Our Little Light in our Darkest Time
On April 19th, I stood in front of the tortellini isle at Trader Joe’s looking at all my options. Nothing sounded good. That’s weird. Then I realize I was supposed to start my period that day and it hadn’t started yet. I could feel myself getting excited but tried to stop myself. I told myself over and over again there is no way I could be pregnant, we had only been trying for a month, no way it happened so fast.
I race home, took a pregnancy test and wait as I watch a big blue + sign appear. But wait, is that a plus sign? I can’t be sure. I should take another one. Is that a plus sign too? I phone a friend, “Is this a plus sign?!”
“Yes!” she said
But nope, it can’t be true.
I get in my car, race through Target, buy the digital pregnancy tests because I know I won’t believe the tests until I see the actual word, and then race out.
I drive another 15 minutes to my best friend’s house, trying not to let myself get too excited. When she opens the door I shove the pregnancy tests at her because I can’t find the words. We are frantic, trying to get the box of digital pregnancy tests open. I can’t get the plastic off the box, she can’t find scissors fast enough. I down a bottle of water and go to take my third and fourth test. She yells at me from outside the bathroom door, “pee faster!”
3 long minutes later, standing at her dining room table, I look at the tests.
“Oh my gosh. I’m pregnant.”
We look at each other. This is FANTASTIC!
I know right away how I am going to tell my fiancé, Sheldon. We had a $100 bet that I would be pregnant before the wedding. Our wedding was in a month and a half, and I was sure it would take longer than a month to get pregnant. I hate losing bets, but this was one I was thrilled to lose.
We go to the store, get a shadow box, a 100 dollar bill, and get his surprise ready for him.
By the time I get home he is already there, waiting for me. I tell him to come and look at what I got today, he walks over to see a shadow box with the 100 dollar bill along with the positive pregnancy test inside.
“Really?!” He asks as he starts to cry.
He is thrilled and he hugs me and kisses me and tells me how happy he is.
Wow. A baby.
Next, we get to tell his daughter. She is 12 years old and an only child. Syd had been asking us for months when she was going to get a baby sister. We give her a shirt that says “Sister bear” on it that matches our “Mama bear” and “Papa bear” shirts.When we told her the big news she is so excited, but later she told me that she was nervous that she wouldn’t be a good big sister. I told her that the fact that she was worried about that at all was proof that she was going to be the best big sister this baby could have.
Sheldon and I have to tell our parents next, before anybody else. We went out to dinner and told our parents at the same time. I expected my dad to not be too excited. After all, I’m young, we aren’t married quite yet, and a baby is a big deal. He. Was. Thrilled. I don’t know if I had ever seen him so excited. After the soon to be grandparents found out it took all of 20 minutes before the rest of the family knew. Everyone was so excited, and we were going to have a new baby in the family, due on CHRISTMAS! My parents both had grandma and grandpa shirts that they wore all the time.
The next few weeks flew by. We carried on as normal, I went to work, but I didn’t even try to hide my pregnancy. We were too thrilled and I was just so tired all the time, so it felt impossible to keep the secret.
We went in for our 8 week ultrasound. It was just Sheldon and I for this special first appointment, and we could hardly wait. We held our breath as the doctor got our ultrasound machine ready. I couldn’t look at the monitor so instead, I just stared at Sheldon as his face lit up when he saw our little baby’s heartrate flicker on the screen. The doctor turned on the sound and we were able to hear our little one’s heartbeat, perfect and healthy. I sighed a breath of relief. Our baby had a heartbeat. I didn’t realize it but I had been keeping my excitement at bay until then. Now that we heard our little ones heartbeat the real excitement could start. I started ordering funny little onesies and planning how we could do a gender reveal or announce my pregnancy to everyone who didn’t already know.
The following week we were getting last minute wedding details ready, and I was getting concerned that my dress wasn’t going to fit me because my bump was much bigger than I thought it would be! We had my bachelorette party and bridal shower all in the same crazy weekend and everything was at an all time high. I had never been happier in my life. Then I found out we could take a blood test to find out the sex of the baby! Already we are daydreaming of if we were going to have a little boy or a girl, and we already had names picked out for our little one. Sheldon laughed at me, telling me I was so impatient and I couldn’t wait for anything. I ignored him, knowing that he was right, but I didn’t care. If we could know the sex of our baby early, then there was no stopping me from doing that.
