This post is a continuation of my stillbirth experience. If you haven't read part one be sure to do so first.
I was admitted to the hospital and moved to a room in the labor and delivery unit. I lay there willing my baby to move. Willing him to wake up. I even thought I felt movement sometimes which I understand is a normal feeling. I was in shock. I felt all the stages of grief at once and not at all. I just knew this could not be my reality. How could my baby have died inside me? What was wrong with me? What was wrong with him? How could my pregnancy have been so perfect for this to be the outcome? What had I done wrong? This wasn't real, was it?
I was told by the "family OB" that I would be induced to deliver my baby. I didn't understand why he wouldn't just take me to the operating room and deliver the baby by C-section. Although I had not planned to have a C-section originally, at this point I wanted to get through this process by any means necessary without drawing it out. My cervix was closed as I was still a few weeks away from my due date. This meant to deliver, I'd need to be dilated. The doctor ordered a medication to help with this process but it would take time.
Then the time came for the Pitocin to be started. Pitocin is the hormone that is administered through the vein to cause contractions. I was in a zombie state. Going through the motions and trying to do as I was told. My family had basically camped out at the hospital. I believe they were taking shifts. My husband and I were never alone, not even for a moment unless you count the bathroom. Coming from a praying family, lots of praying was going on too.
I didn't have a written birth plan, but it didn't matter at this point anyway. I'd planned to have an epidural (pain medicine administered through the spine that blocks pain in a particular region of the body) only when and if the pain became unbearable. However, now that my world was turned upside down, the doctor all but told me that I'd be getting an epidural. I told him no. In my mind, I still didn't want to believe my baby wouldn't be alive when he came out. I didn't want to do anything to further decrease this likelihood. I didn't make these inner thoughts public but I'm sure he knew what I was thinking. He is such a kind and mild mannered man. He would tell me every time he came to check on me, which was often that I'd be having an epidural. I still told him no, but when it came down to it, I had one. I had no fight left and I knew he had my best interest in mind. I realized later that it was for the best and the doctor knew what he was talking about.
Unfortunately, no one had told the CRNA, (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) who came to do my epidural that my baby had died. I'm not sure who dropped the ball but that lack of communication was an epic fail. It started the first of a series of experiences in which I would try not to make people feel bad about my suffering. As you know, in most cases when a baby is being born, it is a happy occasion and people are excited for you. When the CRNA said to me, "what are you having?" I simply said "a boy". She offered congratulations as I sat quietly. My nurse, Jennifer, who was there with me gave her a pleading look but she didn't catch the hint. After her continuing in jovial conversation, a conversation that I tuned out, I finally managed to mumble that he had passed away. I felt bad for her. I was content to let her "congratulations" be the end of it and let her do her job and be on her merry way but she kept talking. By this time if looks could kill, the CRNA would have been dead by my nurse who had become very protective.
What I remember most about the epidural, besides the fact that I didn't want it, was that for the longest time only one side of my body was experiencing the effects of it. The other side of my body was alive and well. A different member of the anesthesiology team came in and made some adjustments after a while and then I felt numb on both sides.
It's such a conflicting feeling and position to be in. Despite knowing I was delivering a stillborn, my husband and I were also excited to meet our little one. We planned for his delivery for months! We'd purchased our first home in January and my husband was working tirelessly to get it ready. Plus, I was still hoping and praying for the miracle of this to all have been a lie. I was still holding on to my baby "waking up". My husband, who never left my side knew what I was hoping. He didn't discourage me but he didn't indulge me either. Although he is a man of faith, he's very much a realist and a facts guy. You're not going to tell him 2 + 2 is anything other than 4 no matter what.
The nurse checked me and told me it was time to get the doctor. I somehow got through delivery, much of it a blur, and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He was perfect in every way except he wasn't breathing. The nurses cleaned him up and gave him to me. I held him willing the transfer of my heartbeat into his. My family, church family, and friends prayed for a Lazarus miracle. My husband held him and then they took our baby away. I don't recall exactly what they said they were going to do with him but I guess they ran tests and other things.
This must have been when the confusion and grief really set in. I was moved again to another room; the mother-baby unit but away from the mothers who had living babies. I asked where my baby was and I lost it when I was told he would be going to the morgue. This was not how this was supposed to go! Later a nurse brought him back to me. She'd taken the time to clean and dress him. He was swaddled and had on a hat. She'd warmed him for us too. My husband and I were able to spend uninterrupted time with him. We shared our feelings. We counted his toes. We took pictures. We kissed him. We loved him. I'm not sure when I finally accepted that he was gone for good but somewhere along the way it happened.
It may have been when I was rolled out of the hospital with empty arms that it truly dawned on me. I recall asking what was going to happen to my baby and I was told that a funeral home had been contacted to pick him up. A lot of behind the scenes things had been done thanks to my wonderful family. My uncle had made the contact, and my husband and I later had to go to the funeral home to make the official arrangements. My mom (who was going through treatment for ovarian cancer) was being taken care of by family as well. As I write this, I'm still not sure who broke the news of what happened to my mom. I believe it was one of my aunts. She was devastated and I felt terrible that she had to bear another burden given all she was going through.
A day or two after being discharged from the hospital, I was taken to the funeral home to make arrangements. I knew three things for sure: (1) he'd have a full funeral but it didn't need to be too long, (2) my uncle would do the eulogy, (3) my aunt would sing Richard Smallwood's song "Angels Watching Over Me." I'm not sure who decided everything else, maybe my husband and I did but it's a blur. I do know my aunts helped all the way. My cousin made sure I looked presentable. She did my hair, got my clothes and everything. My friends made sure I had unobtrusive yet strong support and reassurance that I'd make it through each day and the days to come.
We buried him five days after I delivered him. He was buried in the family portion of the cemetery of my home church. It was the smallest plot I'd ever seen. It was my son, Walter Eron Collins. You would think the hardest part was over but the true grieving had just begun.
I used writing as a way to cope and below is one of the poems I wrote regarding this experience.
Mine for a Time
I’ve known you for many months now
To live without you, I’ll have to learn how.
You were mine for a time, you just couldn’t stay
Because God saw fit to take you away.
I can still feel your kicks, your squirms and wiggles
Just feeling you inside me, made me giggle.
I learned your ways, like when you wanted to eat
Loved watching you grow and hearing your heart beat.
But we’ll meet again and then we’ll play
You were mine for a time but God had the last say.
Lord knows I love you and I wish you’d stayed here
You were mine for a time, but you’re an angel now dear.
What strategies and coping mechanisms have you used during difficult life changing situations?