Share Your Story Tuesday- Lincoln Paul Fechner
A mother just knows. I’ve heard that
phrase hundreds of times in my life. When your child is sick, injured, depressed, in trouble… a mother just knows. Except I didn’t.
Like my first pregnancy nothing was out of the ordinary. They both went smoothly; no morning sickness, no gestational diabtetes, no organ malformations on any sonograms or ultrasounds, no sign of any disease or impairment in either of us. Aside from my stomach muscles feeling like they would shred without the support of a belly band, and heartburn so bad it’d keep me from eating, it was completely uneventful. It was a boy this time. Lincoln Paul Fechner. He never moved as much as his sister -who kicked me round the clock for nine months straight- so when he didn’t move as much in the last month I didn’t worry. On a Wednesday, at exactly 37 weeks, I had an ultrasound. His heartbeat was strong, his lungs were developing nicely, and he showed every sign of being a healthy baby. The following Monday my mother-in-law flew in to help with my now almost two year old daughter who was a hurricane of noise and dirt and energy. Since she had shown up at exactly 38 weeks, my mother-in-law wasn’t going to chance missing her next grandbaby’s birth.
Sure enough, on Tuesday night, I started having contractions. My husband was doing night flights and wouldn’t be home until midnight so I waited, and counted. Right away I knew this was going to be wildly different from my daughter’s birth. With her, my contractions started at five minutes apart but were just a twinge that over the course of a few hours worked up to “oh crap that hurts.” But these were all over the place timing wise. What started as over an hour in between turned into one every 13 minutes, then another seven minutes later, then the next twenty minutes after that followed by another five minutes later. The timing was sporadic but still, I didn’t worry. All pregnancies and births are different right?
I will probably always remember vividly the clear, star-filled sky of South Texas over my head, the cool salty breeze off the gulf blowing my shirt around, as I paced in my driveway, hoping to get my contractions to regulate and waiting for my husband to get home. I will always remember the hesitant smile on his face when he asked “Whatcha doing?” as he got out of his car, and the way it turned into a full blown grin when I said “Oh, ya know, just going into labor.” I will never forget the way he put his hands on my belly and excitedly whispered, “We’re going to have a son!”
For the next eight hours the contractions held steady at one every thirteen to seven minutes. When I got out of bed the next morning, May 17, 2017- at exactly 38 weeks- everything was suddenly thrown into fast forward. I drug my husband out of the house and we drove the fifteen minutes to the hospital. By the time we arrived the contractions were three minutes apart. Gown on, epidural needle in place, doctor being paged, the nurse was having trouble getting his heartbeat on the belly band monitors. But I didn’t worry. Ten minutes later she was still having trouble while another nurse checked my dilation. I remember her saying the words “we got a floater” because my water hadn’t broke. I still hadn’t gotten any painkillers at this point. Nothing had been hooked up to the epidural needle, we were still waiting on the anesthesiologist. I was starting to lose sense of time as the contractions started hurting more and more and came closer and closer. The on-call doctor still wasn’t anywhere to be found and mine was performing a c-section elsewhere in the hospital. I remember them saying they were going to break my water but I was distracted by how the first nurse was painfully digging the heartbeat monitor around trying to find his heartbeat. But before my brain could catch up to say “hang on, let me catch my breath,” they broke my water and all hell broke loose. Feeling every single rip and tear I pushed him out into the world screaming in a way that I wasn’t aware I was capable of. After he was out I collapsed back on the bed and joked “I’m never doing that again. Tie em’ up nurse.”
Lincoln wasn’t crying.
But I didn’t worry. His sister hadn’t cried either; only letting out an indignant squeak after a few minutes before falling silent again. My husband had disappeared from my side and I heard a nurse start yelling “code purple.” Five more nurses and the on call doctor flooded into the room and I finally had the wherewithal to ask how my baby was. The nurse had a grim expression as she palpitated my abdomen and said “they’re taking care of him, let me take care of you.”
I looked up at the ceiling where a light or camera maybe was covered by a black plastic dome about a foot across. And there was my son, framed perfectly in that sphere, a riot of gloved hands moving around him. I heard the doctor ask for the umbilical cord. And after a minute I heard him say “this cord isn’t viable.” But I didn’t worry. I could only focus on Lincoln’s distant shape in the globe. His chubby belly, his arms resting by his head.
After the nurses finished cleaning me up the on call doctor- who I’d never seen before in my life- put his hand on my shoulder and said “the baby’s gone,” patted me once and left the room. I looked back over toward the incubator. The nurses were crying as they filed out the door, two of them were carefully wrapping him in a swaddle. And all I could think was “He’s fine! I just saw him on the ultrasound a week ago. He was fine! He’s fine!”
He had been dead for three days. And I didn’t know. I held him for thirty minutes, trying to see past the distortion death had brought on his skin. I refused photos. I didn’t want to remember him like that. Underneath the damage I could see he was almost a twin of his sister. His hair a little thicker. His chin a little more pointed. A beautiful perfect boy.
For months it ate away at us not knowing what could have happened between that last ultrasound and the following Monday. I felt guilty for not knowing something was wrong. I felt like a failure of a mother. I was angry and in disbelief that in 2017 a baby could just die and there be no explanation as to why or how. I cried a lot. I turned to my daughter and her smile that was like pure sunshine. Without her bubbly, effervescent weirdness I don’t know how I would have survived. She helped me and my husband both get out of bed each day and keep trying to heal.
On the one year anniversary we buried his ashes in a little wooden box my father-in-law made for him, next to where my parents will be buried someday. Leaving that tiny little box in the ground was the hardest and most painful thing in my life. It felt like losing him all over again.
When we got home I started planning a quilt. A pair of wings in the colors of the rainbow. I wanted another child, but I needed to make sure I was emotionally and mentally prepared and the best way I knew to do that was through art. In this instance it was the art of quilting. It took eight months to complete and eventually inspired me to start a small business making rainbow quilts for other mamas brave enough to try again. I don’t have my rainbow yet but that quilt, along with the many amazing mothers who have come forward and shared their stories, give me hope and courage to try again. And every single one of those quilts I make has a little bit of my love for son sewn right in. In that way, he’s never really gone.