In early December 2013, my husband, Lloyd, and I were ecstatic to learn we were pregnant with our first child. We kept it a secret and planned to announce to our families over the holidays. On Christmas Day, we gathered with my husband’s entire family and saved one little gift until all the other presents had been opened. We handed it to my father-in-law to open–a little pair of monkey booties and a note that said, “Dear Papa, I can’t wait to meet you. Mom and Dad say it’ll be around August 18th. Please save these for me. I really like monkeys. Love, Doodlebug.” There was an explosion of squeals and hugs.
Later that week, we joined my family at Walt Disney World to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Lloyd illustrated a family tree as an anniversary gift that included “Doodlebug” under our branch, which we planned to give them once we were all together. Well, that moment came in the middle of Epcot once my brother’s family arrived. It took a minute for them to realize what it was, and then there were screams of delight so loud that I think everyone in Epcot paused for a moment to figure out what had happened.
We had our first OB appointment a few weeks later. It was still too early to hear the heartbeat, but when I broke down, not knowing if baby was OK, my OB sent me for a dating ultrasound. Doodlebug looked perfect.
But, a few weeks later, at our nuchal scan, things started to fall apart.
Doodlebug was lagging in growth. And this started 10 weeks of extra monitoring, extra tests, extra appointments, extra ultrasounds. Lots and lots of concerns.
At 18 weeks, we decided to have an amniocentesis to try to get some answers. There were also some concerns about the heart, so they sent us for a fetal echocardiogram. The Friday before the echo, our OB called to let us know that the amniocentesis came back perfect. We breathed for the first time in 9 weeks. That weekend I felt Doodlebug move for the first time. We were hopeful.
But, the following Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at the fetal echocardiogram, the technician discovered there was no heartbeat.
The pediatric cardiologist came in and told us, “I’m not seeing what I am supposed to here. I’m so sorry. There is no heartbeat.”
Our OB came to the room and escorted us by the back stairs to an ultrasound room that had been cleared for us. That scan confirmed what the cardiologist had found on the echo. Our baby had died. We hadn’t wanted to find out the sex, but in that moment I asked, “Boy or girl?” Our OB put her hand on my leg and said, “You have a baby boy.”
We made arrangements and went home to pack a bag to be admitted to the hospital for an induction. I was 20 weeks pregnant. My mom hopped on a plane to be with us.
Patrick Lloyd Meek was born at 8:49 AM, April 2, 2014.
The hospital conducted an autopsy and placenta pathology. When we met with our MFM in early June, they didn’t have many answers. The placenta was very small, and they suspected the placenta just was not able to support his growth. They gave us the clear to try to get pregnant when we felt ready. While the MFM felt we had a slightly higher risk than normal to experience another stillbirth, he thought with extra monitoring we had a good chance to carry a healthy baby to term.
And, so we started trying to conceive. After six agonizing months of trying, we were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist where we were diagnosed with secondary infertility.
In June of 2015, we had a successful IUI and were pregnant. We nicknamed our baby “Stitch.”
The pregnancy was normal until it wasn’t. And it was terrifying, even when “normal.” I had gestational hypertension throughout the pregnancy, and they kept a close eye to make sure it didn’t cross over to preeclampsia. Throughout the pregnancy, I would plead with Stitch, “Please be born alive.”
At 32 weeks, my blood pressure was increasing to a point that my OB wasn’t comfortable with. I was admitted to the hospital for a 24-hour observation and urine collection to watch my protein levels. I was given steroid shots in case we needed to induce early and met with the NICU team to go over what to expect if the baby was born early.
After a couple of days in the hospital, I was sent home as a “lady of leisure.” I wasn’t on bed rest, but they wanted me to take it easy. I started weekly nonstress tests (NSTs) and biophysical profiles (BPPs). I had my baby shower and tried to keep my anxiety in check.
We set an induction date at 37 weeks, due to my gestational hypertension.
At my 35-week OB appointment (my appointments were always on Thursdays), my blood pressure was high again. My OB checked protein levels and sent me for bloodwork. She told me she’d call me when the results were back and she’d consulted with the MFM. I had a biophysical profile, and baby looked great. We got to see Stitch roll around and discovered she had hair! After my appointment, I headed over to our local cloth diaper store to make a huge leap-of-faith purchase and buy our newborn cloth diapers. As I stacked them on the counter, I rubbed my belly and told Stitch, “Please be born alive.” While checking out, my OB called and said my bloodwork looked fine. But, they wanted me to come in on Monday for an NST, and she said, “Bring your bags just in case.”
