child loss, faith, grief, infant loss, parent

What I’m Ready to Share About Infant Loss:The Backstory


I plan to share the whole story of John Karl’s loss. So many friends and family, and even strangers have been so supportive of us during this darkness.  Some have asked questions, some have used others to ask questions, some have been too afraid to ask. I’ve learned, thus far, that hearing what others have experienced is helpful. Strange as that may sound.  So here’s Part 1.
Backstory.
As I drove to pick up the girls with John in passenger seat, I thought about being uncomfortable but I was happy it was me driving us to Findlay and not him. He was obviously tired from the neighborhood Halloween party the night before. We had a great time hanging out with neighbors and friends and as we walked around house to house, I remember feeling good and feeling John Karl move around in my tummy. His movements seemed bigger, less kicking and more whole body. He was probably running out of space – only 3 weeks and 2 days from his due date. Maybe he hadn’t been moving as much as I remembered a few weeks ago, who knows. If that were true, it wasn’t something I noticed at the time.  
John and I dressed for the neighborhood party.

 

We had dinner at the restaurant, I inexplicably began to feel irritated about every little thing. Trying to be polite when I’m feeling grumpy is definitely not one of my best abilities.  We finished up our meal with John’s parents and packed the girls into the van to drive home.  It felt good to drive, I was able to sit more comfortably despite my baby-belly sometimes rubbing on the bottom of the steering wheel.  
 John and I chatted about what we still needed to prepare before John Karl’s arrival. There wasn’t much left to do. Move the girls’ carseats to the back row in the van so we could put the infant carseat in the middle row, put away the last bits of laundry, already washed and folded in his room, and buy diapers! Oh goodness, that was the one thing we would truly need and we didn’t have a single one in the house! Don’t worry, John reminded me, they will give us a whole package at the hospital remember?  We can pick up more of those on the way home. How did we NOT have diapers yet?
Diapers – Pamper’s Swaddlers are the brand they give you at the hospital and that’s what we used for the girls the first few months.  I love them. They smell fantastic and are soft and flexible.  Changing diapers, dressing, and nursing the baby are some of my favorite memories.  Despite the lack of sleep, I love everything about having a newborn.  I was so excited. We worked hard to get pregnant this time, having two miscarriages after Kamden. We prayed so much. SO, SO much! It was so easy to conceive the girls, I feel like we barely tried. Then the third pregnancy happened…my doctor was so sure everything would be fine. The first two pregnancies were so smooth. Easy peasy! And I loved every second of them too! Being pregnant and carrying our child was such a joy to me. 
We prepared for our 12 week ultrasound (our first one this time, with the previous two there were ultrasounds at 5 and 6 weeks as well). We went into the office waiting to see our baby for the first time and I felt uneasy.  John reassured me and then the tech came in. As she scanned she asked questions about my last period and the due date that had been calculated for me.  None of this matched up with what she was seeing she said.  I got a little more uneasy… Too early possibly she thought, she couldn’t see a heartbeat…  a LOT more uneasy now. She went to get the doctor to confirm and I began to cry as she left the room. I knew, just knew, there was no baby to see.  The doctor came in and confirmed what I already knew, I cried more. John cried and held me as she explained it looked like a blighted ovum, meaning there had never been a baby in my tummy at all.  But hormones and a placenta were produced that made me appear pregnant on blood work and feel pregnancy symptoms – terrible morning sickness for the first time.  It took us a while to get past this and I was sad for quite a while.  What seemed to drag it out was that later that same week John’s grandma passed away unexpectedly.  We packed and headed to Michigan to be with family and for funeral services.  I spoke with my doctor before we left to confirm that travel was ok. She was sure I could pass everything naturally but said if the bleeding got too heavy or I was in too much pain to head to the nearest hospital.  This advice would still be true when we got back home later that week. 
We spent the week with the family, and I spent a lot of time running back and forth to bathroom to deal with the bleeding and cramping.  On the second day, I could only focus on getting to the store to get dress shoes for the girls.  I insisted on driving myself to Meijer to find them.  As I walked through the store, the cramping got terrible.  I felt blood gushing and headed to the back of the store to the restroom. I barely made it there before the big rush of blood and fluid, it felt so heavy, I remember.  I left everything in the cart and called John, then convinced us both that I could drive ½ mile back to his parents myself. Which I did on the phone with him the whole time.  I came in, used the restroom, and spent the rest of the day and most of the next on the couch while my mother in law cared for me, and my children. What a blessing she was (and is)!
We continued to go through the motions of grief, and family, and I kept quiet mostly about the miscarriage. The family all knew and some expressed their sadness for that loss as well, but I was happy (weird, right?) that the real focus was not us and rather John’s grandma for the time.  After we came home, I called the doctor and went in the next morning for a D & C. Thank goodness for Uncle Andy babysitting, as he sat with the girls so that John could be at the hospital with me for the procedure. I had had a similar surgery in college to remove a cyst and knew what to expect – kind of. This procedure came with emotional pain and sadness that I hadn’t experienced before. I was sad for a while, but we knew we would try again for a baby.
Months went by, and then some more. No pregnancy. I think I cried each time we got a negative result or I started my period – again. That’s a lie…there is no “I think”. I DID cry Every.Time. After 6 months or so I mentioned this to my doctor, who suggested they run some tests to see what might be happening. After all this she determined that I had stopped ovulating, perhaps due to stress and trauma from the miscarriage. She suggested Chlomid, to see if that would start the ovulation again.  John hesitated, mostly because the only familiarity he had with that drug was that it was for fertility and could result in multiples. We were assured by my doctor that those numbers were actually low and decided to give it a try. After 2 cycles we were pregnant again! I remember watching the extra line appear on the pregnancy stick, I thought, I do NOT feel pregnant. Something isn’t right. I wasn’t elated or excited. I didn’t shake with giddiness like I had in the past. I called the doctor right away who sent me for blood work. Numbers indicated my counts were high and I was pregnant. We repeated this test two more times and watched as my numbers declined. I hadn’t told anyone outside my parents and 2 close friends what was happening. By the end of the week we were back at the doctor for an ultrasound to confirm what my OB thought was an ectopic.  Once this was validated, I was sent to OB triage. (With all the pregnant mommies – yay! Why they send you to the same place as all the happy, laboring mommies for this procedure, I will never understand.) Here I was to await an injection that would end the ectopic and save me from a rupture and from surgery.   Four hours later we were home to heal.  John and I both agreed that this time it was easier, we found the issue so quickly, there was really no time to process that we might have been pregnant before it was all over.
