We were 4 days away from being induced. We were at 37 weeks! Today was our last appointment before we were going to meet our baby! I woke up to our dog Penny’s head resting on my belly. It was so sweet, I felt like her and the baby were going to be fast friends. After getting ourselves together, Mitch and I headed to the specialty clinic in Edina for our last growth ultrasound. Walking into the building, we met my nurse Julie who greeted us with a hug and smile, and I told her, “this will be our last time seeing you!” In the waiting room, my favorite sonographer Karen called my name and we headed back to the room.
As Karen put the ultrasound gel on my belly, I joked with her, reminding that we didn't know the baby's gender, saying “We've made it this far, don't screw it up now!” Baby showed up on the big tv screen in front of us and Deep down I knew what was wrong right away. Karen quickly measured my fluid pockets and then put the doppler on baby's heart – there was no sound, just a straight line of static. She said “there's something concerning, I have to get the doctor” and left the room. Mitch asked “what's wrong?” and I calmly said “there's no heartbeat,” not wanting to believe it. A minute later the doctor came in, as he put the wand on my belly he said, “Your baby doesn't have a heartbeat, I'm sorry” and left the room. I just started shaking, crying. Mitch stood up to hold me. I want to say we cried together, but that doesn't even begin to describe the deep pain we felt and shared in this moment. Karen snuck back in the room with tear stained eyes and wrapped us in hugs, as did Julie our nurse with blood shot eyes; they both had been crying in the hallway.
Things I remember hearing:
“I'm so sorry” “We don't know why this happened” “I could still see the structure of the baby's heart”
These wonderful ladies let us know we could leave whenever we were ready. I remember saying, “I don't want to leave this room because then it becomes real.” Eventually, we found the courage to put one foot in front of the other to walk out of the clinic. Walking out into the bright hot sun felt cruel. The sun felt too happy. Eventually we made the long, long drive home. At home, Penny went nuts when we walked in the house, I could sense her worry. In my closet, I stared at my hospital bag and my clothes, wondering what the hell to even pack to go to the hospital to deliver my dead baby. I took the nursing bras and tank tops out that now obviously wouldn't be needed. I took my clementine swaddle out of the diaper bag I had started packing for the hospital. None of the baby clothing I had seemed right to bring with, and I wasn't going to need my pump or anything else, since our baby wasn't going to be born alive. I remember looking around our house in just a daze.
Arriving at the hospital, Mitch parked. How I managed to get out of that car and walk into that hospital is beyond me. I remember thinking as we walked through the front doors, in tears, “Claire said the only happy reason you go to the hospital is to have a baby.” How angry I was at that thought. We took the elevator up to floor 3, familiar to us as we had been up to Labor & Delivery 3 times in the past week for extra monitoring, due to my high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia). Tiffani, the charge nurse came to get us and escorted us back to Birthing Room 6 – in the corner at the end of the hall. Tiffani let us know we could leave and come back, or just think about everything for a bit. We both didn't want to put off the inevitable. Eventually my doctor (Dr McPadden) came in and gave us hugs and we talked through everything. I just sat there with my eyes shut, numb, wishing I could wake up from this bad dream. I felt like I was going to get sick, getting more and more anxious for everything that was to come.
After what seemed like an eternity, nurse Kim got a hospital gown for me to change into and I got comfy in the bed. (as comfy as I could, I'm now 9 months pregnant knowing I'm about to labor & deliver a dead baby). Nurse Kim got my IV placed in my left arm, it stung so bad. Dr. Savargn had me lay on my side so that he could place the epidural. I slowly started feeling tingly and numb in some areas, it was crazy. A contraction monitor was also strapped around my belly. (How I wish there would've been a baby heartbeat monitor too.)
Then it was time to break my water to start labor. I had been dilated at 3cm for a few weeks already, so McPadden was hoping that breaking my water would get things going without anything else. When my water was broken, they noticed there was meconium in it, meaning baby had pooped in the womb. (We learned later that baby never aspirated it, so she passed peacefully.)
