The Storm

Violet is our rainbow baby, our love for her runs incredibly deep and we are grateful beyond measure that she is here.  What is a “rainbow baby” though?  The idea is that a rainbow baby is the child born after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

A storm is treacherous, you need to hunker down with those closest to you and try hard to ride it out.  When the storm is over, the devastation it left is still there for you to have to deal with.  To pick up your lives and try to rebuild using the scraps that have been left behind.  A rainbow is the light and hope that cuts through the devastation.  The promise that brighter days are ahead.

Don’t be mistaken though, a rainbow doesn’t negate the storm and the damage that was done.  Those storms leave scars on the soul, nothing can fully heal them- they just become less obvious with time.

There were three storms before we finally had our rainbow.  This was the first storm that would usher in nearly two years of heartbreak:

It was the thick of summer 2013.  I was pulling long hours at the firehouse working as an EMS/ Fire dispatcher.  I was working overnights and was tired as all get out- I chalked it up to the high stress job and the fact that I was running on fumes.  I worked until 3 am and then would come home to be back up and awake for the day, with my then 21 month old, at 7 am.

After a few jokes from coworkers and unusual symptoms I decided to take a test.  Brad and I had only recently decided to expand our family, I wasn’t expecting to be expecting.

Brad was at the store and I took a test.  It instantly showed positive and I was shaking with excitement.  I quickly grabbed a piece of scrapbook paper and fixed together an “I’m going to be a BIG BROTHER” sign for Marshall to greet his papa with.

When my husband walked through the door and saw Marshall holding up the sign, he was awestruck.  “We’re having another baby?!” I rushed to show him the test and we held each other.  So excited to be expecting our second child.

The new baby was all we talked about.  Due April 7th 2014.  Would the baby look like Marshall?  It was perfect, they would be almost exactly 2.5 years apart for the siblings- the “ideal” spacing according to many experts.  I craved Cajun food, surely this is going to be a feisty little one then right?  We nicknamed the baby Pip for “Pea In the Pod”.  I knew Marshall was a boy before receiving ultrasound confirmation and I just felt like this would be the little brother to the big brother.

But I also had a bad feeling.  At one point I told Brad that I didn’t think this baby was going to come.  He hushed me, reassuring that it was nerves talking and not intuition.

We made plans to announce this new baby at Marshall’s upcoming 2nd birthday party.  It was Wild West themed and this would be the twelfth grandchild. We came up with an idea to do a scavenger hunt and with each clue would be a puzzle piece.  At the end, the children would put together the puzzle and they would find that another cousin was coming to round out “the dirty dozen”.  We found a website and ordered our custom puzzle.  This was real, this is happening I reassured myself.

My in-laws were coming down for a weekend before the birthday party.  Brad, Marshall, and I spent the weekend with them in St. Louis and then they came over to Kansas City with us to do the Lupus charity walk.  After the walk we all returned to our townhouse. Brad was working and I was saying my final goodbyes to my mother-in-law and father-in-law.  They couldn’t be but a few miles down the road when I went into the bathroom and found blood.

I texted Brad right away, I was panicked and trying not to cry.  He told me to calm down, reminded be that I bled with Marshall (subchorionic hemorrhage) and that we would be going to the doctor soon.

I laid down, turned on cartoons to keep Marshall preoccupied and tried to stay calm.  I returned to the bathroom and this time I was bleeding more.  I picked up the phone and called my nurse line, she gave my basic instructions that I already knew as a dispatcher- I just wanted someone to promise that everything was okay, really.  Was it realistic of me? Of course not.  But I hoped.

I cared for Marshall, taking brief breaks to go to the bathroom and cry.  Cringing at the thought of having to go into that small room and be reminded of what is happening.

Brad got home and he held me as I cried myself to sleep.  He kept telling me it was okay, I knew he didn’t fully believe that himself.  But maybe if he said it enough times both of us would believe it.

I woke up in the middle of the night to severe cramping.  I panicked and called the emergency OBGYN on-call line.  “Hello!” The old doctor on the other end snapped.  I apologized for calling in the middle of the night but explained the situation. “What am I suppose to do about this right now?!” He was angry that I woke him.  Losing my baby was an inconvenience for the man, and I actually apologized to him for it.  I apologized for my baby dying.  He then half-heartily muttered off the instructions that I already knew.  I felt so small.  So alone.

The next morning a nurse called and set up an appointment for an ultrasound immediately the following day, a Monday.  I just have to make it one more day, I told myself, just hold on one more day Pip.

Cramping intensified and the bleeding picked up.  I occasionally had the slight urge to push but I refused.  If you are going to take this baby away from me, God, I’m not going to help you.  Now it was my turn to be angry.

