I can’t believe how much has happened in just the past couple days. Wednesday night around midnight I started having contractions. They weren’t super intense, more like moderate to strong menstrual cramps, and they only lasted for about 20 seconds at a time, but they were happening every 3 or 4 minutes. I was mostly just confused (and tired, since I couldn’t really sleep through this) because they started off so regular. And also because I was only 35 weeks and 5 days pregnant! We’d been told several times that babies with anencaphaly often don’t trigger birth on time, if at all, so we should expect to deliver late and possibly be induced. I went downstairs and got all cozy on our couch for the night since I was a lot more comfortable sitting up. I thought about calling the midwife on duty at the hospital to see if I should be concerned, but I actually had an ultrasound scheduled for the morning (and they always have us talk with the doctor when we go in for an ultrasound, just in case we have questions about anything), so I figured I’d just wait for that since the contractions weren’t really strong yet anyway.
By about 6:00, the contractions were slowing down a tad and were getting a little less painful, so I thought it was probably just a false alarm. But I went ahead and packed my hospital bag, just in case. A few hours later we went in for our ultrasound and while Claire looked like she was doing well, we found out that my amniotic fluid levels were really high (they were at 30… whatever units they measure it in…. they don’t usually worry too much until it gets over 25, and later on one of the nurses in Labor and Delivery told us that most of the women they see are well under 20). The doctor said that that and the fact that I’d been having contractions made him think that Claire would be coming very soon, within a day or two.
I had already made pretty much everything for Claire that I wanted to, but I still had an idea for a painting I wanted to get done before she came so that we could have it out with a little memorial display at her funeral. So, after we got home, put Duckie down for her nap, and my husband left for work, I started painting like crazy. I had to stop a couple times to help Duckie with things and to do an errand, but I did manage to finish it by that evening. During all this, my contractions had restarted, were still regular, and were getting stronger. I was able to block them out during most of the time I was painting, but the closer I got to finishing, the more I had to actually stop painting to let each contraction pass. By the time I was done, my husband was going to be home fairly soon (he usually has to stay much later, but this particular day he got off early because he had to run a special PT session), so I decided to just go take a shower and get our bags ready to go to the hospital. Of course my husband would have come home sooner if I’d called, but I didn’t think it’d make that big of a difference. Plus, even though I was definitely having regular, real contractions, part of me was still in denial that I could really be in labor so early.
So once Husband got home, we woke up Duckie, packed up the car, and headed to the hospital. We got to Labor and Delivery, checked in, and they took me back so the midwife could check if I was dilating and really in labor. Well, it turns out I was definitely in labor (obviously) and already dilated to 6 or 7 centimeters! The midwife and nurses were all really surprised that I was so far along because I was handling the contractions so well. In hindsight, I think the fact that I was somewhat in denial helped me cope with the pain because I could tell myself it wasn’t really labor so that pain couldn’t really be as bad as I was thinking. Of course that’s ridiculous reasoning, but the pride in me kept me from showing too much of my pain since I wasn’t convinced it was real labor (note to my future self for any future pregnancies: if you’re in pain, accept you’re in real pain; it doesn’t matter if it’s “real” labor or not). Around this time, my legs started shaking after each contraction since they were getting even stronger. I knew beforehand that I wanted an epidural, and I was especially wanting one by this point, so I asked if I could get one as soon as possible. For some reason it took and hour and a half and many more contractions before I could get it, but it was the most fantastic thing once I did.
At this point it was a little after midnight on Thursday. A friend from our church had come to watch Duckie for us at the hospital. Her husband is actually one of the OB doctors at this hospital, so she knew her way around there really well, and all the nurses there said they just loved her and that she always brought them tasty food. 🙂 It was really great that she was able and so willing to come help us there and that it was a place that she was familiar with so that helped Duckie be comfortable there, too. We really wanted Duckie to come to the hospital with us so that she could meet Claire, too, so we’re very grateful that that worked out so well.
A couple hours later, I was ready to start pushing. My water still hadn’t broken, and the midwife and nurse were getting all decked out in special coverings and goggles in case there was a huge splash since I had so much fluid. We were joking with them that if there wasn’t a big splash, they might be disappointed since they were so prepared for one. Well, there was certainly no disappointment — it was like a gigantic water balloon exploded, ha ha. We all actually had a good little laugh about it, and I remember thinking how odd it was to be laughing at something when I’m in the middle of giving birth and when we knew we’d be so sad later. But it also felt really good to have a little funny moment to laugh at at that moment.
A few minutes later, at 2:58 AM, Claire was born and put into my arms. She weighed 3 pounds and 10 ounces, and was 14 inches long. My first thought while holding her was she’s so perfect. I couldn’t believe I ever thought, even for just a moment, that I’d have a hard time seeing her in her condition. Babies with anencephaly can’t usually move around or make sounds or anything once they’re born, and this was the case with Claire. I remember thinking how odd it was to see her holding still since she was always (and I do mean always) so active in the womb. I could literally feel her moving around inside me up until she was actually born. The sweetest thing was being able to feel her breathing ever so slightly when I had my hand on her back. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t feel it anymore (she was still alive, but it was too faint to feel anymore). I’m really grateful for that extra sweet experience.
