Kerrisa Williams has bravely and honestly shared her story of loss (and hope) with us. As we end Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we at The Motherhood Collective desire that her story brings some sense of peace and healing to those who need it most.
August fifth at seven thirty-two in the morning, I held my heart in my hands, the heaviest 4.2 ounces I have ever carried.
I have loved babies for as long as I can remember. I recall telling my mother all I really wanted to be when I grew up was a mom. That dream was fulfilled when I was (unexpectedly) blessed with an amazing son at the age of twenty-one. As unplanned and surprising as that pregnancy was, I never imagined I would have trouble with fertility in the future. But fast forward 5 years and a marriage later, month after month went by with no sign of that second little pink line. After a year of monthly disappointments, I learned a new term: “secondary infertility”. I knew about infertility and multiple reasons that women might have trouble getting pregnant initially, but had never heard of this (rather common) struggle happening after already having child(ren). My heart longed for another child so deeply, and yet it just didn’t seem to be happening.
And then it did. Two weeks after our first appointment with a fertility specialist, I was pregnant. No treatments, no procedures. It just finally happened. While we were overjoyed (understatement), it wasn’t an easy pregnancy from day one, in many ways...
Two years ago, (before this pregnancy) at the end of August, I found out I was pregnant. Another unexpected, unplanned pregnancy. Its all I can do to write and admit this now after everything we have been through, but I was not happy; this pregnancy was unwanted. You see, I would have been due within days of our already planned and paid for dream wedding. I knew even then how selfish that sounded, but it was how I truly felt. I have always personally been against abortion. I know I could never do that no matter what the situation. Yet I found myself thinking about it (knowing deep down I would never do it,but the thoughts were still there, which is so hard to confess). A week later I spontaneously miscarried.
So. Much. Guilt. I was convinced that somehow, because I so deeply didn’t want to be pregnant, I caused my body to do this. I didn’t talk to anyone about it and buried those feelings.
The instant I found out we were pregnant this time, those feelings resurfaced. Every little cramp, and my anxiety went through the roof. When I experienced spotting at 12 weeks, I panicked. I would have nightmares that I woke up in a pool of blood. The excitement and happiness of finally being pregnant was overshadowed by the fear of losing the baby. But as I got farther along, those feelings gradually lessened. My morning sickness was awful; I experienced first hand why women scoff at the term “morning” sickness, as I would wake up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night and have to run to the bathroom. I was so incredibly tired all the time, regardless of how much sleep I got. Almost every pregnancy “side-effect” I experienced in full force.
We announced our pregnancy very early (within a week of finding out). Our experience with infertility and miscarriage greatly affected this decision. We decided early on to be very open about our experience (and we continue to do so even though it has taken a very different course than we ever imagined).
Most people wait a while before making the announcement. We talked about waiting ourselves. Waiting to make sure "it stuck", waiting to make sure everything was okay, waiting so that in the event of complications we don't have to make that dreaded second announcement. But the more I think about it the more I felt it should be shared. And when I mentioned it to Austin he shared the same exact thoughts.The reality is, I've had a miscarriage and we've struggled with secondary infertility. Most of which was dealt with privately. The reality is, regardless of what happens a week from now or a month from now, we should be able to share the joy and excitement that is "now". The reality is, if something does happen a week or month from now, that isn't shameful, it doesn't need to be hidden, we will need the support and love of everyone who has shared our joy and excitement. The reality is, when people ask me how things are going with our journey, I can't hide it, I can't contain it, I have to share.
On August 4th, 2015, I woke up to my worst nightmare. Laying in a puddle, at sixteen weeks, my water had broken sometime during the night. Our midwife came over immediately and confirmed that my water had in fact broken and I hadn’t just peed. We didn’t know how or why, so we headed to the hospital. Although the birth center technically is not supposed to take you until you are 20 weeks (you are supposed to go to the ER instead), my amazing (homebirth) midwife pushed and got us in. In the twenty minutes between my house and the hospital, I went from asymptomatic to febrile with intense pain and light headedness. I almost passed out in the hall trying to walk to the room they had ready for me. The medical providers soon explained what was going on with a hurried slur of medical terms: uterine infection, induction, cytotec, sepsis, deadly, fetal demise. I had a uterine infection which was rapidly progressing, they needed to induce me with cytotec. I refused. They said I was facing a life threatening infection and would end up septic. That I was risking my life and/or future fertility by refusing and my baby was going to die regardless. (This particular comment/conversation is so incredibly vivid in my mind. I can recall the exact scene, hear the voice saying those words, smell the sterile atmosphere, feel the pain. I think that was the moment it got real, that I realized this was actually happening to me and my baby). You see, a uterine infection won’t heal until the uterus is empty. But an ultrasound had confirmed my baby still had a heartbeat. My baby was still alive. How could I allow them to force my body into labor when my baby had zero chance of survival at 16 weeks gestation? I couldn’t. So I refused.
