I was married my high school sweetheart, and we had been together for nearly 10 years. We both graduated college, had great careers, bought our first house, and best of all, we had a beautiful two-year-old daughter that was the light of everyone’s life. Life seemed perfect. We were so happy and thrilled about the future for our family. In October 2010, my husband and I started to plan having our next baby. We had those talks, you know, the ones where you excitedly try to decide how many kids you want, how far they should be spaced out, and whether we think it will be a boy or a girl. Well, we still couldn’t decide how many kids we wanted, but two or three seemed great, and we really didn’t care if we had a boy or girl as long as they were healthy and happy. But we did want them to be pretty close in age, so they could grow up and attend school together. So we decided to start trying right away, because it took longer than expected to get pregnant with our daughter.
Our excitement was through the roof when we found out we were expecting the following month. It seemed surreal because we couldn’t have planned it better. Our baby was due August 15, 2013! We excitedly waited for the doctor’s appointments; trying to stay disguised because we had a big secret we didn’t want to let out until we were far enough along that the pregnancy was safe. After previously miscarrying, it seemed like that was forever. After 12 weeks, the excitement got to my husband and he caved, telling his parents the exciting news. I, on the other hand, was still cautious. I was scared of miscarrying, and decided it wasn’t time for me to share yet. I felt so guilty that I hadn’t told my family, so I ended up telling my side of the family the joyous news at 16 weeks. My brother teased my husband, saying we were having another girl, and my sisters were so excited to buy baby Wranglers.
My next doctor’s appointment was that same week and I was so excited to schedule our ultrasound. My doctor gave us the option of going to the hospital in the small town we live in, or traveling two-and-a-half hours to see a specialist for the ultrasound. He reassured us that the hospital in our town was good. I knew that already because we had our daughter there, but for some reason I felt that I needed to go to the specialist’s office. Something still didn’t seem just right, and I kept thinking that I would feel 100% confident after the ultrasound there. My doctor seemed puzzled and tried to reassure me that it was unnecessary. I persisted and explained my position of uncertainty, so he arranged the appointment.
The appointment was at 18.5 weeks on a Friday. My husband and I made the two-and-a-half hour drive down and planned how we would spend our afternoon driving home, calling family to tell them whether we were team pink or blue. We were so ready to see our little love on ultrasound. Our technician was wonderful and seemed so thorough. She said she was having a hard time getting a couple of measurements because our little squish was in a tough position, and the specialist wasn’t in that day so we would have to come back to try to get those views. We asked the technician if our baby was good, and her reply was “As far as I can tell you, everything is good.” Finally the weight of uncertainty was off; I could now enjoy my pregnancy. We left the office after finding out we were having a girl. A GIRL!!
The ride home was so great. We called and told everyone that we were team PINK. We called and shared our news with grandparents and extended family. We talked about names, what we liked and didn’t like, and how we were going to arrange the baby room with the crib. I enjoyed the rest of the drive home, day dreaming of our girls growing up playing together, going to school together, soccer games, riding horses, and hoped that they would be team roping partners in high school. We were so happy and blessed.
The follow-up appointment was the next Wednesday, at 19.3 weeks. My husband was reluctant to take another day off work for the follow-up, but I finally convinced him to spend the day with me; that we could go to lunch, and after the appointment we could start our baby shopping. He wasn’t too thrilled about me spending a ton of money on baby stuff, but he agreed to go, and was excited to see our baby on ultrasound again.
Our appointment seemed to be going good. The specialist, a perinatologist, came in to finish the ultrasound. She was nice, but very professional, and didn’t say much. After about five minutes, I realized that she was focused on our baby’s heart. I panicked and sat up, asking what she was seeing. Her response, “Let me finish the ultrasound, and we will talk about the significance in a minute.” That phrase echoed through my whole body. I was so scared and trembled–all I could think was The tech said everything was good, obviously something is wrong. After another 10 minutes, the doctor starting telling us what see could see, and pointed out the problems on ultrasound. Every detail was a dagger in my heart, slowly shattering it one detail at a time. Our baby girl had severe heart and lung deformities, problems with her brain and kidneys, and 10 other significant markers for a chromosome abnormality. The doctor couldn’t tell us what the underlying cause was for certain, but said that the markers were very significant and likely incompatible with life. That phrase echoed through me, it was like a horrible dream and I couldn’t wake up. She offered an amniocentesis to diagnose the problem, and we accepted. We had to know what our baby was up against; we just had to know. The amniocentesis was a blur; all I could think about was our daughter and getting a second opinion. I cried the entire way home and dodged calls from family asking how our appointment went. Saying I was heartbroken and devastated would be an understatement. There are no words that can explain this.
