On March 1, 2020 I found out I was pregnant. My husband was out of town at the time, because his father was transitioning to hospice care. We were able to tell my father-in-law about the positive pregnancy test shortly before he passed away.
The world shut down due to the pandemic that month. We were all in an odd reality where working from home was the norm, hours were spent on the couch and I had so much time to think about the little life growing inside me. I remember my mom telling me that my pregnancy news was getting my family through the terrifying new world of COVID.
However, I am a worrier by nature. I am also a physician, so I am the worst type of worrier that exists. I kept waiting for something to happen with my pregnancy. Every day, I would read a story about a woman having a miscarriage or an Instagram page about stillbirth would pop up on my feed.
Still, I had the picture-perfect pregnancy. It was a little strange that my husband couldn’t come with me to any of my OB visits due to the COVID restrictions. I eventually learned to call him on the phone while they listened to the baby’s heartbeat, so that he could hear it too. Our 12 week ultrasound showed a beautiful baby, and the ultrasound tech “was pretty certain” it was a boy. We immediately went home and bought him a Spiderman outfit.
And–isn’t this how it always is–on June 21, 2020, we had a beautiful Father’s Day. I had just had my 19 week appointment and everything looked great. I remember we ordered takeout and excitedly talked about how next Father’s Day, we’d have a little baby to hold!
That night, I started to feel some mild cramping. Nothing to worry about, I told myself, I had been walking a lot that day, and just needed to take it easy. Then I noticed some discharge when I went to the bathroom. It seemed different–more wet and tinged with blood. That could be normal too, right?
Overnight, my physician brain was working overtime. Sure, plenty of pregnancy symptoms are normal, but they could also be a sign I was losing my baby. At 4 AM, I called the OB triage line and they told me to come in.
I cried the whole car ride to the hospital. I rubbed my belly gently and prayed that it was going to be okay. When we arrived, an OB resident immediately did a physical exam. She tried to make small talk, but after my exam was finished she quickly left the room, saying she would be right back.
Another resident came in with her, and did an exam. She looked at me pale and wide-eyed. I remember she spoke in very short sentences. She told me it wasn’t my fault, and I did nothing to cause this, but my cervix was 5 cm dilated and the baby’s membranes were coming out.
The next few hours were a blur. We met with an MFM specialist, who told me I had cervical insufficiency. A horrendous diagnosis that usually isn’t discovered until a woman has had at least one 2nd trimester loss or a pre-term birth. My cervix was weak and couldn’t hold my baby in.
We met with the Pediatric NICU team, who basically told us our baby was not going to survive if he was born that day, week, or month. He had to be at least 24 weeks to be considered for resuscitation, and even then it would be a long hard battle in the NICU (and in life) due to the risk of infection, developmental disabilities, brain bleeds and a whole lot of other terrible things.
To top it all off, I had my 20 week anatomy scan, which confirmed we were having a boy. He was perfect in every way, other than the fact that his feet were nearly coming out of my cervix. He was starting to move too, I could feel the little flutters in my belly as a constant reminder of how far along I was. I was halfway through my pregnancy, I kept telling myself. I made it halfway through.
There was one tiny sliver of hope–a cerclage, or cervical stitch, could be attempted to try to buy us some time. In this case, an emergency cerclage (placed when a woman’s cervix is already thinned and dilated) had about a 50/50 shot of getting me to a stage of pregnancy where it would be safe(r) for the baby.
We knew we had to give this baby a chance. So a few hours later I was wheeled into an OR, had a spinal epidural placed and a thick band of surgical suture sewn into my cervix.
The next few days were torture. I was on strict hospital bedrest, while they monitored me for signs of infection or pre-term labor. I was scared to cough or sneeze or move. Not only was I terrified to move, I had to be alone overnight because of COVID visitor restrictions. I left the TV on constantly to try to keep my mind on anything else.
