Everything was going perfectly. Our daughter was asking for a sibling, and we were finally in a comfortable position to add to the family. I got pregnant right away, in fact I found out I was pregnant on my fiancé’s birthday. It’s a boy! We were overjoyed, while our daughter hysterically cried at the news. However, it was nothing a trip to Target couldn’t fix and she quicky got excited about her brother. It helped that my sister was having a girl a few months before our due date and my fiancés brother was expecting a girl at the same time. Our life felt like a movie, but like most movies we did not see what was coming. No one did. Nothing can prepare you for this.
It was Saint Patrick’s Day, and a typical morning. I felt as normal as you can at 19 weeks pregnant. After dropping my daughter off at school, I stopped to use the bathroom and that is when I noticed the spotting. The doctor told me to relax and if anything changed to call him and go to the ER. Hours later I started having some cramping. This is when I started to get nervous. My sister tried to keep me calm but I was losing my mind. I remember repeating in my head “your fine, your baby is fine, Relax Kristen, your being dramatic.”
By the time I had to pick up my daughter from school I was cramping to the point I had to stop what I was doing. I couldn’t wait anymore I had to put my mind at ease, or at least that is what I thought. I sat in the ER from 4pm until 2am. I was told I had a “bad UTI” even after explaining that my symptoms were related to my bladder disease not a UTI. I was also told dismissively (by a very pregnant nurse) that cramping was normal when you have a UTI while pregnant. Since no one would hear my concerns, I left. I was seeing my doctor in the morning anyway.
An hour after getting home I got sick and developed a high fever. I was shaking uncontrollably and was freezing. When we got to the doctor I asked for a warm blanket and was crying at the thought of taking my coat off to be examined. Our baby’s heart rate was a little rapid and my doctor was not convinced I had a UTI. When he said he was sending me to the ER I refused. I explained what had happened and he agreed to send me to Labor and Delivery to be checked out. When I got upstairs, the way they treated me was awful. They told me I had the flu and that I was a “danger to the other moms and babies.” I needed to go to the ER. Again, I refused. So, I was put in a private room on a different floor at the order of my doctor.
Then I was then told by another doctor I had a bad GI virus, and I would be fine. Yes, I received 3 different diagnoses in less than 24 hours. It was not long before I realized that the “cramps” were contractions. I was staring at the clock and every 5 minutes I had a “cramp.” I begged for the OB to come and examine me, something was wrong. The best the nurse could do was put him on the phone with me since he refused to come to my room. He told me “Miscarriages at my point were extremely rare and not to worry I would be fine.” I was in so much pain I was crying. I put my trust in the words this stranger said to me even though he was condescending and dismissive. Less than an hour later my world came crashing down on me.
I remember bits and pieces of what happened, most is a blur. It all happened in slow motion, and it was like I was watching it happen to someone else. Next thing I knew I was screaming for help and my nurse called the OB who sent a midwife. I remember looking at her for answers to questions I didn’t have the courage to ask. She just said, “I am sorry you are already 4cm dilated.” So, she brought me up to L&D (I guess I wasn’t so dangerous after all.) The doctor who had told me that this wouldn’t happen came in and said, “sometimes these things just happen.” He then described in detail with hand gestures the DNC I may need. I was sitting there for hours with the midwife coming in every few minutes to ask if there was anyone, I wanted her to call. I just sat there. I couldn’t speak or think. Eventually, I got up the nerve to call my fiancé. He came to sit with me for a little while before going home to be with our daughter.
Overnight my status got worse, they still could not figure out where the infection was. In the morning, my doctor came in and requested a specialist to examine me. After an amnio it was determined that the infection was in my amniotic fluid which had caused me to become extremely septic. (So, it was not a UTI or the Flu or a GI virus.)
