Hope Remains: A Mother's Story

Its been one week. Almost to the hour. One week. How much can change. How life can be completely altered. But the story doesn’t begin one week ago. Our story has been set out longer than we were ever aware. Before conception. God had a plan. Unknown to us. A perfect plan. A plan that altered our life as we know it but ultimately brought glory to Him. God had us in the palm of His hand every second and it wasn’t until one week ago, that we realized it.

Here is our story…. Conception. I don’t need to go into detail, but it happened. A life. A life that had a purpose beyond what we could fathom in our own heads. We dream, we plan, we expect. But there was another plan. A good one. A difficult one. One that even now, if I knew the whole plan from the beginning, I would still allow to happen. Probably not something a grieving mother would normally say or think but His plan was SO much better than ours.

With any story, there is an introduction. Our introduction began when we learned we were unexpectedly pregnant last September. Five kids….five. How were we going to do this? This changed a lot. While the shock never seemed to settle, we were excited. Our children were thrilled. We were soon introduced to our new son. We decided on a name. Macklin August. He was perfect. He grew and grew and the weeks went by with much excitement. The kids prayed for him every night by name and had many kisses and “I love you, Macklins” for my belly daily. Our plans had begun. Plans for a new vehicle, plans to repurchase everything we had previously given away, plans to bring our new little man home to his brothers and sister who couldn’t wait to meet him. There were nights of feeling baby kicks and hiccups, watching mommy’s belly grow bigger and bigger and the joy from the latest ultrasound picture where we got a little glimpse of this little life growing so beautifully. Things were perfect. While my body was clearly exhausted from having now, 5 babies in 6 years, I pushed through. I pushed through the constant pain of carrying my boy. My body was not feeling the greatest, but it was doing its job. He was healthy and growing, so I kept on, telling myself that every ache, pain and early contraction would all be worth it. I knew it would. I’ve done this before. There was nothing different about this pregnancy than the others. Every test and ultrasound revealed perfection. And so we planned some more.

God’s plan, I now see, started to reveal itself about two weeks ago. Just after I hit the 30 week mark, I started getting this feeling that I needed to be ready. I needed to get my home ready, my supplies ready. I searched for all of the “stuff” we still needed, started organizing, started cleaning and preparing my home. There was a small chance that my body may begin labor sooner than full term so I wanted to be ready if that came. I washed baby clothes. I unpacked diapers. I prepared my nest. I wasn’t expecting to go into labor anytime soon, but I was ready if I did. I was coming up on 32 weeks when things got concerning. After lots of early contractions, I had a test come back saying that it was possible I could go into labor in the next two weeks. After a fetal monitoring test and a quick ultrasound on Tuesday, we were relieved that everything was fine and nothing was concerning. I got a quick glimpse of Macklin’s face during the ultrasound and was thrilled to see his chubby little face. He was SO cute. As cute as you could look immersed in fluid, but still adorable. My heart filled and my excitement grew to meet him. My friend and doula Emily awaited good news that baby would stay put a little longer. She was headed to Phoenix for the weekend and I jokingly promised that I wouldn’t have a baby while she was gone.

May 9th, 2015. That Saturday will forever be seared in my mind. I woke that morning to the kids in my room asking for the usual breakfast items and tv shows turned on. Chris had left early that morning for church. He was due back around 9. I made it through the morning and was anxiously awaiting my husband’s arrival so that our day could begin. He walked in the door that morning with a beautiful bouquet of brightly colored daisies. My favorite. Along with a beautiful card that professed his love and appreciation for me as the mother of his children. Mother’s Day was tomorrow. An early surprise was appreciated and loved. We started the day. Daddy headed outside to mow the lawn. I headed to the back yard with the kids to play. Midway through the morning I received a text from a friend. Ironically, I hadn’t saved this number in my phone so I was little embarrassed to ask the person who they were. It was Mandy. Ah yes, Mandy, the lovely soul whom we had met the day Chris and I got married. Who made me so beautiful the day I married my love. She was my hair stylist. I still blame her for my husband’s desire to see me with long, curled blonde hair. Mandy has been my friend since. I knew her story. One of heartache and pain when she lost two babies over the years, one full term. My heart adores her and her strength. Most of the time, when I talk with Mandy, its over Facebook messenger. I have never actually had her number. Once I confirmed her identity and saved her number, she had asked me if we wanted her adorable little yellow playhouse for our kiddos. We accepted and soon brought this cute thing into our back yard. The kids loved it. My heart was full watching them play. In the playhouse there is a little flower box. Mandy had a few artificial gerber daisies that could fill it, adding to its cuteness. She didn’t know that gerber daisies were kind of my thing. Its was a beautiful addition to our yard. My neighbor and her two boys came over to play and we laughed because we were starting to look like a daycare. How amazing this will be when all five of my babies can run and play back here. My heart was full. Soon after, we decided to head to Target for some groceries. We packed up the kids and went. I was feeling good. Oddly, good. We walked Target and got to the baby section. Perfect, I had a few more things to purchase to be officially ready for baby. A few more onesies, some swaddling blankets and all of the supplies I needed for breastfeeding. We walked the aisles and I told the kids to pick out a blanket for Macklin. It would be the first one he would use the hospital. A gift from his siblings. They were excited and picked an adorable, soft blanket littered with animals. We soon headed home with a large haul of groceries and baby supplies. The fridge and cabinets filled with food. My room with the rest of the essentials to bring home my little boy. We were ready. I was 32 weeks today. Our goal was to make it to 34 weeks without my sporadic contractions becoming regular. We were doing okay.

