Ember Laura-Ellen Eagerton born sleeping on Wednesday, July 7th, 2010 at 2:33pm at UAB hospital in Birmingham, Alabama weighing five pounds, eleven ounces and twenty inches long.
From my journal- July 4th Sunday, 3:30pm "Baby's moving around right now and last night she was neatly kicking the same spot over and over. She's been making me nervous with how little she's been moving, less and less as weeks go by. Of course I know she has less room every day but it's impossible not to worry about the life inside my belly."
Sunday night, contractions started coming every dozen or so minutes for a few hours but stopped after I went to bed. Before I fell asleep, I played our little game with Ember. I'd gently poke her and she'd kick me as strong as she could. We always played several times a day.
Monday afternoon, I sleep in and not long after I woke up the contractions started again. They came between twenty and five minutes apart all day and night but never became a regular pattern. I packed our bags and warned hubby that it could well be sooner than I thought but I guessed Ember would be born on Wednesday morning. The contractions never stopped and I couldn't sleep but rested plenty.
Finally Ember was full-term, 37 weeks. As I had my regular weekly appointment that afternoon, we went in to the doctor's office but assumed it'd still be awhile before we needed to go to the hospital since the contractions where still irregular. In the waiting room, the other soon-to-be mom's notice I'm having contractions. Hubby lets me squeeze his hand and arm and hiss at him during them. The nurse asks about my contractions to be sure she shouldn't just send me to the hospital now. She agrees with me that it could still be a long time to go, and possibly it's just more Braxton-Hicks.
Tuesday, July 6th at 2:30pm was our appointment. I am 1cm dilated and half-way effaced. They could not find Ember's heartbeat. Hubby tries to reassure me that he heard it, but I have the sinking knowledge that he is wrong. As I try to calm down and relax in the backseat, I poke and rub my belly trying to provoke a kick or elbowing. Praying she was just sleeping.
We went straight to the hospital for an ultrasound. We drive from the outskirts of Birmingham to downtown, the sprawling blocks taken up by the university of Alabama at Birmingham's medical buildings. Hubby and I hurry in past the reception desk, as we have been here a few times already and know which floor to go to. In the elevator, an older women smiles and nods at us with the look of general happiness so many people show towards noticeably pregnant women. I do not know what she makes of my stony silence or Hubby's grave nod. Perhaps we only looked like nervous like so many other couples. Upstairs on the seventh floor we have to wait several long minutes in the Women and Infants Center's ER.
At the nurse's station, the intake nurse asks my name. I tell her, and say my doctor had promised they would be expecting me. When your name silences a whole station of busy, chattering nurses in an ER, you know what they've heard of your condition is terrible. Softly, one tells me it will be a few mintues, they where preparing an exam room for me. A couple famalies crowd the small, well-decorated waiting room, so for privacy we instead take seats next door in the snack room. A father with his young son come in to use the vending machines and quietly eat their snack next to us. The father avoids our eyes but makes awkard conversation with my husband. His son is curious about me and the contractions I try to conceal as much as possible but his father distracts him and hustles him out to go find mommy.
First I'm lead to the exam room, though they promise to show my husband in soon. On the way, the nurse weighs me and asks my name again, as they can't find my records under my married name. In my room, she only has time to get me changed and take a urine sample before an ultrasound machine is wheeled in by a tech. She doesn't even bother to hook me up to a fetal moniter. As they get it ready, I chatter about Ember, how many ultrasounds we've have before and how everything seemed ok this morning. They nod, and the tech tells us that though she'll have to fetch a doctor to confirm it, it does appear that the baby has passed away. I begin to sob but cling to the hope that the doctor will be able to find the precious heartbeat the tech couldn't. She comes back with a young and solemn doctor who is quick to introduce himself and hurries to the machine to try and relieve our misery. At his almost silent groan, I know when he gives up the hope. He slowly straightens and turns to us, clinging to each other even as I lay back for the procedure. With stiltled words he confirms our daughter has died. I sob out a near scream that is muffled in Hubby's tight grasp. I hear his heartbroken "no" echoing my own. The doctor tries to talk to us but gives up after a while and says he will give us a moment. The three leave, and we are alone in our grief.
