“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi
I am afraid to write about this.
So I will.
Matt didn’t exactly want a third child. Not then at least.
Picture it. New Year’s Day. 2011. I invited him to The Capital Grille for a boozy lunch. And I had an agenda. I bided my time, talking about this and that, and every so often gesticulating to the waiter to signify my desire for another round. I asked Matt about his resolutions, his hopes and desires for the coming year. I listened intently, like a best friend. And I waited my turn.
“I want to have another baby. Soon.”
The warm, heavy embrace of the wine was not enough to soften the blow. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t say never, but he wanted to wait. I’m not good at waiting on things like this. I pressed on to the point of nearly starting a full on argument in the middle of a restaurant, and relented. I wasn’t happy, neither was he.
Fast forward to March. We returned from a weekend in Vegas. A week or two went by. I didn’t feel so hot, but I was sick anyway so I didn’t make anything of it. It took far too long to put the pieces together, and for the first time in my life I was knocked up. Shocked. And worried frankly. Our other children were very much planned. This one, not so much.
I have an irrational fear of ultrasounds.
I take that back.
I have a very well founded fear of ultrasounds.
It was an ultrasound three years and a day ago that took away something I would never get back.
I want to shine light on the story. Write it down so someday when I’m too old to recall its there for me. I’ll know then that the strange weight I feel comes from somewhere real. I’ll remember.
I woke up in bed on Wednesday of that week in excruciating pain. The worst pain I had ever felt in my life. As I have said already, the pregnancy was awful from the start. I don’t mean morning sickness, can’t figure out what to eat and I’m so tired awful. I mean real pain, real blood, real frantic racing to the ER on many occasions sure as shit I was losing the baby. Eight weeks of bliss, followed by twelve weeks of ups and downs. Mostly downs. But I had then that thing I would soon lose. The belief that something so awful would never actually happen. I would tell people, “yeah, this is rough for sure, but I get a prize at the end. I can get through anything knowing at the end of this I get a baby.”
I writhed in bed, grasping my abdomen as Matt tried desperately to figure out how to help me. I couldn’t move, had to move, couldn’t move again. Cried out in agony. Had no idea what could be happening to me. I knew it was very, very serious. I managed somehow to get down to the kitchen, I think on all fours, to be with the kids at the table for a few minutes. I felt my water break, or thought I did. It hadn’t happened with the other kids so I was guessing. Matt called 911. I tried my best to shield little Lucca and moreover Colton, who at nearly four was so old and wise that he reflected my pain in his eyes.
Ultrasound number one: Your baby is fine. Perfect in all ways. The hematoma is back, and this time its 9cm. Baseball sized. Your fluid is fine. You need to be admitted since passing this sized clot at home could be life threatening. Everything is going to be ok. The pain you felt was your body trying to pass it.”
Ultrasound number two: The fluid is low. Baby is still great, moving around and showing no signs of distress. We will put you on an IV for hydration and antibiotics, which will help to regenerate the fluid. We feel confident that the sac is intact.”
My dad, Matt and I took up nearly the entire room in Greenwich Hospital’s Perinatology Ultrasound Room Number 2.
Dr Bond shut the machine off.
Shut it off.
She didn’t turn to us for what felt like hours.
I asked my dad to leave us alone.
“There is almost no fluid left. There is no hope for a positive outcome. You will need to decide how you want to proceed.”
How I what??? What???
That is the real heartache of a loss like mine. There are so many heartaches out there. I only know mine. For me, it was being asked if I wanted to surgically end the pregnancy or labor. Labor? Like pushing, breathing, husband cheering, tiny triumphant cries springing forth labor? But not like that at all.
My mind was officially blown. I would never piece it back together in the same formation again.
I felt him kick me. I couldn’t understand anything. My instinct was to proceed with the procedure. That is only natural I think. Matt too favored that course of action once he had managed to draw air and assume his role of supportive husband. We took steps in that direction. It takes days, by the way. Because that’s fair.
It was fourth of July weekend. No one was around. The one doctor allowed to perform D&Es lacked bedside manner and made more than one mention of the inconvenient timing of my disaster. My own OB never called until after, he was away for the holiday and didn’t manage to find the time though he had assured me time and again that it was extremely rare to lose a healthy baby to a subchorionic hematoma. Said I was going to be fine.
