We finally made it to the end and I am so excited to be able to share our happy ending for this pregnancy with you all!
Though it all ended well, the last several days of my pregnancy were not without worry and anxiety. At the time of my last blog, I felt like I was in a good place mentally and physically; I was just watching the days pass by, waiting for a sign that labor was starting.
But all of that seemed to change once I hit my 39th week of pregnancy – the same week we lost Austin.
Week 39 began with a nonstress test and fluid level check just like previous weeks. Before leaving the house for my appointment, I wanted to check on Jelly Bean myself with the fetal stethoscope my midwife had given me. On that particular morning, it took me longer than usual to find their heartbeat and when I did, it sounded faint. Despite feeling movements here and there like normal, I felt nervous that maybe something wasn’t right. Thankfully my appointment was in less than an hour, so I just needed to stay calm until then for reassurance that Jelly Bean was okay.
Just keep breathing, just keep breathing.
When it was time for my appointment, we were greeted by a nurse we had never worked with before. Once I was settled in the recliner, she prepared the probe with jelly and tested several different spots before settling on Jelly Bean’s heartbeat. Our usual nurse would find the heartbeat almost instantly, so those extra few moments she took to find the heartbeat felt like a lifetime; the day we lost Austin started replaying in my mind.
April 10, 2020. It was my last prenatal appointment and I was all alone due to the recently implemented COVID restrictions. The doctor was sweeping the doppler over my belly trying to find the heartbeat. It was taking longer than usual and the silence was deafening. She didn’t have to say anything. In that moment I knew he was gone. They brought the ultrasound machine into the exam room and were still unable to find the heartbeat. They said I needed to go to the hospital for confirmation as no other doctors were in the office, but I knew it wasn’t necessary. My baby had died and there was nothing I or anyone could do.
I know all too well that life can change in a moment, so the extra time the nurse took to place the probe during my NST took my nerves from earlier that morning and multiplied, triggering my PTSD and anxiety. Was this the beginning of the end for Jelly Bean’s life? Everything was fine until it wasn’t with Austin, and we lost him at 39 weeks 4 days. So are these the last 4 days we have with Jelly Bean? Despite hearing their heartbeat loud and clear from the NST machine, it did not bring me the same reassurance and comfort it had in previous appointments. I knew my mental health would not fully return to peace until Jelly Bean was in my arms, breathing and healthy.
Just keep breathing, just keep breathing.
I spent the next two days being hypervigilant with monitoring Jelly Bean’s movements.
Towards the end of the second day, self-doubt started to sink in. Was I actually feeling movements or were they just Braxton Hicks contractions? Was there any change in their movements? What if I missed an indication that something was wrong like I did with Austin? Only a few hours later, the self-doubt was taking over as I sat in the waiting room for my Thursday evening chiropractor appointment. I reached out to my midwife to see if she could see me that night for a quick doppler check. Thankfully, she could.
I stayed as calm as I could through my adjustment but my mind was going to a grim place as we drove to K’s office. Was this going to be the defining moment of my pregnancy? The pivotal moment that would determine whether Jelly Bean lives or dies? After losing Austin, I promised myself that if a moment like this ever came around, I wouldn’t freeze with fear. I wouldn’t downplay any doubts, worries, or ominous feelings and pretend that everything was okay. I would do everything in my power to fight for my baby to keep them alive, which is exactly what I was doing by getting checked.
All of the “what ifs” of Austin’s death started to weigh heavy on my heart.
Had I missed the defining moment of my pregnancy with him? If I hadn’t missed it, if I had done more, would he still be alive today? By the time we arrived at K’s, tears were streaming down my face. Please let there be a heartbeat. Please let there be a heartbeat. I could barely talk, barely breathe, as we entered her office. I was so scared. K had the doppler ready as I got on the exam table and exposed my pregnant belly. She placed the doppler and immediately found Jelly Bean’s heartbeat. A wave of relief spread across my body along with another wave of tears, thankful to hear that beautiful sound.
K kept the doppler in place for quite some time. As I lay on the exam table letting the rhythmic sounds of their heartbeat wash over me, my breathing evened out, my tears slowed. Jelly Bean was still alive. I could have stayed all night, falling asleep to the sounds of their heartbeat, but eventually, we had to leave. I went to bed as soon as we got home to recuperate from the emotionally draining day.
I woke up the next morning with some reassurance still remaining from the previous night.
