It wasn’t our first, so we didn’t have all of those first baby worries and feelings. We were raising a 3 year old and preparing to have to start man to man combat instead of 4 hands to 2 hands. We were excited and were not going to find out the sex. That was supposed to be our surprise, if only. The weeks turned into months and things progressed just as they should. Ultra sounds were good, heartbeat was always steady and Christmas was growing near. The thought that it might be our baby as baby Jesus on Christmas Eve was exciting and scary, what if someone dropped it or sneezed on it? The excitement of a Christmas baby was thrilling and just a little more special than other months. My due date was December 10th, 1997.
I went in for a check up on December 5th and all was well. My doctor expected an imminent arrival and suggested I pack everything and make plans for Jeremy so everything would be ready to go. We had a Christmas party at our house the evening of December 6th and boy did the baby put on a show. I know somewhere there are pictures of that night, but all of these years later I’ve never asked and no one has ever offered. It was a fun evening full of friends and excitement and holiday joy. 24 hours later the joy was gone.
I woke up on Sunday and felt like something might be starting, there had already been a few false alarms so I didn’t want to tell anyone until we knew for sure. I took a shower and at that point told my husband it was time to go. We took Jeremy to our neighbors and called my mom just to let her know we were on our way and would call her when we knew for sure that this was it. None of us dreamed that the next time we talked to her our world’s would be turned upside down.
We got to Labor and Delivery and I explained that this might be a false alarm and I’m sorry if it is and for wasting their time….but we’re here. I’ll NEVER forget the nurse saying “nope, you’re going to have a baby today Mrs. Franklin.” Things were still innocent at that point, joy was still there. She had me change into a gown and get into bed. She began to hook up the monitors and said something like “the baby is already mischievous” and she said she would be back. She came back with an ultrasound machine and began looking for the place to put the monitor. She was still all smiles and at that point all I could think about was “hurry up woman, I need an epidural.” She said that the machine had been acting up and she would be right back. Next thing we know another woman is coming in the room with a different ultrasound machine, and my husband had heard the page “ultrasound stat” over the intercom. I’m sure your thinking by now that I had to know something was going on, but honestly I didn’t. I had been to the doctor 2 days before and was 3 days from my due date. The woman had the iciest face I’ve ever seen, she did what she was there to do and then started to pack up. I said “did you see what you needed to see” and her response was that she couldn’t tell me anything because that would be a medical diagnosis. By that point I was in heavy labor and my patience was thin. She finally said “there was no fluid and no heartbeat.” I’m sure by now you are definitely thinking now I know something has gone horribly wrong. Nope, well maybe a tiny little part of me, but I wasn’t having any part of it. My husband followed her out and there I was all alone. I got up, by that time I wasn’t feeling the pain, went back into the bathroom put on my clothes and decided we would try this again another day. I was ready to go home when people came back into the room. I wouldn’t get back in bed, I wouldn’t put back on a gown I only wanted to go home. I don’t remember feeling the pain at that point although I must have because I would bend over with each contraction, but I wasn’t having a baby today with those inept people.
I was finally convinced to sit on the little couch in the Labor and Delivery room and at that point this story kind of becomes third person. I swear I left my body at that point and was just looking down on these two very young and innocent people listening to something that doesn’t happen in the twentieth century, a baby dies. The doctor wasn’t my doctor because of course she wasn’t on call, lucky her. The anesthesiologist was saying that he would do everything he could to make it as comfortable as possible. I was thinking “what do you mean I am going to have to go through labor.” Remember this wasn’t my first rodeo so I knew what labor was and the only thing that gets you through it is the prize at the end. That beautiful baby laying on your chest, the glorious sound of that newborn cry, the miracle of childbirth. That obviously was not going to be the case so why in God’s name would I have to go through labor? There was more time spent trying to get me back in a gown and back in the bed, THAT bed where everything had gone so horribly wrong. The joy was gone.
