losing Georgia


     My daughters due date is getting closer and that's supposed to be a super neat feeling, like one hundred Christmas mornings! But it's not and instead it's just like waiting for a bomb to go off inside my chest. Georgia was supposed to be born on September 23rd, but instead she was born on May 20th. She was born at 21 weeks, splat in the grey area of development when she was just old enough to require a death certificate and just too young to have functioning lungs.

     I've been trying to figure out what the beginning was. Just like I am trying to figure out when the end will be. The most painful moments seem to blend in with the most normal days, maybe for years to come. Sometimes when I am washing dishes my mind finds itself back on her birthday and I turn the water on as hot as it will go so I can focus on the burning sensation in my hands. Sometimes I just force myself to feel something else. Either way, I suspect everything in my life has been divided. I know about before Georgia was born and I know about after Georgia was born. Losing a baby, any child, is the nightmare you live in the shadow of from the day you become a parent. I've spent 8 years now being a mom, everyday fighting back the gnawing fright that someone or something awful is coming to take away the only truly good thing I ever did, my Avery. I wasn't there yet, in the fear, with my daughter Georgia. Conceiving was easy as pie. I was healthy and strong in my pregnancy. We named her Georgia Rae and each syllable felt perfectly hers. We bought stuff. I was feeling her tumbles every day. I was having the idyllic planned pregnancy I had long suspected wasn't in the cards for me. I had settled in to the hormonal, restless days of pregnancy. And so, I was blindsided when everything went slowly, then with blistering speed, off-course.

     A really sad story is always punctuated by elements of the absurd. Like the undignified way I realized, on the toilet, that something was not right. Something was... coming out, for lack of a gentler description, and way too soon. My rational brain went into a panic-induced suspended animation and I did laps around my house for a few minutes, holding my crotch, trying to decide who to call in a situation like this. I got it together enough to dial up my friend Teal (who seemed like a compromise between my husband and 9-1-1, in the moment) and from there things got truly surreal. The ambulance is coming! I can't feel the THING coming out anymore! The emergency operator tells my friend to (brace yourself) LOOK IN ME to see if the baby is coming out (which a few awkward moments later we established-it's not!) then there are paramedics, and everything is fine! I'm not bleeding! There is nothing in the birth canal! There's no pain! My blood pressure is normal!

     Then I feel stricken as I realize I absolutely must be going crazy. I actually hallucinated that something was protruding from my vagina. I'm mentally unsound, that is the only explanation. The paramedics are probably trying not to patronize me, the crazy pregnant paranoid woman, as they ask me to hop onto the stretcher for my obligatory trip to the ER. My friend, no doubt sensing the leisurely calm of my rescue team, puts my purse on my lap and tells me to call her when I get to the hospital. I feel like a tool, sitting up on that thing, wheeled down the curb, knowing my neighbors are watching my crazy person walk (roll?) of shame. I spend most of the ambulance ride thinking about what kind of apology gift you send to someone who just had to look inside you for no reason. Flowers? A gift certificate to see a movie with her boyfriend? As we ride along I send texts, I call my husband, I listen to the nice man as he takes my blood pressure again and tells me these kind of scares are pretty typical. It's probably a low hanging placenta...

    At the hospital (in another splendid display of the tragic absurdity I mentioned before) two nurses and a doctor spend about 5 minutes all consulting their iphone due date apps. They were trying to figure out if I was really eligible to head upstairs to OBGYN (20 weeks or more) or if I had to get wheeled behind a curtain beside the dehydrated homeless guy in the ER (less than 20 weeks.) Once their phones reach a consensus, no thanks to me blankly repeating "21 weeks. I am 21 weeks. I am due September 23rd. I am 21 weeks pregnant," I get to go upstairs to a bed and a really sweet nurse. Sweet nurse puts the heartbeat monitor on my belly bump and that hypnotic da-thump da-thump da-thump rapid fire baby heartbeat fills up my mind and the room and my body releases all the muscles I've been clenching for an hour. "See..." she says "everything is fine, relax." My husband Dave finds me, to all my senses he is a lifeboat, and we hold hands and we are okay, for the last moment for a long time.