Jelly Bean was alive and kicking, but I didn’t want to be pregnant for much longer. I was getting so close to the 39+4 milestone of when we lost Austin and I didn’t fully trust my body to go past that point. After all, it was uncharted territory and finding a balance between my fears and hopes was not easy.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
From the very beginning of this journey, I noted the Serenity Prayer as one of the only things that brought me comfort and that still rings true today. Because of this prayer, I have fully embraced the idea of taking many things in life just one moment at a time, especially when I am not in the best place mentally or emotionally. By only thinking about the present, I can more easily focus on what is within my power to control and let all of my other worries fall away.
Taking this pregnancy one moment at a time was the only way I was able to get to almost 40 weeks (believe me, it was not easy). I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I wanted Jelly Bean to stay inside my womb for as long as possible so they could grow big and strong, up until I no longer felt they were safe or until I could no longer handle my fears and anxiety. By approaching my pregnancy this way, I remained focused on my fears and anxieties at any given moment, rather than the cumulative mountain of emotions that 40 weeks’ worth of pregnancy entails; after all, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Nevertheless, I had finally arrived at the tipping point where my fears couldn’t be ignored. I wanted my pregnancy to be over sooner rather than later with Jelly Bean safe in my arms.
As Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, I woke up with a few contractions.
Was this it? I grabbed my phone to start timing them. After two hours of contractions every ten minutes or so, they faded away and I went back to sleep. When I woke up Sunday morning, I realized we had made it to 39 weeks 4 days, the big milestone day, and I was feeling okay. The contractions overnight gave me extra encouragement that my body was getting ready for labor, so hopefully, it wouldn’t be much longer until we met Jelly Bean. And assuming that was the case, I also gained an extra sense of urgency to wrap up all my loose ends both personally and professionally. I spent the whole day crossing things off of my to-do list, each item’s completion feeling one step closer to the end.
Sunday evening rolled around and thankfully the day was without incident. Jelly Bean was moving well and my to-do list had kept my mind calm and preoccupied, so I began to consider my next move. The following morning was my next midwife appointment followed by a week-long workshop at work. I knew I wanted K to check my dilation and effacement, but did I want her to do a membrane sweep, too? What if it caused my water to break at work in the middle of the workshop? Maybe I should shift to working from home instead. Or maybe I could try to get things started on my own using one of the various ways my midwife and doulas have mentioned to encourage labor.
I was almost done with my to-do list which made me feel relieved. Even if I were to go into labor at that very moment, I wasn’t worried about the remaining items. So, I grabbed my breast pump to try and get things going. As I chipped away at the remaining items on my list, the pump started to draw out the first drops of colostrum and trigger some sporadic contractions. I didn’t pump for very long, but it gave me a sense of the nearing freedom. A sense of progress. I was ready for this pregnancy to be over and I felt closer than ever to the end. I was ready to meet my little one, hold them in my arms, and let go of all the fears and anxiety of pregnancy after loss.
I finally finished my to-do list around 9 PM. My husband and I sat on the couch for a little while to decompress from the long day. We took guesses at how dilated I would be at my appointment in the morning. We laughed when we both said five centimeters as we knew how unlikely that was, but oddly it felt accurate. With less than twelve hours until my appointment, we decided to head upstairs and go to bed (for what we now know to be the last time before becoming parents of a living child).
After only about one hour of sleep, I had a contraction that woke me up around 10:45 PM.
It was the strongest one so far, making me turn over, moaning into my pillow as I breathed through the discomfort, causing Mike to wake up as well. A short four minutes later, another contraction came. Just like the night before, I grabbed my phone to start timing the contractions.
Thirty minutes later and the contractions were consistently four minutes apart. With each one, I closed my eyes, breathed deep, and channeled all of my energy down as I exhaled through the discomfort. I decided it was time to get some perspective, so I called our doula L. We talked for about fifteen minutes as I weighed whether I wanted to officially rally the birth team for labor or if maybe these contractions would die down too, just like the previous night. As L listened to me breathe through three more contractions, she helped me realize that I wouldn’t have called if I didn’t think it was the real thing. Besides, she was already preparing to leave her house and would be on her way soon.
L and I ended our call so I could reach out to K our midwife. It was a quick thirty-second call and she was on her way as well. As we waited for their arrival, I stayed focused on the immediate tasks at hand: managing each contraction, channeling my energy downward, and calling out any needs I had. I suggested turning on the porch light, unlocking the door, and getting the coffee out for the birth team, but Mike was so fast that he had already taken care of it all and was even taking the laundry out of the dryer to fold.
After sending a quick update to our parents to let them know it was time, I let go of all thoughts concerning the outside world to focus solely on me and Jelly Bean.
