I laid on my back in a dimly lit room. It was dead silent in the room except for the odd clicking and tapping sound coming from the computer next to me. My stomach was cold from the jelly that was spread on it, and my bladder felt as though it was about to burst, but I didn't care.
This was the day I had been waiting for since I saw those two pink lines appear. The day I had thought of when I fell to the floor in my bathroom, crying tears of joy at the thought of becoming a mother. This was it.
I kept sneaking glances at the ultrasound technician. She was in her mid-40s if I had to guess, with short dark hair and some pretty stylish glasses. She didn't have a smile on her face though; in fact, she looked like she was frowning at the screen in front of her.
"Don't go there," I told myself. "That's probably just her face. It has nothing to do with you or the baby. Relax."
But I couldn't relax. The tech scrunched up her face, almost as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing on her screen. She kept letting out little sighs that were so far from comforting that my eyes began to well up.
"Is everything okay?" I finally asked her.
"I'm just the tech dear, I'm not a doctor. I'm not allowed to disclose any information to you during this appointment."
"Oh, of course. No problem," I said with a slight note of panic.
The appointment ended and she wiped the goo from my swollen belly. The belly that I had for 20 weeks. The belly that I was now, without a doubt, worried for.
The next morning I woke up with the panic from the previous day's appointment having slowly subsided after a night's rest. As I made my coffee, mentally preparing to start my day, my phone rang. I looked down and saw it was my OBGYN calling and instantly I knew; I knew deep down in my bones that something was wrong.
The doctor wanted me to come in right away for an emergency appointment. She told me that my baby was sick and we needed to discuss it in person. I didn't have a husband or a boyfriend to drive me to the appointment; up until then, this had never bothered me.
I got into my car in an almost catatonic state and drove. I drove for what felt like hours yet mere seconds all at the same time. My mind was a mixture of blank and turmoil, alternating between denial and panic.
I sat in the chair in her office. The walls filled with posters of babies and happy moms, the color underneath a comforting shade of purple. There was a plant in the corner of the room—a fern maybe? I had never been good with houseplants; ironically, I could never keep them alive.
"MacKenzie, the baby is very sick," she said to me. "The ultrasound showed multiple large cysts on the kidneys and almost no amniotic fluid in your belly. Are you with me so far?"
I nodded my head, putting on my bravest face.
"Without amniotic fluid in your belly, the baby's lungs aren't able to develop properly. As I'm sure you know, without properly developed lungs, the baby's chances of making it past birth are extremely slim."
I didn't say anything for a few minutes. I just sat there, taking it all in. At this point, there wasn't much for me to say, or do for that matter. There was a woman in front of me telling me my baby was going to die. What can you say to that?
"We're going to send you in the next few days to talk to a genetic counselor and get further testing done. They'll be able to give you further information that we simply can't. I'm so sorry."
I didn't do anything in the days leading up to my trip to the hospital. I sat in my baby's room; it was gender-neutral since the tech couldn't see the gender on the ultrasound I waited five months to get. I touched little baby socks and held little baby blankets. There wasn't much in this room, but there was enough to remind me that my baby wouldn't be coming home.
The doctors at the hospital issued me an ID card that had my name, date of birth, health card number, and a little sticker on it that read "high-risk pregnancy." They might as well have slapped me in the face; it would have hurt less.
I was subjected to another ultrasound. They told me this one would determine the most accurate state of the baby's health. It took about two hours; enough time for me to let my imagination and anxiety run wild with possible outcomes. Maybe they have this all wrong. Maybe they got my ultrasound mixed up with another woman's? Maybe it's not as severe as they all think? Or maybe, my brain said quietly, the hard truth is you won't be bringing your baby home with you.
Another doctor's office, another doctor, another devastating blow. They told me that I needed to be induced tomorrow and to prepare for a stillbirth. I tried to repeat the words back to him for clarity, but they felt fuzzy on my tongue. Those words were never meant to be said.
I laid on my back on a hotel bed. The baby inside me was kicking and moving around considerably. My eyes weren't holding back the tears anymore but I didn't care. I just let them come now. Alone in the dark, I let my mind wander: What will tomorrow bring for us?
The day finally came. The day where I got to give birth to a baby that I had been so anxiously waiting to meet. This was the day every mother dreamt of. Except, at the same time, it wasn't. This was the day my baby would be born and also die.
The labor was painless and for that I was thankful. They had drugged me up so much that I was seeing cats walking around and a monkey dancing in the corner of the room. I knew it wasn't real, but yet it was oddly comforting to know that I was in an altered state; reality had been so cruel to me lately.
At 12:40 pm, on June 16th, I gave birth to a little boy. He weighed 2 pounds, 3 ounces, and was 33 cm long. The doctor placed him in my arms. He looked so small wrapped up in all those blankets. His eyes were shut but I could see that he had long eyelashes.
Underneath the knitted yellow hat he was wearing he had dark hair, just like mine. He had all his fingers and toes and the softest baby skin I have ever felt. I named him Jackson and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and despair hit me all at once.
We spent the night in the hospital, sleeping off the effects of labor drugs and exhaustion. They had taken him away for the night to let me have a full night's rest. I didn't see the point in this. I knew he wasn't going to wake me.
I woke up and reality sunk in. I'm being discharged today. I get to go home, but my son doesn't get to come with me. This is where we must say our final goodbyes, I thought.
The nurse brought him into my room and placed him in my arms. He still smelt like a baby. I put my hand to his cheek: a loving gesture. It was cold to the touch. He'd been gone almost 24 hours now, his body finally displaying the signs. You couldn't tell by looking at him though; he looked as if he was in a peaceful sleep. I like to think of him this way.
I told him I loved him, how I wished I could keep him.
I told him how I'll think of him daily.
I told him he was the sweetest boy I had ever laid my eyes upon.
I told him that I'll never forget.
The nurse came in again. I knew this was the moment I had to say goodbye and give him back. I handed him to her and instantly felt the hole forming in my heart. I didn't try and hold it together. I let the tears go and let my body shake uncontrollably.
"It's okay," I whispered to myself once I was alone.
I tried to remember that everything happens for a reason. I tried to remember that cliché saying of how it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It just made me angry. The world had shattered me and for that, I thought I would never be whole again.
Fast forward 8 years. I'm a mom of the greatest little boy, with a new baby boy on the way. I have a fiancée who is my soulmate in every sense of the word, and we've just bought our first family home. I spent the better part of my 20s broken by the loss of my first baby. I never thought that I would experience happiness, love, or motherhood if I'm being perfectly honest.
Miscarriage and stillbirth stories are rarely told.
They are often kept "hush-hush" as they are not "nice" things to discuss. You're right, they're not. They're raw, vulnerable and heartbreaking. They are some of the darkest moments that we live through. With that being said, the most important thing you can do to heal is to talk about it. Talk to your friends, your family. Blog about it. Journal about it. Sit with the emotions and let them wash over you.
There are days that I think about my first baby and I feel at peace. Other days I hear his name and dissolve into tears. That's okay. One way or another, we find our way out of the darkness and into the light once again.
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