I’m not one to hold back on speaking out about
anything I go through, how I feel, what I think about things…it’s just not who I am at this point in my life. I take pride in being open, honest, and true to myself – even if I wasn’t always that way. As I got older, I realized that NO MATTER WHAT it’s more important to be who I am and share how I feel than it is to worry about anyone other than my family and friends. Those whom I love and support reciprocate and take me as I am, as I do them.
Derek and I (maybe mostly me) had planned to get pregnant as soon as we got married back in August 2017. I kept saying that we weren’t getting any younger. Because I was under 35, we had to follow the stupid one-year of trying rule before seeking help. I can’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I wasted by reading too much into what I thought might be a pregnancy symptom. After about ten months I decided to find a new OB closer to home. She ordered blood work, and I learned that my egg count was lower than normal so I was referred to an infertility specialist. Once finally being seen by the doctor regularly, this meant tons of internal ultrasounds, blood work galore to the point of feeling like a human pin cushion, early morning appointments and mad dashes to get to work on time, and buckets of tears when things still weren’t working.
In November 2018, after a 14-month journey of trying to get pregnant (including 3 months of infertility treatments and two IUIs), my husband Derek and I learned that we were finally expecting our little miracle. I remember at the time thinking how it took so long, but we really were pretty lucky to get pregnant on our second IUI. I was absolutely terrified waiting for my 12-week sequential screen ultrasound, yet wanted to scream it to the world – which we were finally able to do right after New Year’s. By the end of February we found out at our anatomy scan (perfectly planned for Derek’s birthday) that our sweet baby BOY, Nash Ryan, was growing (quite rapidly) inside my belly.
Everything about the first 34 weeks of my pregnancy was wonderful. I didn’t really experience morning sickness – just some nausea when I was hungry for a week or two that evened out, and a need for more frequent naps (which I loved and appreciated before being pregnant anyway). I passed my Gestational Diabetes test with flying colors. My blood work always came back normal other than needing some extra iron. I traveled to South Carolina and Boston, cute little towns that require lots of walking. I taught Zumba classes twice a week up until I was 31 weeks and 3 days. I LOVED being pregnant and showing off my growing bump, but I also tried to be sensitive towards others who may be struggling knowing how it felt when I was in their shoes…so I tried not to share TOO much.
While I enjoyed pregnancy, I admit I started to feel like a number instead of a patient at my OB practice. Every visit went the same – register, pee in a cup, wait for at least 30 minutes, get called back, stand (backwards) on the scale, have my blood pressure read, and wait again for the doctor. The doctor would come in and listen for the heartbeat, rush me through any questions I might have, tell me all of my concerns are “normal pregnancy symptoms,” and pretty much go by the book as far as giving me paperwork for whatever needed to be accomplished before my next appointment (ultrasound paperwork, glucose test, kick count book, TDAP shot, breast pump prescription, etc.). I only knew details about my anatomy scan and that I passed the Gestational Diabetes test because I read the details on my portal – never because a doctor called to talk with me about it. Not that I expected special treatment, but it just felt impersonal.
Right around the 35-week mark, however, my enjoyable pregnancy suddenly changed. I first developed sciatic pain in my lower left back/hip – which I do not necessarily believe attributes to anything else I’m about to share, as it is very common AND I have previous back injuries due to accidents. At this same time, I also became extremely fatigued and felt the need to sleep for hours after completing the simplest tasks. This was unusual for me because I am usually nonstop and constantly trying to get everything done at once. I first chalked it up to my sciatic pain and called my OB to complain, but they told me it was “normal.” In addition to not being able to walk around easily, I was finished with the school year and trying to complete the nursery – but I was in so much pain and so exhausted that I was moving at a sloth’s pace.
Nash was still his usual active self in there, but I noticed that he was getting hiccups ALL the time…sometimes for five or ten minutes. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had been selected as an “ultrasound model” for a course at Jefferson University Hospital – so on June 15th we got to see our crazy (and very uncooperative) little bean moving and grooving in there. The instructor of the course was happy that Nash moved around so much as he showed the students how to find what they wanted to specialize in; whether it be dating, measuring the baby accurately, etc. He measured his femur and chest, confirmed he was most definitely a boy, and even mentioned that he was head down and already dropped – which he said could have been why my sciatic pain was so bad. I slowly hobbled back to the car, feeling terrible yet even more eager to meet my little man.