When I finally calm myself, it is with the thought that they could still be wrong, maybe she is just so cramped and turned they cannot see her heartbeat. Hubby continues to hold me until a nurse returns with paperwork for me to sign and assures us a labor-delivery-recovery room on the same floor is being prepared for me. I was in shock. I signed everything they put before me even though I couldn't read the words for the tears blurring my sight. Another nursing student comes in to start my IV, and it takes three attempts for her to place it. I try to hold my arm as still as possible and to stop my tears. I fail at both but everyone is too polite to say anything. As she gets it in, the area around immediately begins to bruise. Together they assure Hubby he can leave to pick up a quick sandwhich and call our famalies as they'll be taking good care of me. While I'm alone I stare at the clock, watching the second hand tick. I sign more paperwork at yet another nurse's demand and wish they'd do a c-section, that my daughter could possibly still be saved. This nurse has to hold my hand around the pen as I sign, I'm shaking and too numb to do it myself. When he comes back, he tells me his family has been told but he will have to try and call my mother again because she didn't answer the phone. He tries again, and this time she answers. He tells me as soon as she knew it was him she started to ask "the baby?", and he could hear my grandmother in the background start to ask something too but he goes on right away to tell them she had died. Later I'm told they where in a resturant when he called, that she broke down then, and had to call him back.
They wheel me from maternal-fetal evaultion to labor-delivery in the bed as I don't think I can even stand up I am so devastated. They are careful not to pass any other mothers or any babies but try to be causal about it. After they settle me in, the charge nurse comes to sit in our room quietly for a while. I get the sense she is just observing how we are handling the loss. Hubby calls my mom to give her our room number, and tells her gently that I'm not up to talking. It's an understatement surely. They keep the lights low and a couple of the people who come in tell us they are sorry, but most don't know our daughter has died and joke and try to make us laugh.
When a doctor comes in, she offers us options as how to induce my labor if they decide to, and options about the medication to help me. She is young, as most of the staff we see at the university hospital are but self-confident in a friendly way and tells us that this delivery is ours, and the way it goes is completely up to us, they will do everything they can for us. I nod even as I know she lies- if it was up to us, we would recieve a healthy child at the end. If it was up to me, they would be doing an emergency ceaseran section to deliver my child to me. Maybe they are wrong, maybe her heartbeat is only weak. If they did a cesaran maybe they would find she could be resuicated. Maybe she would have some brain damage from oxygen deprivaton caused by a tightened cord even, but would live.
That night, they decided to induce my labor as it clearly wasn't progressing. The nurses didn't know why it wasn't, but that didn't seem to matter. They offer to let me eat and go to sleep, and wait to induce in the morning. If I had done that, it would have meant acknowledging that she was in fact gone. Instead, I say no, let's do it now. They call for an anostisologist, and I wave away his explanation of the effects of an epidural. For seven months, I have read every pregnancy and baby book I could get my hands. I read alot about epidurals and had decided I wanted to try a natural birth. By the time they offered it though, I was so sick with horror I caved instantly. Any will or strength I'd had before had evaporated. Some part of me knew she could no longer be effected by anything I did, that there was no point in trying to do what's best for her anymore. That thought haunted me, and made me crave any relief, any intoxication I could get. I had an epidural then Pitocin to strengthen and increase the frequency of my contractions, and finally a sleeping pill. The epidural took two attempts to get in. The first time he hits a vein, probably because I was shaking softly but constantly. A nurse bears down on my shoulders to ease the shaking, and grips my hand tightly. As he tries to find the right spot, I start to cry again. He too must not have known my baby had died, because he mistakes my sobs for laughter and asks if he tickling me. After the second time he asks, the nurse tells him curtly that I'm not laughing.
They are making my husband wait outside of the room. Later he tells me paced the whole time, making the nurses nervous as they fail to convince him to sit down. As soon as they finish and let him back in, he rushes to his place on my side. My nurse helps me roll onto my side with my deadened legs. Then I am given more pills to take, and several injections are given into the bags feeding into the IVs. After all of the medication kicked in, I finally fell asleep.
Wednesday morning passed in a blur. A grief counseler comes in, and babies me as much as she can. She leaves when two of my sisters-in-law come in but only after promising she will be back. They fluster around us. He asks me in a whisper if I want him to get rid of them. I shake my head no, and soon he leaves with one of them to pick up the bags I had packed for the three of us but had not thought to bring with me to the doctor's appointment, which now seemed like so long ago. When they leave, my older sister-in-law settles into her brother's place at my side. She holds my hand and for a while we talk of anything but Ember's death. When she sadly remember the portaits we had planned to take of the baby, I start to cry again. The crying, and the medication make me throw up. Now I'm begining to feel the urge to push. After telling two nurses who come in, one finally decides to check my dilation but says I can't be more than four or five centimeters yet. Awkardly I ask my sister-in-law to wait outside for the exam. When the door has closed behind her, the nurse pulls back the blanket over my legs. I've hit ten centimeters she's shocked to find, and can see my unbroken water now. Before she leaves to deliver this information, the grief counseler comes back as promised. Shyly I tell them my husband has gone to pick up our bags and I want to wait for him. They agree easily, and I stop pressing the epidural's button. The nurses slow the Pitocin, and we wait.
