Saturday, August 21, 2010

What was it like when he was born?

As promised, here is Donovan’s life story, from the perspective of his Mommy.

Donovan made his entrance into the world, in a very very quiet room in the St. Boniface hospital. In attendance: his Daddy, Mommy (of course) 1 resident doctor, 1 nurse and a nursing student. At 3:53 am his legs, tiny body and cute little face that order. There was utter silence in the room. I hated that feeling of everyone else in the room seeing him before me.

“It’s a boy” the lovely resident announced.

“REALLY?” I sat up like a shot, shocked and thrilled at the news. “Is he alive?” I asked, expecting a very disappointing answer.

More silence. And still, they hadn’t shown him to me. Doug was cutting the cord.

“Yes!” She said, with not just a little surprise in her voice. The whole room gasped a quiet, amazed, reverent breath. Then they brought him to me and set him on my chest. I couldn’t believe my eyes, what a beautiful, tiny, amazing...Oh my goodness he looks like Doug!! Those were my first thoughts: And here is a picture of my very first moment with my boy:

From that point on, I became very concerned about making sure he was comfortable and warm.  You could see his little chest moving with the beat of his heart.  He had bruises on his leg and one on his head from being in the same position in my uterus for 5 weeks, but again they assured me that it didn't hurt him. 

He had perfectly formed eye brows, his finger nails already needed cutting,  and his head was covered in the softest fuzzy brown hair, exactly the same square hairline as his Daddy.  His lips were pouty and thick and he had very rounded cheeks which was a shock to us all, because there isn't much fat on babies at that point yet.  His skin was really dark and reddish, because he hadn't grown all of his layers yet, and in some places you could see some of his veins through the skin.  Like in this picture, of him grasping one of my fingers and one of Doug's:

Don't you just want to hold and kiss those tiny fingers?  I know, me too.

I gently touched his soft little foot, and ran my finger across his cheek and forehead.  His skin was so soft, I couldn't believe it.  
"Hi baby, I love you" I whispered.  "Are you ok?"  In this moment a made a promise to myself.  Any of you who have children know that experience of reaching out your arms and receiving your very own child for the first time.  There is just nothing like it in the universe, I think.  And although we knew we would lose him, and although we were so sad and tired and heartbroken, that indescribable love that expands your heart and fills your soul...was still there.  And it changed my life.  It was the coolest thing I've ever experienced multiplied by 50.  In that moment I made a promise to myself and to Donovan that I wouldn't give up and I wouldn't let the sadness of losing him, completely erase the beauty of the love I felt for my child.  I promised I would try for more children again someday.  Someday when the time was right.  
"We'll tell your brothers and sisters all about you" I promised my son out loud.

Those first few moments are the clearest in my memory.  Soon they weighed him and measured him:
14.3 ounces.  Just under one pound.

Just about 10 inches long

They put a diaper on him, explaining that babies might leak some fluids, which I didn't like because it was too big on him and looked uncomfortable.  Then they scurried around the ward, looking for the tiniest hat, and the tiniest blanket they could find.
Doug and I had brought a preemie outfit and preemie hat, but he was much to small for them.  I was disappointed.  I didn't like it that he had to be naked.  So we wrapped him up and struggled to keep him warm.  I asked several times for them to bath him or at least wipe off his face.  He had lots of goop on him from birth, and they wouldn't do it.  To this day I wish I'd been more pushy about that, because many of the clearest pictures we have of him there is quite a lot of stuff on his face, which of course detracts from his cuteness.  But, I didn't have time to argue with nurses, I was trying to fit a lifetime of love into a few short hours. 
I lovingly wrapped him, which most mommies get to do daily, but I had one chance only. 

