These are the events of October 21, 2019, from my perspective.
A NORMAL MONDAY
I remember walking out the door to head off to my normal “Monday.” Mondays for me have always been an organizing day. I feel great when the day is over, but in the morning so many things are circling in my head.
Brittany had been up all night concerned with the baby. She had not felt the baby move in a 24-hour period at this point. I calmly said, “Call the doctor,” and reassured her that everything was okay.
That is what a good husband of a pregnant wife is supposed to do. She can’t think clearly right? Her hormones are all out of whack. That’s why she needs me as a husband to be the logical for her. To assure her that things are okay.
To make her feel calm in the chaos of her mind. This calmness is something I will regret for the rest of my life. But my sense of calmness and certainty died that day… it died along my baby girl, Hannah.
With those wise words, I went off to work to plan, organize and get everything done to setup for a BIG sales week. That was the plan! Before I started work, I felt the need to do a little devotional and pray for Brittany and the baby.
I flipped open my “Daily Devotional for Men,” and picked out October 21, 2019. I hadn’t opened this devotional in at least a month, but today I decided to. The devotion was entitled “Trust God for the Future.” The verse was an all-too-familiar one – Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans for you to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” I felt great after reading this. Like the LORD was reassuring me that everything was good with the baby. I mean, He said that He has plans to give me a future and a hope. That He gives and does not harm… I would learn later that this “good” is not always what we consider good… that God answers prayers very differently then I used to think… that a dead child can be an answer to a prayer… that the Lord can be silent… that He can say “No” and still be good… These things I would wrestle with for the rest of the year and beyond.
I went back to work from this devotional feeling great! Then… I got the call that started the never-ending rollercoaster of hope and grief. The day that I would give anything to change. Britt called and told me she was headed to the doctor’s office with Tessa, our oldest daughter. I had a coaching call I was minutes away from conducting with a sales rep on my team, followed by a coaching call with my coach for real estate. I asked Britt what she was thinking and feeling. I could tell in her voice she was anxious. I reassured her that everything was fine. It was good for her to go to the doctor’s office though, to just make her feel better. I said I would cancel my calls and meet her there. I reluctantly canceled the calls, knowing in my heart everything would be okay. I left my books on the table because I would be back shortly…
THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE
On the way over to the doctor’s office, I felt calm. I prayed… I remember the devotion from this morning, I truly felt it was God saying, “You’re good. The baby is good. I got you!” I arrived at about the same time that Britt did. I quickly took Tessa as my responsibility so “Mommy could get checked by the doctor.” We went back together – all three of us. I had Tessa in my lap, trying to keep her still so we could listen – so Mommy could stay calm. The ultrasound tech came in with the machine and we quickly heard a heartbeat. I felt reassured, almost pridefully, like, “See? I knew we were okay.” They hooked Brittany up and wanted to see the heart variability, and check if Britt could feel the baby move. Dr. Pekman came back about 15 minutes later. This whole time, Britt an I had had gone back to normal. We felt good. We were hearing the heartbeat! Tessa was a little all over the place, and I was getting annoyed with her, but feeling relieved about the baby. When Dr. Pekman came back in, she seemed calm and assured that things were okay, just not perfect. She mentioned how the baby seemed a little sluggish and would feel better with a little more monitoring. She said that this specific office did not have the equipment they needed to monitor Brittany for an extended amount of time, so we would need to go to the hospital. She walked us through what we would be doing when we got to triage, and reassured us that things seemed good, but this was just precautionary. She was firm about going quickly, but not overly concerned.
GETTING TO THE HOSPITAL
I went outside to call a friend to pick up Tessa, and to cancel the rest of my day. As I walked outside, Britt’s friend, Alex DeBoer, was there with her two kids. I was shocked and also relieved that she was already there. The two of us tried to get Tessa’s car seat in her car. I have never been good at car seats. I was annoyed I had to do this. I was feeling more and more anxious the longer it took. Britt eventually came out to try and help, and the three of us decided to just give Alex our van. So we quickly took all three car seats and put them in the van. The kids were excited to be with each other, but confused as well. We left the parking lot, and the unsettling feeling crept into my stomach… a feeling that wouldn’t leave me for months, and a feeling that comes back most days, even now. We headed to the hospital, parked and went to triage.
