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  • Writer's pictureJen Chappell

Share Your Story Tuesday- Charlotte Elizabeth Carnaghan

Written by Charlotte's mom, Heather

I don’t get blindsided easily because I tend to plan rather obsessively, but Charlotte managed to surprise me. My husband, Ian, and I weren’t planning to have a third child. I had always wanted to have a girl, but after Jack and Sam were born, we were happy with our little family and stopped consciously trying for more children. In February, I began feeling nauseated. I never experienced morning sickness with either of my boys, so I didn’t think it was anything more than a cold. It didn’t occur to me that this could be something more until I sped off to the bathroom and a fellow teacher joked, “Uh oh, here comes number three!” That evening, I took the test in our bathroom as the boys pounded on the door. Moms of toddlers aren’t allowed locked doors, so Jack and Sam knew something was up when the knob wouldn’t turn. A pregnancy test takes about two minutes to show a result. In those 120 seconds, I realized just how much I wanted this baby. I imagined telling Sam he would be a big brother just like Jack. I imagined telling Ian he would be a daddy again. I imagined holding that precious, sleepy, intoxicating baby-smelling little person against my chest. Positive! The screen flashed positive, and a beautiful new life began.

I loved being pregnant. I loved the weird cravings and new curves that announced every new stage of motherhood. I loved the absolutely endless possibility this new human held. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved knowing that my baby was right there with me in a way that they never would be later. And how could I forget? Charlotte was the most active of all of my babies. She kicked so much and so hard that I dubbed her “my little ninja.”

It took us six months to agree on the perfect name, but once we chose it- Charlotte Elizabeth Carnaghan- I painted it in cheerful letters across her nursery wall.   I spent weeks researching three car seats that would fit into my tiny Hyundai Accent and still keep all three of my babies safe. I made list after list of things to do to prepare for Charlotte’s arrival. Every item in my Amazon registry was chosen with immense care, and I spent hours and hours scouring thrift stores and yard sales for everything we wanted for Charlotte.  I made a maternity sub binder that was a type A's dream.  I was ready for her.

On a Tuesday afternoon, I had my 37 week check up.  Ian was planning to meet me at the office. He called just as I was being sent to the exam room and said that he would be at least a half hour. “No worries,” I told him, “I think today is just a heartbeat scan anyway.” He turned around and headed back home to get the boys. Five minutes later, I heard my little Charlotte’s heart beating for the very last time. “She’s a happy girl in there!” my doctor chimed.

On Friday night I was worried that I hadn't felt her move.  It was 3:30am and dark as I got into my little Hyundai with three carseats.   I was speeding when a fox ran in front of my car, making me hit the brakes, hard.  She sat in the middle of the road and stared at me until my heart stopped racing and then trotted off.  I felt calm seeing her because I had suddenly added buckets of "fox things" to Charlotte's nursery in the last two weeks and this felt like a sign that everything was going to be ok.  

I walked into labor and delivery.  They had me put on a gown and started smoothing the doppler over my stomach. A tall nurse furrowed her brow and said, quickly, “Let’s roll on your side, mama.” She kept trying. Other side. My breath quickened and I bit my lip nervously as she called my doctor in to do a sonogram. Dr. S, who usually enters our appointments with a few minutes of smiles and catching up, sat down with a quick, “Hi, Heather, we’re going to check this out.” I knew. I knew it before she said the words. The sonogram showed the profile of my baby girl but there was no tiny heart fluttering in the middle like there should have been. My little ninja was still. “I’m so sorry, this is where I should see her heart moving. I’m so sorry.” She was completely still.

My body and mind were in complete shock over the next 30 hours of phone calls and labor, so the memories I have from that time all come from poems and jotted notes in a pile of scrap papers that served as a makeshift journal.  Here are two that I wrote from that hospital bed:

Corpse Color by Heather Carnaghan

The day you were born still and silent my heart was shattered into fragments so sharp that they pierced through my whole life and opened wounds that will never heal. I held your tiny hand and stroked your chubby cheeks. they grew cold as my own warmth seeped out of you and the corpse color crept over your perfect toes.

7:23 by Heather Carnaghan

The silence of stillbirth doesn’t tiptoe in or creep quietly, camouflaged,               considerate.

It roars and wails and fills the space stealthily,          greedily, so there is no air left to breathe.

Grieving for your child feels as if you have stumbled and dropped out of reality altogether; it’s something you look in on through a foggy window in a waiting room. Waiting for your name to be called. Waiting for someone to tell you it was a sick joke or a bad dream, or that there is something that can be done to change it. Waiting is not my strength. It makes me uncomfortable in a deep and painful way that is hard to explain. It’s like a terrible limbo in which you have no control. This new “waiting” is more uncomfortable than ever. I can’t stop waiting for the child I know can never come back. So, I wait for a fox sighting. I wait for a rustle in the trees or a flock of birds taking flight across the lake. I wait for a sign that life goes on in a deeper, raw-love kind of way, and that she is still somehow a part of it. She lived so little, but she taught me so much.

I’ll always be waiting for Charlotte

Check out more on Charlotte's website created by her mother-

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