There are moments in our life we never forget. Sometimes they are beautiful happy moments that we cherish and nurture by recalling them often. Sometimes they are the darkest moments of your life, too painful to willingly recall. Somehow they claw their way to the forefront of your mind, never to leave. This post is about the latter. I’ve always been OK with sharing my life, this particular moment especially. I’m writing this because I needed an honest post like this 17 months ago. I hope it is helpful, hopeful, or informative.
17 months ago…
It was the night before my 20 week ultrasound. I was so excited to see baby again. Normal pregnancies allow for maybe 2 or 3 ultrasounds. We had planned to take our son, who was three and a half at the time, so he could see his baby sister. In the middle of the night, I felt pressure. Thinking I just needed to go to the bathroom I rolled back and forth awkwardly to get out of bed and waddled over to the bathroom. Except it wasn’t just the urge to go, it was something else all together. Something came out. I’m not sure what. My water broke. That’s all I remember. I screamed out my husband’s name. I just kept saying No no no no no over and over. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. This wasn’t right. It’s not time. Everything was normal, why is this happening? My husband’s panic evident in his voice, looked at me “What do we do?” This wasn’t something we were prepared for. It wasn’t in any books, it wasn’t a part of any tour. Nobody had warned us. I sat there hovering over the tub, sobbing. I couldn’t even talk. I just watched the pinkish fluid trail towards the drain and my heart broke. My husband had his head in his hands, tears welling up in his eyes “Oh no no no my baby, my baby.” It is so painful to recall this moment. The moment our hearts broke, our lives changed, and nothing was ever the same again.
Minutes later we were rushing towards the hospital. I fell into a wheelchair, my mind spinning. They rushed me to labor and delivery and told me to pee in a cup. How could I? If I pushed I would lose more water and all I could imagine was my tiny baby suffocating in my womb, the place she is supposed to be the safest. I protested but the nurse demanded a sample. She stood there with me while I tried and all that came out was more amniotic fluid. My husband gripped my shoulder tight. I sobbed harder. I looked at her through my tears. “I can’t. I can’t.”
I was laid on a bed and hooked up to monitors. I heard the familiar rapid rhythm of my daughter’s heartbeat and what I felt wasn’t necessarily relief, but perhaps a flicker of hope. She’s still with us. Maybe there is something they can do.
I frantically started praying. Even in my mind I was stuttering and sobbing through my prayer. Will God understand me? Does he just get what I’m saying? I switched gears and talked to my baby. “We’re fighters in this family. We don’t give up. Please don’t give up. Stay with me. I can’t lose you, please don’t leave.” I repeated this over and over in my head.
A woman was admitted to the space on the other side of the curtain. I could hear her moaning through her labor. The nurse excitedly motivated her. “You’re going to have a baby, today!” I listened to her husband trying to soothe her. After a little while she was taken to a room to have her baby. I smiled sadly at my husband, “This is one of the best days of their life…” He knew what I meant. Even in our situation there was joy all around us. The bittersweet complexity of life. One suffers while one experiences jubilation. Life and death separated by a flimsy curtain.
I was admitted into a labor and delivery room and was told I would be getting an ultrasound to figure out what is going on. I asked the nurse for a catheter. She looked at me like I had grown a second head. “There’s no need for that, you can get up.” But I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep the amniotic fluid in. “But it will hurt.” I didn’t care. That didn’t matter. I needed to do everything I could to keep my child safe. She reluctantly agreed.
Yes it did hurt. But I squeezed my husband’s hand, distributing the pain between the two of us and it wasn’t so bad. A necessary sacrifice.
There we sat. Waiting on an ultrasound. A few hours later the tech came in with the portable ultrasound machine. His face was grim as he scanned all around. The baby was fine but there was very little fluid in there. I also had placenta previa. He told me a doctor would be in and left quietly. I knew what that meant. There was no hope to be had. It wasn’t going to be good news.
