Baby’s Name: Layla Malcolm Kocsis
Date of Birth: 11/11/13
Original Due Date: 12/12/13
Weeks Pregnant: 35+4
Baby’s Weight: 6lb 9oz
Baby’s Length: 19 in
On Monday, November 11th, I delivered my perfect stillborn daughter after an absolutely flawless and much beloved pregnancy. In one day, one minute, our life story went from unbelievably perfect to unbearably tragic.
Our story begins on Wednesday, when my husband James’ biological grandfather was killed in a car crash at 87 years old. James is adopted, and only found his birth family 7 years ago. He had known since he was a teenager that his mother died shortly after giving birth to him and giving him up for adoption, but his family didn’t know he existed until James and his uncle found each other. They were so happy to find him, their only grandchild, and were all awaiting the birth of their only great-grandchild.
James made plans to go to the funeral, leaving on Friday morning. On Thursday, Layla dropped – we were so excited! I could feel the difference, she was riding so low in my hips, and you could see my bump was inches below where it had been. I felt that everything was happening just as it should – just as it had through the entire pregnancy. When James prepared to leave for Texas on Friday, he talked to Layla, told her to please not come that weekend and to wait for him to get back. I assured him that her dropping meant nothing, and it would likely be weeks before she made her arrival (but we were always thinking she would come a little early – she was a big girl from day 1!).
On Saturday, I spent the day filling my time without James. I went to a picnic our doula was throwing with all of her families, talked excitedly about our upcoming arrival to other new and expecting moms, and I facetimed with J after he was out of the funeral. I am so glad he took a screenshot of our facetime – both of our smiling faces and my big ‘ol belly. I am also grateful that Layla heard her daddy’s voice in one of the last hours I really remember her being as active as usual. I went for a big walk with a friend, got a massage, and turned in early after just not feeling that well. I didn’t know then that ‘not feeling that well’ is often a sign that labor is starting.
Saturday night/Sunday morning, I woke at 5a with a startle. This never happened to me. I was a good sleeper throughout pregnancy, and I was sure it was because I was alone and sleeping on my right side, flopped over to his side of the bed. Of course, this is one of the many things that I wonder about (too much time on my right side? on my back?). I poked Layla, said ‘hey, you ok in there?’ and went back to sleep. I am sure now that is when she passed.
Sunday morning I had plans to go and watch football with my BFF and her husband, and my brother and his fiancé. Everyone was keeping me company so I wouldn’t be alone without James. I picked up my brother and his fiancé, and commented that Layla had been very lazy that morning, so I was working to wake her up – coffee, OJ, ice water, a banana. I had a similar lazy baby morning 2 weeks prior – called my Dr., went in for NST, everything was just peachy – so I think this caused me to be a little less alarmed than I would have been if this were the first time. We went to the bar to watch the football game and I noticed I was having a lot of (what I thought were) braxton hicks. Halftime rolls around and I call my Dr. who tells me to come in. At that point, I realize the contractions are pretty regular. I tell everyone I’ll be back for the 3rd quarter, and head to the hospital – at the very last second, my brother’s fiance, who is a NICU nurse, runs out behind me and says she’s coming with, which I am now so grateful for.
We head to the hospital and I say, which now drives me absolutely crazy, “Ok, worst case scenario, we’re having a baby by c-section right now and James isn’t here. Worst case.” — because why would I know that there was SUCH A WORSE CASE possible? I had no idea. Never in a million years did it cross my mind. Fuck.
Then came the part that baby-loss mamas know so well but that the vast majority of pregnant women never imagine – Lie down, nurses being casual, lots of joking… and can’t find a heartbeat. Oh wait – is that one? No, that’s my heartbeat. Hmmm… where is it? I’m starting to get panicked at this point, brother’s fiancée is gripping my hand tighter, and they grab the ultrasound machine. I hate even retelling this part… but I heard those words that changed my life forever. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. There’s no fetal activity. Screaming, crying, eyes wide open, shaking, asking for my doctor. We wait 5 minutes for my incredible doctor to arrive (he headed in from home before I even got there) and he does the scan again – I’m begging him, pleading at him to tell me she was wrong. My mind is racing and I realize it all before they even tell me – I have to give birth to this baby. My milk is going to come in. I won’t be breastfeeding (something that was deeply important to me). MY HUSBAND ISN’T HERE, HE’S IN GODDAMN TEXAS. And all I can do is curl up and wail, ‘my baby, I want my baby, I want my baby.’
