Adrianne | Middle Tennessee
Andy’s Birth Story
It was August 27th, 2014, a Wednesday night. My husband had a work dinner in Baltimore. My two-year-old son and I spent the night with my parents in Philadelphia, about a one-hour train ride from Baltimore. I remember stepping out of the shower and briefly looking at my round belly in my mother’s bathroom mirror. I hold that mental picture close to my heart because it is the last image I have of myself pregnant with Andy. My niece had also spent the night, and I remember the kids were difficult to put to sleep because they were so excited to be together. Exhausted, I had fallen asleep next to my mom.
At 3am I woke up, feeling what I thought was a small stream of pee trickling out. More annoyed than alarmed, I went to the bathroom to pee. I had heard women complain about incontinence during pregnancy, so I figured it was happening to me. I made a note to myself to call the doctor in the morning about the issue. I put a towel under me on the bed just in case it happened again. Then I fell asleep.
A few minutes later a much larger stream gushed out. This alarmed me. Still thinking it was some kind of dramatic incontinence, I called my OB’s night number and explained that I was having serious incontinence. This was the moment when everything changed. As I spoke to the nurse, I felt a huge “whoosh,” as enormous amounts of liquid poured out of my body and pooled on the floor. That’s when I realized what was really happening: my water had broken.
Thinking back to this moment, I can’t believe how innocent I had been. I did not even consider that the gushing could have been a ruptured membrane. But then again, I hadn’t experienced any warning signs. No pain, no contractions, just exhaustion that I considered to be typical of pregnancy. It shocks me now to think how quickly your body can betray you.
I rushed to the bathtub and sobbed loudly as my mother washed me off. “My baby!” I wailed. The kids thankfully slept straight through it all. My mother tried to calm me down, telling me that things were going to be alright. But I knew that he would not survive. I knew he was too young to survive without an intact sac. I knew the membrane had ruptured devastatingly wide open. I had felt it happen.
My brother-in-law drove me and my dad to the hospital. I talked to my husband on the phone. He said he would catch the earliest train to Philly. As we rode to the hospital, I vacillated between hope that Andy could survive and certainty that today would be the day my son died.
Hope: “We will only be a few feet away from the best children’s hospital in the nation. They have cutting-edge technology and research on micro preemies. Maybe they can save him. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think. Amniotic fluid replenishes itself.” But as I felt the fluid continue to drain from my body, and we got closer to the hospital, I prepared myself.
As they wheeled me into the ER and sat me in front of the intake nurse, I sobbed quietly, with as much restraint as I could muster. I was somehow trying to prepare myself for the nightmare I had vaguely sensed I would experience but couldn’t fully comprehend. She asked me the reason for being here. Between soft sobs I answered, “My water broke.”
She was puzzled. “Well, honey why are you crying?”
“Because I’m five months pregnant,” I said.
She averted her gaze and called the pregnancy monitoring unit. The unit had been expecting me, since the on-call doctor had talked to me on the way to the hospital. When I arrived they sat me in a small waiting room with two pregnant women who didn’t seem to be at all in distress. They chatted with relatives and read magazines. Meanwhile, I sat alone sobbing softly as I felt my baby’s life-giving fluid drain away from me. After a painful evaluation by a midwife, it was confirmed that the course had been set. There was no intervention to fix this. My dad came in, and I told him I was losing the baby.
A doctor asked if he could perform an abbreviated anatomical ultrasound, for the purposes of medical records and future pregnancies. Andy’s regular anatomical ultrasound had been scheduled for that very Friday. My dad went into the room with me but couldn’t bear to look at the screen. I was surprised to see that Andy was alive and seemed fine. I commented to the doctor how calm and peaceful he seemed. It’s as if he didn’t notice anything had changed in his environment even though the sac was completely drained. The doctor said that this was usual. Fetuses Andy’s age don’t appear to have developed enough nerve endings or refined their senses enough to perceive distressing changes. He hypothesized that they are blissfully unaware of their fate until the moment they fade. Andy’s behavior definitely supported that hypothesis. It was hard to see him so whole and healthy knowing that he would cease to be in the next few hours. But I’m also relieved that I got to see him so calm. That way I don’t ever have to wonder what he was going through. I don’t ever have to ask myself, “Was he struggling to survive? Were his little lungs desperately trying to adapt to breathing in order to survive only to fail miserably?” I know none of that is true because I saw it myself. The doctor commented that Andy was small for his age, not dramatically, but that it might be of clinical interest. Apart from that he appeared completely healthy and in the normal range for everything else.
