It took over two years after Anna’s death to write this. I’d wanted to write every detail in those days after, so I wouldn’t forget anything, but just...couldn’t. Now, I think maybe it’s better that way. Some things just aren’t helpful to keep alive when you’re trying to regain your Life.
Anna was perfect. Every test, every appointment yielded results as good or better than we could have hoped for after everything in our history. That first day, that first ultrasound, I knew instantly that somehow we’d conceived a living being - right there, a macrocephalic Teddy Graham with a heartbeat. I exclaimed it before the tech did, and behind me my husband lay his head in his arms -without letting go of my hand -and let out an ancient breath that belied his 41 years.
Flash forward to 38 weeks, 3 days. Friday, December 11, the day I’d been ‘told’ would be the day my baby would be born, every time I asked the gods. When the day came and went, I was in complete consternation by the fact I hadn’t gone into labor the day before, why I wasn’t holding her in my arms as I’d been so consistently assured by the universe. The pregnancy had been ideal overall, complete with pretty much all the typical pregnancy symptoms - morning sickness, restless legs, reflux, insomnia, and at the end, a raging case of hemorroids. “Bring it on”, I’d thought, so sure this would be my one and only pregnancy.
Earlier that day I’d gone in for my regularly scheduled OB visit. My belly wasn’t measuring any bigger than it had 3 weeks ago, which prompted me to prod my doctor to investigate further (my sister-in-law had the same thing occur and they’d ended up inducing her). A biophysical profile revealed she was doing great with a strong heartbeat and obvious breathing movements, but the amniotic fluid was low, measuring 8 cm (gray area is 5-9). It was decided we’d up our appointments to twice a week, and do another biophysical the following Tuesday. My parents arrived from Colorado for the impending birth that same Friday afternoon. In what I question now to be cruel irony, or an act that went against the law of nature for which we were punished, Brad and I put our beloved cat, Chuck, to sleep that same evening. He had been part of my little family since 1996. Recently he had developed diabetes for the second time, and my husband and I made the difficult decision to let him go rather than spend thousands of dollars keeping him alive with insulin shots twice a day and at least monthly vet appointments indefinitely. Tacked onto having a newborn at home. So on the day I thought our baby girl would be born, we said goodbye to our sweet feline boy instead. Tears, tears, tears. But, oh, in the end relatively minor compared to what was coming.
Tuesday at 8:00 am Brad and my parents were all on hand for Anna’s biophysical. It took about 2 seconds to realize we were definitely having a baby that day, since I saw virtually no fluid surrounding her at all. Indeed, they measured 2 cm (and I think they were being generous). We were told to go to L&D across the street immediately, but pleaded a case for getting an hour to go home and throw our ‘bag’ together. By 11:00 AM we were checked in and by 12:00 hooked up to pitocin. Our doula arrived. Somewhere in the next 2-4 hours I started to feel my first contractions - enough to know that’s what they were, not hard enough to hurt (but enough to know they were gonna!) But I didn’t dilate, my contractions didn’t progress and somewhere between 4-6 PM they decided to stop pitocin and give me a few doses of Cytotec. Every 4 hours as needed to soften my cervix. If that wasn’t enough to start labor overnight, pitocin would be re-started the following morning.