Around 5:30, I decided it was time for me to eat dinner. I was pretty tired, so I grabbed some food and headed to my room to put my feet up. Macklin had been unusually quiet today. He was normally always moving and squirming. His kicks were strong and purposeful. I figured he was quiet because I had been up and moving all day. Being busy on other things and not really noticing any movement. I wasn’t worried. I knew I needed to get off my feet, eat some food and surely within minutes his usual activity would return. I facetimed with my mom for a bit and told her all about the stuff we got at Target and how I was officially ready for Macklin to come. The shopping bags sat next me on my bed. I got off the phone with my mother and threw on Netflix for a bit. I ate and watched my show. After about 30 minutes Macklin still had not moved. Chris had come in and I told him I was concerned that he was so still. He brushed it off saying that he was probably sleeping. I supposed that was an acceptable reason. I asked for a big glass of juice and proceeded to do all of the tricks I knew to get him to move. Laid on each side, even physically pushing on my belly to get him to react. He was a strong boy and very rarely would allow me to push on him without giving me a good, strong kick back. This time was different. I could feel where his little butt was and gave my belly a good push. I literally felt him float to the other side of my stomach. No kicks, no reaction. I continued to push on my belly for a few minutes. Something wasn’t right. The stillness continued. My heart started to beat faster and a began to sweat. I called for Chris and told him I was paging one of the midwives. Within minutes, Shawn, my midwife called me back. I explained the situation. I told her I did everything I knew how to do. Being a doula and knowledgeable on birth, she trusted me when I told her that something wasn’t right. She told me to head to labor and delivery and she would be on standby to hear what was going on. I hopped out of bed, told Chris I was leaving and grabbed my keys. He was on the phone trying to get someone to the house to be with the kids. I was in a panic and ended up leaving him at home knowing he would only be a few minutes behind. I couldn’t wait. I needed to go NOW. I sped out of town, my heart racing. I called Emily, who was joyfully laying by the pool in Arizona and not expecting a call from me. She picked up and answered with an already concerned tone. I choked out as many words as I could to explain what was happening. I hung up with her and just started to pray. “Please Lord, let this be nothing. Let me be wrong.” After a few minutes, I knew I couldn’t walk into the hospital alone. I didn’t know how far behind me Chris was, so I called my friend Katie. She lived just minutes from the hospital and I knew she would be able to pick up and leave if I needed her. I told her what was happening. She was a about a half hour from the hospital but turned around and told me she was on her way. I started to feel stupid. I’m getting my friends and family in a panic about this and its probably nothing. As I drove, I continued to poke and prod at my belly hoping for one kick and then I could turn around and call all of this nonsense off. I pulled up to the ER entrance and power walked my way through the halls and up to L&D. I got the front desk where two nurses were waiting for me. Shawn had called them and they were expecting me. The two nurses were friendly and kind but I received some concerning looks from the other nurses behind the desk. I tried really hard not to say something to them. They weren’t making my anxiety any better. As we got into the triage room and the pleasant nurses started making small talk. I calmed down a little. I laid on the bed and then began the interrogation of the necessary questions. Necessary, yet in this moment, very annoying. I starred at the heart monitor and inside my head I was yelling at her to shut up and put the damn thing on my stomach already. She soon grabbed the monitor and placed in on my stomach. I knew it may take a minute to determine where he was. I made her job easier and pointed to where he was. I could feel him. She put the monitor in the place I directed her to. Silence. The seconds went by. She moved it around. No, I told her. HE IS RIGHT HERE. I showed her again. Silence. Seconds passed. I looked at up her and was ready to ask for the stupid monitor myself. She must have been doing something wrong. She handed off the monitor to the other nurse. More silence. They told me he was possibly in bad position to find his heartbeat. They would do a quick ultrasound to be sure.