My doctor lets me know that he’ll be checking me in to deliver Layla, but I’m already in labor with contractions 5 mins apart so we’re going to just watch things for a while, especially given James still hadn’t been notified and would need to make immediate travel arrangements – he wasn’t due back until Monday evening. I tell the doctor that I need to step outside for a while and I’ll be back in 30 minutes – knowing I was going inside for a few days, I wanted to go outside, feel the sun and make some phone calls. I opened the door to the triage room to leave and standing outside was my brother and BFF. If James had to be gone, there were no two better people to catch me falling right there. I collapsed into their arms, but quickly tried to pull it together – I was in the main entry of the maternity ward. I knew how it looked. We went outside and I made the hardest call of my life – to tell my husband that he needed to get on a plane because our dreams had just crumbled, left there in that triage room, the pieces weighing heavy inside me. I made my brother call my mom. I just couldn’t do it. Layla was the first grandchild to the woman who so tragically lost her husband 7 years ago (my dad died of a heart attack when I was 23, and he was 50). She was the first great-grandchild to my grandmother, whose husband passed away the week Layla was conceived. We were sure she had been a gift from my grandfather. My heart was too broken to break two more generations of women’s hearts in my family.
I got checked into my room and tried to process everything. My brother and BFF stayed close and fetched me things from home, helped make phone calls and watched football until James would arrive at midnight. The nurses didn’t know what to do with this laboring woman who only wanted to watch football! They started me on pitocin, promising it would be a while, and it was. My doula came and we started making some revisions to my birth plan – even though the entire premise of the birth plan had been thrown out the window (get baby out alive), it was still important to me that I honor the birth experience I had spent countless hours planning. She also let me know about the incredible volunteer photography organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and that if I was interested, she would make the arrangements. At that moment I didn’t know what to think, but I am so grateful James and I realized/learned we needed to have those pictures taken. Our pictures of Layla are our biggest treasure, and I would be lost without them. My birth teacher (who is also a doula, and had been through this with students before) came and brought me Empty Arms, and read to me about ‘what to expect’ (potential for dark lips and peeling skin), and also encouraged photos and still having skin to skin and all the things I didn’t know at the time. I’m so grateful for both of these women.
James arrived at midnight and we slept together, the last time the 3 of us would curl up together, in that tiny hospital bed, until 6:30a when my Dr. came back to check on me – I was still 1cm. He attempted to break my water, but my cervix was too high and crooked and I wasn’t being the most cooperative patient – I was still attempting to have as natural birth for as long as I could stand it. In my mind, there had never been another way. Of course, in my mind, I never imagined I’d be facing an induction, and never under these circumstances. They turn up the pitocin again, and we keep waiting. 1:30p rolls around, I’m checked again and I’m 2cm. Dr. tries to insert a balloon catheter to dilate me that way, and has no luck – but this time he’s able to break my water. Within 45 minutes, I’m in active labor and it comes on like a train. In fact, I had been talking to my mom on the phone when all of a sudden I say, ‘this is it, gotta go’ and I enter the world of pain that is active labor. I labor for 4 absolutely brutal hours, with every nurse begging me to stop trying to do it natural, but I want to wait for my doula to get back. My husband gets me in the shower at doula’s orders and I labor there, naked and hysterical between contractions, looking like a madwoman, with J and BFF rubbing my back until my doula walks in and calmly says ‘this is it. you’ve done enough’ – apparently when she arrived, the nurses and the anesthesiologist were all standing outside my door waiting for her to come in and tell me that.