At some point we called some people, I do remember calling my sister and saying "I'm holding my son" and thinking I'll never ever get to say that  again after today.  That realization brought on buckets of tears.  My family and I had barely discussed whether or not they would come when he was born.  We had been prepared to deliver a baby who had already passed away, so we had probably thought we'd just have a few moments together and then they would take him away.  If we knew then what we know now, I would have called everyone while I was in labour and asked them to come to meet him while he was still alive.  I did call my Mom while I was in labour and asked her to make a blanket ASAP, because I wanted the baby to have a something special from his Grandma, and we'd already bought the fabric.  So she stayed up half the night sewing...Thanks Mom! 
Anyway, while our families made their way to the city, Doug and I cuddled our little man. 

Funny hat, yes, but it was the only one small enough for my tiny angel.
Not long into our time together the doctor started harassing me about my placenta, and needing to get it out.  Wow, that was really intrusive, I thought.  But they wouldn't leave me alone, so I handed Donovan to Doug.  This ended up being the single worst 20 minutes of my entire life.  I'm pretty sure Doctor was using two fists trying to get it out, to no avail.  I became hysterical.  While I writhed in pain, Doug had set the baby down to comfort me.  When I turned over and saw my tiny boy all alone in his bassinet, I freaked.  Not at Doug, just at the situation.  I wanted so badly for everyone to leave me alone.  I cried and cried and finally lost my composure that until that point I had kept well within my control.  "HE ONLY HAS A FEW HOURS TO LIVE!! HE SHOULDN'T HAVE TO SPEND ONE SECOND ALL ALONE...SOMEBODY PICK HIM UP...SOMEBODY PICK HIM UP!"  But, that made it even worse because all staff people in the room rushed to MY side, as did Doug and tried to calm me down.  Then they put that gas mask on my face and I got dizzy and I thought they were going to knock me out and result in me missing the rest of my child's life and I freaked even more.  Finally they backed off and Doug held me until I stopped crying.  Then the Doctor says "Ok Jodie, I think we'll just leave this for now"  YA THINK???? 
However, the problem was that a placenta at 21 weeks isn't ready to let go and was being rather stubborn.  So, they had to give me medication to restart my contractions (UGH!) in order to get it to move down.  "Fine, do whatever, just go away and give my my son back please."  So they did.  In an hour or so the Doctor came back and this time both me and my placenta cooperated quietly and the stupid thing was out.

I pretty much cried the whole rest of the morning.  In the pictures where we are smiling, it was a conscious choice to force a smile, because I didn't want to look miserable in all of the photos of me holding my boy.  There was, after all, still that deep deep love and joy, underlying all this pain and sorrow.

Eventually it got harder to keep him warm and I started to feel scared that it was over.  I said "I love you" more and more, in case he could still hear me.  The nurses were checking his pulse from time to time and it was getting slower.  Once it became apparent that he was gone, they waited for the doctor to come and call it.  This unfortunately took a long time, because there was another complicated birth on the floor that night.  Finally he arrived, laid my boy at the foot of the bed, assessed his tiny cute little body, and declared the time of death.  At that moment I so badly wanted to go back in time...for one more kiss and one more "I love you" whispered in his tiny ears.  I can't describe that feeling.  Death is so final and so permanent.  I hate it so much.  
They re-wrapped him and gave him back to us.  The hospital staff pretty much left us alone at that point.  Soon after, my parents and Doug's parents, and my sister and brother-in-law arrived.  I think they all took a turn holding him, and I wish we'd taken pictures of this, but we didn't.  I felt like we'd taken as many pictures as we could while he was still alive and maybe no one would want to look at pictures of a dead baby.  But now I think I still would have liked to have them, just for me and Donovan's grandparents and aunt and uncle to remember that moment.  Even with 5 weeks to plan and think over how this day would go, I still ended up with several regrets and "if onlys."  I try not to let them hurt me too much.   