Brad and I roamed the halls of the hospital, all proudly pregnant in my robe and slippers, silently showing off to whomever else was there that I was going to have a baby soon. We played cards in our L&D room to kill some time. At 7:00 our night nurse came in to introduce herself and gave another dose of Cytotec at 8:00, with instructions lie down for 2 hours so as not to lose the medication to gravity by standing up. By 10:00 I had to use the restroom something fierce, and was looking forward to moving around a bit given my restless legs, as well as to relieve myself of the itchy heartrate monitor on my belly. Anna was doing fine, heartrate regular and normal, averaging 150. FRIENDS was on TV and I engaged in some yoga positions while eating a power bar to try and calm my jerky legs. Suddenly my power bar tasted like sawdust and I threw the rest away, also calling the yoga quits. I remember feeling an odd, tight, pressure sensation just above my pelvic bone as I was brushing my teeth. I thought maybe it was a contraction but knew it was ‘new’ and commented on it as I was getting back in bed. A few minutes prior while I finishing with my teeth the labor nurse had come in to say it was time to return to the monitor. Brad and I were chatting with her as she set me back up with the monitor...and then she didn’t answer when we made a comment to her, so focused was she on the machine. Brad and I glanced at each other, knowing something was getting her full attention. She told me to turn to my other side and I thought “Here we go, here’s our little glitch.” I’d been present for my two best girlfriends births, and knew that there are things that look scary during labor but usually turn out fine. I was prepared for glitches. Apparently Anna’s heartrate had dropped dramatically. (I’ve heard later it was down to 30, another report 70). I turned right to left a few times, and the head nurse came in - apparently alerted to something awry from the monitoring computers in the main nursing area. She smiled reassuringly and then left to get the OB on call. Our labor nurse started to prepare us for the possibility of a c-section. “If that’s the way everyone decides to go, things will start happening fast.” The OB came, looked over the heartrate readouts, checked my cervix (still nice and tight) and recommended going ahead with a c-section even though Anna’s heart rate was now 110 and climbing. Since we didn’t know what caused the drop, she thought it most prudent to just go get her. Fine by us!! Meanwhile I’d been hooked up to an O2 mask and couldn’t stop shaking. I wasn’t worried about Anna though. I mean, this was unexpected but I was focused on not passing out from adrenaline and the upcoming epidural, and not throwing up since I’d just eaten a power bar and was now going for major anesthetic. Plus, the whole scene had taken on a rather surreal quality. I was never worried about Anna because, I mean c’mon, God HAD to have had her because she was our miracle child from the get-go. Our gift straight from the man himself. He had his hand on the whole thing. This was a glitch. So I wasn’t worried about her.
I vividly remember Brad asking the OB if he should be worried and as she threw him his scrubs said, “Nope! Grab you’re camera, we’re going to get your daughter!” In a medical report I read later it was described as an unexpected c-section, not an emergent one. (If it had been emergent, would the outcome have been different?)
Next thing I knew I was in the OR, people were scurrying around, a nurse grabbed both my hands and told me that she was going to have to leave to attend to another patient, but would return as soon as she could. She had to identify herself as our L&D nurse, I didn’t recognize her behind the mask. But I remember the intensity and the emotion in her eyes as she said, “look at me, I’m right here”, as my epidural was administered. This is important because the medical staff's best guess is that it was those seconds that ultimately killed Anna. When they sat me up for the epidural. I was holding that nurse’s hands while my daughter was dying.
Then the nurse was gone and the anesthesiologist was squirting cold water on my torso, asking when I could feel it. The curtain went up and I didn’t know what was happening and suddenly Brad swooped in on my left saying “Your doctor of love is here” (apparently a reference to a KISS song that I missed at the time. KISS being his favorite band and all).
Then there was tugging and a “heads out!” and then a jubilant “11:26!!”.
After a minute or two I turned to Brad and said, “I don’t hear her. Why don’t I hear her?” “I don’t know”, he replied. A few more minutes passed and we had to ask, “What’s going on?” The anesthesiologist or his assistant leaned forward from behind me and said, “She’s intubated and they’re doing CPR.” That’s when Brad’s face fell and he started praying, crying, begging, aloud. “Please god, no. Please god...
I was silent. I think I was silent for most of the next several hours - days, actually. Here’s what I know I said.
“What does that mean?” - to the neonatologist in charge of her Code Blue, who after midnight came to tell us that her blood was highly acidotic. Severe brain damage, is what that means. She also said some things about her CO2 levels, her dilated eyes, and other details that again, I had in the beginning but that have now faded.
“Can you call Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep?” - to the head nurse and another nurse as their faces floated above me from the gurney, just before I was being wheeled out of the OR to see Anna for the first time, in the special care nursery.
“At least I got to be pregnant”. To the small group present, including my parents, just outside the special care nursery as Anna was about to be brought to me.