The next seven days seemed like an eternity, filled with more devastating news from the second and third opinions. These appointments were almost worse than the first. I felt like I had been run over by a freight train. Why us? We were good people. I’m only 26 years old. This isn’t supposed to happen. I don’t smoke, don’t drink, took my prenatal vitamins religiously, and ate as healthy as possible. I didn’t do anything wrong so WHY was this happening?
At 20.3 weeks, our amniocentesis results were in. I could hear the quake in our doctor’s voice. She started telling me that she doesn’t like to give results over the phone, but I persisted–we had waited long enough. Her suspicions were correct; our daughter had a fatal chromosome disorder. Finding out was harder than I had expected. It was final. There was nothing we could do, nothing the doctors could do, and there was no one that could help her. I was given only a 10% chance of making it to term, and was told that if she survived delivery she would pass immediately after. Because I have thrombocytopenia, which can cause serious internal or external bleeding, I would need to relocate to a larger city for monitoring, because my case exceeded my local hospital’s capabilities. I would be two-and-a-half hours from my family for the remainder of my pregnancy, only to have a devastating ending.
We discussed our options to either continue to term or terminate the pregnancy. Neither option was good. We weighed the impacts that both would have on our family, our careers, our finances, and most importantly our precious baby. We contemplated back and forth. This was the worse decision anyone would ever have to make. I would have rather died than have to make this decision. I would rather take my husband off life support than have to make the decision to let my baby girl go. I prayed for a miracle, and I prayed that I would die so I wouldn’t have to endure this reality. These discussions were horrible. Planning a funeral is horrible. Planning a death is even worse. Ending the pregnancy in a clinic wasn’t good either. We would have to travel two states away to Colorado to be able to terminate in a clinic, because no clinics in our state offered terminations after 18 weeks. It seemed impossible–to make arrangements, buy plane tickets, and schedule everything for travel, and then to have the procedure and return home. I didn’t have it in me. It wasn’t for me and I decided this wasn’t the best option. At the same time, I didn’t know how I could continue on with our pregnancy as my little stomach continued to grow. I could start to feel little movements, nothing like I should have felt at this point, but my heart ached knowing that we wouldn’t have the happy bundle of joy at the end. We didn’t want our daughter to suffer and didn’t want to watch her in agony as she passed. This whole situation was unfathomable.
Our specialist called to check in on us and we discussed where we were at in this agonizing process. An angel was looking over us at that moment, because the specialist offered to induce me at a local hospital nearby. She advised us that it would have to happen soon as state law restricted inductions after 24 weeks. This was the answer to all our prayers! Our daughter would not suffer, and our family would be able to be there. It finally was clear that this was the best possible outcome for the worse experience of my life.
At 22 weeks, we were checked into the hospital for the induction. Three days later, on April 10, 2011, our daughter, Haylee, was delivered by c-section. She was beautiful and as perfect as could be. All of our family was there to welcome her and to kiss her goodbye. We made hand and foot print casts, and took lots of pictures–keepsakes I will treasure for the rest of my life. Leaving the hospital was the hardest. It would have been the same experience at full term, but nothing prepares you for this, or for going to make arrangements at a funeral home, or for being asked how many death certificates you need. I never thought having another child would cause this much heartbreak.
The emotional pain of this experience quickly turned to numbness. Every day seemed bad and only served as a reminder of the day Haylee entered and left our world. As our due date approached, darkness crept further into our world as we were faced with over $58,000 in hospital bills. All of our insurance claims had been declined by our insurance company because we chose to induce. But really, what choice do you have when the end result is out of your hands, and why does anyone have a right to tell you when it’s appropriate to have a life-changing event like this happen? Now this “choice” threatened to make us claim bankruptcy, lose everything we had worked for, and take every piece of stable ground we had left.
My dreams of having a perfect family didn’t follow the reality of what had happened. Who in their right mind would think all of this was possible when pregnancy and babies are supposed to be a gift? After months of fighting our insurance company, they finally paid our claim, but the emotional toll couldn’t be repaid.
It took a long time to be able to share our story. My heart will forever be shattered, but Haylee’s footprints are tattooed as my bandage over my broken heart.
I share this story in memory of my daughter, in attempt to preserve the right of families to make their own choices. In circumstances like ours, no one should be able to determine what gestational age is appropriate to say good-bye. At 13 weeks, 22 weeks, 34 weeks or full term, a loss like this changes you for life. A legal ban on abortion at 20 weeks gestation would have given us no options, as we didn’t even have a diagnosis by 20 weeks. Please consider how you would handle this situation. To have to make a decision without all the medical facts is not okay. Families shouldn’t have to rush against a gestational age law in order to get every second, third or fourth opinion they need to make a decision that only affects their family. Please put yourself, your mother, sister, aunt or cousin in this situation. It affects families, not just women.