Stillbirth Is Still Birth
Trigger warning – stillbirth with personal photos – September 2016, my husband and I experienced the very painful loss of our baby. I have taken a lot of time to process what happened and I have had an amazing group of women to help me. Here is the birth story of Asher. Stillbirth Is Still Birth.
He was beautiful. I could see his big brother when I looked at him. Every bit of me adored and loved him more than anyone might ever know. When I was pregnant with Asher, his kicks were mostly soft and his hiccups were adorable. My pregnancy with him was much easier than with his big brother and I found myself with much less braxton hicks and discomfort in general. I guess you could say that he was taking it easy on me, or you could say that my body was use to being so pregnant by now.
We were prepared to bring a new baby into our family. As much as you possibly can be prepared when you have a high needs toddler who demands full attention 99% of the time! Said toddler who STILL doesn’t sleep through the night and breastfeeds on demand day and night! I was terrified, to say the least. It had been a very long and exhausting two years. Of course I ADORE my 2 year old. He is the very reason I get out of bed in the morning, these days. He is the very essence of LOVE in my mothering world. But sometimes he can be a little asshole. (In the most adorable way, of course.)
On September 13th, 2016, our lives would change forever. I would start to learn what it felt like to mourn and grieve over my angel. It is the day that I noticed less movement from Asher. In the afternoon the thought creeped in, but I quickly brushed off the decreased movements as a normal occurrence. I was 37 weeks pregnant after all and movements are said to become less and less as you reach the final stretch of pregnancy. My 21 month old little boy was being his usual handful of amazing cuteness, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to really notice that my 9 month in utero baby was most likely already gone.
7pm- My husband, Chris is at the grocery store with our toddler while I lay down. My bump is huge and I have been feeling so incredibly tired more and more each day. I hold my baby and take a moment to feel him there, since I have no distracting toddler around me.
Nothing. I felt nothing. I didn’t feel him kick or squirm or anything. A little worry started to creep in, so I text my friend and student midwife, Randi. She told me to drink some juice and lay down, counting his kicks. I quickly drank some grape juice and laid down. I am still trying to be positive and not let the fears and worries trickle in. I am in total denial that there is anything wrong with my baby. I text her back a few minutes later and say, “nothing.” I get my doppler out and can’t find his heartbeat. No big deal, I’m just not doing it right. She tells me to meet her and the other midwives at the birth center. I call my husband, still in total denial. I was trying to sound strong on the phone. I didn’t want to upset him or cause him to worry. So I told him that I’m sure it’s nothing, but that I couldn’t remember feeling the baby kicking today and Randi wants to meet at the birth center. He told me he was on his way home and we quickly grabbed a few needed items and left.
The car ride over to the birth center was a little tense. I still kept my optimism and kept calm, for the sake of my husband. He tends to have an elevated stress level and we had lost our first pregnancy (twins at 12 weeks gestation) so I knew it was only natural to feel anxious.
8pm- We arrive at the birth center while everyone else is there already. All of our midwives, Randi, Heather and Salli are waiting for us. A friend, Jen is there also finishing up a hypnobirthing class that she teaches. I lay down in the prenatal room and Heather starts searching for a heartbeat. Nothing. My mind is a little off in this disbelief that anything could be wrong. Chris is holding our toddler while Heather continues to search for the heartbeat. Nothing. She tells us that she is not finding his heartbeat and she thinks we should go ahead and head over to the hospital to have an ultrasound. At this point, I pretty much lose it. All of the tension that was resting on this moment decides to burst out of me. I remember crying out to God: No. God please no. This can’t be happening. I’m not strong enough. Not again. Please God, please. Heather, being as amazing as she is, completely validated my response, which is something that I needed. She said that I was having a very appropriate reaction. I needed the permission to continue to lose it.
On the way out, I see Jen in the waiting room and I hold on to her for a moment in one of the first of many embraces I will receive that only a mother would understand. I told her that we couldn’t find the heartbeat and to just pray.