We decided that it was time to start making the awful phone calls. All of a sudden, I remembered that my older brother Lucas had flown to Vegas the day before for a big work conference. So, somehow my sister in law Claire became Mitch's first phone call. Mitch then called his mom, who also thankfully answered. Next, Mitch called my mom. Then he called my dad, who was the only one who it didn't immediately answer. My dad called back a little while later and Mitch let him know what was going on.
The next few hours, I labored down. I drank a ton of water, Mitch tried to take a nap. We saw an article about Crocs stopping production, which Mitch had to investigate. We played on our phones, I breathed through the contractions (I could feel them in the lower right side of my rib cage.) Every so often, McPadden came to check me. Around 3:30pm, I got more epidural medicine and I was progressing to almost fully dilated. Around 4pm, Claire came into the room to visit for a bit.
Around 5:30pm, McPadden checked and I was fully dilated. A few other nurses came in and things started getting prepped for delivery. I asked if there would be a nurse that could just take a few photos once baby was born on my phone. (My photographer Steph said she would be happy to photograph the birth but I decided against it. I wanted the room peaceful and with the least amount of people as possible.) I would let them know when I felt a contraction coming, still feeling them strongly in the lower right of my rib cage. Kim and McPadden argued about counting up to or down from 10. I asked them their middle names, thinking about how we were going to have to name a baby soon. Pushing was so interesting, trying to engage muscles I didn't know how to utilize or even feel. When I would start pushing, I would stare out the window and focus on the tree branches blowing in the wind. I had to put the obvious ending out of my mind while I was pushing, otherwise, I would just pretend to be pushing. I focused on wondering if we were going to have a little boy or a little girl. About halfway through pushing, a comment was made about the paint on Mitch's hands – he had been painting in the nursery the night before. He said, “Well at least I'll have the baby's room ready in time for the next kid!” (It was hilarious). Around 7pm our nurses changed. Nurse Marybeth was great at coaching me on how to push. When baby was finally coming, Mitch tried to sneak a peek, without anyone noticing, but McPadden totally caught him looking and pointed her finger at him and said, “You peeked!!!”
At 7:41pm, our little girl was born and McPadden put her on my chest. This was so surreal. She forgot to announce if it was a boy or girl, so she grabbed her back to check. As I was scrunched up, trying to look at her, I saw her umbilical cord stump and totally thought McPadden had gotten it wrong and that our baby was actually a boy! (We hadn't found out, but Mitch and I totally thought we were having a boy.) As we took in the first sights of our beautiful girl, I delivered my placenta and then dr took care of my stitches. Our baby's face was just so perfectly round. We started discussing names, Juniper was the first one that came to my mind and it just felt so fitting. He suggested another one that had been on our list, but that didn't feel right. She was Juniper. We then decided on Ann for a middle name, which is her grandma's middle name. Juniper Ann was here.
Honestly, this part of Juniper's birthday is the foggiest to me, as I write this 2-3 months later. Juniper was on my chest and Mitch and I just studied her. McPadden and the nurses got everything cleaned up. Eventually, Nurse MaryBeth scooped Juniper up off my chest to get her cleaned up. Then Mitch got to hold her. MaryBeth checked to see if I had enough feeling in my legs to get up off the bed and helped me to the bathroom. Once I got put together, MaryBeth helped me back to my bed. Coming out to the sight of Mitch holding our baby girl was just the sweetest. McPadden helped swaddle Juniper up in the orange clementine blanket I had brought with. I texted our photographer Steph that we were ready for her to come in (this was at 8:40pm). While Mitch held Juniper & Steph started taking photos of the two of them together, I quickly freshened up my makeup while in the hospital bed. Some may think this is vain, but I just wanted to look the best for my daughter, and knew I would treasure these photos for the rest of my life. Steph took a bunch of photos of Mitch and Juniper and then Mitch handed Juniper to me for some mom/daughter photos. Then we did some family pictures – some sitting on the hospital bed, and then we stood up for a few. Always in photographer mode, I suggested we switch spots for some to get the french doors in the background, rather than all our bags and stuff. (Steph got a laugh at that.)