Each day following that day got more difficult, even with me visiting my pain management chiropractor twice a week. In addition to the extreme fatigue, I had no desire to eat – which should have been a MAJOR red flag – because there is nothing better than being pregnant and allowed to eat whatever you want whenever you want while blaming it on cravings, and knowing you look pregnant and cute instead of fat! I also started feeling feverish and was always shivering even while covered in blankets – in 80-90 degree June weather.
We did our maternity photos that Tuesday and the struggle was REAL. I was drenched in sweat, could barely walk, and felt like I was going to pass out – but when I got to the car I had no desire to drink water or even turn on the air because I was so cold. I came home and slept on and off for about 4 hours while Derek went to pool. He got home and was so worried about me that he called my mom. She also plays pool, and one of her friends on the team is a nurse who recommended we call the OB emergency line. The person Derek spoke to seemed to have no clue what he was talking about. Derek told him that I’ve been sleeping constantly, not eating, taking Tylenol Cold & Flu, and hadn’t felt the baby moving nearly as much as he had been. His response? Something along the lines of, “it sounds like a cold, just have her drink some fluids and try to eat something.”
Derek hung up and I then decided to get out my heartbeat Doppler. I received it as a Christmas gift from my mom and was so excited when I first found the heartbeat on New Year’s Day. I listened almost every day until Nash was easier detected by his crazy kicks and karate chops and assured me throughout each day that he was doing just fine. I couldn’t find a heartbeat that night, but I didn’t want to stress so I hoped it was due to being out of practice, or because he had dropped into a new position. Derek made me some eggs and hash browns with ham and I forced it down…and then in the middle of the night it forced its way back up. This was the first time in my ENTIRE pregnancy that I had vomited.
The next morning, Derek told me he decided to take off so he could come to my 36-week appointment with me. He hadn’t come to many since the very beginning because as I mentioned before, my appointments mainly involved waiting and being seen for a total of about five minutes before being rushed out the door. We headed off in hope of getting some answers, but had no idea what to expect. The doctor we saw that day was the doctor I had met almost exactly a year prior to the day and hadn’t seen since. She was the one who I cried about my struggle to get pregnant to, and who later referred me to the infertility specialist who helped us get pregnant. I told her about all of my symptoms and how we had the ultrasound on Saturday. She did my internal exam and the Group B strep test (both awful) and told me I was about 1cm dilated. She then attempted to find the heartbeat. At one point I thought I heard that familiar sound and sighed, “oh thank God,” but then she looked at me like a deer in headlights and said she wanted us to go to triage at the hospital for an NST (non-stress test).
Upon our arrival, we were taken right back into a room with several other “rooms” with just curtains around. Everyone could hear each other and there was zero privacy even with the curtains pulled. They hooked me up to things and rolled in the ultrasound machine and my least favorite doctor walked in. She started trying to find the heartbeat using an ultrasound machine and wasn’t having any luck, but reassured us that she doesn’t do ultrasounds for a living and it doesn’t mean anything yet. She had an ultrasound tech come in to measure fluid levels and check, they exchanged glances, and the ultrasound tech walked out. The doctor put her hand on my hand or leg (I can’t remember which) and said in the fakest voice, “I’m so sorry.”
It felt like an eternity before I reacted. Derek was already holding me and crying…there is literally nothing in life that can prepare you for that moment when they tell you that the child you’ve been carrying for 36 weeks and 2 days no longer has a heartbeat. The child you’ve been talking to, singing to, designing a nursery for, dreaming about, imagining the future of, and feeling move about inside you is gone before you even get to meet him. I instantly felt like a failure. I felt like I should be the one saying sorry. I think I did apologize to Derek, as if it were my fault. Everything became a blur at that point…because it was at that point that I realized I now had to deliver my stillborn child. I also realized that we had to tell our parents, and then everyone in that room full of curtains had to listen to us crying and saying it out loud as we broke the news. I had called my mom on the way to my appointment, so she was already on edge. I just remember her crying out “no!” and handing the phone to my dad.
