Friday, September 27, 2013

Pregnancy, Delivery, and Parenting After Infant Loss

Being pregnant after a loss is different.  I've lost my innocence and naivity - that happy place that assumes all pregnancies end with a healthy baby in your arms.  While I had miscarried before, it was always early on.  I was heartbroken each time, for sure, but had only a few weeks to bond with the baby before it was gone. I used to think if I made it past 8 weeks I was in the safe zone.

I am not invalidating the pain that comes with miscarriage AT ALL, because it is real and great.  In fact, I consider my ectopic pregnancy to be one of the hardest trials I ever encountered - to arrive at the hospital in great pain, already in love with the child inside, only to awake without a baby - or a fallopian tube.  But for our family, losing Bentlee in the 2nd trimester really was our most tragic moment.

Thanks to my hyperemesis I threw up so much I needed to go to the hospital's Infusion Center every day for IV fluid nutrition.  My veins would blow and sometimes I would get poked 7 or 8 times in one day.  I was miserably sick but thrilled to be expecting another miracle! The whole family really bonded with Baby Bentlee (whom we found out was a girl at only 13 weeks thanks to weekly ultrasounds).

Dan was off of work due to back surgery and would drop me off at the hospital and then take the kids (at the time they were 9, 6, and 1 1/2) to the park where they would feed the ducks.  The kids really stepped up to help with household duties and caring for Dean, who was just a toddler, and getting their schoolwork done.  We loved this baby.  Life revolved around her.

Finding out she had died was devastating, to say the least.  I was numb for months - I felt emotions (in fact, at any given time I could be happy, sad, angry, tired, grateful, and bitter at the exact same moment) but I hardly functioned.  Delivering a baby I knew was dead is more difficult than anything I had ever encountered. Even the physical pain of delivery was greater than any other.

It took a long time to move past the "I need to be pregnant again, NOW!" stage.  I found that once I surrendered Bentlee, and all my other children, to God, I began to heal.  We were going to trust Him and see what He had in store for our family.

Finding out, almost 2 years after my daughter died, that I was pregnant again actually came as a shock.  We believed God had told us we were done and that I was to have surgery for my endometriosis pain (hysterectomy).  With severe endometrial tissue build up, an erratic and unpredictable cycle, and only one tube, the doctor said we were very unlikely to have more children.

So there we were again - hyperemesis, severe enough to require IV nutrition (although, praise The Lord, not daily, only a few times a week), daily injections of blood thinners (they believe Bentlee died from a blood clot and it is why I've miscarried 8 times now), weekly doctor appointments, weekly shots to prevent preterm labor, crazy tons of throwing up, and limited activity.  I was placed on modified bedrest pretty early on, 16 weeks I think.  So my hubby bought me a wheelchair - that way I could still go to my Bible Study or shop for Christmas gifts.

This pregnancy was different than any before.  I was afraid to feel joy. Afraid my happiness would end in despair at any moment.  I kept thinking if I didn't let myself love the baby, didn't bond with it, I wouldn't hurt so much when it died.  So there was no planning - nursery colors or clothes or baby registries.  I didn't head to the garage and dig through our baby gear and take stock of what we had till the 8th month!

At 6 weeks I found out we were blessed with twins! And that I had a subchorionic hematoma - bleeding in the placenta.  This is normally not a big concern, however I was on bedrest 5 months with Dean, our 3rd child, and he almost died, due to this.  The hematoma was large enough to make a hole in the placenta and threaten the baby's life. So I was rightfully fearful.

The hematoma went away and resolved itself around 8 weeks, the same time we found out one of the babies did not have a heartbeat.  By 11 weeks along, the 2nd baby was gone - Vanishing Twin Syndrome they call it.  Was this is, God, my heartbreak this time?  Would everything be okay from here, or was this an indication of more pain to come?

We did the only thing we could do - trust in The Lord.  Every minute of every day I clung to Him and begged for strength.  I drew near to God and asked Him to ease my anxiety.  There were many trips to MAC triage - preterm labor, fears the baby was not moving, paranoia - especially on Bentlee's birthday! The fear/worry/anxiety is all-consuming, I remember telling my husband many times "This isn't worth it.  No baby is worth this emotional turmoil." (I was wrong of course, I see that now.)

Despite my plan to the contrary, I fell madly in love with this child.  My son. My Baby Brucie. With each kick and ultrasound I bonded more and more.  I do not love this child MORE than my other children, but I do love him differently somehow.  There is unexplainable hope and healing in this little life, which I have come to realize is more precious and more fragile than I ever knew.

The rest of the family loved him as well.  Dan was stoic and protective, as fathers are, and the girls would pray for him and draw him pictures and sing to my belly.  This child was a bona fide family member already.

I expected a preemie, like all my others, so it was not surprising to be in labor at 30 weeks.  It was painful to be given a shot and some meds and sent home every time.  I kept thinking "But babies only die IN me, not out!!"  My other children, despite being born early and having some health challenges, were alive.  I didn't trust my body.  I really struggled to trust God.  He knew this and graciously met me where I was at.

So many people were praying for the safety of Baby Bruce - how encouraging to see The Body at work! Could it be possible, Lord, that You intend for us to have a happy ending?! I know that God can be glorified in ANY and ALL outcomes, so I was fearful we would lose Bruce as well.  I mean, if it was God's plan with Bentlee, could it be so with Bruce as well? I knew He would carry me through any outcome, so I found peace in that.

Despite being sent home from the hospital 11 times in 3 weeks (yes, I was in labor, contracting and slowly dilating) we barely made it there on time after my water broke!! I made it to almost 38 weeks! Just 2 hours after my water broke, and only 90 minutes after arriving at the hospital, and less than an hour after my mom and sisters got there, Bruce made his debut!

God was in every detail and protected us both.  I remember begging for an epidural, despite being on Heparin and having a blood clotting disorder.  Bruce was born before the bloodwork was back from the lab.  It went so fast I never had time to get the okay from the anesthesiologist for an epidural.  I believe God was protecting us, as I have had complications with that in the past.

For the first time ever I had a newborn baby on my chest.  I snuggled him and nursed him and just kept him close.  This was my 5th delivery yet the FIRST time the baby was healthy and not whisked off to the NICU.  In fact we did not even weigh him or clean him off for a few hours.  I cried.  9 months worth of tears. 2 and a half years worth really.

"Delight in The Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalms 37:4
This gift really WAS the desire of my heart! Oh, how I am blessed! I love this child! Again, not more than the others, just differently.  With a new appreciation and a great healing - letting go of such intense grief.

I cannot describe the bond I have with Bruce, but it is so special.  He's a momma's boy - no other child preferred or needed me the way he does.  I cherish this - it's as if he knows how much his mom needed him to be alive.  He is NOT a replacement for Bentlee (actually, I was very happy he was a different gender than her) but I do believe he's a gift from above, as all children are, to heal and bond our family.

The grief of losing a child (or 9 in my case) never goes away, but it can be overpowered by a different emotion - love, gratitude, being blessed.

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