Then it was time for our families to come in and meet their granddaughter/niece (this was just after 9:30pm). As Kim, Eugene, Caitlin, and my mom Lois walked in, I announced “Its a girl!” as happily as I was able. I learned later on that Kim gave me the weirdest look, she was still so convinced that we were having a little boy. Everyone got to check Juniper out and then took turns holding her. I asked where my dad, Dustin, and Claire were at and someone said “they went for a walk.” Eventually, dad, Dustin, and Claire came walking in, gave us hugs and took turns holding Juniper. I remember asking Claire, “Do you love her name?” because she had absolutely loved it when I shared it with her when I was around 15 weeks pregnant or so. I loved that Dustin gave us updates on Penny and that he wore an orange shirt to meet his niece.
Just before 11pm, Nurse MaryBeth let me know that she needed to check my bleeding and do meds. Our family took the cue to scoot out for a few minutes. I let Steph know that she was probably good to go, but that she needed a photo with Juniper before she left. I grabbed her camera and took a photo of her holding Juniper as well as a photo of MaryBeth with our baby. Then our families came back in to hang out with us. We sat and chatted, taking turns holding Juniper. I got to eat for the first time all day. At one point, I think I asked where Dad, Claire, and Dustin had went on their walk. It turns out that they were sitting out in my dad's car, charging their phones, and saw that the gas station had off-sale liquor just down the street. So they decided to walk down there and buy a 6 pack of beer, La Blatt Blue (Canadian beer of course), and enjoy some beers in my dad's car in the hospital parking lot. And of course by the time we were ready for them to come meet Juniper, the front doors to the hospital were locked and they had to walk around to the back to the ER entrance. We got some good laughs from this story!
Somehow the subject of Willie Nelson came up and Claire re-enacted the story of Mitch and their dog Willie.. I’m can’t really remember what else we talked about. I just remember saying over and over “she’s so pretty!”
Around midnight, our families decided it was time for them to head out. They gave us hugs and said goodbye to Juniper. Then we settled in for the night. Mitch got comfy in his reclining chair next to my hospital bed. I put a pillow between the bed and Mitch's chair and had Juniper sleep next to me in bed. The good part to a stillborn baby, you get to take rooming-in to a whole new level. MaryBeth asked how to leave the lights, and by that time Mitch was already snoring.
It was a long night. I didn't sleep well. I kept waking up to look at Juniper. Eventually I did fall asleep and then had bad dreams. I woke up around 6:15am to the most beautiful orange and pink sunrise shining through the windows, gladly shaking those bad dreams away. MaryBeth came in to check on me, help me to the bathroom, and to give me my meds. Once I was back in bed, Mitch eventually stirred and cuddled with me and Juniper on my hospital bed.
Around 7am, our nurse staff changed again, and a familiar face walked in – nurse Suzanne, that had monitored me the week prior. She loved how soft and smooth the bottom of Juniper's feet were, and would unwrap Juniper's swaddle to touch them every time she held her. Suzanne also decided that Junie needed to be her nickname. Around 9am, McPadden came in and asked how I was doing. Lindsay from Star Legacy Foundation also arrived. We had so many questions about calling the funeral home, paperwork, and all those other finer details. She brought a memory box along with a variety of things like a book, candle, necklace, etc. Lindsay also had brought with a selection of angel gowns. But of course, me being me, I had to make a comment about not having an orange dress to pick from. Suzanne went running from my room and came back in, with the sweetest little ORANGE angel gown! It was silk with sparkly lace flowers on it. Lindsay left shortly after this.
In the meantime, we decided we wanted to do some sort of dedication ceremony and attempted to contact our church's pastors. We couldn’t reach them so, we decided to get into touch with the hospital chaplain, Christi. We let our families know that we wanted them to come back to the hospital around noon. I asked Dustin to bring me my makeup brush I had forgotten to grab. We let the nurses know we didn't want any visitors until it was time for the dedication ceremony.
I asked the nurses to check out in the waiting room for Dustin and my makeup brush (two things that don’t belong in the same sentence), which the family all got a laugh out of. Suzanne came back and told us a “friend” Kim had a gift for us and that we needed it sooner than later. We said to have the gift come back but no visitors. Suzanne came back with an emerald and gold cross necklace, saying it was from our “friends Kim & Caitlin.” I asked “was their friend Eugene with them too?!” We giggled about this and told Suzanne that Kim and Caitlin were Mitch's mom and sister, Eugene was Mitch’s dad.