We were then taken into a room and waited for our parents to arrive, as the nurses seemed to circle around me. I stared straight ahead at the wall. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. Even when our parents arrived and were brought back and they all came over to hug me and sat down, I just sat there like a zombie thinking about how I was about to go through childbirth, have a stillborn son, and walk out of the hospital with nothing to show for it other than a “normal pregnancy recovery.” I couldn’t face anyone because I just felt so ashamed. My heart was shattered, and I thought about all of the milestones and memories that I was never going to have with Nash. It just didn’t seem fair. I tried so hard just to get pregnant…and now it was over, just like that.
As things continued around me I started thinking of all the reasons to blame myself. Did I not eat well enough? Should I have stopped teaching Zumba sooner? What if I had finished the nursery, packed my bag and his bags when I meant to instead of sleeping all of the time…would I have been able to bring him home then? I had done everything right. I had a perfect pregnancy until the very end. WHY was this happening to us?
The doctor came in again to check my dilation and said it was still about 1-2cm, so she put some type of medicine up in there ever so gently (sarcasm) and said it was going to be awhile, so someone suggested that Derek go home to pack us a bag. I started typing up a list to text him while trying to keep my composure knowing that I should have already had it prepared. I didn’t even know where everything I wanted was.
While he was gone, things continued the same. Blood was drawn, machines hooked up, IV in, etc. The nurses were chatting with me and trying to lighten the mood, at least that’s how I remember it. To be honest, everything after being told, “I’m so sorry” was one big blur. I snapped back to reality when the doctor came in again with another look on her face. She told us that something showed up in my blood work, and muttered the term “Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy.” I of course had no idea what that even meant and just nodded. She said I was going to be sent downtown to Jefferson Hospital because the doctors there were more experienced with it. I thought about how just 4 days ago, we were at that hospital watching Nash move around on an ultrasound screen…what irony. She delegated someone to arrange an ambulance transport and left the room again. Derek’s mom called him and told him he needed to get back to the hospital ASAP. She asked if we had any questions…I don’t think any of us even knew what to ask.
After a few minutes of processing, I asked the nurses if the doctor could come back. I said I had questions. She came back in and I had forgotten them all. She looked at me and said, “I think I know what you want to ask but you’re probably too afraid to ask it.” I looked at her, confused. “This is life threatening,” she said. “For me or for the baby?” I asked, for a second forgetting that his life had already been taken. “Both,” she answered. Our parents all began crying and I again sat there staring at the wall. I think my mom came over and just held me, but I wasn’t myself anymore, I was a shell by that point.
The nurses were now on high alert. They were arguing and barking out orders at each other. I’m pretty sure everyone but my mom left the room to wait for Derek. They inserted a catheter to monitor my urine and let me tell you that is the most EXCRUCIATING pain I’ve probably ever felt physically. I squirmed on the table and screamed out in agony as they apologized. The one nurse kept calling me “mama,” which I knew was out of love and respect, but I couldn’t help thinking how I was no longer a mama and I felt my heart break again.
As I lay there in pain, thinking about all of the what-ifs, wondering if I was going to die, I watched the clock. I couldn’t tell you what time it actually was…but I stared at that clock. I wanted the EMTs to arrive so I could get downtown and put an end to this nightmare. Derek had gotten back and we were being asked about arrangements for Nash. If we wanted to see him or hold him, which at the time just felt morbid and wrong. They gave me an afghan blanket that someone had crocheted and donated for mothers experiencing a loss. There was that word again, mother. Something I felt I no longer was.
