February 13, 2011 was one of the happiest days of my life. This was the day we found out we were pregnant with Caroline. Talk about a good Valentine's Day gift! We felt so blessed, this was our first cycle trying to get pregnant. I had read "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" by Toni Weschler at the recommendation of my OBGYN. I had been charting my cycles and learned so much about my body through the book. We just couldn't believe it happened on the first try! I took the pregnancy test that morning while getting ready for church. It was God's greatest blessing for us. Needless to say, we didn't hear a word that was said at church that day. We were so happy, I remember saying that I felt like I could just burst!
That weekend we told my family by giving them Valentine's cards from the baby. We Skyped with Allen's Sister and her family when telling them, since they live about an hour away. We were due on October 24th. Our little pumpkin, just in time for the holiday's. It was bittersweet for Allen. He wanted so badly for his mother, who passed away several years earlier, to be able to share that moment with us. The hurt on his face when he'd talk about it was heartbreaking. But I reminded him that she was watching over us from heaven. I always felt that she was with us in spirit.
The next day I called to schedule an appointment with my doctor. I was told that they don't like to see you until you're about eight to ten weeks along. This is the time in which most miscarriages occur. For routine pregnancies, you have to wait that long to make sure the baby makes it. Once you're out of that particular window, I suppose your chances of having a healthy baby greatly increase. That's what we were told, that's what we believed.
We were elated when our first appointment came around, it seemed like it took ages before we got to go to the appointment. We met with the midwife, Jennifer, that day. She gave us all of the informational materials about nutrition, contact numbers, birthing classes, etc. She did an exam and listened for a heartbeat. She thought that I was measuring big and that I could possibly be carrying twins (much to Allen's amusement). She also couldn't get a heartbeat, but since I was only eight weeks she wasn't concerned. Just to be sure about everything, we had an ultrasound. There was our baby (whew, just one!) and no bigger than a bean. Her heartbeat was strong and she was measuring just a few days behind schedule. Seeing her that day was the most wonderful thing in life. I'll never forget it. Everything was so perfect.
We went to our monthly appointments and at each appointment got to hear her heartbeat. The most wonderful sound each time. Her heartbeat measured around 150 or 160 beats per minute at every appointment. I always said that it was impossible to have a bad day after hearing her heartbeat at those appointments.
We were given the choice to do a first trimester screening at eleven weeks. This tests for certain markers for various birth defects. We decided not to do the screening. We felt that it would cause us more worry than it was worth since we knew we wouldn't risk doing an amniocentesis if the test results came back less than favorable. We felt that no matter what, it was in God's hands and we would love our child no matter what the outcome was. I now wonder if I should have had the screening done.
At eighteen weeks we went in for our ultrasound and anatomy scan. There she was! That's right, we found out we were having a girl! She was as healthy as she could be. We got to see her little face on the 3D ultrasound, and even got to take home two 3D pictures, which we put above our fireplace. Those pictures are still there. The ultrasound tech said she had "a perfect, textbook head". I always thought that was so funny. We made the announcement that day to our friends, extended family and of course Facebook. We were almost halfway through the pregnancy. We thought it was just smooth sailing for the next several weeks.
We decided to name her Caroline. A tribute to Allen's mom and a play on her name, Carolyn. Her middle name was going to be Elizabeth, which is my middle name and a common middle name in my family. Caroline Elizabeth, our perfect baby girl. We were so ready for her.
She was an active little baby. I just knew she'd be a cheerleader or dancer like me, or a soccer player like her daddy. One nurse said she was a "wiggly little booger". She truly was! Always kicking me, all day and all night. Allen felt her kick for the first time on Father's Day.
I never had morning sickness with her. In fact, I would always insist that I felt better pregnant than I did not pregnant. Pregnancy definitely agreed with me. The only issue I had was when she'd get wedged on my right hip and it would cause me extreme pain. Sciatic pain they called it at the hospital, one day when the pain was so unbearable that I went in to get checked out at twenty four weeks. I'd always had a bad right hip since the aforementioned cheer and dance days. So I believed them. Now I think back about that pain, and it's a curious thing to me. I'll never know if that pain was something that contributed to things or was a sign of things to come.
During the last month of my pregnancy, I was going to my checkups once a week. I was a perfect pregnancy specimen. Perfect blood pressure, perfect weight gain, perfect measurements and a perfect baby heartbeat. It was a waiting game, and I was growing tired of being so big and pregnant. I was ready to hold my sweet girl! I had two baby showers and got more stuff than I knew what to do with. We got the nursery ready, and it was the most fabulous of all baby nurseries; complete with a crystal chandelier and all!
On October 19th we went in for our routine thirty nine week checkup. This was to be the day that they would do my first internal check since the first appointment. To my chagrin, I wasn't at all dilated and only slightly effaced. I thought I would be pregnant forever. The Dr wanted me to have an ultrasound to make sure that her head was down and in position for birth. Indeed, she was right where she was supposed to be. Her heartbeat that day was about 140 beats per minute. 140 was low compared to her usual range of the upper 150's. But the Dr didn't seem concerned, that's a perfectly normal heartbeat. But I knew better, I knew it was low for her, but I believed him. If only I would've pushed my concerns harder. I told him that she hadn't been kicking me as much in the last few days. He said that she was just running out of room and I would probably have her soon. My active, kicking baby had stopped kicking.
