grief, love in loss

Elliot’s Birth Story

 

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June 29, 2017

Happy One-Month Birthday, Elliot!

 

I started writing Elliot’s birth story the morning of the day he died. Of course, I had no way of knowing what that day would bring. As far as I knew, it was just going to be another day with my little buddy, one of many. I sat in his NICU room typing these words, smiling at him as I recalled the crazy circumstances that culminated in his birth. I was actually planning to spend the evening of June 3 back in his room finishing the story. Instead, I returned to his room to find doctors working frantically on him, and spent the evening holding him in my arms after he passed away in them.

 

Finishing his birth story was hard but important to me. I chose to continue writing it in the same tone I began it, not with caveats of “I didn’t know that he wouldn’t live…” or anything like that. The important aspect of Elliot’s birth story is that Elliot was born. I didn’t get that with the two precious children I miscarried. Elliot is my son who grew in my body and came out of my body and lived. This is the story of his birthday, a day we will always remember and celebrate. I put a * in the spot where I stopped that day and continued writing a couple weeks ago.

 

Though right now sorrow overshadows much of the joy I have of the memories of Elliot, the day he was born is SUCH a joy to me. I love you, Elliot.

 

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ELLIOT’S BIRTH STORY

 

 

On March 31, when the doctor who’d just scanned my tummy confirmed that my water had, in fact, broken, and that there were only pockets of fluid around my baby, I felt like I was having an out of body experience as he spoke.

 

“So, we have to decide what you and your husband want to do…which depends on your personal convictions, and um, what kinds of interventions, and if you want to do everything that can be done…”

 

Wait. Was he asking me if we wanted to save our baby?

 

I interrupted him. “We want to do everything we can, yes.”

 

“Okay, in that case, the earliest we can admit you is 22 weeks and 5 days, because we can’t do any interventions until 23 weeks but we can start you on steroids and antibiotics. And then we’d try to keep you until 34 weeks when we’d induce you if you hadn’t already had the baby, so you could be in the hospital for a very long time….”

 

Oh. Hospitalization. It was really happening.

 

“….So that puts us at April 10, so just come around noon and go to the 4th floor and they’ll get you all checked in..”

 

As the doctor left, I asked, “Do you have any paperwork or anything for me about staying in the hospital that long?

 

“No,” he said, “just show up.”

 

Well, I just “showed up” a day early on April 9 after waking to heavy bleeding. That Sunday, yet again, it looked grim as far as sweet Elliot’s chances, but I kept holding onto that promise of God. When the doctor checked me out, the bleeding had all but stopped, and Elliot looked great except for his low fluid. The Sunday morning they admitted me and wrapped that fateful wristband on my arm, I didn’t know it would be seven weeks before Elliot’s birth and eight weeks before I would return home.

 

Thus began the journey of life in a hospital. What a journey it was! Some days I felt discouraged, antsy, frustrated, and sad. Many days were reflective, productive and restful. The hardest part by far was being separated from my husband and daughters. I hated missing out on every single thing that happens as children grow, things I probably would have taken for granted if I had been with them. I desperately missed the presence of my husband, the most comfortable and safe person in my life.

 

But being in a place where Elliot and I could be monitored frequently is exactly what was needed. Now looking back on his birth, God put me where he wanted me exactly because we would need medical help. The doctors and nurses who cared for me over those long weeks became more than my medical team; they became my friends. I trusted them and believed God would put wisdom in them about how to take care of Elliot and me. He did.

