29 June 2017
Photo of original artwork by Katy Martin

I had a pre-scheduled non-stress test appointment the morning my son died. My sister drove me to the hospital, dropping me at the front door while she parked. I walked in, feeling “funny”, but still not anticipating the words I was about to hear, the words that didn’t yet exist in my vocabulary.

The nurses, by this time all familiar with me, said, “Hello.” One led me to a bed. It was crowded that morning and I took the last one available. We made small talk. I told her he had been quiet that day, but that I felt him moving in the car. I thought I had.

When she couldn’t find a heartbeat with the doppler, I think the idea started to form in my head, but I wasn’t quite ready. She led me across the room to the ultrasound machine. When she brought up the image and my baby wasn’t moving, I asked if there was a problem. She excused herself and said she would return shortly.

Within moments, the attending doctor was at my side, his face that carefully neutral shade of controlled calm. He put the wand to my stomach and my heart started racing. My hands covered my face. I both knew and I didn’t.

I’ve written about this moment several times since that day. It is an ever-present memory; I will take it to my grave. I remember the doctor’s face as he said the words, “I’m sorry.” My next memory is of someone screaming. It was me.

They got me to stand up and walked me down the hallway. I was surrounded by people, wishing they would carry me. I remember two doors, and the hospital gown folded neatly on the edge of the bed. Was this really happening? Was I expected to give birth to him?

I sat down on the bed, someone still holding me. I stopped saying “no,” but the tears were never-ending. I still felt him moving. It was the movement of his dead body.

They let my sister in the room. She replaced the woman by my side. She held me, murmuring, told me that she loved me. She gave me strength when I wanted to die.

The doctor returned, glanced briefly at the hospital gown. No one ever asked me to put it on. He offered a second ultrasound. I needed the confirmation. It was still impossible to believe my child was gone.

My sister called my doula. She had recently moved to a different city, and I was her last client. She started driving right away, but also called someone else from her service while we were waiting.

I remember my sister’s voice for what felt like hours, slow and soothing wrapped around nonsense stories like I had asked her to tell me when I was in labor. I remember her arms stroking my back, and how I was able to just feel and drift.

I remember feeling like my pain would never end.

Someone asked if there was a staff member I would like to see for the delivery. Although this was a “traditional” hospital, they did have a handful of midwives on staff. I requested the one who had seen me for contractions at 34 weeks. I liked her spirit.

The “new” doula, Beth*, arrived. We had never met, but I liked her almost immediately. I asked her about my options; “what happens next?” I needed to hear it from someone with no relation to the hospital. I needed to know all of the possibilities. We talked about methods of induction. I realized I did want to go through with a vaginal delivery. It was important to me.

The doctor returned and repeated the options. We decided I would go home and return that evening for overnight induction via catheter. The midwife also came by. She sat by my bedside and talked to me, and something in her voice felt more than medically knowledgeable. I wonder now if stillbirth was something she experienced too. She was the first one to warn me of the primal need to hear my baby cry.

Nurses followed. They took my blood. They were the first ones to call me, “Mama.” Someone brought in a form for a birth photographer. I asked my sister to fill it out for me. I am so thankful now for every piece of the hospital’s protocol. I may never have thought to request my own photos. Today they are my treasures.

My body continued to feel pregnant. I still peed constantly. I still felt my son’s feet embedded under my ribs. I still rubbed my belly, looking for some clue he was still with me. None of it felt real.

At home, I tried to sleep, but found that I couldn’t. I took a bath and wrote a very long letter to my baby. Afterwards, I was sitting on the couch, thinking about getting ready to return to the hospital, when my water broke. It was 24 hours too late.

~
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.