8:30pm- We arrive at the hospital, which was only a few minutes from the birth center. I still had some hope. I was praying and sobbing the whole way there. I’m in the hospital bed, Evan is running around the room and the on call doctor starts the ultrasound. She took an incredibly long time. Every now and then she would say that she’s just wanting to scan and have all the details. Everyone was looking at the screen but me. I couldn’t. My husband somehow had this blank look on his face, staring at the screen. Heather placed her hand on my foot and gave me a little grin. I knew. I knew that he was gone. While everyone was probably trying their hardest to keep a normal face, I was looking at each one of them searching for a small sign of hope. My husband and I exchanged looks and he shook his head, indicating to me that our baby wasn’t alive. I already knew. I gathered up every ounce of strength I could possibility conjure, softly looked at him and told him that we are going to get through this. Still trying to be strong, so that the doctor can finish what she needed to do, I lay there, holding it all in. At some point, Heather came to me and gave me permission to loose all control. The doctor had told us the grim news and I was asking questions through shock. When Heather told me that I didn’t have to hold it together, I replied that I was trying to wait until the doctor was done. She told me that I didn’t have to. I lost it. This was the first of my handful of screams, crying out for my baby.
When we were ready, the doctor talked to us about the birth of our baby. It was so shocking to hear that I would be laboring and birthing as normal as it would have been, had my baby been alive. Chris and I each call our parents. Chris’s parents are about two hours away and they start making their way to stay with us. My parents are in North Carolina and it was very difficult for all of us to have that distance between us.
My mind flashes back throughout the moments of when we lost our twins in February of 2014. I had went in for a routine check up at 12 weeks and the same midwives cared for us. Salli couldn’t find our baby’s heartbeat and she squeezed my leg as we discovered that we had twins, but that they were already in heaven. Heather came in and cried with us and held on to me. I was trying to be strong and tell her that it was okay, that I knew things like this happened. She promptly told me that it was NOT okay and that I absolutely had every right to grieve for my babies.
I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to fully express the deep love and gratitude that I feel for all of these women at Central Texas Birth Center. They have also cared for us throughout our pregnancy with our living child. Randi, Salli and Heather have been angels sent to us from God. The empowerment and the raw love that they have given us has directly affected each and every birth experience that we have had, in a very positive way.
10pm- Our toddler has been with us this entire time. He has been switching from running around the room, to getting into drawers, to interacting with our friends, to flirting with the nurses to hugging his mama. He is ready for bed, so my husband and I decide that it would be best to go home, put him down for bed and come back to the hospital tomorrow to induce.
3am- I am still lying awake, holding the baby inside me with my arms wrapped around him tight, sobbing. I know that I need to get some rest so that I can take on the day tomorrow of birthing my baby. I know I need sleep so that I can be somewhat functional when our toddler needs me, which is constantly. I pray, “Dear God, I am not mad at you. I can’t be. I can’t turn away from you right now because I don’t know how I am going to get through this. I need you to help me.”
I remember meditative techniques of clearing my mind to help me fall asleep and the devastation slips away for a few hours.
8am- As I wake for the day, what felt like a bad dream of loosing my baby becomes a reality once more. I am overwhelmed with sadness and start crying again. We start getting ready to go to the hospital. I grab a my favorite blanket and onesie for our baby.
We take our toddler, because I just can’t stand the thought of being away from him right now, and we stop by Dr. Cory’s, our chiropractor and friend who has been caring for us since our baby was 8 weeks gestation. He adjusts me and we make our way to the hospital while I call my brother who lives in Oregon.
12pm- Our midwives are all here with us and Heather has started crocheting a blanket for our baby to keep in memory of him and his beautiful birth. Our birth photographer, Sabrena Rexing, had came by to check on us to see how I felt about her taking photos. After all of the registration and technical things aside, I am finally able to start the induction process. It is a little pill that is inserted vaginally to help the cervix thin and it could possibly take one or two doses every 4 or 6 hours to get things going. I had been having steady, mild contractions for a couple of days and they had become more regular that morning every 10 minutes, so we were pretty sure that labor would pick up fairly quickly.
It is getting close to our son’s nap time, so my in-laws take him to our home, where he falls asleep on the way there. Our midwives go out to let us rest and to refuel themselves. My husband and I lay down to try and sleep, but I see that he isn’t able to. It’s loud outside our room, so I ask the nurse if they have any ear plugs and they bring me some, along with a nice dose of drugs to help me feel drowsy. I was worried that I wouldn’t be coherent for the birth, so I asked for the lower dose. I felt the rush of drowsiness and peace come over my body. An hour later it was gone and I still hadn’t fallen asleep. I called for the nurse again and she came back to give me something stronger. I forced myself to ride on the wave this time and let sleep take me away from my devastation.