Now what? Well, we went back and forth in discussions about what to do next. Two miscarriages are hard to recoup from. My OB again said there was no reason to think that it wouldn’t be safe to try again. The two miscarriages were different from each other and unrelated in cause.  We waited a month. We prayed. I begged God to give me what He would choose, even if I wasn’t the baby I desperately wanted to add to our family. Please, God, leave a sticky note on the mirror! Tell me what to do! I just want to know what it is YOU want me to do.  Nothing. I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that this isn’t really how God works. I pray often for sticky notes on my mirror. That’s not how He speaks to us.
We then decided we would try one more time. I had one cycle of Chlomid remaining and we thought –well we will use that.  We did and though I didn’t think it would happen, we conceived again! Oh wonderful! We felt so excited.  An ultrasound and blood work confirmed that everything was fine.  And both were repeated over and over again, to be sure. Each time we went for an ultrasound, I would panic – please let everything be alright this time, Lord. I prayed so much, that I didn’t even realize I was doing it most of the time. 
12 weeks came and went, I had terrible morning sickness again. Not a lot of throwing up, but so much nausea that I had to convince Kamden (3) to cuddle and nap with me everyday after I took Kendall (4) to preschool; and on days when they were both home, I resorted to letting them watch a video so I could lay on the couch with 7Up and crackers until it passed. It was a new feeling, a new symptom to me, and sometimes it was no fun…but I cherished it none the less.  I remember calling John and telling him when I’d throw up and remind him – I’m not complaining, I feel better now!
16 weeks passed and I was still a wreck each time we went to the doctor and especially for an ultrasound.  Once we had the same tech that confirmed our 1st miscarriage and I could barely walk down the hall with her again. I held John’s hand and reminded myself to breathe.  Because I was 35 and because of the previous miscarriages, this time they did some extra blood work and tests including a genetic test that could tell us the gender of the baby as early as 12 weeks. John insisted that we not find out this until our 20 week ultrasound. I wonder now if he was protecting himself, or if what he explained was the only reason he wanted us to wait – “I want to see it, babe, together on the screen like we did with the girls”, he said.  I agreed but teased him mercilessly about it.  It all worked out for him though because after two rounds of the test, no conclusive results could be made. We were told this happens and it’s a very sensitive test to run, there had to be just the right amount of baby’s DNA in my blood.  The next time my doctor asked to run a similar test with a different name at a different place.  By now I was 18 weeks and we wouldn’t get the results until my 19-20 week ultrasound. John wins. 🙂 
We went in for that ultrasound together as we always did and waited as the tech checked each part of the baby’s little body, confirming again that everything was as it should be. She was smiling the whole time, she assured me over and over that she was pleased with the development and the doctor would be too.  Then she asked if we would like to know the gender. We both answered yes! She told us she wasn’t sure because my chart read “Gender: surprise” indicating that we didn’t want to know. After we explained that was because we didn’t want them to read the genetic results over the phone to us, we decided to wait to “see it on the screen together”. She then went to work to find the perfect angle to determine the gender.  “Ah, there it is,” she said. Followed by, “What do you have at home? Boys or girls?” We have two girls I told her. “Well, this one is a boy!” Oh GLORY!! I was so, so excited. I burst into what the girls call happy tears.  I squeezed John’s hand and we both asked, Are you sure!?!  She confirmed it with the genetic results on my chart and then showed us his little boy parts again on the screen. 
My perfect husband had waited his whole life to be the father of a little boy. John is a namesake – the fifth – John Karl Oerther V, we knew without a doubt that if we shared a son he would be John Karl Oerther VI. What a wonderful, wonderful day! I don’t think I stopped crying or smiling at all.  I was excited to mother a son, but more so, I was thrilled that my husband’s dream of continuing this family tradition and parenting a son would live.   I watched and watched and waited and waited for him to cry, he didn’t – in the office. He teased me about watching him…he knew what I was waiting for. But as he sat in the chair next to me waiting for the doctor to come in and check the scan as well – no big deal, all routine at this point, he was so antsy! The room was dark except for a little light over the sink to wash hands. More times than I can count John took the ultrasound pictures the tech had given us and unfolded them, looking again and again at the one that pointed out our baby was a boy! He took his phone out of his pocket 3 or 4 times anxious to call and share the news with his dad who would surely be just as excited. I dreamed of this day since we were married. I don’t meant to for one second say that we don’t love and cherish our girls- because they are truly our joy, yet, there is something special about watching your husband accept and embrace what was a goal and dream for his life.  As we left the office and headed to car, he walked quickly with his phone in his hand. We buckled in and John took the pictures out of my purse one more time, looked at me, held my hand and said through tears, “God did it babe, He gave me my boy!” He certainly did! We hugged for a minute and enjoyed our happy tears. Then John called to share with his dad who cried happy tears too. In fact, we began to call the chain of people: my parents, his mom, our grandparents, and a couple of close friends (Bethany, Andy, Gretchen, Joe) who were all waiting just as anxiously to hear what gender would arrive in November.  Everyone cried tears of joy when we shared our news. Oh happy day! We spent the next few weeks on cloud nine, and I slowly allowed my fear to turn to joy and excitement as we prepared – finally- for baby boy’s arrival.  

