Born too soon
A Chicago mom's journey of loving and losing a child
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
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 protect her.
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 U.S.
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 her.
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 morning.
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 instead.
"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 remains.
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 face.
Tatum was born at 12:30 p.m. on June 14, 2012.
"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 her.
"She's still alive," she said. "She can hear your voice."
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 was beautiful.
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 Day.
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 again.
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, full-term baby.
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.