September 30, 2014

When Life Meets Death: Breaking the Silence of Stillbirth. ~ Angela Elliot {Trigger Warning}

pregenant life death sky hope

Like many pregnant woman out there, during my pregnancy I was consumed with reading birth stories.

I couldn’t get enough of how varied, yet similar they all were and how—despite the difficulties some faced—they all ended in the pure bliss of a new beautiful baby.

I couldn’t help but imagine what mine would be like, how I would handle the contractions, whether I would be quiet or vocal, want support and encouragement or shut myself off from the world. It didn’t cross my mind that I might have to go through all of the hard work of labor and months of carrying a child—but end up with no baby to take home.

My husband, Colin, and I were planning a home birth. After much research on our options, we felt deep within our hearts that this was the right path for us. I believed, and still believe, that birth and pregnancy is a very natural process. Of course I realize in some situations, pregnancy and labor can stray from the expected path and for that I am grateful for hospitals and the advances that have been made in our medically obsessed world.

But our pregnancy was going exactly as according to plan. Besides some mild discomforts, I felt great. I continued to run, hike and do yoga and was getting more and more excited each week to meet our beautiful baby.

As we were getting closer to the due date, Colin and I made sure we had everything ready. The house was stocked full of food (both for the midwives and after the birth), birth tub was all ready to be blown up and all the other small details on our list of preparations had been checked off.

Now we just needed to wait and enjoy these last few days until our little one arrived.

It was Labor day weekend and our due date was on Labor day. Most everyone we knew had plans but we mainly just stayed home, just in case. Although I knew most first time moms go late, I couldn’t help but hope our baby would make an entrance sooner rather than later. Labor day rolled around and Colin and I were sitting on our couch watching some pointless show on Netflix when I mentioned that I hadn’t felt the baby in awhile and something, I couldn’t pin point what, felt off.

Just to note, throughout the whole pregnancy I never felt the baby move a ton. I had an anterior placenta and honestly rarely felt any sort of pattern or consistency with movement ever, especially towards the end of pregnancy. I was told this was normal and so never really fixated on it a ton.

My indication that all was good was when I felt hiccups or a jab to my uterus.

On busy or active days I knew I could overlook the subtle movements so just assumed that was what was happening. We also knew that towards the
end of pregnancy the baby moved even less due to a lack of room. I went to bed hoping I was just feeling pre-labor jitters and told myself I would reevaluate in the morning.

Morning rolled around the feeling would’t subside so I decided to call one of our midwives. I was expecting her to tell me to drink something cold or sugary and lay on my side to feel the baby and that everything would be fine, which she did. But she also said she was going to have me go to the hospital to do some fetal monitoring, just in case, and so we could all feel better knowing everything was okay.

I broke down the minute she said “hospital.”

Why do I need to go? That seems dramatic. Why can’t I just go to their office really fast and check the heartbeat?

Wait, I was just calling to get confirmation everything was okay, not this. The rest of the story is one blurry, time standing still, nightmare.

I will never forget how small the room was, how I was hooked up to an ultrasound with four people I had never seen in my life, the eery silence that filled the room and the hand that reached for mine right before the worst words I have ever heard came out of the doctors mouth, “we can’t find the heartbeat, I am so sorry.” The vision of her hand reaching for mine is etched in my mind, as I knew before even the words came out that my life was forever changed.

Oh how I wish I could take away this haunting memory. The doctors left and Colin and I just cried.

We held each other and cried.

When the gravity of the situation started to settle, I couldn’t comprehend that now I actually had to give birth. I had to give birth to a dead baby. I suddenly felt any sort of strength I had gained throughout my life vanished and I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. How could this be happening?

My mind jumped to having a c-section. That would be fast and then I could go home and hide and shut myself off from the world. How fast my dreams of a natural medically free birth at home turned to lets get this baby out of me as fast as you can whichever way you can, pump me with drugs if you please, I simply don’t care.

But despite my desire to wash it all away, somehow I found some inkling of strength and made the decision to do a vaginal birth. I wanted to honor our baby and give it the birth he or she deserved.

The next two days in the hospital were a mix of horror and beauty that I don’t think I would ever be able to put down into words. As they gave me medication to try and get my cervix to open, which took over 24 hours, our family and amazing midwives (who Colin and I refer to as our guardian angels) filled our room with love, support and tears. There were few words spoken, as words don’t seem to exist in such heartbreaking situations, but their presence filled me with strength I couldn’t have found on my own.

When my cervix was ready then they started me on pitocin to begin labor. I did end up having some pain medication to help with the pitocin, I simply did not have the strength to deal with all the emotional pain plus physical pain, but was confident that I wanted the pain medication to cease when it came time to pushing. No matter the pain, I wanted to feel my baby come out of me.

After lots of waiting and lots of intense pain in my back, the time finally came to push. It was about 10:30 p.m. on September 3rd, 2014. I had Colin by my side, my two sisters, mom, three midwives who would have been at the home birth, nurse and a doctor who specialized in delivering breech babies standing over to the side (we found out that the baby turned after 39 weeks into a breech position, which was a complete shock to us as the baby was head down at the 39 week apt.). I was blessed to have one of the most amazing midwives, Linda Glenn, be able to deliver our baby.

Soon after pushing began, I heard Linda say, “I see one beautiful foot.” I can’t wait to see that foot I thought. Slowly, the body inched it’s way out. The shoulders got caught, as the one arm was up by the head. The head was a whole added challenge, due to positioning of the chin, that eventually required the aid of forceps.

While the pain was sharp and intense, in a way I almost didn’t feel it. It just didn’t even compare to the pain of not hearing my sweet baby cry. At 11:43 p.m. Oliver George Elliot was born, our perfect, 7 lbs 11 ounces and 21.5 inches baby.

We didn’t find out the sex before, so this was the first time finding out we had a son. We had a baby boy! How do you describe the feeling of life meeting death? The majesty of birth so quickly being enveloped by another world we don’t understand? All I know, is that I had never seen anything more beautiful. For that moment, I didn’t see a dead baby, but I saw my perfect son and felt the beauty of becoming a mother.

We were told it was a cord accident. Oliver had his cord wrapped tightly 3 times around his neck, the cord was three times the length of a normal cord, plus he turned positions late in the game (most likely when he passed away). Like a perfect storm. We were told that when cord accidents happen it happens so fast, usually within a couple minutes, and therefore nothing we could have done. But that doesn’t ease the pain. Doesn’t take away the shock that we had to drive home with an empty car seat or a baby room with no baby.

It has almost been three weeks since Oliver’s passing. I can’t believe we would have a three week old right now to obsess and love on. Despite the hard days and painful moments, I try to still see the beauty that we are surrounded by in this world everyday. I know that beauty is Oliver, he is everywhere.

As I try to figure out answers that don’t exist, words that can’t describe feelings, life still seems to be happening. Seasons are changing and eventually the life I once knew will resume.

Except I have completely changed.

Oliver, although our time in this physical world was short, your impact on my life was immeasurable. You have opened my eyes to the precious gift of life, the art of being present and what true love really is. You have taught me the deep human need for contact and craving for comfort. A need that until taken away from us we forget. Your are trying to teach me the meaning of letting go, non-attachment and releasing expectations. You were truly wise beyond your years.

Oliver, my first son, first child, know that your mom and dad are with you always and will love you eternally.



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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: courtesy of Benson Kua at flickr

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Angela Elliot