I Will Always Say I Had a Son
Photo Credit: Mandy Geiger-Long
Today is my son's due date—just another date now in a sea of dates to be dreaded and abhorred, a day that you would sleep through completely in order to skip. We all have at least one of those days and this one is mine.
As much as I'd like it to pass by in a sickening silence, my son's story deserves to be told. Not just for him, or for me, but for all the women who go through miscarriages, stuck in that deep, sickening silence.
We went through two years of heartache, infertility, negative tests, bad news, painful surgeries, and of hormones and drugs to get to him, our miracle baby. Once I saw the two faint lines, I was in love. It's almost impossible to stop your mind from racing forward, dreaming of all the possibilities. What would they look like? Who will they be?
In my naïveté, even after the years of infertility, I thought a positive pregnancy test equaled a baby. So, I did all the things you aren't supposed to do. I told my friends and family at 5 weeks. My husband, Alex, basically told our entire town in his excitement. We started buying things and planning the nursery. We went to ultrasound appointments together with way more optimism than caution. We made it to the 2nd trimester and finally told everyone, like you're supposed to do, just in case you lose the baby. That way you can hide the fact that 80% of miscarriages happen in the first trimester. Are those miscarriages supposed to hurt less? Are those the ones you're supposed to hide?
What I didn't tell anyone was that I didn't want to announce our pregnancy because I had a fear something was wrong. It's hard to describe this intuition—almost like when you have a bad dream and you need to call that person in the morning to check that they're okay. I insisted on ordering an at-home fetal doppler, even though I had just seen my son the week before, happily snuggled up in my belly. My husband warned against it; it would drive me crazy, make me even more obsessive. I did it anyway.
The first two days of trying to use it, I disregarded the fact I couldn't find his heartbeat by user error and on the third day called my doctor. I phoned her and apologized for being so neurotic but she said to come in, even just to calm my fears. I still wasn't concerned and went to work, planning on going in afterwards. I didn't even tell Alex to come with—it would just be a quick appointment.
Laying on the table, the nurse started fumbling with the doppler. "Hm...," she kept saying over and over.
"Oh, usually he's up by my belly button, you see I have a condition where I have an enlarged uterus," I said.
She tried again and I could see her brows starting to knit.
"It's probably because my uterus is messed up..." I say again.
She advises we should probably do an ultrasound, just in case.
I lay back in the ultrasound room, as I had done countless times in the pregnancy. As the sonographer put the cool jelly on my stomach, we joked and made small talk about our days. Then, silence. The kind of silence that fills the room like a heavy smog, making your ears echo the sound of your blood pumping.
"Can you hold your breath for me?" she asked.
A pit began to fill deep in my gut. One, two, three, I began to count the ceiling tiles for each second I wasn't breathing.
Then the words came, "I'm so sorry, I don't see a heartbeat."
They sounded foreign. My brain couldn't understand their meaning.
"I need to go get the doctor."
I lay on that table, sinking down, down, down and wishing my heart would stop beating too. Not just wishing, willing it to stop. Praying I could just sink into that table, be smothered by the crepe paper covering it, sunken into a wood and foam grave. Somehow, even in that profound, aching despair my heart kept beating, my lungs kept breathing and I can never understand how.
"Do you need to call someone?"
Who should I call? Whose world am I going to make crash down? Whose life will I decide to change in an instant? Can I just somehow keep this pain to myself, lock it away and never tell a soul? Only let it consume me? If only. If only this pain could have had but one casualty.
Later, as my husband held me in that sterile doctor's office, I came to the heartbreaking realization that somehow this baby was going to have to come out of me. This isn't going to be just a bad period, I'm going to have to give birth. The thought hit me like two cymbals crashing next to my ear, jarring me.
Options. There has to be options, right? I had two—a D&E (Dialation and Evacuation), where forceps are used to rip your baby from your body under anesthesia OR get admitted to the hospital and give birth.
My first thought was the D&E—quick, "painless," anesthesia, completely blissfully unaware of what was happening, if only for a few hours. That is, until I learned I wouldn't be able to get in for the procedure for DAYS. I would have to sit at home, with my dead baby residing inside of me. No. No way. Every movement I made felt like a death rattle inside. I couldn't do that for days.
"Can I not feel anything?" I asked in almost a whisper. "Can you give me something so I don't have to feel a thing when I'm giving birth? Please?"
