Warning: If you have ever had a stillbirth and a still hurting from your spiritual wound, please, don’t read this post. It’s not vulgar, but it is graphic, and raw and powerful and you may not be ready. I don’t want to trigger your traumatic memory. But I want to share this for those of you who might want to get to know me a little better…and what I have been blessed to assist with.
I’ve shared parts of this story on miscarriage and stillbirth loss forums, and my story of my sister’s stillbirth gave some deep comfort to some women, so they might know what they would be in for (some women knew the babies they were carrying had died…but had no idea what was to come and wanted to know what it would be like. My story helped them prepare a little bit).
The Birth of an Angel
I walked into the dimmed room with the basket of things I carefully selected for you. Three books: Grieving the Child I Never Knew, An Empty Cradle A Full Heart: Reflections for Mothers and Fathers After Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Infant Death, and a daily devotional to address grieving and loss for every day of the year; a “Footprints in the Sand” bookmark with a pair of praying hands in the white tassel; a praying little angel child in white ceramic; a cross with an inscription to comfort you; packets of chamomile tea. I had no idea if I’d be allowed in since Phil and mom were already there. But I was able to get a guest pass and go inside the L&D section.
I knocked on the door in with fear, not knowing if I’d be sent away. I was originally going to just drop off the basket and leave. Phil opened the door and I brought my basket inside. Mom asked if I was going to stay. I asked Phil if it was okay, and he said it was. You were sleeping and he suggested we take the basket to the car so you’d have it when you were ready for it. On our return, he left to go get some water, and I went back to the room. You were still resting, but soon you became uncomfortable. Mom called for the nurse when it looked like you were still uncomfortable. The stadol you had was wearing off. We both stayed by your side holding your hand and trying to comfort you. You were vocalizing and mom was saying “shh, it’s okay Karrie”. I said that it was okay to make noise if you needed too. Then I told you could do breathing techniques to help with the pain, and we did them together. The nurse came and checked your cervix, you were 6 cm. It was painful for you when she did that. I think she must have given you another dose of the prostaglandin too, because it wasn’t too much later that you were moving into the transition stage of labor. It was about 6:45 or so when the contractions you were having were really beginning to be uncomfortable. But it was still not time for another dose of stadol. I was telling you to breathe through them so you would be distracted through the pain. I also had to tell you not to breathe too fast because I didn’t want you to hyperventilate. You listened to me well. You handled the pain well with the breathing. I think it was also at this time that you told us your water had broken. Mom called for the nurse again, and she checked you. Mom moved to the back of the room while the nurse checked. You were fully dilated and effaced. But by then it was also time for another shot of stadol. You went from being in severe pain to sleeping in about 2 seconds – the shot worked very well on you, but it didn’t last very long. You slept for a while, maybe 10 minutes at the most. Phil returned during this time.
You woke up again because the pressure was waking you up. The doctor was there and he checked you as well to make sure you were ready. He asked if you felt the urge to push and you murmured, “mmm-hmmm”. So when we thought you were having a contraction, the doctor said you could push and I was trying to help you focus on pushing. This wasn’t easy because you were so in and out of things that I didn’t know if you were having a contraction except by your legs moving. I started then doing what I remember John did for me – counting to 10 while you pushed, trying to get you to take a quick deep breath because you didn’t seem to want to, and then push for another count of 10. I also helped you to hold your head to your chest, which helped with the pushing. We did this maybe 3 times and then the baby came out. We all saw the tiny little unbreathing babe. My heart just tore apart when I saw him. The doctor checked to see that it was a little boy. I saw his little penis at the same time the doctor was telling us it was a boy. I saw his little tiny head and body and arms and fingers and legs and toes. At 20 weeks gestation, everything was there, just so very tiny and he was dark red in coloring. When I looked up, I saw Phil turn to the wall and start crying. Mom was crying too.
Then the doctor said we needed to get the placenta out. When we earlier asked how long that could take, they said if not right away, it could be 3-4 hours. And if it didn’t come out all in one piece, it could mean you needed a DNC as well. Thank God in the next few minutes, you were able to push the entire placenta out. The umbilical cord was only as wide as a pencil.
I asked right away while the nurse was wrapping him up if you could hold the baby. Then I asked you if you wanted to hold the baby and you said yes. They had to take him momentarily and then we had to get you covered up in a warm blanket because you were shivering from the stadol, and the nurse had to give you a shot of pitocin to help your uterus contract back down.
Then the nurse brought him back wrapped in the crocheted blue blanket so you could hold him. My heart broke to see the look on your face when you held him. The nurse said you could take as much time as you needed to with him. You kept looking at him, with pain and sadness all over your face. I felt so helpless at that moment for you and so wished it was just a bad dream that didn’t come true.
They asked you what you were naming him, Phil said Joseph, and you asked him “did we decided on a middle name yet?”, then he replied, “Angelo”.
When you looked at Joseph and said wistfully, “I wish we had a camera”, the nurse said right away she could get one for you. I could have hugged that nurse for that. Seldom have I heard hospital staff being so empathetic.
Then when I looked more closely at Joseph, that’s when I noticed his hand, the most amazing, perhaps even holy, thing about him was that his left hand was in the perfect shape of the sign language sign for “I love you”. Pinky and index finger straight up, middle and ring finger bent down to the palm. Thumb at a 45 degree angle to the palm, the hand was near his face in the perfect place to be to show someone looking at him that “I love you” sign. I don’t think anybody noticed it but me. In amazement, certain it was a sign from God, I told you to look at his hand, I said he’s trying to tell you he loves you. And you did see it. You then asked, “what are we going to tell Max?”. I said, “you’re going to tell him he was born into the arms of Jesus”, and the tears fell from your eyes.
You kept looking at the baby trying to get a better view of him. I asked if you wanted a mirror to see him better and you said yes. I had Phil get the mirror from the corner and he tilted it so you could see.
I had to leave shortly after that, because G. called and said there was a small problem with the girls at home, and I said my goodbyes to everyone. I cried on the way out, because while I really did want to be there when you gave birth to your baby, I never expected I would be a part of helping you give birth to an angel instead.
Karrie, I wrote this for you, so that you have a recording of the events that happened as accurately and truthfully as I could recall them. So that you could read them, and remember what you went through and so you know that I tried to pay attention to all the details for you. I wrote this also for me, so that I won’t forget what it meant to be witness to the birth of your angel son Joseph. That you may go back and know what you went through even though the medication may make it hard for you to remember some parts. I truly believe I was meant to be there, so I could help you during your labor and after in remembering and honoring your son.
With love and remembrance, Casey
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take
We lay you down to rest, sweet Joseph, this 2nd day of September, 2005
As it turned out, Karrie remembered very little of that day. The drugs ameliorated some of her pain, but in doing so, robbed her of her memory. Just a few days later, she only remember a few foggy bits here and there.
The only record I have of this experience is this writing. For me, it’s one of my most powerful memories of the preciousness and fragility of life.