Pregnancy Loss: Laura's Story

When sharing the story about how I lost my baby boy, I’ve never been shy. Telling people about what I was going through then was part of my healing process. However, when approached to share my story here on CORD now- 13 years later and with a new healthy baby girl, I’ve been stumped. Life has changed so much and I’ve been through so many things since then that my mind hasn’t unlocked that part of my life in quite some time. How and where do I begin? When I think about those days I can only visualize sitting in a sterile hospital waiting area clutching 4 blurry sonogram photos in my hands shedding tears of confusion. A sweet older woman approached me and asked if she could see them. “How exciting!” she exclaimed, probably trying to decipher why I was crying. “These sonogram photos were never available to me when I was having my children!” “Yes, they are neat…” I turned to her. “But there’s something wrong with the baby.”

Only moments before this interaction I had wandered in to my first ultrasound appointment. I was nervous. I was only 20 years old and alone. My then husband was at work and I had thought it was just going to be another routine doctor visit but with pictures this time. As the ultrasound technician navigated her wand around my barely there 18 week bump, she asked “Dear, have you been experiencing any bleeding?” “WHAT!? NO! WHY? WHAT?” “Don’t worry, hon. The doctor will be in soon to explain things to you. I cannot elaborate for you.” I waited for the on call doctor for what seemed like an eternity. When he came in, I tried my best to understand. There was some sort of fluid around the brain and a large cystic hygroma. I was told that he was suspicious of a chromosomal abnormality and that I needed to return to my OB so she could schedule further testing and explain more of what was happening. 

Back in the waiting area, I felt so confused. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. Was my baby going to be born handicap? Was it even going to survive? I couldn’t find clarity. Everything seemed to slow down and I felt I was in a cloud. The older woman didn’t know what to say as I told her what had just transpired. She asked if she could pray with me. I didn’t do much praying at that time of my life, but I welcomed her supportive gesture. As she prayed and I sobbed, a sense of peace came over me. To this day I can’t explain it, but I had an overwhelming feeling that no matter the outcome of this tragic situation it was going to be ok.  I called my husband and my mom both to meet me. Neither could leave work. So I called my boss, Kim, who also happened to be like another mom to me. I told her what was happening so she knew why I wasn’t rushing back to work after my appointment. Kim insisted on joining me at my doctor’s office. Looking back, it was so good that she came. The doctors and nurses were trying to explain to me what was happening. Abnormal Maternal Serum. Cystic Hygroma. Hydrocephalis. Fetal Hydrops. Echogenic Foci in the heart. I needed to have a flourescent insitu hybridization analysis. I needed an amniocentesis.  I couldn’t make sense of a single thing they were telling me. I was in my cloud. I had peace, but I was in my cloud. Nothing made sense. 

A few days passed. The flourescent whatever test was performed. They called it a FISH analysis. They use it to highlight specific chromosomes with a probe to obtain quicker results. They also did an amniocentesis. It was indeterminate so they did another one. Then they did more ultrasounds. After several weeks and more tests we knew that the baby had normal chromosomes but a heart defect, spinal bifida hydrocephalis (water in the brain) and the cystic hygroma (really big bump) had grown in size.  Why was this happening? Was it something I’d done? Was it the few beers I’d had at a party before I’d discovered I was pregnant? Was it because I’d got pregnant on the pill? The doctors all explained that this was most likely a sporadic incident or autosomal recessive disorder. Chance for recurrence was estimated to be 12%. I was told that if and when I wanted to pursue another pregnancy I needed to see a genetic counselor. I was told that not only was this pregnancy not viable, but it was a danger to me. The cystic hygroma (really big bump) growing on the back of the baby’s neck had nearly doubled in size in 2 weeks. The 3 doctors I was working with all told me that this pregnancy was potentially fatal to me if I tried to carry to term as the cyst was toxic.  I was told that if I was able to somehow carry to term, the baby would have multiple physical problems and die shortly after birth. I wanted to hold on as long as I could. All my friends and family tried to convince me to end this, but how was I supposed to say goodbye to this child I had now carried for 22 weeks? I requested another ultrasound. I don’t know what I was hoping for. A miracle? I wished that they could give me some supplements or something and it would all go away. I didn’t know what to do. 

I can’t say when the decision was made or how I was able to do make it. I was induced at 22 weeks. The process took 3 days. They induce labor then use these weird strips to help your cervix slowly dilate. Contractions come on very slowly. The doctor explained that they do it this way in the second trimester so women can have a higher chance of a successful future pregnancy. It seemed like a ridiculous process, but I trusted it and that crazy, unexplainable peace was still carrying me. I can’t remember much of the delivery. I don’t remember a physical pain. They had so many drugs in me that there wasn’t much pain to speak of. Maybe that’s why my memory of it all is so choppy. I do remember trying to sit up and look at what was happening, hoping to catch a glimpse of my baby. The nurse that was holding my hand and standing over me kept telling me that it would be best not to look. It was awful. It didn’t feel natural. Then they did a D&C. All I can remember of it is a sound like a blow dryer. Again, awful. I never saw or held my baby. I didn’t find out until weeks later that it was a boy. I wasn’t ready to know until then.

I went back to work right away. I was lucky to work with lots of older women who all could have been old enough to be my mom. They helped me put on a strong face at work. In private moments, I wasn’t as strong. I cried silently as I fell asleep. My then husband didn’t know how to be emotionally supportive.  I leaned on friends. I told my story. I joined an infant loss support group. Slowly but surely I pulled myself out of that cloud. That peaceful feeling I’d had never left me. Even now, I feel confident that although tragic, this experience was somehow meant to be. It shaped me. Made me realize my strength. I grew. I changed. I was awed by the miracle of conception and birth. And I remained hopeful that I’d have another. 

Almost 13 years later and with the man of my dreams, I finally got that healthy baby. Penelope Willow was born on December 7, 2013 weighing in at 7lbs, 2 oz. She has been the light of my life and I am now more than ever in awe of the miracle of creating a living, breathing and healthy human being. How beautiful this life is. I will never forget my dear boy that I never got to see grow. But I am eternally grateful for his brief time with me. 

Pregnancy Loss Cord