Last time Brittany was told to go to triage for testing was with Tessa, and we never left until she delivered (5 hours of testing, 65.5 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing and Tessa would be born 3 weeks early). This was in my head. I think I even said out loud, “We could have a baby today!” I had a college friend who had a miracle baby at 23 weeks gestation. Throughout both Tessa’s pregnancy and this one, I religiously read the statistics of what the baby’s survival out of the womb would be at each stage. We were at 29 weeks — almost 30 — and the survival rate was 99.9%. I told Britt this with my normal perky enthusiasm. The type of enthusiasm that I am known for – but it’s often not received well by Brittany… I got her “look” that she so often gives me, that basically says, “Not the time, Theo.” We walked through the lobby and I saw Panera. I was so hungry… I thought about ordering food first before going up, but I talked myself out of it. We got settled into the triage room, the whole thing feeling eerily familiar to two years ago with Tessa. I thought this time would be different… We would have bags packed early this time. I didn’t want one of Britt’s friends to grab the wrong kind of underwear again. I wanted to pack my hospital bag. I wanted my pillow and my blanket this time so I could get some type of sleep. All of these thoughts were racing through my head as I waited for what I felt like was going to happen – a dreaded induction to birth our second child, just a lot earlier than expected. And OH what a STORY it will be! I love good stories, and this would be one of them.
They hooked up Brittany, and I set there feeling helpless like most husbands do. I was there, but “in the way.” The true patients are always your wife and the baby. You are just a sperm donor to the medical staff, at least in a normal outcome. I settled into the background as the nurses came in chatting with Brittany, asking if we knew the gender, how she was feeling/doing, how far along, etc.? They hooked her up, and again we heard a heartbeat… another sigh of relief for Brittany and me. They left the room for a bit, and Britt and I chatted about the upcoming ultrasound. Up to this point, we did not know the gender. We had planned on not knowing the gender until birth, just like we did with Tessa. This was the thing I honed in on — I wanted to make sure the doctor didn’t ruin this surprise for us. When Dr. Rouse came in to do the BPP test via ultrasound, I made sure to tell her we didn’t know the gender and to not show us anything that would reveal it! So dumb… so focused on surface-level things… She performed the test, and again, we saw a heartbeat. But for 20 minutes, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the tiny triage room. We sat there still, almost as still as our baby. The baby didn’t move for what felt like an eternity… And then, as if she woke up from a deep slumber, she started moving! She waved at us, she moved her leg, she started rolling around and Brittany even felt her! PRAISE! Everything was okay! Dr. Rouse felt good – she unhooked Brittany from the machine, and called in the nurses to get the fetal monitor back on… I was reassured and hungry, so I left to get food. This is something I will regret for the rest of my life… The last moments of my daughter’s life, I was gone getting food… I left her and her mom. Her mom wouldn’t know it until I was back, but I think of the final kicks I wished I could have felt, the final words I could have spoken to her. The final anything… Instead I was eating!
THE FOOD I NEVER GOT TO FINISH
I came back up stairs with food for both of us and was excited to sit down and eat. At this point, it was almost 3:30 p.m., and I hadn’t eaten since 9. So I walked in and was confused as to why the nurses were still in the room trying to get the fetal heart monitor hooked back up. I’d been gone almost half an hour. What was taking so long? We just saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound. No one seemed concerned, and Brittany said she was feeling the baby again… I asked if the doctor could come back to help them place the monitor with the ultrasound. They called back Dr. Rouse, and again everyone joking about how baby was curled up in tricky position… that it probably was a boy. I wasn’t nervous as she hooked up the ultrasound. I sat down and started to take a bite into my sandwich when the image of Hannah appeared on the screen. There was absolute silence, and I stood up to look over at the screen and hold Britt’s hand. Dr. Rouse said something inaudible. I looked at her face and looked at the nurse Dana’s face as Dr. Rouse said audibly, “I am so sorry there are no heart tones.” I was like, what are heart tones? but nothing came out of my mouth. I was looking directly at Dana as I received this information and noticed her quietly and sympathetically looking at both Brittany and me. I had an out-of-body experience in this moment. So many thoughts swirling in my head, but I couldn’t communicate a single one. I thought how good of a job Dana was doing to comfort Britt and me with her simple glances. I thought about how devastated Britt looked and how this is what she must have looked like the day her mom died. I thought about Dr. Rouse, and how a tear streamed down her face and thought, how nice to see a doctor’s emotions on such a hard day. I thought about the food behind me, and how inappropriate it would be to start eating now, but how badly I wanted to be doing just that simple task. All of these things were circling in my mind for what felt like 10 minutes, until I finally said, “Is it a boy or girl, we didn’t know?” Dr. Rouse nervously looked around to move from the baby’s head to confirm it was a girl. I looked at Britt and said, “It’s Hannah Kathleen,” and started to tear up. I then, in frustration, said to the doctor, “This machine is archaic – it’s like the computer I had in elementary school to play Oregon trail. There has to be a better machine that can detect more… Please!” The doctor said she would give us a minute and then take us over to the high-risk doctor that has the best ultrasound machines available.