It was an hour after the contractions started and they were strengthening. I had progressed from breathing through them into my pillow to standing with my arms around Mike’s neck, hanging from him as each one crashed into me. K arrived shortly after midnight to a mostly quiet house, aside from the deep, guttural vocalizations I moaned out with each contraction. Once K set down her equipment, I laid down on our bed so that she could check on Jelly Bean. As the doppler was placed on my belly, a wave of comfort washed over me as we listened to their heartbeat. It sounded perfect and that was all I needed to know to ease my mind, to set aside all of my fears and anxiety and focus on labor.
Less than fifteen minutes later, L arrived with a warm embrace. She had been our primary doula for Austin’s labor, helping me through the contractions on the worst day of my life. And now it felt like life had brought us full circle as we prepared for Jelly Bean’s arrival. We chatted about random things in between my contractions, catching up on life in an attempt to take my mind off of the discomfort.
About thirty minutes later, the second midwife J arrived and our birth team was now complete.
Over the course of the next hour, there wasn’t much change. Jelly Bean’s heartbeat was strong and steady, providing comfort every time we heard it. I continued to hang off of Mike’s shoulders through each contraction, sinking low into my hips, trying to maximize the work my body was doing. In between them, I sat on the side of our bed to rest and hydrate.
Eventually, the water did its job and I transitioned to the bathroom. After relieving myself, I just stayed there, resting on the closed toilet seat between contractions. As they continued to intensify, I began to feel a little overheated. So, I started to peel off layers of clothes until I was left with just a cool, wet washcloth L had placed on the back of my neck. Our conversation between contractions waned in order to conserve as much energy as I could.
I started wrapping my arms around Mike’s torso, my head pressed into his stomach to ground myself through each surge. And after one of my contractions, I sat back down to find the softest towel on my bare bottom. L was anticipating my needs all while coaching me through the relentless waves of labor. Her reassurance and care were invaluable, especially when some contractions rolled right into the next without respite. Their power continued to increase, prompting my deep, guttural vocalizations to resonate throughout the house.
The midwives K and J heard my amplified howls, prompting them to begin preparing the space for birth.
They set down the plastic drop cloths and towels and arranged their supplies on the open floor space of our bedroom. Once they were ready, they suggested I try laboring on the wooden birthing stool to help Jelly Bean better engage with my pelvis. It was around 2:30 AM when I moved back to the bedroom to try out the stool. I was only on it for a few seconds as it was extremely uncomfortable. I also tried sitting on an exercise ball only to feel the same discomfort. So, I pivoted to kneeling on the floor while leaning on the ball. L tried applying counterpressure on my hips during the intensified contractions, but it did not provide any relief. I assumed my SI joint alignment issues were acting up, so I knew any pressure on my hips would not be helpful.
I spent about an hour laboring on all fours with Mike and L tending to my needs – water, cool washcloths on my neck, and comforting words and touches. I kept moving my body and stretching out my legs to relieve soreness in my knees and keep my pelvis mobile. When I needed extra rest, I laid down on my side in between contractions.
Towards the end of that hour, I could feel Jelly Bean’s head sinking lower in my pelvis. Their heartbeat was still strong and steady, but I was starting to feel like labor was never going to end. My water was still intact, which I knew was acting as a cushion between Jelly Bean’s head and my pelvis. When the doctor had broken my water with Austin, my labor intensified and progressed extremely fast because there was no more cushion. Though I didn’t want my contractions to get any more intense, I knew I wanted them to end, and the only way for that to happen was to give birth.
I didn’t have a good sense of what was happening around me, so between every contraction, I started asking whether or not my water had broken. I knew this was the next hurdle I had to pass to reach the end, but nothing was changing. It had been a while since my last void, so someone suggested I relieve myself to create more space for Jelly Bean to pass through. I ventured to the bathroom to empty my bladder where I also found evidence of bloody show.
Labor was progressing and every contraction was bringing me closer to meeting Jelly Bean, I just needed to trust my body.
I shifted back to the bedroom around 3:40 AM to continue laboring in a variety of positions – hanging off of Mike’s shoulders, kneeling on all fours, and leaning on the ball. Time seemed to slow down, especially between contractions. I rested while sitting cross-legged on the floor with my eyes closed, finding inner peace. My mind was turned off to the world and I was solely focused on my breathing. Relaxing, holding my belly. Waiting for the next wave to crash into me.
Eventually, I heard someone suggest pushing with my contractions.
