A NORMAL SATURDAY
What is a normal Saturday? When you’ve moved half way across the state with two kids, only to have your husband gone much of the summer, a normal Saturday is very busy. When its almost back to school time and your sons all-important 4th birthday party is the next day you’re even busier than normal. When the vacuum cleaner is broken, you have library books that are due, and cupcakes to make it is inevitable that a normal Saturday morning will include a variety of errands and endless whining from kids who don’t really want to come along. The morning of the least-normal Saturday of my life started out just like that.
At almost 30 weeks pregnant that day is even harder. Tim, the boys, and I set out around 9:00 AM to run through our list of errands before the big party the next day. I hadn’t made cupcakes or done any of the cooking yet and since the party was going to be at my parents’ house three hours away, we had packing to do as well. Aidan had been waiting on this party for months. He didn’t know it yet, but he was about to get his bike that he had been wanting for a long time and I couldn’t wait to see the expression on his face when he opened it. We had it hidden in the trunk of my husband’s car so he wouldn’t find it.
We got to the library only to discover it wasn’t open yet and that we had forgotten the Dora video anyway, and only brought the case. It would be a month before we finally returned the video and the case and six months later the late fee was still unpaid. We ran through the grocery store as quickly as we could and the only stop we had left was the vacuum supply place. In the parking lot I commented to Tim that Kenna, our unborn baby girl, was very quiet and I hadn’t felt her move much at all that morning. He told me to stay in the car, he’d run in and buy our part and then we could go home and I could rest on the couch for awhile. We were concerned…but then again, not really… we had a busy weekend ahead of us.
I napped on the couch for the better part of the day, watching television and snacking on whatever Tim brought me. I took a break from the couch early in the afternoon to make cupcakes and organize the food for the party and then resumed my couch-side vigil. I prodded and poked but I could not make that little girl move. I was starting to worry, but I kept telling myself I was just being paranoid. I knew that bad things (stillbirth was not a word I was ready to say) happened in pregnancy, but I was sure they couldn’t happen to me.
Around dinnertime I finally worked up the courage to page my midwife, although by that point I was already assuming the worst. She agreed I should come in and we could put the monitor on quickly to confirm that everything was ok. I remember looking across the table at and seeing Tim with his face in his hands staring at his food. When I asked what he was doing, he told me he was praying.
We finished our supper of pork chops and cabbage.
THE WAITING BEGINS
Since I was still convinced the nothing could actually be wrong, I had Tim drop me off at the hospital and take Aidan and Caleb to the park so they wouldn’t be cooped up in the hospital with us. The first place I waited was the admitting registration window. I quietly passed over my insurance card and signed the paperwork for me and for the baby, “just in case.” They told me if I didn’t deliver today I would have to resign that paperwork again later.
Once through the registration process, I was brought up to the triage room. A room so small a person can barely walk around the clinic exam table set up in the middle. I changed into the always-flattering hospital attire, gave a urine sample, and climbed onto the table and waited. I waited silently while the nurse slopped up my belly with goop and slowly slid the fetal monitor around my stomach trying to find a heartbeat. Every once in awhile I would hear something and my heart would skip a beat thinking…maybe. Then she would tell me it was mine and keep looking while my heart sunk back into my stomach.
After what seemed like an eternity she told me that my midwife was at the hospital and she would come try with the regular Doppler. Sometimes, she said, these smaller babies just can’t be found with the monitor yet. Of course, there was nothing with the monitor and nothing with the portable ultrasound machine that my midwife tried using. Her assurance was that her ultrasound skills were not very good and she couldn’t usually tell much other than position. She said we would page the ultrasound tech on-call and have them come in and do a full ultrasound with a better machine before we made any assumptions.
In between all of this, my nurse, sat with me and chatted with me about everything random and unimportant. She asked about my boys and Tim’s job and where we lived. At one point I remember asking her if they taught the art of distracting the patient in nursing school. She laughed and said, no, but the tension in the air was thick and we both knew the situation was far from humorous.