So Brad and I knew that our little girl was dead before we ever left the OR. Before we’d ever laid eyes on her. Even though she had a heartbeat, we both knew it was more a chemical heartbeat from all the epinephrine than a heartbeat of Life. Still. The re-establishment of a heartbeat made her not technically a stillborn baby. Which was an important distinction for me for a long time.
There were 2 rows of bassinets in the special care nursery. In the first one on my left, there was a living, writhing baby under a yellow light. His parents were standing there, wide-eyed, clearly traumatized but by their baby or ours I can’t be sure. All I knew is that they were staring at me and I couldn’t meet their eyes. All I could register was “that baby is alive”. I was brought around so that Anna was on my left, now facing the couple and their baby on my right, several feet away at the end of the row. Anna was on her back, her head towards me. I couldn’t see her face, couldn’t really see much of her body. Just her head of dark brown hair. So shocking, that hair. It was what made her undeniably Mine. Brad and I thought for sure she would be a blond towhead like her cousins. More than anything, that brown hair represents all we never anticipated in her, all she could have been that we’ll never know.
I think I touched her hair and then let my hand drop, looking away from her and forwards momentarily, but then I thought “I shouldn’t be looking anywhere but at her. What must all these people think of me, looking away from her?” So I turned my strained neck back again, to my left. I’d been looking to my left for over an hour by then. Where Brad was sitting with me in the OR, where the clock was above his head...where my firstborn now lay.
A doctor we’ve nicknamed Mr. Magoo leaned over and seemed to want to prove to me she was dead by showing how limp she was, how he got no response from her. He lifted her little arm and let it drop. After each example he’d look at me with what I’m sure he thought was a gentle, compassionate expression but what looked to me like a little smile, “See?”. Yes, thank you, I see. No need to prove to me my daughter is dead, you cruel fool. I know. Apparently this doctor is a big-wig at the University Hospital system, maybe the biggest. He visited every day we were in the hospital thereafter, but I don’t know why. I suppose we should have felt reassured and important that the most revered doctor was attending to us and our situation. But I resented him more than anything.
Next I was in another part of the hospital, close to the special care nursery, still with a blood pressure cuff on my arm and my parents were ushered in. They’d been waiting since we were first taken to the OR, having rushed in after Brad’s call saying there was a change in plans. They’d put on their special grandparent T-shirts we’d had made for the occasion. A nurse had been assigned to care for them, as I thought my mom might have a true nervous breakdown upon learning the news. But she didn’t. They were there briefly but then left to see Anna “while she was still alive” - aka while she still had a heartbeat.
Then Anna was brought to me, finally, naked except for her diaper. It was somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 AM. She was laid upon my chest where she remained for most of the next 14 or so hours. My good friend and talented energy worker arrived. I asked her if she knew, she shook her head ‘no’ and I said “She’s dead.” My friend laid her hand on my daughter’s head and I thought, if anyone can bring her back, it’s her. It’ll be now. If a miracle is necessary to prove my friend’s abilities and spiritual importance, it will happen now, resurrecting my daughter. But it didn’t happen.
The NILMDTS photographer arrived. Wendy. She was wearing black and sweating. She was gentle. She asked if we wanted pictures of Anna alone and both Brad and I immediately said ‘no’. We’d just gotten her and knew we wouldn’t have her long. It was unfathomable to let her go from either of our bodies for even a second. Now though, I wish we’d let her. Apparently Brad told her upon her arrival that “we’d just need a couple” pictures. Luckily she knew enough to ignore him. He doesn’t recall saying that, doesn’t know what couple of pictures he thought we’d want. My parents held her for several minutes, and despite the horror of the situation, I was so contented to see them with her. I’d waited my whole life to give them a grandchild, see them fawn over her. Now was the moment.
At some point I started to tear off her diaper, wanting pictures of her naked like every other newborn photo. Staff and Brad jumped to help. And I wanted her hair washed, so matted down was it from birth. So Brad and the head nurse went a few feet away to wash and comb her hair in the sink. Those picture of father and daughter alone are among my favorites - despite Daddy’s numb, solemn expression.
Then Anna and I were being wheeled out, into a dark area, up to the maternity floor. In doing so I saw our labor nurse, down a dark hallway, looking mournfully at us. I can’t accurately describe her expression, I just know I’ll never forget it.