(I learned later that this was not the first time it was suggested; I never heard the initial recommendations.) It wasn’t like my previous labor where I had no control. Where my body took over and there was no stopping the urge to push. This time I needed to take control, to put mind over matter and convert the force of each contraction into power to push Jelly Bean out. I recalled Austin’s delivery and the unique sensation of birthing a baby. A sensation that is life-changing. A means to an end of pregnancy. A sensation that, frankly, I wanted over as soon as possible and delaying the inevitable was futile.
I decided to give the birthing stool one more try and immediately rejected it due to my SI joint pain. So, I pivoted to the floor again, this time leaning on the stool for more stability. As the next wave hit me around 4:20 AM, I bore down. Rather than my typical resounding deep guttural howl, I internalized my energy into pushing Jelly Bean out. I continued pushing in this manner for a few minutes until I was told to reach down – it was their head!
Jelly Bean was crowning and the excitement that came along with feeling their head was a rush. It was almost over; they were almost here! I continued pushing and my membranes finally ruptured as their head was delivered.
And just two minutes later, Jelly Bean was finally born at 4:35 AM on November 8th!
My contractions faded and I was left sore and exhausted. I looked to my husband as he cried tears of joy beside me. We had made it. I had done it. Jelly Bean was here and alive!
Jelly Bean was behind me as a result of being on all fours when they were born. And since they were still tethered to me, we started the slightly awkward maneuver of bringing them through my legs. I then shifted onto my back to rest with them on my chest. During the transition, I snuck a peek and didn’t see any male genitalia, though the moment was so quick I wasn’t sure what I saw. And once they were on my chest, all I cared about was listening to their breathing and newborn cries. Jelly Bean was alive and safe in my arms. This was the moment we had waited so long for and I was soaking it all in.
J was in charge of monitoring Jelly Bean while K was in charge of me. Jelly Bean was coughing up some amniotic fluid, so J helped me angle them downward and pat their back to help clear their lungs. As we did this, we checked and officially declared that Jelly Bean was a girl! She was placed back on my chest and I looked to my husband to decide on her name.
We knew right away – Madison Grace.
It was the name we had picked out in case Austin was a baby girl. We had decided to not learn the gender for either pregnancy; it is one of the few things in life you can genuinely be surprised about as Mike always says. I wasn’t a fan of the idea of reusing a name we had picked out for a different pregnancy, but after combing through baby name books and online searches, the name just felt right for this pregnancy. Madison, a nod to a town in Texas, where we met almost ten years ago. And Grace, a reminder of the grace I have strived to maintain since losing Austin and throughout my pregnancy after loss.
We had a few options picked out if we had another boy, but nothing felt like the right fit. Maybe it was because Austin was a boy and having another was…confusing? Emotional? A boy would draw so many parallels to Austin and what could have been his life. Or maybe it was because of the dream I had before conceiving Jelly Bean. A dream with Mike, K, and L all gathered, and me giving birth to a baby girl. And now that dream had become reality.
Madison and I continued cuddling on the floor while she was dried and the vernix was wiped off her skin. She managed to meet all her day-one diapering requirements on my belly while she laid on my chest; a fact that didn’t bother me one bit. I continued to have some minor cramping until the placenta was delivered about twenty minutes after Madison’s birth. K prepared the cord and then Mike made the cut. Her Apgar scores were superb and she was adjusting well to life outside of the womb. Her newborn exam worksheet even listed her as feisty!
It was time for some Madi/Daddy time, so Mike took her for some snuggles while L assisted me to the bathroom for a quick shower. She then helped me into the infamous postpartum mesh underwear with an ice pad and I got dressed in some comfy clothes. I shuffled my achy body back to the bedroom and crawled into bed which never felt so comfy. As I looked around, I realized that most of the supplies for birth had been cleaned up and that all the dirty laundry was already in the washer. Our home was returning back to normal, with one tiny yet huge addition.
K brought her newborn exam instruments to the bed where she measured and weighed Madison. 7 pounds and 19 inches of pure cuteness. K took Madison to the bathroom for a quick rinse to get the rest of the sticky vernix off her skin. Meanwhile, L brought me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to start the postpartum recovery process. They dressed Madison and brought her over to me to hold while J administered her Vitamin K shot. In less than one hour after giving birth, we were all settled in bed thanks to the beautifully orchestrated responsibilities of L, K, and J.
It took several tries and some assistance but eventually, I was able to get Madison to latch for her first feeding. And just two hours after birth, all our attendants had left and it was just the three of us, all alone for the first time. Our parenting after loss journey had officially begun with our rainbow baby and it was both joyous and terrifying.