We were given as much time as we wanted to stay with him, uninterrupted.  The hospital was really respectful and patient.  I'd guess they really hate when this happens too.  It's just awful for lots of people. 
Our families didn't stay long and we waited until about noon and then prepared ourselves to leave.  We got the nurse to ink Donovan's foot prints and hand prints which we are very glad we did.  We ended up using the footprints on his headstone.
By then he was wrapped in his "Homemade by Grandma" blanket and I gave clear instructions to the nurse to pass on to the next people who would care for him, that he was to stay wrapped in that blanket at all times.  We said our goodbyes and soaked up the look of his features and feel of his soft skin.  I handed him to the nurse and then quickly took him back and said "Please just one more hug"  As I held him to my chest,  I glanced at the nurse. There were tears were pouring down her face.   I was kinda glad.  I was glad my son had touched her heart, and it made me feel sure that she would be gentle as she cared for him when I couldn't.

Until now I've avoided the "M" word, but it kind of needs to be used now.  That nurse would then take him to the....morgue.  Ugh I hate that word.  And I was absolutely haunted and tortured with the idea of him being in one, cold and alone.  This was the worst part of the day.  We are not created with the skills or ability to do this.  We are created with intuition and instincts that nurture and care for and protect our children.  Handing my infant over to a stranger and walking away from him goes against every grain in my body and my soul.  But we had to do it.  No choice.  No other option.  We just...had to do it.  

I'm not sure where all the water came from that poured down our faces.  There were endless fountains from our eyes.  Endless.  We walked away, because we couldn't stay there forever.  Took the stairs, because there were Moms and Dads with car seats & new babies waiting for the elevator.  Bawled openly and perhaps even loudly through the lobby and while we paid for parking.  Sobbed all the way home, where our family was waiting for us.   

Whew!  I'm exhausted and crying from writing all of that.  I am surprised that you kept reading.  I hesitated about whether or not to post it, because it is really sad. But as aforementioned, blogs are optional, and I am not forcing anyone to read it.  So you voluntarily read this far...impressive.  Overall I must tell you, the time we had with our son was a miracle, a blessing, a peaceful and perfect gift.  We did get our miracle after all, it was just different than we had thought.  Our miracle was not that Donovan survived, but that he defied the odds, survived labour and stayed on earth long enough to hear how much his parents love him.  We have the memory of the wrinkles in is forehead when he wiggled, the soft skin of his cheeks, and the peace we felt, even though we knew he was headed home to heaven.

We are so glad he came. 
We are so happy to be the parents to Donovan Isaac Willsey. 
It has been the greatest honour of my life to be his Mommy. 
No regrets.  Cheer up.  We are all going to be okay.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What really happened?

Wow, lovely response from my first post. Thank you very much for your interest and encouragement!

Many people have asked whether or not we ever found out what caused my pregnancy to end. The answer is "kinda." We know some stuff but of course there are lots of questions remaining. But I can tell you what I know, in case you were wondering.

In my 16th week of pregnancy, just a few days after I felt Donovan wiggle for the first time, I started leaking. At first it was a small enough amount that I wasn't too concerned, but a few days later, there was enough liquid escaping that I decided it was not normal. I called a friend who had experience water breaking at 17 weeks, and what I described to her sounded familiar, she recommended that I go get checked out.

After a long and boring wait in Emergency on Sunday Sept 27/09 the doctor told us that it seemed like it might be amniotic fluid, but he couldn't know for sure. He said that if it was in fact my fluid leaking, that there would be nothing we could do to stop it, but encouraged us not to worry yet. He scheduled an ultrasound for me...not until Wednesday. That was a LONG WAIT. It took the ultra sound tech about 1 minute to find out what she needed to know. I KNEW it was bad news, because she suddenly stood up really straight, conjured up a huge fake smile and said "I have to go get my supervisor, I'll be right back!"

Shit. What could be happening? How bad could it really be? This pregnancy has been great, there is no way anything is going wrong now. These were just a few of my thoughts, in the eternity that she was gone (actually probably just a few seconds) She returned with Doug, and her supervisor. The ultra sound boss smiled kindly and said, "Could you come to my office please?"  SHIT!

They left us alone in an office, and said that my obstetrician had been paged and she'd be calling us right away. When the phone rang, my heart was in my throat.