I finally did as they asked; and they started the pitossin to move things along quicker. It was decided that it was safer for me to deliver the baby and not to have a C-Section. At the time I thought that was the cruelest thing that someone could do to another human. Now all these years later I am SO glad I did it. I am so thankful for that extra time and for the “realness” of it all. No one can ever take that away from me and as long as I live I will never forget it. At that point my mom had arrived and my husband had started making phone calls. He called my best friend at the time and her response was “ok, thanks”. She was in total shock and that’s what came out. We had no idea what to do. We had picked out two lovely names and I thought “do we waste them on a baby that isn’t alive?” I know that sounds terrible, but we didn’t know at that early part of the process. Someone asked us what we wanted to do with it, what are we supposed to do with it? So we decided the baby would be buried and have a funeral and we called our church and the pastor came up. The pitossin did move things along very quickly because I delivered our perfect baby girl, Madison Montgomery Franklin at 1041am on Sunday morning. We didn’t waste the name we had picked out, as it turns out that beautiful southern name wasn’t a waste on this perfect 6lbs 7oz baby girl. She was perfect, except she wasn’t breathing and the silence was deafening when she was born. She had 10 toes, 10 fingers, tons of dark brown hair and I suppose she looked like me. That’s what I remember my mom sobbing and screaming when she held her as soon as she was born. I was too scared so the doctors handed her to my mom, “she looks just like you,” I heard her say. She eventually handed her to me and then to my husband and we unwrapped her to take in every precious part of her. She had only been dead a short while so she had just started to have some discoloration and there was blood on her lips. We had our pastor baptize her and we allowed the hospital to take pictures. We didn’t take pictures ourselves because we just didn’t know. I told my mom to go to Neiman Marcus and pick her out the most beautiful Christening gown ever, no matter the cost. We had been looking at them for months so I knew she would pick a good one. It was finally time for the funeral home to pick her up and for me to go to my own room, which wasn’t on the OB-GYN floor. The funeral home asked if people would be allowed to see her and my first thought was “no.” My grandfather wanted to see her and so did my husband’s parents, but I didn’t want her to be a freak show for people to gauk at. I agreed that they could see her but that was it. My grandfather put a few personal things in her tiny casket and I think all of them were so glad to be able to see her, I’m glad I didn’t keep that from them.
I spent that night in the hospital and they gave me some serious drugs to help settle me down. They also pushed two beds together so that my husband could sleep with me. Even with all the drugs I was restless and I remember roaming the halls. It was raining cats and dogs and at some point in my mind I decided God was crying too. We then began to talk about Jeremy and what do we tell him? We asked advice from people and got really wise words. We needed to tell him that she died, not that she went to sleep or that she was sick simply that she died. People explained that for a three year old if we said she went to sleep he might be afraid to go to sleep and if we said she was sick he might worry that he would die if he got sick, so the truth – plain and simple. I think in his own mind he understood that and he could absorb it. One day he and I were out on the driveway, me in my pajamas and him with his sidewalk chalk. He finished his work and then told me “this is what happened to sissy,” I asked him to explain it to me and in his own three year old version he did. I knew at that moment we had done right by him.
We left the hospital the next day, without our prize, with empty arms. So now it’s time for a funeral, how in the world do you do that? You have just given birth, you leave without the prize and you have to plan and go to a funeral, sometimes life just sucks. A woman from our church was a huge help as she had delivered a full term stillborn a couple of years prior and she was the Director at the pre-school Jeremy attended. So we knew her, but we didn’t really know her. She became a God send to us over the next several years and remains one of my best friend’s in the world to this day. I would not let anyone other than the closest of friends and immediate family attend the funeral. I was like a mother lion protecting her cub, I didn’t want people coming just because they had never seen a casket that little. I know that sounds crazy and I’m sure I was at that point but I didn’t budge on that and I don’t regret it. I think it would have helped people to understand and be more empathetic through the grief process, but that’s on them not on me. We buried her on December 9th and there was a tiny igloo like cooler looking casket on the stone. It was the littlest thing you have ever seen and she would be buried in “baby land” at the cemetery. Where other babies are buried, who knew there was a need for “baby land” in a cemetery? Who knew other people’s babies died?