     I'm not mad at Sweet Nurse for being wrong. She made an educated assumption. Sweet nurse looked really sorry and authentically sad when she pulled what felt like her whole arm out of me to say that I was actually dilated 2-3cm and my fluid sac was leaking. That pesky, leaky fluid sac was actually the THING I felt coming out to begin with. It had flopped down, been exposed to bacteria, then sucked back up before I knew what was happening. Stupid, stupid fluid sac. It would have been nice to have had another instant of hopeful confusion before I knew. But something way back in my brain, where I keep fragmented bits of text from countless hours on the internet, extracted some pregnancy article on early labor and I knew that all those symptoms together are irreversible. I knew that I was going to give birth very soon, and that my baby girl was going to die.

    I don't know, I guess I've read things or watched movies or heard stories told about those terrible, tunnel-vision moments.  I wish I was a good writer who could describe it in a meaningful way.  I wish I was a terrible writer who never had this story to tell. I know the sobbing was instantaneous and the rage. I felt my body so acutely, lying heavy in that bed in a puddle, and I hated it (the first flash of a disdain for my own flesh that I'm still fighting today.) I saw my husband start to cry. I felt my baby moving, spurred into waking by the stress and the prodding. I felt like clawing my own skin off. After a few minutes someone had the sense to take the monitor off my belly and Georgia's heartbeat was gone. What I felt then and for weeks after, and for a few moments every day since, was total failure. I had one real responsibility, one job, to keep Georgia safely inside me. To nourish and protect and hold her inside until she was prepared to join our family. And I failed. Not actively and not on purpose. I failed arbitrarily, for no reason. No one to blame and no good reason to hate myself. Like anyone ever needed a good reason.

     I knew she was in there, stretching out, kicking around, with no way to know what was coming at her. I knew she trusted me and I wondered if she'd be scared when she broke out into the light with no lungs, no warmth, no womb.

     Then there is all this... mess, in between. The prolonged discussion about taking an ambulance or driving ourselves to the other hospital where my OBGYN was waiting, the bag of mega-pads and hospital panties I got as a parting gift, the surreal drive over and the more surreal waiting room where I sat, painlessly laboring, clutching my pad-bag, in the room with other expectant moms and swaddled infants. I remember feeling like they were all incredibly insensitive with their healthy babies and ripe belly bumps. My husband held my hand and kissed my shoulder as I got my second elbow deep examination in as many hours. I left a puddle of blood on the table, dripping onto the floor, when I left in a wheelchair to be admitted to the maternity ward. My room was the last room left and the biggest, right next to the wards expansion zone where a construction crew drilled and hammered so hard the nurses and I yelled back and forth all the necessary information. They taped a yellow flower to our door to let staff and visitors know who we were. Do not smile and say congratulations to the people in this room. A pretty corsage marking a sort of quarantine.

     If you add in the fact that labor probably started the night before I went to the hospital, I was in it for three days. That is three times as long as I labored with my Avery, 8 years ago. The answer is no, the cruel joke atmosphere of the whole weekend never stopped escalating. For the first 48 hours I felt nothing but the bubbly tickle of Georgia tossing and turning, each roll reminding me that she was fine in there, where she was and couldn't stay. No contractions at all while they gave me dose after dose of medicine to speed up the process. I remained firmly stuck in just enough labor to be devastating, but not enough to see an end to the torture. I remember feeling like maybe it was a mistake. I was obviously fine and maybe if they just let me lie there for six to eight more weeks with my legs crossed she'd build those robust lungs I knew she was working on and we'd be fine! But to their credit no one gave me any reason to be hopeful. So we chatted idly about the talking heads on VH1 and Dave kept me in crackers and juice while we waited. I was encouraged to get up and walk around the ward, which after one quick stroll we realized was a terrible idea. Have you ever been in a maternity ward? It's all black and white photos of newborns and families bringing giant bouquets to day one parents. Then there is that giant picture window you can stroll by to gawk at the brand new, living babies. It's emotional Fallujah out there. I stayed inside my room after that.

