Friday, September 7, 2012

The Story of Olivia, part 2: Death

I just love writing about my baby girl. Thanks to everyone who read Part 1 yesterday.

Thursday night was a sleepless one and I was up early, grieving and trying to make a good decision.  We were leaning toward going in that morning but I just felt all this hesitance.  Maybe it was nervousness.  Yeah, I was definitely nervous.  Nervous about labor.  Nervous about being in a hospital.  Nervous about holding Olivia and saying goodbye.  I wondered if I would ever want to leave her.  Would holding her for hours be enough?  
I sat in the dark, on the edge of my bed and couldn't get a thought straight in my head.  As someone who wants wholeheartedly to follow the plans God has for my life, I felt this conflict between wanting to hear the Lord about the timing but also needing a deep, personal conviction that I was doing the right thing.  In the midst of all my rambling thoughts, God came near.  I knew that day, June 22, would be Olivia's birthday.  *sigh*  More like deathday.

I looked briefly at my phone and there was an email from a friend who had a similar experience years before.  The first piece of advice she gave was to not wait to go to the hospital and it confirmed what I had just resolved.  Time to get ready.  Time to take a pill that would start contractions.  Time to pack a hospital bag.  Time to come face-to-face with the inevitable.

(There are some practical things here that I would suggest for anyone going through this process.  Things like contacting a photographer if you want pictures and how you might pack differently for a stillborn delivery compared to a "normal" delivery.  I'll write that another time.)

We checked in at Labor & Delivery at Harris Methodist downtown and they called me a "TLC" patient and put us at the end of the hall, where we wouldn't have to hear the joy coming from other rooms.  The staff was truly remarkable and it exceeded my every hope for the care and compassion they extended towards us.  I felt loved.  They cried with us and made us feel like family.  Even now, thinking back, I am amazed at how things fell into place.  Thank God.

Hours and hours of nothing but napping, staring blankly at Brad, checking email, and watching stupid TV.  I got to eat lunch, which I hear is unusual for a labor patient, but they brought me a salad, lasagna, breadsticks, and carrots.  It was good - is hospital food supposed to be good?!  I took a second nap around 3:00pm and when I woke up, I still hadn't dilated past a 1.  Brad and I looked at each other and knew it was time to get this show on the road.  They started me on Pitocin at 4:30pm and contractions finally started getting regular and more intense.

Without sounding prideful or arrogant, I want to share a particularly intimate part of the story that I was most nervous about.  At this point of the story, I'd had three babies and knew the pain of childbirth.  I knew about transition and the ring of fire.  I hadn't forgotten the excruciating pain, like some women describe "not remembering" once they have the baby in their arms.  I told the nurse that I would want medication or an epidural when my pain level reached a "7" but I hadn't felt much more than 2-3 most of the day.  The sonogram that morning showed that Olivia was breech and they were concerned about her coming out bottom-first or feet first.  They were concerned about my placenta detaching (it often doesn't when delivery is so pre-term) which would require surgery if I didn't have an epidural.

But I wanted to birth her like I birthed my other kids.  I wanted to be connected to the process and really have a sense of what was happening.  I didn't want to be groggy or foggy once she was born but I had a realistic understanding of what labor would be like and didn't want the pain to make an already emotional situation, worse.  Once the Pitocin kicked in, the contractions were so bearable, I could hardly believe it.  My pain level went from a a 5...and then it was at a 6 and I was about to ask for some Demerol.  My all-day, amazing nurse was getting ready to leave (shift-change) and so she and the new nurse stood at my bedside and ran through the day's events.  I close my eyes and breathed through another contraction and could hear Joanie saying "She hasn't felt any pressure" to which I said, "Actually, I'm feeling a little bit of pressure."

Here I was, two hours into active labor, and at a TEN.  Time to push.  Too late for an epidural and too late for Demerol.  They told me to push but I couldn't.  I wasn't ready.  I didn't want it to be over.  I wanted Olivia inside me and with me and near to me.  I put my hand on my abdomen and whispered,

"Jesus, we ask for effective contractions and pushing.  And, baby girl, it's time to go."

And just like that, she came out entirely with a swift contraction and not a push on my part.  The placenta came with her and they could immediately see the cord wrapped several times around her neck had caused her death.  There were no angels singing and the room didn't fill with any sense of purpose or peace.  I just felt the tears roll down my cheeks and could hear Brad sniffling, as he pressed his forehead against mine.  The midwife, Candis, was crying as she prepared Olivia to be wrapped up and put in my arms.