Brad returned to work and when his shift ended he found Marshall asleep in bed and I was a puddle on the bathroom floor.  I was too weak to get up, hysterically crying- you know, that ugly snotty cry.  I was apologizing to him for losing his baby.  I was begging God from the bathroom floor to save my baby.  I will do anything, I promised, just please don’t take my baby.

After a nightmarish night I awoke to find that, despite my refusal to help push, the tiny being that was to be my second child had arrived.  I was numb and in denial.  I didn’t cry, I barely processed.  I was sure that the ultrasound in a few hours would show a baby with a healthy heartbeat.  I was not going to accept that I was no longer pregnant.

It could be disappearing twin syndrome- there could still be one healthy baby in there!  I could be mistaken, that baby didn’t look like a tinier version of newborn Marshall. “Melissa?” the technician’s soft voice jolted me out of my own head, it was time to go back to find out.  The staff was wonderfully accommodating, they gave Marshall little hot wheels cars to play with in the waiting room with Brad “we will check in on the baby and, when we get all the information we need, we will let big brother come say hello to the little one!” Their words were positive and hopeful.  I believed, if only for a moment, that all would be well.

There was a painting of a tan vase with purple flowers on that wall.  “Did I do your ultrasound with your son out there?” The technician asked, I smiled and nodded that she had.  Just two years prior she had given me the good news that I was carrying a healthy little boy.  “Do you think this one will be a boy or girl?” She asked as she readied her machine.  I told her we just wanted healthy, either gender would do.  I couldn’t look at her, I had to invest all of my energy into these purple flowers.

She started the exam and I finally broke gaze with the painting.  I craned my neck over to see the screen of the machine.  Black.  Empty.  Nothing.  “I’m so sorry Mrs. Dingman” I laid my head down flat, staring at the ceiling as tears quietly rolled down the sides of my face “I don’t see anything.”  She was sweet and kind.  She tried to boost my spirits “Maybe you’re too early?  Maybe in a week or two we will see a healthy baby?”  No.  No, I knew the truth and no amount of hopeful wishes would change this reality.

Really, I already knew.  I knew that morning when I found the tiny being.  I was sent to do labs to check my hormone levels.  I wore sunglasses in the waiting room to hide my tears and bloodshot eyes.  Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven played over the office radio. It was a coincidence of the worst kind.

“Melissa?” Please stop this.  Please stop making me sit in waiting rooms.  Please stop calling my name just so you can keep confirming what I already know.

Her name was Tameka, she was a short stocky woman.  She sat beside me and looked over my doctor’s orders that simply asked for a check on hcg (baby hormone) and progesterone (hormone that sustains pregnancy in the first trimester). “Are you pregnant?!” She smiled and I could just feel genuine excitement radiating off of her.  It stung me.  “No, I’m losing- I lost my baby.”

Instant tears all over again.  I was angry, I was embarrassed, I was ashamed.  “I am so sorry.” She grabbed my hand tight and looked at me with intensity.  There wasn’t pity like at the ultrasound.  It was something different.  “I miscarried twice and had a stillborn son.” It wasn’t pity, it was understanding.

She drew my blood and as I stood up she pulled me into a hug. “You will be okay.  Know that you will be okay.”  I didn’t think I would ever be okay again.  But in that moment being hugged by her felt like a gift.  I was finally told everything would be okay.

A friend once told me that losing a child is like a boulder being dropped onto your shoulders.  You have trouble breathing, trouble going about your day to day activities.  Slowly, very slowly, this Boulder wears down.  It gets smaller and smaller- the burden is still there but it becomes bearable.  Eventually you get to the point where the boulder is the size of a pebble.  That pebble is always in my pocket, I will never be rid of the burden- however small it is.  And it is true.  My aunt told me she still thinks about the baby she lost over three decades ago.

One in four women will lose a baby.  One in four.  You can see me with my children and never know.  But ask me and you will find out that I can recall every storm; I know the date of every loss and the day they were supposed to be born.

My pockets hold the pebbles of dreams that turned to stone.

We returned to our townhouse and I went straight to the couch.  Brad brought in the mail and of course our puzzle was delivered.  He tried to hide it but I had to put it together.  I had to fit the pieces together of this puzzle, of this storm.

Coming back from the storm, I had to learn to forgive myself.  Because there was a period of time I struggled with self-loathing and feeling as if I failed as a wife.  Failed as a woman.  I had to forgive my body, as it does not naturally produce enough progesterone to sustain a baby- even if the fetus is healthy.  My body basically self aborts, my progesterone drops and it signals that I need to have my period, wiping out my baby with it.

It was through my losses, through the storms, that we learned this.  When I was pregnant with Violet, I was put on a combination medications.  Because of the medicine, because of my losses, I was able to sustain Vi’s pregnancy and carry to term.

She truly is the light after the storms.


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