Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gone yet not forgotten.

It's been 7 weeks since our son, Lucas Alexander Verrall, was born still at almost 24 weeks gestation. Seven weeks of tears and heartache and questioning how such a terrible tragedy happened at all and why it happened to us, of all people.

We have no answers.

Monday, September 30th was the last day I felt my baby boy moving. By Tuesday he was still, but I convinced myself that he had probably turned and he was so little, just 1 pound, so it was totally normal to have a day without feeling him. On Wednesday I was getting anxious and tried so hard to get him to kick. I jiggled and poked my belly. I held my headphones to it with the volume turned up. I ate candy and drank juice.

On Thursday I called Dr. P. and she told me to come see her right away. They rushed me straight in for an ultrasound and that still, silent image will haunt me forever. He was 24 weeks and had just passed the point of viability, yet had inexplicably died without ever getting a chance to breathe or cry.

For some reason Dr. P. didn't realize that 23 weeks, 5 days is considered too late for a D & E, so she sent us across town to another doctor (who's office didn't inform her that surgery was no longer an option). After an hour wait, the doctor gruffly told us that I was too advanced, the hospital was Catholic and didn't allow late term abortions even when the baby was already dead, it was too dangerous, etc, etc and I would have to be induced.

Instead of a baby, we took home a box.
That night I began the unbearable experience of giving birth to my dead baby. We checked into Labor & Delivery at 8 PM and went through paperwork for nearly 3 hours. We had to answer ridiculous questions such as whether or not our house had electricity and running water (?!). It all seemed so pointless -- what did our living conditions matter when our baby would never be coming home? To her credit, our nurse was very empathetic and apologetic and did her very best to help us through a very difficult situation.

Finally around 11 PM I was given cytotec to get labor started and an ambien to let me get a few hours of sleep. Chad went home to relieve Dave and Tracy from babysitting duty and to be there in the morning for Eli. I stuffed my earplugs in my ears to cut out the joyful celebrating next door and the nursery rhyme they played through the halls whenever a baby was born. That song chimed six times during my labor, but of course it never played for Lucas...

Around 4 AM I had another dose of cytotec and some dilaudid for pain and by 6 when Dr. P arrived I was 1 cm dilated. She decided to break my water (which if I had known would be that painful I would have insisted on getting an epidural first). Afterwards she started me on pitocin. By 8 AM I was finally starting to have regular contractions and was given an epidural as the dilaudid wasn't cutting it anymore. Chad arrived around 9:30 and Tracy came soon after, and we waited...
Tiny feet that never got a chance to run. :-(

Finally just before 2 PM I was ~5 cm dilated, which was sufficient for such a small baby. He slipped out and lay there silent and still. No one clapped or cheered for his birth. Lucas  was tiny but perfect. He weighed 1lb and was 11.5 inches long. There was nothing visibly wrong, although the cord was wrapped around his neck. We'll never know if that contributed to his passing. Dr. P's opinion is that it's possible but unlikely.

Our nurse took him away immediately to clean him up and take some samples for testing, and we were left to sit in shock for awhile over the reality of what had just happened. Finally she returned and we got to hold our son for the first and last time. At 24 weeks, a stillborn fetus isn't beautiful, but he was fully formed with long, slender fingers, tiny, impeccable feet, and the fuzz of brown hair just starting to grow on his head. His face was soft and swollen, but it was still possible to see that if he had lived he would have looked very similar to Eli.

Pictures, the blanket he was wrapped in, and the infant hat I bought the week before...
We were discharged a few hours later once I convinced the nurse that the epidural had worn off enough for me to get up and walk (hobble, really, as my left leg was still almost completely numb). Going home without our baby was such a surreal experience. I felt like I left a chunk of my heart behind me and had become this strange half person who looked normal on the outside but was shattered on the inside. Yet somehow I still had to be whole and normal and loving for my living son who didn't understand that anything bad had happened and who I most definitely wanted to shield from our pain as much as possible. Forcing myself to pretend to be normal was unbelievably exhausting. Thankfully my mom, grandma Libby, and Chad's sister, Aimee, were there to distract Eli and give me a chance to stay in bed and cry.

And for those first few weeks, I was a gaping wound of grief and anger and disbelief that this actually happened to us. The stillbirth rate in the U.S. is around 1:160. How could we have won the bad luck lottery after all of the loss we'd already suffered? I couldn't sleep more than a few hours at a time as I constantly woke up thinking that it was all a terrible mistake and my baby was healthy and safe in the NICU. Which is even crazier because even if he had been born alive, we would have signed a DNR since he was still too underdeveloped to be put through heroic efforts for a very small chance of a good outcome.

We visited him one last time at the funeral home in order to put the disturbing dreams to rest. We took a few more pictures, which I won't share since he wasn't looking so good after the autopsy. We signed the papers to have him cremated.

Lucas' ashes. We will find a more fitting repository for them in time.
I returned to work after just a week and a half off. Even though I didn't feel normal, I had to pretend to be normal and keep living my life. My mom and Aimee had gone back home, and I didn't want to sit alone by myself with my dark thoughts.. For awhile I felt like I was walking the knife edge between remaining myself or falling into a deep, black abyss of depression. But I've been down that hole before, and I was determined that this time I wasn't going to let myself fall in. It wouldn't be fair for Eli, or to Chad, who was grieving just as much as I was. I started seeing a counselor to help me handle the anger and negativity.

Despite the passing of time and the professional help, I feel like my body is an inhospitable place. I have failed so many potential bright lives with my inability to nurture them as I should. I know it's out of my control, but I still feel so guilty. I have lost 8 babies in total. Eight. How many more will die if we try again? Are we crazy to consider it? I always felt like people who wanted more than one child were being greedy during the years when I was struggling so hard to finally have just one child. But then we had Eli and I desperately wanted to give him a sibling, so now I'm the greedy one. I don't know why one isn't enough. It should be especially considering what we've gone through...

I've asked myself over and over, "what if this happens again?" Is it fair to open myself and my family up to experiencing so much pain again? How many times can one's heart break before it can no longer heal? The reality is that my antiphospholipid syndrome has a 15% stillbirth rate, even with treatment. While the autopsy didn't show any sign of clots in the placenta or umbilical cord, that doesn't mean they weren't a factor. Something caused the placenta to struggle and not produce a normal amount of amniotic fluid. What if Eli being born healthy and full term was the fluke? Dr. P. can't give us any answers or statistics other than the fact that having one stillbirth raises the chances of having a second. We will have to cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Anyway, thank you so much to all who have supported us through this terrible time. We really appreciate the visits, flowers, cards, calls, and emails. Your love and compassion has really helped us. Acknowledging and sympathizing with our grief is so much less painful than ignoring it as some have chosen to do. Lucas may only have a death certificate instead of a birth certificate, but he was born just the same and we will always remember him and the dreams we had for him. 

I miss my baby so much and I want him here with us. :( 

Gone yet not forgotten,
although we are apart,
your spirit lives within me,
forever in my heart.

The adorable hat that Lucas will never wear.