At this point, I was tired of watching the clock and waiting for the ambulance. I was scared, hungry, thirsty…I hadn’t eaten much in days. I begged for ice chips and they gave me the smallest Styrofoam cup. Word came that the ambulance had finally arrived, and the nurse and doctor stepped out to talk to the EMT in charge. I’m not sure what was worse – being transferred from a hospital bed to a stretcher with a catheter, or riding in an ambulance amongst two strange men with a catheter...clutching the counter next to me and trying to savor the three small ice chips left in my cup as our ride got detoured due to flooding. I could feel the one paramedic’s eyes on me the entire ride as I stared out the back window and watched all of the familiar landmarks along I-95, counting down the minutes to our arrival at Jefferson.
When we finally arrived, I was wheeled into the Labor and Delivery area. I recognized exactly where we were because we had walked past there just days before. I was taken into a room where several doctors and nurses filtered in and out. Some introduced themselves to me, asked me questions, and made small talk. I think I signed a form about anesthesia as they talked to me about all of the worst-case scenarios. It was almost like an out of body experience. I kept hoping I would wake up and it would all be a dream. At one point, I’m pretty sure I started wondering if it would be easier to have complications on the operating table because then I wouldn’t have to move on with life without my son. Another nurse asked us if we wanted to see the baby or have pictures taken. I didn’t know what to say to anyone anymore.
After what felt like an eternity later, I was all hooked up to the IVs and ready for surgery. I said my goodbyes to Derek, who had come along in the ambulance – our parents got stuck in traffic and didn’t make it there before they took me back due to the flooding. That is the last thing I would truly remember for the next four days. At some point I woke up in the ICU. Everything is foggy in my memory. Derek was there, our parents were there, they insisted I hold my stillborn child and for some reason I asked for a picture, which I still look at and think of as the saddest picture in the entire world. I was in and out of it, lying uncomfortable on a hospital bed while Derek fed me ice chips. Zoning in and out of sleep while nurses checked on me constantly.
The next morning was a Thursday. I remember sitting up and dying for something in my stomach. They brought me chicken broth, which Derek says I hated. Then they tried beef, which he said I didn’t eat. I insisted I would eat it if they brought me pepper. I still didn’t. I really wanted coffee but whoever the nurse had to call to order it from wasn’t answering, so she lied and said she wanted coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts anyway and insisted on getting me whatever I wanted. Derek said she came back with just my coffee – so I then talked to my mom and asked if she could get a Wawa gift card for the nurse as a thank you (not even sure how I thought of that idea when I couldn’t even remember my own name), and I drank the coffee yet don’t actually remember doing that at all.
At some point Thursday we were transferred to a room in the High Risk OB section of the hospital, where several doctors and nurses who specialized in Maternal Fetal Medicine would monitor me. I only recall bits and pieces of this day and the next few…I now refer to them as “The Dark Ages.” I had to ask Derek about five times who came to visit each day before I just wrote it down in a notebook. People were constantly in and out to check on me, or visit me, but I still just felt off.
I was getting messages and trying to respond, but I couldn’t get the words from my head to my phone without hitting incorrect keys or falling asleep. It felt like my eyes were dancing around whenever I tried to focus. I would fall asleep and imagine conversations, then ask Derek about these made-up conversations when I briefly woke up and he had no idea what I was talking about. All the while, I was constantly having blood work taken and more doctors and nurses came in and out. I was starting to imagine things and hallucinate. My hands were shaky. I would sit in the bathroom and stare at the floor and it felt like it was moving around me. Every morning when I woke up, the room we were in looked like a different room.
Everyone was very concerned about all of these things. Psychiatrist doctors came in to talk to me, the Gastroenterology doctors came in and made me hold up my shaky hands and answer questions, the High Risk OB doctors came in and one told me that I am very lucky (at the time I didn’t really know what he meant…how could I be lucky when I lost my child?). Doctors came in with blood work concerns and ordered medications, tests, a CT scan, an ultrasound. Words like “liver transplant” and “hysterectomy” were being said. Every time I needed the bathroom I had to pee into a collection cup and look at bloody toilet paper while trying to sit carefully enough to not feel my incision…just another reminder that I HAD a baby, but he was taken from me. I had to wear vibrating “boots” on my swollen legs to prevent clots. I was still barely eating or drinking. At some point, one of the nurses noticed my eyes were yellow from jaundice, which alerted the Gastroenterology doctors and called for even more tests and meds.