A week earlier we went for an elective, just-for-fun 3D ultrasound for Austin’s birthday. The entire pregnancy we, along with everyone else, were convinced we were having a girl, mostly because this pregnancy was so incredibly different than my first. Within minutes of the ultrasound beginning, our little one showed us just how wrong we all were! We found out that day that, much to our surprise, we were having a little boy. I’m so grateful we were able to go and do that. Austin had not been able to make it to any of my other appointments prior to that, so it was the first ultrasound he was able to witness. I’m so glad that “first” was one of happiness and fun, rather than of us in the hospital being told our baby was going to die.
My condition worsened throughout the day and into the night. No one could get an IV in me so 12+ hours after arriving I still had not received any antibiotics. By midnight my fever was up to 104, I was in intense pain, and showing signs of sepsis. The hope that I was holding out for diminished and we revisited the suggested induction. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. At midnight on August 5th, I received my first dose of cytotec. I was freezing and shivering so intensely the whole bed was shaking, yet my body was burning up. I held onto my thin scratchy hospital blankets with my life when the nurse told me she needed to take them away to try to get my fever down. When I refused she threatened to pack ice all around me. I requested Advil and asked them to give me an hour for it to kick in before they did anything like that. Thankfully, the Advil brought my fever down just enough for them to calm down.
We had been placed in a high risk delivery room all the way at the end of the department in the corner, an attempt to offer us privacy as our situation was vastly different from the rest of the patients. But the floor was busy and I was forced to listen to the heartbeat of the baby on the monitor in the next room the entire night. I didn’t have any monitors connected to me, they never checked my baby’s heartbeat. The rhythmic beating that normally calmed my nerves when I was particularly anxious about miscarrying was now a constant reminder that I was indeed losing my baby.
The cytotec kicked in almost immediately. I hear stories of people being induced and nothing happens for 12 hours or more. My body is the opposite; it metabolizes those meds so fast. Within minutes, I was contracting. There was no gradual progression of light contractions minutes apart. They were strong, long, frequent from the get go. Within an hour of receiving the cytotec, I was on a birthing ball breathing through the contractions. They offered me an epidural. I refused. I wanted to stay as true to my original birth plan as possible, even though I knew the end result would be tragic. I needed to be in control of my labor, to have one piece of my plan go the way I wanted. I recently read a mother’s story who delivered her still born daughter at full term. Her description of why she refused the epidural hit home:
“They offered me an epidural, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to own it. I needed the pain, the agony, and misery to mirror what I felt in my heart. It was the hardest thingI’ve ever done. Ever. Dealing with the unbearable contractions, the ring of fire, the tearing…knowing that all of it was for nothing. I was delivering a lifeless child. There would be no happiness at the end of it to help me forget the pain. The pain, unlike my baby girl, would live on forever.”
Any infected body part is painful. My uterus was infected, so it was painful. I was in labor, which is painful. I also had cytotec, which causes stronger, longer, more frequent contractions, and is thus painful. The trio was unbearable. My homebirth midwife came back to the hospital and stayed with me through the labor and delivery, helping me relieve the pain in any natural way possible. I sat in the tub for the majority of the labor, but was still screaming in pain. Around 7 in the morning I felt myself giving up; defeated, I begged for the epidural, knowing deep down I didn’t really want it but couldn’t physically, emotionally, mentally, handle the pain I was enduring. At this point there was no break at all between contractions. I remember crying “No! No! No!” as the next contraction started immediately after the previous. They always say, for mothers who are dead set on a natural, unmedicated birth, the moment you are begging for the epidural is when the baby is coming. This was true for my older son Levi’s birth, and proved to be true once again. At 7:32, our son was born. Seven inches and 4.2 ounces of perfection.
Ten long fingers, ten tiny toes, nose, lips, ears, everything was perfectly formed. At a mere sixteen weeks, our baby was a baby. Not a fetus, not a mass of cells. A perfectly formed, beautiful, yet tiny, baby. I don’t say this to take a stance on abortion or condemn those who choose such; that is not Hudson’s story, that is not why I am sharing our story. I say this to share the truth, the reality, so people know what life looks like at 16 weeks.
