Any woman making a mad dash for the nearest
bathroom after being kicked in the bladder can tell you that. But,
pregnancy is worth it-for the prize at the end; pee-pee pants and
all. The moment your child is born you make a silent
vow. You vow to love her, you vow to take care of her, you vow to
But what happens when you can't protect your baby?
What happens when no matter how much you try and cry and pray, your
body betrays you and she dies?
I was 23 weeks pregnant with my daughter, Eden,
when I found out I was incompetent.
Well, not me exactly, but my cervix; a complication
that occurs in about 2-3 percent of all pregnancies in the
I had lost my mucous plug, which seals the cervix
shut during pregnancy, and after a trip to my doctor I found out my
cervix was dilating prematurely and I was in danger of giving
birth. It was a hot June day but I shivered, from
anxiety and fear, as an ambulance rushed me to the nearest hospital
with a high-risk neonatal intensive care unit. This
was my first pregnancy and until this point everything had been
going smoothly. I never expected to have complications.
I learned more about my incompetent cervix, or
cervical insufficiency, at the hospital. As Eden grew and got
heavier, my cervix was too weak to withstand the pressure, and
unbeknownst to me, it began to open-four months too early.
Doctors gave me magnesium sulfate to try to stop my
contractions and corticosteroid shots to help Eden's lungs mature
sooner, but being that less than 25 percent of infants born earlier
than 24 weeks gestation survive, the odds were against
All I could do was wait and pray.
Thankfully, my cervix stopped dilating at three
centimeters-nowhere close to the 10 centimeters needed to deliver a
baby, yet still concerning with 16 weeks left in my pregnancy. I
left the hospital a week later under strict orders to begin bed
rest at home.
My husband, Jason, ever the optimist, figured bed
rest would be easy.
It was, physically and mentally, the hardest
obstacle I'd faced up to that point.
Day and night, the fear of going into labor
consumed my thoughts. Normal pregnancy symptoms like back pain,
abdominal achiness and pressure sent my mind reeling. "Are these
contractions? Is this labor?"
Finally, on Sept. 9, 2011, after I'd spent 3 ½
months on bed rest, Eden was born at 37 weeks and 2 days. She was
perfectly healthy. She is 2 now and is the smartest,
funniest, most beautiful little girl in the world. A day hasn't
passed since she was born that I don't look at her and think how
proud I am to say she's mine.
Jason and I were surprised when we found out we
were expecting a second child. I'd given birth to Eden only nine
months before. I hadn't experienced any signs of being pregnant.
Then one day I felt familiar little flutters in my belly-the baby's
first movements. It's a feeling I'd never forget.
I took a home test. It was a Friday.
After feeling those tiny somersaults, I made a
point to focus on my excitement and pushed the memories of my
difficult first pregnancy deep into the back of my mind.
I scheduled a prenatal appointment for the
following Tuesday. When I was pregnant with Eden, Jason came to
every one of my doctor's appointments. But because of work he
couldn't make this one, so I went alone.
A nurse took care of all the medical paperwork,
then sent me to get an ultrasound.
I found out we were having another girl!
I had secretly hoped for a girl; another little princess
to be Eden's best friend. I already was picturing the three of us
ganging up on Jason. Poor guy.
Caught up in my blissful daydreaming, I didn't give a
second thought to the ultrasound tech when she told me to go see
the nurse again.
"They're expecting you," she said.
The nurse led me to an exam room. She told me the
doctors were sending me to labor and delivery. The ultrasound had
shown my cervix was dilating again.
I was barely 21 weeks along. Flashbacks of
relentless paranoia, bed rest and weekly doctor visits flooded my
mind and I started to sob.
It was June again, and for the second time in a
little more than a year, I found myself in labor and delivery,
facing the reality that my daughter might not survive.
Jason met me at the hospital. A physical exam
confirmed the ultrasound results and revealed a more dire situation
than I'd faced during my first pregnancy. The baby and I were at
risk for an infection-one of the leading causes of
pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.-because my bag of water was
exposed and bulging through my cervix.
Everything was happening so quickly.
I hardly moved in my bed that entire night. I lay
on one side desperately squeezing my legs together as if that would
hold off the impending doom. I was still pregnant come Wednesday
With doctors telling me I would likely deliver
within a couple of days at the most, and the age of viability-the
earliest age at which life-saving measures would be used-still
three weeks away, I spent the rest of my morning trying to convince
the hospital to let me go home.
The reality was my baby was going to be born too
soon and I wanted to be at home, with Jason and Eden, to try to
come to grips with that.
Over the next few hours I was pumped full of
antibiotics to ward off infections and then released with a warning
to return immediately upon any sign of labor.
On the ride home Jason and I decided on a name for
our daughter: Tatum Gabrielle.
My contractions began around midnight on Thursday,
less than a week after I felt Tatum's first movements.
Jason and I packed a small bag for the hospital.
But unlike the bag we packed for Eden's birth, this time there was
no tiny outfit for our baby to come home in.
At the hospital I sat in a daze, holding on to my
last few hours of being pregnant.
Jason wasn't allowed in the room when I received my
epidural, so I cried into my nurse Valerie's shoulder
"You're gonna have to deal with things you might
not be ready for afterward, but you'll get through it," she said
referring to the decision of what to do with Tatum's
Twelve hours after my contractions began, I knew I
had reached 10 centimeters dilated by the stabbing pain I felt,
even through the epidural. As my doctor told me to try a small
push, I squeezed my eyes closed, shutting out the pain, shutting
out the guilt and shutting out the reality I didn't want to
Tatum was born at 12:30 p.m. on June 14,
"Don't look Jace!" I told Jason through my tears.
Thinking she wouldn't live more than a couple of minutes, I thought
it would be easier to say goodbye if we didn't see her. And
honestly, I was scared of what she might look like.
Valerie gently tried to convince me to hold
"She's still alive," she said. "She can hear your
I knew the thought of my baby dying alone would
haunt me more than seeing her premature body would, so I allowed
the nurse to place Tatum in my arms.
She had Jason's nose and my chin. And long, full
eyelashes, just like her big sister, though not yet pigmented. She
But she was small. Less than one pound. Perfect in every
other way, but just too small.
We kissed her tiny face and hands and wrapped her
tightly so she stayed warm. We told her how much we loved her and
asked her to look over her sister. And then I sang to
her, just like I do when I put Eden to sleep.
Two hours later, Tatum passed away peacefully in
her daddy's arms.
Tatum was baptized at the hospital and we decided
to have her cremated. My empty arms physically ached leaving the
hospital without her.
I cried, thinking of Jason, who was trying so hard to stay
strong for me. Tatum died three days before his first Father's
I thought of my family, who wouldn't get to know
another granddaughter and niece.
I thought of Eden, who would never have the chance to meet
her little sister.
Jason and I do want more children someday, but we know it
won't be easy.
My past history of cervical insufficiency and preterm
labor makes it highly likely that I'll face the same complications
Bed rest or a surgical procedure called a cerclage, to sew
my cervix shut, are options we will consider when the time comes.
I'm willing to do whatever it takes to have another healthy,
It's been over a year now since Tatum's been gone, but I
still think about her every day. And while the heavy feeling of
grief and guilt has faded somewhat, it leaves behind an emptiness
that never will be filled.
Tatum's life, although brief, has forever changed me. For
me, pregnancy does suck. But it gave me my girls: a sweet and silly
little princess and the most beautiful angel in heaven.
Jackie is the digital content manager at Chicago Parent. She lives in Oak Park with her daughter and husband.
See more of Jackie's stories here.
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