Sometimes in the night, our daughter comes into our bed. This morning when she woke up, she wanted to play a game. She usually comes up with some kind of game first thing. She threw the covers over her head and said, "Pretend you were waiting for your egg to hatch, but before the baby could be born, hunters came!" I threw my arm over her and said, "Be gone hunters!" And I roared. Then peep, peep, peep, a little creature emerged from the blankets.
This morning I got to do it. I got to save my baby.
I can't tell if these games are a gift or a curse.
Before Toren, there was another baby. Our daughter was around 2 at the time. I was 12 weeks pregnant and I went for the nuchal translucency ultrasound to find out if there were any problems with the baby. I was given the all clear, baby looked good, no concerns detected. We weren't able to see our OB for another 5 weeks, our first appointment for that pregnancy. When we finally went in at 17 weeks, we discovered that there was no heartbeat.
I was sent to the hospital for an ultrasound to confirm. In the ultrasound waiting room, a young man was going around talking to each of the pregnant women there. He got to me and said that he was a student and was doing some kind of research and would I consent to be a subject. I said, "I'm actually here because there might be a problem with this baby so I don't know if I would make a good subject for your study." He said, "Oh, ok. Thank you." I guess it's hard to offer condolences when you are young and no one has taught you such things, and you are dealing with "pregnant women", not babies.
The scan confirmed that the baby had died. I phoned Peter at home but partway through the call I began sobbing and couldn't really talk.
Because our OB was away, we saw a doctor who was filling in. He asked me to meet him on the maternity ward after my scan. He said, "For some reason, your body is hanging on to this pregnancy." When we first met him, he said we would listen to "the baby's" heartbeat. Before the bad news, there was a baby; now, there was just a pregnancy.
I could see that he was struggling to figure out the system to help us. Finally, after much phoning around, he arranged for me to come back in the morning, through the ER, to get on the surgical waitlist for a D&C. We arrived at 9am and I was taken to the area at the back of the ER, where patients wait to be transported up to the various wards. Sitting there with the other patients, I could clearly see the screen with all our names and the reasons we were there. Beside my name it said, "Products of conception."
I was brought up to a ward, not the maternity ward of course, but a ward where you are just another appendix to them. There is no talk of footprints, memory-making, or grief. They barely do that on the maternity ward, let alone the other wards. I spent most of the day alone because Peter had to look after our daughter. The surgeon came to see me in the afternoon to explain the procedure. She had a resident with her, a silent soldier keeping watch. After she explained everything, she said, "What I'm wondering now is how you're doing emotionally?" I said, "I'm fine." Brief. To the point. A lie. But I didn't really know that then. She obviously believed me, or wanted to believe me, and said ok and left. I still wonder what her plan was for that question if my answer had been different.
They came for me at 10pm. Everyone in the OR was kind and answered all my questions. I had never had anaesthetic before so I was nervous about that. The anaesthetist came to talk to me and set my mind at ease. Peter eventually found someone to look after our daughter and was there to meet me after my surgery. I was told the surgery would take 10 minutes but as soon as I awoke I looked at the clock and knew it had taken half an hour. There was more bleeding than they had expected and I had to spend the night.
I don't know if I slept. A woman was admitted to the other bed in my room in the middle of the night. I heard her talking in whispers to her husband. She was worried about whether he would be able to come to her as soon as she was out of surgery. I said through the curtain, "Excuse me, there's a room right beside the recovery room where family can wait. They got my husband right away when I was wheeled into recovery." She said, through her curtain, "Oh ok great, thank you. Thank you." I didn't know why she was there and we never saw each other.
In the morning, the nurse came and removed my IV. He said I was discharged but I could wait for breakfast if I wanted. I waited for a little while but no breakfast came. I got dressed and left the ward. I didn't want to wait for the elevators so I walked down, I think 10 flights of stairs, or maybe it was a hundred, and walked home.
A few days later I bumped into an acquaintance on the street. She said, "Oh you're really starting to look pregnant now!" I quickly told her what had happened. "Oh no, I'm so sorry." Then without taking a breath, "You will try again."
At my follow-up GP appointment, my doctor talked about the tissue samples that had been sent for analyzing. (Not autopsy results.) I found out the baby had Trisomy 13, a genetic abnormality. The 12-week scan hadn't picked it up. Some children survive this condition but most do not. As my doctor was skimming the report, she was mumbling along and I heard, "female".