Precious feet.
Oh, she was beautiful.  Her eyes were open and she looked like all of our kids wrapped up into one sweet little face.  Brad held her and cried and kept saying "She's ours, she's our daughter."  It was such a strong moment to see my husband at the worst moment of his life.  He was so brave for me and so good to Olivia that day.  We said goodbye and kissed her feet.  And I will miss her forever.
The hospital made imprints of her hands & feet that we will treasure always. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Story of Olivia, part 1: Life

Writing is so therapeutic for me.  My sister-in-law, Carol, gave me a journal within a day or two of losing Olivia and it was (and continues to be) a way to remember, grieve, and heal outside my own head and heart.  So here I am with a story to share about a little girl whose life has forever changed mine.

Shock and surprise cannot begin to describe how I felt when the "positive" showed up on that little white stick in February.  Tucker was 13 months old and we had gotten rid of all our baby gear and clothes.  Most of all, we had kinda completely resolved to be done with the pregnancy/newborn phase of life and assured ourselves, if EVER again, Tucker would be in elementary school before we'd consider another baby.  I'm thankful our plans didn't pan out.

As I approached the 2nd trimester, I was put on strict bed rest after bleeding and cramping.  Much to our relief, the baby was healthy but there was a tear on the placenta that threatened the pregnancy.  Oh, how I fought through the fear and uncertainty.  When we came out on the other side, I had the fiercest love for and attachment to this sweet baby.  The tear healed and the pregnancy moved forward.  A double stroller took up too much room in our garage, and pretty soon, we were buying pinks and bows and looking forward to another little girl.

Part of my intense connection to Olivia came from a deep sense that she would not be born a healthy baby girl.  Whatever you call it: I had a gut-feeling, sense of God, discernment and inner voice that knew she wouldn't live. So I fought against those things with every ounce of mama-heart, rockin' inclination towards her with every breath and beat of my heart.  

Five months into the pregnancy, I noticed that I hadn't felt her lively kicks and movements.  She was little enough that I wasn't too concerned until a solid day of her inactivity put me on high alert.  I was sitting at a Chick-Fil-A on Tuesday evening with my kids and then it happened.  This exhale of life.  My stomach dropped and my heart stopped and I knew that she had died at that exact moment.  It was the strangest and worst feeling, like my body knew what my consciousness didn't.  

We couldn't find a heartbeat through the doppler and a sonogram confirmed she was no longer alive.  What a horrible moment, to lay there with your husband holding your hand and see this lifeless image of what had been a moving baby girl just weeks before.  The shock was overwhelming and bizarre and unnatural.  The experience is awful for any mother but I had only ever known home births, which ended in squishy newborn goodness.  We tried to wrap our minds around birthing a stillborn baby and doing it in the hospital.  Because the hospital doesn't induce on weekends, we had to decide if we wanted to come in the next day, Friday, which felt rushed, or wait until Monday, which seemed just too far away.

I remember just sitting on my couch that afternoon in shock.  I wasn't deeply emotional but I did feel a creeping of sadness.  I was irritatingly logical - thinking about returning the new stroller and car seat and wondering what I needed to do about her baby clothes.  I was disappointed that we wouldn't have an additional deduction on our 2012 taxes.  Again, annoying and practical.  But when you lose a baby after 20 weeks, arrangements have to be made.  Cremation or burial.  Would I have an epidural and pain medication?  What caused her death and would the delivery answer that question?  For whatever reason, the logical thinking helped us (me!) make some good decisions, not emotional ones.

Worst of all, she didn't have a name.  Believe me, the list was long and creative and unique.  "Olivia" was on there but we dismissed it quickly weeks before.  "Jane" had been my grandmother's middle name and we'd considered it before but it didn't feel right.  It's weird how we name our babies, imagining them at different stages of life with THE NAME.  Getting called at school.  Applying for jobs.  Running around a playground.  We pick names because we imagine life.  But late that night, I knew her name was Olivia Jane.  It would not have been her name if we had gone full-term so God had a hand in the timing.  Such a mystery to me!

I will continue this story another day, maybe even tomorrow, but my emotions are raw and tired.  There is so much goodness in this story, so much glory and light.  I promise: the best is yet to come.