My husband finally arrived from Baltimore and sat with me. He suggested that something could be done, hoping aloud that his son could be saved. It was up to me to throw harsh reality at his face. No, I explained, there was no hope. I knew enough about biology and the limits of current medical technology to tell him with certainty that the baby was not viable. That we would lose our son.
He cried with abandon on my chest, broken and resigned. We talked about how hard all of this was, how we couldn’t believe this was happening to us, how surreal it all felt. We also tried to anticipate how we would be able to survive the aftermath. Even though he hadn’t been born, we couldn’t fathom a family and a life without Andy. Along with our other son, he was our life. A living symbol of our love for each other and for our family. Andy and our older son were the foundation upon which we built our future; that drove our existence. And now we would have to say goodbye without ever getting to meet him.
A “termination” specialist came in and told us about our options. We could go home and wait until labor began naturally. We immediately eliminated that option due to the chance of infection. Besides, if I had had to go home with a dead or dying baby in my belly, I think I would have torn my hair out with grief.
Option number two was a surgical intervention. I would be put under general anesthesia, and Andy would be removed from my body. But there were risks to the procedure: serious complications from general anesthesia (which I’m at greater risk for due to allergies) and possible ruptured uterus (bad news for a future pregnancy).
The third option was to induce labor and deliver naturally. Although the doctor tried to appear unbiased, I felt that she was subtly endorsing the surgical procedure. Doctors, it seems to me, tend to like efficient and quick procedures. Labor would be a messy and long process. “An advantage of the procedure is that due to the sedatives most people don’t remember almost anything about the day,” she said. I thought that was an odd thing to say. Why would I want to forget the day my son was born? Why would I want to wipe from my memory this very important day in my life? Forget one of the only memories I will ever have with him?
No, the person the doctor was trying to appeal to had a very different outlook than I do. She was talking to somebody who was so overrun by grief that she wanted to deny the experience she would have to live through anyway, whether she remembered it or not: the loss of her baby.
My husband and I briefly discussed it. But it was soon obvious that we both wanted the same thing. At first we were both hesitant to express it for fear of putting the other through something they didn’t want to experience. Finally,I told my husband, “This is a horrible thing we are going through, but there is only one way out of it, and that is living through it. I am going to live this experience fully. I am not going to deny it.” He agreed. The last thing we could do as Andy’s parents was give him a birth with dignity. He would enter the world whole, with both of his parents fully present. I was going to deliver our son.
We were taken to the labor and delivery unit, and they induced labor. My husband and I had a caring nurse dedicated to us. It was good for my husband and me to be in the hospital room with each other to process what was happening to us. We talked. We cried together. We were gentle and loving to each other because we knew only we understood the others’ loss. We were going to need each other to get through this.
After a few hours, Andy’s kicks subsided. When I delivered him he was already dead. I could not look at him. I wanted to remember him as I saw him in the ultrasound. My husband chose to look at him and to briefly hold him. Andy’s tiny size and translucent skin finally convinced my husband that there had been no chance for survival, that there was nothing we could have done to save him. “He was beautiful,” he told me.
A prospective tissue analysis found that Andy had a very rare chromosomal disorder. Nobody can tell me definitively, but the theory is that my body might have reacted adversely to this chromosomal difference by spontaneously aborting him.
As tragic as this story is for my family, throughout the event we were given the opportunity to make the right choices for us. I could not change the reality of what was happening but I was able to choose the most healing course for me. I will be forever grateful for that. Not everyone agreed with our choices. Just recently, a close family member commented that women in my position should, “just go home and pray for a miracle.” I get it. People don’t want to accept that “baby” and “death” can belong in the same sentence. But babies get sick and they die, just like everybody else.
Most people have the privilege of not having to contemplate that. They can pretend it doesn’t happen. But when you are carrying the dying inside of you, you don’t get to look away.
Our story would not have been possible in several states because it would have been considered a late-term abortion. Before this happened to me I lacked the imagination to foresee what kind of circumstances might compel a mother to choose a late-term abortion. Now I understand that most of the time nature has already made the choice for them. If I would have been living in Texas or Florida, my family would have suffered two tragedies: the loss of our son and the loss of my psychological health.
I am emotionally scarred by the experience of losing my son. But I know that if I would have been forced to go home with a dying child inside of me, the trauma would have been emotionally destructive, perhaps irreparably so. This is what abortion regulations take away from a woman at the moment she needs it most: the power to make the choice that brings her the most peace.
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