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.


  1. Oh, Jodie. I've been sitting here, crying my eyes out, reading your blog from start to finish. It's a beautiful tribute to Donovan. You never know how strong you can be until being strong is your only option, hey?

    I think of Donovan often. (Like, almost everytime I look at Declan.) I hug my boy extra tight and wish you were doing the same. I'm so glad to see his pictures! Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. I love love love that picture of Donovan holding your fingers. It really puts his size into persective.

    Your post is beautifully written. That first moment you see and hold your new baby is so spectacularly amazing, isn't it? I am happy that you got joy out of it in the midst of your pain.

    I love you buddy!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing Donovan's story. Love you guys,


  4. Sniff, sniff. Beautiful! I never got to meet him, and I never get to see you. Who knows when the next time will be? But your story has made a really big impression on me, and I don't think I will ever look at babies quite the same way again. Life is beautiful.

  5. Yes, life IS beautiful! I'm so glad the message of joy can still be heard through this story. And, if every parent who reads this hugs their children a little tighter today, then I am a happy blogger. :)

  6. I couldn't finish reading this post - I was (and still am) crying too much to see the words. What a beautiful, and sad moment all at the same time. I would have been screaming too, if my little one had been put down for any reason! It's so weird how I'm feeling like I would never want to experience what you did, and at the same time, I would have loved to have been able to hold my babies before having to say goodbye to them. I'm so glad we'll get to see our angels again - so, so glad!

  7. Jodie, I can send you an invitation to my blog, but I need your email. You can email me at

  8. Can't believe how strong you and your husband are!!! You are some amazing people. I want to thank you for sharing your story with me Jodie, I find myself wishing I could take the pain away for you. I wish you didn't have to go through this. I'm so happy you got to meet your little guy and got some time with him, he had a beautiful send off to heaven, so much love! I've read this several times since you posted about it way back and I wanted to comment just never knew what to say. I cry like a baby everytime I read it, but so glad you shared your baby with me, such a beautiful little man! Thanks Jodie

    Tamara Rempel (Seaver)