"It was definitely your water, it broke and there is none left. This is bad, very bad and I'm so sorry to have to tell you this over the phone." I can't really remember what happened next. I do know that she couldn't tell us for sure whether or not the baby could possibly still make it, because more time was needed to see if my amniotic sac would reseal or not. The next day is gone from my memory, I think I went for a fetal assessment later that week. The thing I remember after that is I was at home, Doug's parents were over. Another obstetrician called me. Again, the conversation started with "I'm so sorry to tell you this over the phone." My response was "I don't care, just tell me what's going on. Please tell me everything."

He stammered a big more about wishing he could do this in person, but then finally explained that there was in fact no amniotic fluid left at all, and this would result in the loss of the baby. I asked "So what are the chances of survival?"
"Umm...there aren't any."
"Like NONE? ZERO?" I couldn't believe it.
"Yes, the heart will probably stop beating anytime now and you'll either go into labour naturally or we'll induce you at that time. I'm so sorry."

That doctor ended up being one of our favourite people on the planet, as we worked with him tons over the next several weeks. But at that moment I wanted to scream at him and beat him with a big stick. I hung up the phone and believe it or not, it took me a really long time to cry. Like, a few hours. I explained to Doug and his parents what the doctor had said and then I curled up on the couch and hugged my tummy.
Don't leave me baby, I love you.

And that is pretty much all I remember. As I called some friends and family I made a conscious choice to edit the prognosis. You may remember if I talked to you during that time, that I said "The doctors said he has a less than 10% chance of survival," which wasn't entirely false. Zero is less than 10. But I didn't like telling people there was no way it was going to end well. I felt like it would have been giving up on my baby and also not leaving room for God to do something really cool.

Over the next several weeks, I had many appointments, some to check the heartbeat, which was always strong and steady and some to do more ultra sounds to see if by some miracle the amniotic sac had resealed and started to retain fluid again. Nope. Never an ounce. Week after week our hopes were dashed. We were given the option to terminate the pregnancy; they constantly reminded us of that. I can kind of understand why people would choose that. It is so scary, exhausting and horrible to wait around for the inevitable death of your baby. Worst of all, we were worried that he was in pain. However, we chose to continue. We didn’t find it to be a difficult decision. Donovan was such a fighter and we didn't want to say it was over, until it really was over. Plus the doctors assured us that he couldn't feel any pain, and though he was squished without the water to float around in, he was doing okay. We know that waiting it out was the best choice for us.

We didn't know what to hope for, didn't know what to pray for, didn't know what to do. How do you conduct your life? Many people asked if I was on bed rest. Time and time again I asked the doctors what I should be doing. "Nothing" they said, "Bed rest won't make a difference, but you can rest as much as you like." We just had to wait. I did some puzzles, watched TV, and wow now that I'm thinking about it, that time is so fuzzy in my memory. Sometimes I even thought about what we would do if we had to plan a funeral. I tried to journal, because I knew I'd want to remember that time and those feelings, but every time I tried, I couldn't formulate one single sentence.

The doctors were shocked that Donovan stayed alive as long as he did, and they were also surprised that it took me so long to go into labour. However, they said even if I went several months longer, he still wouldn't survive labour. The mom breathes for the baby while pregnant of course, but it is the amniotic fluid going in and out of the lungs that helps the baby to develop breathing skills. So, no matter how long my pregnancy continued, without that fluid, the baby wouldn't have a chance to make it on his own. The medical term for what happened in my pregnancy was “PPROM: Pre-term Premature Rupture of Membranes.”

Anyway, 5 weeks after my water broke, I went into labour. Surprisingly a 1 pound baby still can require 12 hours of labour, and yes it was normal labour not lighter or easier that full term babies. And I know this because I asked the doctor if a bigger baby would give me even worse contractions and she said "No, because the body still has to do all the same things." The difference was I pushed when only 6 cm dilated, because that was enough room for him to come out. I assume that the pushing part was probably easier, since he was so little, but I actually don’t know because I’ve never delivered a full term baby. He was breech and they knew that ahead of time, so he came out feet first. He was born alive...and the whole room gasped in disbelief. This moment and the couple hours that followed definitely deserve their own post, so I'll just skip to the part that gave us information about what the problem was.