After spending time with our son, we were asked what we planned to do with the baby. I understand that some people don’t choose to bury a baby at that developmental stage. But to me, the question was insulting. When listing the options, the nurse offered “disposal” as one. It's so hard to think that that is even an option. We choose to bury Hudson, which wasn’t much of a choice to us, because the alternatives just weren’t options.
The following days proved just how sick I was. I can’t remember a lot of it because I was so out of it. I was in intense pain and highly medicated. Nurses, obstetricians, hospitalists, infectious disease specialists and more read and reread my charts, came to examine me, brainstormed what else could be going on. At one point they thought I could possibly have appendicitis (I didn’t). But with time, and A TON of antibiotics, I eventually got better. The infection had just gotten that bad.
Five days after being admitted to the hospital, I was finally able to go home. Returning home without my baby, in my belly or my arms, was so hard. Its not supposed to happen that way. Levi, our five year old, had been staying with my parents while we were in the hospital. He didn’t know what was going on, just that I was sick. We wanted to be the ones to tell him and be able to explain things to him ourselves. I was so anxious to see him and hug him. When he finally got home, he immediately asked what“that box was on the counter”. It was a box the hospital had put together for us with all of Hudson’s things (footprints, hospital bands, a little hat and blanket, etc). I was not prepared for so many questions so soon. We changed the subject quickly and Austin put the box away until we were ready to sit down with him.
The questions and comments of a five year old are definitely a constant gut check. When asking about the funeral and cemetery he remarked, “Oh yea! Like pirates! And then someone can find his bones!”. While out to lunch just the other day, out of nowhere, unprompted, he blurted out, “You used to have a baby, remember? And it died.” I knew he would have questions, and I knew he probably wouldn’t fully grasp what happened. But I was so not prepared for moments like these.
As soon as we got home we had to start making funeral/burial arrangements. I had always known and been warned how commercialized that entire field was, but we quickly realized we had no idea what we were walking into. The first few appointments were absolutely awful. Endless phone calls, research, meetings, paper work. It seemed like it was never going to happen. It took two and a half weeks for us to get everything set. Austin and my dad made Hudson’s casket together. I made the lining and a blanket to wrap him in. We wanted him to be wrapped and surrounded in love, not just something we picked out of a catalog. Having your baby’s casket sitting in your house for days, awaiting the funeral arrangements, is a feeling I cannot adequately describe in any words. And then one day we finally got the call, and just like that, everything was ready.
We didn’t want a service. We didn’t want a viewing. Austin and I went to the funeral home by ourselves. We held our baby for the last time, wrapped him in our love, placed him in the casket, and sealed the casket together. It didn’t feel right to have someone else, a stranger, someone who didn’t have that love for him, do any of those things.With immediate family, we gathered at the gravesite and quietly, peacefully, said our goodbyes and stayed until the last speck of dirt was placed over him. I wrote the following later that day, as I reflected on what all had just happened:
As I stood taking in the earthy scent of the loose dirt filling the grave, my innocent child came up and hugged me whispering "you'll have another baby in your belly one day mommy, I just know it". Oh sweet child, that is our hope for the future. But it will never be the same. Hudson's presence will never be replaced.
Grief is a very odd and unique thing. It holds similarities across the board while still being so incredibly individual to each person, each day, each minute. Some days it seems to be lifting, then randomly pops back in with force. Some days all I want to do is hold and love on a baby. Others I can’t even look at them. There are triggers everywhere, and they aren’t always the obvious. Random, unthinkable thoughts run through my head like frantically needing to dig my baby back out of his grave. I can be completely fine all day and then breakdown and fall into a fetal position in the shower at night. A week after being home from the hospital I woke up screaming, reliving his labor and birth so vividly that I was experiencing contractions, at the exact time of day he was born.
These are the things people don’t talk about. Because they are ugly, unpleasant, even embarrassing. But they are normal. They need to be talked about and shared. Because there are so many women out there that don’t have anyone to talk to, anyone to reassure them that their seeming craziness is completely normal. They don’t have anyone to tell them not to resist those thoughts and feelings, to just let them flow, to let the grief in, let it dwell as long as it needs to. Because thats the only way to get through the grief. To properly process it. To come out on the other side and be able to make some sense of the tragedy and say I’m stronger because of this. But that doesn’t happen over night and it can’t be rushed. You just have to be, to feel, to surrender.
The full gallery of Hudson’s pictures can be viewed here: http://www.liz-cook.com/blog/2015/the-birth-of-hudson-barrett-baby-born-at-16-weeks