 

Three times prior to Elliot’s birthday, I had been moved from my antepartum room over to labor & delivery, each time because I was having increased bleeding. The first time was when I was only 23 weeks 3 days. The second time came when I was 27 weeks 3 days. And the the third time was when I was 29 weeks and 1 day. Each time they moved me, they put me on magnesium to protect Elliot’s brain, and also to relax my uterine muscles. The first time in L&D I was only on mag for 12 hours and had no contractions. The second time I was there, I was on mag for 40 hours and had contractions on and off throughout, some of them fairly regular, but not very strong. They checked me and I was only 1 cm dilated, not showing any signs of being in labor. Two weeks later on my third trip to L&D, I was on mag for 36 hours and had contractions that felt different. For about two hours in the middle of that time, the contractions were very regular and hurt. The pain spread to my back, which reminded me a lot of being in labor with my girls. But, they checked me and I was only 2 cm dilated still not showing signs of labor. The bleeding and contractions tapered off, so they sent me back to my antepartum room the morning of Sunday, May 28.

 

But, looking back, things didn’t feel quite right. I felt crampy and uncomfortable. I wasn’t having strong, regular contractions, but here and there I had some. It felt like things weren’t quite settling down.

 

I awoke Monday morning to a fairly strong contraction and some bleeding. I called the nurse who checked it out, and wasn’t too concerned about it, but called the doctor just to be sure. The doctor on call that day looked at the amount of bleeding and agreed it wasn’t very much, but wanted to move me back to L&D just to be on the safe side. Truly, another doctor might have just as easily decided the opposite; it was not necessarily a call for alarm. But I believe God put the wisdom in each doctor and nurse, each step of the way, to make the best decisions at each crossroads.

 

So back to L&D I went. They didn’t put me on mag this time; they just kept me on continuous monitoring of Elliot’s heart rate. Again, in a way, no one was concerned that anything significant was going on. When the nurse would check my bleeding throughout the morning, she’d say things like, “Oh, there’s not much there” or “That’s much more fluid than blood.” It almost seemed like we’d maybe made too much of it and I didn’t really need to be there.

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But around 9:00, I started having the occasional uncomfortable contraction, the same kind from a couple days earlier that spread to my back. Some of them were not even big enough to be picked up by the monitor, though, so I just started writing down the time whenever I had one that caused me to have to stop and breathe a little. I figured it was just a repeat of what had happened over the weekend and they’d probably start dying down again. They were happening two or three times an hour.

 

But as the morning progressed they * continued and some became even more intense. I asked for a heating pad and Tylenol to see if my back would feel better. The doctor came to talk to me and hesitated to check me for dilation because it was an infection risk for me. Around 1:00 she said that if my contractions and pain hadn’t settled down in an hour or two she would check me. Still, though, the contractions were kind of sporadic, maybe ten minutes apart at the closest, and didn’t hurt unbearably, but I’m a bad judge of labor pain. I am the woman who had a baby at home by accident, after all. In my defense, though, some of these contractions were still so small they weren’t even being picked up by the monitor. I didn’t really think I was in true labor.

 

During this time, Elliot was very active. I remember once a nurse saying that when I was in true labor, he wouldn’t be moving so much. Well, he was moving like crazy! I felt like he might even be changing positions. The doctor wanted to do an ultrasound to check his position.

 

Around 2:00/2:30, I had a contraction and also felt some pressure almost like I had to push. The nurse was in the room with me and called the doctor, who came right in, bringing her ultrasound machine. She did quick ultrasound and we were all surprised to find that Elliot had changed position. When I arrived at the hospital seven weeks earlier, he was breech. About two weeks after I got to the hospital he moved into a transverse pose, and stayed in the exact same spot. But now, he was breech again!

 

The doctor said she was going to check me for dilation, which at this point seemed like a good idea. She checked to see if I was dilated and had an unreadable look on her face. She calmly faced the nurse and said, “Okay, so she’s like nine centimeters.”

 

As Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey says, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather! Nine centimeters dilated was the last thing I expected. The contractions were not that strong and they weren’t occurring regularly! After Elliot was born, we called him Valerie 2.0 because irregular, not-that-strong contractions were exactly what caused her to be born at home. The doctors speculated later that Elliot changing position had something to do with why I dilated so quickly.

 

The doctor continued with her calm demeanor as I battled some inward panic. She told me, “We’re going to move toward a c-section.” I asked, “Will you be able to do a spinal, or will I go under general anesthesia?” (I was really hoping to be awake) She answered, “I think we’ll have time to do a spinal.”