We took Juniper out of her swaddle and dressed her in her orange angel gown, along with her tiny pearl bracelet (I got a matching one to keep). Christi, the chaplain came in, dressed in a bright yellow floral dress, which set the mood so cheerfully. We looked through the little dedication program she had. She had even managed to find a tiny orange seashell to use to pour the holy water on Juniper, it was perfect.
Around 12:30pm, our families came in. Mitch and I sat at the foot of the hospital bed, I was holding Junie. I told them they wouldn't get to hold Juniper that day, she was all mine. Kim asked if we had gotten the necklace, that it was for Juniper to wear. Christi began the dedication ceremony, reading some beautiful Bible verses and pouring water over Juniper's head while I held her. Once that was finished, we gave everyone hugs and everyone said goodbye to Juniper. We thought we were going to be leaving shortly after.
After our families left, Suzanne checked my blood pressure again and surprise, surprise it was a pretty high reading and I needed to have a few lower readings before we would be allowed to leave. It was decided that I would also take a blood pressure medication over the weekend. Suzanne had already called in my other prescriptions to Target pharmacy, which they had called and said they were filled. With adding the blood pressure medicine, we decided to get them filled at Walgreens instead. We asked Suzanne to call Target to cancel my prescriptions there. When she did, they said I had already picked them up! Suzanne let them know I most definitely hadn't left the hospital. So then we joked around that she was stealing my pain meds because she's the only one who knew about my prescription being filled! Suzanne had a shorter shift and were sad to see her go so soon, Nurse Kim D took over for her.
Around 3pm, Mitch left to get us some Jimmy Johns for lunch and drop off my prescriptions. A lab nurse came to do a blood draw so I had Nurse Kim hold Juniper. Like every nurse, she took her over to the rocking chair. But I made Kim come back over to the side of my bed so I could see Juniper while the lab nurse did her thing. Mitch came back with our Jimmy Johns and we enjoyed a little late lunch together as a family.
Around 5pm, my blood pressure readings finally looked good. Kim suggested that we could leave the hospital through the ER entrance if we wanted. I said the front doors were fine, as I had bad ER memories (the trash can incident of 2017!) We collected all of our things and Nurse Julie S came in to hold Juniper when we left. That was the hardest thing I've ever done, was to hand off my baby for the last time, not even 24 hours after getting to meet her for the first time. I held Mitch's hand as we walked out of birthing room 6. We didn't cry but it was so hard. Thankfully we didn't run into anyone on the walk out and it was so hot and muggy outside. We gave Kim hugs and said thank you. Mitch cranked the AC, and I put my tiny pearl bracelet around the shifter knob. We drove to the Walgreen's drive thru to pick up my prescriptions. They took forever to get everything together, as we sat in the hot sun and the car didn't seem to get the least bit cooler. Finally, we headed for home. Once back into Cologne, we made a stop at the fire department so that Mitch could pick up a blood pressure cuff to keep tabs on me. Then, we came home, emptier than we had ever felt before. Getting out of the car was tough, in more ways than one. I came in the quiet house with Mitch's help and got comfy with an ice pack on the white couch. Mitch brought all our bags in and put everything away for me.
After visiting with our neighbors, the white couch became our home base. We started messaging people - a lot of friends had known I had an appointment that Thursday and of course got worried when I hadn’t responded all day. Then we decided it was time to share the news of Juniper’s birth on Facebook - this was important to me as I didn’t want anyone to feel as though we were ashamed of our daughter.
We posted: “After months of anticipation, it’s a GIRL!
Our sweet & precious Juniper Ann Feltmann was born into Heaven last night (08/09/18) at 7:41pm. We learned at an appointment earlier that day that our baby’s heart was no longer beating. She was beautiful and perfect in every way and we wanted to share her with everyone. “
In the days and weeks that followed, we were overwhelmed with messages, phone calls, visitors, food, gifts, and sympathy cards. We truly appreciated each and everyone reaching out, for all the thoughts and prayers. We want Juniper to be remembered more than just for the circumstances of her death.