No. No. No. What is happening?

One of the nurses brought in an ultrasound machine. She tried to warn me that she wasn’t an ultrasound tech and she may not be able to see anything. The first thing to pop on the screen was his face. I was oddly comforted by the image. He still has a face. He must be fine. Okay, now find his heart. The images were moving quickly as if she was trying to avoid me seeing something. She turned to me and said she couldn’t see much because his arms were in front of his chest. Okay, now, I’m not stupid. I’ve had dozens of ultrasounds and could probably tell you just as much as you could tell me about what to look for. I wanted to call her out right then and there but I couldn’t speak. She said she was going to page the OB on call and have him come and take a look. My chest got heavy. The tears started. I was waiting to wake up from the awful nightmare unfolding before my eyes. I grabbed my phone and called Chris. “WHERE ARE YOU?!” He was right down the road and could see the hospital. “YOU NEED TO GET UP HERE NOW!” “I’m coming. Seven minutes.”

The OB walked in, a sweet man, thin with harry potter-type glasses. I looked to him for some sort of confirmation. Maybe the nurses were just wrong. He would find the heartbeat. That’s his job right now. I asked to wait until my husband got in the room. I knew this was the time we got an answer. Chris walked in two minutes later. His eyes met mine. Tear-filled and panicked. All I could do was shake my head. I was able to choke out “They can’t find his heartbeat.” A minute later, Kate walked in. She stood next to me and we waited.

The doctor came over and started to look. It didn’t take long. He put the image of Macklin’s heart on the screen. It didn’t move. Nothing. Silence.

I started to shake. I got hot.

No. What is happening? No. Oh. My. God.

I looked around the room and everyone was crying.

This really just happened.

This is not in my head.

I am not dreaming.

Oh. My. God.

I’m not sure there is even a word for what I felt in that moment. Somewhere between shattered, shocked and destroyed. I kept waiting to wake up. Because that’s what is supposed to happen. You always wake up before the worst part of the dream, before you hit the ground. I wasn’t waking up. Dammit, why won’t I wake up?

It took about 20 minutes for me to breathe normally. After expressing their condolences the nurses and doctor left. Chris and I sat there in utter disbelief. Kate walked out to call Emily. I grabbed my phone and knew we had to start making some very difficult phone calls. I can’t even speak how I am supposed to repeat the phrase “the baby died” to multiple people. The first person I called was my mom, who I had just spoken to no more than an hour ago. She picked up with her usual tone and the second she heard me speak she asked in a panicked voice what had happened. “Mom, something happened. I’m at the hospital and the baby isn’t alive.” Wait, did I just say that? After that, all I remember was hearing screaming on the other line and I set my phone down on the bed and walked out of the room. Chris needed to handle that because I couldn’t. Outside I saw Kate. I didn’t even know what to say. “I can’t do this” I think I said.

The next half hour or so was a blur. The nurses said they would take us to a room to settle in for a bit. Chris was still on the phone and Kate had to make some calls as well. The nurse walked me to my room. A similar room to the ones I had delivered two of my other babies. I looked around at the beautiful room, the birthing tub I had my daughter in, the familiar decor and smells. Memories came rushing back. But this time was different. I feel to my knees beside the bed and wept. What. Just. Happened.

Within a few minutes, people started coming into the room. Kate, followed by her husband and our good friend, BJ, who I was so glad was there. Chris needed him. Our pastor came and prayed. My midwife Shawn had arrived with tears in her eyes. The nurses came back in also looking like they were trying to keep it together. And then the conversation started. Actually, it was more just everyone sitting in silence staring at me. I didn’t know what to say. How was I supposed to be reacting right now? The tears came in waves with moments where the only thing I could say was “what happened??? He was fine. I was just here 4 days ago and HE WAS FINE. WHAT HAPPENED???” No one could give me an answer. The doctor wasn’t able to see anything obvious on the ultrasound so it was a mystery at this point. I kept questioning that it MUST have been something I did wrong. Did I not drink enough water? Did I roll over on my stomach when I slept? Will we even find out the answer? They explained that its possible that after delivery it may be possible to see right away otherwise an autopsy could be done.

Did they just say autopsy? An autopsy on my child…what the hell is going on?

Okay, so now what? I have to have this baby. I have to deliver my dead baby. I have to tell my children that their brother is dead. I’m going to hold my dead child.

All everyone kept telling us that we didn’t need to make a decision right now.