At some point in the process I called Tim and told him that boys or no boys I thought he should come to the hospital. They came in and the nurse brought them some snacks and we turned on The Cat in The Hat, which happened to be on television that evening. They sat on my legs and were happily oblivious to all that was going on. Tim sat next to me quietly and held my hand, neither of us saying much of anything at all.
The ultrasound tech on call is supposed to have a 20 minute turn-around at all times when paged. Every half an hour or so my midwife would come in and assure me that she would be there soon. After an hour or so, I reached a good friend of mine, Jamie, and quickly explained the situation. She said she would watch the boys but Tim would need to drop them off. I promised to wait on the ultrasound until he got back. To this day I don’t know how he got to Jamie’s and back in less than 10 minutes. She lives close, but not that close!
After almost 2 hours of waiting for the 20 minute turn-around, the ultrasound tech on call finally wheeled her little machine into the small room. We had to rearrange furniture and everyone was practically standing on top of each other. Our nurse, midwife, Tim, the tech, and I were all squeezed in and not one sound could be heard in the whole room. I was holding my breath and I’m sure I was not the only one. It only took a few moments for the tech to say, “Here is the heart and there is no cardiac activity.”
I remember having to actually process what that meant and then I remember my husband’s gut-wrenching sobs and leaning over into his lap and curling up on my side. I know the ultrasound tech left the room with her big machine, and I know that our nurse and midwife shed tears, but Tim and I’ s sobs rang together for quite some time before they finally subsided.
When I could finally speak again, I looked up and asked, “Now what?”
In my state of utter shock I only knew one thing. Aidan’s birthday party was the next day and I was not missing it. I think my assurance in that fact surprised everyone, it certainly surprised me, but I knew it was what I needed to do. He had been so excited for so long and I just couldn’t take that away from him. I already felt like I was taking his cherished baby sister away, the birthday party must go on as planned.
When I was calm enough to hear what she had to say, Suzanne explained to me that I could go home tonight. Take some time to adjust to everything and come back in on Monday or Tuesday for an induction. She said since we knew the baby (we weren’t using her name yet) had just died there was no danger in waiting for even a week or more at this point. She told me there was a chance I might even go into labor on my own once my body realized what had happened. We decided to come in on Tuesday because of Aidan’s birthday party on Sunday and his actual birth date on Monday. After we chatted some more and asked some questions they left Tim and I alone for a little while and told me to get dressed. We could stay as long as we wanted and leave whenever we were ready.
After they left we shed some more tears and then started talking. Yes, the birthday party would go on, but there was no way we could drive up to my parents house to have it. Everyone was going to have to come to us. I got a hold of my sister and told her that she needed to get in her car and drive to Winona tonight. She could tell how upset I was and I could barely spit out what happened. I was choking on my words every time I tried to say it. I could say, “the baby wasn’t moving and we came to the hospital and they couldn’t find a heartbeat,” but I couldn’t say “my baby died.” It would be weeks before those words could actually flow off my tongue.
I called my parents house three times and never got an answer. I didn’t really want to talk to them anyways, and finally Brenda found them and filled them in and then my mom called me. It was easier to talk to her when she already knew. Tim called his mom and his sister and cried with them when he told them what happened. Everyone asked us if we REALLY wanted to have a birthday party, and when we said yes they agreed to drive to us the next morning.
One of the hardest parts of having Aidan’s party was that we were forced to immediately face what happened to us. There was no hiding for a few days while we figured everything out. We had to call everyone who was planning on coming, including some family friends from out of town. We would have of course called them eventually, but probably not in the first 24 hours! If not for the party, we might have had sent them an email instead. From the beginning writing about the experience for me was easier than speaking about it out loud.
After another hour or so of sitting and making phone calls, Tim and I decided it was time to go. Time to look outside at the real world and time to hug our boys. At about 10:30, after over 5 hours of emotions, we finally left the hospital and went to Jamie’s.