On June 4, 2003, I had a pre-natal visit. I was pregnant with our first child. Everything seemed to be going fine.
Twenty-four hours later we were a long way from “fine”.
I first noticed that the baby was quieter than usual that evening, June 4. I didn’t think too much of it because I had literally just been at the midwives and had heard his heartbeat (at the time, we didn’t know he was a boy, and we didn’t have the name Gabriel picked out). But even after a vanilla milkshake from Bruster’s with a banana added that night (can’t drink those anymore; frankly it’s a wonder I can visit a Bruster’s at all), he wasn’t kicking around.
The next day, I went to work. At the time I was working part-time as a receptionist at a hair salon, and as a freelance writer. I had decaf coffee, a Pop Tart, and then some grapes. Nothing from the baby. I called the midwives, and told them my concern, that I hadn’t felt the baby moving.
It had been less than 24 hours since my appointment. They were mystified. The midwife I spoke with suggested I have a high-carbohydrate snack and see what happened. I explained I had already done that. She asked if I would like to go to the hospital so they could find the heartbeat or do a sonogram.
We really thought everything was fine at this point. I could say something dramatic like, “I already knew my baby was dead” because in retrospect I know that now. But I didn’t think he was dead. I just thought he was quiet.
(Look, I don’t want to go into a blow-by-blow of this experience. I am going to pick the strongest images and emotions from the next few days and give them to you. We’ll go from there.)
The worst words in the world that a pregnant woman can hear: “We can’t find the heartbeat.”
The worst words a pregnant woman has to say: “I lost the baby.”
The worst moment after the worst words: When DearDR rushed into the hospital room with “that look” on his face. “That look” was so lost and scared and vulnerable. It was the look, that when you see it on someone’s face after they’ve lost someone, that you want to say, “I’m so sorry” or — worse — “It’s going to be okay.” And I couldn’t say either of those things to him. I was sorry, sorry for all of us. But it certainly wasn’t going to be okay.
The worst pain: After the epidural wears off, and they won’t bolus it anymore because the next time they turn up the pain meds, it’s because you’re getting a C-section.
The worst memory: Not having much of a memory of the hours after they hook you up to a morphine drip.
The worst denial: Denial is a powerful thing, my friends. Denial says, “They are all wrong, and this baby is fine, and when I finally get this labor started, I’m going to push out a fine, strong, healthy baby. Won’t everyone be surprised? It’s going to be great!”
The worst of everything (aside from the obvious): The look on everyone else’s face. The expression of sorrow and pain on most, and the resolute expression that your father has because he’s here to comfort you, and the pity on other faces, and the fear that everyone is hiding because why is this taking so long and why don’t they just do a C-section already, and if I have to be here one more day I’m going to lose it. The force of good cheer some of your visitors bring with them mistakingly thinking this helps you be strong.
The second worse: The waiting. The pain. The drugs.
I delivered Gabriel on Sunday June 8 at 2 a.m. in the morning (that time is not exact). It was Pentecost Sunday.
To paraphrase (a lot): “The Lord said, ‘I will send my Holy Spirit to you in your hour of greatest need. And he will make you strong.'”
And the Spirit did. I would be lying if I didn’t add, I wish I hadn’t needed the Spirit quite as much. God could have kept the Spirit if I could have had my son. It was, indeed, the darkest hour in my life. I am pretty sure DearDR would second that.
Gabriel was 5 pounds 4 ounces and 21 inches long. He was a beautiful baby — he truly had the most gorgeous hands, with long, long fingers.
I wish I knew what color his eyes were. I wish I had heard him cry. I could fill pages and pages of all that I wish in relation to Gabriel. You get the idea, I’m sure. If you are a parent; if you have lost a child. You know.
Gabriel was the name that DearDR and I picked before the morphine hook-up, when the epidural was still working. We picked a girl’s name, too, but I don’t remember what it was. Gabriel means, “gift of God”. And if that sounds weird, well, I’ll explain it another day. I’m pretty wiped out right now.
You can imagine why.