She stayed with us for a couple more hours before going back to Heaven. The nurses took some pictures for us, and a photographer from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep came and took lots of pictures for us. The Labor and Delivery team at the hospital here really went the extra mile to make everything as special as possible for us. Whenever a patient has a baby who doesn’t survive, they make this special purple box for the family that is filled with little memories (like extra footprints, a dvd with the pictures they took, your hospital bracelets, a card with personal notes from all the staff that night, a little bracelet they made with the baby’s name on it, and any other little things that you may find sweet or comforting). They also have sweet little homemade hats, leis, and blankets that have been donated for the babies.
We woke Duckie up again so she could come meet Claire, and even though it was middle of the night and second time we woke her up, she was so excited to meet her little sister. It was so precious; she just kept beaming at Claire and saying, “Baby Claire!” We showed her Claire’s little tiny toes and fingers, and Duckie would just laugh at how tiny and precious she was. She gave her a hug and kiss before going back to bed.
We still held on to Claire for a little longer after she passed away and just continued to take her sweetness in. Around 7:20 or 7:30 the nurse came to take her to the morgue. I was doing pretty well up until that point, but then I just couldn’t stop crying. Our nurse (who was really great the whole time, by the way) assured me that we could keep her longer if we wanted some more time, but I knew it was just going to get harder and harder with every passing moment, so my husband and I said our last goodbyes to Claire and let her go. That was so, so hard. I think saying goodbye at her funeral will be even harder, though, since we won’t have another chance to hold her again in this life.
Even with how sad I am and how incredibly much I miss her already, I feel so grateful for how well everything went. It was all really the very best I could have hoped for. I’m so glad that Claire was able to come on her own. I really, really didn’t want to be induced since that would make the birth harder on Claire and lessen her chances of a live birth. I’m so grateful that she was born alive and stayed with us for a couple hours; I was really afraid that we wouldn’t get any time with her at all.
I’m actually very grateful that she did come early. I only gained 17 pounds with Claire, but I have been so incredibly uncomfortable (to put it mildly). Just earlier this week I was still throwing up, even after taking medicine; and even before the contractions started, I rarely slept for more than 30 to 40 minutes at a time because my stomach hurt so much (as in the muscles hurt, not a stomach ache hurt) and felt so stretched.
The actual birth went very smoothly and I only had one teeny, tiny tear (giving birth to Duckie was a whole different story, and the recovery was really painful and long, so I admit I was afraid of that happening again). I’m recovering amazingly well so far — it was just yesterday that I gave birth and already I’m barely even bleeding. I’ve only needed one ibuprofen since giving birth and that’s it for pain killers. In fact, the most sore I am is just from where the epidural and my IV were in me, and both of those areas just feel a little bit bruised. I’m amazed and so grateful that I’m doing so well physically.
After we got home from the hospital, I went to take a nap since I’d only gotten about an hour, maybe two, of sleep in the past 48 hours. When I woke up, Duckie was home (our friend had taken her back to her home after she got to meet Claire) and up from her nap, too. She came to the bedroom to see me and crawled up on the bed next to me. The first thing she said to me was, “Baby Claire?” while looking around. Then she moved the blanket to look at my stomach, I guess to check if Claire was back in my tummy, before asking, “Baby Claire go?” (Meaning, “Where did Baby Claire go?”) I explained to her that Claire had to go be with Jesus, which she accepted but still seemed confused as to why she couldn’t be here with us and with Jesus at the same time. Every so often she comes up to me and asks where Claire is. I think it will be a while before she understands that Claire isn’t coming back to us. It’s so sad because Duckie is such a good big sister and really does love Claire and want to be with her.
We’ve been figuring out our travel plans and getting everything together. We’ll be heading out to Tennessee next week for the funeral and stay there through the holidays. Then we’ll visit my husband’s family in California before heading back to Hawaii. I’m really glad that we get to spend the holidays with my family. Two of my three sisters will be there for a bit, too, so that will be good.
I know we’ve been having a lot of people praying for us, and we’re all very appreciative of your support. We’ve definitely been able to see God’s hand helping us through everything.
As promised, here are some pictures of the things I made for Claire. I still have to make my fabric button earrings using the extra fabric from her burial dress, but everything else has been ready to go for a while now. We’re also getting some jewelry with her hand and foot prints on it, but that will take a while to be made and get here.
Claire’s burial dress.
The hat my sister made.
Sister bears made from the same fabric as Claire’s blanket. The small one is for Claire to keep and the big one is Duckie’s.
Tie for my husband made from the same fabric as Claire’s burial dress. I added some of the flowers to the back so he could have those with him, too.
*Update* I made the earrings yesterday, so here they are.
The painting I rushed to finish. “Come Into My Arms To Stay”
(No one may use this picture, or any others found here for that matter, without my permission>)
Our sweet little angel Claire. ❤
By the way, this article is a really good explanation of how to treat people who are going through something hard. I highly recommend it to everyone.