If hell can exist on earth, then that’s where I’ve been the past few days.
It started on Monday, August 24th when we went in for our 20-week ultrasound. We were told that our baby was measuring too small – about 3 weeks behind where she should have been at that point in pregnancy. A list of possible causes was rattled off for us – a chromosome or genetic defect, a virus, a placenta or umbilical cord issue, to “just a really small baby.” The doctor recommended an amniocentesis to determine if it was a chromosome/genetic issue, and blood work for the virus. We waited a week in agony, but the results came back normal and we breathed easier again. We scheduled a follow-up ultrasound to take a closer look at the placenta and umbilical cord.
On Thursday, September 3rd, I had my regular monthly OB appointment. The nurse tried to listen for the heartbeat, but couldn’t find it. They wheeled in an ultrasound machine so that the doctor could take a look. Then the words came out of his mouth “I’m sorry, but…” Though I’d had a week of mentally preparing that something was really wrong with my pregnancy, I was still not ready for the shock of those words. The OB practice is connected to the hospital, so I was sent over to a specialist to confirm, and then admitted to the hospital. Since it was supposed to be a “regular” appointment, Ger was not with me, but I called him and told him where to meet me. I have a wonderful support network and immediately rallied my friends to take care of my kids until my parents flew in from Arizona.
As painful as it is to write, this is also my record of my life, my memories. I know a lot of friends and family read what I write, so I would forewarn anyone that this might be uncomfortable to read.
I was told that I would have to deliver, that labor would be induced, and that they would do everything to make me comfortable. I was also told that I needed to contact a funeral home. The hospital staff could not have been more caring or wonderful – the nurses watched over me, I was visited by a grief counselor, a chaplain, and a social worker – all of whom tried to offer as many words of comfort as possible.
At that point there was nothing to do but wait. I was given induction medication at 4:30 p.m. and another dose every 6 hours. At the first sign of pain, I asked for an epidural, but after about twelve hours, I felt that it kept wearing off and I wanted to feel nothing. Another anesthesiologist was on call at that point and he took the epidural out and re-did it. It was better, but I still kept experiencing pain – whenever I called though, he would come right in and up the dose. He also decided that my heartbeat was irregular – even given what I was going through – so wheeled in an echocardiogram to take a look, but pronounced everything fine.
The doctor that came on call early in the morning was my favorite in the practice. The admitting doctor (same who did the ultrasound earlier that day) is brisk and business-like, though probably that wasn’t the worst thing for the initial shock. The morning doctor was compassionate, soft-spoken, and reassuring. Unfortunately, it stretched out so long that a third doctor came on call in the early afternoon – though that doctor was my second-favorite in the practice, and also the doctor who delivered Quentin by c-section. His manner is confident, with a slight humor, but also very comforting. Labor had stalled at that point, so my water was broken and I was given increasing doses of pitocin to move things along.
The nurse sat by my side and held my hand, while Ger held my other hand. About 26 hours after induction, I started to vomit and couldn’t stop. That was nature’s way of moving things along – the nurse called the doctor in and she was born at 6:22 p.m., to our tears. I couldn’t bear the thought.
It wasn’t over though – the placenta still had to be delivered. With being so early, I was warned that this might not happen on its own. It didn’t. The doctor allowed about an hour, but then I was losing too much blood, so I was taken to the OR for a D&C. The anesthesiologist graciously offered me a medication to put me to sleep, which I gladly accepted so when I woke up, it was over. I was taken to recovery for an hour, then back to my room. I hadn’t eaten anything in nearly 30 hours at that point, so with the doctor’s ok I sent Ger out to get food. I hadn’t slept more than an hour either, so I asked for a sleeping aid to knock me out. Because I experienced a lot of blood loss, I was kept in the hospital overnight again for observation.
In the morning, I was told that I needed to stay until the doctor shift change at 8:00 a.m. and would probably be released at noon. I was fortunate that in a group practice, all of the four doctors that I saw were doctors I had met before – the practice had two new doctors since I was pregnant with Quentin and I hadn’t had appointments with the new doctors yet. The morning doctor said that all of my bloodwork looked great and I was recovering nicely and could be discharged. We discussed an autopsy to try to get some answers. We decided on an external autopsy (visual) only – we’d already had the chromosome testing done, and the ultrasound told us that there was nothing structurally wrong. The doctor supported that decision. I also asked for a prescription for sleep medication. The doctor also told me that even with all of the testing, we may never have an answer as to what happened. That was difficult to hear.
The discharging nurse somehow missed that my IV had two needles inserted and pulled too quickly, so I started to bleed profusely from my hand. What a great way to bring the entire experience to a close… I was also presented with a box of “mementos” from the hospital, packed by a woman who had also lost a baby. It included the baby’s footprints. I couldn’t open the box before we left, and decided to save it for when we got home.
My parents took the kids to Milwaukee to visit my grandmother on Friday. By total coincidence, Theo’s school was closed that day. They went to the zoo and Red Lobster for dinner. Upon our discharge on Saturday, I texted my parents and asked them to be very careful with what they said to me when we got home until we could talk to the boys. I couldn’t do it – I gave them a hug and immediately went to take a shower. We had planned what we would say: that mommy got sick and the baby got sick, and that Mommy was going to be ok, but that we weren’t going to have a baby anymore. Ger said that Theo initially thought he was kidding. When my mom confirmed it for him, he burst into tears and ran into his room crying. After I got out of the shower, he gave me the saddest face I’ve ever seen and began to sob again. I wrapped my little boy in my arms so we could cry together.
We headed into the funeral home that afternoon. Even though I was weak from exhaustion and the blood loss, I wanted to get it over with and sign the necessary paperwork.
I took an Ambien (or generic prescription thereof) and went to bed early. I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with my eyes nearly swollen shut and my lips swollen. Clearly an allergic reaction. I had been given the same at the hospital, and the first night my lips did swell, but I thought it was from crying. The second night I’d slept soundly so it was possible I slept through a reaction. I read the drug info sheet and it stated that my type of reaction was an “emergency” and to seek immediate medical attention. Because I’ve had allergic reactions before, I decided that since my throat wasn’t swelling I would be ok until morning and took an Allegra (the only antihistamine I had on hand). That helped and I had partial relief within about 15 minutes. In the morning, I called the doctor and was told that I definitely could not take that anymore, and to take Benadryl, which would help further with the swelling and hopefully the sleep as well. But I feel like I just keep getting kicked while I’m already down.
My parents left for Arizona yesterday morning. My friends have surrounded me, offering to take the kids or do playdates, or bring food. We only had a single piece of furniture in the room that was to be the nursery – a dresser. I asked my mom to pack the clothes away before I got home, and we moved the dresser into the boys’ room this morning. I was happy to give it to Quentin – he has been shafted with a broken dresser for years. I’ve been quietly removing things that are too painful to look at, but at the same time trying to prepare to remember.
Her name was Nelle Claudia Dej Yang. Nelle was a small nod to Harper Lee, whose given name is Nelle. Claudia is a name I’ve always liked. Dej is the Hmong word for “water”. Theo’s middle name is Huab, which means “cloud” and Quentin’s is Teb, which means “earth” – so we have air, earth, and water. We are going to take the ashes of our baby girl to the coulee where I grew up. My grandfather’s ashes are spread beneath an oak tree on my aunt and uncle’s property, so we are going to spread her ashes there as well. And hopefully we can find some peace.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
Have faith in God and faith in Me
I will go forth to prepare a place for you
Then I’ll come back to take you with Me
That where I am, you may also be.
-Adapted from John 14:1 by David Haas