As we started our life with Madison, all the normal parenting doubts started creeping in, tainted with fear of losing her too.
Fear that was magnified because of Austin’s death. Losing a child was not unimaginable for us, so it wasn’t unreasonable to think that it might happen again. The hypervigilance that I had while I was pregnant followed me into motherhood. Was she eating too much or too little? Sleeping well or not enough? Too hot or too cold? Was she meeting all of her diapering requirements and developmental milestones? Was she thriving or not? Would she get sick with COVID or something else? Would I trip and fall while carrying her? Would she die from SIDS? No matter the severity of the scenario, my mind took it to the extreme. I was playing out the worst-case scenarios, and we were never safe from losing Madison too.
Over the last year and a half, I had learned how to be a bereaved mother, learned how to channel my grief into honoring Austin in all that I do. But becoming the mother of a living child was new territory.
Madison was outside my womb and it felt like my heart was beating outside my chest, exposed and fragile. My love for her was pouring out of me and all I wanted to do was protect my heart from being shattered again. I’m sure all new mothers feel this way to some degree, but this seemed so raw and intensified because of our previous loss.
Our first week together was the height of all my doubts and fears. Madison rarely left my arms because seeing, feeling, and hearing her breathe were the only things that kept me sane. The nights were the worst due to the lack of sleep, tenderness from breastfeeding, and fear of SIDS. As I neared my breaking point, I turned to a breast pump and special baby monitor to ease some of my pain and worry. And by the second week, we started to hit our stride. Madison’s latch improved after an appointment with our chiropractor, which provided further pain relief for me as well as my body adjusted to nursing 24/7. And by pumping at night, Madison was able to have more filling feeds, allowing all of us to sleep for longer stretches between them.
It took a full month for my hypervigilance to settle down to a “normal” level of vigilance. I stopped tracking every little thing she did and stopped waking up in a panic at night to make sure she was still breathing. I started to feel more confident in myself, my husband, and the tools we were using to keep her safe. All of the grief from losing Austin along with the struggle of trying to conceive again, the disappointment of our chemical pregnancy, and the bravery and strength I held on to throughout my pregnancy with Madison created a heavy weight on my heart. But now that things were settling into place, that weight had been lifted and I could finally breathe. And it wasn’t until they were gone that I finally realized how exhausting and draining my bravery and hypervigilance were.
Though the thought of losing Madison is terrifying at times, life with her has been joyous too.
I love holding her, snuggling with her (she is an expert), and watching her sleep. I love taking in all of her cute expressions, studying every inch of her face, and surprising myself when I see Austin’s face momentarily in hers. I love seeing her smile, especially when she sees me or her daddy. I love her cries because they are evidence of the air flowing in and out of her lungs. I love the trust she has in me. I love witnessing her development as she explores the world around her, always wanting to be involved. I love reading to her. I love the quality time we have when she nurses. I love watching her grow as she transitions into larger diapers and clothes. I love dancing and singing with her in the kitchen. I love taking walks around the neighborhood with her strapped to my chest. And I love the possibilities of what her life will be.
As I reflect back on my pregnancy after loss journey, I am thankful Madison’s arrival was without incident.
All of the fear and anxiety I had for the possibility of another loss followed me throughout the entire journey. Pregnancy after loss is an incredibly vulnerable time and anyone who experiences it should be showered with love and support and validation as they navigate their complex emotions. We will always wonder what life would look like if our angels had lived. And because of our loss, we know how important it is to cherish those that are in our lives, no matter how long they are here.
I am so happy I get to be Madison’s mom and I look forward to telling her about her big brother Austin when she gets older. And maybe one day, she will see me give birth to a baby brother or sister. I’m in no rush to repeat the pregnancy after loss journey for our pot of gold baby because I know it will be filled with all of the same raw emotions on top of caring for a living child. But I also know that I always envisioned my life with two living children. So for now, I am going to take a break and enjoy our time as a family of three with our beautiful angels watching over us. And with some time, maybe I will be brave enough to do this all over again.
Finally, I would like to say thank you.
Thank you to my husband, for being my rock and supporting me through all of the highs and lows; I couldn’t have done it without your love. Thank you to our family and friends for all of their love. Thank you to our birth team and medical providers, for helping care for me and Madison both physically and mentally before, during, and after her birth. And thank you to Pregnancy After Loss Support and the PALS community for allowing me to share my story. I hope each of you finds comfort in knowing that you are not alone on this journey and wish you all the best.