This day last year was the first of the two worst days of my life. It’s been a year and I thought it might be healing for me and helpful for others to hear my story. Many women share their birth stories. Mine however, is a stillbirth story. It’s a birth story without the happy ending.
Note: I am crying while I write this. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking story to tell. But I still want to tell it. I had planned to write this post weeks ago, proofread it a million times and have it ready to share. Instead, I’m writing it at the last minute, the morning I wanted to post it. If there are errors in the text, I apologize. Thank you for your understanding, and thank you for reading.
I’d been feeling off for a few days. I’d called the midwife and taken a day off midweek to rest. She’d advised me to do some kick counts. But it was early in the pregnancy (24 weeks and 5 days) that I wasn’t always sure if what I was feeling was the baby kicking or gas or something else.
The next day, I went back to work. But I was still feeling off. Mid-morning, I popped up to the medical clinic on the upper level of my office building. I asked if there was any chance a doctor could use the fetal doppler to let me hear my baby’s heartbeat. I needed that confirmation that my baby was okay.
The doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat with the fetal monitor.
She said it was likely no reason to worry. She wasn’t very experienced with the doppler, the doppler she had kept shorting out (it was quite old), and the baby was probably just in a position that made it hard to find the heartbeat. She offered to call around and find an ultrasound appointment for me.
I went downstairs and got my things from my desk. I told my coworkers I had to go. I don’t remember what I told them.
In my car, I called the midwife and told her what was happening. She told me to come in and see her. So I did.
The midwife couldn’t find the heartbeat on the fetal monitor.
All this time I’d been texting with my husband, keeping him updated. I’d also been texting with a group of girlfriends from my Bible study group. One of them offered to meet me at the ultrasound clinic if I needed someone with me. Thankfully, my husband was able to leave work.
I picked up my husband from his office. We stopped for some lunch to kill time before the 1 pm ultrasound appointment. I couldn’t eat. I just picked at the food on my plate.
The first thing the ultrasound technician said was, “I’m so sorry.”
Our baby no longer had a heartbeat.
The ultrasound clinic staff called the midwife for us and updated her. They gave us a box or two of tissues and a room to sit in and cry.
We went home and crawled into bed. It was 2 pm. And we cried and cried and cried.
At some point that afternoon, the midwife called and let us know our options. I would need to be induced to deliver our baby. We could choose to start the induction that evening or wait until the next day. We chose to do it sooner rather than later. Why prolong the misery? She arranged everything with a local hospital and told us to meet her there at 6 pm.
And then we made the worst phone calls of our lives. I called my mother. My husband called his. We told our baby’s grandmothers that their hoped for and already loved grandchild had no heartbeat.
I’m so thankful that we knew we would need support during this. So we used social media private group messages to let our whole Bible study group and a few other friends know what what was happening. Immediately, they launched themselves into helping us. One friend asked if we’d eaten anything and announced she was bringing us smoothies to make sure we had food in our bellies before we went to the hospital. She dropped the smoothies off and said she’d be back in a couple of hours to drive us to the hospital. She’d delivered her daughters there and knew exactly where to go. With my husband holding me up on one side and her holding me up on the other, I walked into the hospital and didn’t have to ask for directions or even speak. She stayed with us while we waited to be admitted. She prayed with us. She made me laugh. I’m so, so grateful.
The midwife signed me into the care of the hospital. She kept saying how she’d never had an experience like this and was figuring it out as she went along. I’d met her for the first time that day, spoken to her for the first time the day before. You see, she wasn’t my midwife. She was covering while my midwife was on vacation with her family. I was 24 weeks and 6 days pregnant. It was so early and when I’d seen my midwife the week before, everything was perfect. My baby’s heartbeat was strong. My belly was measuring exactly to date. I felt bad for this new midwife. She was young and completely out of element. She was trying so hard to be strong for us, to comfort us, but she was breaking inside. She felt so, so bad for us. I learned after, that she had called the hospital almost hourly while I laboured and asked the nurses how I was doing.
I was given the first dose of labour-inducing medication at 8 pm.
At this point, I was already exhausted. I’d been feeling off and worrying for two days. I’d been crying for nearly eight hours. I know the doctor explained to us what was going to happen and what the medication was, but I do not remember the details. My husband and I hadn’t prepared at all for labour and delivery. It was too early. I’d done no research, no reading, no thinking on what I wanted my birth to be like. I hadn’t thought about whether or not I wanted pain medication or what kind of drugs or if I wanted an epidural or not. We went into this blind and were in such a fog of grief that we just went along with what was happening.
The hospital room we were given was huge. It had a long hallway from the main hall, so we didn’t hear any noise (i.e. babies crying) from the rest of the maternity ward. We had a bathroom. I had a bed, and there was a leather love seat and a leather recliner for my husband. The nurse told us he could move the recliner to wherever he wanted in the room. He pulled it right close beside my bed so we could hold hands. We had a nurse who was our nurse for her whole shift. I was her only patient. If I needed something, she was there to get it for me.
The doctor gave me dose of labour-inducing medication every four hours.