My anxiety was incredibly high. I was really starting to believe that baby would be safer out than in. My body felt like a ticking time bomb. My mom had planned to come out for the induction and stay for a few weeks. I really thought I would fail my NST on Monday and be induced. My parents were supposed to be leaving for a vacation before the baby came, and after chatting, they decided to cancel their vacation and come to Boston instead. They decided that even if I didn’t get induced, they could help us prepare for baby’s arrival, since we had done very little preparing, partially due to fear and anxiety and partially due to being put on “lady of leisure.”
Friday, I met with a pediatrician, and I really liked her. My friend Jan, and Stitch’s Godmother, came to help with some cleaning and preparing for my parents to arrive. Saturday, we had our car seat installed by a CPS technician, and my parents arrived. They helped us put together some of the baby gear we’d had stored in the attic (too afraid to set up), work on the baby laundry (I had washed nothing yet), and pack our bags. On Sunday, we had our maternity photos taken, just in the nick of time!
Monday, Lloyd went to work to wrap up a few things, then would meet us at the clinic for my NST. Mom and I went for mani/pedis, then headed to the clinic for my NST.
Baby and I both failed the NST spectacularly.
The tech didn’t even keep us hooked up very long. Lloyd didn’t make it in time for any of the NST. The tech went to get a wheelchair. I wouldn’t be walking anywhere. They took me to see one of the OBs (my OB wasn’t in the clinic that day), and they checked my protein levels, then sent me to triage at labor and delivery for monitoring.
When the doctor came in to see me in labor and delivery triage, I was all done. I told him, “Everyone keeps saying baby will be OK if they come now. I want the baby out. It doesn’t feel safe anymore.”
He said, “Oh, good. Then we’re on the same page. It’s time to have a baby.” I was officially diagnosed with preeclampsia, and an induction was medically necessary.
I was admitted, and they took me to my room.
As mom, Lloyd, and I got settled in the room, I looked over and noticed the isolette and baby warmer. My eyes welled with tears. I looked at my mom and husband, pointed to the isolette, and said, “They expect us to have a live baby. There was no isolette in the room where we delivered Patrick.
My mom nodded her head and said, “Yes, they do.”
When our nurse came in, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was the same night nurse who was with us when we had Patrick. This sweet nurse had sat with me while I labored through the night with Patrick and said, “Honey, this isn’t the time to go without pain medication. Your body needs rest. Let’s get you an epidural.”
I was hooked up to the monitors. They placed an IV and started the magnesium drip, which I would get for 24-hours due to the preeclampsia. Around 7:30 PM, they gave me a dose of misoprostol to start the induction. I started having very light contractions that really just felt like cramping. They weren’t even showing up on the monitors. But, apparently, every time I had a contraction, baby’s heart decelerated. I didn’t really realize this was happening until the nurse came running into my room after one of the contractions. She moved me to my side and asked, “Did you just have a contraction?” I said, “Yes.” And that’s when I found out the contractions weren’t showing up on the monitor, but baby wasn’t tolerating them at all.
The OB and MFM both came in to meet with us. Baby wasn’t tolerating the induction.
They wanted to stop the induction and were recommending a c-section. I had really hoped to avoid a c-section. We considered trying a foley bulb, but after consulting with the doctors and my doula, we decided a c-section was the safest choice.
My doula headed to the hospital, though we suspected she would not be able to be with me in the OR. The hospital’s policy was only one support person was allowed in the OR. We advocated strongly to have her with us, especially since the baby was early and may need to go to the NICU. We finally worked it out that if the baby needed to go to the NICU, Lloyd would go to the NICU with Stitch, and they would bring my doula into the OR to be with me through the remainder of the surgery.
Our hospital had clear drapes, so we would be able to see baby right away. Because we didn’t learn the sex of our baby during pregnancy, we asked to be the ones to announce the baby’s sex. Lloyd and my doula both prepared for the OR, and at just before midnight, they wheeled me into the OR. They explained they would prepare me for surgery and place the epidural, then Lloyd would be able to come in right before they began the c-section.
That process was incredibly stressful for me. While I was grateful to have the very comforting nurse with me, it was hard not to have any of my support team with me. There were several times when I felt like I might have a panic attack while they prepared me for the c-section. The nurse was able to help me through the placement of the epidural, but that was a bit triggering as she had been the same nurse with me through my epidural with Patrick.
I kept trying to envision holding my baby and repeated in my head, “Please be born alive. Please be born alive. Please be born alive.”