I wasn’t in any pain besides the ache in my heart. I listened to the doctor quietly. I felt like she was talking to me while I was riding a carnival ride. A rush of wind in my ears making it hard to make out the words. I realized later I couldn’t hear her because I was choking down sobs. The prognosis wasn’t good. I had lost my bag of waters so nothing was protecting the baby from the outside world. She estimated I would naturally go in to labor about 72 hours in after getting an infection. She said there was a slim chance I would stay like this, build up my waters, and have the baby prematurely. But she didn’t want to give me false hope. She said the slim chance was like 1%, maybe less.
My husband and I sat there. Sucker punched by the news. I turned to him. Gripping his hand tight, I kept repeating that the baby would be ok. I would stay just like this and we would have the baby early. We’ve seen these miracles happen. People go on to have healthy babies. I desperately set the intention. He wearily nodded his head and repeated back to me what I was saying.
We stayed in the hospital like this for almost three days. That magical 72 hour mark. I still felt fine. The nurses in the department rotated through and I must have met every one of them. One of them said she was praying for me to stay a long time and that the baby would be fine. She decided she would teach me how to knit during my time there. Her next shift she would bring me the supplies. Each one stopped in for some hair advice and if they weren’t assigned to me they would come by on their lunch breaks to check in on me and chat. By that third day I was so familiar with the schedule and procedures.
On the evening of that third day I laid in bed with a gas pain that wouldn’t go away. I complained to my husband who rubbed my belly a little but fatigued from lack of sleep and an abundance of worry he fell into a deep sleep on the couch next to me. I listened to his light snoring, meditating on it. Trying to focus on the pain and minimize it. The pain became rhythmic and stronger. I couldn’t help but let out moans and breathe through the pain. I worried I would wake my husband. Poor guy was so worried about me, I wanted him to rest. But something about the way it hurt and the way I was moaning sounded so much like the woman who was admitted while I was being triaged. I think I’m in labor I thought to myself. My heart sank. I tried to for a second concentrate on the pain, willing it to just be gas pain. But it was pretty obvious that I was in labor. I pushed the call button and a nurse came running in. My husband woke up and came to my side. I kept telling the nurse it just felt like gas pain. She gave me something for the pain and told me that if it was labor pain I would still feel the pain but if it was gas the pain would go away. I waited…as the next wave ripped through my lower half I began to cry. No. It was labor. This is it. She turned up the monitor and my daughters heartbeat filled the room. I listened. This was it. I’d never hear that heartbeat again. Something broke inside of me. My husband stroked my hair and held my hand as I breathed through the labor. He kissed my forehead and told me to breathe. The nurses ran around setting up for the birth. Before I knew it, I felt like I had to push. The nurses nodded at me and said “Whenever you’re ready.” Really. Because I’m not. I’m not ready for this. I wasn’t prepared for this. This isn’t how this was supposed to go down. I lay my head back and cried. I cried to God and anybody that would listen. I no longer felt the pain ripping through my lower half. I felt an ache in my throat. Like a giant frog in my throat. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I listened to my husband’s soothing voice. And then with no pain killers or analgesics I pushed out my baby girl. The room fell silent. Her heartbeat was gone.
They cleaned her up and wrapped her in the standard pink and blue striped blanket. They handed her to me. There I held my beautiful little girl, my husbands hand on her head. I held her as she slipped away from us. This cruel initiation into a club we never wanted to be in. We cried together. Both wracked with pain and grief. They asked us if we wanted a picture and we declined. As much as I knew I would never forget her, I didn’t want to remember these details. I wanted to remember her my way. We stared at her for so long. She had my grandfather’s nose, my husband’s hands and feet. She was really tall. Her skin was so fair and she had a tuft of dark brown hair. She had a slight smile on her face and oh God was she beautiful. Just 21 weeks into my pregnancy and she looked so much like her big brother, like one of us. I didn’t want to let go. I held her to my skin just wishing that my breath could fill her lungs, that the electricity from my heartbeat would make hers beat again. My doctor came in and sat next to me. She touched the blanket affectionately and stood silent as I grieved.
