When Rosita Tantao became pregnant in 2011 by a boyfriend she had just begun dating, she was in shock. She told him about the pregnancy, expecting him to end their relationship, but instead, he stayed. “[T]he character of that man became immediately evident,” she wrote at Love What Matters. “He told me, ‘I’m with you through this. I’m not leaving.’ And it was true. He continued to stay throughout a pregnancy that would change our lives forever.”
But things quickly went wrong; by 10 weeks, Tantao was bleeding and cramping, but their baby was alive, and they were sent home. “The next 10 weeks consisted of weekly visits with continued bleeding, but no real concern from the clinic I was attending,” she said. She added that she was on Medicaid and saw “mostly residents instead of our OB” when going to the free clinic at the University hospital. “Every time I went in for an appointment or emergency visit, it was a different resident I saw. To this day, I still don’t know who my OB was because I never met her in person.”
This seemed to cause problems. “When I complained of leaking fluid at 12 weeks, I was told it was just urine,” she recalled. “When I complained of back pain at 15 weeks, I was told I was standing too much. When I was sent to the ER by the sonogram technician at our anatomy scan for having really low amniotic fluid at 17 weeks, I was told I wasn’t drinking enough water. When I was passing golf ball sized clots at 19 weeks, I was told this was my fault for exerting myself too much. I was trying to do everything they told me to save this baby I was determined to have.”
Things soon went from bad to worse; Tantao’s back pain became unbearable, and she woke up one morning with more fluid leaking than ever. Hospital staff said her water had broken, but they refused to do anything, says Tantao. “[W]e were told that bed rest and IV fluids, which we now know can be given to pregnancies with low fluid in an effort to prolong the pregnancy, usually ‘doesn’t really do anything’.” She said she felt cornered into either being forced to deliver early or release the hospital from liability and go elsewhere. Tantao then claims staff inserted two pills (likely misoprostol) vaginally to start her labor. She calls this a “forced abortion,” and says staff told her they would not help the baby at 20 weeks.
The image seared in my mind is of her little arm stretching into the air. She was alive. ALIVE. Surely, the nurse wasn’t going to let her die, right? Wrong. Our baby was placed in my arms, I was cleaned up, and we were left alone with our baby as the staff waited for her to die. We were visited every 30 minutes for 4 hours to see if she was still alive.
At one point, I was told not to hold her too close because my warmth and heart beat would confuse her body into staying alive. We watched our daughter fight to stay alive, but nobody on staff seemed to care. At 7:54pm, our dear sweet Natalie passed away in my arms.
No premature babies have survived being born at 20 weeks at this point, but some have survived birth as early as 21 weeks. While there is no treatment available for a full amniotic rupture, patients are often hospitalized and given bed rest and fluids, as well as antibiotics and steroid shots to help mature the baby’s lungs.
If Tantao wanted to fight for Natalie’s life, she should have been given the chance. An arbitrary age — especially given ever-improving lifesaving technology for premature infants — should not determine whether or not a child is given a chance to survive. Babies are surviving at younger ages, thanks to medical staff who are willing to try.
Tantao and her boyfriend eventually married and had two rainbow babies, but never forgot Natalie. “Every year, on her birthday, I try to imagine what she would be like, what she would look like, what she would be doing,” she said. “Until the day I meet her again, I will continue to speak her name because while she did die, for four short hours she did live. And in those four hours, she filled her Mommy and Daddy’s hearts with love we never knew we could feel. And for that, we are forever grateful.”
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