After a few days, they let us go home, but I was told to continue the strict bedrest. My husband even got me a wheelchair so I would never have to be on my feet. It didn’t matter. Less than 8 hours later, I was back, this time with bloody red discharge and more cramping.
I lasted one more day in the hospital before my water broke. Fluid gushed down my legs as my uterus began to contract. I called my mom in an automated sort of voice and told her they had to remove the cerclage. I was in labor because I probably had an infection, and baby needed to come out.
They wheeled me into labor and delivery–to the room at the end of the hall, so I wouldn’t have to hear the women in labor with their babies who would actually make it. The hallway seemed long, but a second later I was in the room.
I remember pushing a small body, feet first, out of me. I remember my husband, half crying, kissing me on the forehead while I pushed. I remember holding our perfect son in my arms. He didn’t even weigh a pound, but his heart was beating when he arrived. I remember my husband cutting his umbilical cord and holding him while he passed. I remember praying that it would happen quickly, because I didn’t want him to be in pain, even if it meant an extra moment with him.
Afterward, we slept. Our small family of three. The little baby, who we named Rohan (Sanskrit for “ascending”) wrapped in a blanket.
If there are angels on earth, my labor and delivery nurse was one of them. Not only did she take photographs of Rohan, make tiny imprints of his feet, and help us to bathe him, she made me sandwiches, helped to stop my bleeding and hugged us both.
We were able to spend the next several hours with him. We would take turns holding him, crying over him, kissing and snuggling him. Mourning the life he would never get to have and the love we wanted so badly to show him. When it was finally time to say goodbye, I felt like I was leaving a piece of my soul with him.
I’m not even sure what to say about the aftermath except that it was worse. We did everything people usually recommend. I took time off work, I saw a therapist, I even started bullet journaling. None of those things made a huge difference. I considered a day a success if I got out of bed and put on something other than pajamas.
No one really knew what to do for us. My family wanted to visit, but because of COVID they couldn’t. Our friends and colleagues sent us food and flowers, but I didn’t want to endanger anyone by seeing them in person.
I also had an immediate knee-jerk reaction that I wanted to have another baby. Immediately. I was trying to grieve for one baby and plan for another. My body needed to heal, but my heart had so much love stored up for this baby that I didn’t get to hold for more than a few hours.
Eventually I went back to work, which was another hurdle. Two of my colleagues were pregnant. I spent most of my time dodging them so I wouldn’t have to see their bellies. I told them flat out I wouldn’t be going to their baby showers. I muted Zoom meetings if I heard a baby cry. If I saw a pregnant patient or someone who recently gave birth, I immediately locked myself into a bathroom stall and sobbed until I felt better.
It seems obvious, but I learned that everyone grieves differently. My husband was more introspective with his grief. I had to let it out. I talked to anyone I knew that had lost a baby. I craved story after story of something similar happening to someone else, because it just made me feel less alone. I read and listened to so many stories of miscarriage and loss. Their words echoed what I desperately wanted to feel. They seemed to say: I will never get over this, but I did get through it. I survived, and so will you.
The question everyone asks after something like this happens is, why? Why did this have to happen? That question got me nowhere, so I started to ask what? What can I do about this? What is Rohan trying to teach me?
He taught me this:
-I definitely married the right guy
-My family may not ever understand exactly what I went through, but they will do everything in their power to help me find happiness
-You can still be a mom to a baby who isn’t Earthside
-Time and distance don’t erase the pain, but they do ease it
-You have every right to protect your heart. You do not have to congratulate someone on their baby news, you do not have to go to anyone’s baby shower, and you can cry in the baby clothes aisle at Target if you want.
-You can (and will) feel intense fear and intense joy at the same time
-You can (and will) go through pregnancy again
-Wearing your pain like a badge of courage, sharing your story with others is how you make meaning out of the senseless things that happen in life
I have a little 4 month old now. His name is Sam. He has my chubby cheeks, and he’s my husband’s best friend. He’s the best thing to ever happen to me, the best thing I’ve ever done. And it’s because of Rohan that he’s here.