When my placenta came out, it was half normal, and half "dead" and hard. This gave us some information, finally. Doctor said that most likely, the placenta partially detached very early in the pregnancy, or never properly attached at all. However enough of it was still attached to build a baby, at least almost. My water breaking was probably my body saying "Ok, I thought I could do this with only half of a functioning placenta, but I guess not..." Or the other option was the hard part of the placenta actually punctured my amniotic sac. On half of a placenta, even if the water had stayed intact, Donovan probably would have had a lot of extra needs and perhaps not a very easy life. His right foot was clubbed, but other than that everything had been growing properly so far.

So that probably explains why my water broke so early. It does not explain why my placenta was so stupid and crappy and to that we will never have an answer. So that is what technically happened in my pregnancy. Thank you for wondering.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Welcome To My Blog

For several years I've considered starting a blog, but I never got around to it.  In hindsight, I think the last 10 years of my life would not only have made an interesting blog, but possibly a very successful reality TV show.  

The main reason I finally decided to take the plunge is that I feel as though I have some important stuff to say.  I am fairly certain that some people will find it useful, surprising, informative.  One thing it will definitely be is honest. 

For those of you who don't know, Doug and I welcomed our first child into the world November 3, 2009.  That same day, our little angel flew away and peacefully slipped back into heaven.  It has been 9 months since we said "Hello, I love you, Good bye" to our son Donovan.  Those 9 months have been the most complicated, confusing, and difficult months of my life.  There are some things that I get asked often, and some things that are frequently misunderstood.  Maybe nobody cares and maybe some people could find these comments ungrateful or too blunt, but sometimes I feel I'm a little trapped with these truths.  I'm not sure if I'm allowed to let them out.  Luckily blogs are optional, no one will force you to read this.  So, in case you were wondering...

1.  Asking or talking about my son does not make me sad.  There is no need to worry that you've upset me by including Donovan in the conversation.  The only thing that makes me sad is the fact that Donovan is way up there in heaven, and I am way down here without him. There is nothing you can say or do that will make me sad, and...most unfortunately, there is also not much anyone can say or do that will make it better.  People often say "Oh sorry to make you think about it" or "I didn't want to bring it up"  It kind of makes me chuckle, and I know people are just trying to be gentle and kind and not cause me any more pain.  So, clarification #1 is that there is not a moment that I don't think about Donovan and scarcely a breath I take that isn't just a little bit harder than it was before November 3.  By opening the subject of Donovan, there is NO chance you will make me sad.  There is however, a really GOOD chance that you'll totally make my day, give me a chance to talk about something really important to me, and show me that you're thinking about him too...which reminds me that I'm not alone. 

2.  Sorry, but another baby will not make it better.  Another common well intentioned misunderstanding is that the only thing I wish for is a baby.  I totally know that "You're time will come" and "You'll be able to have more children" are ways to encourage me and remind me that I won't be childless forever.  But something I wish to explain is that our sadness is not simply because there is not a baby in this house.  Someone we deeply loved and longed for, someone who belonged to us and looked like us, someone we held in our arms and kissed his soft cheeks....this special person is gone and is never coming back.  Even if I had 12 more babies, I would still have a hole in my heart for Donovan.  He was real, he was unique and he was my son.  Yes there may be more babies in our future, but it is healthy and important for us to know that none of them will replace Donovan and there will always be something missing from our family. 

