To tell you the story of holding Marshall, I have to start at the end. To the part where I'm holding Marshall and saying you'll have to tell me when to let go, otherwise I'll hold him forever. It's very important for me to tell you that choosing to see and hold our son is one of the best decisions Kevin and I have ever made, because we had (kind) counsel to otherwise, and I need others who may go through, or know someone in the same situation, to know there is a light at the end of the dark delivery tunnel. Taking pictures was also a wonderful decision. Just look at how beautiful he is. It's strange to say, that the day of Marshall's birth is a day I never wish to forget, but it's true. It was the worst and also the best day of our lives. Because the day we lost our baby boy is also the first time we were able to hold him in our arms and kiss his precious face. But I know it won't be the last. Because God's plans are so much bigger than our days here on earth. Now, back to the beginning of the story.
After our OB and Kevin had convinced me that induction and natural delivery was safer and a better choice emotionally in the long run, I was transferred to a delivery room on the L&D unit. I sat staring at the radiant warmer and ambu bag and mask, which had been prepared to keep a live baby healthy, warm, and breathing. I thought how sad it was that the warmer would never be turned on for our little Tidbit, that there was no delivery team that would be called upon despite the fact that my son was a 24-weeker.
I thought being a NICU nurse would be a huge help during pregnancy and after delivery, but it turns out, it made things so much harder to lose my baby. For example, I knew that at 24 weeks gestation, my son had a good chance of surviving outside the womb, albeit with possible complications definitely not limited to but including vision and hearing problems, developmental delays, and brain bleeds. Nothing any mother would want. But in many cases, better than no life at all, I'm sure an overwhelming majority of NICU graduate mothers would agree. I also knew how easy it would have been for me to have been checked out at my work earlier that day, if I had really thought there was a problem. He could of survived. He could have made it. Those words kept echoing in my head. But you didn't catch it soon enough, I scolded myself. The guilt was almost more than I could bear. I'm sorry Tidbit, I whispered to him. I'm sorry, I told my husband. I'm sorry, I"m sorry. Everyone said, it's not your fault. We cannot interfere with God's plans. And this, I knew I could not argue with, but still the guilt clawed its way out from under any blanket of comfort I was offered.
Our nurse's name was Sherry. She did the best thing anyone could have possibly done for us at that point. She understood. I would never, never wish what we went through on anyone. Not my worst enemy. Not the most vile person on earth. But she had gone through what we went through. She was going on about her normal life and lived to tell about it. I cannot remember the exact details of her story, because I was not in my right mind at that point- I was doing good remembering to breathe. But I do remember she lost her baby much too late. Later than statistically she should have. l remember reading through the "Day by Day" pregnancy book I had when we reached 12 weeks. Look! I sang out to Kevin happily, it says here miscarriage after 12 weeks is less than 1%!. But less than one percent means it happens to somebody. I am somebody. Since then, I found out it only occurs in about 1 of every 160 pregnancies. Loss of pregnancy after 20 weeks gestation is called stillbirth, or fetal demise, and is pretty rare. So if it had to happen to 2 people, nurse and patient, I thought later it must have been God's hand that placed us in that room at the same time that night.
Sherry told us how for a second, she had wanted to change her assignment, that it might be too hard. But she didn't. And I'm so grateful. She didn't try to be overly cheerful. She wasn't silent, in fear of saying the wrong thing. She shared her story with us, cried with us, and mostly was there, still able to live. My doctor ordered every blood test imaginable in the hopes of knowing what caused our son's heart to stop beating. The ultrasound gave nothing away. Both the IV and blood work required 2 sticks each, which I didn't mind, because in comparison, the pain was nothing compared to what I was already feeling. Plus I"m a nurse, so I understood completely. My veins roll. I didn't know it at the time, but later I would be grateful for the bruises and mourn their disappearance. My battle scars. Proof that I delivered my son, in the same as any other mother. Physical evidence of my loss.