Then we just started going through the motions of life. I had to take care of Jeremy and most days I tried really hard to be able to do that. I didn’t want him to lose me like I had lost his sister, some days I did that better than others, but that sweet little 3 year old boy saved my life during those days, months and years to come. Having to take care of him gave me a purpose and someone to take care of. Ronald and I just existed, mostly we existed separately and he couldn’t fix this. That was one of the hardest parts, you lose your baby and then you slowly lose your husband. Men and women don’t grieve the same way and when it is the loss of the child that difference is magnified exponentially. We just went through the motions each day running into the next day. Our new friend from church, Kristin, was part of a support group for parents of dead babies, who knew there was such a need for that and what in the world went on at something like that. We went to our first meeting 7 days after Madison died. In the beginning we listened and cried and looking back we learned. I learned how I didn’t want to do this and the things that I didn’t want to happen or do. I learned a lot about grief and that I wasn’t alone, but I definitely learned the way I wasn’t going to go through this process. For us in the early days and months of H.A.N.D. (Houston’s Aid in Neonatal Death)was a way of keeping our lines of communication open. We still didn’t have a lot to say to each other and were each still trying to find our own footing, but it kept the lines open and that probably saved our marriage.
Days and months went by, we got her death certificate, the pictures the hospital took, her monument at the cemetery was installed, Ronald and I both went back to work, Jeremy went back to school and everyone else’s lives just continued on like the world had not stopped on December 7th. Even the year changed, it was no longer 1997, the year my baby died it was 1998. We went on vacation to try and smile again and that too probably saved us. It gave us just a glimpse of hope. Life just goes on, no matter how much you want it to just stand still. Some days I just wanted to scream to the public “my baby died and you people just keep going, don’t you get it my world has stopped and life as I knew it is gone.” When life goes on you are forced to face the ignorance about grief and loss in this country. You are forced to hear people’s stupid comments that they say when they don’t know what else to say and want to make themselves feel better about the awkward situation. “I’m sure it’s better this way, something was probably wrong with your baby.” “It is God’s plan.” “Thank heaven’s it happened now then after you got to know her.” “I can’t believe you had to bury her.” “Well you won’t have all those new mother sleepless nights.” These unbelievable quotes could go on forever, sometimes I would try and set them straight and other times I would just walk away. It was only after months and even years had passed by that I understood that they just didn’t know what to say, so instead of a simple “I’m sorry” most people get diareah of the mouth and just can’t help themselves. There should be more books on grief and how to help those going through it. Maybe even “Grief for Dummies” should be required for everyone in the human race, like required reading in high school.
I went back to work only to find out that my work had not fully informed all those that I worked with that my baby had died. It would be a simple thing to do it seems like, find my contacts and send them a fax or phone call, no email yet back then. I will never forget the day I got a call from a lady and she just began the conversation with “hi, how’s the baby, tell me all about it, was it a boy or a girl, how are you feeling, how is the baby getting along.” I took a breath and didn’t really know what to do, I simply said my baby died and I heard her gasp and she very quickly hung up. I don’t know that I ever heard from her again. I hope by now she has absolved herself of any guilt, how could she have known? Then there are those people that you know, but they really step up to the plate and are there for you and give you unconditional support. Some that you would expect to do that don’t and that’s its own part of grief and those people just can’t deal with it and slowly fade away. We attended H.A.N.D. meetings regularly and I just kept waiting to hear someone who had a worse story than mine. I just kept hoping that someone would come in and make me say “wow, I’m lucky I didn’t have to go through that.” That didn’t happen for a long time, I still haven’t met very many people who don’t find out that their baby will be stillborn until they are actually in labor at the hospital. What I have learned is that mine is the worst because it’s mine, and I have had to live it. In actuality they are all the worse and they are all the same to a certain degree. In the movie Return to Zero the grandmother character tells her daughter that she had a miscarriage and the mother character says “it’s not the same mom” but the grandmother says it’s the same because for both of us “it’s the loss of possibilities, the loss of what could have been.” That is the most true statement about this subject. Infant death at any stage is the loss of what might have been, the first day of kindergarten you imagine when you first find out your pregnant, the wedding you plan in your head when you find out you’re having a girl, the hopes and dreams of what that child will bring to the world and the wonderful life they will have. When your baby dies at any stage or age all of that is gone in an instant.
