folic Acid in my prenatal vitamins leading up to us trying to become pregnant. I had done what I was supposed to do. Why is this happening?
The next week was filled with fear, tears and the feeling like we can’t move until we get more information. I ran into a dear friend who had gone through something similar. “Let’s go to coffee,” she said when I bumped into her and immediately began crying. She talked me through her experience, which led to a heartbreaking discovery that their baby would not be able to make it to term. But, she helped me understand what those next steps in this whole process would be. She held my hand, “I’m sure it’s ok.”
And it was. Sergio and I met with a genetic counselor who said my levels were only slightly elevated–why didn’t they say that on the phone? There wasn’t anything in our family history to make us worry. Then onto the high risk OB/GYN and another ultrasound. There’s the baby and he/she looks great! All curled up, we didn’t get a great view of the entire back. The doctor said he didn’t see anything we should be worried about, “the baby is beautiful,” he said. He was more interested in the brain hemorrhages I experienced after Ruthie was born. He gave us hope that he would look into it more and figure out how we could still have this baby vaginally. Good news!
Baby planning was back into high gear for that next week. By now, I’m 18 weeks and just 9 days after my last ultrasound with the high risk doctor, I now am going to see Baby P again for my routine checkup and anatomy scan. No gender reveals please!
Sergio didn’t come because he got some 1:1 time with Ruthie with me gone, and we just had this same u/s pretty much with the last doctor’s visit. I hopped up on the table and got as comfy as you can on those tables. The tech placed the wand on my belly and her face went blank. I’ll never forget what she said next, “It’s not good, Meagan.” What? What do you mean? “There’s no heartbeat.” She put down the wand and went and got someone else. I don’t know who, but this person held my hand and said, “these things just happen.” Not at 18 weeks! No! No! This cannot be what has happened. Please check again! My baby is alive, please check!
I was taken to another room so I could cry away from the happily expecting mothers. I called Sergio and told him to come right away. I had to tell him in person. I’m the one carrying this being, a being that is partly him and partly me, and it’s all over. How can I tell him this news?
I realized I had to call my sister right away. Living three hours away, she needed to get on the road because that day was our baby’s delivery day. This was the first time I said the words, “I’ve lost the baby,” outloud. I melted and went into a deeper kind of sadness. “Oh my god,” she said, “I’m so sorry–I’m on my way.” She put down everything, packed up her almost 3 year old and got here in three hours.
“You’ll be induced,” that nurse or midwife or someone said, “and we can make it as painless as possible.” Those words, painless. It reminded me of watching my dad die just a few years ago. They made it as painless as possible, the doctor told me and my siblings as Dad slipped away.
Sergio and I went back home in shock. We have to tell our parents. We have to get Ruthie ready to be without us for–for how long? A few hours? A day or two? Stillbirth, like pregnancy, is different for every woman and every baby.
That’s what this was. That dear friend who also lost her baby made this point to me. Technically, stillborn babies are born after 20 weeks. This was not a miscarriage though. The next 36 hours would include us in a birthing room, going through contractions and delivering a baby we would not bring home.
Ruthie would spend her first night without me–a nursing mother to her still who would not come home. My sister and her little boy took such good care of her on father’s day weekend with her being away from her own family.
By 2 p.m. on the same day we learned that Baby P was dead, I took the first of many pills that would begin the expelling process. Do I get an epidural? I’m 18 weeks. We haven’t had time to think about this. What will this feel like? Will it be as bad as with Ruthie or could I get through it? All the staff reminded me that this wasn’t the pregnancy to try and go natural for. This was not the labor/delivery to remember.
After eight hours of contractions, I asked for the epidural. I want this nightmare to be over. More pills to get contractions going hard were given. During the night, Sergio read through the packet we were given when we arrived. Grieving. It was on how to grieve and get through this process. Name the baby, it said. By 1:30 on Saturday, June 20, Lucy arrived after only two pushes. Lucy comes from my mother’s name, Lucinda, and was a top choice all along.
The nurses cleaned her up and gave her to us to hold. So little. Fingers, toes were all there. Her nose was forming, and she looked like a real baby and not the alien she was in the initial ultrasounds. She looked peaceful. She was beautiful.
Her arrival also helped us know what went wrong. It wasn’t, as it appears, due to the MSAFP test. The cord was wrapped around her a few times. Not that this would be the reason she died, but the cord was now pulled too tightly from her belly button. It was separating. Fluke. Rare.
We weren’t the only grieving parents there then. Two other families were enduring the same pain and agony. Our babies were cremated together and their energy passed onto us to continue living.
It’s unnerving to go through this, to have a baby and not come home with one. Thanks to the Reagan Marie Teddy Bear Fund at our hospital, I was wheeled through the Labor/Delivery waiting room that was filled with excited families with a teddy bear placed in my arms. This teddy bear means a great deal to me. I look at it as a reminder that I had this baby and someone cared enough to help me remember that. We were also sent home with a box for Lucy. This included the tiny little knit hat she wore after her delivery, the blanket she laid on and the little dress she wore. She existed.
My pregnancy bump quickly went away, but she existed. I packed away all my maternity clothes, but she still existed. I put away Ruthie’s “Big Sister” shirt, but still I know Lucy existed. Each day, we see something that reminds us of our pain. The H.E.A.R.T.strings Foundation at the hospital took nursery pictures of her and sent them. A handwritten letter came from them with a necklace charm of little feet. It all means the world to us.
Ruthie also reminds us of happiness. We have been successful. We do know what a good birth feels and looks like. The unthinkable happened to us and millions of others, and we don’t know why. Ruthie makes us smile.
My partner, spouse, husband and best friend has been a rock for me. The one who wasn’t pregnant can be overlooked in this grief. He went back and forth while I was in the hospital to be there for Ruthie as much as he could. He was torn to not let me go through labor alone, but he loves his little girl and wanted her to feel comfort.
I know it’s difficult to know what to do or say to someone who has gone through this. But, if I can offer any advice it’s that they don’t know either. They didn’t plan for this, read about it or get themselves prepared in any way. Just fumble through it with them. Tell them you’ll always remember their Lucy and the many other names of babies told me to in the wake of this. Ask them about their experience. There’s healing in discussing it. Understand their pain.
These babies existed.
November 15 will come and go and maybe I won’t be expecting Lucy’s arrival any longer, waking up and quickly remembering I’m no longer pregnant. Putting Ruthie to sleep each night became a little more difficult after Lucy’s death. How can I put her down and walk away for 11 hours? Will she be ok? Will I reach her in time if it’s not? Irrational but it’s the life I’m now in. Regaining my confidence as a mother, woman and wife will be something to work on.
In writing this, I hope to join others who are beginning to talk about miscarriage. stillbirth and infant loss. We cry periodically throughout the day. We might even say we have one more child than you see in our family photo. We remember birthdays that would have been, death dates of our littles and the life we thought we’d have with one more family member. Know us. Help us get through it one day at a time.
Sergio and I can’t thank the staff at Northside Hospital, Reagan Marie Teddy Bear Fund and H.E.A.R.T.strings Perinatal Bereavement Caring & Coping Group enough. And truly, our most heartfelt love goes out to our family members who cried with us, and our friends who called, texted and brought brownies over. Your love will never be forgotten.