NOTE: This is my story of what we went through when we had Olivia, 8 years ago tomorrow. It was used for a Respect Life Week pamphlet the following year. I am reprinting it now just as an update.
My name is Lisa. I have been married to Bill for 9 years this past April. We have been blessed with Stephanie, age 8 (born 3 days before our first wedding anniversary!); Christian, age 6; Rachel, age 4, and Elizabeth, or “Littlebit” as she is known, age 2. We found out in April we were expecting again, with our fifth child due in early December.
Just like with my other pregnancies, we spent time wondering if this child was a boy or a girl; deciding on names; dreaming what he or she would look like and so on. Reading over the fetal development pamphlets was amazing; we got to “watch” our baby change and grow daily. Following the baby’s stages of development is always so exciting to me, even after having done so four times before this! It is such a privilege to be part of another human being’s life journey, literally right from day one.
Looking back now, I think I subconsciously knew something was not quite right. I thought the feeling of “some days I don’t even feel pregnant” was due to the fact that I was a very busy stay-at-home mom with a lot of responsibilities. A routine check up at fourteen weeks showed everything to be okay: my doctor and I heard the heartbeat, and the baby was growing at a nice rate. My next scheduled visit to my doctor was at 21 weeks, on July 29th. The week before this appointment I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of foreboding: I knew I should have been feeling the baby move, and I wasn’t. When my doctor entered the exam room where I was waiting, she asked how everything was. My first response was “Not good. I haven’t felt the baby move at all.” She assured me that sometimes a mother might not necessarily feel movement this early; maybe the baby was just less active than my others were. She listened with that little monitor that amplifies the beating of the baby’s heart, searching, for what seemed like an eternity. I now know with brutal clarity what the expression “the silence was deafening” means.
My doctor, trying to remain optimistic, scheduled me for an emergency ultrasound, explaining that sometimes, if a heartbeat can’t be heard, that it could mean that the baby is just not in a good position, that maybe things are okay. I had enough time to go home and explain the situation to Bill, and arrange for a sitter for the kids before the ultrasound.
We cried and we prayed. We prayed for the baby to be okay; we prayed for the strength to deal with this horrible situation we were thrust into; we prayed for understanding. It was very difficult to explain the circumstances to our older children without alarming them, yet without minimalizing the possible outcome.
We went up to the floor the ultrasound was to be performed on. The technician obviously knew what was happening; she was solemn when she called me to go with her. The joviality I had come to expect with going to “see the baby” was just not there. I stood before the examination table, barely breathing, not wanting to be there at all. The technician was very sympathetic, telling me it was okay, whenever I was ready. I lay down and closed my eyes while she began the search. She moved the ultrasound wand around and around, not saying a word. Finally I had to ask, “You can’t find anything, can you?” “I’m so sorry. No.” Those words pierced my heart. How could that be possible? I had four perfectly healthy pregnancies previous to this. There had been no indication at all that something like this could happen.
Bill came to get me from the exam room, and we went back to see my doctor to discuss what would happen next. The ultrasound had shown that our baby had died at about 15 weeks gestation. I was already at 21 weeks, but my doctor was (thankfully) willing to wait one more week to see if I would miscarry naturally. Due to a previous c-section with my first pregnancy, apparently I was not a good candidate for induction, as the forced labour could possibly rupture my uterus. An absolute last resort would be a D&C to remove my baby, as waiting much longer would bring very high risks of infection. Because of my years of pro-life work and research, I knew exactly what a D&C would entail, so this was not an option I was even willing to discuss at this point.
That week of waiting was one of the hardest weeks of my life. We decided to tell as few people as possible while we dealt with our grief. How do you tell friends and family that your baby has died, but that you’re still “pregnant’? We did not want to have to explain what we knew, then have to go through it all again when I actually delivered, especially since we had no idea when that would occur. So we waited. This actually proved to be very hard to do; I felt terrible about not telling everyone; about having to pretend that everything was fine. The hardest time was in going to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party and hearing her tell others I was expecting again. But Bill and I really needed that time for ourselves to grieve and to deal with our loss, whenever that would come. I am so thankful we had that time; it helped immensely in coping later on.
The morning of August 5th arrived. I packed a bag, knowing I would be admitted today, since my body was just not accepting that the baby I was carrying was no longer living. We went to see my doctor who was very excited about the news she had. She had consulted with several colleagues about my situation, and found out that she could in fact, administer the drug needed to induce me, even with the previous c-section. Apparently it would be safe if it was a lower dosage, with little risk of rupture of the uterus. My doctor also was very reluctant to do the D&C because of the “very high risk of perforating the uterus”, which she stated more than once.
(Just as a side note: it’s amazing that one doctor will acknowledge this danger as a “very high risk” while so many others want to portray the procedure of a D&C as very safe and routine.)
So off to the hospital we went, filled with apprehension of what was about to happen. I was admitted just before noon; the first dose of the drug needed to induce labour given not long after. The nurses on the floor I was on were so compassionate and understanding. Everyone was genuinely sympathetic to what we were going through. The social worker (one on staff for bereaved families), upon finding out that we had not received copies of our last ultrasound, immediately made arrangements for us to have another so we could get pictures of our baby in the womb. It was an amazing experience to see this tiny human being, lying so still, so safe inside of me. They took so many pictures; labelling where possible so we could identify them – an arm here, a knee, the baby’s face. I will be eternally grateful to the social worker who arranged for this. In addition, she also obtained copies of our original ultrasound for us as a surprise. Even though the pictures are very grainy and a little hard to make out the images, the thoughtfulness and effort behind getting us these ultrasound images will never be forgotten.
The baby was born still in the amniotic sac, not long after the second dose of drugs had been administered. She came quickly and quietly, without the normal amount of pain or pushing. The nurses whisked her away to clean her up and dress her. They brought her back dressed in a soft green knit toque and little cotton gown, wrapped in a soft green knit blanket. I will never forget that first moment of seeing our little girl, of holding that tiny, precious bundle. The nurses and doctor respectfully left us to bond, to grieve over the birth and death of our baby, assuring us that we could take however much time we wanted. She measured 8 inches, or 21cm from head to toe and weighed 120 grams. She was 14 ½ weeks of age when she died.
All the knowledge I had of fetal development and life in the womb could not prepare me for what now lay before my very eyes. Although her facial features were slack and not completely defined, we could still see a very distinct resemblance to our other children’s features. Most amazing were her perfect little hands, one of which fit perfectly across the nail of my index finger. Closer inspection showed distinct fingernails at the end of each of her delicate fingers. We marvelled at the tiny little toes at the end of each foot. The muscles and tendons of her body were all in place; viewed easily just by moving her arms and bending her legs. She was so beautiful; so amazingly, perfectly formed, perfectly proportioned. It is so unfathomable that people refuse to acknowledge this as a human being; that babies this age and older are being killed every day through abortion.
We named our little girl Olivia Amy, the name she would have had if she had been born at full term, the name we had assigned so many hopes and dreams to. Olivia is just as much a part of our family as any of our other children. We do not have four children; we have 5. We had a funeral for her, not so much as closure for our family and friends, but because she was a human being who deserved respect and recognition, no matter how brief her life was. Along with the gift of dignity and recognition of Olivia as a person, we received from the hospital a molded impression of her hands and feet, a memento of a daughter we only had on earth for a very short while.
We don’t know why Olivia’s life was so short. Whatever the reason, I’m sure that she would be happy that the impressions left of her little hands and feet can serve to remind us of the miracle of life; of a human being which begins to grow not when the umbilical cord is cut, but from the very moment of conception.