Thursday, January 1, 2009

One year later

It's been one year now since the passing of our little boy, Thomas, and a sort of peace has settled around me. I think about him quite often still, and every so often I take out his picture to see his face. Just like with anyone who passes away, you find that over time you feel like you are forgetting what they looked like. With each time that I see that picture, now I feel pride in such a beautiful little person that my husband and I cooperated with God in making. All of our children are beautiful, and perfectly created. Thomas was perfect as well. Perfect features, perfect fingers and toes, and all the rest. I'm proud of him.

The desire still remains within me to help people through my experience. I'm still working that out, as I'm still working through my grief. It's not something that I can just get over and move on from, forget about or pretend never happened. I was pregnant, experienced the loss and everything that came with and followed that. It was a season of my life, if you will. I have been working through guilt (seems silly doesn't it), blame, anger, depression, feeling alone, and the ever there question: Why? Many of these things I've had to work through on my own, while Kevin was deployed.

For a while now I've been sewing items for Care Wear to be delivered to hospitals, and I'm feeling comforted by this physical work. The emotional comfort/fulfillment is there as well in that I'm helping to make a woman and her infant be comforted and cared for at such an important time. I've designed and made some memory blankets specifically for women who have experienced an early loss, where there may not be items for them to have as keepsakes in memory of their loss. There are some receiving blankets, for that can be given for live births or babies that have passed away full-term. I also put together a couple of smaller shrouds for miscarried babies. In the case of a miscarriage, (Miscarriages are considered the delivery of a fetus up to 20 weeks-- after 20 weeks it is considered a still birth. With many women who deliver close to 20 weeks as I did the term miscarriage doesn't seem to "fit" because of the development of the baby at this point.) I've researched and found that it is quite often common place for the medical profession to either send the woman home to complete her miscarriage in the comfort and quiet of her own home, or to stay in the hospital and deliver the baby there. In either case the mother may still see/hold her child and may want something to take away with her. In cases where the woman experiences a D&C, she will have nothing visual to keep as a memory, but something like a keepsake may be a comfort to her in that it is an acknowledgement of her loss.

I've also made some burial wraps for still-born and preemies.

I know in a way perhaps doing these thing for others might seem like I am staying in one place rather than moving forward. But from my own experience I discovered a need that needs to be taken care of and I want to help.

In cases of stillborn and infant death a mother might take much comfort from something to cloth her child in. She might be able to bring it home with her and breath in the sweet smell of her baby who no longer is able to rest in her arms. It's something so special. And I am grateful that I can help in this way. I know the sorrow of empty arms, and the blanket I have from my son is something very special that gave me comfort.

My journey will go on now. And I will learn new lessons everyday from this little person that so changed my life. He's been an inspiration in my desire for helping others. And his still small existence is something that I will always hold dear.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

9 Months Later.

It's been some time since I read over my birth story of Thomas. Very painful, and yet I read it with a certain kind of peace in me. It was almost like reading someone elses story. I could relate and felt sorrow for the loss. But it wasn't so gut wrenchingly painful as I know it truly was at the time.

My sorrow, I don't think, will ever go away. But my acceptance has grown. My ability to accept my grief has grown.

Just this morning I was thinking about my little one and missing him. I would like to hold him. But I know he knows no pain, or sadness or discomfort of this world. Those things I am grateful for. For a long long time my arms felt physically empty, like they just wanted to fall off. I looked at other babies and something was not fair, like happiness had been stolen from me. But I realize that was part of my grief talking. I look at babies now, not wanting to run from them, but wanting to hold them.

My husband recently brought us to a work party and one of his coworkers had a baby the same age as Thomas would be. We were due within days of one another. I so wanted to just hold him, but the whole idea made me want to sob. He was so beautiful. It was so precious to see her little one. And so I made like I was occupied with little Anneliese and walked away with a forced smile so I wouldn't make anyone uncomfortable with my tears.

I still think of him fairly often. But when I don't, the guilt is no longer there. For the most part. I would go for days feeling guilty that I hadn't thought about him for a minute. How silly of me! No one should live in that sad place...It will eat you up. Instead I like to think of him happily. He's like a happy thought. Bittersweet though! I remember his kicking very well. And his moving around. He was very lively. And that makes me happy. At our first ultrasound he was bouncing around like he was on a trampoline. Those memories make me laugh.

How has this affected the kids over the months?

Well, Anneliese is so young...She will grow up most likely not remembering a thing.