The shock was left to us as Dana and Dr. Rouse walked out the room. I hugged Brittany and cried into her shoulder as she uncontrollably sobbed into mine. She kept repeating “What? What? How can this be? How is this happening? I just felt her, I just saw her, she was alive!” I kept repeating, “I know, I know, this isn’t fair.” They then strolled us over to the high-risk ultrasound room. I felt like the entire nurses station was staring at us. Britt in a wheelchair, the nurse pushing her, and me walking right behind them. Gloom, red swollen faces. I looked down at my feet to avoid eye contact with anyone. It was the ultimate walk of shame. The walk of sorrow. We went in for what we knew was going to be the same results…. we had the last glimmer of hope that Dr. Rouse had been wrong, but we knew she wasn’t… The high risk ultrasound tech and doctor gently held our hands and confirmed that our baby, our baby girl, Hannah Kathleen, was no longer alive. She then tried to look for answers on the screen, and confirmed there was no indication as to what happened. All the questions now popped into our heads, but the main one was, “What happens now…?”
We went back to talk to Dr. Rouse about the options. For the first time in either of our lives we found out what happens to women at this point in pregnancy if their babies die, they still have to GIVE BIRTH! Like whaaaaat?? It makes sense, but it doesn’t seem right. Isn’t birth the hardest thing – the worse pain anyone will experience? And now you have to do this, knowing the ending is not a happy one?? There is no relief from your pain… EVER! We had also just learned that day that a stillbirth is a baby that dies after 20 weeks gestation and has to be delivered… so there was a name to what we were experiencing! We cried… we hugged each other… and then we decided to call our families. First her’s, then mine.
THE CALL YOU NEVER WANT TO MAKE
The words wouldn’t come out of my mouth to tell her family or mine. We set up a conference call to share the news with her sister and dad together. To hear the tears, the heartbreak immediately. They were wrecked in that moment. They were brought into the shock… the tragedy that we had just experienced. Because of us, they would never be the same again… we did that to them. That’s how I felt. Then we had to call my family. We called my brother, sister, mom and dad all together and delivered the news. I remember my sister wailing… my mom (who was in Missouri visiting her newest granddaughter, born just 10 days earlier) couldn’t speak. My dad offered up a prayer through his tears that my brother had to finish for him. Then it was our friends… the ones who had been praying for the safety of the baby… we had to let them know the outcome — that their prayers were answered with a BIG NO. I called one friend to call the rest, and sent a simple text to another “Baby is gone..her name is Hannah Kathleen.” Both of these friends immediately informed the rest that I couldn’t call. Another hour had passed, and around 5:15 p.m., we decided we were ready. Britt decided she wanted to start the induction.
As we headed I started thinking about work. What did I have tomorrow, the next day, this week. How long would I be gone. What do I need to cancel? We entered the room and I had to now cancel things, decide what to do, who to delegate needed tasks at work to and do it quickly. What did I need to cancel for Brittany? I think knowing I couldn’t control what had just happened and knowing I couldn’t take the physical pain from Brittany left me out of control – chaotic. So that made me want to control everything else that I could. My anxiety and need for control revved up that day, and a year later, I have never let go of it.
We had been here before with Tessa. We had done this. But we settled in to the thought that this one would be quicker. After all, they could ramp up the induction since we weren’t trying to protect the baby anymore – since Hannah was gone. They started the medicine and encouraged an epidural to Brittany, something she didn’t do last time. I was nervous about it, but I wanted her to be in as little physical pain as possible. She agreed, and they said they would talk to her about it once she started feeling pain.
Then the people started filling the hospital room. I wanted them but also dreaded them. What do I say, what do they say? Each person came in, starting with Britt’s dad then her sister and her aunt then friends. Every time, it felt like I was realizing what was happening and as I embraced each family member or friend I burst into tears. It was an experience like nothing else I have ever experienced. To be that raw, to be that silent, to be okay. The friends stayed they talked amongst themselves, they offer sentiments, they got food for us. They wanted to be around they didn’t know what else to do but to just be present. And that’s what we needed and still need is just presence… My dad was driving through the night to come care for Tessa and relieve our friend Alex. My mom booked a flight immediately to get to Charlotte from Missouri as quickly as she could.
After the friends left, Amanda, Dave and Beverly were the last ones there. We chatted. It was nice to have them. They all slept in the hospital that night. They left our room around midnight, and I remember being so tired, but also not wanting them to leave. The nurses gave Britt something to help her sleep, and in minutes, I heard her snoring. Here I was, in the quiet of the night, finally faced with it all by myself and the LORD. This is when the wrestling with the Lord began. I asked why? Why me? Why Brittany? Hasn’t she been through enough? I grew angry, and then I grew anxious as I tried to sleep on the most uncomfortable “partner chair” with a flat sheet as thin as toilet paper and a flat pillow that is basically a flattened up cardboard box. I tossed and turned, my heart racing. I had never experienced this. My thoughts started going towards my oldest daughter, Tessa. Is she okay? Does she know what happened? What if she dies tonight? What would I do??
The beginning of this extreme anxiety set in that night… Anxiety and thoughts that I still fight today. And at last I found sleep.