This birth story is about a sweet little 5 pound 5.5 ounce girl named Kate. It’s also about her parents and their journey.
But mostly it’s about me, and I want to be up front about that. This birth story is written from my point of view and it’s mostly about me. How I felt, what I witnessed, what I thought. I know there are grammatical errors – for example, you will noticed that I go from past to present tense. I am not fixing that because I wanted this birth story to be true, unedited, from the heart. While writing this – I was drawn back into that moment, standing in that room, those thoughts and feelings flooding back as fresh as when I experienced it the first time – that’s when it becomes present tense. Because as I wrote this, I wasn’t just remembering – I was there again. So I chose, consciously, to keep it written the way it poured out of my soul because even though I know it’s grammatically incorrect, it felt more honest and true.
I am sensitive to the parents’ journey, but you will notice that it is not the focus. The focus of this story is on me and my experience and that is what the mother requested of me. To honor her wishes, Kate’s birth story is from my point of view. Her mother is writing her own version and I will share that when she feels ready to.
Kate was one of the most beautiful babies when she was born!
A full month has gone by since I was asked to please write Kate’s birth story…and here I am, finally sitting down to do it. I need it, so does her mother, and yet I am having a hard time getting started and actually writing it. I’ve previously written a blog post on why I am hesitant to write birth stories and prefer the parents write it, but this one is different. It’s different because her mother asked me to please write her story. It’s different because I am still processing it myself and so I know that many aspects of this story will be about me, and I try not to make someone else’s birth story about me. It’s different because I know how it will end.
It’s different because she was born dead.
I should say “born still”, “stillborn”, “born an angel”….but the truth is that I think that those terms are for people who haven’t experienced the loss. I think those terms are a rather weak attempt at minimizing the loss that is so unimaginable to most. Her birth was one of the most gentle, spiritual, sacred births I have ever been a part of in my life! (I will get to that moment in a bit)
But she wasn’t just still. She wasn’t just quiet. She was dead. So you see, knowing how the story will end makes it infinitely more challenging to try to backtrack to the beginning of the story when everything was still filled with joyous anticipation! When her mother wasn’t crying and her big sisters were showing off their ballet dancing in the middle of the room during the home visit to classical music. To go back to that time means to drag you along with me knowing how the story will end, and it will hurt.
But it’s real, it did happen. SHE was real, and she gave to everyone the gifts that she could. She will never run, will never laugh, will never go to school or get married….but she gave her family wonderous excitement for 9 months. She kicked and squirmed under their fingertips for as long as she was able. She lived…even though only a few people got to hold her, smell her, kiss her….she lived and deserves to be honored as anyone who has lived and died.
Kate’s birthday started like most days – the sun came up, I ate breakfast, I had appointments all morning long at the office. It also happened to be my 21st anniversary with my husband! He understood me working – he had to work as well – but we’d celebrate that night.
It wasn’t until 1pm, after all of my appointments were finished, that I got an excited text from Kate’s mother – she was 37 weeks pregnancy and she’d been having contractions and bloody show for a few hours, nothing she wanted us to come over for, just wanted to give a heads up so we know she might be having the baby soon. She let me know every hour to hour and a half how things were progressing, she was doing fine, nothing that she needed us for but getting more frequent. By 4pm things were getting more noticeable but still not wanting us to come yet.
At 6:30pm we stopped texting and dad and I had a phone conversation. He said that he wouldn’t mind if we stopped by just to check on her and the baby….I left immediately, excited about meeting baby Kate! Knowing that I could have a long night and that this was an LDS home (meaning, no coffee), I had my husband make me a “coffee to go” and off I went! While in the car I called my husband, teasing him about sending me off with such a small amount of coffee as he’d made the smallest cup we have available and laughing about him knowing better being married to a midwife for 21 years. He offered to bring me a larger container of coffee, and I laughed and called him ridiculous! I was not about to have him drive 25 minutes each way to deliver me coffee! He asked for the address, I refused, still laughing, enjoying our conversation. He said that he bet he could find me based on the GPS of my phone! Knowing I was heading to an apartment complex, I joked with him that if he wanted to try to “Geocache” my location to deliver me coffee, there was no way I could stop him!
I arrived at their apartment just minutes before my assistant, Crystal. I hugged Kate’s mom and dad and asked how it had been going. She was happy, smiling, walking around excited about meeting her daughter. Kate’s two big sisters were already at their aunts and the pool had already been inflated (although not filled). We began to do our initial assessment – blood pressure, perfect. No fever. Water hasn’t broken. Yes bloody show. Could just be because of labor but haven’t felt the baby move in the last few hours.
Mom sat on a kitchen chair while Crystal knelt before her with the doppler, waiting to listen to baby’s heartbeat through and after the next contraction so we’d have a good idea how she was doing with the labor. A contraction started, and Crystal placed the doppler on mom’s belly. I sat on a couch, listening. I didn’t hear anything – but that’s not unusual since we often turn the volume down on the doppler and put it up to our ear so that it doesn’t disturb the mother’s sacred peace she slips into during labor.
