Pregnancy and childbirth have always come so easy and natural for me. I loved every aspect of both, and even contemplated surrogacy after I was done having my own children. A midwifery career had even been a future goal of mine. Pregnancy and childbirth was just such a passion of mine, I loved talking about it and hearing about others’ stories. By the time I got to my fourth baby, I was pretty much an expert and I was confident I was going to have a perfectly natural, unmedicated birth, just as I had done in the past. I had even planned a homebirth, waterbirth because I knew that I was a perfect candidate for it. My midwife agreed.
My pregnancy progressed as planned, normal, low risk, uneventful. We were having a baby girl! We were ecstatic, we already had two boys and one girl, so adding a second girl just seemed so perfect. Regardless of gender, our fourth was going to be our last, so it did really seem extra special that we were bringing a baby girl into our family. Fall came and went, we were quickly approaching the holidays and I was preparing to have a tiny baby before Christmas morning. We chose the most perfect name; Isla, and I already had her stocking and first Christmas ornament made. We bought four pairs of matching Christmas pajamas, and set out personalized onesies with Isla’s name, just awaiting her arrival. Decorating our house was magical and picking out our Christmas tree was one of my last over- the-moon happy memories.
December third came around and I was prepping the last minute things we needed for our homebirth and putting together postpartum baskets for each bathroom. I also had just put together a little cart to fill with diapers and supplies for easy access in our living room. Maybe it was because I was busy all day, but I hadn’t really paid attention to her movements. I was pretty certain I had felt her kicking around that morning while drinking my coffee. I feel like I would have taken note if she wasn’t. That night I went to bed after my normal binge watching of Grey’s Anatomy.
It was around eleven PM and as I was getting settled in bed, I poked around my belly to get those reassuring goodnight kicks, to make sure baby girl was alright. She didn’t move. I sat up and drank some water and laid back down anticipating her movement. Still nothing. It was then I got a very uneasy feeling and it felt all the blood drained from my body. Something was wrong. I called my midwife, she told me to drink juice and eat something. In that moment I realized those things would not work, less than thirty minutes prior I had eaten a bunch of chocolate candy. If that didn’t get her moving, a little bit of juice wasn’t going to do it.
I voiced my concerns with both my husband and midwife and informed them that I would be heading to the hospital to check her out. Looking back, I was oddly calm on the drive to the hospital, despite still not feeling any movement. I guess because I have never had any concerns in all of my pregnancies and I had always had perfectly healthy babies, I must have thought things were going to be okay. But things were far from okay.
Upon arriving I told the nurse I felt silly for being so concerned, that I had never done this before. She reassured me that everything would be okay. They tried finding her heartbeat with the doppler with no luck. I told them exactly where we could always find it…nothing. She kept checking..then we heard something, 140 bpm, that had to be it, but it sounded so far away. She said “I think we got it,” and I asked “are you sure?” knowing that it didn’t sound at all like what her heartbeat normally sounded like. She was picking up my heartrate. At that moment she said she was going to go check with the doctor. He came in, put the doppler on my belly, still no sound. He left and called for an ultrasound machine. The tech came in and powered it up, put the wand on my belly. I couldn’t look, I didn’t want to see what I already knew to be true. Waiting, silence, more waiting and more silence.
Then I heard her flip off the machine. They didn’t have to tell me. My baby was gone. A sound erupted from me that I had never heard before, and then came the vomiting. Over the noise of my wails I heard the doctor just say, “I’m sorry.” During that moment, my husband called me and I screamed, “she’s dead, she died” and “you need to get here now!” He was already on his way, in the parking lot actually. He got to me and we sobbed together.
I wanted to be induced immediately. I did not want to have my baby in the hospital I was already at though. The doctor had horrible bedside manner and I wanted to be in a place I was more familiar with. We arrived to the hospital I was going to deliver at in the early hours of the morning. They started the induction process and told me I should try to sleep. How was I supposed to sleep? My baby had died. What happened? How did this happen? She was perfectly fine just the night before. I did eventually fall asleep a few times, but each time I woke, I sobbed, the reality hitting me over and over again. The morning came and went, and labor progressed. I was terrified to birth my baby girl. How was I going to react to seeing my dead baby?
They told me I was fully dilated and I could push whenever I was ready but if I needed time, that I could wait for a bit. I needed more time, I wasn’t ready. How was I ever going to be ready? Eventually I felt her coming on her own. I called for the doctor, telling her that she was coming, the baby was coming. I gave one push and she was out. When they lifted her up, a vision will never leave my memory, her little head just flopped back, lifelessly. I cried out in agony.
We spent the next hours snuggling, kissing and memorizing every part of her. We took hundreds of pictures. I am so thankful for my husband, he was my rock through it all. He was the one who knew to take pictures of her every feature and videos of us rocking her and talking to her. The nurse weighed Isla, a perfect 7lbs, 8 oz. They then bathed her and took molds and prints of her hands and feet. They filled a box with memorabilia for her. That’s all we have, a box of things. No one prepares you to leave the hospital with a box instead of a baby.
Isla was going to be our last baby, four babies; two girls and two boys. Our family complete. Only now it wasn’t. I never in a million years could have guessed that this would happen to her; to us. We didn’t plan for the possibility that we wouldn’t be bringing home our baby, that we wouldn’t be raising the fourth child I birthed. Deciding to have another baby amidst our early grief was a very hard decision to make. I want to make it clear, we did not want to replace her, but we did envision our life with four living children. We wanted our third child to grow up with a sibling close in age. We waited nine months to bring home a baby to raise, only for her to be taken from us. We were ready for a baby, and unfortunately that perfect baby we planned for didn’t get to live. I will never be okay with this reality. I will always wish she was here. I still longed for a baby in my arms. Of course I wished it was her, but if I couldn’t have her, then I wanted her sibling. The guilt had set in. I had admitted I wanted another baby while in the same breath, I cried for Isla. Its complicated and messy, the decision to get pregnant again, but we went for it and we conceived very quickly.
Since Isla has died, I have rejected the term “rainbow baby.” Prior to living this nightmare though, I suppose I never really gave it much thought; I actually thought it was a sweet sentiment. But now in the “After,” to me, “rainbow baby” gives the impression that everything is all sunshine and rainbows and happy endings. It feels like people hear “rainbow,” and think that we have moved on, we are healed. Which of course is not the case at all. I also think the term “rainbow baby” overshadows the life of the baby that died. My daughter is just as important and as loved as any of my living children. I do not want her to be disregarded in anyway. Also, my “rainbow baby” isn’t even born yet, so he isn’t even guaranteed. I have hope that he will be born alive and healthy, but we just don’t know.
Throughout my pregnancy though, I have gained some insight and learned that I can still find hope and joy in my life and it can reside alongside my grief. This baby has given me both joy and hope, but not without the absence of fear, anxiety and guilt. So I suppose “finding my rainbow” means just that. I can live an “and” life. I can experience both joy and grief, hope and fear. I’m not sure I would have been able to figure that out without this precious baby boy I am expecting any day now. He is a spark of light in the darkness of my life. Sometimes the storm is raging. Sometimes its a light drizzle. But the rain is always there, even if there is a rainbow.
Photos taken by Olivia Mefford.
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