The nurse kindly put her hands on my fragile shoulders and told me I could have anything I wanted. "Come back at 5:00," she said, "Go pack a bag and I'll let the hospital know you're coming."
I don't remember going home. I don't remember packing a bag. All I know is I told Alex to just get rid of everything. The baby clothes. The ultrasound pictures on the fridge. The stroller in our living room. I don't care where it goes, just get it out of my sight. On our counter sat an unopened envelope. The gender. We were going to do a reveal that week. I numbly tore it open. A boy. A son.
We arrive at 5:00 to the hospital.
"Are you in labor?" the clueless front desk receptionist asks.
"Well, no..." I start.
"Then you can't go back there," she says.
"I have an appointment, I'm losing my baby." One of the most cruel parts of this experience was you have to give birth to your dead baby surrounded by women giving birth to their live ones. You get led to a room in Labor & Delivery, past the heavily pregnant women walking the halls in active labor, past the newborn babies crying, past the new fathers nervously pacing outside their rooms.
Once in our room, I'm hooked up to an IV and a blood pressure cuff. A nurse tells me they will place a medication on my cervix to induce labor.
"I...I just need to be sure," I tell the nurse, "that he's really gone."
The doctor wheels in an ultrasound machine and we study his perfect, still body, staring at his heart imploring it to beat, pleading with him to move. But he didn't. He just peacefully swayed with the rhythms of my body, rocking him in his forever sleep.
Soon, a phlebotomist arrives, cheerfully pulling her cart in, "Here to take some blood for you!" she says in a sing-song voice. She bands my arm and starts making small talk, "So, is this your first baby?" she asks, as she draws a vial of blood. Stunned, I frantically look to Alex and back to her. Unsure of what to do, I nod. "Do you know what you're having? A boy or a girl?" she asks, blissfully unaware. "A boy," I choke out. "I bet you're so excited. You look like you'll be a great mom. Don't be nervous, it's all worth it when they arrive!" she says as she smiles and wheels her cart out of the room.
I felt like all of the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room. Later, I told the nurse what had occurred. "That shouldn't have happened, there's a falling leaf on your door. They should know what that means," she said. That's what my son is...a falling leaf.
The labor pains came quickly—steady, methodical cramps, that I soon realized were contractions. "I don't want to feel this," I told the nurse, "please, please give me anything."
Hours later, morphine didn't touch the pain. Hours after that, neither did Dilaudid. By now it was the middle of the night. I had been in labor for 8 hours. Exhausted and drained, I had nothing left to give. I didn't want this. I don't want to feel this. I finally asked for an epidural, just to get some sleep. They came and placed it and finally, I felt nothing.
The nurse was coming in constantly, routinely checking how dilated I was. "You're ready", she said, giving my hand a firm squeeze. At 4:24 a.m., after 11 hours of labor, with one push, our son was born sleeping.
"Do you want to see him?"
No. I don't want to remember him that way. Like at a funeral with an open casket, I didn't want that image seared into my mind. I want to remember the baby bouncing on the ultrasound screen, the baby who never felt cold, or hungry, or afraid. The baby who only knew he was safe and loved. Alex excused himself, he did want to see his son. He went behind a curtain and spent some time with him. Later, he told me he took a picture of him, just in case I ever changed my mind.
It's over, I thought. The worst is over. Little did I know, my placenta did not and was not coming out. I stayed in labor for hours, finally having it surgically removed 7 hours later. It was absolute hell, but now it was over. We will never know what went wrong. Our son was perfect in every way.
My aching core was now an empty one, only unlike most, I didn't get to offset that feeling with a new baby in my arms. Empty. Everything was empty. I once again felt nothing.
My son was real, he lived. He was so wanted and loved. I was his mother and I will always say I had a son. Women who miscarry will always be mothers. If you do not understand how deep my pain is, how unbearable my grief is, be happy you do not. Losing him forever changed who I am. The raw, open pain gets smaller, but the grief always stays. Our baby now lives in the stars.
1 in 4. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. This story is dedicated to that 1 in 4.
Thank you Mandy Geiger-Long for sharing your story. Shared with permission.
Pregnancy and infant loss can leave grieving parents feeling isolated and unsure how to navigate the heartbreaking circumstance of living without their precious baby. Unexpecting delicately helps grieving parents navigate the complexities and heartache of life after loss.
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