Sunday, June 22, 2008

Going deep

I cannot believe I am actually about to post this. I have been writing my thoughts and memories out for over a month now. And to think there is more to follow... My guess, you will be reading it in a few years from now!

I feel the need to start from the beginning, a desire to share my experience and details surrounding the pregnancy and birth of my girls. What happened? What went wrong? What next? This is my attempt to explain our stories, one at a time…

Finley Grace

Conceiving was easy for us. It happened the first try. On December 12th, 2006 I found myself staring at two pink lines…it was positive. So I took another one. There they were, again, two pink lines. Yet, it was not until I took a digital test the next morning that I was convinced what I was seeing was true. Indeed, I was pregnant!

Having recently moved to Nashville, I had yet to find an OB/GYN. Because we had been planning to start a family, I kept my ears open at work. In random, lunch time conversation, a friend frequently spoke of her physician. She went on and on about him and how wonderful he was. He sounded too good to be true. Because I wanted to get his name and number, she was the first person to hear our news. My initial appointment was set a few weeks later, December 26th to be exact. Just as my friend described, there was an immediate connection with Dr. B. He sat before us as if he had all the time in the world. He shared a timeline, of sorts, describing what we could expect in the upcoming weeks and months. With questions of our own, he listened to each one and answered them in a manner that showed genuine interest in our family. My initial jitters were quickly calmed. After an exam and blood work, I went for my first ultrasound. We were able to see our sweet baby that day, a tiny bean with a flickering heart. What an amazing moment.

My pregnancy started out a textbook case. The nausea hit around 7 weeks. It came at all times of the day, morning and/or night. An admitted gum addict, I found that chewing it made me feel 10 times worse, especially minty flavors. I had to put the gum away. I also learned that hunger made me sick. The only way to minimize the urge to vomit was by keeping my stomach full. A little "snack" did not cut it. Having once believed the extreme hunger proclaimed by pregnant women was simply an excuse for lack of self control, I quickly learned otherwise. Blake was amazed by my appetite, watching me eat every few hours. How could a tiny being require so many calories? There were no particular cravings. I just wanted what I wanted when I wanted it...whatever that was. If eating was delayed, I became nauseated. Luckily, all of this seemed to calm down by week 12.

My 16th week of pregnancy began in early March. I was lying in bed on the 3rd, a Saturday, when I felt movement for the first time. Three kicks, back to back, in the same spot. Little bubbles popping in my lower abdomen. For the next five minutes, I could not move, wanting to feel it again and again. At that moment, the reality of the life within reached a new level. By March 16th, Blake was able to share in the excitement and feel the kicks and punches himself. Oddly enough, the first time he felt movement, it was 3 times, back to back, in the same spot. There was a pattern to the baby's activity and it always seemed to increase just as we were settling into bed. Those were precious times.

My 20 week ultrasound was scheduled a little early, at 18 weeks and 5 days. I must admit I was anxious about that day. First and foremost, I wanted to see a healthy baby. With a degree in health care, I was concerned about the development of the baby and could not help but worry things might not go as I had planned. Like every other parent, we wanted a "perfect" child. I cannot describe the relief I felt when our baby measured beautifully, 4 heart chambers, 2 kidneys, a stomach, a bladder, 10 fingers, 10 toes. We watched the baby's mouth open and close while he or she swallowed amniotic fluid. We could see little hands, arms and legs gently moving around. Otherwise preferring to lay still, our little one did not cooperate in revealing his or her gender to us. I appreciate modesty but we wanted to see “parts,” or lack there of. Despite the technician‘s best attempts to get our child moving, “I am pretty sure it's a girl” was the best we got. While Blake was satisfied with that answer, I wanted certainty. How convenient that he works at a vet clinic…with ultrasound. We took another look a few days later and were pretty convinced she was a little girl. Just to clarify, my doctor knew about this! :)

I was halfway there with a healthy, baby girl growing inside. Having the ultrasound out of the way, my mind was now at ease. Let the planning begin. Expected to arrive on August 16th, I spent hours online looking at cribs, bedding, gliders, dressers. I wanted her room to be feminine, delicate, sweet. Only willing to get the safest and best for our daughter, consumer reports ratings on car seats and strollers were more important than color or design. There was so much to think of, so much we would need. Showers had been mentioned and a few dates were set. We would need to register soon. It was easy to let my mind drift into the future, in an attempt to picture life with our little girl. Was I ready? Would we be good parents? Who would she look like? What color would her hair be? The excitement and anticipation was building minute by minute. I could not wait for her arrival.

