Category Archives: Grief

The middle child

I clung to a lot of milestones after losing Genevieve. When we picked up her urn from the funeral home, I would feel better, I thought. I did not. When we passed her official due date, I would feel better. Not so much. When we turned the calendar over to 2012, I would feel better. I did, at least a bit. When we passed her first birthday, I would feel better. I did, though not completely.

I thought that each of these steps would bring a monumental shift in my emotions, that I might eventually be cured of my sadness. With time, I learned that the passing of a day might bring small relief or fresh hope, but I would never be cured. Still, I really looked forward to the final step on the journey, the one that I had scrawled into my journal when I was still buried in grief: bring home a healthy baby.

I was euphoric after Henry’s birth, and I am still in awe that we got him out alive. As time passes though, I’m returning to a more normal level of happiness. I still miss Genevieve, and it’s more difficult now to figure out how to carry that sadness. Her death is bookended by two happy births. I almost feel guilty for missing her. Isn’t this the part where I’m supposed to be happy every day for the rest of my life? I don’t know why I care what other people think, but I worry that others will think that Henry’s birth somehow erases what came before.

I have a necklace with a charm for each of the kids, and when I was out shopping, a woman complimented me on it. “Wow, three kids,” she said. She sounded surprised that I had the time to get out and buy makeup. If only I were that busy.

I remember that after having Genevieve, I told Greg I wanted to have four babies, five babies, as many babies as I could have. Surely that would make me feel better. I know now that it wouldn’t. And I don’t want to be cured anyway. I will always wish that Genevieve were here, but I’m done wishing away the sadness. The missing is how I keep her with me.

The kids together

Precipice

A few weeks after I had Genevieve, I met with my doctor to go over test results. She told me that they couldn’t find any cause of death. I was already thinking about my next pregnancy, so I pressed her with questions. What would be done differently next time? She said that the odds of a repeat stillbirth were incredibly slim and that we didn’t need do anything differently. She seemed flippant about Genevieve’s death, her behavior little more than a shoulder shrug. Oh well, try again.

How could she ensure a healthy baby when she couldn’t tell me what had happened to Genevieve?

I did some research and made an appointment with a different doctor. I knew in our first meeting that I had found the right person to see me through another pregnancy. She wanted to know how I was coping with the loss, whether I was taking medication or getting counseling. She was dogged in trying to determine what had gone wrong. She said that I should have been sent to a perinatologist during my pregnancy with Genevieve because of my polyhydramnios. Polyhydramnios is the term for excess amniotic fluid. It’s usually not the cause of a stillbirth, but rather a sign that something is going wrong with mother or baby.

After a lot of blood work, she told me that she couldn’t find anything wrong with me. She said that Genevieve had most likely had a problem we didn’t detect. Still, she planned to send me to a perinatologist for my next pregnancy.

In my first meeting with the perinatologist, he reiterated that polyhydramnios is a problem that almost never repeats. I met with him once a month in the early stages of pregnancy and then once a week during the third trimester. I lost Genevieve at 36 weeks, and as I inched closer to that date, the fear nearly paralyzed me. My amniotic fluid levels kept creeping upward. Fluid above 25 cm. is considered worrisome, and above 28 cm. is considered reason to deliver a baby. My fluid had been above 30 cm. during my pregnancy with Genevieve, and with Henry, it was hovering around 23 or 24 cm.

I requested that the doctors start monitoring the baby twice a week instead of once. When I went in for my 36-week appointment, on a Wednesday, my fluid was 24 cm., and Henry did great on the tests. I asked the doctor if I could have another check on Friday to help calm me before the weekend. He agreed. When I went in on Friday, my fluid was above 28 cm., and the doctor couldn’t see any fluid in Henry’s stomach, another sign of trouble. I was perched at the edge of that cliff again.

A flurry of phone calls began. The perinatologist called my ob/gyn, who was out of town, and then called one of her partners. He waited for calls back. He finally came in to talk to me. He said that he was scared to send me home for the weekend without monitoring. He was also worried about delivering a premature baby. He said that he had never seen a case like mine, had no experience to draw from.

An early delivery would, at worst, mean that Henry would spend a few days in the NICU, he said. We would take home a baby. If we waited until Monday, we might not. I needed no convincing. I called Greg and drove across the street to the hospital.

Henry ended up weighing nearly 8 pounds and did really well for an early baby. When I met with my ob/gyn a few weeks after Henry’s birth, she told me that the doctors had run tests after the delivery. Something had been going wrong with the placenta, a problem that my doctor couldn’t fully explain but said was likely some unfortunate genetic quirk of my body. And given how my pregnancy with Henry mirrored my pregnancy with Genevieve, we now have an explanation for her death. Genevieve seemed perfect because she was perfect. With intervention, she could have lived. That is a heavy load to carry.

We tend to think of medicine as a very advanced science, but so much remains unknown, particularly about pregnancy. Doctors play the odds. They have to. We can’t all receive round-the-clock monitoring. Most of the time, everything works out.

I know that quite a few baby loss parents read this blog, and I want to encourage all of you to be advocates for yourselves and your babies. Find the best doctors you can, doctors who take your concerns seriously. Demand the tests that you think are needed. Trust your instincts. If you have lost a baby, then you have earned the right to be as skeptical and pushy and bold as you need to be.

Had I not asked for those tests on Nov. 15, we might have lost Henry. I never thought I would feel lucky again after losing Genevieve. But when I climb the stairs at night and pass Henry’s room, with that wee rosy-cheeked boy asleep in his crib, my heart is full.

October 15th

Last week, I began nonstress tests and biophysical profiles for this baby. Every week now, I will visit the perinatologist and be strapped to a machine for 30 minutes while they monitor the baby’s heartbeat and movements. If the baby isn’t moving enough, I will stay strapped to the machine longer. And if things still don’t look right, the baby might be delivered early.

Before I went back for the tests, I had to sign a form acknowledging that I understand that, even with the tests, there is still a 1 in 1,000 chance that this baby will not survive. A more rational person would look at that figure and see 999 living babies. All I could think of was that one.

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. About one in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage. About one in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth. I have been the one in both cases, so statistics no longer bring me any comfort. When you add up all the other women who have been the one, you have thousands.

Every few weeks, I receive an email from a stranger who has lost a baby. I am grateful if I can offer some small bit of helpful advice or comfort. This seems to be the only sensible thing I can do about Genevieve’s death, try to help those behind me, just as I was helped by those ahead. But I wish there weren’t so many behind me, that we could make this problem truly rare.

A candle burns in my front window tonight. For each candle that burns in a window tonight, each person who didn’t seem all that statistically significant, there is a story, and a missing baby who is loved beyond any quantifying or measurement.