Every Sunday for years, I've had Sunday dinner with my family. Always mom and dad, and whichever of the four children can make it. Usually at least three of us are able to get together at my parent's house. I look forward to it every week.
Since I was on bedrest, this particular Sunday they opted to come over to our house. I had been feeling kind of crampy but blamed it on gas. I was barely able to eat because of it, and shortly thereafter I went to the bedroom to lie down. I wasn't sure what was going on with me, and hoping it was still just gas and being overwhelmed. After a little while, I had to acknowledge that the pains seemed to be coming in waves, regularly. It was a low pain, though, so I still wasn't convinced it was contractions. I thought I'd be able to feel it throughout my entire uterus, but this was low, at my underwear line. My uterus, to my touch, still felt nice and soft and relaxed. I listened to my new Hypnobabies track called "Baby Stay In," and that actually seemed to help the pains a bit, but didn't stop them. At some point my family left. Chris was worried, and as they started to get more painful, we timed them. I knew the second I looked at the timer and they were three minutes apart and lasting about thirty seconds each that this was it. I called the nurse's line at the labor and delivery unit and left a message, and before they'd even called back, I'd made the decision that we needed to go in. I think it was about 8pm.
As we were in the car driving there, the nurse called back. She agreed with our decision to go in, and we continued on our way. We entered through the ER, and I was immediately put in a wheelchair and wheeled up to labor and delivery. I was placed in a birthing room, which was emotionally hard, what with the baby warmer and other "normal" pieces of equipment I knew we'd never be using. The contractions were coming harder and longer, but a little further apart at this point. The nurse checked the baby's heartbeat, and it was still there, pounding away strongly. That was probably the hardest thing at that time, knowing that the baby was alive and well inside me, and the second that I pushed, he (though we didn't know it was a he then) wouldn't be. I just wanted to keep him inside me as long as I could. Chris called my mom to come up to the hospital, and she arrived about this time.
The doctor came and checked me out and found I was a fingertip dilated. Not much at all. I passed another blood clot as I was being examined, and for a second I was instantly buoyed - I had been a fingertip dilated last time I passed a large clot, and the cervix closed up after that! Maybe this was all just to pass the clot! But then I remembered...I hadn't had contractions that time. This really was going to be the end of my story. Of my baby's story. Of my family's story, before it had even really gotten the chance to start.
The doctor gave us some grim statistics and possibilities if the planned vaginal birth didn't go well, ranging from having to have a D&C (D&E? I don't remember) to an emergency C-section with a vertical incision (which would mean that I would always have to have C-sections from then on) to blood transfusions. Chris was rightfully terrified at that point. The doctor asked if his residents could come in, and I said yes, figuring this might be their only chance to see someone in this situation and if my experience could help them be better, more caring doctors to someone in the future, I was all for it. So he brought in a team of students and had one of them give my some Cytotec to dilate my cervix (because I was passing so much blood, they, um, put it somewhere else down there. It was rather embarrassing and I'm rather embarrassed to say I cracked a joke to the poor mortified resident about taking me on a date first). He said they'd check me again in four hours to see if they'd worked, and give me another dose then if necessary. At this point I was expecting this to take a long time. It was about 11pm.
Shortly after, our spacey anesthesiologist came in to do a consult about the epidural. I'd originally wanted a natural, relaxed birth, but I couldn't wrap my head around going through the pain of labor and childbirth without that prize at the end, without that happy goal to look forward to when it was all over. I felt like the baby deserved to have the best birth - our original birth plan - but emotionally I just couldn't do it. I don't regret the decision, but my epidural experience did cement my desire for a natural childbirth for future pregnancies. He had me sit up and lean over, and pressed extremely hard on my hips to find my hipbones. I'm an average sized girl - it seemed so excessive and was insanely painful. He found them and used them as a marker to find the appropriate place to insert the catheter (after giving me the local and disinfecting everything, etc.), and I started to get very nauseous. I couldn't hold it in, and started throwing up. Getting a shot, having contractions, throwing up, emotionally spent...I was absolutely miserable. It took seemingly forever, through more contractions and more vomiting, before the epidural was finally in place. I lay there waiting for it to take effect, and it did...on one side. My left leg started to feel a bit tingly, but my right leg felt exactly the same. He did a few tests a few minutes apart (poking me with a toothpick and wiping with a cold wipe) to check the sensations and increased the dosage. Every time it was the same story - I couldn't feel pain between my knee and hip on my left side, but could feel everything on my right. I could feel each contraction (which continued to get more and more intense) on the right. It didn't lessen the pain at all, just made it more concentrated. They had me lay on my right side to try to use gravity to get the epidural going, and they adjusted the catheter a few times. FINALLY it started to take effect on both sides...but they'd had to use so much of it that my legs were completely dead. I couldn't move them at all. At some point I threw up again. I'd also started to shiver uncontrollably, and that lasted for hours. Throughout this time, Chris was amazing and so strong. I couldn't have done it without him. My mom, too, was a rock of strength for both of us.
As I lay on my side, I went a few moments without really being able to feel any contractions at all. Very shortly, though, I could feel them again, albeit lightly and not painfully. I brought this up to my mom, and she said it probably wasn't the epidural wearing off already, but the contractions just being that much stronger. Almost immediately after that, I felt something slip between my legs. It felt virtually identical to the passing of blood clots that I had previously experienced. I let Chris and my mom know what had happened, and called the nurse to let her know that I'd passed a blood clot or something. In back of my head it occurred to me that it might be the baby, and I mentioned that out loud, but didn't really think it would be. When the nurse got there, though, she lifted the sheet and confirmed. "It's the baby." It was 1:55am on Monday, April 12.