3.  I don't know what to say either!  So many times I have heard "I just don't know what you say" and it's amazing how much I feel your pain on that.  I am as confused as you are.  I don't know what I would say either, if I were on the other side of the conversation.  Don't feel bad for not knowing what to say.  Really!  I don't hold it against you.  Sometimes things get awkward, because people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, but do want to say something.  It's adorable, and I appreciate your caution and effort.  But please relax.  I'm pretty easy going.  I have not yet been offended or infuriated by anyone's comment.  And if you care enough to read this blog, I am totally confident that you also care enough to not be the first person to say something horrifying or cruel.  : ) 

4.  Little known fact: Deep down inside, I actually do think I'm going to be okay.  Yes it's tough, and I don't know how to do this properly, even with 9 months of practice.  But I have seen people do lots of tough stuff in their lives, and so far I still believe that there is peace for me, joy in my life and heaven to look forward to.  Please don't pity me too much, or say "I could NEVER handle that!"  Because you know what?  Yes you could.  If you had to.  And the only reason I can, is because I have to.  I didn't notice a detour around this tough stuff and trust me, I checked.  When I hear those grandiose statements about how you'd never get out of bed if this happened to you, it puts a little dent in my determination to be a healthy person and it shakes my faith that there will be joy for me again.  I know that what you really mean is "That must be so hard, and I'm so sorry that you have to go through this."  Right?  While I thank you for validating the difficulty of this experience, please try to do so without scaring me even more.  Sometimes I need to be reminded that I can do this.

5.  Please don't take anything personally.  I have really been annoyed at myself for how forgetful and indecisive I have become.  I can recall 4 times in the last week that I said yes to an invitation, then no, then yes again and then maybe.  If you call me or email me and I don't write you back, please forgive me.  If you invite me and I say no 4 times in a row, it's not you!  It's me.  I'm tired, I'm forgetful, I'm whiny, I need lots of "me" time.  I love it that you still ask, I love it that you still call, even if it I don't reciprocate like I used to.  One thing I'm very worried about is that someone will take my flakiness personally, which just adds pressure (and yes i know I'm doing that to myself).  Grief is exhausting and I don't know how to do it.  How often should I push myself to get out and enjoy the awesome people in my life?  How much is enough time alone?  I almost feel like I'm getting to know myself all over again, it's very weird.  Also, for those of you who have kids, I adore your children, you know that.  But some days I might feel a little extra vulnerable and being around your kids makes me miss Donovan even more.  And then other days, I long to be around your kids, to play and laugh and remind me that I have a lot of love I can still share joyfully.  We think parenting is cool and we are just sad that we're not doing it along side you.  Please don't take it personally, it'll get better, we love you, thank you, don't give up on us. 

6.  Thanks for not freaking out.  Honestly, one of the happiest moments of my summer was when my dear lovely co-worker asked me out of the blue "So did you pick a headstone yet?"  I didn't even answer her, because I was so tickled that she asked.  Why is that such a big deal?  Quite frankly, I feel like a freak a lot of the time.  I want to share with people about the headstone, or what I'm missing about being a mom, or say aloud the 45th reason why I wish I were on mat leave this summer, because these things are part of who I am and occupy a large part of my thoughts and feelings.  I know it's not normal, but if I trust you enough to say this in front of you, you can handle it!  Please engage in that conversation, it's okay to ask or say anything about it, because it is my new normal.  I love it when I don't have to lie and say I did "nothing" on the weekend, when really I went to the cemetery and changed the flowers at my son's grave.  I love it when I can just speak my truth and not worry that I will make someone uncomfortable.  The reason it was so cool when she asked me about the because she had let my new normal...actually seem normal!  So refreshing and lovely.  We chatted about headstones like we had just chatted about her garden.  Not all conversations related to Donovan have to be somber and depressing.  We are really getting used to the fact that we have a son in heaven, so hopefully others can get used to that we are used to it.  Get it?  It is so helpful to be able to be ourselves and speak openly about our life, without it resulting in a deer-in-headlights response.  Thank you for going there with us.  It helps tons, and again, reminds us that we are not alone. 

I love you for reading my blog.  I appreciate your interest.   Thank you for every prayer, thought, wish, flower, email, call and kindness.  I have been totally amazed at the goodness and beauty of the people in my life. 

Thank you for wondering.