In March 2022, I was presenting at a science communication conference in Portland, Oregon. Since the conference fell over spring break, we decided to head to Oregon a few days early to visit the beaches and go tide pooling. It was a needed respite, as I had just finished a full fertility workup to determine the reasons behind my recurrent missed miscarriages.

One of the beaches we visited had a secret. A rough-cut tunnel through a sea stack that led to a hidden beach. Not only were the walls bare rock, but the floor was littered with boulders, logs, and puddles. Drips fell from the ceiling and the cave groaned as if alive from the constant sea breezes blasting through the space. But on the other side – treasure. The light at the end of the tunnel was from a secluded beach – and a hot spot for finding semi-precious gemstones on the beach like agates and jasper.

My double rainbow’s birth (and really, the entire pregnancy after loss journey) reminds me of navigating that tunnel. I didn’t know what would be on the other side, but knew it had the potential to be wonderful. I might find treasure — but the way there was scary and full of obstacles and the unknown.

Melanie's son and husband on their way into a sea tunnel - Finding the Treasure: A Rainbow Baby Birth Story

My son and husband on their way into the sea tunnel – Author’s Personal Collection//Melanie Peffer

Entering the tunnel: an IUGR diagnosis and Induction

At 34 weeks I had a textbook ultrasound. My baby boy looked totally fine, growth was right on track, and he was vigorously healthy. The midwife gave me the option of having a final ultrasound at 37 weeks. With all the requisite nerves associated with pregnancy after loss I decided to go for a final ultrasound at 37 weeks, just to be sure that baby was fine.

The day of the ultrasound arrived, and I felt good. I was finally not a nervous wreck walking into the ultrasound room. If we go back to the tunnel analogy, the end was in sight, and I felt confident I was going to make it through. Instead, I slipped and nearly fell.

Rather than another reassuring ultrasound, my baby was diagnosed with asymmetric Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). Then a conversation with the midwife and on call obstetrician about next steps, increased stillbirth risk and need for twice weekly non-stress tests, weekly biophysical profiles, and finally induction at 39 weeks.

Sometimes the final steps are the hardest. Sleep was elusive those final days of my pregnancy as I constantly monitored fetal movements. The thundering of the baby’s heartbeat during the non-stress tests was a constant tattoo in my head. I was so worried about my baby, that I there was no room in my head to remember why I was pregnant in the first place – or, why I was inside a cold, wet tunnel. Rather, it was one step, one obstacle, one appointment at a time.

Navigating the tunnel: Enduring a Medical Induction

After practically living at my provider’s office for two weeks, the day of my induction arrived.

We breakfasted at the hospital with the pastor that morning and spent time chatting with and getting to know our nurse. At 10:00AM, I had a dose of Cytotec – and we were on our way.

Four hours later, it was time to start Pitocin. For the next eight hours as they titrated my dose and I jokingly referred to my IV pole as my Christmas tree, my husband and I walked the labor and delivery floor, listened to music, and chatted about everything.

Watching the monitor, waiting for the “real” contractions to start, all while listening to baby’s heartbeat – Author’s Personal Collection//Melanie Peffer

Waiting for active labor to start while having Pitocin induced contractions is an exercise in mental gymnastics. It really underscores that keeping your cool in pregnancy, labor, delivery, and parenting after loss is just as much emotional as physical. I was navigating my way around boulders and logs, slowly but surely, and the whole time wondering when I’d get through to the other side.

Around 10 that night, after 12 hours of waiting for something to happen, I was in the shower when something finally did happen – my water broke.

As a result of my trauma history, rather than feeling relief that things were (finally!) moving, the flashbacks started. Seeing and feeling blood and fluid rushing out brought me right back to my miscarriages. Plus, Pitocin on top of a broken amniotic sac resulted in contractions that brought me to my knees.

Navigating through a sea tunnel - Finding the Treasure: A Rainbow Baby Birth Story

Navigating through the tunnel. Note the rough-cut rock walls and ceiling and obstacles on the floor – Author’s Personal Collection//Melanie Peffer

If we go back to my tunnel analogy, I was so focused on navigating the tunnel, trying not to fall or hit my head or be overcome by claustrophobia that I had forgotten what was at the end. Really, for the last two weeks prior to my induction ever since the IUGR diagnosis, I forgot about the ending. The whole point of getting pregnant in the first place: my desire to have another baby.

Clearing the tunnel: Catching my Rainbow Baby

A few hours after my water breaking, I was starting to lose my cool. The flashbacks, the pain, the anxiety-filled pregnancy, the fear of a stillbirth or emergency C-section. It all became too much and I needed a break. And so, I asked for an epidural.

To add insult to injury, it took two tries to place my epidural. Once it was placed, I was able to rest and reground myself. That’s when I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Or the light of dawn – the sun was just about to rise when the midwife came in to check on my progress. She took one look and called the nurses’ station and told me the baby was going to be here in five minutes or less.

A few big breaths and contractions later, my doula told me to open my eyes and reach down. My hands were shaking as I reached down, pushed once more, and felt my son slip from my body and drop into my hands. His cries quickly turned to coos as he stared, fascinated, around the room.

Jasper, my treasure, had finally arrived. Healthy and safe. Just like the semi-precious gem that you can find on the beach, I found treasure in the labor and delivery room. I found my way through pregnancy after loss, IUGR, and a physically and emotionally challenging induction.

Parents enjoying the "golden hour" after birth - Finding the Treasure: A Rainbow Baby Birth Story

My husband and I enjoying the ‘golden hour’ with Jasper – Author’s Personal Collection//Melanie Peffer

When I think back on my pregnancy and labor, I was so focused on clearing obstacles that I forgot the goal. The focus was on being pregnant, staying pregnant, navigating the induction process that I forgot about the ending – welcoming my precious double rainbow.

Then he was there, earthside with me. Really though, he had been with me for the last 39 weeks, often bringing me comfort in the form of a good kick or hiccupping session.

Jasper is my treasure, found at the end of a long difficult journey. And like any treasure, he’s even more special for the journey.

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