Details, thoughts and emotions, even with the best intentions, get easily lost over time. I think thats one reason why I wanted to start writing about Sylvia because thats all we have of her. We won’t have memories of her first words, first steps or her first day of school…but we do have the memories of the hours we spent with her. So I can write and write and write about her, talk about her, cry for her, dream about her, look at the pictures we have of her, touch her little handprints and foot prints the hospital made, wear my dove necklaces and sleep with the blanket she was wrapped in beside our bed, next to the teddy bear my mom got us when we found out we were having a girl (wearing the crown we used for our pregnancy announcement) and the bear the hospital gave us. Instead of posing my daughter this week in some over stylized outfit with some over priced props announcing her four weeks of life like I anticipated doing, I am sitting at my laptop writing about how though it seems like a lifetime ago, it has yet to be a month since she has died.
I have been wanting to write an entry since I started this about how Carlos and I describe the worst day of our life as ‘amazing’ when we talk about it to other people. It seems absurd, I imagine, initially to people. But when we tell our story of receiving the most unimaginable news, to our stay in the hospital and now what has transpired since, people agree, it is truly amazing. While I lack the talent as a writer to accurately share the all the details with the respect they deserve, I want to share to the best of my ability what our experience has, and hasn’t, been.
I vaguely remember some sort of scream coming out of my body when they told us there was no heartbeat. I remember my entire body shaking, hysterically crying, apologizing to Carlos as he held me. I couldn’t tell you if we were in the room for 5 minutes or 45 before we left for the hospital out the back door of our doctor’s office where the nurse had pulled our car around to. We called my mom, and I remember her screaming. I remember Carlos parking the car outside the hospital and I froze in my seat. I remember choking out the words, ‘I don’t want to do this’. And I remember him saying, ‘Neither do I, but we have to’. I remember him bravely taking my hand, leading me outside and up the elevator. I remember going to the nurses station, seeing their faces and realizing they knew who I was and why I was there. I think I said some disconnected sentence about who I was, but I don’t imagine it made much sense. A nurse scooped us up from our bewildered state and lead us to our room. Carlos called his mom then which is an image I have burned into my mind. It flashes randomly through my head and I find myself almost unable to breath. His face on the phone with his mom then and his face in the ultrasound room – want to talk about PTSD? I am not haunted by the reality of our situation but I find the flashbacks of Carlos’ face, consumed with grieve, confusion and pain to be almost more than I can tolerate.
Our families arrived, panicked, sobbing and confused. The nurse suggested I get the epidural going as soon as possible. I had not wanted to have epidural at all, had my body naturally gone into labor with my live baby. She told me emotionally I would be consumed with pain, and the pain of delivery was not something I should have to experience on top of it. Medically, I also knew that my body was still having zero contractions and zero cervical change so I would have to be induced. I agreed to the epidural also thinking that I just wanted this to be done. If I had an epidural they could blast my body with fluids and Pitocin and this could be done. Carlos, probably a dozen times by this time, had held my hands or my face, looked me in they eyes and said, ‘We are going to get through this’. Still many times a day he does this, and my response was then and still is, ‘I know’.
The nurse started explaining the process to us, filling out paperwork and getting me hooked up to machines. We were then told that because my body was not ready to deliver, sometimes this process can take up to 36 hours. Though just hours before I had thought I wanted this process done immediately I found myself relieved it could take that long. I didn’t want it over with because that meant I wasn’t pregnant anymore.
My mom took this picture that night. I was still pregnant with her. Instead of a sunlit room full of smiles, happiness and a perfect baby to announce her arrival, this was the picture Carlos and I posted to share our devastating news of her death the following days. I still have a hard time looking at it.
That night I didn’t sleep, I asked for anti anxiety medications a couple of times but still couldn’t get rest. The staff at the hospital had an open room they kept so that my mom and mother in law could stay the night. I was up all night, crying, talking and processing with the night nurse. It was the first time I experienced the waves and waves of grieve that will happen for the rest of my life. I would be okay, rationally talking about what would be happening in the morning, asking details in sentences I couldn’t believe were coming out of my mouth then CRASH! A wave, and I could barely speak I would be crying so hard. My mom and mother in law, also unable to sleep, came into our room about 4 am. They rubbed my head and my feet, talked and cried with me while we tried to let Carlos sleep.
My contractions were strong and regular but I was still barely dilated hours later despite my Pitocin seemingly open lined running into my IV. I started getting extremely uncomfortable with contractions and the anesthesiologist came in to adjust my epidural. I was exhausted, and had now spent the morning vomiting. I knew my body was refusing to progress and I knew a cesarean would be the next step if this continued. The anesthesiologist gave me a large dosage of Fentanyl to try and relax my body. I slept for 45 minutes which allowed my body to dilate to 7 cm and from there I quickly progress to 10 cm. Our doctor came in and said it was time, if we were ready. It was a strange new sadness then. Delivering her meant I was no longer pregnant, she was out of me, she was dead and it was done. We were so grateful for previous almost 24 hours because it allowed Carlos and I to process, talk, grieve and prepare, as much as one can…which is really nothing, but still, we were thankful it wasn’t a rushed event. Because the process was slow, emotionally we were in a much better spot than just the day before.
I sobbed while delivering her. Carlos held my hand we told each other over and over that we loved each other and that we were going to get through this. My nurse was crying. My mom, mother in law and sister were crying. Carlos cut the cord and I had asked the nurses to clean her up and and swaddle her before bringing her to me as I didn’t want to see her limp.
The hours we had with her were magical. We all held her, told her how much we loved her, marveled at her perfect face, big hands and feet and beautiful hair. She was dressed in a gown volunteers make out of recycled wedding dresses, a rosette was placed on her head and a volunteer professional photographer came in and took the most amazing pictures of her and our family. Carlos and I had our private time with her where we curled up together, as a family of three on the hospital bed and told Sylvia how much we loved her. I couldn’t even tell you what else was said, I remember just staring at her, amazed at how how beautiful and perfect she was. Carlos has told me since then that there is a time for words and there are times for no words. This was a no words time. We asked the nurse to take her to the other room our families were in so they could say their goodbyes, an event my sister has told me was also very magical. The rest of the afternoon is a blur and we were discharged from the hospital that evening.
It gives me goosebumps when I think of the care, love and support my doctor, his staff and the staff at the hospital have given myself, Carlos, Sylvia and our families. No one is an OB doctor or a labor and delivery nurse to have a patient who’s had a still birth. I felt a bit of guilt that this was these wonderful people’s shift that this nightmare was happening on. I apologized to each of them that this was happening. Each of them shook their heads and reassured me of their support, role and passion for being a part of this experience. It felt like family was caring for us. Though I know each nurse was selected specifically for me and the event of a still birth, it felt like more than that. Each nurse contributed something huge to our experience. To say that we will never forget their faces, names and role in our life seems too generic, but its true. It was guided without feeling rushed or pressured. They were gentle, caring and brave. They encouraged me, supported Carlos and our family and held and cared for Sylvia with loving hands. There were times when Carlos and I knew what we wanted and there were times that we looked to them for direction. They grieved with us, they encouraged us and they praised us. There were a lot of ‘no word’ times during that day, and maybe this is a ‘no word’ moment that I am stumbling through trying to accurately document our gratitude. To say our experience was ‘amazing’ still doesn’t do it justice. It was, and always will be, the best version of our worst nightmare.