I remember begging my doctor to save my son. “I don’t care about me; I want my baby to live.” My doctor and I have a very honest relationship. No sugar coating. Just brutal honesty, which is why I love him and still see him to this day. He said he would transfer me to Boston if that were what I genuinely wanted. Then he took my hand looking me straight in the eyes and told me it was not a realistic possibility. I was far too sick, and I wouldn’t survive long enough for my son to have a chance. “I will not loose both of you. You have a daughter at home. If you try this, you will both die.” While it sounds harsh, it’s what I needed to hear. It was the truth, and I knew that, but I did not want to admit it.
My doctor wanted to give me Pitocin to speed up the process because I was getting worse, and he did not want me to suffer any more than I had to. Being a catholic hospital, they needed to have an ethics meeting. Yes, I was dying but since there was nothing wrong with the baby the hospital needed to give my doctor permission to administer the Pitocin. They finally came in and told me that it was time to start. They had been giving me morphine all night and day so between that and the sepsis everything was fuzzy. I knew it had to be bad by the way my fiancé was looking at me and then called my mom. I remember thinking this must be what it feels like to die. Then I felt it.
He was coming and I could not stop it, no matter how hard I tried I could not stop it from happening. I just kept telling myself even in those last moments, to keep praying. I have never prayed so hard in my life. I prayed with every fiber of my being. I made very deal with God I could make. I offered everything to the universe for this one favor. This can be a medical miracle. He is going to cry; he must cry. I just kept begging God to do this one thing. I never asked for anything. I never needed anything. I just needed my son.
It is a special kind of silence that you can’t describe. It is as if the universe had hit mute. It seemed like even the clock had stopped ticking. Not a single sound. Nothing. Then, just the sound of the nurse quietly weeping for me. I had said that I did not want to hold him, I did not want to see him, take him out of the room immediately. I know now that it was a huge mistake that I deeply regret. I think about it every day, sometimes too many times in a day. I do not know if it was the drugs or the denial either way it was the biggest mistake of my life. That I can never make right.
After the delivery I got a lot worse. This is where it gets very foggy. I remember my blood pressure being dangerously low. They wanted to move me to ICU, but I was not stable enough. The head of ICU came down and physically stood by my side and watched the monitors. I do not remember much from that night; I wasn’t awake for more than a few moments at a time. The next morning, they moved me to another floor to a private room. My stay only got worse but that is a longer story.
I struggled going home. Trying to figure out who I was because I was not the same person anymore. I would bring my daughter to school and go home sit down on the couch and stare at the wall until it was time to pick her up. I would not eat, sleep, wouldn’t even turn the tv on. I was scaring everyone around me, I was scaring myself. I thought about dying every day. If I did not have my daughter, I honestly do not think I would be here today. I remember thinking my fiancé could move on, it would be hard, but he could survive without me. However, our daughter couldn’t. I cannot do that to her. She just lost her brother; she can’t lose her mother too. What kind of mother would I be if I did that too her? I just fought like hell to come home to her yet, I was so dangerously close to the edge. A place that in a million years I never thought I could be.
Getting back to life was hard. Putting on a happy face for our daughter every day was so exhausting. The pain was indescribable, and no one understood. No one could relate to what I had been through, what I was going though. Most people did not know the details or that it had happened. The first time I left the house, I thought I will start with getting gas and maybe go to the supermarket. Looking back, I probably should not have gone to the gas station where everyone knew me. I walked in and the girl at the counter saw me, she said she was so excited I was having a boy and that I looked so cute with my belly. I turned and walked out, went straight home and cried the rest of the day.
It took me months to find a new normal. I told my fiancé we were done with kids. I would never risk going through that again, NO WAY. Just as I was finding my way, I woke up one morning starving, craving a big breakfast. I hate breakfast. I knew in that moment I was pregnant again. I was terrified, angry and full of anxiety. We did not tell anyone for a while. Slowly we started telling people closest to us. I cringed every time I heard the words “congratulations” and my response every time was, do not congratulate me yet.