     My nurses were a small team of efficient guardian angels. They were perfectly supportive, kind, and gentle women who stood quietly aside when I needed to cry uncontrollably on Dave, made sure I was prepared before each heartbreaking lurch forward in the process, and never let us feel abandoned in our grief. In a graceful confluence of events, each of my nurses shared that they had been through the same experience. One told me about her baby born at 19 weeks and the other shared that she had given birth to a stillborn child after a full-term pregnancy. Without them there I may not have known how okay it was to be bawling one moment, then watching Law and Order on our TV the next, sipping on a diet coke. I may not have known how vitally important it would be to hold my daughter when she was born and say goodbye. Without my angels I may not have thought to take pictures of my daughter that I keep with me all the time, taking them out to privately glow with pride because to me she is so, so beautiful. 
    I wouldn't want anyone I love to know about the quiet, no-fuss way you give birth to a baby who isn't going to make it. There is no team of nurses, no brightly lit machinery, no bustle. They didn't put me in stirrups like the first time around, and there was very little commotion or noise while I bared down. Just my husband holding my hand in the dimly lit room and the doctor/nurse team sitting gently on each side of the foot of my bed.  The only aspect reminiscent of my childbirth experience was the pain. Yeah, you'd think pushing out a fatally tiny infant would be a little... gentler? No such luck. Nicely played, Universe! Insult to injury and then some.

     There was the strangest time, seemingly endless, between when I felt her come out and when they put her in my arms. In that time I couldn't see her and my nurse told me she was beautiful, but... There is no reason to be precious about it so I'll just say that I had no idea what to expect and my teeth were chattering in terror while I waited to see what they were going to hand me. I didn't have any reason to know what a 21 week old baby would look like. I thought maybe she'd be blue and malformed. But then she was wrapped up in a blankie and placed in my arms and she was completely, outrageously, knife to the stomach perfect. She didn't look to me like anything but the little angel we'd been waiting for. I know it must be different, so much harder, for parents who lose children they raised and nurtured. But in the very second I held her, all the gaps were filled and I knew her. I knew her eyes, too young to open, and her exquisite fingernails and bulbous little knees. I could feel her and I knew she could feel me. I don't know how long exactly her heart beat for but I know she could hear me when I told her how sorry I was. I know she could hear me when I told her how much I loved her. I still know her now when I lie down at night and tell her I miss her. Or when I walk through the baby clothes at Target and tell her about all the onesies I like that I would have bought for her. Or when I pray and ask us to be patient because one day we'll see each other again.

The End but also a beginning.

* I'd like to give a shout out to the organization Luke Lives On for providing the hospital and myself with wonderful memory boxes to pay tribute to babies gone to soon. I think their mission to give the tenderness and respect to us parents and our lost children is amazing.



FriendJoanie said...

Thank you for this beautiful soul-baring piece on Georgia Rae and all you went through. I love you and can't tell you enough times how sorry I am you and Dave had to lose your lovely baby girl.
Love you, Joan

Vivian Dorflinger said...

Sarah and Dave, thank you so much for sharing. David and I are so sorry for your loss and we know Georgia is up with our Heavenly Father. May God continues to heal your family. I am so sorry we were there for you guys. With Love, Vivian and David D

chase said...

Oh Sarah, this left me in tears.

I'm so sorry for your loss of Georgia Rae and the suffering you, Dave and Avery have had to endure. My heart goes out to you. I hope other mothers and families that find themselves in similar situations are so lucky to come across this incredible and thoughtful piece of writing to help them make sense of something so senseless. Hugs.

Mandi said...

I saw your tweet today, and am ashamed to say that I didn't know this had happened to you. I'm so, so sorry you and your family had to go through this. I can't imagine. I pray that your hurt will ease over time! Much love to you.

Andrea Von Martin said...

Hello Sarah,
I finally was able to read your heart wrenching story. Joannie sent me a copy and I had to be emotionally ready. I am so sorry for your loss. Loosing a baby at birth is like no other loss. I know because I too lost my baby girl, Bethany, at birth in 2010. I am so thankful that she is in Heaven with Our Jesus, but there is not one day that goes by that I don't think of her. Your blog was very honest and real. Thank you for sharing. It is healthy to talk about that experience rather than lock it up inside your heart. We talk about Bethany often and my daughter knows she has a sister in Heaven that she will meet some day. We found out I was pregnant again one year after loosing Bethany. We now have a healthy baby boy and I truly feel he is our gift from God. We can never understand why God takes our babies so early but I trust that God loves us and has wonderful plans for us... We get to look forward to Heaven more so than othan others because we have someone so prescious waiting for us. Keep strong and hold on to God's promises. May He bless you in ways you can not even imagine.