Anthony for a good while still talked quite a bit about Thomas. Up until just a few months ago actually. He mentioned to a neighbor that his brother died. I had a little explaining to do. I surprised myself with just giving the facts. And I was ok. Sad, but ok.

I believe the hardest time I've had so far was near my estimated due date. I was just very sad, and that was hard. But I made it through ok.

When his death date arrives in December, I anticipate it will be a difficult day for me as well. But I am trying to come up with a good way to celebrate his little life, rather than grieve it. It's a work in process, and once I come up with some idea of how to do that perhaps I will share again.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Thomas Christopher Bowen

My Stillbirth Experience.

It was Sunday when everything started. Though, I didn’t know it at the time.

I was almost 20 weeks pregnant when Kevin and I took the kids with us to do some Christmas shopping. It was December 2nd.We figured we could spend the day together trying to figure out what to get the kids, and then go back later and buy it when they were home with me. About half way through our time at the store I started to have contractions. I thought not much of it because I had contractions start about this time with the other kids. I just figured I needed to sit down. The only thing that seemed slightly odd to me was that they were unusually painful contractions. They weren’t usually painful, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to have a painful one now and again. The hospitals, with the previous two pregnancies, chocked it up to being on my feet too long and being dehydrated. I assumed as much and we went home and I laid down for the remainder of the day. Eventually they petered out and I was left exhausted.

I also had a regular checkup appointment scheduled for that Tuesday, so I planned to have them check everything out to make sure all was well. But my doctor’s office called and let me know that my doctor had an emergency C-Section and needed to move my appointment to Wednesday. I didn’t think too much of that. I felt fine after Sunday.

Monday came and went. I was busy with the kids; they kept me running here and there. Nothing seemed unusual, although I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I was awake all night worrying about the baby even though everything seemed fine. I just thought I was being paranoid. When I did finally fall asleep around 4:30 I dreamt that the baby had died. That upset me, but again I just thought I was being paranoid.

Tuesday rolled around. I realized I had not felt the baby move or kick since the weekend. This stuck out in my mind because I made a point of letting Kevin and Anthony feel whenever he kicked. Maybe I was just so busy with the kids I didn’t feel it? Maybe I was just preoccupied with Kevin getting ready to leave for Iraq. I started to really worry and get paranoid but I didn’t say anything. I was just hyper aware of anything unusual, and kept sitting still every once in a while to see if I could feel him kick. He was quite the kicker, especially around 9 to 10pm. Nothing. No kicking.

That night I slept fitfully. When I did sleep I dreamt that I was standing near heaven in the clouds and I handed my baby to Blessed Mother who stood there very seriously, slightly in front and above me. I told her, “He’s your baby now.” And I handed him to her. There was no lovey- dovey feeling from this dream. No warm and fuzzy feeling from handing the baby over to this motherly figure. It was all business, and I just felt like I had given my job as mother to this baby away. When I woke up in the morning I was again disturbed, and paranoid. But I blamed it on being pregnant and paranoid and just worried because I hadn’t felt a kick.

On the way to the doctor’s appointment that morning I finally shared my worries with Kevin, and tried to lighten the mood a little by telling him I was probably just being more paranoid than usual.

We got to the doctors office and they weighed me and took my blood pressure and a urine sample, and they told me that I was scheduled to have a routine ultrasound which I thought was great. I expressed my worry about not feeling the baby move, and the nurse reassured me that we would check to make sure everything was ok. We waited over an hour because there was a line. One doctor, one machine, lots of patients. Kevin took Anneliese for a walk and I kept Anthony with me. I would take him in with me so he could see the baby and hear the heart beat. He was excited because we would find out if it was a boy or a girl. Kevin and Anthony were both sure it was a boy. I was pretty certain as well.

Anthony and I ended up going into the ultrasound room, and I got changed. Kevin ended up coming in with Anneliese while we were still waiting for the doctor. I was expecting this to be a great experience, with the kids and Kevin all there to be able to see the baby for the first time, and me getting the reassurance I needed. The doctor was happy to meet the kids and Kevin. And then we got started.

I was busy looking at the screen. And I saw the baby, but I saw no heartbeat, no movement, no organs working. I looked at the doctor and he said nothing, but kept moving the machine around on my belly like he was looking for something. And I knew. He still said nothing, but took some measurements. He was measuring the baby’s thigh bone and skull. And then he turned it off and said, “I have some bad news…”. I told him I already knew, and broke down crying. Kevin took a minute to understand I think. The kids were just confused to why I was crying and so upset. “I just wanted to be WRONG!” I kept saying it over and over. Nothing could fix this. I will always be right. Even now I’m upset that I was right, in knowing that my son was already dead.

