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.