I noticed my first contractions on, of all days, April 1st. I had a busy day with church, shopping and a workout at the YMCA. While talking to Blake and making dinner, I noticed a rhythmical, painless tightening in my lower abdomen. That was odd. Having never felt this sensation before, I was a little concerned. I called my doctor’s office and Dr. B just happened to be on call. After describing my symptoms, he felt I may be dehydrated and recommended I lie on my left side and drink a large glass of water as quickly as possible. If the contractions continued, I was to call him back. Sure enough, I must have been dehydrated. What I had been feeling was now gone. Dr. B called back to check in and I told him the good news. To be safe, he wanted to see me the next morning. When I arrived at his office the next morning, her heart rate was strong and there was no dilation. No worries.

Blake had tickets to watch practice rounds for the Masters. A bit spooked by the events of Sunday, he questioned whether he should stay or go. After the good report, I sent him on his way. There was no reason for plans to change. I was fine. She was fine. We were fine. Feeling confident all was well, I went on in to work. There were a few new sensations that day, different from the day before. Best I can describe, my abdomen would randomly “knot up.” I was convinced it was part of pregnancy. She was just bigger and becoming more active. She was flipping around and it was her head or her bottom I was feeling. It continued on Tuesday. Nothing painful, just strange. I didn't call. This was normal.

Around 6:30 Tuesday night, things changed. Blake would not be home until late that evening so I made plans to eat out with friends. As I was getting ready, something just felt different. I was not in pain, but the knots seemed more consistent. I was convinced I was being paranoid, she was just moving. I had just seen the doctor and we were fine. I went on to dinner. On edge the whole time, all attempts to hide my concern were ineffective, as my words were few and I only picked at my meal. My mind could not focus on anything other than the activity of my uterus. Not to mention I was trying to drink as much water as I could. By the time I got home, the knots seemed more frequent. I got on the phone with Blake, every few minutes it seemed, trying to describe it all to him. In a car, over and hour and a half away from home, he tried to keep me calm and encouraged me to call the doctor. That is what they are for. So I did. After explaining the situation, the doctor on call did not seem too concerned. He recommended I watch the clock to make sure they were not regular. I was to call back if they were less than five minutes apart. As I lay on my left side, consuming glass after glass of water, I began to watch the clock. With each passing minute, I noticed a pattern. They were about 5 minutes apart. By this time, Blake was in Murfreesboro, about 45 minutes away and a severe storm was moving into the area. I called the doctor back to give him an update. He wanted me to come in but not by myself. He suggested I have someone drive me in. So, I would wait for Blake, as he was closer than anyone else at that point.

Shortly thereafter, things turned in a different direction. At 9:35, the first painful contraction hit. They lasted for around 45 seconds from start to finish. It was intense and I knew something was wrong. They continued with no hint of deceleration in sight. I kept calling Blake, begging him to carefully hurry home. I was scared, he was scared. When he pulled into the garage, I could barely stand. Through the thunder, lightening and pouring rain, it seemed like an hour from our house to Baptist. Of course, traffic was backed up due to a weather related accident. When we finally made it to the hospital, we parked on the 3rd floor of the garage and walked right in the door. I had not decided where I would deliver at that point in the pregnancy so I had not completed the pre-registration process. They would need all of my information. As I began to state my social security number to the receptionist, I had a major contraction and it happened. My water broke. Not just a trickle. My membranes ruptured. The physical pain immediately stopped. But the emotional pain was only beginning. At that moment, we were fully aware what the outcome would be. We were going to lose our baby.

