When I discovered I was pregnant in November 2002, the best way to describe the feeling was surreal. I think every woman who finds out she is pregnant for the first time understands that feeling. It didn’t seem real. It felt so strange to know that a tiny little human being was starting to grow inside me. I thought it would feel more obvious.
At that point I thought, well, this is it. I am going to have a baby and enter that world – that strange scary “motherhood” world, of which I was both scared and secretly proud to be a part of. At 18 weeks my husband and I decided to “cheat” and find out the sex of the baby. We were going to have a boy! I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to meet him. I remember the doctor telling me, “You are going to have a healthy boy.” I was proud to be pregnant and I beamed with happiness when I told strangers that I was having a boy. I sang to him every day and told him things like, “I can’t wait to see your face” and “Mommy would go crazy if anything happened to you”. Did I secretly know what was going to happen? Not at all. I was hooked and already in love and I hadn’t even met him yet.
We struggled with names but when I was about 5 months pregnant we found it – Hunter. We both loved it and knew immediately that would be his name. Of course like any new mom-to-be, I couldn’t resist the bibs and clothes that I could embroider the name Hunter on. Neither could my relatives so we were already prepared to welcome little Hunter into the world with his own personalized wardrobe.
Most of my pregnancy was fairly uneventful. I had problems with swollen hands towards the end but I attributed that to the hot month of August. At 36 weeks I experienced early contractions. It was the weekend after my baby shower and my best friend’s baby shower. It was a busy weekend and I was extremely dehydrated. I went to the hospital and they told me everything looked great and that I was simply dehydrated. They gave me an IV and off I went. I made sure I drank plenty of water and did not experience that problem again.
Close to my due date, I started thinking is this baby ever going to come into my world? Will I ever meet him? It felt like an eternity. I was so big! Every night, I talked to my best friend who was also pregnant. We were both so ready to have our babies. Two nights after my due date, I remember talking to my friend who told me about someone we both knew who lost her baby boy at birth. I thought to myself. “That is the worst thing that could happen. How can anyone survive that?” I never ever thought it would happen to me.
The next morning I woke up and went to the bathroom. I noticed blood in the toilet but absolutely no pain. I thought it was strange because there was a lot of blood and it was bright red. I immediately paged the doctor. I was scheduled for a non-stress test that morning so the doctor told me to come in at that time. That was not good enough for me. I came downstairs to drink some juice because my son always kicked me after that. Much to my dismay, I felt nothing. I paged the doctor again who told me to come into the hospital. My husband and I immediately left and I had a sense of dread the entire way. Although we didn’t want to admit it, we knew something was wrong. When we arrived at the hospital, they hooked me up to a monitor to check the heartbeat. The nurse could not find one but said that sometimes that can happen. They paged my doctor and we went downstairs to have an ultrasound. That was when I was told the worst news of my life… that my baby was gone. I felt as though someone took a brick and hit me in the face. The pain was worse than anything I had ever felt physically in my life. I seriously didn’t know how I was going to take my next breath. The worst part was that I still had to deliver him and each decision after that got harder and harder. I could barely breathe let alone make these incredibly difficult decisions.
When I delivered him, my husband and I discovered that he was a perfect little boy – Hunter Ryan – 7 lbs, 14 oz., 22 inches. He looked exactly like my husband. This could not be happening. My arms and heart physically ached. I remember feeling so empty because he stayed in the room with us for a while and I was uncomfortable. How could I be uncomfortable? He was my baby and he was so beautiful but he was gone and all I wanted was to have him be alive and crying and warm next to my skin. I have had my share of heartache in my life but nothing prepared me for this kind of pain.
The doctor told me I had a velamentous cord which twisted and let go when he started to descend. She said it’s not completely uncommon to have this type of cord but if known a c-section would have been scheduled. That was it – a cord that was improperly formed right from the beginning. I was so sad; I didn’t even have time to be angry. That came later. The nurses were so remarkable to me. I will never forget them. If it weren’t for them, I would not have held him and kissed him and even prayed for him as I had to say good-bye before I even got to say hello. I felt so empty inside – like I was half a person and half a woman for failing him and not being able to keep him safe. I didn’t know how to feel. I just wanted to find ways to escape the pain but nothing seemed to work.
When I got home, I was afraid to be alone in my own thoughts. Nights were bad but I was taking many different types of medication including sleeping pills. My milk came in and I still had 20 pounds of unexplained baby weight. The mornings were the worst for me. I was typically a morning person but the thought of starting another day without my son was pure agony. In the meantime, my best friend had her baby girl and I could not summons the strength to talk to her. I think it was at least 3 months before we talked again. It was too hard for me. I just could not deal with it. I felt like I was on an island all by myself. The people that were closest to me couldn’t even help because they could not relate to what I was going through. They could not comprehend how strong all of these new feelings were controlling me and the new person I had become.
My husband stayed strong for me and agreed to go to any and all counseling that I was so desperate to try. One personality trait that never left me was my ability to confront this and share my feelings with everyone. When someone asked me what they could do to help, I simply stated, “Let me talk about my son. Forever.” And I meant it. To this day, I do not mind talking about him. I didn’t want to forget him and it broke my heart knowing that many people would soon forget and new people I meet would have no idea that he ever existed. I heard many different comments such as “ Well, at least you didn’t get to know him” or my favorite – “Things happen for a reason” (which, by the way, should be banned from the English language because if bad things happen for a reason then we live in a pretty pathetic world and I honestly don’t think it works that way).