Decision? What decision? I had to make decisions now? What was there to decide?!?!? He’s dead. There’s nothing I can do. The decision has already been made.

As we sat and talked with Shawn and the nurses, I was given options about what do now. I could go home. No, I’m not going home. I could stay. Yes, I need to stay. I can deliver tonight. Or tomorrow.

The OB had informed us that the baby had flipped and was sideways. A part of me was relieved to hear that because my instant thought was to get a C-section. I was terrified. I cannot go into labor and deliver this baby. They told me that a breech delivery was fine to do vaginally. He was small and things would probably move quicker. I may regret a C-section in the days to come. I didn’t care. I needed to get through this part as fast as possible. I didn’t know what to do. There were so many options that I just wanted to take the easiest one. I needed some guidance. Someone to tell me what to do. No one here was going to do that. Mandy. I need to call Mandy. She will know what to do. She’s done this before. And in a moment I knew that was the reason that after months of having not talked to Mandy or even having her number, that today just happened to be the day I had already connected with her and had her number saved on my phone. Thank you, Jesus. I grabbed my phone and called her, asking where she was and if she could come help me. “I’m on my way” she said and some relief came over me. Mandy could answer my questions. The minutes past and the shock and disbelief were still burning my insides. We continued talking about options and how we would handle this next step. Mandy came in and hugged me tighter than I’ve ever been hugged. I buried my face into her chest and sobbed. “I don’t know what to do, what am I supposed to do?” I cried. She told me I didn’t have to decide anything right now and that we can do whatever we wanted. Can I go back to yesterday? Is that an option? Can I feel my baby kick? Can I wake up now?

The OB came back in and discussed the C-section option that I had originally said that I wanted. Again, he agreed, a vaginal delivery would be best. He wanted to do one more ultrasound to confirm the baby’s position and then we could make the decision from there. He explained that if baby was breech or sideways, there was a possibility of moving him back into the head-down position. I agreed and they wheeled the machine in again and he sat and looked. Baby was sideways. The next five minutes were horrible. His hands pushed deeply into my swollen belly, feeling for my lifeless child. He pushed and shoved and I felt pain that I had never imagined. It wasn’t labor pain. It was the kind of pain that your aren’t supposed to feel when you are pregnant. As the minutes when by, I tried not to scream, and the doctor confirmed that the baby was back in position and we could go ahead with a vaginal delivery. Again, I was a little disappointed. I just wanted a C-section. I CANNOT DO THIS. I couldn’t intentionally put myself in a situation where I felt like I would just be adding fuel to this burning fire in my heart. I reluctantly agreed to start the induction process. I would be given Cytotec, a medicine placed in my cervix to soften it and hopefully initiate labor. It was getting late into the night, probably around 10:30. I was told to try to sleep. Let the medicine do its job.

By this point, Chris’ mom had arrived, and Kate, BJ and Mandy were all ready to hunker down for the night with us. As I started to process what was happening, my tears slowed, my heartbeat returned to normal and I was ready to do this. I was going to have this baby. I kept thinking about how weird it was to have all of these people just sitting around my room, waiting for me to have a baby. If he were alive, this wouldn’t be the case. We just sat. We talked. BJ provided some much need comic relief to break the tension. After a few hours, everyone’s eyes started to get heavy. I watched them start to fade but never once did they complain. They sat and prayed and waited. Contractions had started a little and I needed to get out of bed and do something. I asked for the birthing tub to be filled. I got in, my husband by my side, dim lights, lavender oil diffusing. Normally, this would have been the perfect birthing environment but today, we talked about the impending birth of our deceased son. The questions still lingered. What happened? Did I do something wrong? I was consistently met with answers. No, you didn’t do anything. We don’t know what happened. We just had to wait. We will know eventually.

We both admitted that we were praying a miracle would take place and that he would come out crying.

The hours passed and eyes got heavier. Contractions never increased so around 2:30am another round of cytotec was placed. I was only a couple of centimeters dilated. Frustrated. Tired. The nurses made up a couple of rooms for everyone to get some sleep. This wasn’t happening as fast as we had thought so we knew everyone needed to sleep for a bit. Everyone went to their sleeping areas or back to their house for a few hours. I tried to sleep. Maybe dozed off for 20 minutes. My mind was racing. What was going to happen? What would he look like? How was I going to hold a dead baby? MY dead baby. I can’t do this….

A few hours later, everyone returned, a little rested but ready to stand by us. It was Sunday. Mother’s Day. I felt guilty. Here were all of these mothers. In my room, taking care of me when they should be home getting breakfast in bed and getting love from their children. Instead, they were here, with a mother about to face her worst fear. I was thankful. SO thankful.