Then next thing I can recall is being placed in a wheelchair, Blake going one direction and me in another. They did not know what to do with me. Initially, I was taken to triage, where several nurses sat looking as I repeated over and over, "I'm losing this baby... I am LOSING this baby...Lord please don't let this happen...I need my husband...WHERE is my husband?" From there I was taken to a labor and delivery room, just like we had seen on a tour a few weeks back. Blake walked through the door within seconds of my arrival. Nurses filled the room, monitors were strapped to my belly, an IV went into my left arm. Panic and confusion filled the room. Was this a dream? Could this REALLY be happening to us?

The doctor on call came in and confirmed what we already knew. He stood at the foot of the bed, with his lab coat thrown over his shoulder as he told us our child would not survive. At only 20 weeks and 5 days gestation, she was not "viable." There were no medicines they could give. There were no procedures they could perform. Life outside of my womb was not possible. He was very "matter of fact" with his presentation. I will never forget his face...his bedside manner... his lack of compassion. Meanwhile, all I could hear in the background was my baby's heart beating on the monitor. It was too much to bear. I could not listen. I asked that them to turn the sound off.

We had a few moments to ourselves and all we could do was sob. Blake had to make the dreaded phone call to our parents. He could barely get words out, "We're losing the baby." It broke my heart to see him so broken, so devastated. He came back and laid beside me in the bed and we just held each other, trying to take it all in. I tried to pull it together the best I could in an attempt to encourage him. "We can do this...we will make it...we have been so blessed..." I may have said it but my heart was having a difficult time believing them.

Within an hour of my admission, Dr. B was there. He entered the room and the tears flowed even harder. Visibly shaken, he held our hands and gently walked us through his findings. More than likely, I had a placental abruption. The placenta separated from my uterus, triggering labor. He was perplexed, as I had no known risk factors for such an occurrence. He prepared us, as best he could, for what we could expect in the hours to come. Ethically, they could not induce labor. She was alive and they could not accelerate her passing. We would have to wait for the inevitable. Nature would have to take its course and her heart would have to stop. Given an option, we would not have done anything differently. He was there for us and would be throughout the night. He was a gift in the midst of a storm.

Every half hour or so, the nurse came in to check her heart rate. She would turn up the volume on the monitor to see if sounds would follow. The first few times, her heart was so strongly, beating away. I could still occasionally feel her move. It was killed me inside to know it they would be the last kicks I would feel. What was she thinking? Was she scared? Was she in pain? I am her mother, for heaven's sake, why can't I do something to help her? Helpless. Hopeless. Gradually, the beats were slower and weaker and the movement faded. Around 5:00 in the morning, on April 4th, they turned the volume up one final time. The monitor was silent. Dr. B came in to perform an ultrasound to confirm the nurses findings. They were correct. Our little one was gone. My labor was induced and slowly progressed throughout the morning. Around 2:30 that afternoon, the contractions intensified and indescribable pain followed. She was born around 3:15pm. I did not pass tissue. I gave birth to a child; a tiny and perfect baby. The pain stopped and in the blink of an eye, it was over.

Wrapped in a blanket, a nurse brought our daughter to the bedside. 15.4 ounces and 11.5 inches. Long and skinny. 10 fingers. 10 toes. The effects of delivery were apparent. Bruised and battered, her skeletal system was immature and delivery took a toll on her tiny frame. There was no way we could have prepared for such a moment. This was not how I had envisioned her arrival. I had not pictured her this way. So many emotions ran through my mind as a look down at my daughter. Love, sadness, disbelief, anger, shock, disappointment, fear, agony, emptiness. It is, by far, the hardest experience of my life. Our time with her was brief. It hurt so much to see her that we quickly sent her away. I would give anything to change that moment in time. Had I only known how to handle the situation...