I went back to work after about a month or so and tried to resume my life. I was still secretly dying inside but I found strength through people I never expected to find strength from. I had to finally admit that this changed me and not necessarily for the good (not right away at least). I became bitter towards anyone who had a baby or who was pregnant. I didn’t enjoy social gatherings because I feared the subject of what happened coming up at times when I know it wasn’t what everyone wanted to talk about. Most of all I hated the look on people’s faces when they were so obviously uncomfortable talking with me and trying desperately to avoid the topic. That was the worst part of it because it was such a big part of me and it made people uncomfortable. Prior to this happening, I considered myself very social and never dreamed I would be in a situation where people actually avoided talking to me. Again, strength came from my husband, my mother and a few friends/co-workers who never got tired of my sadness or my longing to talk about what happened. I knew I sounded like a broken record but it was the only thing that stopped the constant ache in my heart. I had to surround myself with those people all of the time because it was my way of grieving and going through all of the stages of grief.
As anyone can imagine, I longed to be pregnant again. I went to the gym constantly, partially to lose the baby weight and partially to forget the mental pain I still felt every day. It was 6 months later that I found out I was pregnant again. I thought for sure I would miscarry. It wouldn’t be that easy. I didn’t miscarry and 8 weeks into my pregnancy I found a high risk maternal fetal medicine specialist who understood my fears and also understood that I would need many appointments and numerous “pep talks” to get me through the next nine months.
My pregnancy with my daughter was bittersweet. I missed Hunter terribly and every time I felt her kick I knew that it wasn’t the first time I felt this but yet – where is my baby? When I found out I was having a girl, I was happy and sad at the same time. Where was my little boy? Yet, at least I couldn’t compare her to him. I was afraid to fall in love again. I put my guard up and felt incredibly guilty as a result. She didn’t ask to be second. Despite all of this, I was sad and still very angry. I lost the innocence I should feel from the experience of pregnancy. I was robbed of the beautiful feelings that came with my first pregnancy and I knew I could never go back. I became this angry and resentful person. I resented everyone because they didn’t have these feelings. They didn’t experience this pain. They would never know and could never understand. It was a very intense feeling and I did visit a grief counselor to express this.
As the months passed, I realized I did have a great support system but I was getting stronger. I didn’t want people to continue to feel sorry for me. I know that was inevitable because of losing my son but I was surviving it and I was starting to feel proud of that. It was hard for me to tell people that and I certainly didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings when they were just trying to be nice. My pregnancy with my daughter was progressing – again in a fairly uneventful manner with the exception of some comments received by misinformed (and well just plain ignorant) colleagues stating,” Well, take care of yourself better this time!” Can you believe anyone would even say that?? I am thankful for family and friends who helped me get through the pain of hearing comments like that as if the guilt wasn’t already weighing in my heart and head each and every day since I lost my son.
There was one big challenge for me during my pregnancy with my daughter and it came each and every time a stranger asked me, “Is this your first child?” The first time someone asked me that I answered “Yes” and then I immediately went home and cried for hours and realized that I could not give that answer again. For the person asking, it would be one minute of awkwardness as I explained that “No, she is not my first child”. That I had a little boy and he died. That stranger would walk away and soon forget. I would not and I was somehow comforted as I acknowledged Hunter and made people aware that I did have a little boy and that he is still so much a part of me.
I soon approached my 9th month of pregnancy and was frantic to deliver my daughter. I finally convinced my doctor to allow me to be induced at 37 and ½ weeks. I was going to attempt to deliver naturally but after 48 hours of inducement/labor, my daughter’s heart rate starting slowing down. At that point, I went crazy and was told by the attending doctor that a c-section was necessary. Scared, exhausted and truthfully a bit crazed at that point, we agreed and minutes later my daughter was born. Of course as a cruel twist of fate, she was not crying immediately and having a c-section, I was not able to see her right away. After what I thought seemed like an eternity, I heard the cries of my daughter and my husband exclaiming “Jo-Jo, she looks just like you!” and “Jo-Jo, she has more hair than I do!” I couldn’t wait to meet her and soon, they presented me with my daughter, Makena Katherine. I had waited for this moment for 2 years. I thought that my heart was going to be with my son, Hunter but the minute she was placed in my arms, I could not believe the feeling that came over me. I was immediately in love with this perfect beautiful little girl. I can’t say that I didn’t think of my son but as I held my daughter and stared at her for so long, I felt my heart starting to fill up again. It was amazing how that happened and I never saw it coming.
The months following were filled with happiness for us (along with the usual exhaustion and stress of having a new baby) but my daughter began to bring me joy that I never believed I would experience again. Despite that, I knew in my heart that I wanted to have another baby. We struggled with this decision as the idea of becoming pregnant again and going through 9 months of pregnancy again was a lot to bear on my husband and I. In the meantime, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer much to our surprise and sadness. By the time she was diagnosed it was already Stage 3 and we feared the worst. She passed away on Christmas morning when I was 4 months pregnant. We did know we were having another boy and she and I did talk about names. I mentioned the name Sam and she said she loved that name. I like to think that at least she knew about her grandson even though she didn’t get to meet him.
Samuel Hunter was born via a planned c-section and again helped to fill that hole in my heart. It was hard not to compare him to Hunter but he definitely had more of me in him than Hunter did. Like my daughter, it was very surreal to hold my little boy. Although I was ecstatic, I had been robbed of my innocence. I don’t think anyone who has not been through this can understand that feeling. I was so very happy to have two healthy children but it never replaced the ache in my heart for my first born, Hunter.
Losing my first son had a tremendous impact on my life. It made me vulnerable yet more empathetic and sometimes sad, a fact that I am not afraid to admit anymore. When I am asked, “How many children do you have?” depending on the situation, I do say three and that my first son passed away. It can make the situation awkward but he was my son and I carried him for 9 months and I am his mom. No one can take that part away from me.