May 27th was a week before the wedding, and we got a call. Our daughter, Syd, had been in an accident. We had to get to the hospital. Now.
No information on what happened, just that we just needed to get to the hospital. I sat in the car on the hour long drive to the hospital telling myself that everything was okay. It was a broken foot. Maybe if it was really bad a broken leg. We are going to Disneyland next week, worst case we will have to reschedule, but hey, maybe we can wheel her around in a wheelchair and get front line passes! Everything was going to be okay… right?
A few excruciatingly long hours later, we meet with the doctor. Our beautiful, sweet, smart, kind, daughter, was gone.
We had some decisions to make, did we want to donate her organs? Should she be buried or cremated? What was happening right now?
We decided to cremate her and donate most of her organs. The next few days we all took turns in the hospital room, never leaving Syd alone, as the transplant team coordinated her donations.
I sat in her room with my two best friends, one, who came all the way from Yakima, just to be with us for the night, the other, took days off of work to help with anything and everything we needed. We sat holding Syd’s hand and laughing about how lucky Syd was that she got to know the gender of her baby sibling first. We joked about how Syd would have LOVED being the first to know, and she would have laughed and laughed and laughed that she got to know first.
During one of the many days we had in the hospital, after a while, they all blurred together, I got an email. Our results were in. Our baby was a boy. Our little James was the one little light in our very darkest moments. I sat in Syd’s hospital room, holding her hand for hours, talking with her, crying over her, praying for her.
My mom, dad, best friend and sister sat with me in our conference room. We had transformed this room with a bunch of chairs into what seemed like our bedroom, living room and office for the week. With all of us working, the wedding that took 5 months to plan, was canceled in about 25 minutes. There was no way we could get married in less then a week without Syd.
I remember so clearly sitting in Syd’s hospital room and I had this huge overwhelming wave of calm come over me. The baby is going to be okay. If nothing else is okay, the baby is going to be okay. I thought it was Syd telling me that, knowing that I was worried about all the stress the baby was under.
After 5 days in the hospital, the organ donation was set up. I left the hospital feeling defeated and heartbroken and so so angry, but I had to pull myself together. Sheldon was at home. He said his goodbye a few days before, and said he couldn’t stand to see her like that in the hospital. I had to go home and I had to be there for him.
The next few weeks are honestly a blur. We needed something to keep us busy and took a few trips to Ikea to start putting together the nursery. I remember sitting in Syd’s room, the room that would now be only James’, and thinking how it was so soon to set up anything for a baby since I was only 11 or 12 weeks. I also thought there is no way we could lose this baby too after everything that happened. Remember that feeling in the hospital? James was going to be okay. We needed something to keep us busy, and in no time our little nursery for James was all set up. Our two best friends came and spent some time with us. Sheldon and I were going to go to California for a few days to get away from everything happening here at home, just to try and hit the reset button. The four of us went to Target where we strolled aimlessly around the store trying to find last minute items for our trip. No surprise to anybody, we ended up at the baby section where we found this darling little newborn elephant outfit, perfect for taking some funny newborn pictures! We also found sweet little pineapple swim trunks for baby James. I was thrilled with our finds and Sheldon told me I just “had” to buy it all, knowing full well I was going to anyway.
The next few weeks zoomed by. We went to California, a vacation I honestly hardly remember, but I do remember being SO exhausted and we had to go shopping for a few dresses because my bump was too big for all of my pants.
We came home and tried to get back to a normal life. How could we do that exactly? In total I think we both took about 3 weeks off, but of course, the time came to go back to work. I remember going back to work for the first time and seeing the looks of sadness on everyone’s face over Syd, and what happened to our family. But after all the sadness, there was also the looks of excitement over my very noticeable baby bump. I was most definitely showing, already at 12 weeks, and I had quite the bump. Jeans were no longer an option and I had already invested in maternity jeans and leggings.
We had another ultrasound coming up, just 3 days away and we would get to see baby James again! This time our two best friends were coming with us.
The day of our appointment I was at work sitting in the baby room with all of the sweet tiny littles. I was talking to the teachers about my appointment, how I was feeling, if we had any names picked out, and I got to tell them how we knew he was a boy already. I felt so happy.
