Two years ago, I shared a glimpse of my heart through this blog in an unexpected way. Despite my original intent to post craft ideas, decorating inspiration, and humorous kid-isms, I found myself writing a post about something far more intimate. I shared our experience of infant loss and the discomfort surrounding it. I took a risk and I haven’t looked back. Since that time, I’ve experienced many highs and lows. I’ve written about fun times and I’ve shared difficult moments. I realize now I wouldn’t be giving you the full picture if I didn’t share the whole story.
A Look Back
In 2006, after an amazing family vacation to Brazil, my husband and I learned we would be welcoming into the world another baby. We were delighted and I began imagining what life would be like as a family of four. I was working full time in the field of college athletics and trying to figure out how I would balance this second child into my life.
Just as I had with my first pregnancy, I experienced only a brief period of morning sickness. Otherwise, I felt great. I was teaching an orientation class to college freshmen at the time and I can remember how the students would tell me they were watching me get bigger. As my belly grew, so did my love for this baby. Students and coworkers all asked if we were going to find out the gender. Since baby #1 was a surprise, we decided we would find out this time. I needed to know whether or not to keep the boy stuff we had accumulated.
On December 6th at the 20 weeks ultrasound, I would finally learn whether this sweet baby that had been kicking within me was a boy or a girl. Secretly, I wished for a girl so I could join the ranks of families with “one of each”. It was the only thing on my mind. Almost immediately, the tech asked us if we wanted to know gender. We did, we did. Without hesitation, she said “It’s a boy”. Despite my hope for a girl, I was still elated. As the ultrasound progressed, I noticed that the once talkative technician was now oddly quiet. She seemed to be printing lots of pictures–way more than I remember them doing with our first child’s ultrasound. When she announced that she would return with the OB, I knew something was strange.
The midwife who had delivered my firstborn and who I had been seeing regularly throughout this pregnancy accompanied a doctor into the room and I knew immediately from her expression that something was terribly wrong. When he spoke, it’s as though my brain froze. I can only remember him saying that there was something wrong with the heart and the kidneys. He was referring me to a high-risk obstetrician. My midwife hugged me and I’m pretty sure she kept me from falling to the floor right there on the spot.
A day later we were in the high risk OB’s office. He agreed that there were some abnormalities in the heart and referred us to a Pediatric Cardiologist who would perform a heart echocardiogram. Days later, we went through this specialized ultrasound to better assess heart function and severity of the case. I will never forget the look in the cardiologist’s eyes when he sat us down on a couch in that small waiting room. He most tenderly drew for us both the picture of a normal heart and that of our baby boy. He explained that our baby’s heart was enlarged 3 times the normal size due to tricuspid valve dysplasia. He further explained that our baby’s lungs did not have proper room to grow due to this enlargement. He explained that the valve was not functioning properly so the blood was regurgitating back into the right atrium. The final blow was when he explained that the blood was flowing the wrong way through the chambers of the heart and that the only way it was still beating was through me. His eyes spoke the sorrow that was in our hearts. He told us he was worried about us continuing to carry the baby due to the risk it posed me. He warned of a condition that sometimes affects the mother called “mirroring” where my heart could be at risk of “mirroring” the conditions of the baby’s heart.
There’s no way to describe the magnitude or heaviness of the bad news he was sharing. There’s no way to convey the inconceivable shock, misery and heart-wrenching experience of learning that your baby is not healthy. I cannot describe how my mind simply would not let the notion sink in. I’m not even sure how we made it home after that appointment. I was numb and scared and, above all, broken. I could not imagine life without this sweet baby that was growing inside of me. My brain could not absorb the terms uttered to us that our baby was considered “incompatible with life” and that the outcome was “terminal”.
Nearly two weeks later, I was admitted to the hospital for an induction. I would labor for three days amid the other mothers in the birthing unit. The sound of babies crying would waft in and out of the room and torture my mind. I learned later that there was a small sign placed on my door–of a leaf with a teardrop–symbolizing to all the hospital staff that my baby would not be coming home with me.
The nurses that tended to me for those three days were amazing. When Landon finally arrived, quietly, on the evening of December 21st, 2006, my emotions came flooding out. Love poured over me even as I wept from the deepest resesses of my soul. My body shook with both joy and grief. Landon, sweet Landon, was born sleeping. We held him close, kissed him tenderly, and tried to honor him with all the love he deserved. While I would never get the opportunity to look into his eyes, I knew they are beautiful and perfect. His little body looked perfect. My husband and I clung to one another–as if trying to find strength and words. There were none. The nurse blessed Landon and wept with us. My parents came in to hold him and say their goodbyes. Oh they tried so hard to be strong for us too. My very stoic dad held Landon close and fought back tears (one of the only times I’ve seen my father cry). When it was time to let go, I felt a pain I had never known–a deep, unrelenting emptiness. I wondered if I would ever be the same. I wasn’t.