I don’t remember how quickly the labour started. But I do remember it being painful. My body wasn’t anywhere near ready for labour. The nurse told us that because of our circumstances, they could and would give me any drugs necessary to manage the pain. They would give me as much as I needed. I started with the laughing gas. It dried out my mouth, but seemed to help with the blooming pain in my abdomen. But the relief only lasted for a few minutes at a time. So, because I’d never had it, we decided to try the morphine. The nurse gave me a half-dose and pushed it really fast into my IV. It was a whoosh. It felt good for a minute or two. And the pain was okay for about an hour. But then it really started to hurt. The nurse gave me another dose of morphine. A full dose this time, but pushed it more slowly. Then, she offered to bring us a snack, “Maybe some toast,” she said. We thanked her. She asked if we wanted jam, what kind of jam, and were we thick globs or spread thin type of people. She brought toast for me and toast for my husband. I took one bite and immediately felt nauseated. So nauseated. My husband hit the call button for the nurse and grabbed a bin off a shelf for me in case I needed it. The nurse came running and gave me Gravol. I didn’t touch the toast again. This does of morphine managed the pain for about twenty minutes. It didn’t seem worth it.
We decided to go for the epidural. I was in so much pain.
When I’m tired and stressed, I get cold. I shiver and I shiver. My hospital bed was layered in blankets. Every few hours, my nurse brought me a freshly warmed blanket. To do the epidural, I needed to sit on the edge of my bed, feet on a stool, with my hospital gown open at the back for the anesthesiologist to insert the needle into my spine. I couldn’t shiver while she was going that, for obvious reasons. So my nurse wrapped my legs and my front in warm blankets and hugged me. She wrapped her arms around my shoulders and rested my head on her shoulder. She spoke kindly to me, told me how well I was doing, and kept me calm while the anesthesiologist did her thing. The relief was instant. By this point, it was late into the night. I was exhausted but hadn’t been able to get any sleep because of the pain. After the epidural went in, I fell asleep within minutes.
At some point in the night, a couple of friends came to our room with bags of snacks for us. They were flying out for a vacation early the next morning, but sacrificed their sleep to come comfort us and feed us. I’m tearing up just thinking about their kindness.
My husband slept in the recliner next to my hospital bed. It was slightly too short for his long legs and his ankles and feet hung off the end. But he stayed there. He held my hand. He handed me water when I asked (and when I didn’t but he knew I needed to drink), and took amazing care of me. He constantly checked in with me. He was a super hero. His heart was just as broken as mine that night, but he focused all his energy on taking care of me. He managed both of our cell phones, responding to messages of family and friends, updating our parents.
By morning, the pain was starting to become horrendous again. But it was too late for another dose from the anesthesiologist.
I felt our baby crowning. And after only a few pushes, he was born. Silent and sleeping.
Our son, Hudson Kevin, was born sleeping at 9:34 am at 25 weeks. He was 1 lb, 5 oz and 13 inches long. He had his daddy’s nose and his daddy’s big feet. He was absolutely beautiful, and his soul was already in heaven with his Grandpa Kevin.
(This is the first time I’ve shared our son’s name online. I don’t know why I felt I needed to keep his name close this past year. But I love his name. He was born, he existed, and he has a name. And every time I hear or see the name Hudson, I’m reminded that my son’s name is a good name, that I’m a mother even if I have no child here on earth with me.)
The nurses wrapped Hudson in a blanket and let us hold him. They put him in a little outfit and hat. They gave him a little teddy bear. They took photos of him and took imprints of his hands and feet for us. They let us hold him for as long as we wanted.
Grams and Grandma came to the hospital to meet their grandson. Our moms got to hold him and kiss him.
Sometime in the afternoon, we had to say goodbye. His little body wasn’t lasting, even though we had a cooling bassinet for him. He was tiny in my arms. But I’m so glad I got to hold him, look at his face and tell him how much I love him. I got to see that he looked like his daddy.
Before I was discharged, a social worker came to speak with us. She shared with us resources available to help us on this journey, confirmed that I was still eligible for maternity leave benefits (twelve weeks of employment insurance and leave from my job), and walked us through next steps of signing off for doctors to do an autopsy to see if they could figure out why Hudson’s heart stopped beating, and choosing a funeral home for his cremation. Definitely not the typical things you think about after labour and delivery.
We walked out of the hospital 27 hours after we walked in. And we were forever changed.
Another friend picked us up and drove us home. She gave me the biggest, warmest hug. I needed that hug.
When we got home, we found our kitchen counter and our fridge filled with food. Our house had been tidied and our bed made. There was even a package of maxi pads in my bathroom. Our Bible Study group had been busy while we were away. They knew we hadn’t been prepared for labour and delivery. They knew we would need to eat but probably wouldn’t want to go out and see people. So they took care of us. And they’ve been doing that for the past year.
The doctors were never able to find a medical reason for why Hudson’s heart stopped beating between 24 and 25 weeks. They found one tiny clot in the placenta, but nothing big enough to have caused his death. He is one of the fifty percent of stillbirths for which the cause is unknown.
Tomorrow is my Hudson’s first birthday. He’s celebrating in heaven with his Grandpa.