They took her to the nursery and supplied us with some ham and cheese sandwiches. I looked at my sandwich and tears welled up in my eyes. I had stayed away from cured meats to protect her. Somehow it seemed ironic to be eating it now. I felt like a failure. I felt empty. My doctor came to check on me again. She sat down next to me and held my hand tightly. We cried together. She reassured me it wasn’t my fault and that some things are out of their control. I nodded but still felt like I failed my family.
There are moments in our life we never forget. This was one of mine. It’s been 17 months and I’m still figuring it out. The sadness never leaves you. It’s inside everything you do. I had a miscarriage before this and for me that was easier to get past. The genetics didn’t line up, something was wrong and it was an early miscarriage. There was a reason and explanation for what happened. But this…no reason, no explanation. My child was ripped from me for no apparent reason. I flip flopped between anger and hurt and acceptance. I had moments of strength and moments where I couldn’t bear the pain. I cried like I’ve never cried in my life. Nothing could soothe me. My husband would hold me and rock me like a child. He’d pat my head and just let me break in his strong arms. I don’t know how he knew to do this, but he just let me break. He didn’t try to make me stop crying, he didn’t try to fix it. He just let the pain swell and steadied himself. Like the rock I would hold onto during a flood. We took turns falling apart and sometimes we fell apart together. But we consistently had each other and that is what got me through.
One hard part of this was when it came time to tell people what had happened. Not because it was difficult to talk about. I’m an open book. But the response I was getting. One person texted us relating their miscarriages to what we went through. Another person asked if there was anything I could have done differently. Yet another told me I’d be pregnant again in no time. On one hand I understand that most don’t know what to say in this situation, but on the other it hurt worse to hear this stuff. There is no consoling this kind of grief. As humans we have an inherent need to fix things or to say the right thing. I’d say in this case it’s better to just listen and not say anything.
I won’t even get in to the folks who called it a miscarriage as if it was somehow less that way. “Oh yea, so and so had a miscarriage but they had two healthy babies after that.” No a miscarriage sucks pretty huge and a preterm birth is terrible too. Each is a unique situation that can’t be compared. I gave birth to my daughter. I held her, saw her face. She has a name. We came home with a death certificate. Is it less because she was so young? Do grieving parents who lost their 16 year old somehow win this? If I entertained all the questions that popped in to my head I’d be the cynical mess I know I’m not. Instead, I choose to educate people. When I see them struggling for words, I immediately say “You don’t have to say anything, it’s OK. It’s a terrible situation, and that’s that.” or when they try to encourage me with a future birth I remind them that none of it is certain. I accept this grief as a part of my life. That it makes anyone else uncomfortable is none of my business. I own this grief. When it becomes overwhelming, I let it swallow me up and I experience it. Then I release it and think fondly of my daughter. She’s my angel baby. We can’t see her, but we can feel her presence. She is with me always. When people ask how many children I have, I pause. That is such a painful question. What do I say? If I say one then am I disregarding my daughter? If I say two and one has passed, will people perceive me as an attention seeker? But that’s the truth isn’t it. How many kids do you have? I have two. One that runs and one that flies.
There are so many intricacies to being a bereaved parent. It’s an unnatural pain. No one in this world can relate. Not even other bereaved parents. Each situation is so unique that each person who goes through it has their very own pain. Even between my husband and I, we grieve differently. I don’t know his pain and he doesn’t know mine. We are there for each other and understand the importance of allowing the pain to be present. He watched his daughter enter the world and slip away, a visual I’m sure haunts him. He watched his wife, usually strong and confident, fall apart and suffer through a birth that didn’t end the way it was supposed to. He had to grieve and keep it together for me and our son. These are his pains. I felt the tiny kicks and hiccups. I went through a pregnancy and felt each contraction as I pushed her little body out. I came home recovering from a delivery. My milk came in and I had no baby to feed. I sobbed to myself as I pumped the milk into the bathroom sink to relieve the pain from it building up in my breast. How can we relate to one another? Our experiences are unique. I respect his process as he respects mine. We listen, we stick around, and we get through it together.