Crystal listened…and listened…and moved the doppler around. When it moved and the transducer crackled with the movement, I knew it was NOT turned down, it simply hadn’t found a heartbeat.
Mom asked if it would be easier if she laid down – we asked her to yes, please lay down. She surprised us by simply slipping off the chair onto the floor in the dining room (I thought she’d go to the bed or couch). As soon as Crystal put the doppler back on her belly, my heart sank. I was not hearing heartbeat…I was not hearing umbilical cord…I was not hearing placenta whirls….I was hearing complete silence. I took the doppler from Crystal and very briefly listened to all four quadrants of her belly. Silence.
I told them that I was concerned – that it shouldn’t take me this long to find their baby and we should go to the hospital and get an ultrasound and see what’s going on. They agreed and left immediately. I made eye contact with dad and told him, “Please drive safely, this isn’t an emergency”.
It wasn’t. The baby was already dead and I knew it. I knew it, but didn’t want to believe it. I have never wanted to be wrong more in my life, wanted to be incompetent, wanted to have a problem with my doppler or just not looked in the right place. I wanted to believe that it could be a mistake – but I knew. Deep in my broken heart, I knew. There was no reason to rush because there was nothing that would change the outcome.
Mom and dad left the apartment while Crystal and I stayed for 5 minutes to grab their chart and my gear, call the hospital to let them know we were coming, and follow them to the hospital. The moment the door closed I looked at Crystal and said, “SHIT! SHIT SHIT SHIT!” She hugged me….we hugged each other.
We gathered our things and as we headed out to the car, I saw my husband…..standing next to my car with a large insulated coffee cup. He wasn’t smiling – he’d seen a pregnant couple nervously getting into their car. As I walked up he put the coffee down on my car and said, “What happened?”
“No heart tones.”
He said, “Oh no….” and held me….briefly….I have to go, they need us….thank you for bringing me coffee….SHIT! This sucks!! Kiss…but thank you….SHIT!
Crystal and I carpooled to the hospital in her car, both of us struggling to accept the unacceptable, praying to be mistaken.
When we got to the hospital mom and dad were already in a triage room with a nurse and doctor. The ultrasound machine was there but they had not yet begun the scan. We stepped into the room and the screen turned white with the image of the inside of the womb. There’s her head….her cute cheeks. There’s her leg….the placenta….there’s a hand. What she didn’t have was a heartbeat. Nobody had spoken, the room remained completely silent. Tears flowed down my cheeks and dad looked over at me. I mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”
He nodded understanding of what I was saying. He put his hand on mom’s arm and she smiled up at him. When she saw his face, her smile faltered and she nodded, acknowledging what he was trying to say, but not really being able to comprehend. She glanced my way – and again I mouthed, “I’m sorry.”
The doctor then spoke, telling them as gently as one can tell someone else, that their baby was already gone. There was no heartbeat. He showed mom her baby Kate on the screen, pointing out her heart that was still, the umbilical cord that was not being used. The doctor and I both told them that we are here for whatever they would like to do – go home, stay in the hospital, it was their choice. They asked for some time to think about their options together, so we all left the room.
Outside the room in the hallway, Crystal and I mourned the loss of this baby together, talked about what to expect if she chose to go home, how we might best support this family through such a tragedy.
When they asked for me and Crystal to come back into the room, they let us know that they preferred to go home and finish their baby’s birth the way they’d intended. Mom let us know that we should hurry since contractions were intensifying.
CONTRACTIONS! Oh my gosh, I actually forgot that she was in labor! She hadn’t moved, hadn’t made a sound through the entire ultrasound….and I had gotten so focused on their loss that I actually forgot that she was experiencing labor! Guilt flooded in, but I couldn’t do anything about that right now…lets just get her home! I rushed to the nurses desk and quickly asked, “What do we have to do to get her out of here? We need to hurry!” Just sign on our way out through admissions….
Dad says from the doorway of the triage room, “She said we need to hurry….her water just broke…”
OH NO! That’s usually right before baby comes – so I’m sure Crystal and I look rather frantic trying to get them out of the hospital! For all that has gone wrong, I wanted – no, I desperately NEEDED – them to have as many things go right as possible. For someone who hasn’t been there they might not understand, might think it’s shallow to care about the birth experience when the baby has already died…..but it isn’t. It doesn’t make the baby less important…it means that they don’t have more disappointment piled on top of the tragedy.
Crystal rushed out of the hospital, hopped in her car, and sped off towards their apartment to have things ready for their arrival. I ask the triage nurse for a handful of gloves as I have no gear at all, will be riding with the parents, and there’s a real chance she will birth in the car. Nurse says of course and hands me a handful of gloves. We’re quickly scurrying out of labor and delivery….through admissions….I’m walking with mom while dad is signing and tossing their insurance card at them….
