Apparently, due dates mean nothing in our family. Our firstborn, Colette, came 16 weeks early, and then, our second rainbow, Elliott Miguel Tisdahl, decided to take his time, finally arriving after induction one day short (barely) of 41 weeks.
Once the calendar pages turned to June, since we had a due date of July 8, we basically were glued to our phones, waiting for the phone call from G or her partner to tell us it was happening.
We texted with G nearly every day and she continued to report that she was feeling good, that she was not feeling like LL was coming soon, and kept on waiting. We went to OB appointments and as our new normal dictated, we sat in the car and were on speakerphone while G was on her own inside. Doctors reported that everything was going along well, even allowing us to both come in for a few ultrasounds, and again we waited.
We vacillated between being glad to have some extra time together and prepping for our new adventure and being terrified that something was wrong. Pregnancy after loss is filled with countless moments of waiting with bated breath because you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had spent this pregnancy waiting for that other shoe to drop, trying to determine that a certain thing or another was the proverbial shoe, and being fearful of whether we would bring LL Cool T home, or hell, if we would ever bring a baby home.
As the pregnancy progressed through June and even into July, I started to tell myself that things were about to turn, as if I could almost see the other shoe suspended in the air. Mark and I found ourselves completely unable to sleep the night before OB appointments, sometimes turning to each other at 2, 3 a.m. and saying, I just want everything to be okay.
Everyone kept telling us, yes, but time is a tricky thing, especially in pregnancy after loss. While Colette’s pregnancy was all about getting through one more day, trying to get further in the pregnancy, with LL, it felt like time meant more anxiety, more panic.
On July 6, just two days before the due date, the OB still reported that inducing was not the way to go yet, he wanted G to be dilated further. We were all sent home to wait more and come back Friday if nothing had happened yet. So, on July 10, we were snuck in by the staff to another ultrasound where we could see LL in all his glory. The doctor examined G and by phone, he told us that they were going to schedule the induction for the following week. We waited in the car for G to do the necessary paperwork, thrilled that we had a date and also terrified of what that meant and what could go wrong.
A text message came in from G, saying they had decided to hook her up to a fetal monitor to make sure everything seemed good that way. We were not sure what this meant, but decided to just go with it. After what felt like hours, G texted saying they were having trouble capturing his heartbeat. Complete terror washed over us and I began crying. I felt like I was transported back in time, like I was going to lose yet another baby. Although I had tried to protect my heart during this pregnancy, I had finally gotten truly excited and I needed to hold LL in my arms and take him home. Again, a long wait and then G bounced out of the doctor’s office, totally unaware of the terror that we had just experienced. Everything was fine, we were scheduled for induction on July 14.
So, a long weekend of more waiting finally brought us to Tuesday morning. We had been told that the induction was scheduled at 10 a.m.
Mark and I were ready with our hospital bags. We went to have breakfast just the two of us, and then drove to the hospital. While we were eating breakfast, we got a text from G saying that they were on their way, having a longer drive than us.
En route to the hospital, I got a phone call from one of the social workers at the hospital, someone I know well due to my work with Colette’s foundation. She and I had been in communication regarding plans, especially since exceptions were made and Mark and I were both going to be in the delivery room. I thought she was merely calling to confirm and perhaps wish me luck. Instead, she said, “So, it looks like labor and delivery are slow today and we may be able to do the induction earlier.” Confused, since it was about 9:30 a.m. and the induction was at 10 a.m., I said, well, we are all on our way, the induction is at 10. She responded with yes, 10 p.m. I said, ummm, no, 10 a.m. She said, okay, hold on, let me figure out what is going on and I’ll call you back.
We hung up and I told Mark to pull over so we could find out whether we were continuing onto the hospital or going home to wait some more. In the meantime, G was texting us to say that she had also had a confusing call about this. We sat in the car, nervous, but then I found myself bursting with laughter because I could not believe this. Only the a.m./p.m. confusion or mix-up would happen to us. Finally, I got the call to say, it was down for 10 p.m., but they could accommodate us at 10 a.m. Back onto the hospital.
We got to the hospital and ran into G and her partner. The four of us went to check in and the very confused receptionist tried to put G and I both down as delivering moms. I decided to ignore the idea that this woman somehow thought I was pregnant, and luckily her supervisor got it and helped her before more confusion set in. The labor and delivery team was amazing. Mark and I got our own room and then they got G settled in. We spent most of the time in G’s room, but it was nice to have a private space for just the two of us and for me to pump because I was trying to induce lactation.
