I wish I could say that my son’s passing happened for a good reason. (Well, no reason is a ‘good’ one; in a perfect world, babies would never die.) At the very least, I wish his death was not something that could, in all likelihood, have been prevented. Unfortunately, I have the rest of my life to look back on the last week of his life, and, someday, hopefully I will be able to find peace with the fact that he my have been saved if things had happened differently. He wasn’t sick. He didn’t have a lethal injury, an extra chromosome, a hole in his heart, or something wrong with his placenta: he was a perfectly happy, healthy little boy who, in all probability, should have made a noisy entrance to the world, in that way that happy, healthy little boys almost always do.
Instead, someone made a mistake, and he died.
On Sunday, October 19th, 2014, sometime in the middle of the morning, I realized our normally rambunctious baby was not moving nearly as much as he should be. I thought back a bit further and realized that I actually hadn’t felt anything at all that morning, and the last thing I could remember for certain was a few low hiccups the night before. My first course of action was to have a cold, sugary drink: I drank half a can of Coke and then laid down on the couch, shaking and poking my belly, trying to get a rise out of him. When that failed, I called my midwives’ emergency hotline and left a message explaining my situation.
I got a return phone call a few minutes later from the girl on call. She started by saying that she didn’t think it was anything to worry about, and that babies often slow down at this phase – I was 40 weeks and 3 days pregnant, and he was likely simply running out of room. However, under the circumstances, it made sense to head to the hospital for an NST to be sure that everything was okay and put our minds at ease. I agreed, and we arranged to meet at the hospital an hour later. At the time, I was a full-time caregiver to an elderly woman, and we contacted my mother-in-law to see if she could look after her for a couple of hours while we were at the hospital; however, when she found out where we were going and why, my MIL was, understandably, anxious about the situation and instead decided she wanted to meet us at the hospital as well. We found someone else to come and look after my care patient, and set off to meet my midwife.
We got in to the hospital and got set up at the NST machine. I felt immediate relief when I heard Brock’s heartbeat, which, at the time, was still a healthy 150 BPM. However, nothing we did seemed to be able to get a rise out of him. His heartbeat refused to go either up or down, regardless of how many times I changed position or how much apple juice I drank. About half an hour after we arrived, my mother-in-law (who left a bridal shower to meet us) showed up and started canvassing my midwife to have me induced. Of course, we had no sway in the matter, and she eventually had to accept my midwife’s refusal to break protocol and induce me that day.
After an hour and a half hooked up to the NST, during which time I did not feel Brock move once, my midwife told us that nothing about my test was concerning, and that he was fine. She suggested that he was simply being quiet because he was resting up for labour, and that his few movements were being covered up by contractions (even though I only had a couple the entire time I was there). I argued with her. I asked her how I was supposed to handle not feeling any movement for the remainder of my pregnancy, when I had been told pretty much constantly, from 24 weeks on, to be on high alert if I wasn’t getting regular movement – now I wasn’t, and I was being told to ignore it? She didn’t really have a good answer for me. Still, for some reason I cannot fathom – against my better judgement – I put my trust in her. She was a medical professional, and I didn’t want to be “that woman”, the one who makes a giant scene over nothing. So, I swallowed my anxiety and let myself be sent home.
Two days later, on the 21st, another midwife on my team called me and told me that she had scheduled my induction for the following Saturday. I was approaching 41 weeks, and we had no evidence that he was going to come on his own anytime soon, so we went ahead and scheduled it for 10 days past my due date in the event that he had not arrived by then. She also said she had seen that I was in on Sunday for low fetal movement, and asked me if the situation had improved: it hadn’t. When I went on to mention another minor grievance I was having, she suggested I come back in for another NST so she could assess the situation. I figured we were better safe than sorry, and I wondered if she would have a different opinion than her colleague, so I agreed. I called my husband home from work, and we headed back in to the hospital.
We were excited and jittery the whole way there. We figured this midwife would be more lenient, and that she might let us start the induction today if we made a big enough fuss or if she was less comfortable with the NST results; we thought that this was ‘it’ and we were going to get to meet our son. Despite all the uncertainty of Sunday, the possibility of something being seriously wrong didn’t even cross our minds as we made the 45 minute drive into town.
We checked in and got set up in the triage room for another NST. Initially, when she couldn’t find the heartbeat, I wasn’t concerned. At the appointment on Sunday, the monitor had kept slipping off my belly and losing his heartbeat, so I thought he might have moved and she might just be having trouble placing him. After a few minutes, though, the three of us were all becoming quite anxious. My husband tersely gripped my hand, and my midwife quietly admitted that she thought we might have a serious issue on our hands. She dismissed herself to go find an OB on call, and my husband and I exchanged glances, trying not to panic.
Things got hectic after this. We were suddenly drowned in attention and people; an OB and two nurses rushed in within a minute of each other, and the OB immediately started asking us questions in rapid succession. When did we last feel movement? Late Saturday night. Why hadn’t we come in sooner? WE DID. What happened then? Where was the NST from that day? While the nurses were busy looking for the heartbeat and consulting with my midwife, the OB located a copy of the NST from Sunday, and shook his head as he looked at it. I started to panic.