4pm- I’m not feeling much different from the induction pill, so they give me another one. The contractions were very regular, but pretty manageable. It felt like early labor. I hadn’t had any bloody show or anything. Our midwives are back and my in-laws brought our toddler back. It was so good to see our almost two year old running around the room, trying to get into everything again. (I never thought I would say that.) The nurse told us to let them know when things started to pick up and she would place the monitor on me for a moment to record contractions.
5pm- There was a shift change with the nurses. Things were getting pretty intense and walking/rocking felt really good. I ate a few bites of a Thundercloud sub between contractions because I knew that I wouldn’t want to eat for much longer. I had an unmistakable primal aura about me in my zone of laboring. I had done this before and I was very confident in my ability to birth my baby. I wanted to let things take their course naturally, knowing that I had the option of an epidural if I felt that I needed it later. My first born was very difficult with intense back labor, so I felt prepared for anything. From here as labor picks up, and in my mind it picked up pretty damn quickly, I begin to realize that this labor is going to be much of the same as my first son. The back labor was very intense, but I was managing it much better this time by walking and rocking back and forth. Our toddler was either running around the birth room or running around outside with his grammy and gdaddy. My grandmother in law and aunt in law came by to check on us. Our room was full of love and support, something that I needed so desperately. Our birth photographer has been in communication with Heather, and she is on her way. Having already been through a labor and delivery, I felt that Matthew Maconahay could have been in our room and I would have given about two shits. He certainly would have been welcome though.
All time is lost to me- As things really pick up, my toddler decides that he has had enough. He has handled the day pretty well, considering and he starts becoming very focused on what his mama is doing. I spend some time loving on him and hugging him before he is whisked away by his grammy and gdaddy. (They say that he slept pretty well that night and only woke once, but I’m just waiting for the day they reveal that they lied to me! Haha!)
I have been moaning through surges this whole time. My amazing birth team has been taking turns rubbing my lower back. Heather first, then Randi, then Salli. I remember Salli’s touch from when I was in labor with Evan. I remember those wise hands that squeezed my lower back and brought relief in the mists of unbearable pain. I was on the birth ball, leaning on the bed. I was in the restroom, finally able to have a bowel movement. I was on the birth ball again. The new nurse, Mary, came in. I had been moaning through each contraction for some time now, in full focus and in full ability to birth my baby. The fact that he was not alive wasn’t really on my mind. I remember moments of having a pretty good sense of humor, laughing with my cheer leaders, then a contraction would start and I would lean on the bed, letting the surge flow through my body while I relaxed each muscle, moaning as the surge came and went.
At this point, I am certain that I have to be dilated to at least 7 cm. This pain is exactly as I had felt when I was stuck on 7 with my first born for all of those hours. I stood up from the birth ball and three insanely intense contractions came at me back to back, with no break in between. I remembered the nurse before saying that she wanted to monitor contractions, so I told the nurse that if she wanted to do anything, now is the time. Because I am not going to want them to do anything for much longer. I went ahead and asked for a check too, to see how far things were. Laying on the bed was BAD. BAD. BAD. BAD. NO. NO. NO. It increased my pain ten fold. Mary checked me and I was at 3 cm. THREE. Fuck. I’m. Done.
I wonder about this moment, if I had just stuck to my routine. Looking back, I was probably in a big transition to opening up, given my insane constant contractions. I wonder if I had just stayed standing or if I had been in a birth tub or if I had just stayed out of that fucking bed. I really wanted to make it without the epidural. I didn’t want to change my baby’s birth plan, just because he wasn’t living. I felt that he still deserved to have everything just the same. A part of me also wanted to see if I could do it for future babies, since my first child was born in the hospital with the pain relief (after hours of delayed active/transitional labor in a planned home birth.)
7pm- I remember this time clearly because it is the time that the anesthesiologist came in to administer the epidural. Everyone but my husband waited outside the room and Sabrena had arrived, moments before. I wished that I had called for her to come sooner to document my bad ass laboring BEFORE hitting that damn bed. I am forced to lay on my back, since the epidural is suppose to work faster that way.
8pm- The pain is still unbearable. The anesthesiologist comes back to check the line and gives me another dose of pain relief. This is exactly what happened with my first born. What usually takes 15 minutes to start working, takes over an hour. It has everything to do with the positioning of the baby and just how my body is formed, which explains the back labor.