We always knew that we wanted Colette recognized and included.
We brought our Coco bear, who was now sporting a very cute big sister t-shirt, and a picture of her, as well as a sign to hang outside our room that explained this was a rainbow baby. G and her partner were awesome, totally welcome to including Colette in the experience. They started Pitocin shortly after 10 a.m. and we waited and waited and waited. Progress was slow, which meant we had a lot of time to spend with G and her husband, something that we had not gotten a chance to do during the pregnancy because of Covid. We shared some laughs, talked about random things, watched G like a hawk, and shared about Colette and our plans for LL Cool T.
At one point, they asked us if we had a name already. Since we had been very private about the name, I turned to Mark to ask if it was cool to share and he said, ummm, yeah, with the woman delivering our child, sure. I told them Elliott and G, being the truly amazing woman she is, said, that’s awesome, Colette and Elliott sound like what two siblings should be named.
As the day wore on, with little progress and some phone calls and plenty of text messages, I started to wonder if something was wrong.
Why was this taking so long? Was it supposed to? None of the nurses or doctors seemed concerned, but I knew just how quickly things can change in these scenarios. When we reached about 7 or 8 p.m., Mark must have sensed that I was getting really nervous, or maybe he was just nervous himself, and started telling me how if he arrived after midnight, he would share a birthday with his cousin Patrick. That warmed my heart enough to at least temporarily forget the panic.
While the day had dragged on with little progress, all of a sudden, before we knew it, G was pushing. The nurse asked if I wanted to do skin to skin and then handed me a gown to change into. Having never witnessed a vaginal delivery myself and my only experience with seeing a delivery was from the cheap seats of my emergency c-section, I was amazed and awed by the process. Although, nothing looked like how I would have expected it to. Although things definitely moved fast all of a sudden, they also seemed super slow, like why was it taking so long for him to come out. Was there an issue, a problem?
Mark and I stood next to each other, watching this amazing woman, who only a little over a year ago, was a complete stranger, go through pain as she birthed our baby. I wish that I could remember every detail from that experience, but I was so focused on wanting our baby to be here, to be able to see him, to know he was okay, that he was safe.
And then all of a sudden, he was out!
He looked huge to me! Colette was born barely over a pound and Elliott was a little over seven pounds. Everything looked good. They had asked us who would cut the umbilical cord and Mark had said we would do it together. I was shaking, from relief, from joy, from wanting to see my baby while everyone was cleaning him up and checking him out. Mark grabbed my hand and we went to cut this cord together. It was so amazing and I am so glad that somewhere in the process, one of the nurses took Mark’s phone and snapped pictures of everything. Those pictures are so beautiful and I am so glad that we have them.
Finally, they gave him to me and I took my son into my arms for the first time.I had been scared throughout the pregnancy that because I did not carry LL Cool T, I would be unable to bond with him. That worry went away within seconds of him being placed in my arms. Elliott was my child through and through, and I instantly felt the connection that I had been worried about not feeling. I held him and just stared at him, in love.
This was the moment I had waited nearly 41 weeks for, but honestly, for over four years—four years of infertility, treatments, shots, a whole new vocabulary and knowledge, IVF, miscarriage, failed round of IVF, pregnancy, preeclampsia, bed rest, Colette’s birth, NICU stay, Colette’s death, another failed round of IVF, three egg retrievals, surrogacy, Covid—to be here and hold this gorgeous baby who was ours.
I believed immediately and still do today that Elliott was always meant to be our baby and even if things had gone differently in our parenthood journey, we still would have had him as our child.
After holding him for awhile, I asked Mark if he wanted to and relinquished him and the chair. I called my mom to tell her the news since we had completely fallen off the radar as soon as things started moving. She answered and said, “What’s going on, what’s happening?” in only the way a mom can, and I said, “You have a gorgeous grandson.” And then for the first time, I started crying. I just could not believe that we were holding our child finally, that he was healthy and we were going to get to continue holding him.
Once G was recovering, we walked over and introduced him to her and she held him. We thanked her, but I will never be able to put into words what she has meant in our lives. She was amazing, always kept us in the loop, never gave us any reason to worry (other than the multitude of worries we had as loss parents), and gave us the most incredible gift. I love knowing that when we brought Elliott into our family, we also gained more family with G and her wonderful family. I never will be able to thank her, nor wonder how we got so lucky on meeting this incredible woman who helped us bring our second child into the world, our first child we got to bring home.