We were eventually taken to a room on another floor; one where we couldn't hear the the cries of babies next door. As I was wheeled into the room, I noticed a picture of a leaf with a water droplet on it hanging from the door. It almost looked like a tear. My guess, it was a sign to employees. A discrete way of alerting anyone who entered the room that it's occupants were grieving. Once we settled in, I was encouraged to take a shower because it would make me feel better. I guess, physically, it did. But emotionally, it was quite difficult. A belly that was tight and round when I walked into the hospital doors was now soft and mushy. Completely empty. I could not even look at myself in the mirror. I just dried of and got into bed. Though I was physically and mentally exhausted, I was too scared to close my eyes. I did not even attempt to try and sleep on my own. I asked for Ambien and it quickly allowed me to rest. Having been awake for over 36 hours at that point, Blake was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

We were discharged the next morning, Thursday. A transporter wheeled me to the side door where Blake was waiting with the car. I noticed my seat, still in the reclined position as I had left it Tuesday night. We would drive away from the hospital together. As we drove, everyone we passed seemed happy. They were singing to the radio, talking on the phone, laughing with others in the car. Life was normal. Our car was anything but normal. There was one less person riding. There was no car seat. No baby. How would we go home and resume a normal life? There was nothing normal about what we had just experienced. Life, as we knew it, was forever changed.


Anonymous said...

Danielle, thank you for sharing those difficult moments. Most I was aware of, but some things I wasn't. I'll never forget that night at Chick-fil-a. I'll never forget the phone call I received from Chad the next morning. And I'll never forget how you've handled those days that were ahead. You are the strongest person I know. You have remained spiritual. You have stayed a true friend. It would have been easy to hide, but as you have said before, hide and seek or exposure? And you chose exposure. You are one of my heroes. I love you both, LeAnne

Anonymous said...

Girl, you are so strong! Thanks for sharing as I am so far from you, sweet friend! The only thing I know to say after that is I love you! You are precious in the sight of the Lord. Love, Veronica

Carla and Daryl said...

danielle, i am in awe of you and your strength throughtout your whole ordeal and what you are still dealing with. it must have all seemed like a terrible nightmare to you. to read it is heart wrenching enough but to live thorugh it.... somehow you were able to keep your sanity. although i know you are writing your blog to help you yourself deal with your feelings but i am positive that through your blog you have also helped someone else tremendously in some way. i hope that gives you some peace as well. thank you for sharing your experience... i know it wasn't easy. love, carla

Anonymous said...

Danielle, you have a gift. You can put feelings, happenings, thoughts, and emotions into words so beautifully. I am sure that you are ministering to so many women who you don't even know. I truly believe that this should be published. You are an amzing woman... we love you both!


Ginger said...

Dear Danielle,
We all have mental "triggers" that bring back sad memories. Yours will always remind you of your sweet sweet children that were taken from you much too soon. These mental "triggers" will occur year after year. Our Creator designed us this way.

You know alot about the important things of life like a loving supportive husband and good friends and wonderful family and the comfort of the scriptures and faith. Loving your pets . Loving a home and your yard. I enjoyed reading of your love of flowers in recent posts, gardens, and I would imagine you even love creeks and small creatures of the woods...

Your kindness of others is talked about. And you have learned alot from your loss. Those lessons you learned have helped others with their loss.

You are a beautiful person. Thanks for sharing your feelings. Most difficult to read and words are never sufficent for times like these. I realize there is a huge vacancy in your life because your girls are no longer with you and your husband. I am praying for you.

Michelle said...

I believe that God somehow directed me to find your blog...I am so glad He did. My first son William was stillborn August 2nd, 2005. I was 26 weeks pregnant...the umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck, fatally cutting off his oxygen supply. Sadly I know your unimaginable grief and pain. I feel led to talk to you if you would like. When he died, it helped me to talk to others who had gone through such a tragically similar situation. My email is When/if you are ready, please let me know. I am praying for you...even though we have never met, I feel connected to you through our situations.... May God pour His blessings on you and your family.