I was so excited. I took a pregnancy test early one morning and saw the positive line appear. My heart was racing as I prepared a box with tiny baby shoes and the pregnancy test, along with lots and lots of tissue paper. My plan was to trick my husband by pretending this package had arrived the day before for him, and we had somehow missed it. I would film him opening it under the guise of filming for my mom (who I said had sent him a surprise package and would just love to see his reaction later on). I was shaking as I held the camera. When he moved aside the tissue paper and saw the baby shoes and test, he paused for a moment, then looked up in shock and delight. He was thrilled. We were so happy, as were our three young children.
My first appointment was with a New York OB-GYN. We are a military family and move around a lot, but this was my first pregnancy in that state. The doctor spoke in clinical terms, never calling our child a “baby”, which was unusual from my personal experience, especially since we had an ultrasound done and saw our tiny baby squirming around on the screen for the first time. While I wasn’t too concerned then, in the days following, I remembered the odd way the doctor had spoken of our baby, and had this gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right…. But I kept telling myself maybe it’s normal here to talk about babies like that. Still, that nagging feeling never stopped.
I eventually learned he had been an abortionist in Pennsylvania and was accused of some illegal activities but had not been convicted. I decided that a man who previously murdered children in the womb was not someone I could trust with my preborn child’s life. I switched to a provider I could trust, which meant driving an hour in each direction to see midwives who delivered at a hospital in the next nearest city.
Everything was going perfectly for the first few months. Every appointment we could hear our baby’s heartbeat, and after we cleared the first trimester we felt relief. As the weeks passed, I was so excited to learn the gender that I convinced my husband to do a gender reveal ultrasound at 16 weeks — our first one ever! We were so excited! My husband planned to drive there and meet me.
I vividly remember sitting in the parking lot when I got there, by myself, in my car, and feeling strangely emotional. I was fighting back tears and a rising, irrational fear that my baby had died. This is totally ridiculous, I told myself. So in we went. After a long wait, I was called back.
The tech put the wand on my stomach. She became totally silent, and we knew something was wrong. The baby was unmoving. No heartbeat… nothing was moving… but I couldn’t believe it. I made myself ask, “Is the baby dead??” The tech said she wasn’t supposed to tell me, but she didn’t want to leave me without answers. The baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. The baby has died.
Everything began to feel completely surreal at that point. I literally felt like I couldn’t breathe. I wanted the window open. I felt like I was starting to live a nightmare. Our midwives spoke to me on the phone and gave me an option to wait a few days to digest the news, or to come to the hospital and see them. I didn’t feel like I needed time to digest the news because I understood what was happening. I understood that my precious baby had died. What I needed was time to grieve. And that wouldn’t happen in a few days, or a few weeks, but over a lifetime.
As we drove the hour south to the hospital, the tears never stopped coming. I was so heartbroken that I had no strength to comfort my husband. I was completely consumed within myself. I couldn’t even look at him. I remember him crying alongside me, heartbroken too. Even though he was suffering, he still reached over to hold my hand during the ride. That meant so much to me, even though at the time I couldn’t respond to it.
Every step at the hospital toward the labor and delivery unit was a tangible reminder of the reality that we were going to give birth where women give birth to babies every day, but our baby would never cry or come home with us. We were escorted to a corner room, and the first thing I saw was the little bed they put babies on after they are born. There was no worse salt to be added to this wound than to sit next to what should have been my baby’s bed and never would be.
Another ultrasound confirmed the baby had died. They gave me medication to induce labor along with pain medication. For hours we waited, with not much happening except anxiety. I remember thinking, “How can I live after holding my dead child? How can someone physically keep breathing after that kind of pain?”
Finally, I delivered into a pan that was placed under me. They quickly whisked the container away to a table in front of me, to clean the baby, who they wrapped in a tiny handmade blanket, with a tiny handmade hat. I asked the nurse if she could identify the sex and she said, “It’s a boy.” Our first son. She handed him to me and as I cried, I examined every single part of his beautiful small body.
He was shockingly detailed, with fingernails on his hands and toenails on his toes, a tongue and toothbuds inside his mouth, eyes, ears that were making their way into position, a nose, and a cute little tummy. He even had clearly defined muscles in his arms, like any physically fit adult might have. His face was amazing. Initially, his lips were pursed. I would later see this in one of our children born after him, who purses her lips in the same way, and no one else in the family does this. I cherish that.
We named him Martin.
Both my husband and I took turns holding him for a long time and taking pictures. Once we were ready, the hospital staff said they would take his body to where it would be kept for retrieval by the funeral home. I dreaded having to give my son to them to take away. My husband did it for me. I remember him walking very slowly across the room to the nurse, and ever so gently handing our son’s little body to her, then watching his head sink down to his chest. I remember vividly how totally destroyed my husband was.
Each person who came into our room at that Catholic hospital showed how much they valued human life. One nurse even bought us large butterfly cookies from an obviously fancy bakery. They were beautiful. She explained that she picked butterflies for us because they are a symbol of hope. We were given a keepsake box for items relating to the birth (little rings they had given for him to hold in pictures, his blanket, hat, footprints, measuring tape, a book for our other children, etc.), and they showed love and compassion to us and respect for our child’s life at every turn.
Through this tragedy, we have learned some invaluable things that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. We have learned how important it is to not be fearful of those going through a tragedy, but rather to reach out and help them because that effort has a huge impact. So many people did that for us, and that was a tremendous source of comfort. Secondly, we got to see for ourselves what life inside the womb actually looks like. That knowledge is something that no one can take away from us.
No one can tell me now that these aren’t babies when I’ve held one in my hand and seen the undeniable humanity in his face, and in every tiny detail of his body. Knowledge is power and experience is undeniable. We have learned that we can survive tragedies and heartbreak and come out the other side more aware, and more compassionate human beings.
Editor’s Note: Read about Kyle Marie’s second miscarriage experience at 8 weeks here.
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