I remember the cruel, horrible pain as my insides fell to my left when they transferred me from the gurney to the hospital bed and Anna went to Brad to hold. Surgery. I’d had surgery and my abdomen was freshly stitched together and flaccid. Even now remembering that sensation turns my stomach. Anna was returned to my chest. Our doula had arrived and she and the aforementioned spiritual friend stayed - and stayed awake - throughout the night, energetically supporting us. Eventually Brad when to lay down on a makeshift cot at the foot of my bed. Every so often he’d startle awake, look at Anna and I blurrily, and lay back down in defeat, in escape. I was afraid he’d start to throw up anytime, from the emotional toll. Somewhere around 5 AM I realized he was going to need a friend too. My cell phone was MIA, and so my spiritual friend was given the task of looking up Brad’s best friend’s phone number and making the call in the wee hours of morn. At least I’d been able to do something for my sweet husband, as he woke up not long after and said “I’m going to need someone too”, and I was able to tell him his friend was on the way.
I remember Brad parking himself on the floor near the door to call his brother, tell him the news, asked him to go to their father’s house so that his father wasn’t alone when Brad called him with the news. How broken Brad was, there on the floor. I remember the quality of his voice, his tears, his deflated body posture, but not his words.
My other very best friend came, nearly an hour after having recalled her phone number by the very grace of God (how did I do that?) and telling her that Anna didn’t make it and did she want to see her? I remember “What?!? Yes!!” but am a loss for words in how to describe her tone, it was so full of pain and shock and fear. I’m told she gathered her little girl and virtually threw her into her in-laws arms at their front door, with a warning to calm down lest she get into an accident herself on the way to the hospital.
The room was full when my regular OB arrived. Our dear, sweet, good-looking OB who had traveled the infertility road with us and had been the one to say everything was still looking good just 4 days before. He walked in, quickly scanned the room, turned to the shut door and looked briefly to the ceiling, as if to gather strength from God before turning to face us. He was compassionate, wonderful, but I have no idea what he said. I just know he stopped by every day, and came to Anna’s memorial service 3 days later and cried with his head bent into his right hand.
Meanwhile, Anna lay with me. All 6 lbs 4 oz, all 19 inches of her. The most vivid physical memory is feeling her hair upon my chin, and the weight of her on my chest. I don’t remember her face, really, except this one shot where her cheeks were still pink, hours after her birth/death. As vibrant and beautiful as one could be in death, I thought. Still our sweet girl, with pink cheeks, I thought. I remember her little body, long and flaccid not long before we gave her up somewhere between 2-4 PM that afternoon. I remember that the pink cheeks were deceiving though...she was decomposing much more than it seemed - not noticeable until I lifted her from me to give to Brad and the deep purple of her entire right side was evident, where her blood was pooling against me. Now I look back at a few pictures Brad took of her little hand against mine while she was still laying on me - I wanted them because her nails by then looked painted, and I knew we didn’t have pictures of her hand and mine. In looking at them now, I see clearly what I truly didn’t see at the time - how truly discolored she was. All I could see was my perfect girl.
There were bits of dried blood on my hands and on her that I couldn’t completely clean. There was meconium leaking from her. Her chin had set in a slightly open position. She was leaving me in a way I couldn’t pretend against anymore. Brad had asked at least twice by then if I was ready to let her go - I think he was afraid I never would, more than he was afraid of letting her go himself. I hadn’t cried a single tear the whole time. I was serene. I was with my daughter. It was everything I’d waited for and her still body didn’t change my contentedness in having her with me, finally.
But when I couldn’t close her little mouth, when her bodily fluids couldn’t be cleaned despite multiple tries, when she was so clearly becoming a body without a soul...my daughter but not my daughter...when keeping her would be more traumatic than letting her go...it was time.
We kissed her everywhere we could, swaddled her as best we could (we weren’t very good at it), kissed her again and handed her to the faceless nurse who gently put her in a bassinett, placed a blanket over the top and wheeled her out.
Only then did I cry. I haven’t really stopped since.
Love you always, always, always, my sweet girl.