The doctor went on to say that he couldn’t see what was wrong, or what had happened. It wasn’t clear. It didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was that my son was dead and I wanted them not to take him from me. I needed to see him. I told the doctor so, and we ended up deciding on inducing labor. I couldn’t imagine the thought of doing a D&C. It seemed so wrong. He was big enough that I could feel him kicking and see my belly move with him. I needed to be able to see him.

We called my mom immediately after my appointment and I told her that we had lost our baby. She was very upset, and agreed to come right then. She drove all night to get here to be with me before I went to the hospital Thursday morning. I was in a daze, and couldn’t stop crying.

I spent the night holding my belly, desperately trying to will him back to life, feeling like maybe we just hadn’t seen the heartbeat even though I knew it wasn’t there. I felt like I had failed. He should have been safe here with me, but instead I had failed to go for help when I felt something was wrong. Had I killed my baby? The truth is, no. But the feeling is still there that somehow I had failed my child, and my family by not keeping him safe. I finally fell asleep about 5 am, only to wake up an hour or so later to get up to be at the hospital at 7:30.

When we arrived at the hospital and I couldn’t function. I don’t even remember the ride there. I couldn’t fill out the paperwork, Kevin had to do it all for me. It was all I could do not to run back out the door. It was all I could do not to sob my heart out. The nurses were so cheerful and I felt like I was somehow killing my own child being there or walking him to his death. Kevin finally asked them if they knew why we were there…One of the nurses took me into the labor room, I think because she saw I was starting to panic. She handed me the gown to change into and I just broke down into tears. She hugged me a moment and told me, “You are young. You are beautiful. You can have another.” This was the worst thing possible to say. It was no comfort at all to hear that I could have another baby to replace what I was losing. She made it out like it was no big deal. My baby was replaceable?! I was shocked and heartbroken. My reaction was normal for the circumstances even though I knew she was trying to comfort me. To me he is a person, not a thing to be replaced.

I know now from talking with others who have lost children and babies that they too feel that another won’t replace their loss. It would be like someone telling a widow, “Don’t worry. You can get married again.”

After I was changed and set in bed it was all a waiting game. We waited until 11am before I was given the medication to ripen my cervix and start contractions. It was miserable. I wanted to die along with Thomas, so I could be out of my own pain and shock and so I could be with him. My other children needed me and Kevin did as well. I couldn’t go.

Around 4pm my contractions started pretty heavily. I can’t recall if it was around that time or before that Kevin left to get some food. I panicked when he went to leave, afraid that I would be alone when I delivered. But the nurse who kept checking me assured me that it would still be a while before he was born.

I wasn’t allowed anything solid to eat. I hated that I was hungry and tired and just wanted it over with. I wanted to keep him inside me, but I knew I couldn’t, and not eating whatever they did give wasn’t going to help the situation. I ate to keep up my strength so that I could see him.

At one point my nurse checked my cervix and went to get another nurse for a second opinion. I was concerned, but not enough to care much. I couldn’t get past the fact that my baby was dead. What did I care what was going on with my own body? After the second nurse checked me, I was about 4cm dilated. My nurse explained that she thought she had felt fingers or toes sticking into the birth canal and wanted to make sure that wasn’t was happening because then it would have happened really quickly and I could have torn my cervix by pushing. All I could think was “You thought you felt his fingers?! Oh my gosh…”

After Kevin was back from getting his food was when my labor really started heavily. I was in a lot of pain, but convinced myself that because I had done this twice before with no medication I could do it again. And I wanted to be fully aware so I could see him when he was born.

One a side note—we didn’t know it was a boy yet. We never had the chance to find out until he was born.

As the labor progressed, I was in so much pain that I started asking for help, for medication. I started having back labor. I had Kevin put his fists under my lower back to relive some of the pain. It helped, but it was almost unbearable. He finally went and asked for me to have medication. It seemed like hours before anyone responded. All the while I was holding onto this idea that we were making a huge mistake, that he was alive and that perhaps we were killing him. It was unbearable. I was really close to delivering now, and wanted to be aware still, but I was almost yelling from the pain. My body knew that this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to be delivering this early and I think my body was fighting it as much as it could.

I was talking myself through the contractions. “You can do this. Come on, come on. Hurry!” I wanted it to go faster!