I was reassured. I believed him, why shouldn't I? I shouldn't have.
Looking back, that appointment was the tipping point. The first hard lesson I had to learn. If anyone learns anything from our tragic experience it should be this: Listen to your body, YOU know it better than anyone. Be your own health advocate. Do your kick counts everyday. If you don't speak up for your own health, and the health of your baby, no one else will. Listen to your gut instinct when it tells you something's wrong. It's better to be overcautious and to get what worries you checked out. You can never be too cautious. You are your baby's voice. Their cry is silent. Life and death are separated only by a heartbeat, and it only takes a moment for that heartbeat to stop. Life if fragile, and babies are even more fragile.
I went home after that appointment and just took it easy all day. Wrote a few thank you notes for gifts that I'd recently received. The fear that I felt had been soothed. Everything was fine. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions since about thirty weeks. They were never at all painful, just noticeable. That afternoon I began noticing that I was having more than usual, but they still weren't painful or consistent in timing. So I didn't think much of it. Then around 1 a.m. they started getting slightly painful. I started timing them and they were happening about 10 - 20 minutes apart. I tried to get some sleep and just figured I'd call the Dr's office when they opened. When I called them, the contractions were about 7-10 minutes apart and I was in a good bit of pain. It was nothing like on TV. They had me come on in. So, I took a shower (had to shave my legs of course), Allen was video taping me getting everything ready to leave and we even got biscuits on the way to the office. It was supposed to be the best day of our life. The day we'd dreamed of our whole lives. We were so excited.
We got to the Dr's office and after several minutes of waiting in intense pain, the nurse brought us back. She asked me a few questions then exclaimed, "Looks like you're having a baby today!" Then she put the blood pressure cuff on my arm. My blood pressure was extremely and dangerously high. Her happy demeanor quickly changed. She left the room. When she came back she told me that I was spilling high amounts of protein into my urine. I'd developed pre-eclampsia/ pregnancy induced hypertension literally overnight. With no warning. Still I thought everything would be okay. I'd just been there the day before, and everything was fine.
The midwife Jennifer came into the room, the same midwife from our very first appointment. She put the heart beat doppler on my belly. It was quiet. Then at that moment it's batteries died. Still I thought, "it's fine, the batteries weren't any good." She kept trying with a new doppler and batteries. Still nothing. A baby her size should have an immediately detectable heartbeat. I still wasn't worried, though the midwife's face said it all. She herself was pregnant at the time. I still feel guilty for the stress that I caused her and her baby. She wanted me to have an immediate ultrasound. As we were waiting in the hall for the ultrasound tech to bring us back, we didn't say much to each other. We wouldn't allow ourselves to think the worst. The midwife was pacing down the hall, I'll never forget the look on her face. Allen and I noticed the song that was playing in the office, it was a 90's song, "Just Breathe" by Anna Nalick. "Just breathe Diana, just breathe honey, take a deep breath," Allen has had to say to me many times since that day.
The ultrasound tech brought us into the room and put the jelly on my stomach. When she turned on the screen above us, everything was motionless. Everything was still. I felt her put her hand gently on my arm. "I'm so sorry" she said. "She's gone, I'm so sorry". This is the moment that I've replayed in my head a thousand times. This is the moment when my life as I knew it changed. This is the precious moment, that if only I could go back to, everything could change. I was in shock. Allen immediately started sobbing. It was unbelievable. This wasn't fair. This wasn't right. It was our worst nightmare come true. I was numb. We met with one of the Dr's and she explained that I would have to go to the hospital and give birth. They would be ready for us when we got there.
I'll never forget calling my Mom as we left. She was already at the hospital because my Grandmother had a hip replacement days before. My whole family beat us to the hospital. I was taken to a room and a nurse brought me my gown to change into. This nurse just happened to be a girl from high school, who I found out later had also experienced the loss of her baby. Finding that out made me feel like maybe I wasn't alone. My entire family and all of our close friends were there. We had so much support there that they had to have their own room to wait in. It was all so overwhelming.
I had originally planned and prepared to have a natural, drug free delivery (what was I thinking?). But given the outcome, I chose to have an epidural. I wanted the delivery to be as quick and painless as possible. After the Dr. broke my water, my labor progressed fairly quickly. I was happy to learn that my regular Dr. would be the one that would deliver Caroline after the nightly shift change. The entire nursing staff were so compassionate and gentle with us, I remember them with warm thoughts.