By the time I was ready to leave I was nearly bouncing for joy. My best friends picked me up at work, Sheldon was meeting us at the doctor’s office and I was READY TO GO!
We arriving at the doctor’s office and after only a few moments I am called back to the office, the four of us huddle into the small exam room, excited and eager to see James. It was a new doctor this time, someone I had never met before. She gets out the portable ultrasound machine. She couldn’t find a heartbeat.
“Mmm, well this particular machine is really only very reliable after 15 weeks,” she explains.
So then why are we using it? I am only 12 weeks.
She pulls out the big ultrasound machine, puts the cold goo on my belly and starts waving the wand around.
“Have you had an ultrasound before?” My heart sank.
“Did you have it done here?”
Oh dear Lord, no, not James too.
“And everything looked okay?”
This is a dream, it has to be.. Okay, I’m ready to wake up now!
“I’m not really seeing what I should be seeing for 12 weeks. We will go ahead and take a vaginal ultrasound, just to make sure everything is okay, sometimes these little guys can be hiding.”
My best friends are escorted outside and I am told to get undressed. The doctor steps out to give me some privacy and I look at Sheldon. I, the pessimist, knows what is happening. He, the optimist, tells me to just take a deep breath, everything will be okay.
The doctor comes back into the room, has me put my feet in those horribly uncomfortable stir-ups and we go and look for our baby who I know is already gone. She sees him, no heartbeat, didn’t grow past 9 weeks.
I start squirming, I want this machine out of me, I want out of this room, and I want the doctor to leave. Trying to make it clear I want no part in this, I tell her I need the machine removed, but the doctor tells me she needs to take some pictures so they know where he is and how big he was. I had to lay there and it felt so invasive and personal, like I had no choice but to just let it happen and there was nothing I could do to help myself.
Finally, after what feels like an eternity, I am free to remove my feet from those damn stir-ups, and get dressed.
“One of the millions of things that have to go right for a healthy baby, just didn’t go right.” the doctor says to me.
She had this look of sadness or pity on her face that I would have liked to slap off of her. She thinks she just delivered the worst news of my life. Little did she know this was the second child we had lost in 3 weeks. I sat there, not listening to a word she was saying and did the math in my head. He was 9 weeks when his heart stopped beating. 9 weeks. The same week we had lost Syd.
What was happening all this time? Why didn’t I bleed? Why did my belly and boobs continue to grow? Why did I still feel pregnant? HOW did I not know?
The doctor tried to tell me about the options I had moving forward. I told her I wanted to leave. I couldn’t sit here and listen to this right now, and I just wanted to go home. She tried to stop me but I told her I would call when I was ready to discuss what I was going to do, but right now, I was leaving.
I didn’t say a word to anybody as we walked in silence back to the car. Nobody knew what to say, or maybe everyone knew there was nothing to say. Our little light of hope was now gone too. I sat in the car, staring out the window, telling myself over and over again “this wasn’t my fault”, “Why did this happen?”, “This wasn’t my fault.”, “How did this happen?”, “This wasn’t my fault.”, “What did I do to deserve this?”, “This wasn’t my fault.”, “9 weeks. Was the stress just too much for the baby?”, “Is this my fault?”.
I decided I didn’t want to have a D&C. I couldn’t go back to that doctors office and have an emotional, personal, and invasive feeling procedure when it felt so clinical and unemotional for them. I decided I wanted to wait to pass James on my own at home and with Sheldon. It took about 5 days for the process to really start.
The morning of June 27th I woke up just feeling like crap. We tried to get up and do some of the things that we had planned, but it didn’t take long before we were back home and I was on the couch with a heating pad. The idea of using a heating pad to try and make me feel better was a cute thought. Pain this intense, a heating pad wasn’t doing anything. By the time the pain started coming every 6 or 7 minutes I knew that it meant I was passing James on my own. This pain was so much worse than I could have ever imagined. Unless you have been through it, there is no way to explain it.