The doctor wasn’t there yet. The nurse was preparing things for the delivery. And then it just happened.

“He’s coming now! I’m sorry, I have to push NOW!” And I pushed him out. He was still in the fully intact placenta.

The nurse assured me it was ok and ran for the doctor.

When she came back she had the medication and administered it through my I.V. I all but passed out. I struggled to stay awake. I HAD TO SEE HIM. I COULDN’T LET THEM TAKE HIM AWAY YET!

When the doctor came he mentioned in a matter of fact way that “it all came out at once”. I suppose that was unusual because they kept telling me through the whole thing that as soon as I started spotting it would go quickly. But that never happened. I never spotted, or bled.

He gently placed the placenta in a tub and attempted to tear it open with his fingers, but needed scissors. I was worried he would knick the baby. But he was fine. He floated out in a puddle of bloody amniotic fluid. He was limp and on his side, with the cord around his neck and right arm. He was tangled. He was blood red, almost purple. He looked nothing like a baby should look.

And he was so small.

“My baby!”

And I started crying.

The doctor and Kevin both said “It’s a boy.” And then my doctor attempted to take the cord from around his neck. It wouldn’t come loose, so he cut it and clamped it and asked if I wanted to hold him. All I could do was nod because I was crying.

“There will be some swelling…”, he said and he placed him in a cloth and gently laid him in my arms.

I was horrified that this had all happened. I loved my baby! Surely this was just the most horrible thing that could ever take place.

I don’t remember much of the next few hours. I was trying real hard still to stay awake from the medication they had given me, and I was exhausted from labor. And I wanted to not let go of Thomas. The doctor was right in that there would be swelling. I don’t know how long it was before it started but he did swell up with the cord still around his neck, and though I was horrified by it, I couldn’t put him down. He was my precious, beautiful, perfect baby boy. The ugliness of death could not change that.

After a while I asked Kevin if he wanted to hold him and he nodded and took him in his hands. He rocked him for the longest time. I made sure that despite my drugged up delirium I took a picture so that he could remember that the time he had with his son was precious and forever recorded.

Kevin left me with Thomas after a while. I don’t know long it was that Kevin stayed with us, and I’m not sure if Kevin left because he was upset or tired. But he left to be with the kids and sent my mom to come be with me. Between the time Kevin left and the time my mom arrived, the nurse brought the Chaplain in and he baptized Thomas and stayed with me for a while. I don’t remember much of that time except that he was a nice old Irish priest who asked about my heritage and told me one of the most important things about the whole issue surrounding losing Thomas. He told me that God had intended for Thomas to live a full and complete life and to grow and know us and be happy and fulfilled, and that death was not part of the plan but nature sometimes interferes. That was comforting for me to hear. That it had not been intended to be this way. I had wished Kevin could have been there for his baptism, but obviously God thought that I needed to be the one to hear those things at that moment.

My mom came and held Thomas and cried with me and comforted me through the night. They changed us to another room, which I was happy for because right next door or across the hall a woman had delivered her baby and the baby’s screaming was making me feel crazy. They took Thomas for a while and cleaned him, and took the cord from around his neck, wrapped him in a blanket with a little hat and took pictures (which I didn’t know about until later, but was glad to find out about). They brought him back to me in a bed, like any other baby, though covered so no one else could see, and he stayed with me through the night. I held him again the next morning and it was so painful because by then he was cold, and because of how long he had been dead his appearance started to change.

While my mother went out to talk with the nurses, I touched him for the last time. I wrapped him gently in his blanket, and tried to memorize everything about him before I placed it carefully over his face. It was my last attempt to protect him. To me he was still beautiful, but I wanted no one to be harmed or traumatized by his appearance. And then I started to panic and cry and went as fast as I could out into the hallway and asked that he be taken away now.

I had let go the way I needed to. I needed them to make it more real and take his body away from me now so that I did not step backward.

I didn’t leave the hospital until I made sure to ask the nurse that he would be taken care of and treated with respect. She assured me, “Of course!”

My mother and Kevin made all the arrangements for the cremation and service we had. I needed that because I could not focus. I was still in shock. I could barely talk. But as soon as we had the Mass and Rosary for Thomas I felt some closure--like we had put him to rest. For now his remains are here with us in the urn, but at some point soon we will bury him with my grandparents. I don’t feel the need for a graveside service because I feel that what was needed was accomplished with the Mass.

He now rests with God. And though I miss him, and I hate that he is not here with me, I know that I will be with him eventually and I will never have to let him go again.