It's hard to remember the timing, but I believe they started my induction around 4 or 5am- we had arrived at the hospital a little after 11pm and recieved the ultrasound around midnight. The plan was to give me 4 doses of the induction medication a few hours apart, but after the 2nd dose I developed a low grade fever which quickly spiked after the 3rd dose (I believe my highest temp was 104 just before Marshall was born) so they decided to skip the last dose in the hopes that my body would do the rest.
I had never experienced labor before, and I hadn't started research at this point. As the contractions gained strength I kept turning down the epidural. I remember watching Friends and actually laughing at one point (it was the episode where Phoebe is obsessed with Monica & Chandler's new arcade game). I was confused by this, as I was so deep in grief, and yet I somehow laughed for a couple of brief seconds. I felt so guilty at the time, but looking back I guess it was my body's compensation mechanism for distracting me just for a moment, as long as I would allow. As my fever increased, I started shaking and couldn't stop (my guess is a combination of the drugs and emotional shock), and I wanted more and more covers piled on. I was incredibly shaky on my feet but cautiously made my way to the bathroom and looked in despair at the sign on the door regarding car seat safety "Give your baby the best start possible" or something like that. But my baby would never get a start in this world. I returned to the bed and again turned down the epidural. I don't really know why. I think somehow I wanted my emotional and physical distress to match; I wanted to do things naturally as I had planned for a live birth; I wanted to feel something and was afraid of feeling nothing both physically and emotionally.
But finally... they convinced me of the epidural. My body was finally able to relax just a little. Our sweet little boy came soon after.
I'll never forget that moment. It was about 12 hours after labor induction started. My doctor wasn't there yet but I felt a huge gush followed shortly after by a very strong urge to push. I told my husband to get the nurse, because Marshall was coming now and I couldn't wait any longer. It hurt, pushing Marshall out. I was surprised, but then again not very familiar with epidurals, and later I was so glad to have felt every part of the experience, giving birth to our son.
I looked down as Marshall was born and felt so proud as I looked at my little boy, somehow bigger than I had imagined him to be at 24 weeks. He was just so... perfect. So tiny but big. It felt like my heart was breaking in two, and still does every time I remember that moment. I reached out for him and realized that I never, ever wanted to stop holding him. I remember saying, he looks just like his Daddy. He even had dark hair like Kevin. I kissed his eyes and traced his lips and ears; I felt his little fingers wrapped around mine; discovered his long little feet the size of my thumbs. All I wanted to do was hold him and keep him warm.
I ached to see him breathe; see his eyes; hear his cry. He was just so beautiful.
We swaddled him tight and took lots of pictures that I will treasure forever. We held him. We smiled through our tears because somehow this was both the hardest and happiest day of our lives all at once.
We heard the nurse in the room next door exclaim to another patient, "It's a healthy little boy! Congratulations! Now you have one of each-so exciting!" I was happy for the women but cried harder realizing even more deeply our loss, those future memories we would never be able to make with Marshall.
About an hour or two later the nurses rolled me to the postpartum unit. As we passed rooms with new healthy babies, I held our little boy who had already left this life in my arms. He fit so well right against my chest, right next to my heartbeat, which had soothed him his whole life.
The nurses told us that we could hold Marshall as long as we wanted. I like to think that God allowed Marshall to rest in his body for those precious hours that we held him. I think he did. Our little boy just looked so peaceful, so content. When I could no longer keep his little body warm, I couldn't bear it. So we called the nurses, who came and took our little boy away, wearing his tiny blue hat (a gift from volunteers that I will be forever grateful for) and his little green blanket. We couldn't bear to think of him without them.
I like to think, and have a beautiful image in my head, of an angel coming down and cradling our precious son in loving arms or nestled in warm angel wings on the way back to heaven. In my mind, I see the transfer of Marshall to the angel's arms occurring at just the same moment that we handed his little body to the nurse. Now, Jesus and the angels could keep him warm., hold him tight, and love him truly & deeply forever.