I sent her away. I asked someone, I don’t recall who now, to wheel me around the hospital meditation garden. I think I called Leigh, I can’t remember. But I had my first clear thought. Out of nowhere the unthinkable became thinkable. I knew I would deliver him. Matt called our Pastor, and I waited for him. Needed him to be there with us though I had only a cursory relationship with him. Pastor Geoff came and laid his hand on my belly, held mine with his other one and asked me if my child had a name.
“His name is Axel.”
We prayed for him. Said his name out loud. Recognized him officially as a soul that counted. He was still moving within me after all. It wasn’t his fault.
I write a lot about Matt. I adore him. You know that.
But the greatest, kindest thing Matt did for me in all our ten years together was see me through the 22 hrs of labor it took to have baby Axel. It wasn’t the way he wanted to go. And I totally, completely understood that. Wished I could do that for him, could accept the gift of him allowing me to leave the room quietly. I’m not very good at that either.
The only thing that I knew, that one clear thought that felt like the rope hanging to the bottom of a endless well, was that I needed a peaceful birth for this baby. The pregnancy was so violent, so painful, so bloody, so unlike anything I had ever associated with being pregnant, that I felt as his mother I needed him to have some kind of graceful delivery. I needed to mother him.
I want to say here that I do not for one second judge anyone who has chosen differently. I totally and completely understand the feelings. However any women unlucky enough to find herself asked “how would you like to proceed?” manages the strength to get from A to B is ok in my book. I am kindred with her. We are the cautionary tales people whisper about for months on end as they glance surreptitiously (so they think) at our still swollen midsections. I see into her and she into me.
Axel was my only son not born via C-section. And I look at it as his gift to me. I’m sure that’s hard to understand. Of course it is. This is all so extremely fucked up and you’re either crying or worried about my sanity by this point. But I’ve made some kind of peace with it. And he gave me that experience, and I knew every horrible minute of it it was the right decision for me.
It was not an easy delivery as you may have surmised by the length of the labor. My body doesn’t like delivering babies that way, and he was no exception. The on call doctor, Dr Molinelli, was my guardian throughout those days in the hospital. I had never so much as had an appointment with her before, and my own shitty dr didn’t even call me so there’s that, but she stood by my side. Was supposed to pull the plug at 12 hrs and stayed the course, breaking hospital protocol. She knew I needed to deliver him. She got me there.
He was born around 1 am on July 3, 2011. I was rushed into the OR anyway for an emergency D&C. I couldn’t deliver the placenta, and was losing a lot of blood. Ironic since the pain that started the whole downward spiral was actually my placenta abrupting. Look that one up sometime.
I wanted to hold him. I did.
He was so tiny, with blond hair. I am forever grateful I asked to be with him even though I was scared.
Colton made a banner to welcome me home. He couldn’t understand why there was no baby. Neither could I. My hardest task was actually answering Colt’s omnipresent questions about the mechanics. Not my milk coming in, not people trying to figure out what to say, not the tiny white booties knitted by some kind volunteer at the hospital for the parents of babies who wouldn’t come home. How did Axel get to heaven mom? Why did God take him? If we have another baby will God take that one too? Who is changing his diapers up there? I avoided them until bedtime, when I would shut the lights and avert my eyes so I could answer him as best I could without him seeing how desperately I wondered the very same things.
We had a funeral. He is buried in New Canaan. I broke into even more pieces in the weeks that followed. Found my way here, right here to this bed in Sweden three weeks to the day later. The air here was medicinal, the people not the ones who cooked me delicious meals and cheered me on while I struggled through the pregnancy. I didn’t need to talk about it, or see the real sorrow in the eyes of people who, like me, never dreamt it would end like it did.
This was on my list of things to do while here. I have avoided it for a long time. That usually means I need to confront something. If you’ve made it this far, I want to express my gratitude for your bearing with me. I know most people don’t want to think about these things. But maybe one of you is like me, and it might help to hear the particulars. Because, after a long slow march, I am ok. Really. Not the same but a new kind of ok.
It is times like this that you see what people are made of. The love of my friends and family lifted me up and carried me through the winter of losing Axel. Lifted me all the way to having Oscar, and getting through the roller coaster of his early arrival. Early but not too early. And that has made all the difference.