This is the story of how my husband Ken and I lost our first child, our baby girl. Lauren died before she ever had the chance to be born, and we went from being expectant parents to being bereaved parents without ever having had the chance to meet our daughter face to face. I share our story in the hope that others who have suffered a perinatal death may find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone in their grief. I also hope to pass on the greatest lesson that Lauren taught us: take nothing for granted, for the future you imagine is never guaranteed.
First, let me tell you a few things about Lauren, what little we knew about her. She was a relatively quiet baby, only being active a few specific times each day (around 6am, 12pm, 6pm, and 10pm), but when she was active, she was very active, giving me some very strong jabs in the ribs towards the end. I sang to her a lot. Sometimes I would sway back and forth to rock her back to sleep if she was kicking me late at night. Ken liked to read her poetry and talk to her whenever she was awake. He called her “squishy baby.” I called her “wiggle worm.” When he would talk to her, she would stop wiggling and listen. If he stopped talking, she would wiggle again until he started talking again. We think she learned that she could make his voice come by moving. We also joked that she was shy, because whenever I called someone over to feel her kicks, she would stop. For 37 weeks, she was my constant companion, and I miss her more than I can say.
As most of you know, the pregnancy was relatively uneventful. Aside from some extreme, long-lasting morning sickness, I had absolutely no complications at all. So on Monday, October 3, when around 11am I realized I hadn’t noticed the baby kicking yet that morning, I wasn’t very concerned. I knew kicking could decrease in late pregnancy, that she tended to be quieter in the mornings, and that I’d been having some mild contractions which could also affect her movement. To help with the contractions, I drank a lot of water, and got some rest. I fell asleep around 1pm and woke up two hours later. I still hadn’t noticed her moving, but I thought maybe I’d just slept through it. I was becoming increasingly worried, so I started trying to do things that would normally cause her to move, like changing my activity level and drinking fruit juice. By 6pm when Ken came home, I was very concerned, so we called the nurse-midwife on call. After I described what was going on, she told us to come to the hospital for fetal monitoring.
We didn’t take anything to the hospital. We told ourselves we were going to go, find out that I was being paranoid and everything was fine, hear the heartbeat, eat dinner, and come home. It took them a while to find a room for me, and our nerves increased. Finally they found a room for me in labor and delivery, and a nurse brought a fetal monitor. When at first she couldn’t find a heartbeat, I tried not to be concerned, because I knew that sometimes Lauren could be hard to find (again, we think she was shy). But then time continued to pass and she still couldn’t find anything. She called in another nurse to try. What seemed like hours passed while she tried to find a heartbeat and couldn’t. Then they got a resident OB to bring in an ultrasound machine. I could see the picture on the screen and I knew. I could see clearly that Lauren wasn’t moving at all and that there was no heartbeat. Even though I knew, I waited for her to tell me I was wrong. After an unbelievably long time where she didn’t say anything at all, she said simply, “I’m so sorry.”
I wailed and burst into tears, and Ken and I held each other while we cried. Eventually I looked up and started asking questions – How can this happen? Did I do something wrong? Are you sure there hasn’t been some terrible mistake?
And then finally – What happens now?
They told me then that they would induce my labor. I just looked at them and repeated, “I have to go through labor now.” And they nodded. I looked at Ken and said, “I can’t do that. I cannot go through labor and not bring home a baby at the end of it.” He assured me that I could, that I was strong enough. In any case, I had no choice.
We started calling people to let them know. Ken picked up the phone to call my parents first, but as soon as it started ringing, he started crying so hard he couldn’t speak, so I took the phone and gave the news to my mom. She and my dad threw some things in a bag, jumped in the car, and were with us in record time.
The doctors drew blood and did a (very painful) amniocentesis, to try to figure out what went wrong. Then they gave me Cytotec to ripen my cervix and Ambien to help me sleep. By then it was very late, so my parents went to a hotel to try to get some sleep. They brought in a cot for Ken, but we couldn’t bear to be separated, so he squished in the hospital bed with me.
By Tuesday morning I was only 1 cm dilated, so thus followed a series of interventions to get my labor underway, involving a foley bulb and varying levels of Pitocin as they tried to get my contractions to come regularly but not too frequently.
I can’t say too much for the anesthesiology residents and doctors we dealt with, since they botched my epidural in the beginning, then forgot to turn on the drip (so now I definitely know what true labor contractions feel like), then had trouble managing my medication properly so that my pain kept coming and going. Nor did they handle me with the care and kindness of the nurses and nurse-midwives, who were all amazing.
While we waited, there was laughter and there were tears. We worked a crossword puzzle to pass the time. We dozed. My parents were the most amazing support we could have ever asked for. They took care of all the details (like going to the house and picking up some things for us, making sure Ken ate), so that Ken could take care of me, and I could focus on what I had to do. I can’t imagine how we would have gotten through this without them.
At 7pm, I was 4 cm dilated, and the foley bulb came out. They gradually increased my level of Pitocin and checked me periodically. We all tried to get some rest. At 2:30am, the nurse-midwives told me I was fully dilated and effaced, but we decided to wait to push and let the baby descend a little bit on her own. At 3:30am we began pushing.
To support me, we put on a recording of our guru chanting. It really helped me to sit back and listen to his voice in between contractions. It gave me the strength to do the hardest thing I have ever done: push my baby away from me, when all I wanted was to keep her with me.
Lauren was stillborn at 3:56am, weighing 5 lbs, 3 oz. She had a head of dark, wavy hair, Ken’s nose, my mouth, and long fingers and toes. She was beautiful.
While I was delivering her, an odd sense of peace and calm settled over the hospital room, and once she was born, while we held her and said our goodbyes, we all felt strangely peaceful, even through our profound sadness. The nurses and nurse-midwives who were with us we are all deeply touched. One even told me she felt privileged to have been a part of our delivery.
We feel so grateful, now, that we really made the most of the pregnancy. It was really important to us from the beginning not to wish it away. Now we’re so glad that we made the most of every moment, because those turned out to be the only moments we would ever have with her. As it is, she taught us so much. For example, I learned where my priorities really lie. I was considering going back to school, trying to figure out what I really wanted with my life, and she helped me realize that I don’t necessarily want to revolutionize the world of foreign language teaching. All I really want is to be the best mother and wife that I can be. Whether or not that includes me working is not important. As for Ken, over the course of the pregnancy I watched him become increasingly playful and joyful. It was really beautiful to watch the way he took care of both of us. He was an outstanding father to her.
We miss her every moment, and some moments are difficult than others. We are fortunate to have the support of a loving family and a community of friends who, simply by letting us know that they are thinking of us, help us to get through the day. All we can do now is continue to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.