I also really struggled with the anesthesiologist. She was not the most empathic provider, and she was the provider who was physically closest to me through the entire process.
After they placed the epidural, I noticed that they had a NICU team in the OR, ready if needed.
As they brought Lloyd in to join me, the baby’s heart rate decelerated dramatically, and they started cutting before Lloyd was with me because they felt an urgency to get baby out. At 12:31 AM our daughter was born. They lifted her for us to see, and I cried, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” Then I looked at Lloyd and asked, “It is a girl, right?”
But, I didn’t hear her crying. I started to panic, asking, “Why isn’t she crying? Why can’t I hear her cry?”
And then I heard it, the most beautiful cry I’d ever heard in my life, followed by my own sobs. She was alive. She was crying.
Lloyd went to be with her at the isolette as the NICU team assessed her. She was doing great for a 36-weeker. She was 4 pounds, 11 ounces and 16.5 inches long. Lloyd cut the umbilical cord. The NICU doctor wrapped her in a blanket, handed her to Lloyd and said, “Congratulations, you have a very healthy baby girl, Dad.” They turned off the isolette and the NICU team wheeled it out of the OR as they left. Lloyd started to walk her back over to me, but they stopped him.
I was hemorrhaging. And I felt alone and terrified. I could hear the doctors calling for blood to be ordered. The anesthesiologist told me she may need to put me under general anesthesia, and I begged her not to. It was the one thing I had really, really wanted to make sure didn’t happen. I wanted to be awake and present. I was panicking and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kept asking for my doula, but the OR was bustling so much that it wasn’t possible to get her. I either passed out or the anesthesiologist gave me a sedative.
When I became aware of my surroundings again, things were quieting down. They were stitching me up, and Lloyd brought our daughter to me. About an hour after she was born, she was placed on my chest and was just the most beautiful, perfect baby I’d ever seen.
It felt like we were in the OR forever. As they wheeled me out of the OR back to my room, the nurse helped my daughter latch for the first time.
Because she was early and so small, we really had to watch her blood sugar levels and temperature.
To help with her blood sugar, we were given donor milk to give her while my milk came in, along with the colostrum I was able to pump.
The hospital’s policy was to move families to the postpartum floor two hours after birth. But, since I had preeclampsia, I had to stay on labor and delivery for 24 hours, and they only allowed three support people with you in labor and delivery, whereas there was no limit on the postpartum floor.
My dad had come to the hospital when the plan changed to a c-section, and he had been sitting in the waiting room. Eventually, we were able to convince the nurses to allow him to come in and meet our baby around 3:30 AM.
I don’t really remember much more of that first day. The preeclampsia, magnesium, c-section, and hemorrhage were a lot on my body. I remember really pushing them to get me out of bed, though. That was something that I had really taken away from our childbirth preparation course–that if you do need a c-section, get up and walk around as soon as you are able, that it’s the best possible thing you can do to aid in your recovery.
Our nurse came back on again for the night shift. She had packed the drawers of the basinet with supplies and handmade items–an elephant blanket and lots of knitted hats. We thought they did this for everyone but found out later that they don’t. One of our postpartum nurses said they do that for families who have experienced loss. Those gifts were so precious. After being gifted several things with elephants, that became the animal we associate with our daughter, like we associate giraffes with Patrick.
At exactly 24-hours after birth, they moved us to the postpartum floor, even though it was the middle of the night. That was a bit startling. In the rush to pack things up to be moved, my cell phone stayed in the bed and was eventually completely lost in the hospital’s laundry. Fortunately, Lloyd and my parents continued to take lots of pictures of her first days of life.
We stayed in the hospital for five days, partially for my own recovery and partially to keep an eye on our tiny peanut.
The day before we were discharged, she had to complete a car seat test, since she was under five pounds. Our wee one did great and never needed to go to the NICU or special care nursery. She was able to stay with us the entire time, which was so wonderful. We’re so grateful for the donor milk that helped keep her with us.
On day five, we were discharged. We dressed Stitch in the going home outfit I’d ordered for her, along with her brother’s Batman socks.
We placed her in her car seat and left the postpartum floor with a baby–a living baby. It was the most amazing feeling.
We’ve been soaking this precious girl in for six years now.
The anxiety of another loss still hasn’t completely gone away. But, we treasure each day we have with her.
She’s a kind, creative, empathetic, and feisty girl who happens to adore rainbows. We’re so lucky to be her parents.
She has grown up knowing about her brother. She loves and misses him and helps us remember him. We all wish he was here with us. While there will always be a piece missing, our family is complete.