My sister-in-law called him with the news and told him it was time. He hurried back in time, and takes his place back. Before he got there, nurses had began to prepare my room for delivery. I was anxious to give birth, to see my child, to hear her cry. I'd convinced myself they where wrong, that she couldn't be dead. As the various people crowd into the room, I realize that I don't even care about so many strangers seeing me so naked. I delivered to a full audience, most of whom didn't even bother to look at my face before crowding in behind the others between my legs. Right before I begin to push, the doctor who had done our genetics counseling comes in. He directs the younger doctor who catches Ember. This somber faced young Indian doctor makes eye contact with me over and over, and her face thas stayed with me.
By the time I begin pushing, the epidural has worn off for me to feel both my legs and the contractions. It is easy to me, I can feel her head so close to being out, as it rests in the birth canal between contractions. I rub it as softly as I can with my fingers after she crowns. The tips of my fingers are coated in watery mecaonium when I pull my hand back. It only takes three or four contractions with me bearing down for her to be born. As I pushed her tiny body into the world, I prayed, harder than I ever have, to hear her cry. It was 2:33pm. Exactly twenty-four hours after her heartbeat couldn't be found, after our miracle turned into our most hedious nightmare.
The cord was looped, all tangled around her neck, arm and leg we are later told. A doctor or nurse, another young woman in scrubs between my knees, says the cord looks a little short under her breath.
They unlooped the cord and delivered our baby onto the waiting layer of blankets on my chest. She is covered in meconium, a greenish-brown slick coat. And still she is the most amazing sight I've ever seen. The wonder that such beauty came from within me swells up only to be crushed by agony deeper than I could even have imagined before now as my hope for them to be wrong withers. I wrapped the blankets around her and held her tight. I never wanted to let go. I'd hold her to the end of time, till my own death. A nurse asks me if I checked her sex but I don't need to, I know this delicate child is my daughter. After I shake my head, she quickly peeks between the blankets, and confirms that she is in fact a girl.
The placenta comes out in pieces. I hemorauge. All around me doctors and nurses swarm touching me and injecting numerous needles into my IV, and my husband stays tight at my shoulder. I couldn't care less about what they are doing, I have my baby. I wish they'd let me bleed to death but of course they are professionals, they can't. Eight or nine hundred milligrams later, they slow the bleeding. The only relief I find in this is that soon the room empties to just my small tragic family. I don't even notice my husband anymore, Ember is my only focus.
The nurses give us fifteen minutes alone before they come back. They bathe my daughter with washcloths while I watch. The grief counseler comes back and tries to distract me. I am barely aware of her sitting at the bottom of my bed as I strain to see around the nurses' backs. It takes them at least a half hour for them to clean her enough to weigh and dress her. One of them measures her first, and she is a full twenty inches long. They weigh her twice because she looks heavier than her dainty five pounds eleven ounces. Hubby has given them her coming home outfit, a pink and white floral dress picked by my mom with socks, bloomers, a cap and a silky, plush blanket. They handle her as if she was made of spun sugar, but still her skin tears.
I'm asked if I want pictures of her, as if there could be any answer but yes. While they lay out blankets to use as a background, my husband holds his daughter for the one and only time. When she is gently placed in his waiting arms, something makes him look horrorfied but he sheilds it from me. Later I will realize what it was. He cradles her tenderly, and I ask him to come back to me. When he's close enough for me to touch, I grasp the edge of her blanket and stare at the image I've waited so long for- my husband holding the child I've given him. He stares down at her, and the pain in his face is unbearable. This is never how I pictured our family. Instead of a sweet child to raise, I've given him a beautiful, broken body to mourn. When the nurses takes her back from him, he stares after her, and then vomits in the bathroom.
After the pictures are taken, they leave us alone again. I do not know how much time passed, or what my husband does in this time. It feels like only a second I hold my firstborn child to me. As she is placed in my arms, I feel a difference in her. Her head, molded when she was born and first given to me, has already decalcusified enough for the bones to seperate. This I suspect is what shocked my husband when she was handed to him.
They come back in a small group, one to take my child, a second to place a small memory box on the foot of my bed and two to bother me as I get up and go to the bathroom for the first time post-partum. They are bringing me upstairs, as I have apparently silently graduated from in recovery to post-partum. Already it is time for me to leave the room I gave birth in. I walk without assitance though they hover on either side, and try unsuccessfully to evidict them from the bathroom. Hubby gathers our belongings and trails after us mutely. In coached terms, they decide to take us up the back way, and manage to once again avoid passing any other mothers or infants. It's a kindness I'm grateful for, as my daughter ought to be dozing in my arms rather than on her way away from me to the morgue.