In December 2005 I started wondering if I might be pregnant. My birth control pills usually made my cycles like clockwork, but this month my period was late. My husband and I had two healthy boys at the time, and although I had always wanted three children, my husband was happy with just two. I stayed awake most of the night of December 18th, in fear of what my husband would think if I told him I was pregnant. I was worried he might leave me. He came into the living room and asked if everything was okay. I started sobbing and asking him not to leave me, then told him that I thought I might be pregnant. He told me not to worry and that we would figure it all out when we knew for sure.
I went out and bought a home pregnancy test. Immediately the test strip turned positive, as I had suspected. I was both overjoyed and scared. It didn’t take long for my husband to be excited and overjoyed as well and we told our two sons, who were five years old and seven years old, that they were going to be big brothers.
Everything with the pregnancy progressed as usual and looked great as far as we could tell. Even so, I was constantly worried that something was wrong. I tried my best to push the negative thoughts to the back of my mind. In the days leading up to my ultrasound appointment I confided in my best friend that I was worried about bringing my boys to the ultrasound. I was very protective of them and didn’t want them to witness anything upsetting. She said that she understood my fears, but that only I could decide what would be best.
I woke up Wednesday, March 29th, 2006 and got myself and my boys, Zachary and Zane, ready for my ultrasound appointment. My husband, the boys and I arrived at my OB’s office and had to wait a bit because the couple with the appointment ahead of us had just found out that they were having twins. I was on the edge of my seat with excitement and worry. I walked into the exam room and the nurse finally came in to start the ultrasound. She measured the baby’s head first. Zane kept asking, “Is it a boy or a girl?” He was so excited. I noticed as she scanned across the baby’s abdomen that she measured and moved over the area several times. Of course I had no idea what she was looking at. The nurse jumped up from her chair and said, “Something looks wrong with the kidneys, let me get Dr. M in here.”
My worst fears had just come true. I feared that my boys would witness something horrible if they came with me, and now they had. I had never felt so helpless and scared in my entire life. I was trying to hold it together so my kids wouldn’t see their mom in complete despair, but it was difficult. I was devastated. Another nurse came in and asked us to go across the hall to another room. Sympathetically, Dr. M told us that our baby’s kidneys were severely enlarged and polycystic. He told us that usually was a sign of other problems and that the outcome for our baby would be grim at best. He tried to make an appointment for us to see a perinatologist, but they couldn’t see us until Monday, April 3rd. That meant five days of waiting for more information.
Those five days were pure torture. I had to go on living life as normal for my sons. They were involved in activities that required us to drive them. I had an acquaintance come up to me and say, “So you are having another one?” I just dropped my head and said that I didn’t know, that things weren’t looking good, and left it at that. I was fortunate that my husband was by my side the entire time. He was very worried about my mental wellbeing. I had suffered from depression in the past and had actually weaned myself off my antidepressants after finding out I was pregnant.
On April 3rd we arrived at the perinatologist’s office. The ultrasound technician came into the room and asked if we knew what gender our baby was. We said that we didn’t because our last ultrasound had ended so abruptly. She showed us that we were having a boy. She was very quiet while taking the measurements. She gave me a picture of the baby’s foot to take with me. She left the room and Dr. R came in and took some more measurements. Then, with tears in her eyes, Dr. R told me that she couldn’t give our baby any chance for survival. She showed us his kidneys on the 4D screen and it was very easy to see that they were so enlarged that they took up his whole abdominal and most of his chest wall. I had almost no amniotic fluid left since his kidneys weren’t working to produce urine, and there was no visible bladder. She said that his lungs would never develop due to the lack of amniotic fluid for the baby to swallow and because there wasn’t anywhere for the lungs to grow. She said that I had two choices and neither of them would be an easy choice. I could choose to induce labor and terminate my pregnancy or I could carry him until I went into labor on my own. She couldn’t tell me when that would be, but it might have been soon since there is an established link between a lack of amniotic fluid and preterm labor.
She left us alone for about 20 minutes or so while I cried. I knew almost immediately what I needed to do. I didn’t think that I could carry to term knowing that the end result would be a dead baby. How could I go on with life as usual with my sons? I was concerned not only for me and my baby, but for my family as well.
Dr. R came back into the room and told us to go home and think about it. She let me know that since my regular OB was going to be headed out of town in two days that if he couldn’t assist me with a termination she could.
It was basically a no-brainer for me. My husband told me that it had to be my decision because it was my body, but that he would support me no matter what. We discussed how either situation would affect our living sons.
I made an appointment with my regular OB the next morning to tell him my decision. He scheduled my induction to start that night, Tuesday, April 4th. Both he and Dr. R had told me that an induction usually takes from eight to 24 hours, but could go as long as two days. Since he was going out of town, my OB told me that his on call partner would start my induction at 6:00 PM. During that time I had arranged for my mom to fly in from Alabama to be with me. I needed her support. I didn’t know what to expect and just knowing my mom would be there was a blessing.