I get out of the shower and who walks in but a total nut job anesthesiologist – starts complaining that it’s ‘sooooo hot in here’ and ‘jeez, it’s like a sauna, how are you guys in here?’ BECAUSE I WAS IN THE FUCKING SHOWER TRYING TO HANDLE DELIVERING MY DEAD BABY, YOU ASSHOLE. The nurse quickly pulls him outside, to (I presume) tell him the situation. He preps me and is mumbling the whole time ‘I’m going to do my best here, but she’s sitting in such an awkward position. Man, it’s steamy in here.’ I’m thinking – please don’t do your best. Do a GOOD JOB. Why is this an issue? But one epidural later, I’m instantly numb and I think, ok, I can see the appeal here. I’m checked again – 3cm, and I am very grateful for the epidural if I’m only 3cm and beyond emotionally drained. It’s 5pm now and Dr. says he’ll probably see me sometime tomorrow to have a baby. James and I visit with a friend that comes by, watch a movie and cry a lot. But what’s that? Now it’s 9p and a nurse comes in to check me – and I’m 9cm! We call the doula to come back yet again and we start preparing. An hour later, and I’m feeling pressure like it’s time to push but my doula keeps talking to me and distracting me so that it builds. Very quickly I say, ok, I think this is it – the Dr. walks in and our girl was right there – 5 pushes and she was out. Of course, I’m sobbing the whole time – I feel bad for the hospital staff, it was so very emotional for everyone. But if Layla gave her mommy any gift with labor, it’s that it was relatively easy and for a 6lb 9oz girl, she slipped right out. Gives me hope for next time!
Now, at the very last second, before I started pushing, my Dr. did say ‘I know you’re planning to have photos taken. I just want you to know … we don’t know how she’ll look. We don’t know how long she’s been gone.’ I’m both glad he said that and bothered, because it caused me to keep my head turned even after she was laid on my chest – I couldn’t look as they were lifting her up to me. On the other hand, I did have the feeling of a warm baby, MY warm baby, on my chest, for just a second before I had to acknowledge that she wasn’t crying. Or breathing. Or going to open her eyes. But in my ear was a nurse with the warmest voice, saying ‘look at her. look at her, she’s beautiful, she’s perfect, look at her.’ And that began our very short two hours admiring our perfect angel.
We spent that time alone with her, with our incredible photographer from NILMDTS and my brother came and held his niece – the only non-medical person that held our daughter. I regret not offering to let our doula hold her and sometimes sad that her grandparents didn’t meet her (we told our moms not to come, both live across the country) but do not regret for an instant that we kept every minute with her to ourselves. My husband waited 40 years to look into the face of his child, to see what he never got to see looking into the face of his mother. It breaks my heart that he only got to gaze upon his blood for those two hours, never got to see his daughter look into his eyes.
They let me out of the hospital 5 hours after she was born, as soon as I could walk, which I faked pretty well so I could get home after 40 hours of pure hell. James and I proceeded to crawl into bed where we stayed for the next 6 days. In those 6 days, I fought my breasts as best I could. I kept ice packs in double sports bras every waking second, and cabbage leaves on them during the worst 3 days. That milk coming in was the most painful experience of my life, physically and emotionally. And yet, I only leaked once – one time, just a little, and in that moment, I actually felt like a mother.
One of the sadder parts of our story is that Layla was going to be one of the first two girl cousins in the family, after 4 little boys (2 8yo and 2 4yo) – my SIL was due with her 3rd, a surprise AND a girl and the family could not have been more thrilled. I called them cousin twins, already bought them matching outfits for the annual family vacation and pretty much knew it couldn’t be any more perfect than that. My SIL was due a week after us, but her c-section was scheduled for Layla’s due date – we knew that only meant a 5% chance of sharing a birthday, but we were so excited to see how close they’d come together. My little 5lb 7oz niece was born on 12/12, and we spent Christmas loving and snuggling that little lady that will always hold a piece of her cousin inside her.
It’s been 12 weeks since we delivered our little girl, and we miss her every single day. We have had incredible support from our friends, family, the doula community, other moms and it helps so much. People use her name. They tell us when they’re thinking of her. They are honest about how much our situation scares them. They have shared their own baby losses. It helps to know we’re not alone and also scares the shit out of us as we attempt to do it all again. If there is any advice I can give to dealing with loved ones going through baby loss, it’s all of the above. Be honest. Talk about the baby. You won’t be ‘reminding them’ of the loss – you’ll be reminding them that you care.
I love my little girl, the one who made me a mom. I only wish she could be here, in my arms that ache, feet pushing on the belly that is so soft and empty. There is a biological, physiological, visceral reason that you see mother animals going crazy if you separate them from their baby. A mother should never be left with empty arms after giving birth. But it happens, and we don’t talk about it for what are probably the right reasons – there is absolutely nothing I could have done differently to change the course of history. We fall into the camp of 60% unexplained stillbirths. We will never know why this happened to our daughter. We can only hope that it doesn’t happen again.
For now, she sits on our mantle, so we can keep her close. We look at her pictures. We tell her we love her, we miss her, and we will never, ever forget her.