Time does heal your heart and the days do get easier. Ronald and I renewed our vows that next May because I knew then that we had survived the worst life could throw at us and I wanted to celebrate the fact that we had made it. It was a great day and a day of hope for us and for our family and friends. That August I found out I was pregnant again and totally petrified. Our friend Kristin had given us the name of her perinatologist and I hadn’t a clue what that was. It is an OB-GYN on steroids. His job was to look after me, but his primary job was to take care of that baby in my belly. I had two ultrasounds when I was pregnant with Madison this time I had no fewer than 40. I swear there has got to be a happy medium between two and forty and I hope one day I can help change that. He would watch me like a hawk and in the fall we went into find out the sex of the baby. I had had enough surprises for a lifetime at this point. We had picked out names before we went in and on that day we met Hope Caroline Franklin our future and our hope for what life had in store for us. She was little and he had made the decision that as soon as she stopped gaining weight he would go in and take her. That day happened at 36 weeks. I checked into the hospital early in the morning on April 22, 1999 and I swear it was some sort of PTSD because when I went in to change my clothes I decided that I couldn’t do this. I realize it was a little late in the game to come to that conclusion but I just paniced. I did eventually calm down and get in bed and that was when we found out she was breach, she had turned overnight. I was then wheeled in for a C-section and by the grace of God the hospital eased their policy of only one person in the OR and they let my husband and my mom go in to the OR. As it turned out that was a good decision because Hope Caroline was little and needed some extra help. My fabulous doctor assured me that she was ok and almost in an instant she was wheeled away and my husband went with her and my mom stayed with me. I’m not sure how I stayed so calm, but I did. They brought her into to see me in her little incubator and I got to hold her hand before they took her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She would not get a bath for a few days and we weren’t allowed to hold her until then. She was perfect, she was tiny, but she was perfect. Jeremy by now was nearly six and very worried and he needed to see that she was alive. We were able to have a polaroid picture taken of her and sent that home to him so that he could see her. Our family and friends were thrilled there was finally a happy ending.
Hope Caroline stayed in the NICU for several days and my doctor had fixed it so that I could stay as long as she did so that I didn’t have to leave the hospital again with empty arms. We went home with Hope and with hope. We could see a future that wouldn’t always be sad. A strange thing happened, after we got home and I had this beautiful little girl I realized even more what I had lost and missed with Madison. Every day and every year I see what I don’t have and have missed sharing with her. I didn’t see her go to kindergarten, I didn’t get to see her finish elementary school, I didn’t get to see her first boyfriend or teach or how to drive and I won’t get to see her get married or have babies of her own. Those are always sad realization moments, but now they are just moments not my whole life. Our table will always be one short and a piece of my heart will always be missing. I have missed so much, but she has taught me so much at the same time. She taught me that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always win the prize, life sucks and it’s up to you on how you will deal with it. She taught be to be present, to enjoy every moment of my kid’s lives and never take one minute for granted. Because of her, not in spite of her I am a better person. My husband already had his appointment to have a vasectomy after Madison was born and if he had done that we wouldn’t have Hope Caroline Franklin. This world wouldn’t have all that wonderful things she brings to it and the world would have missed so much if she weren’t a part of it. I tell her now that sissy’s greatest gift was her. Life works out the way it is supposed I know now, it doesn’t mean it’s pretty or easy but in my world God knows the way. I believe His heart broke at the same moment mine did on December 7, 1997. He didn’t cause it, He just gives us the strength and the tools to deal with it and survive.
We celebrated her 16th birthday this past December 7th and we decorated her place at the cemetery appropriately for a Sweet 16 and I left her a little pink convertible bug on her monument. When her monument was put in 16 years ago I realized what a small little space each baby got in baby land, in all my wisdom and crazy at that time we bought the spot on each side of her so now she has the penthouse in her baby land. People always laugh when they hear that and say “why would it be any other way?” We went to H.A.N.D. meetings every month for years I eventually became President of the H.A.N.D. board and we began facilitating meetings and giving back to newly bereaved parents. Giving back is healing for the soul and was an important part in our grief process. No two stories are the same, but in a way they are all exactly the same, the loss of what was supposed to be.
I hope that if you read this you walk away with hope and knowing that the human spirit is still good and people although they don’t always know what to say or do are generally good. That after death there is life and with that comes happiness and hope. Our living children are now nearly 20 and just turned 15, they know all about their sister and they too are better human being because of her. They have learned at an early age how to deal with death and that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want or expect, but if you have faith and hold on hope will come. We have many people since Madison died who have lost babies some of them have become dear friends and will be a part of our lives forever. We have a bond that is like no other, we have all survived the worst life has to offer and have come out the other side. I think about all of those babies often and I know that they are all friends up there just as their parents are friends down here. It’s our own very private and selective club, but I’m glad we all have each other.