At that point, I started crying and buried my head in Chris's shoulder and said over and over, "I can't do this. I don't want to do this." He held me and told me I could, that I had to, that I WAS. I felt the rest of the baby slip out and called out to the nurse that he was all the way out (she'd been calling the doctor, letting him know that I had half-delivered). And then...then I felt him move against me. I remember crying out, "I can feel the baby move!!" The nurse gently said yes, he was alive and moving. The doctor arrived and asked me to lift my leg but I couldn't due to the epidural (I was still on my side), so my mom came over and helped hold my left leg up. They completed the delivery, and the nurse announced that it was a boy. I couldn't believe it. Somehow, that made it even worse. I thought it was a girl, I bonded with it as a girl, and I'd already grieved for Chris the loss of having a son (I'd been told over and over again that no matter what they say, every guy wants a son as his first child)...and now it WAS a son, what I'd secretly and not-so-secretly wanted so very badly, and all I could think was that this made it even worse.
Through tears I asked my mom how he looked, and she said he looked great...tiny but perfect. As the doctor wrapped up the placenta and took it away, the nurse brought the baby over. I could see his bright red, tiny little head poking out of the blankets and asked them to get a hat to cover it...I couldn't deal with that much reality. She immediately got one and brought him back to me. I'd already decided on the name Caleb, and the middle name Anthony popped into my head, out of nowhere. I have no idea where it came from, but now I see it's the most perfect name we could have chosen.
She handed him to me. He had weight. I was surprised at his heft. He was alive. I could feel him moving slightly. His eyes were still fused shut and he had the teeniest nose and mouth. His hands were perfect; his fingers sooooo long and slender. He had the most insanely tiny fingernails. He was really cute, and I felt shame at feeling surprise at that. His profile was darling. His tiny, perfect nose...
My mom held him for a moment while they helped me move into a more comfortable position and exclaimed over him. I will always love the memory of her holding him in her hands, rocking him side to side, whispering to him that we loved him and that he was so sweet.
Chris wasn't able to hold him...he just couldn't do it. I don't blame him. I wasn't sure I would be able to do it. I will forever mourn the fact that we didn't get to examine a perfect newborn together, our first child, counting fingers and toes, deciding who he looked more like, trying out his name to see if it fit.
At some point, while my mom was holding him, I asked the nurse to check to see if he'd passed away, and she'd confirmed that he had. My mom and I said our goodbyes so that the nurse could take him and get him weighed and cleaned up and hand and footprints made, knowing we'd see him again when she was done. We were waiting for the hospital chaplain to arrive to do a blessing. I'm not a very religious person, but it seemed right. The next hour or so was the worst...I didn't have him and I knew he was just on the other side of the door, and I knew that when the nurse was with me he was in there all alone. She brought me two memory boxes...one with his foot and handprints in plaster, and one with his prints inked on paper, some pictures, and information on grief. There was a little pillow where they would have attached a lock of hair if he'd had any, and I was so sad he was bald so we didn't have that tangible, physical memory of him to take home.
The anesthesiologist came back to see how I was doing. He walked in, bright and cheery, and exclaimed "Congratulations!" Before I had time to register it, he realized what he'd said and quite literally ran out of the room. He came back a few moments later, repeated his congratulations in a more muted tone, and checked on me. He let me know he'd be in to remove the catheter shortly. When he came back, he looked around and said, "Where's your baby??," clearly having forgotten again who we were and what our situation was. Chris and I both caught it, but he again realized what he'd said and mumbled something to cover. Though ridiculous and unprofessional and bizarre, his was the only "Congratulations" we got and it was appreciated, even despite the fact that it was so clearly a mistake. Just a few days later we're able to joke about him, and having something to look back on and laugh about is a blessing.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the chaplain arrived. They brought Caleb back out, in a "real" baby blanket, and handed him to me. He was still warm. The chaplain, a soft-spoken and sympathetic woman, led us in a blessing/naming ceremony. It was good closure; as good as closure can be when you know you're going to be leaving a hospital after giving birth without your baby, and that your baby will never join you at home.
The rest of the story is almost an afterthought. We said our final goodbyes after the ceremony, and shortly after that my mom left. She'd been there all night, and it was now almost five in the morning. The feeling in my legs was just starting to come back. I remember being able to wiggle the toes on my right foot first. To the delight of the nurse, I used a rolling stool to get to the bathroom so I could avoid needing a catheter to pee (after thinking I could stand and having my legs collapse under me like jelly), they told us we were going to be switching rooms, we switched rooms (they put us at the far end of the wing, among a bank of unoccupied rooms, I assume to keep us away from the cries of babies who were alive and mothers who got to actually be mothers). We slept for a bit, we had visitors, we talked to the doctors and to Lydia, the midwife who I'd seen the most. We had the same day nurse that we'd had when I was in the hospital previously, a woman my mom's age named Kellie. She was again amazing. They told us we could leave when we felt comfortable, but that we could stay as long as we needed or wanted. We had breakfast. I could finally feel my legs again. They brought me the blanket he'd been wrapped in and his tiny pink and blue striped hat. I was thrilled to get the news that he'd have a birth certificate, for which I'd been sure he wouldn't qualify. We filled out some forms. With surprisingly few discharge instructions and orders to make a follow up appointment in seven to ten days, we left.
Without our baby.
Without anything but a plastic bag of stuff.
Happy birthday, Caleb.
Life sucks sometimes.