I woke up on the morning of Friday, August 7th, still spotting & vaguely crampy. I remember getting into the car with my overnight bag around lunchtime, looking at dh & taking a deep breath as we set off toward the city. We used to say to each other, "A new adventure for Sammy & Lori" whenever we headed off to an unknown place or situation. This was a new "adventure," all right. But we were a team, & we would get through this together.
As we drove toward the city, I started noticing a certain rhythm to my period-like cramps. I looked at the clock. "It's funny," I said to dh. "I keep getting these little cramps. And they come just about every five minutes."
Dh started driving faster. I actually laughed. (We laughed more than a few times that day. It's still possible to find humour even in the strangest, most tragic situations.) "It's not BAD cramps!" I said. "I think we're fine!"
We arrived at the hospital, parked and went to the admissions desk. Told her who we were & why we were there. She asked us some questions, took down some information.
Then she said, "Private or non-private room? Private room, you have to pay."
"Excuse me?" I said. "My doctor told me I was told I was GETTING a private room."
"Private room, you have to pay," she insisted. (English was obviously not her first language.) "Maybe your work has insurance?"
I wasn't about to start calling the office to discuss what coverage I had under my benefits program. Dh took out his credit card. "We'll settle this later," he said. (We DID wind up getting charged! -- I called Dr. Ob-gyn's office and they had the charges reversed.)(So much for universal health coverage...!)
We followed the directions she gave us, and presented our paperwork to a nurse at the desk in what turned out to be the maternity ward (!!). She gave us a funny look. "I don't have a bed for you," she said.
I started crying. I'm in labour with a baby I'm not taking home, I get asked for my credit card for the privilege of delivering her, and then I get sent to the regular maternity ward, where they tell me they don't have a bed for me and are not expecting me. Crap upon crap upon crap. I DON'T NEED THIS RIGHT NOW!!!
She took us to quiet little lounge nearby & said, "Wait here." She returned a few minutes later & escorted us to another wing on the same floor, where they WERE expecting us and I DID have a private room. It was in what was called the antepartum ward, right next to the NICU, where they regularly handle stillbirth inductions, medical terminations & high-risk pregnancies. (This being a big city hospital where they handle these sorts of situations regularly. It wasn't until I started attending support group and heard about other women being housed on the "regular" maternity wards that I realized just how lucky we were.)
I sat on my bed & tried to read while dh paced up & down. There was no TV (we'd have to pay to have it hooked up, & the guy who did that only came around once a day). Dr. Ob-gyn came to see us, & took umpteen vials of blood from me. He said they would give me the pills to begin inducing labour later in the afternoon, although I was already slightly dilated. The anesthesiologist came by to talk about the kind of pain medication he had in mind for me. The social worker came by to introduce herself and to give us an information package with pamphlets and handouts on everything from local funeral homes to local support groups, suggested books to read, and how to stop lactation.
The Protestant chaplain was on vacation at the moment, but we were agreeable to having the Catholic chaplain drop by instead. He was a kind young seminarian, no older than we were. We both liked him instantly. He told us it wasn't the practice to baptize stillborn babies, but they did have "naming ceremonies." Would we like to do that? We said yes, & he said to have the nurses call him, day or night, and he would come to do it for us. He also offered to call our parish priest for us. I knew he was in England for a conference, but I gave the chaplain the name of the assistant curate, a personable woman about the same age as dh & me.
My mom's flight arrived at 2:23 p.m., but by the time she picked up her luggage, met FIL & battled the Friday afternoon traffic downtown, it was 4 or 4:30 by the time she arrived at the hospital. FIL dropped her off at the corner with an overnight bag, & took her suitcase back home with him. (We had told everyone we didn't want anyone else to come to the hospital -- I just didn't think I could handle it.) I was relieved to see her walk through those doors.
"How many other hospital rooms have we been together in?" she laughed sadly as we hugged, remembering, as I did, the many times I stayed in the hospital as a child, having various tests done for my bladder condition (which I eventually outgrew). I was aware, as she hugged me, that she hadn't seen me since Christmas, hadn't seen me pregnant. And now here I was, giving birth to her dead grandchild, prematurely.
She told me she'd sent my sister to the small town about an hour & a half from where she lived to tell my grandparents, who lived in the seniors' home there, about what had happened. News travels fast (especially when small towns are concerned), & she wanted someone to tell them personally. I hadn't even thought about how my grandparents should or would find out, & my heart absolutely broke at the thought of my sister -- who is not one for huge displays of emotion -- but who had been so excited at the thought of becoming an auntie -- having to do this awful thing, because of me. (She called me a night or two after we got back home. She couldn't even talk, just sniffled while *I* did all the talking!!)