That pregnancy was so difficult. I felt totally detached. I refused to allow myself to enjoy any of it. All I felt was terror for nine months. Then, the day of my c section was here. The nurse walked in; I felt the air get sucked out of my chest. The nurse who would help deliver my rainbow boy was the same nurse who delivered my angel. When I told her who I was she told me she remembered and that we were coming full circle today. I found it comforting to have her by my side. Maybe it is because we were coming full circle or because she understood my anxiety, pain and fear. Either way I was grateful for her.
When we were in the OR I held my breathe the entire time. All I could think about was that silence and I was so terrified that it would happen again. Then I heard it, and man did my son have a set of lungs on him. He was perfect, our little rainbow. We were so relieved. He was here, healthy and happy and so was I. We felt so lucky. I swore again that I was done. Never again, the stress of pregnancy after loss was too much. Of course, I got pregnant again.
It is a Girl, and we kept this one a secret the entire time, only immediate family knew. I just wanted to get through it. And again, when the day came for the C section, I was a wreck. It probably did not help that the hospital gave me the wrong date. My doctor personally called me at 5am asking me where I was. We got pulled over on the way to the hospital and the officer was so nice. He clearly had no interest in delivering a baby on the side of the highway that morning, so he let us go. We got a giggle out of that; it gave me a moment of relief. As I walked into the OR, I was just holding my breathe waiting to hear that cry, something we really take for granted. Then I heard it, and it was so beautiful. I could have listened to it for hours. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe the level of relief I felt when I heard that cry. Only immediately followed by guilt.
Guilt. Something I was not prepared for. I struggled with depression, anxiety, insomnia and guilt since I lost my son. This was worse. Something triggered me and I was just overwhelmed with all these feelings that now included flashbacks that I couldn’t put back “in the box.” So, I asked for help. My doctor adjusted my medication and saw me every other week until I was able to get into an office that could handle therapy and medication. I found a great office that was able to take me, and I have been going there for three years. They have helped me with everything and additionally diagnosed me with PTSD. I always associated PTSD with military or first responders, it never occurred to me that I could have it too.
While the last three years have been life changing for me, I still have a long way to go, I have only scratched the surface of what happened to me, to my baby and my family. Its hard parenting after loss. People assume that once you have a baby after a loss the pain is over, that the struggle disappears. That there is no cause for concern anymore. That it’s time to “move on, get over it, stop dwelling on it.” That’s not how it works after you lose a child. I worry everyday all day about my children. The only lesson I learned from all of this was that your baby, your children like all of us can be here one minute and gone the next.
Here I am today, with a 12-year-old, 5-year-old and 3-year-old. I am so grateful for the beautiful family we have created. Our children are amazing, talented, smart and beautiful. We worked hard for the life we have, and I have worked hard to get to this point in my life. Our son, Owen would have been 6 years old today. Our family will always feel incomplete for me. There is a moment at every holiday, birthday and celebration where I look around and think what if. A moment where I miss my son more than usual. A moment when I must step away and collect myself.
A couple months ago I could not imagine sharing my journey. While I left out most of it, it was more than I thought I would be able to share. I found this to be therapeutic. When I opened the blank document, I was overwhelmed and did not plan to share much. Yet, the words just seemed to pour out of me when I realized something…
I realized that sharing my story may help someone feel less alone. I am so grateful for this opportunity. I must thank my friend Kelly, who sent the info to me. If not for her I wouldn’t have known about it. I admit I was very hesitant about it when she first sent it. But I am glad I wrote in and feel extremely honored that Sarah asked me to be a part of this project. Sarah, thank you for this. It is utterly amazing what you are doing. Special thank you to Kasandra Mullaney of Kasandra Mullaney Photography. She took these amazing photos with lots of love. Thank you again Kassi, it meant so much to me and my family.
Remember, the pain doesn’t go away, we learn to live with it and every day we get stronger.
xox YOU ARE NOT ALONE xox
Photos taken by Kassandra Mullaney Photography.
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