One nurse eventually switched gears and decided to dedicate all of her attention to trying to keep me from flipping out entirely by reminding me to breathe and gently stroking my arm. I appreciated her efforts, but didn’t work. The fact that I was extremely stressed out (and probably the moment I realized there was no hope) became very apparent when we found a heartbeat, but it was mine… and it was going 178 beats per minute. Finally, the OB decided to wheel over a small ultrasound machine and take a look. After a couple of tense minutes, he told me that they were going to send me down for a full ultrasound “to see what’s going on” (which I now know, in clinical speak, means “to confirm”).
It took almost 20 minutes to get in for an ultrasound, and it was certainly the longest 20 minutes of my life. My husband, midwife and I sat in the hallway in wait, making small talk and trying to crack jokes to lift the atmosphere. When I was finally brought in, they were not allowed to come in with me, and this alone was almost enough to dissolve me into tears. I had been in this very room before for growth ultrasounds, and there was nothing but curtains between me and a bunch of other mothers who were, in all likelihood, having ultrasounds with results that would ultimately be more positive than mine. I tried to steel myself for it, hoping I wouldn’t make a gigantic scene when they came back with the news that I was all but certain I was going to get at this point.
Despite my best efforts, when she came back and told me that there was no heartbeat, I still lost it. I quickly dissolved into the ugliest crying ever – so ugly that even I was alarmed by how awful I sounded. I remember my husband rushing in, all but pushing the ultrasound tech out of the way to get to me, and us sharing a big, long, ugly cry.
I must have ruined a lot of women’s days that day.
I was admitted to a room for an induction a couple hours later. My husband and I were escorted to a more private room to try to gather our bearings and our midwife counseled us on what was going to happen next. I don’t really remember much about that time, just little snippets here and there. I remember being in the triage room again (but not how I got there), sitting on the same bed again while I waited for a room, listening to my husband call our families to break the news. I remember listening to him convince his brother that he was not, in fact, making a really bad joke. Our son had really died.
They started giving me Ativan regularly sometime that evening, and it worked marvelously to keep me from completely losing my marbles. People kept trying to feed me, and I kept not eating. I couldn’t get past the idea that my body, which had spent all this time creating new life, was now harbouring death. I couldn’t process the thought that, if I hadn’t gone overdue, I’d likely have a perfectly healthy son at home instead of being in a hospital, waiting to deliver a dead baby.
Most of all, I couldn’t stand that I had been right. I had recognized his distress. I had done everything in my power to try to save him. However, since I saw the wrong caregiver who had not taken me seriously, and I’d unwisely taken their advice (even though I didn’t want to), he’d died all the same. I felt completely at fault, like I had let him down. I had failed him.
I kept a brave facade for visitors and only let myself cry when everyone had left for the night and my husband was fast asleep.
My induction took an excruciating 45 hours – more evidence that my body was truly resistant to the idea of labour – and was almost considered a failure, meaning that I would have been sent for a C-section. More baffling to all that was present was the fact that, after that 45 hours, I was able to deliver our son in 12 minutes (this after my OB had said that it would probably take as much as a couple of hours). Brock was born at 12:57pm on Thursday, October 23rd, weighing 7lbs 6.4oz, being uncharacteristically tall and lanky (21 1/2 inches long) considering his parents of average height, and positively adorable in every way.
His cord was wrapped very tightly around his neck – so tightly, in fact, that it needed to be cut before he could be fully delivered. The top of his skull was misshapen and had also begun to cave in; right now, the running theory on this is because he had died several days earlier, but it’s yet to be confirmed.
I was in complete shock and so loopy on drugs that I didn’t process that day properly at all. Brock was cleaned up, dressed, and given to me, and I remember just not knowing what to think or do. I cried, but I think I just cried because everyone else was crying and it seemed like the right thing to do. He had my hands and nose, but his father’s cheeks and lips. He had almost no hair whatsoever, something which shocked me because I’d expected I was going to birth a yeti after how much heartburn I’d had. I will never know what colour his eyes were because he was born with them closed and I couldn’t bear to look.
I didn’t hold him as long as I should have, and I regret that every day. There were too many friends and family members there, all with their eyes on us, and I think I panicked – I felt rushed and claustrophobic, and thoroughly detached. I held him for maybe fifteen minutes then, and another five or so before we left the hospital that evening, and that was it. A couple of family members took photos on their cell phones, and the hospital took a few for us as well, as well as assembling a memory box filled with his belongings.
Two hours after delivery, I was up and walking around, and five hours later we packed up and checked out. We’d just suffered three of the worst days of our life there, and we couldn’t get out fast enough. Brock was sent for an autopsy, then cremated. I keep his ashes in two places: a small amount of them are in a necklace that I wear everyday, and the rest are in a small box that I keep in my bedroom. Someday, if I find the perfect place to do so, his ashes may be spread, or perhaps planted with a tree on a family member’s property. If not, he will be buried with me in what I can only hope is the very distant future.
*Trigger warning: stillbirth photos to follow.*