It was probably Saturday evening when some of my friends came by that I was finally starting to feel a little more human. I was still NOT well by any means, but I can at least remember some details from that day. Sunday was even better, and Derek must’ve said something that sparked my sass because he told the next nurse who came in that I must be feeling better since I’m giving him a hard time like I normally do. I believe the only new thing to happen Sunday was the sudden need for frequent blood sugar tests since my levels dropped, and someone walking in nonchalantly saying I had Hepatitis A – which we quickly found out, was NOT true. I was getting to know my nurses and enjoying being around them. At some point early in the day we were told we might be moving to a different room, so we decided not to have visitors amongst the craziness of it all. It was kind of nice because it gave me a chance to be alone (aside from the staff in and out) with Derek to actually start the grieving process.
Apparently it was quite a fight for me to be moved, but around dinnertime on Sunday they moved me to a room where I could have more 1:1 nurse attention, and we said a sad goodbye to my nurses. We also heard word that I might get released Monday, but it was still up in the air. I wasn’t crazy about my new room…it was a double so it was much larger and Derek and I got our own TVs – but the lighting was dull, the window showed the inner atrium instead of the outside world, the bathroom was SUPER small, and the noises kept me up all night. I could hear the spinning of my IV, the beeping of my heart monitor machine, the ticking of the clock, and some guy moaning and groaning in agony. My overnight nurse didn’t have much of a personality and I really missed my old ones. She told me I would be getting vitals and blood work in the middle of the night, so I tried to stay awake in anticipation but it never happened. I slept horribly.
Luckily, Monday morning finally came and I felt a bit of hope knowing I might be released. My revolving door opened around 6am as doctors, nurses and some student doctors came in and out to ask their normal questions and give me cognitive tests. Derek slept through at least 8-10 visitors, including a student doctor I made cry by telling her exactly how I was feeling about my stay and how I felt about losing my son. I was told I needed to get Potassium because now those levels were low and it BURNED so bad coming through my IV. They told me it was normal and ended up disconnecting it and giving it to me in pill form – which was no better because the pills were huge and gross. Shifts changed at 7am and my new nurse was younger and seemed very nice and relatable. I really liked spending the day with her – she was in and out so much and most of the time she came in it was at the worst possible times, which quickly became the running joke. She seemed to be younger than me, but she acted like my mom and was very by-the-book in her practice.
I was sent for a heart echo test in the late morning and as soon as I heard the sound of my own heartbeat, tears streamed down my face just as they had when I had my 12-week scan and heard Nash’s heartbeat…it was like the memories of him suddenly flooded back. We got back to the room and Derek decided to sleep most of the day away until we knew we could tell our parents to head down to get us. I spent the day informing people who didn’t know anything, updating those who did, and crying over everything. I was finally off most pain meds and feeling well enough to just face what had happened to us and grieve.
As I wrap up, I’ll share my favorite moment of that final day (even if it was interrupted by our nurse). Derek and I just sat together and hugged and cried, and I finally got a chance to ask him how HE was feeling. I thanked him for being there every step of the way. Aside from him going to get food or snacks, or to meet up with visitors to help them find our room, he NEVER ONCE left my side. He slept on uncomfortable recliners (not that he cared – the man can literally sleep anywhere, anytime, and like a rock) and didn’t even blink at any request I had. He helped me sit up, get out of bed, walked me to the bathroom, got me whatever I needed, and was pretty much the most unselfish being I had ever experienced for those 6 crappy days. I of course married him because I knew he was the right person for me, but this experience solidified that I truly am married to my soul mate. We may bicker over stupid things and test each other’s patience almost daily, but our bond is strong. Throughout our hard battle with infertility issues, I wasn’t always sure of this…but somehow the loss of our child, albeit an unfathomable tragedy, proved tried and true that we are unbreakable. I may have craptastic luck as far as becoming a mother, but I hit the jackpot with my husband and am forever grateful that fate brought us together.
Here is the direct link to her blog ! https://hlpalmer819.wordpress.com/2019/06/29/welcome-to-my-blog/