At 9:45 I was fully dilated and ready to push. I'd done a few "practice pushes" and she was crowning. The equipment was made ready, my Dr put her scrubs on, and my feet were placed in the stirrups. It was time. Right at that moment my Dr. was paged for another person's emergency c-section. She asked if I could wait... an hour?!! I agreed, because I wanted her there. So they took my Pitocin down, and gave me more epidural juice. They let me push the button as often as needed, and WOW did I need it! My Dr. came back about 40 minutes later. I was prepped once again. I was about to give birth to my dead baby I kept thinking. It felt like an utter, and absolute nightmare. I pushed only a few times and she shot out of me. Limp. She was immediately taken away. She was born October 20th at 10:30 p.m., she was 5lbs 4oz and 21 inches long.
It was so quiet. It's not supposed to be that way. You're supposed to hear elation and the sound of a crying baby. The silence was deafening. The only sound in the room were the sobs and moans coming from Allen and me. It's all blurry for me at that point. I couldn't see anything. I'd taken my glasses off, my eyes were filled with tears and anyway, if I glanced her way, they would stand blocking my view until the Dr. was done cleaning me up and the nurses were done with her. No one should ever have to experience this. It was and still is the worst kind of pain. Not physical pain. That was the easy part. These moments after her birth are what haunt me daily.
Eventually, the nurse brought her to me and laid her in my arms. I was the proudest mommy on Earth. Her sweet, beautiful face. Her perfect little nose and lips. She looked like Allen. Curly dark blonde hair and long eyelashes. I still think she might have been a red head. I was so totally overwhelmed by how beautiful, even in death, she was. So perfect and still so warm. Her soft little cheeks felt like rose petals. Sometimes, I close my eyes when I see and can feel a flower, and pretend it's her precious cheeks again . I wanted so badly for her to just wake up. "Just wake up" we said to her over and over; she just looked as if she were sleeping. She had a little bit of fluid that would come out of her tiny nose, and I wiped it away gently. It was the only thing that I would ever do for her as her mother. I wanted to look into her eyes. I longed for the moment when our eyes met through my entire pregnancy. I will never know what her eyes or smile looked like. I've felt so utterly robbed.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep came to the room and took beautiful, professional pictures which we are so thankful for. Then all of our family and friends came to the room to see her. We were taken to another room, far away from other happy mothers. It was like the walk of shame, being wheeled into that room, carrying my poor, stillborn baby. I saw the sympathetic look on the nurse's faces in the hall. Caroline stayed with us all night and all of the next day until we were released, once my blood pressure came back down. We had so many visitors. Including our Pastor, Tom. He came to our room at one point, when Allen and I were so desperately grieving in that room with her. I'll never forget that. "He is my dispatcher" Pastor Tom said, while pointing up. I'm so grateful for the time that I got to spend holding her and memorizing her face.
By the next day, she was starting to turn blue. Her perfect little lips began to look red and chapped. She felt so cold. I held her as tight as I could, like any mother would do. I rubbed her little arms and legs to warm her up, but she just wouldn't get warm. It was so heartbreaking. She was really gone. I still can't believe it.
Leaving your newborn baby behind at the hospital is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I'll never forget watching her until they pushed my wheelchair out of sight of her. I remember getting in the car, but I don't remember riding home. I don't know how Allen was able to focus on driving. Surely these were hazardous driving conditions. But he assured me he was alright to drive and we made it home. I don't remember much in the following weeks and days. My arms literally hurt for her. Between the nightmares, recovering from childbirth, the raw grief and pain of losing her; and the cruelest of all, my milk coming in. It was all just too much. I was a zombie. I was a wreck. I don't know how I functioned.
One thing I do remember is the enormous outpouring of love and compassion from everyone, even complete strangers. Mother's from all around contacted me to let me know I wasn't alone. People that I haven't seen since high school were praying for us. Food just started showing up at our house. Our church, friends, family, and neighbors brought food and groceries. Praise God, because we were in no shape to go anywhere and be among "the living". For weeks, even months, sympathy cards flooded our mailbox. Sometimes we'd receive cards from people that we don't even know. We are so blessed to continue to have this kind of support in our lives. It is what has gotten us through our darkest days. There have been many dark days.
We buried Caroline at our church five days after she was born on October 25th. Her service was wonderful. Beautifully given by both of our church's Pastors. My Grandmother wrote a poem for Caroline called "Her Silent Cry" and read it at the service, and it is was one of the most beautiful things I've experienced. Over 100 people came to support us. There weren't many dry eyes on that beautiful day. We are Moravian, and she is buried in the children's section in God's Acre among children that have been buried there almost 300 years. We are honored to have her there, because we know that in 300 years, our church family will still remember her.
We never found out exactly why our sweet girl died. She had an autopsy, and everything came back normal. I've had endless tests run on me, and there was and is nothing wrong with me. I suppose it isn't for us to know in this lifetime. We are at peace not knowing. We know that God knows the meaning for it, we believe that He knows the pain of having His child die and this wasn't done to cause us pain. We hope to be better people because of our suffering. We have not lost hope through it all and pray that we never do. She is still a child of God, who will never be forgotten.
Praise God we have not lost hope. Praise God we have each other. We know that we will soon see better days and someday, we'll see our precious Caroline again.