I remember feeling conflicted; I didn’t want to be alone but I didn’t want Sheldon to have to see me go through this much pain, when there was nothing that he could do to help me. After a few hours of laying on the couch, screaming and crying in pain, I decide to go take a shower. I was hoping maybe that will help. At this point, I was willing to try ANYTHING. Sheldon came and sat with me in the bathroom while I laid on the bottom of the bathtub - when was the last time I cleaned this thing?
The pain was coming faster and more intense. This couldn’t possibly be right, pain this bad something had to be wrong. We called the nurses line at my doctors office and they said if the pain was too much I could go to the ER for pain management. Yes. That. Let’s do that. By the time we got in the car, we were on hour 7 of this and the pain was coming every 3-4 minutes.
I’m not sure how anybody else feels, but damn, morphine. Morphine was my best friend that day.
Sometimes, when people have gone through traumatic situations, whether that be emotionally or physically, their brain blocks out the memories. It’s your brain trying to protect itself because it’s just too much to handle. I wish my brain would do that for my miscarriage; I remember everything. All the pain and cramps, all the doctors coming in and out, the cervical exam, and the ultrasound with the technician who was brand new and still learning. She was nice, but unsure of how to comfort someone who was going through what I was going through. I remember Sheldon being so patient even though he was so tired. I had to instruct the nurse to bring him a pillow and a blanket so he could get comfortable, because he refused to ask. He didn’t want to keep the nurse from helping someone who needed her just so he could have a pillow and a blanket.
I remember waking up at 4:37 AM SCREAMING in pain and being told that I was maxed out on morphine and couldn’t have anymore for about 45 minutes. I remember looking at Sheldon who was sleeping in the chair next to me and wanting to punch him and hug him at the same time. 45 more minutes? How the hell was I maxed out on pain meds? I could feel EVERYTHING.
I remember the pain all of a sudden stopping. In a second, I felt no more pain, and then I was asleep. I woke up needing to use the bathroom. I got up, went to the restroom, and before I had a chance to pee, I passed the baby. He was gone. In an instant I was officially no longer pregnant and my baby was gone. Because when I passed him I was on the toilet, the only option we had was to flush him. I remember asking the nurse for help and I was so upset that this is what we had to do. I don’t know what any other option would have been but flushing didn’t seem like the right one.
After a got home I laid down on the couch, fell asleep, and woke up 7 hours later. Sheldon told me that my two best friends were coming over for dinner. Later to find out, he texted them and coordinated the whole thing so I would have people around that night. People who I didn’t need to pretend that I was okay with. I never would have asked for it, but as it turns out it was exactly what I needed. After everything that had happened the last month, they were the three people I needed to have with me.
For a while the thought of getting pregnant again gave me a panic attack, what if this happened again? I don’t think I could survive losing a third child. Are we just not meant to have children? I remember talking with my sister about this. My sister and I could not be more different; we have always gotten along but we have different opinions on most things. When I was telling her about my anxieties and worries she stopped me and said “Just sit and think about it, your next pregnancy, the risk of miscarriage is not lower because you have already had one.” uuuh.. Where is this going? “Being realistic, you could have another miscarriage.” Great, so she’s just confirming all of my fears… Cool… “But think about the one time that it does work, think about how amazing it will be. EVERYTHING that you have gone through will be worth it when you finally have your little baby.”
After that. No more fear. In an instant that paralyzing fear just disappeared.
It has been 5 months now since our miscarriage, and our due date is this month. We spend 3 of those 5 months trying to get pregnant again before ultimately deciding that the added pressure and added disappointment each month when I don’t get pregnant is just not healthy for us. A baby will come when a baby comes.
There are some days that I am okay. Okay over Syd’s death, okay over James’ death, just okay. But there are some days that I am not. Some days how much I miss Syd is just captivating. I can’t do anything, I just want to see her. Talk to her. Anything. Some days I have this passion and this drive that I can do anything. I know that it is what Syd would want and I need to honor her memory.
Some days I can see a pregnant woman in grocery store and be okay, and some days I walk to my car crying. Some days I sit in my car and cry and cry on the drive home because I feel so guilty over losing James. “One of the millions of things that have to go right to have a healthy baby, just didn’t go right.” That’s what the doctor said to me the day we found out we had lost him. Was all of the stress I was under from Syd’s accident too much for James’ little heart to handle? I was his mother, I should have protected him better. I was the only person he knew and I failed him. Was this my fault? I laid in bed the night of Syd’s accident and prayed to anybody who was listening, if we had to lose one of our kids, to take James. Not Syd. We can’t lose Syd, she is a person with friends and family who love her, she has likes and dislikes, she has a life. James only knows me. Syd deserves to be here. Did we lose him because I wasn’t enough for him? “One of the millions of things that have to go right to have a healthy baby, just didn’t go right.” Was I that 1 thing that didn’t go right?