Shortly after she arrived, I went the washroom, & panicked when I wiped myself & came up with a large, bloody, gelatinous mass. I asked my mother to ring for the nurse & showed her what I had found, but she seemed unconcerned, so I flushed it down the toilet. I later figured out that it was probably my mucous plug.
I was sitting on my bed at around 5 p.m., eating the tray of chicken & rice they had brought for me (I don't remember mom or dh eating -- dh probably said he wasn't hungry), when all of a sudden, the cramps started getting a whole lot more painful and frequent. I started eating faster, because I knew it was likely the last food I'd be having for awhile (a memory that makes me laugh even now when I think about it). (Dh marvels at my ability to be hungry & eat in any situation!)
Eventually, I had to call the nurse. Of course, the anestheologist was nowhere to be found (!), but they gave me a shot of something (demerol?) to help take the edge off until he could come. Dr. Ob-gyn had already left for the day, but the dr on call (an absolutely wonderful young woman
-- who told me she'd been a grief counsellor before going to medical school!!) came in to examine me. She knelt down until her face was at the same level as mine, as I was going through a contraction, & said to me, "You tell me when you're ready to listen." When she examined me, I was 3 cm dilated. No need for induction -- I was obviously on my way!
The anesthesiologist finally arrived at about 6ish, I think, & they hooked me up to an IV & taped a pump mechanism to my hand (I could see the faint scar for several years afterwards, & was actually sad when it finally faded from view), & before long, I was in lala land. I could hear people talking around me, but was pretty much out of it & feeling absolutely no pain. He told me I could squeeze the pump to medicate myself, but it would only actually dispense the painkiller no more than every five minutes, so I wouldn't overdose. Dh said it was actually kind of funny watching me, because I would get this little smile on my face every time I squeezed the pump!
Mom called Dad, and held the phone up to my ear. "Can you say hi to Daddy?"
"Hi Daddy, I'm OK, I'm just kinda doped up," I mumbled. He didn't respond.
I guess they thought it would take hours & hours, & dh & mom were settling for what they thought would be a long wait. At one point, I turned over, from my side onto my back -- & I could feel something move "down there." I remembered my girlfriend telling me that when she was pregnant, the baby "dropped" nearly a month before she delivered him, & it was like carrying a bowling ball between her legs!! I figured this is what was happening, that the baby was dropping into position in my pelvis. I tried to tell my mom that I could feel movement, but I don't think I could communicate very clearly.
At about 8 or 8:30, the nurse came in to check on me. I remember hearing her shocked voice saying, "Oh my goodness, she's delivered!" Within seconds, the room was full of people, & they were taking me off the IV pump. I was dazed and confused. The dr swooped in & told me to push. One push, & I felt something warm & wet, & it was all over. I begged them not to show me the baby just yet, because I hadn't decided whether I wanted to see her.
They cleaned me up, propped me up in bed, & one of the nurses brought my mother & me cups of tea. They asked us if we'd like to see the baby. By now, I knew I had to see her. I thought I would regret it if I didn't. Dh had initially been adamantly opposed to the idea, but suddenly he changed his mind and said he'd like to see her, too. I think my mother wanted to see her all along, but she said she'd go along with whatever we wanted. I did ask what she looked like, & the nurse only said she was very small.
A little while later, two nurses appeared at the door, carrying a bundle of blankets. "Here's your baby," one of them said to me with a smile. She unwrapped the blankets & handed me a tiny white, nearly weightless bundle. "Oh my baby!" I said as I looked at her.
She was wrapped in a blanket, but over that, she was wrapped in a beautiful white crocheted shawl & a tiny crocheted cap was perched on her head. She was so very tiny (no wonder it didn't take very long -- I didn't have to dilate very much for her to get through) -- and very red -- but her little facial features were perfectly formed. Her little head was larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball. The crib card the nurses later gave me said she only weighed 125 grams, or about 4 ounces -- definitely not your average six-month baby.
"Why is she so red?" I asked. "It's a process they go through," was all the nurse said.
I didn't unwrap her -- didn't even realize that I could or should -- and no one suggested it. But mom, dh & I spent awhile -- one hour? two? taking turns holding her, staring at her face, trying to memorize her features. She was real!! I remember looking at her & thinking, "Look at what we made together! We did this!!" She was dead, but she was a real baby -- just a very, very small one -- and she was a child of God. She was beautiful in her own sweet, sad way, and I felt a sense of pride, as well as sorrow.
My mother took her in her arms, & instinctively started rocking her, back & forth, & patting the little bundle. "Poor wee tyke," she murmured.