It was still a few more weeks before I began to clear out the nursery and organize things to make space for the crib.  We didn’t set it up until I was 32 weeks pregnant and had had a few contractions to make it all feel real. 

Every checkup and ultrasound and test confirmed our baby was healthy and as I felt John Karl kick and move inside me I became a little more comfortable that he would really be ours and everything would be ok.  Finally at 34 weeks, I let down my guard officially. I prayed that to God. I am ok, Lord, he is yours and we are safe now. If you bring him to us early he is big enough and strong enough to survive and stay. I was thankful and hopeful.  At 35 weeks John and I visited Amish Country (where we were married 8 years before) and stayed at our favorite bed and breakfast to celebrate our anniversary and enjoy the peace, quiet, simplicity, and amazing food that surrounded us.  The girls stayed with my parents and we enjoyed each other for the weekend.  At 36 weeks I felt more contractions, though random, as I did with the girls as well, and I thought I might get my wish that John Karl was in fact further along that we originally calculated with the due date and he would arrive in October. I wanted an October baby so badly. I prayed that if he came early, he would just be ok and healthy. 
As we put the girls to bed on Sunday, October 26, my contractions came harder and I thought – well this might be a tough night’s sleep. I stayed on the couch for an hour or so after John went to bed and drifted in sleep a bit, got uncomfortable, and then went to bed.  I couldn’t seem to find a good position to lay in there either, and the contractions were coming more often. I walked around and prayed that if it were time to wake John for the hospital I would “know” somehow.  My contractions weren’t consistent enough (5:5:1, you know) to warrant a call to the doctor or a drive to the hospital, and by now it was almost 3 in the morning. I had an appointment at 9, surely I could make it until then. I prayed that if I needed to go sooner, God would help me know – and nothing. In fact, I climbed onto the couch with pillows and blankets and drifted to sleep until 5:30 when John came down to leave for work. He tapped my shoulder gently and asked if I was alright. I told him I contracted most of the night and he looked at the App Tracker on my phone I had been using. “Wow, they were close together for a while, huh, but didn’t last long.”  I nodded. “Do you need me to stay home?” Yes, please, I begged. I am so sleepy. I’d like to rest until my appointment. I went back up to bed and he called the office then got Kendall up and on the bus for school. I got up a bit later to shower for my appointment as he got Kamden ready. I told him that I could go to my appointment alone, and if I were sent to the hospital someone would have to bring my bag anyway. J So, off I went to drop off Kamden at school and see the doctor. No movement from the baby boy, but he did like to sleep in and often didn’t move much until lunch time.

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