Each person is different, and I think the important thing is to respect the grief. Some people cry there eyes out locked in a room and that’s ok. Some people socialize and try to move past it filling their days with normal activities. Anything goes. It’s all OK. I went and got my nails done. I had them put a bow on my ring finger to remember my little girl. While getting them done I looked over at the pedicure stations and there was a mother and daughter getting pedicures. I stared at them longingly. Perhaps I creeped them out. I blinked hard to push back my tears. And as soon as I was done I ran to my car and sobbed into the steering wheel. I wasn’t ready for the reminders. Shortly after I went through the starbuck’s drive through and the barista asks me how I’m doing. One of those questions we ask people without wanting the honest answer. Just say you’re fine and move along. Don’t complicate this simple social interaction.
Overtime I’ve lost friends because they just don’t know how to process who I’ve become. It’s a strange thing. You assume your closest friends will always be there for you especially during your hard times. But it seemed our grief was inconvenient. If we talked about our daughter they get visibly uncomfortable. Soon we weren’t invited to things. I wanted to be hurt about it, but I felt numb. People in my life I least expected to be there, rose to the occasion and became an important part of my support system. People that had been in my life forever, faded into the background becoming a vestigial piece of the person I used to be. The person who hadn’t suffered a loss like this. The loss has made me more understanding and infinitely more compassionate. I am grateful of everything. The problem with this was that frivolous conversations ceased to interest me. I defended the defenseless and because of my stronger sense of gratitude I had different things to say when these friends complained about petty issues. I wasn’t the carefree kid I used to be. I was a grieving mother with a story to tell.
If you’ve been through a pre term birth, or are facing circumstances that will lead you down this path, please know you aren’t alone. It is surprisingly common, which doesn’t make it any easier, but at the very least please know you are not a failure. Nobody talks about this. Especially in the Indian Community. It’s taboo. I think it’s seen as a sign of weakness. To which I would throw up my middle finger and scream bullshit. Why are we so ashamed? Why are we not more loving towards people who go through this. I’ve heard people from my community talk about others this way. “Oh did you hear so and so lost their baby, so sad, poor girl.” Says the auntie with the old spinster daughter, just barely hiding her glee. It makes me sick. I was terrified and confused when I went through it. Since then so many people have told me they went through it or know someone who did. There are support groups out there. The group ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’ really helped me. Talking to other mothers who had been through it helped me to clear away the confusion and celebrate my daughter.
I liken this experience to riding out a storm. A storm so powerful it uproots trees and leaves debris in it’s wake. You look around and see remnants of this storm, reminding you of the fear and difficulty it brought to your life. We rebuild and wait for the clouds to part. We wait for that rainbow. There’s no telling how long it will take for that beautiful vision. On the one year anniversary of Sahaara’s passing we visited the park where we scattered her ashes. It had been sort of a gloomy day, the clouds threatening a storm. As we walked towards the river access, the clouds began to part. We looked up to see not one but two rainbows. A flock of birds flew around and I noticed a beautiful sunset. The sunset was symbolic of our daughter. We kept catching the sunset on days we were really missing her. It became an association and seemed very appropriate on her birthday. To one side was a beautiful glowing sunset and on the other side the moon had risen and the sky was darkening. I thought of that woman on the other side of the curtain…birth and death…separated by a flimsy curtain. The day was so perfect. When you have a baby after losing one they call it your rainbow baby. The double rainbow made me think of that. A few weeks later a positive pregnancy test parted the clouds and a rainbow broke through the grief. Christmas morning I woke my husband up with the news. I am currently 20 weeks and anxiously awaiting the arrival of our baby girl. Sahaara’s presence is so much stronger; watching over her baby sister. If we hadn’t lost Sahaara, we wouldn’t be having this baby. If we hadn’t gone through all that, this wouldn’t be considered a high risk pregnancy. It’s been heavily monitored and protected by a gaggle of doctors. They’ve been able to intervene on things that wouldn’t have been tested for in a regular checkup. So many times we wondered why. It took us this long to find our answer. We leaned on our faith and spirituality to make sense of it. After patiently waiting for the storm to pass, the clouds have parted and our rainbow is upon us.