Told by: Desiree
My husband and I have been married 7 years and I was expecting our third baby, boy #3. I’ll admit taking care of two other children was keeping me pretty distracted and I didn’t spend as much time enjoying my pregnancy as I wish I could have. At 35 weeks, I went in for my regular OB appointment only to have my doctor express concern at my baby’s 120 heartrate–clearly not in distress, but slower than expected. Once I was being monitored, they realized I was also having regular contractions. For four hours they worked to stop the contractions and assure themselves that my baby was, in fact, ok. I ran out of the hospital as soon as they would let me to relieve my overburdened babysitter. How could I know it would be the last opportunity to save my unborn son? Two days later, my parents were in town, doing a practice overnight with my kids to prepare for when I would actually deliver. We toured around, getting them acquainted with the city we had just moved to. Went to dinner and then stayed up gabbing after putting our boys to bed. I vividly remember snacking on a chocolate bar and later as I was getting ready for bed, realized that my baby hadn’t kicked or moved or done anything to show he’d just had a ton of late night sugar, courtesy of me. Then I realized I couldn’t remember the last time he moved at all–not at dinner, not in the afternoon, not that morning. Further back, I kept searching my memory–nothing… I told my husband not even trying to hide my worry. At non-stress tests they always use a loud buzzer sound to wake up a calm baby, so I asked my husband to yell at my stomach. He said he felt stupid doing that, but with unmasked panic I told him to “Just do it! Just yell at my stomach!” Reluctantly, “WAKE UP!” Not a jerk, a stretch, nothing. Our “practice run” turned into the real thing as my husband and I got dressed and told my parents we were off to the Emergency Room. I remember all the anxiety as the ER staff kept telling me to sit down. With my huge stomach they didn’t realize I wasn’t having a baby. I wanted to yell at all of them that early delivery was NOT my problem! Of course the first step is took hook up the monitor. Slow minutes passed as the nurse kept searching for a heartbeat. I think even she was surprised, despite my explanation that I couldn’t feel my baby. Obstetrics is an optimistic and generally very joyful practice. Not even the professionals are well-prepared for death. Next came the sonographer. Long faces looked at me and at the monitor (which was carefully faced away from me) and I recall the tech wishing me and my husband a good night. Could he really be serious? The man had just confirmed the death of my baby! After two previous pregnancies, my husband could understand the ultrasound without a doctor’s interpretation. We were sobbing even before the doctor began to explain what our options now were. In spite of my contractions just two days earlier, my body did not respond to any of the labor-inducing options. I cannot describe the suffering that comes over you in such intense waves while you wait to deliver your dead child. I did reach the conclusion, however, that many brave things happen in this world, not because someone has more courage than another, only that they are backed into a corner without any other choices. Sometimes, my eyes quietly dripped tears. Sometimes, my body was wracked with sobbing. Sometimes I slept, but mostly I didn’t want to miss any of the final minutes I would have with this child. I wanted to be alert for all of it. We called our parents, gathered information on grieving. We made a list of everything we wanted to be able to do with our child, all the family traditions and things we had done with our other boys. We notified a photographer, who volunteered her services and was willing to come any time, night or day. And then you wait. And you and your husband admit to each other that you’re frightened at the thought of holding a dead body. But then labor picked up and I got an epideral and then at 3:52am Sunday morning I delivered my son. He was big for 5 weeks early, 6 and half pounds, 18 and a half inches long. He was my easiest delivery, no tearing or episiotomy, no maternal complications. But that was small consolation. I was hysterical as they laid him on my stomach, yelling, “NO! NO!” My husband cut the cord. That horrible cord. The cord that was tied in a knot and wound around his small neck twice. How can we be so careful with the little ribbons that hold our babies’ binkies, but leave them unobserved and in close quarters with a long winding umbilical cord for 9 months? I could tell the doctor was relieved that he could give a definitive cause of death. Yet again, small consolation. Death by a knot is such a fluke, such an injustice. Just like any genetic birth defect or even a tubal pregnancy, I have no way to control preventing it in the future. These risks are always there, every pregnancy, but when “you lose a baby, you lose your innocence.” The moments after birth are hazy at best, but suddenly I was cooing at my baby, checking out his fingers and toes, stroking and kissing his face. All the walls of fear that I had spent my life building concerning death were obliterated in an instant. I spoke to him as if her were alive, I laughed as I told him how beautiful he was, how absolutely perfect. My husband bathed him, but I was grateful he did it in my room. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting my little one out of my sight. We diapered and dressed him and then the photographer began taking photos. I didn’t pay too much attention to her. I just cradled my baby. This was the first of my children to have my red hair. I rocked him and sang to him, I couldn’t stop. I kept stroking his lips, the desire to nurse him was almost overwhelming. As time went on, my touching became more invasive and took on the nature of memorizing details. I opened his eyes to memorize their color. I fingered his gums and touched his tongue. I looked at all his little private parts and laughed to discover his little bum had the same deep dimples as his older brother’s. After about 30 minutes, we asked the photographer to leave. We knew we needed as much time alone with our baby as possible. My husband gave our son a name and a blessing, according to our religious faith. We had a family prayer with our son. I wasn’t sure how I would ever be able to let him go. My husband and I just kept trading off holding our baby and crying. In time, my little boy’s fragile skin began to tear on his tummy and legs. His blood also began to settle, giving his skin a bruised appearance. At that point, it felt like I was hurting him to hold him any longer. I couldn’t cause him “pain” and we called in our nurse to take his little body to the morgue. I think we spent about 2 and a half hours with our sweet baby. Never enough time. One thing that keeps breaking my heart over and over is that we’re always walking away from my son. We left him at the hospital, at the funeral home, in the cemetery. So many partings, and yet, I don’t regret the choice to bury him. My baby needs a place to sleep and I need a place where I feel I can honor him and go to see him. Kian David Johns was born July 1, 2012. My living children require that I keep moving through this, that I keep living on with them. My husband and I are learning that grief makes you strong, not because of a short-lived, intense effort, but by the daily working through of painful, difficult feelings over years and years. I’ve spoken with so many with similar experiences and I have faith in my future and the future of my family. My sadness will not hurt like this forever. I will smile as I think of my son, and my children will know they have a brother in heaven.