It started Wednesday March 9th when Christos, CT and I were on a mini-vacation to the water park in Duluth. CT LOVED the waterpark. We had an awesome day together. When we sat down to dinner that evening I felt a gush of warmth and knew something wasn't right. I had started to bleed. Dark red blood. "Oh Shit. This is not good." We spent the next 3 hours in an out-of-town emergency room. I thought for sure we had lost our little one. An ultrasound proved that the baby was fine, but the ER doctor couldn't determine where the bleeding was coming from. Upon doing a pelvic exam he was very concerned and suggested I see my doctor in the next day or two. We packed up and headed home the next day. During that time the bleeding stopped.
The following morning (Friday) I was able to get in for an ultrasound with my regular Ob clinic. They determined that I had placenta previa. Scary. But at least the baby was okay. I was put on limited activity and spent the next week being very cautious. Although I did return to the office for work, I couldn't lift CT or do some of my other regular activities. I should preface this by saying that since week ~11 I'd had extreme pelvic and pubic pain. Similar to what I experienced with CT during my last trimester. This was supposedly because the baby implanted low in my uterus so all the weight was really low.
The following Friday (3/18) I had a previously scheduled appointment with the high risk perinatal clinic to transfer my care under them. I was high risk because of my congenital heart defect. And obviously the previa kept me high risk. When I entered the ultrasound room I warned the sonographer that I had been diagnosed with having placenta previa the week prior. It was almost as she laughed it off while saying "You know 50% of pregnancies at this stage have placenta previa...?" No, I did not know that. We had a great ultrasound and the little baby (gender still unknown at this point) was active and healthy and she even confirmed that the previa had already resolved itself. This was the best possible outcome after a week of anxiety and caution!! My meeting with the perinatologist went just as smooth. It was a casual conversation that left me feeling so much better and calm about the pregnancy.
On Sunday afternoon (3/20) while attending a baby shower for a friend everything came crashing down.
I was uncomfortable during her gift opening. I thought it was gas. When really it was cramps...er, um labor. When I got up to leave I felt the bleed start again. By the time I drove myself home I knew something was really wrong. I got out of the car and told Christos something wasn't right. The blood. Oh the blood.
We went straight to the emergency room where we learned there was no heartbeat. Sometime between my ultrasound on Friday and Sunday afternoon, Xander's heart had stopped beating. Placental abruption was the reason we were given. A blot clot caused the placenta to pull away from my uterine wall and Xander was no longer getting what he needed to survive. He died in my womb. The womb meant to keep him safe.
After the first of many uncomfortable pelvic checks, the doctor on duty informed me that it probably wouldn't be long before the baby would be born. I was shuffled into a L&D room and greeted by the nurse that would care for me the majority of my stay. Nurses are the angels of medicine. I wasn't scared. I was sad as hell. My baby was already dead and I knew that in a short period of time I would be faced with bringing him into this world. I'd seen other loss blogs of premature birth. I knew what to expect for a 16 week baby. But that didn't make the hurt any easier. Christos and I were a mess.
My sister came to pick up CT while we called our parents and Christos' sister to join us at the hospital. The contractions continued off and onfor hours. My nurse kept telling me to let her know when I felt the urge to push. The only time I felt the urge was when I had to pee.
We waited. They took blood for testing and started pain meds.
We waited some more while I continued to bleed. We waited some more and nursing shifts changed.
We waited into the next day. Doctors and nurse coming and going.
At some point during Monday morning I got up to urinate and I felt something in the birth canal ready to come out. I told the nurse "I'm not having this baby in the toilet." So we shuffled back to bed and she told the doctor I was ready. I delivered my bag of water but my uterus hadn't contracted enough to allow Xander to pass through. A 16 week uterus is thick and not ready to contract for many more months. So it took time for my body to realize what it needed to do.
We waited and grieved some more. We talked about everything leading up to that point and what would need to be done after the baby was born. We talked names. We talked cremation. And we waited.