"Yes, it says here, female."
I realize now that I didn't start grieving the loss of this little girl until Toren was born. She was due one year, and one day, before Toren's due date. She was due January 22nd, 2011 and he was due January 23rd, 2012. She has the same birth stones as her siblings. The month she died, August, the birth month of her big sister, and the month she was due, January, the birth month of her baby brother. She would have just turned 3 this past January. And without her, we would not have had him.
Products of conception. Tissue samples. No baby. I'm fine. Try again.
I was thinking about that game kids play at birthday parties. They have a blindfold put on them and they get spun around and around around. Then they have to find a pinata full of candy, or a donkey to pin a tail on. I think about my time in hospital with her and I think, that was my discharge plan. "Put blindfold on patient. Spin patient around and around and around. Point patient in the general direction of the exit."
By the time Toren was born, I was still blindfolded and spinning.
I've been feeling like I want to clear out some of our baby things. Stroller, crib, playpen, tricycle. Sometimes I get confused about whether or not they are his things. He didn't get to use them. We didn't buy them for him, they belonged to his big sister. He would have used them, but he was doomed from the beginning because of the wretched umbilical cord.
Are they his things or not??
We ended up donating the stroller this weekend. First we tried to recycle it. No one would take it because it's made up of too many different materials. Then we looked up the dump. Too far away and it costs you $10 whether you bring a load or a single item. So we brought it to a local shelter. Big pat on the back for us. Helping others in need. For some reason, I am just too angry about it to feel any kind of Good about donating this time. If he didn't get to use it, why should anyone else? I resent that. That's why I wanted to just throw it out. We have donated so much in his name. We know so many bereaved families who donate. They donate money, time, their baby's things, they raise money, they buy new things for shelters, schools, daycares, charitable organizations. It's a beautiful thing. And some days, like today, I hate it. Hate it so much.
There is so much clutter to sort through when your baby dies.
Last night I had a couple of nightmares after a day spent with another babyloss mom talking about our babies. It's not the talking that causes problems (talking actually helps), it's the unnecessary memories that clutter my brain, my life, my day, my conversations. I went to bed pretty tired but just before I dozed off, a memory suddenly popped into my head. Peter and I are leaving the maternity ward empty handed. We don't even have the car seat with us. I am hobbling because I had just delivered him 5 hours earlier. The nurses are huddled together in the nursing station and, now I think, avoiding us. This is how I remember it anyway. As I'm picturing this scene, I think about what I haven't yet thought about - he is lying somewhere. I don't know if they've taken him off the ward at this point, either to the morgue or to where they do autopsies (is that the same place??) But he is there, somewhere, most likely on his own, and his parents have not even held him or spent any time with him. They are not caring for him. They are not making sure he is ok. They are not doing their job. They are just walking away. We just walked away and left him.
Because we didn't take care of him in death ourselves, I will always be left wondering if he was well cared for every step of the way. I did try to follow-up, to ask my questions, but I had to give up because I just don't have the energy to keep pushing for a response. I met a woman, a bereaved mother, who contacted the hospital (coincidentally, our hospital) 25 times to get the answers she wanted, needed, about her baby. Twenty-five times. For her it was worth it, she said it went better than she and the nurses could ever have expected. That has given her some measure of peace. But I am left wondering.
If staff aren't trained in stillbirth, then it's reasonable to assume they are not trained in respectful handling of bodies. We met a family who did dress their baby in hospital, but when they went to the funeral home to see her, she was naked under her blanket. Someone at their hospital, or somewhere along the way, stripped baby of her clothes. Shocking and disturbing. When I hear stories like these, I think about the colossal change in Thinking and Doing that needs to happen. And it needs to happen urgently.
I'm guessing no one really expects to be handling a dead body on a maternity ward, especially in hospitals where there is no stillbirth training. I remember our nurses being kind and gentle people and that's the only thing that gives me some hope, that helps me picture that his final journey from us to the funeral home where we picked up his ashes, was peaceful. If I had to do it again, we would not leave him. He would stay with us and we would transport him ourselves to where he needed to go.
I know rationally that we are in this situation because of circumstances beyond our control, beyond any individual person's control, but it does not make you feel like someone is just about to hand you a Mother of the Year award.
There is just so much clutter to sort through when your baby dies.