On November 19, we had our mid-pregnancy ultrasound. I was 20 weeks and 5 days pregnant. Although we didn’t want to find out the gender, we were looking forward to seeing our baby and hearing its heartbeat. We brought our children so they could see the ultrasound images too.
I went back to the ultrasound room alone for the scan; Richard and the kids stayed in the waiting room and would join me after the anatomy scan part was completed.
I was nervous. When I was pregnant with Owen, our 20 week scan revealed markers for Down’s Syndrome. A scary couple weeks and an amniocentesis followed. Thankfully everything turned out okay, but ultrasounds still make me very anxious.
But with this pregnancy, all was going well. I no longer had new mom jitters; I didn’t feel the stress of the unknown having had two children already. All the tests and ultrasounds so far came back good. I had heard that morning sickness is a sign of a healthy pregnancy and I had had my sickest first trimester yet.
So when I laid down for the ultrasound I was not expecting what was to come. The first thing the tech said after finding the baby was that it was good we didn’t want to know the sex; the baby’s position would make it impossible. This comment set off alarm bells in my head. Was my baby in a weird position? Why? She turned on the monitor to get the heartbeat. I immediately noticed that nothing registered on the monitor. She quickly said “I’m having trouble finding the heartbeat. I’m going to get the doctor to see if he has better luck.” And she left the room. Seconds later a nurse came in and asked if I would like her to get Richard. Yes, I needed Richard. She reminded me that the children were with him, but I knew that I needed Richard there. I started to cry.
A nurse practitioner brought Richard and the children in. Seeing me laying on the exam bed in distress, Carmendy instantly started crying. Owen yelled at the nurse and the ultrasound tech, saying “Stop it! Get away from Mommy! I don’t like you!!” Through their cries, I was acutely aware of the silence on the heartbeat monitor. The nurse took my hand and gently said “I wish we had different news for you. I’m sorry but your baby has passed.”
The rest of the appointment was a blur. The doctor came to see us and explained our options. My legs and hands were shaking. My mind was reeling. The nurse ushered us out the back entrance so we didn’t have to walk through the waiting room, so the expecting mothers there did not have to see my tears.
As we were getting in the car, Owen stopped me and said “I love you, Mommy. We’ll be best friends forever, right?” He knew something was wrong.
And I felt like I was shell-shocked. I knew the statistics. Only around 1 in 100 miscarriages happen after 12 weeks. By twenty weeks, the risk is nearly gone. But the odds were not in our favor.
Our baby would not be born alive.
The days since we found out the devastating news have been filled with tears and heartache.
I cried as we decided to end our pregnancy with an induced labor and delivery.
I cried when I picked out a soft aqua and yellow striped blanket, one that Owen and Carmendy had used many times, to bring to the hospital to wrap our dead baby in.
I cried as I packed my hospital bag, not needing a “going home” outfit for a newborn this time.
I cried when they gave me the medicine to induce labor.
I cried when the midwife told us that most parents in our situation name their baby. And then I cried some more as Richard and I picked out a name for our baby that would never get to live outside my womb.
I cried as we completed the paperwork for our baby’s death certificate. Our baby would never have a birth certificate.
I cried when the nurse told me it was time to deliver the baby. My body filled with terror.
I wept as our baby was born in the silent room. On November 21st at 1:50am, our stillborn baby came into the world without a sound.
Our tiebreaker baby was a girl. We named her Frances Laurel Kopp. The name Frances has much meaning for us — it’s Richard’s middle name, the name of his aunt, St. Francis, Pope Francis, the name of the church we were married in. We gave her the middle name Laurel after my cousin who recently lost her battle with brain cancer. It is a beautiful name for our beautiful angel baby.
The doctor and nurse cleaned her off and wrapped her in the yellow and aqua blanket. They laid her in my arms and left us alone with our daughter. The only time we would have together on this earth.
The moment my dead baby girl was placed on my chest was beyond painful. My tears fell on the soft blanket. And yet my heart flooded with the same exact amazing love that I felt the first time Owen and Carmendy were in my arms.
Our tiny girl weighed less than a pound. But the lightness of her in my arms will weigh on my heart forever.
I told her that I will always love her. I told her how sorry I am. Richard and I held her together and prayed the Hail Mary. We said goodbye.
Since our baby was 20 weeks, we had to discuss things I never imagined I would have to think about. Cremation, burial, funeral home, remains, the morgue, autopsy – the words stung at my heart. But we had to find the strength to make the decisions. And when we were ready to leave the hospital, I tried not to think about our baby being left behind in the morgue.
The nurse took me outside in a wheelchair. She waited with me in the harsh sunlight while Richard went to get the car. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. I watched a happy man bring in an empty infant car seat, clearly there to bring his newborn home. The nurse squeezed my hand and said “You’ll be okay.”
Bereft, the noun or adjective, means deprived or robbed of the possession or use of something or lacking something needed, wanted or expected.
Leaving the hospital in the bright sunlight, with an empty womb and empty arms, I felt completely bereft.
Later that day at the funeral home, we picked out a small wooden box to keep our baby’s ashes. Our baby will not grow up with our family. Instead we will only have a box.
Random thoughts bring me to tears. I’ll never hear her cry. She’ll never sleep in her crib. I’ll never see her smile. When exactly did she die? What was the last thing she heard? Did she suffer? Even as I write this, I think: This is the only blog post I will write about Frances. She will never have monthly updates and photos. There are moments that I forget she is gone. I better eat something, the baby needs the nourishment. Or I shouldn’t have lunchmeat since I’m pregnant. Then I remember. I still cringe when Owen or Carmendy jump near my tummy, reflexively trying to protect my baby that is no longer there.
And, of course, there are the feelings of shame and guilt. Why didn’t I remember to take my prenatal vitamins every day? Did I pick up something too heavy? Did I do something wrong? Why didn’t I notice the moment her heart stopped beating?
Owen saw me staring at our baby’s ultrasound pictures from 13 weeks. He asked “Is that a picture of my baby sister in your belly?” (He had always insisted that the baby was a girl, “one that would match Carmendy.”)
“Yes, but she’s not in my belly anymore.”
“Oh. Did she pop out of your belly?”
“But where is my baby sister? Why isn’t she here?”
“She’s in heaven.”
“But I want her to be here!”
I could not even reply. I try to focus on our family and the support from our loved ones. But there are moments like these that break my heart again and again.
My sister-in-law shared this quote with me and I try to keep it in my heart and my mind for comfort.
Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so we can see life with a clearer view again.
I like to think that Baby Frances’ purpose was to make me see how much love we have in our life. I know she was meant to bring me love, not sadness.