By the morning, I was checked again. Not much progress. I decided to just get this over with. Lets get some Pitocin and an epidural. If I was going to deliver this baby, I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want the pain to distract me from being in the moment. The worst possible moment that I knew I needed to face. The pitocin was started, the epidural put in. Then we waited some more. I felt relief that my body was working and I could rest a little. Shawn broke my water and was a little concerned about how much fluid was there. It was a lot. Not really normal. Possibly a clue. There were a couple of times of “false alarms” when I felt like something was happening but really wasn’t. I was tired. Time seemed to stand still.

11am. The contractions were getting stronger. Shawn had told me that I didn’t need to dilate all the way to 10 because of how small he was. We were shooting for 8. A few minutes later she checked me. 6 ½. She looked me in the eyes and said, if you want to try and push, he may come down. Crap….this was it.

I gave a little push and she confirmed that he was coming down. At that point, I knew that this moment just needed to be Chris and I together. Everyone left and there we were. Facing it all. The contractions got harder. I got upset because I was feeling everything. I asked that the epidural get turned up but after a few minutes, it never took. I was angry. No, I didn’t want to feel this. Make it stop. Shawn and Tammy the nurse encouraged me to just hang on a little bit longer. It would be over soon. I started to “doula” myself in my head. Breathe. The pain is good. My baby will be here soon. Push through the pain. And so I did. Between sobs I pushed with everything I had. I looked up into Shawn’s eyes as they filled with tears.

I felt his tiny little head leave my body….then shoulders and finally feet.

11:41am. Mother’s Day. Macklin August was born into the arms of Jesus.

“We have our answer” Shawn said.

I looked down to see his cord wrapped so tightly around his neck three times and a true knot. His cord was uncommonly long. The nurse said she hadn’t seen anything like it twenty years.

Now we know.

There was nothing that could have been done. Nothing I did wrong. A random accident.

She unwrapped the cord and held him up. I looked at my perfect son. Dark black hair, ten fingers, ten toes, an adorable little noise and a perfect little face that I had just seen days prior. She placed him on my chest. I sobbed. Chris sobbed. It was finished. Chris tearfully cut his cord and this little boy was no longer a part of my body. I had birthed him the same way I had birthed his brothers and sister. I felt the same pain I would have felt if he was alive. He was brought into this world no differently. He was a stillborn, but he was still born.

We held his little body, still warm from my womb. We kissed him. We snuggled him. Chris walked out to let the others in the hallway know he was here. I later found out that in the moment he told them that Macklin was here, the heavens opened up and it started to downpour outside. Heaven was weeping for our child.

Everyone slowly entered the room and came over to see our precious boy. We passed him around the room and allowed everyone to hold him.

He was SO loved. Not just by his parents, but by so many others. Love was all he knew. From conception to death.

Soon, it was time for Macklin to meet his brothers and sister. This was the part I was dreading. What would they say? What would they do? Do they even understand what just happened? Chris left the hospital and went home to get the kids. He explained to them what happened and that baby Macklin was born but wasn’t alive. They would get to see him but he wouldn’t be coming home with us. My heart broke as my children entered the room and laid eyes on their small, silent baby brother. They had somber faces and asked a few questions about his appearance. Isaiah was quick to ask if he could hold him and spent a lot of time examining his hands, feet, and mouth. He had no fear. This was his brother. He treated him the same way he had with all of the other babies he came to visit at the hospital. It was heartbreaking to watch and I’m still not sure if they totally comprehend it all. Isaiah and Carsten get it. They know he is gone. They know he is in heaven and they tell me every day that they miss him.

I do too, sweetheart. I do too.

As the hours passed, people came and went.Grandmas and Grandpas held their grandson and cried tears of sorrow for theirchildren.Tears were shed and powerful prayers were prayed. I cried. I wept. I smiled. I laughed. I went through every emotion possible in the matter of hours. Macklin stayed in someones arms every minute.

As night arrived, we were told that the people from the funeral home would be coming by to discuss the next step. And now we need to plan a funeral…how I am supposed to do this? Todd from our local funeral home came. He knew our family. He had buried our loved ones before. He let us know that we were in no rush, that Macklin could even stay the night with us. The only concern was the the quality of Macklin’s little body was quickly deteriorating. We were welcome to keep him but his body would continue to peel skin and may not look the same in the morning. My heart ached. How was I going to say goodbye already? We had spent roughly seven hours with our baby and it was time to let him go. Chris and I agreed that, while difficult, we were okay with letting Todd take him to the funeral home that evening.