My mom arrived on the afternoon of April 4th. I got to the hospital just before 6:00 PM. In a cruel twist of fate, I had to walk past the baby nursery to get to my room. I sobbed while I changed into my hospital gown. I started to calm down a bit as an amazing nurse and my mom held and comforted me. My husband had gone to register me and when he returned another nurse came in to tell me that the on call doctor had refused to assist me with my termination due to moral reasons. While I understand that we all have our own moral beliefs, mine wasn’t a decision that was made lightly. My baby was going to die anyway. I was his life support at the moment. I honestly felt at the time that no one was feeling my pain. My baby was moving less and less with no fluid to swim around in. My OB called me from a convention he was attending in Dallas to speak to me about his partner. By 6:30 PM we were back in our van on our way home. We would call the perinatologist on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, I called and spoke with the nurse at the perinatologist’s office. She had talked to Dr. R, but the earliest their office could begin my induction was Friday, and Dr. R’s partner, Dr. P, would be the one on call that day. Dr. P was out of town, but the nurse was pretty sure that Dr. P would have no problem helping me with my termination. The nurse told me that if there were any issues, the office would call me on Thursday.
I struggled through another few days of just getting by—of getting up and moving through the motions for my boys. They didn’t know what was really happening. They only knew that they weren’t going to get to be big brothers to a new baby brother after all. We told them that the doctors were going to help Mommy to deliver him and that he would go to Heaven with their grandma and great-grandpa. I sobbed every day in the shower. I read the book Empty Arms that the nurse from the first hospital had given me. Reading it helped me to realize that I wanted to see my baby and have him blessed.
On Friday, April 7th, 2006 at 10:45 AM, Dr. P inserted two doses of Cytotec in my cervix. Four hours later she inserted another two doses, then four hours later another two doses, and then I asked for my epidural. My cervix was refusing to thin and wouldn’t dilate at all. After six doses of Cytotec they started the Pitocin. After 16 hours and four bags of Pitocin, my cervix still wasn’t dilating. The doctor tried the Cytotec again, and then started talking about sending me home for a couple of days and I would come back and try again. Hearing that, I started to get nauseated and upset. I didn’t want to have to go home and come back. Dr. P conferred with the head of OB/GYN of the hospital and he suggested something my husband called “Voodoo medicine” (the only thing I could laugh about in the situation). They put a balloon catheter tube into my cervix and forced saline into it to inflate it about three centimeters. That was sometime Sunday night. I’m not sure exactly what time it was as the hours and days seemed to blend together by that point.
I had called the anesthesiologist in about every two hours to put more medicine in my epidural line. I was in a lot of pain and my contractions were pretty much nonstop for two days. Around 5:00 AM on Monday I had asked for more medication. I also asked my husband to help me to turn over since I had no feeling at all in my right leg and very little feeling in my left leg. I told my husband that I didn’t know if it was just a sensation from the medication or not, but something felt warm between my legs. He lifted the sheets and they were covered in blood and fluid.
Dr. P must have spent the night at the hospital because within five minutes she was in my room. She removed her sweater and put on a surgical gown. The nurse could see my baby’s head, so I pushed twice and it was done. It was 5:15 AM on Monday, April 10th, 2006. My baby boy, Zeb Michael, was delivered an angel. They wiped him down and pulled the amniotic sac off of him. They wrapped him in a warm blanket and gave him to me. I unwrapped his blanket and was astonished that he looked perfect in every way. Everyone had encouraged me to hold him, and now I know it was the right thing to do. He had 10 fingers and 10 toes. He even had his boy parts already. Because babies’ skin is still transparent at 20 and one-half weeks gestation, I could actually see his kidneys. A chaplain from the hospital came in and said a blessing for Zeb. My mom, my husband and I held him for about an hour.
I was released from the hospital around 1:30 PM that same day. It was definitely the longest four days of my life. We had Zeb’s remains cremated, with the hopes of spreading his ashes on my mother-in-law’s grave in Alabama. She passed away in October of 1992. Her birthday was the day before Zeb’s, on April 9th. I was so scared that Zeb might be born on her birthday.
My heart will never heal, but I know it will get better. I have faith that with each day it will get easier. I am thankful that I am healthy and I know that I have to be here for Zachary, Zane, and my husband.
It’s been two years now and I haven’t had the strength to spread Zeb’s ashes on my mother-in-law’s grave. He is wrapped up nicely in a box that my father-in-law had made with Zeb’s name on it. Maybe someday I will be able to part with him, maybe not. I’m fine either way.
I’ve since gone on to have a healthy baby boy, who we named Zeke. Although the pregnancy with him was littered with problems and several issues showed up on the ultrasounds, everything turned out fine. Our family is now complete. I have four sons, although I only have the honor of raising three of them here on Earth.
* Story reprinted, with permission, from “Our Heartbreaking Choices: Forty-Six Women Share Their Stories of Interrupting a Much-Wanted Pregnancy.”