We get as far as the lobby when mom stops and looks at me with disappointment, “Oh no…I’m pushing.”
We quickly go back through admissions and I open the door to labor and delivery, “She’s pushing!” and to mom, “just keep walking….step step step…keep going….you can do it…” In the middle of the hallway she puts her arms around dad and says, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry….I’m puuuuuushing….”
I dropped to my knees, throw on the gloves that were in my pocket, text Crystal, “You need to come back she’s pushing” and peek under mom’s gown. Contraction ends and baby is not born…so we resume our collective efforts to get her into a room for peace and privacy.
We succeed and she ends up in a labor and delivery room on her side. A nurse come over by me and I glance at my gloves and look sheepishly at her, “I’m sorry…this is my client and so I went into midwife-mode…” She tells me it’s okay, I acknowledge that I don’t have privileges in their hospital, she asks me if I’d like sterile gloves. With grateful tears in my eyes, I say yes please.
I am watching her bottom of signs of baby and I see her push…quietly…and a peek of the top of the baby ‘s head shows itself. I whisper, “Good job..you’re almost done..I saw her hair…” When the doctor walks in the room. I look at my sterile-gloved hands as I sit between mom’s legs and look up at the doctor with pleading eyes. He motions with his hand towards us and says, “I respect the relationship….” and back up into the corner of the room, behind his instrument table, granting us the ability to complete this journey together. Simple action, maybe….but profound beyond words. I want to hug him…I want to cry….I want to shower him with accolades….but right now I need to catch this baby.
Mom pushing again – it is just the three of us in the center of this silent hospital room. The nurses and doctor become shadows, watching, respecting, showing reverence for this sacred moment, breaking all of the stereotypes of the hospital-midwife adversarial relationship and instead allowing this moment to be not about me, not about them, but about this family. Here comes the head….
Easy pushes….perfect….that’s exactly right….almost done, she’s almost out….perfectly done….I see her face and she’s beautiful!
Kate’s head was out. She had a spot of blood on the top of her head, and for some reason that bothered me. She was perfect, and I didn’t want her parents to see blood on her head so I took a gauze pad and gently wiped the crown of her head to clean the blood off. I realized that made her head move…so I whispered, “I’m just wiping off her head…that’s me touching your baby.” I didn’t want them to have false hope that what she felt was the baby moving.
Silence while we waited for the next contractions….peaceful silence….just waiting….
One last push….and I lifted her up, “Here she is…” Mom looked down at her daughter. I placed her on her mother’s chest and a nurse placed a blanket on top of her. Mom smiled, looking at his perfect little baby…and looked up at dad. They smiled to each other.
Still there was silence. A breathless, lingering moment of silence.
Mom finally said, “Oh no….we don’t have a camera!” I tore off my gloves, grabbed my cell phone, and started click-click-clicking pictures….as many as I reasonably could….
We arrived at their apartment at 7:15pm. We arrived at the hospital at 7:50pm. Baby Kate was born at 8:55pm.
Crystal arrived at their room minutes after the birth. We spent about 2 hours loving this little girl, thanking her for the gifts she was able to grace us with, holding her, kissing her, loving her. We ran her toes over our fingertips, opened her eyes to see that she had blue eyes, and marveling at her perfection.
After 2 hours Kate’s mom said she was ready to go home, take a shower, and get into bed. She handed Kate over to the nurse who said, “We will take good care of her for you…” Mom was discharged and in 30 minutes was back home and in her shower. Crystal and I went with them to deflate the pool, clean up supplies, remove some of the baby items mom didn’t want to see right then, and tuck her into bed.
There was no reason Kate died. That’s the hardest part for most people to accept – there must be a reason, an explanation. No, the cord wasn’t wrapped around her neck, no there was no traumatic event, no there was nothing wrong with her. She was perfect. The only way that I’ve been able to get someone to understand and accept the circumstance of her death is this – it was SIDS, just before birth. There was nothing anyone did to cause it, and there was nothing anyone could have done to prevented it.
That thought is terrifying to a lot of parents – but so is SIDS. This is why we must appreciate and love and cherish our children each moment they are in our lives!!
Driving home I cried. I can imagine that most people reading this would think I was crying from sadness, and that’s true, I was devastated….but I also cried with the intense honor of being one of the few people who got to know Kate. To have had the pleasure of having her kick my fingertips in my office, of having seen her freshly born pink lips, to kiss her vernix-coated forehead, to have experienced the love and faith of this entire family. I cried with frustration that there was nothing anyone could have done to save this little girl, and I cried with relief that there was nothing anyone could have done and that I don’t have to live with the guilt of any woulda-coulda-shouldas (and neither would the parents!) I cried because I was going home to my own children and would get hugs and kisses from my own healthy children and the appreciation of that fact. But you’re right, I also cried because I was sad.
Thank you to this mom and dad for sharing their journey with me…Kate will remain in my heart and I will carry her with me for the rest of my days on this earth. Thank you.