We went up to our room and then had to figure out how this whole parenting a living child not in NICU worked.
There were a lot of things that we took to very naturally and some other things that were a lot more difficult. That first night, once we were up and settled in our room, it was after 2 a.m. and Mark said let’s go to sleep, but all I wanted to do was watch this little creature, this boy who was part me and part Mark and all adorable. At some point, I managed to fall asleep from pure exhaustion. When I woke up, I actually had to pinch myself to remember this was not a dream, that he was real.
Being in the hospital when Covid was going on was strange, and one of the things that still makes me sad is that we have never gotten the birth experience I always dreamed of. I expected that our room would be the one with lots of family and friends who were so joyful and loved our child, the kind of room that the nurses come in to tell you to keep it down, but also secretly love our room the most. We did not get it with Colette because of the nature of an emergency c-section and then the strict rules about who is allowed in NICU. We thought we would get it the second time around and then Covid restrictions made it so that no visitors were allowed.
After two nights in the hospital, we finally were discharged.
I could not wait to get Elliott in the car and home. Having a baby come home with us was something that we had wanted for so long. We got everything together and went out to the car. While Mark was getting things inside the car and all, I sat down on a bench with Elliott in his car seat. The benches outside the hospital were donated by us after Colette died because before then, there had been nowhere to sit, a fact that my mother-in-law found out when I was hospitalized and she wanted me to get some sun. The impact of that significance struck me and I took out my phone to take a picture of Elliott sitting on his sister’s bench. Then, I waved Mark over and we got one of the valet attendants to take a picture of all four of us on Colette’s bench, with Colette being represented by her Coco bear.
We drove home and it felt surreal. It was still Mark and me in the car, but someone else was now there. We had been parents for over two years at that point and yet, this was the first time that we had a baby in the car with us.
As we pulled down our street, I started to see balloons and then realized that my mom had had the front decorated with balloons and welcome signs for Elliott. I was so amazed and I just could not wait to take him inside and also to take pictures of him among the first birthday decorations of his life.
Nearly five months later, I still sometimes have to pinch myself to remember that this is real.
Elliott is an amazing baby, he is super happy, he smiles, he giggles, he snuggles. He is everything I could have ever wanted in a child and more. But, the grief I have for my daughter never ends. In fact, I am taken aback by how often the pain of that loss has been magnified by Elliott’s arrival. It is hard to look at Elliott and not wonder how Colette would have been, how we lost these experiences with her, and for me, how I would have loved seeing her be a big sister. Until I became Colette’s and then Elliott’s mom, the experience of being a big sister was the most treasured and beautiful experience I had ever had. I would have loved to see Colette take on that role.
I also would have loved to see Elliott truly know his big sister. We talk to him about Colette every day, sometimes several times a day. He knows he has a big sister in heaven and he will continue to have her as part of his life, but his big sister will be different from his friends’ big sisters. It makes me sad to think that Elliott may not have a sibling that he can fight with or who he can love or who he can create an alliance with to team up against the parents. It makes me sad that he may never have nieces or nephews, those children that are so near and dear to him, but who he can truly spoil and then hand back to their parents.
I also miss the parent I might have been. I will never know what kind of parent I would have been without loss because loss is part of my journey.
Panic will always be my first reaction when anything happens. Every night, we put him to bed upstairs in his room, wait in our room for a little bit to make sure he is in fact sleeping and then head downstairs to eat dinner and have some time for just the two of us. When we finally head up to bed, our routine is that I usually head up first and then will sneak into Elliott’s room to check on him (which involves making sure he’s still breathing). I cannot tell you how many times as I have climbed the stairs and rounded the corner towards his bedroom, I have thought, “Oh, my God, he stopped breathing or something’s wrong.” The terror that comes just from being a parent is magnified when you know the real truth—that sometimes babies die.
I know that Elliott will know that truth instinctively, in a way that even adults do not always know. I worry about how that will affect him, how we will explain everything to him, how we will answer the inevitable difficult questions, and whether we will be paying therapy bills for him for a lifetime, but I also know that my smiling kid will be all right in the long run and that his big sister will watch out for him too.