No one told me stillbirth was a thing.

October 15, 2015

I'm pretty sure I dreamed about being pregnant on the night I conceived. It was the night before Mother's Day, and I dreamed all night of being pregnant with twins, giving birth, raising them. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had. When I woke up I laughed the dream off. There was no way I could be pregnant - sure, my new boyfriend and I were having plenty of sex and weren't using protection, but I'd had unprotected sex before and never gotten pregnant. I'd resigned myself to the fact that I never would.

 

A few weeks later my period was late. Scared out of my mind, but still convinced that there was no way I could possibly be pregnant, I took a test. Two pink lines. My boyfriend was excited. He was happy. He was ready. I... I was a wreck. I was only 24, didn't have a career yet, and wasn't anywhere close to ready to give up being young and wild and free. I didn't want a baby but, while I believe it is an option for some women, terminating my pregnancy wasn't the right choice for me.

 

Over the coming months my boyfriend and I started getting ready for baby. He moved in with me in my parent's house, we started slowly buying all of the necessities (and were graciously given a lot of them for Christmas), we got engaged on Christmas morning, he started applying for real jobs with benefits and retirement plans. As time passed I grew to love the little life growing inside of me. When we found out we were having a boy, I was ecstatic - I'd always hoped my first child would be boy (I'd always wanted a big brother, and I wanted that for all of the children I decided we were going to have now that I knew I could get pregnant).

 

We named him Michael Alexander. A good, powerful name, borrowed from two friends of mine who are no longer alive. I thought being named after angels would protect my little boy. Pregnancy was easy. I never had morning sickness, no weird craving, no side effects to speak of until the end when my legs and feet swelled up. I loved every second of being pregnant. I was confident in our choice to forgo a hospital birth for a home birth, and I trusted my midwives without reproach. I was ready. One of the requirements of my midwives' practice was new parents attending birth classes. They recommended some pricey ones through a local doula but they were simply out of our reach. The local hospital offered birth classes for a low price and had scholarships available. I spoke with the woman and she ended up giving us the classes for free. The classes were fine - I was kind of smug about being a home birther, and everyone was just a little in awe of me.

 

One of our class sessions included a tour of the Maternity Ward. We decided to go along because we wanted to be familiar with the lay of the land "just in case". I remember standing at the window looking into the operating suite where they performed C-Sections. The ceiling was painted with a mural of the sky, smiling Mr. Sun and stork included. Something about that room seemed so macabre. I shuddered and silently thanked the universe that I would never have to see that room again. Michael's due date came and went without even the slightest hint of a contraction. I was glad - we were in the middle of a blizzard - and I patiently waited. 41 weeks came on Valentine's Day 2013. My fiance and I got into a huge fight - he hadn't done much of anything for our first Valentine's Day together, he was drunk, and he was belligerent.

 

At 2am on the 15th, mid-fight, I stopped to go to the bathroom. Michael hadn't been moving as much for the past 2 days (which I attributed to his getting so big and being just about out of space), but when I sat down to pee I felt a huge kick. I realize now that kick was him telling me something was wrong - he needed out. That kick was him dying. But then I didn't know. I thought that if something was wrong I would bleed. No one told me stillbirth was a thing. I had no idea my son could die inside of me at 41 weeks. The next day Michael didn't move at all. That evening I called one of my midwives. They were on their way to a birth and said I could swing by their practice quickly or head over to the local hospital. The hospital was closer than the midwives so I opted for that. She said she would call the E.D. to let them know I was coming in.

 

I didn't pack a bag when I left for the hospital. As we were driving across the bridge my husband asked me why I didn't have one. I told him it was because we wouldn't need it - we'd be going home that night. We were met in the E.D. by an orderly with a wheelchair, who jogged to the elevator. That's when I knew that they were taking this a lot more seriously than I was. In the maternity ward, the nurse searched for Michael's heartbeat with the Doppler but couldn't find it. They called another nurse. She couldn't find it either. The ultrasound tech came and searched for the baby's heartbeat. It wasn't there. They called for "the better" ultrasound machine, which took 45 minutes to get to me, but it showed the same thing. No heartbeat. I was told that I would be induced and would labor and deliver my son vaginally. I was not given any choice or asked what I wanted. Thankfully, after consulting with the high-risk pregnancy specialist at the big hospital in the city (the SOP for all prenatal deaths), it was decided that Michael was too big for me to deliver vaginally without him helping me.

 

So at 5:30am on the morning of February 16th, I found myself in the very place I had dreaded going. The maternity ward operating suite. I remember the nurses crying with me. I remember thinking that being ripped open like that felt so much more like death than like life. And I remember holding him. He was so perfect, so handsome. In spite of having an autopsy performed, we have no idea why Michael died. Michael's father and I are married now. We keep his urn in our living room and light a candle for him every day. We haven't decided to start trying again yet. I'm just too scared.

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