The young chaplain returned, and we had the naming ceremony. One of the nurses attended too. He read the Bible story of Jesus saying, "Let the little children come unto me," which made me sob, and blessed her, bending over her & making the sign of the cross on her forehead with a look of love and tenderness on his face. He gave us the candle that we lit during the ceremony, and a New Testament with the passages he had read bookmarked.
And we took pictures. The social worker had suggested we bring a camera but I thought it would be too morbid. Of course, now I could kick myself. The nurses did take a few Polaroids for us, which are lousy, but precious, because they're all that I have. They also took photos with a 35 mm point & shoot -- which jammed. (I asked them to please let us know if they were able to get any pictures from that film, but never received any.) I didn't think to send dh to the gift shop downstairs for a disposable (if the store was even open at that hour). There are lots of things I wish we had done differently, but I try to tell myself we made the best decisions we could under the circumstances.
By now, it was late, probably 11 or 12 o'clock, and I was getting very tired. Dh or my mother had been holding her & gave her back to the nurse. "Please, can I just hold her one more time?" I begged. I HAD to be the last one to hold her. "Of course," the nurse said, handing her back to me.
I took one more look at that wee red face. "Goodbye, baby. Mommy loves you," I said. I kissed the tip of my finger & pressed it to her forehead. It was cold as ice. I handed her back to the nurse. (Dh said he saw her cover Katie's face with a blanket as she left the room.)
I was exhausted, but it was hard to sleep, with the comings & goings of the nurses in the hallway. Also, they had me hooked up to an IV drip that the nurse said would help my uterus to contract. An entrance to the NICU was directly across the hallway from my room, & every time the door opened, we could hear the beep-beeps of the equipment. They brought in a reclining chair & dh & my mom took turns trying to sleep on that and on the sofa in the lounge. I got up once to go to the washroom. I rang for the nurse & she helped me wheel the IV over to the bathroom door & helped me get back into bed again.
The next morning the dr on call dropped in to say hello. It turned out to be the high-risk dr that dh had spoken with on the phone when I got sick on our wedding anniversary in early July. "I'm very sorry about your baby," he said.
He also turned out to be a specialist in placental disorders, & seemed keenly interested in my story, especially when I mentioned IUGR & the clot on the placenta that had appeared on the ultrasounds. He said he'd like to examine the placenta. "Placental insufficiency is very rare," he said, quoting some statistics. Dh kind of took offense at what he was telling us ("great, we just won the lottery") but I was thinking he might be someone who could help us in a future pregnancy.
Dr. Ob-gyn arrived, wearing shorts (!) & looking like he'd just wandered in off the tennis court, and I introduced him to my mother. He told me to walk around a little & see how I felt, & I could leave whenever I felt like it, which was by early afternoon. I hated to leave in some ways -- it had hardly been 24 hours since I arrived, & my baby was still somewhere in the hospital. I think they may have asked us if we'd like to see her again, but I said no. I felt like that was over & done with the night before.
The nurses brought us the little outfit she had been wearing the night before, and a folder with the extra hospital bracelets (never worn) to match the one on my wrist, a pink crib card with her stats written on them (even though she'd never been in a crib), and a "Certificate of Life" which included tiny, smudgy foot and handprints, barely as large as my thumbnail.
They also gave us six Polaroids -- one of me & Katie; one of me, dh & Katie; and one of me, dh, Mom & Katie, and three of Katie herself. She was lying on a metal tray, still bundled up, with her little red face barely visible. The nurse's hand holding the tray is gloved, and there is a bag in the background clearly labelled "SOILED LINEN." My support group facilitator, who helped train nurses & other professionals who assist bereaved parents, told me she'd like to use my photos as an example of how NOT to take them. A few weeks later, there was a story in the newspaper about a local hospital (not the same one) which had LOST the body of a stillborn baby. It eventually turned up in the laundry (!!). I have heard other similar stories over the years (more than I care to think about), & needless to say, every time I look at those three pictures, I think,
"There but for the grace of God went my daughter." They're lousy photos in every respect, but of course, infinitely precious, since they're the only ones I have.
It felt strange walking past the nurses desk and out of the hospital. It was Saturday -- Jewish Sabbath -- and the elevator stopped on every floor (so that observant Jews would not have to "work" on the Sabbath by pressing the buttons). Dh went ahead to bring the car around to the entrance. It was another grey, humid, clammy afternoon.
Not surprisingly, nobody felt like cooking when we got home. My mom suggested we order in -- and so having Chinese food delivered has become a regular part of our "anniversary" ritual almost every August 7th since then.