When I am having a good day I know that’s not true. I know that the miscarriage is not my fault. But on those bad days, the days that I am already low, these thoughts push me down further. I will tell myself “It’s not your fault,” and I will believe it. But every once in a while that other thought will creep in, saying to me “But what if it is.”
People tell me that it gets easier as time goes on and I pray that’s true. Now I just feel like people don’t care or they don’t understand why I am still not okay. As if there is a time limit on grief. I get criticized for not wanting to celebrate Christmas, even after I explain that I don’t want to celebrate Christmas because our baby was due on that day. I don’t feel like celebrating the birth of Jesus with presents that I don’t actually need. Especially on the day that I should be giving birth to my own baby, but I can’t. Because he is gone. Why should I have to explain myself at all? I am asked all the time if we are trying again, as if it it anybody’s business but our own. I hide my hurt when people who know our situation say to me, “Oh you’ll understand when you have kids,” just ignoring the fact that I did, in fact, have a child. She’s gone too, but also, I just lost our baby in addition to our daughter. I try not to let other people’s comments affect me, I really do, but sometimes (most of the time) that’s pretty hard to do.
One of the things that someone said to me, that really stuck out to me, was when I was at my lowest and really struggling with anxiety and depression was, “You have already been through the worst pain imaginable. What else do you have to be afraid of? You know you can survive anything else life throws at you; it might be hard but you know nothing will break you.” Wow. That puts things into perspective. What do I have to be afraid of?
I feel like my anxiety has gotten better. Perhaps that’s my medication actually working, or maybe I’m working through some of my deep seeded issues in therapy and my brain is learning new things. I’m not really sure what why it is, but whatever the reason, I am thankful.
I am very open about talking about therapy and my struggles with anyone who will listen. Everyone tells me that I am brave and strong. I don’t feel brave and I sure as hell don’t feel strong. I feel like these last 7 months, I am only doing what I have to do to survive. This is my only choice. Get up, get dressed, get to work, come home, sit down on the couch, go to bed and repeat. This isn’t living. This is not what my children would want me to do. How is this strong? Someone told me once that the reason they think I am strong is because I talk about my struggles, but it’s not easy. Sometimes it feels downright impossible. One of the things I have really struggled with through this entire process is feeling like James was forgotten. Everyone recognizes Sydnie as a loss because she was a child who had lived for 12 years, she had her own life and to lose that is so devastating, I miss her every single day. I didn’t just lose one, and I didn’t even just lose two children. I lost the idea of having a complete family. When I was pregnant with James, Syd was so excited, and she already loved this baby. After she passed away I sat and thought about how I could tell James about his big sister and how much she loved him. She knew him the way that she won’t know whatever future children we have. We lost that connection and that is something that we will never get back.
At first I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to talk about it, I thought that it was just because I needed to feel heard. I needed to feel like I had a voice and it mattered. I was wrong. The reason why I decided to talk about this became so clear to me one day. A woman I didn’t know that well, I had only seen her a handful of times and it had been years since we had last talked, reached out to me. She told me that she was having a miscarriage and she didn’t know who else to talk to who would understand. She had questions and she didn’t know who else to turn to. That is the reason I talk about it; so woman who have lost their babies don’t feel like they are so alone: so couples who are devastated by their miscarriage know it’s okay and normal to grieve their loss; so woman who have gone through something like what I have gone through feel like they have a voice. Just because miscarriage is common doesn’t make it any less devastating for the people who loved that baby.
I find myself getting excited about the idea of having a baby again, and there are some days that I still have those thoughts of “am I really cut out to be a mom?”. But then I see a photo of my little baby bump with James and I remember how much I loved this tiny little person who I had never even met. I know not having children is not an option for me, I will have more kids.
I am a childless mother. But I am still a mother. Hear me roar.