Babies. They begin as a ‘zygote’, are dubbed an ’embryo’ at around two weeks before assuming the title of ‘fetus’ at 8 weeks. If they die before 20 weeks it’s called a ‘miscarriage’ and thereafter, a ‘stillbirth’. Technicalities. Because a mother knows her baby to be life from go to whoa, and a baby’s death is painful whatever the doctors call it. Anja’s son died in the womb at 17 weeks. Here, she courageously shares his short story and the reality that “a baby’s a baby, all the time”, in her words. A This Little Life story.
(Please note, this story includes a photo of Anja’s son, born at 17 weeks)
“In late October 2009 we were thrilled to discover that we were expecting a baby. We had experienced a previous early pregnancy miscarriage, but figured we were in the clear as, by the time I saw those two pink lines, we were already past the point of our previous loss. As excited ‘first time’ parents we announced our pregnancy creatively to our family, I gushed excitedly over how sick I felt, and we put a baby car seat on lay-by. I worked in a bakery and endured the smells of the bread, the coffee dust and the dryer in the utility room.
By 15 weeks I could feel the baby moving regularly and my stomach looked like a python that had swallowed a car tyre. He was an active baby, reacting strongly to external stimulus. Like the day that a pie-oven door exploded while I was leaning over it. A chaotic moment that provided me with an ultimately beautiful memory of my baby, as he wiggled and squirmed and carried on for the rest of the day.
It feels like I can remember everything about the 16th week of that pregnancy. A disagreement with my husband, flowers sent to my workplace, a trip to Launceston for a bridal shower. As I sat in the sun at the bridal shower the baby was busy and I remember really savouring the kicks and pokes. I’m glad I did. It was the last time that I’d feel him that active.
We returned to Hobart after our weekend away. It was late, the house was a mess, and I had some mild spotting. I assumed that being tired and stressed were probably to blame, so ran a bath and called the hospital, while in the bath. The hospital said that we would wait and see, but that it would probably turn out to be nothing.
Except that it turned out to be something.
At 3am that Monday morning I woke with excruciating stomach pain and headed to the toilet. After all, when you’re pregnant you spend an unprecedented amount of time there! And then it happened. I looked down in time to see my waters breaking.
I yelled for my husband. I’d passed him in the hall only minutes before. He was already sound asleep again. I called and called, and he finally yelled back.
A phone call to the hospital. Description of symptoms. “Please come in to the Emergency Department immediately. Bring a tooth brush. Can we speak with your husband?”. Toothbrush. Phones. Computer. Car. Dark. Very dark. Hospital. Triage. How many weeks? Seventeen exactly. Waiting. Call in sick to work, “I don’t think that I’ll be able to get there today, you’d better find someone to cover my shift”. 4:30am. Waiting. Cubicle. Waiting. Hospital gown. IV fluids. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Some time after 9am two young obstetric residents appear in my cubicle in the emergency department, toting an ultrasound machine between them. They promise little as they apply the conductive gel, and then the ultrasound probe to my stomach. Then, RESULT! The heartbeat of my baby, strong and healthy, is almost immediately seen. The doctors are surprised to see signs of life, and candidly comment on the apparent health of the baby. I am in love. I look at the screen as a horse with blinkers. I look at the screen and know that I am a mother. It’s not over yet. A formal ultrasound has been scheduled to make a proper diagnosis.
An hour later I was wheeled to an ultrasound suit. A sonographer in blue cargo shorts, a five o’clock shadow and a pony tail was overseeing a student doing prac. Almost immediately I was praised for my very full bladder, and I knew that meant that nothing more would be good in that room. After a while a doctor appeared from an observation room. He looked indifferent as he explained that the technicians couldn’t find a heart beat.
A mother has two reactions to that sort of news. There’s a pragmatic reaction. The part of yourself that knows that the silence of medical professionals is telling, that when there’s no flicker on the screen there’s no heartbeat, that when the pictures show a limp and lifeless baby that the next time you see your sweet child it will be on the other side of eternity.
And there’s the reaction of the mother’s heart: “NO! Check again! If you have made a mistake I will never be able to live with myself!”. And so the senior technician tries again.
There is no life left. My heart breaks.
That night I watched the sun set as I held the recently-birthed body of my baby boy. We named him Jackson. Perfectly formed and tiny. As much a baby as he would have been had he made it to term. He had his father’s neck and jaw. His ears were just like Dad’s too. Tiny toes and fingers complete with fingernails. A thumb extended as if in mid-suck.
He now has two siblings; a sister and a brother. They give me glimpses at what he might have looked like at each age and stage. Yet their presence reminds me that he always will be his own tiny person, created complete, created perfect, born too soon.”
Do you have a story like Anja’s? A journey that highlights the inherent value of life? I’d love to hear from you.
Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org