8:30pm- I am feeling relief from the pain and each contraction is getting less and less intense. The flood of emotion is about to hit me once I no longer have the distraction of pain. I feel overwhelmed that I am about to birth our baby, who’s cries I will not hear. I feel the world crash down on me.
The waves of grief come and go. I want photos of my baby bump and Sabrena shows me a few, upon which I remark about my awful hair. (I am a birth photographer also, so I just kind of laugh about this.)
So we wait. I lay on my side to zone out and rest. Cries come and go.
(Please be prepared to see a few more personal photos coming up soon of our baby.)
About 11:30pm- I feel the pressure in my bottom and the urge to push. Mary happens to come by to check on us, so I tell her this. The doctor has came in once or twice also and so they all start getting things ready for delivery. My doctor has mentioned things like it being okay if I don’t want to see my baby right away and that they can take the baby. My instant reaction is NO. You will NOT be taking my baby, I want him right here on my chest. Oh and by the way, I want to catch him myself. Thanks.
The doctor and staff were really great with us, though. They obviously cared about what we were going through and I felt supported by all of them.
The moment before I was about to meet Asher, I felt pretty calm. I wanted him to have a beautiful birth. I wanted him to BE wanted. He deserved to be held and talked to, just as I had held and talked to my first son when he was born. So that is exactly what I did.
About 11:55pm- Asher is born. I can hear the cries from everyone in the room as I reach down and pull my baby up to me. I didn’t need the doctor there to help me bring him to my chest, but I also didn’t really mind either. I was strong. I was the only one with no tears (for a minute or two at least). I talked to my baby. I told him how much I loved him and how so very sorry I was.
I instantly see the very tight cord around his neck, wrapped around three times. I wonder for a moment if this has anything to do with his passing and I begin to unwrap the cord. The doctor follows my lead and helps me, but I have a distinct feeling that was like, oh sure, you can help too if you want. I remember feeling like this was my task to do, but later on I was happy that I didn’t have to do it all alone.
There is also a very tight true knot in his cord, another indicator of his death. A few moments pass, Chris cuts the cord and I ask the nurse if she will go ahead and bathe our baby.
We had chosen three names to give our baby after he was born. We wanted to meet him first before giving him his name. Asher, Nolan or Wyatt. The moment I saw him, I instantly wanted his name to be Asher. Chris agreed, though I’m sure I could have asked for anything in this moment and he would have given it to me. Haha.
He was so beautiful. It was hard to see him so limp and helpless. His skin had started to peel and his lips were darker and it was so incredibility difficult to see this. We didn’t really know what to expect, but none of it really mattered. We saw our beautiful son, who’s life had been cut too short. I inspected most of him. I wanted to see if he had a lip tie, like his brother. He did and I commented that he would have probably been difficult to breastfeed, just like his brother.
Sabrena takes more photos, though I hardly remember her doing so. All of my focus is on my baby and my husband.
About 2am- Sabrena and our midwives head out. We place our baby in his crib and try to rest.
1 Day Postpartum- I’m finding it hard to put into words just how I felt when I took these photos. I wanted to remember my sadness. I also wanted to remember the strength that I carried. I look like hell, but I also look strong. I didn’t feel strong. I felt like my world had just shattered. It’s easy to slip into the “what ifs” mind set in every aspect. What if I had… What if they had… What if he had… What if something happens to Evan… Stillbirth will Fuck. You. Up.
I am so incredibly grateful for the love and support that we have received. It has been about 6 months since we lost our little boy. Good grief, that wasn’t really that long ago… It feels like yesterday and a lifetime at once. I am starting to feel like I am OKAY more times than not. Then there are times were I am just NOT okay and my support is still there.
We do have hope. I see it every day in our son. We will get through this. I don’t think that I will ever be the same person that I was before having Asher, but I’ll find a new ME. In the mean time, I plan on using my photography to channel all of my emotion! Not a bad distraction.
Thank you for taking the time to read the birth story of Asher. I wish that it could have been written with a different outcome. I feel that it is important to be a voice for others who experience this. I don’t feel lonely in it, because I have let others IN. And I will continue to do so.
If you have ever experienced a loss, no matter which stage you were in, you are not alone. I love you and I am with you. One of the biggest challenges in facing the first year after a loss, is realizing that Stillbirth Is STILL Birth. Take it easy on yourself. <3
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