 

But at that exact moment I felt another contraction bearing down, and at the same time, Elliot’s heart rate dropped dramatically, into the 60’s, which was the lowest I had ever seen it. At this point I did panic. Later, a doctor told my husband that my placenta had probably started to detach during that contraction, which is why Elliot’s heart rate plummeted. If I had not been in L&D, or if the doctor and nurse hadn’t been there with me at that moment, Elliot could have died right there inside me.

 

As soon as Elliot’s drop in heart rate occurred, the doctor and nurse sprang into action. I don’t remember everything that happened, but I remember someone calling “Code C” over the intercom, the nurse swiftly unhooking my bed from the wall, several more people running into my room, and then a group of people all around my bed, pushing me out into the hall. They ran me at a sprinting pace (I remember someone saying “slow down”) while I just closed my eyes and said, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

 

When I opened my eyes I was in an operating room. They shifted me quickly from the hospital bed to the operating table. Suddenly there were hands all over me–hands checking my cervix, other hands frantically rubbing my stomach, other hands sticking a tube on my nose. I heard the familiar voice of my favorite doctor next to me saying, “Heidi, it’s Kim.” (She later told me that though she didn’t perform my surgery, she held my hand through the whole thing) The next thing I heard was a voice saying, “You’re going to go to sleep now.” Then blackness.

 

I awoke to a nurse’s voice saying, “Heidi? Heidi?” I opened my eyes and realized one thing immediately: I felt terrible. She asked, “How do you feel?” And I croaked out, “My throat hurts.” Which it did. Apparently they had to shove a tube down there.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about how I felt. I wanted to know about Elliot, my sweet baby who I’d fought so hard for. Then my wonderful husband was by my side, holding up his phone with a picture of Elliot holding his finger.

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My son! My beautiful son! He had an exciting start to life, a very crazy whirlwind. The next four hours would be another roller coaster of doctors discovering his lungs were underdeveloped, and trying a variety of techniques to bring up his blood oxygen levels. Waiting to meet him all those hours was SO hard. But finally, they had him stabilized. At first, the nurse wheeled me in my giant hospital bed through the halls and into Elliot’s little NICU room. I could barely get a glimpse of him as I strained my neck and definitely couldn’t reach him to touch him. I asked to try a wheelchair. I knew it would be hard. I have never felt so awful. But I had to touch my baby, had to be with him, had to talk to him. So, my nurse took me back in the clunky bed to my room, and we worked me slowly but surely to a wheelchair.

 

Then I really got to meet Elliot. Perfect, beautiful Elliot. What absolute joy I felt seeing my son, touching his skin, feeling his precious hand wrap around my finger.

 

In that moment, in that room with him, I was in heaven. My son had been born.

 

 

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These are the lyrics of a song I’ve written for Elliot. I found a picture frame with a little bird on it that seemed so right for one of his pictures. Soon after, my dad wrote a tribute to Elliot, using the imagery of a bird. Sylvia and Valerie picked out blue birds to put on his grave. Something about all these images of birds has caused me to think of Elliot as my little bird, and so this song is called. It’s my song of love and longing for him.

 

“My Little Bird”

 

Away too soon; you gave me light.

 

Where have you gone, my little bird?

And why have you flown away?

In my dreams you’ll land and be with me.

I’ll cradle you and beg you to stay.

 

But your wings have spread, my little bird.

I’m left here on ground without you.

I search the skies to catch a glimpse,

Yet it’s deep in my heart I’ve found you.

 

To kiss your face; to hold your hand.

 

So hard to wait, my little bird.

If I could just touch you once more.

How my arms ache to feel your warmth,

But you’ve left earth’s shackles to soar.

 

Someday, my love, I’ll wrap you close.

 

Where have you gone, my little bird?

And why have you flown away?

In my dreams you’ll land and be with me.

I’ll cradle you and beg you to stay.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Elliot, my little bird.

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