As a single mother by choice, Adrian’s story actually began almost 4 years prior, when I had my first visit with Women’s health to talk about his conception. And of course, there were some hiccups along the way—going on deployment, an unexpected PCS, and getting registered with a new fertility clinic afterwards.
One of the pieces I didn’t expect was the difference in policies within the DOD. While at Walter Reed, my provider didn’t bat an eye at a single woman who wanted to have a child, at SAMMC in San Antonio, my first referral was actually discarded without any notification. It was not until I filed an IG complaint that I was able to be seen.
In the end, it made more logistical sense for me to go off base for my fertility procedures. I was lucky as an officer to be able to afford the roughly $10,000 price tag, but I wonder how many of our enlisted force do not have this ability. And by stroke of chance, in October of 2016, I became pregnant on the very first try.
My pregnancy with Adrian could have been described as textbook. I was exactly 35 and slightly overweight, but I had no other risk factors. Everything was looking well, and I was planning on an unmedicated delivery under the care of nurse midwives. I also maintained care under normal obstetric providers, understanding that sometimes things can go wrong.
Adrian’s due date came and went, and my midwives told me everything was fine. My obstetric providers told me the same. I told both of them I had noticed his movements were slowing down, but nobody was concerned. Please understand, a baby will never run out of room to move in the womb. This is an unfortunate and quite dangerous societal myth. Had I known what reduced movements meant or had anyone advised me, I would have made drastically different decisions.
On 28 June 2017, I was 6 days overdue. It was the height of summer in Texas, and my sister remarked how cold it was as I blasted the AC in my home. I lay down on the couch and watched my son kicking and moving in my belly. He was so active that night! I know for a fact he was moving as late as 10:00 p.m. that evening.
By the time I woke up the following morning, he was dead.
And this is something I’m finding we don’t talk about, not only within the Air Force, but within American society in general. I had no idea, until it happened to me, that 1 out of 160 pregnancies ends in the death of the child at or after 20 weeks. People may call that rare, but I do not. I consider it an outrageous emergency. At the very least, I think it’s a number we all deserve to know.
Adrian died in the early hours of 29 June, and later that evening my body finally went into labor. It turns out I had had undiagnosed preeclampsia and this had triggered a placental abruption. I am given to understand such a death is relatively painless. I can promise you, that is no comfort.
Adrian died, and then I went into labor, and then I gave birth to him the following day. And I say “gave birth,” because this is something else that is not commonly understood. Because babies who die in the womb still have to be born.
The hospital had an amazing protocol. They put me in a private room, and offered a birth photographer. They followed my birth plan. The nurses called me, “Mama.” And these are the things I am going to remember forever. These are the things that honored not only my identity as a parent, but also the humanity of my child.
This is my son. He was 9 lb, 0 oz, 22 in long with a full head of hair. When he was born, the nurses cleaned him up and placed him in my arms. And with the exception of his cold skin, you would have thought he was only sleeping. Leaving the hospital the following day is still the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
I’ve already said that we do not talk about stillbirth in our society. Something else I’ve learned over the years is that we also don’t talk about grief. Until Adrian died, I had no idea it could be this overwhelming. I had no idea I could be speaking to you almost 4 years later, and still find moments in my day when my heart skips and I find it hard to breathe. My son died almost 4 years ago this summer. He was also dead this morning. He will also be dead 14 years from now, when he should be graduating high school. This is my reality.
And I want to say, finally, that I am incredibly thankful for the organization I worked in at the time. I am incredibly thankful for the coworkers who showed up to his funeral, for the friend who brought me breakfast every morning so I didn’t have to go to the crowded cafeteria, for another friend who came by at least once a day just to give me a hug. These are the things that are noticed when you’re grieving. These are the things that are remembered.
And these are also the things that stand out when they don’t happen this way. These are the things that get discussed in support groups, compared and contrasted amongst different experiences. And unfortunately, while my unit was pretty great, there are many others out there that need a little more education. And this is why I wrote this letter. This is why I speak today.
Because death should never be taboo, nor should grief. They should be understood and honored, as two of the most universal of human experiences.