Every expectant mother pictures the day of her first baby’s birth. She imagines how overjoyed she will be. How she will instantly fall in love with this precious new life. How she will be surrounded by friends and family taking pictures, bringing gifts, and posting all over Facebook about this new baby that they got to hold. She simply cannot wait for this happy ending to her birth story that opens up to a new beginning.
But not every birth story has a happy ending.
In December of 2014, my husband and I decided that we were ready to start a family. I knew with my early diagnosis of PCOS that we would likely need intervention to conceive, but we excitedly started our journey to parenthood. After 6 months of nada, we visited my OBGYN, who prescribed provera and clomid. After another 5 months, still nothing. We got in with the fertility specialists in Cincinnati, feeling hopeful and anxious. My medications got kicked up a notch (well, more than a notch) and still nothing. After higher dosages of new medication, our ultrasound showed that my body still was not gearing up to ovulate. We were told to call the office after this cycle ended to start higher treatments.
It was now December of 2015. A whole year of yearning for a baby. We wanted to surprise our family, so only a couple of friends knew that we were in the midst of infertility. It was lonely. It was heatbreaking. It was now a failed waiting game.
Or was it…
It was the first day back to school after winter break (my husband and I were both teachers.) I got up to get ready and just felt different. I quickly ran downstairs to take a pregnancy test and was shocked to see the words “Pregnant” appear. I couldn’t believe it. After I remembered to breathe, I ran back upstairs and found a few baby items that I had saved for a cool announcement. Instead of a big surprise, I threw them at him (still sleeping) and said, “I’m pregnant and I’m pretty sure it’s a boy.”
Instead of calling the office to begin a new cycle, I was instead calling them to let them know that I had a positive pregnancy test. They sent me to the lab for blood work. Yes, I’m pregnant. I went back two days later. Yes, hcg is doubling. It’s a healthy pregnancy.
At six weeks, we went into the office for our first ultrasound. He was perfect.
At nine weeks, we went back in for another ultrasound before being sent out of the fertility center to an OB. His little heart beat perfectly. He measured perfectly. But there were two black spots in his chest.
Our fertility doctor wasn’t sure what it was, but ensured us that it could be something minor. He called me late that evening and directed me to a high risk doctor. The high risk doctor called me that weekend to set up an ultrasound with them on Monday morning.
My husband and I spent the weekend researching what those two black spots could be. Nothing. We couldn’t find anything. Until the night before the ultrasound. We found a picture similar to ours. Their baby didn’t make it.
We prayed hard that our baby was healthy. That maybe he just had extra fluid. Or maybe it was just enlarged kidneys. Anything that could be fixed.
The ultrasound was bittersweet. He danced happily on the monitor. His little heart beat away…and what a joyful noise it made. Our first baby was there. The one we had waited (and waited and waited) for was with us.
The high risk doctor came in and silently switched to 3D mode on the ultrasound machine and studied our little baby. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me and gave his diagnosis. Pentalogy of Cantrell. He had very little hope for life. If we made it to term, he would be rushed into surgery, as his organs were developing outside of his chest wall. But most likely, he would be stillborn. We were offered the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy, but wanted him to have life as long as God would allow it.
We were crushed. We prayed so hard for our little one to be healed. After a couple of weeks, we turned from praying for his healing, to praying that if it is His will for us not to have this little baby to raise, that He would go on and take him.
And He did.
At 12 weeks, we went up front during church to pray. As my old youth pastor and his wife had their arms around us praying for our baby, I knew. I knew at that moment that he was gone.
A few hours later, I went into labor. It started with just feeling sick and turned into full, painful contractions. I came out of the bathroom and told my husband that I had started spotting and we were miscarrying. Not wanting to go through the miscarriage naturally, I called my doctor, asking if I could come in for a D&C, but they told me to wait until morning.
For 12 hours, I paced, cried, screamed, and prayed. It was excruciating. I finally decided that I should probably have Tylenol. That didn’t help much. By the time I realized that I was probably losing more blood than I should have at home, there was no way I was getting up to go to the hospital.
By now, it was the middle of the night. My husband was sleeping soundly in bed while I continued to labor in the bathroom. Around 4am, I had the urge to start pushing. It didn’t take long and there he was. He was born still craddled in his pregnancy sac. I picked it up, felt his body and dropped him quickly. I didn’t want to remember him like that. I wanted to remember him as the precious little baby dancing around during his ultrasound.
Afterwards, I immediately felt better. No more contractions. Pain was barely present. I woke my husband up to tell him that our Rowan was gone and fell asleep.
The days that followed were rough. We just lost our first child. I took a week off work. I just sat with streaming tears. Several friends and family members attempted to reach out. We were given flowers and gifts to remember him by. But nothing took his place. Nothing that anyone did or said made it better. I went from being overjoyed with the news of my first baby to feeling completely empty. He was gone. I had no desire for anything anymore. I just wanted to be with my precious baby.
I soon found peace in knowing that Rowan was with Jesus. I used this time to be thankful that Rowan didn’t have to go through the pain of surgeries, live a life of potential disability, and thankful that we had him for the time that we did. I was blessed that God chose me to be his mother, even though I never got to hold him in my arms. But in knowing Christ, I know that one day I will.
Rowan’s memory box is in our family room. His ultrasound picture sits on my piano and is hung on our bedroom wall. Hummingbirds (our symbol of remembrance) are scattered throughout our home.
Although our birth story didn’t have a happy ending, our story continued. Instead of giving up hope, I went on to have twins just a few months after Rowan’s due date. And just because God has a funny sense of humor, we were given the surprise of a lifetime when I found I was expecting again just a year later.
My three babies do not take his place. There will always be a part of me that wants to tell everyone that I have four babies, not three. He would have just turned three. He would be learning his alphabet. Maybe starting soccer. Making friends at church. Rowan may not be carried in my arms, but he will always be carried in my heart.
No matter the loss…how you conceived, how far along you were, how your loss took place…that baby is yours. And like mine, your story can continue. There can be a happy ending.
Selah and Silas with Rowan’s bear
Amos with Rowan’s memory pillow