Being pregnant, people often ask me if this is my first child. I used to lie and say yes to avoid any questions or sad looks, but with every passing day, I’ve learned to speak up and tell people my story. I know it’s not an easy one to hear, and it’s not the stuff of polite conversation, but life isn’t always about taking the easy way out.
My story begins in Sanford, Florida, a town you might’ve heard of in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder case. My heart was pounding as I sped down Rineheart Road at 70 miles per hour on my way to the Central Florida Regional Hospital. I was five months pregnant, and had just moved to town with my husband, John, and no friends or family nearby. We’d been married just a month before and both left extremely stressful jobs behind us in Miami. It felt like we were finally making a clean break, ready to start our new lives together.
After John left for work that Monday morning, I realized that I was spotting, and the sight of blood on the toilet paper sent me into a panic. When I arrived in the Emergency Room, a soft-spoken, blonde nurse took me into a room, strapped a contraction monitor around my belly and checked for the baby’s heartbeat. I called John to let him know where I was. We had just found out on my 28th birthday that we were having a little girl and were finally falling in love with her.
The nurse came back to check my cervix, looked at the monitor results and assured me everything was fine. I was given some juice and told to follow up with my OB/GYN. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find a doctor that would see me until all the paperwork from my former OB/GYN’s office was sent over. I spent all week calling doctor’s offices to have the paperwork sent over. They never did.
The nurse at the hospital said I should only return if I had strong abdominal or back pain, or if the bleeding got worse. By Friday morning, the spotting got heavier and I made a second mad dash for the hospital. A different nurse took me to a room, and this time, I could hear a girl down the hall crying in the most gut-wrenching way. I could hear her talking on her cellphone. She had lost her baby. My heart sank.
This time, I gave a urine sample and then went in for an ultrasound. The tech assured me everything looked fine and the nurse told me there was no reason for me to stay. I was given some saltines and peanut butter and told once more to follow up with my OB/GYN.
I went home feeling uneasy. My husband and I had plans to drive to Miami for the weekend to empty out a storage facility. I knew it would take four to five hours to get there. I hoped it would get my mind off everything.
I woke up the next morning at 5am with an achy feeling in my abdomen, but suspected dehydration and filled up on water. We finally hit the road around 10am.
As we drove those 245 miles, the ache in my belly grew stronger. It would come in waves, and I kept hoping each time would be the last. I tried to ignore it. I didn’t want to think that something might be truly wrong with me or my little girl. Denial may work in some areas of life, but it doesn’t work when you’re going into pre-term labor.
We arrived at the storage unit on SoBe around 3pm. I stayed in the van while my husband filled it up with all his old belongings. I thought the pain would go away, but the more stuff he threw into the van, the worse it got. It was so bad by the end of it that I began to cry.
“Take me to the hospital. Now,” I told him, bracing myself with each wave, not knowing these were the contractions that would pull my daughter into the world.
He rushed us to Mount Sinai Hospital and I began to cry even harder. I was 22 weeks pregnant and knew that if I went into labor now, our little girl would likely not make it.
They wheeled me up to a room. I was shaking as I changed into my hospital gown. The doctor came by to check my cervix. One look and her face told me everything I needed to know.
“The water sac is half way out. We’ll do everything we can, but you’re probably going to deliver today,” she said gently. I screamed.
Everything after that is a blur. I was running a fever and probably had an infection. An IV was placed in my hand. My heart was thumping at 180bmps, officially tachycardic. I was given magnesium sulfate to slow down contractions. My bed was tilted back into the Trendelenburg position. John called my family. I was given Demerol for the pain. At some point, I signed some paperwork. The neonatologist came by to give me a steroid shot for our baby girl in the hopes of maturing her lungs in the next few hours. We asked him to do everything he could to save her, but he didn’t look too optimistic. Nothing made sense.
A few hours later, my water broke. The doctor came and told me it was time to push. I wish I could remember more of my delivery experience. All I can recall is being terrified, pushing as hard as I could, holding John’s hand, and trying not to cry. Eventually, I saw the doctor hold up a tiny baby in her hands. I saw little hands and feet wiggling in the air, the skin tinged orange and red and purple. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. John and I locked eyes, our jaws dropping simultaneously. It was by far the happiest and saddest moment of my entire life.
I wanted to hold her, but she was quickly placed in an incubator where the Neonatologist and NICU nurses were all waiting to try and perform a miracle. Sometime after that, I passed out. It was nearly 2am on September 30th.
A few hours later, I went to the NICU to see my little girl. She looked so helpless in the clear, plastic box, wires everywhere. I wanted to stay by her side, by all I could do was cry and my husband brought me back to my room to get some more sleep.
When I woke up the next day, my nurse came by to tell us we would be able to go in and see her at 10am. They wanted to know what her name was. We chose Margaret Hope. We sat and cried into each other’s arms and then dried each other’s tears, anxiously waiting to see her.
The nurse came and told us the doctors needed some more time. The next time she came back, we knew it was over. After an eight hour struggle, our Maggie was gone.
Nothing prepares you for the death of your child. Nothing prepares you for the broken, empty feeling inside. It changed who I am as a person. It changed my husband. It changed our relationship and our outlook on the world. We stood strong together for a while, leaning on each. And then the reality of our pain would get to be too much, and we would retreat into ourselves.
Months later, we found ourselves living back in Miami, diving headfirst into work. I took the first job I could find, editing adult publications. We did our best to get back to normal, to find some joy again. I looked to the internet to connect with others who had experienced something similar and found great support in online groups for non-religious baby loss moms. It helped to know that I wasn’t alone. Not even close.
In fact, one in every eight babies is born prematurely in the United States alone, and about 4,000 infants die from SIDS here each year. These are only a few of the reasons women lose their babies. Realizing this has given me the strength to become vocal about child loss.
As World Prematurity Day nears, I write so that others who’ve been through this know they’re not alone. I’ll never know why I lost my daughter, but I do know that life goes on despite the pain. As I type this, I can feel my son kicking around inside my belly. If all goes well, we’ll finally meet him in February. And when he is born, I’ll be sure to tell him all about the brief and beautiful life of his big sister.