Monday afternoon we sent our families home to get some rest. They'd slept in the waiting room the night prior. I kept receiving pain meds to make me comfortable and meds to help my uterus contract. The best case scenario the doctor wanted was for the placenta and baby to deliver at the same time to avoid a D&C. Considering the circumstances, I guess that would be the best case scenario. By mid-afternoon my IV had backed up and my nurse flushed it out. An hours worth of pain meds were pushed into my system. I was instantly drugged up and the room was in a tailspin. I then slept for a few hours.
After another few doses of the drug meant to help my uterus contract, we discovered that I hadn't contracted since I woke up from my nap. The doctor found this odd so he decided to do another ultrasound which revealed a very full bladder and an empty uterus. The baby had moved down to the birth canal while I rested and relaxed and all I needed to do was deliver him. It took the doctor and nurse 15 minutes to empty my bladder with a tiny catheter. There was so much pressure from my bladder that Xander would have a hard time coming down. When it was time to push, I felt like I had nothing in me. Nothing to push.
I clearly recall during the delivery that I was pissed as hell. I didn't cry. I had cried so much already. Christos kept dabbing my forehead as though I were sweating. I told him (not-so-nicely) that I wasn't sweating. I was so angry that we were in that situation. Angry that we had to wait 30 hours after learning of his death to hold him. One of my nurses mentioned that the waiting could have been a way for us to mentally prepare ourselves for what was to come. It didn't make it suck any less, but I think she was right. It gave us time to grieve. Cry. Hard. Harder than we've ever cried in our life.
The doctor did his best to bring Xander's delicate tiny body into the world in one piece. The delivery was uncomfortable and hard, but he was beautiful and peaceful when he was born.
It's been over three weeks since we returned home without Xander. Three weeks since the funeral home picked up his body to be cremated. It all seems a blur yet there are moments that will be with me forever.
After Xander was born, the doctor wrapped him in a blanket and put him in my arms. He was so tiny. 3 1/2 ounces. 8 inches long. The size of a beanie baby.
During the time that he was with us we cried. We prayed with him. We sang to him and then we cried some more.
It is said that a birth before 20 weeks gestation is considered a late miscarriage. I never really knew where I stood on the topic. Yes, a baby is a baby from the moment it is conceived, but until it reaches viability (23 weeks gestation) it has no chance of survival outside the womb. After holding in my arms my dear son born at 16 weeks, there is no question in my mind that he was a baby and this wasn't a miscarriage. I labored with him for 30 hours and then I gave birth to him. He had a perfect head. Long arms and legs. Eyes. Ears. A perfect little nose. Gorgeous lips just like his big brother. But what really convinced me were his fingernails. It is a miracle how much he grew inside me in those four short months. He was a baby.
My nurse tried to take his hand and foot prints. She wanted to get it just right for us. She kept trying over and over. Bless her heart. Even after she took him that night she attempted again and the next morning sent us home with a few of his prints. We will cherish them. As well as the blanket he was wrapped in. It is still stained with his blood and we keep it close.
There is little we have to remember him by. We took some pictures. But mostly, we only have a memory. A memory of a little boy we will never know. A memory of a dream that we so badly wanted. When the doctor handed him to me and I held him close to my chest we learned that Xander was a boy. My heart ached. It still does. It aches for a little boy who would have had an awesome older brother. In that moment my heart ached for CT and what he had lost, even though he won't understand for many years. I wanted another baby more for him as much as I did for me (and Christos)….maybe even more for him.
We cried so hard during my stay in the hospital. Since returning home the tears have decreased. We left most of our sadness there. Now I cry for what should have been. I should still be pregnant. We should be bringing home a healthy baby boy at the end of the summer. Our family should be complete.
Instead our son's ashes sit in an urn on our mantel.
Many times a day we give thanks for the healthy boy we have here at home with us. If not for CT, Xander's death would have been unbearable. CT has been major distraction for us upon returning home. Although it is a challenge raising a 21 month old, it is such a privilege and honor to have him in our life. After battling infertility and now the loss of our second son, we don't take one second for granted.
The days are starting to pass a little bit quicker now. Three weeks ago we came home without our son and made preparations for his cremation. The post-delivery blood has stopped and my milk has finally dried up.
Our house has been flooded with flowers and cards from loved ones. It brings us so much comfort that people have shown their support for our loss, but also the acknowledgement that Xander is our son. We have every intention of spending the rest of our lives honoring his memory.