After we knew Isaiah was ill, I was helped by reading the blogs of other parents who’ve had a child with Trisomy 18. Their stories and experiences felt like something solid to hang onto in a sea of unknowns. I got to see that other people had indeed walked this road before us, and it gave me hope that we would be okay through whatever happened.
One thing I couldn’t find was many details on was what a labor and delivery for a stillborn baby would be like. So for what it’s worth, I want to share our experience with our friends who have asked how it went, and also to leave it as a resource for other parents.
On Thursday, October 20, I started realizing that I hadn’t felt Isaiah kick or move since the previous evening. Even though he was tiny, he had a pretty regular pattern of kicks I was used to. It felt like something had changed, but I decided to give it until Friday morning to be sure. I don’t think I slept much that night – my mind was racing with what might be ahead. I was saddened to think of his death, but also scared that if this was a false alarm, then there might be many scares ahead in the coming months. I wasn’t sure my heart could take that.
On Friday, the doctor’s office told me to come in that afternoon for some monitoring. It so happened that we had previously planned for the girls to spend the weekend with Dan’s mom, so she was able to come early to be with Sienna and pick up Evelynn from school. I still marvel at the timing of everything.
The nurse took us back and performed an ultrasound. I knew right away that Isaiah had died – he was lying so still on the screen. “I’m sorry, I can’t detect a heartbeat,” she told us. They did a level 2 ultrasound to double check. I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing his still little body and that flat heartbeat line. We knew then for sure that our little guy had already gone to be with the Lord.
The doctor came to talk to us about our options: we could either do a D&C, or go through a labor and delivery. There was no question in my mind what I wanted to do: we wanted to have a baby to hold and see, both to honor Isaiah and to give closure to us.
They sent us home for the night with a plan to come back on Saturday evening (October 22) to start the induction process. And it was going to be a process – we were warned that it could take 1, and quite possibly 2, full days for him to be born. (A woman’s body just isn’t ready at 27 weeks to deliver a baby, for good reason.)
It was actually such a gift to have that evening and most of the next day to prepare our hearts, get our bags packed, and finish up some chores at home. I began to feel peace – a sense that we were being carried through this experience. In fact, Dan and I both slept better that night than we had slept in weeks.
We checked in to Legacy Emanuel on Saturday night. Right away they started me on misoprostol, which I took orally every 3 hours.
I knew it was going to be a drawn out process, but it was still hard to sit and wait, not having any idea how long it would be before I delivered our baby. On Saturday night and throughout Sunday, we read some books, watched some movies, and mostly waited and got restless. (Really grateful for the great meds they gave me at night so I could get some sleep.) The doctors explained that this would not progress like a normal labor – it could seem like nothing was happening, and then all of sudden he would be delivered.
I knew I wanted to get an epidural at some point to keep myself comfortable, but I had a hard time knowing when to go ahead and get one. (Being stuck in a bed for hours on end didn’t sound so great!) On Sunday evening, my body showed a few signs of progressing, so the doctor encouraged me to go ahead and get the epidural. I had forgotten how not fun that is (actually, with both my previous labors, I waited until I was truly desperate for relief, so I hadn’t really minded having a needle put in my spine!) Still, it was worth it to be able to relax and get some rest Sunday night.
By Monday morning, I was hopeful things might be moving along. But when the doctor checked me, I was still only dilated to 2 cm. Talk about discouraging! I had yet another dose of the misoprostol. It had been 36 hours since my first dose.
I was starting to get really anxious at this point – I was done with getting poked and prodded and examined. And each time a doctor came in to talk with me, they would ask, “Has anyone told you that such and such could happen?” They said that since Isaiah was being delivered breech, his head could stuck during delivery. Also, I was told that because the placenta is not ready to detach, there could be complications and they might have to take me to the operating room for a D&C. I was also warned that he might be delivered suddenly and no nurse or doctor might be in the room.
The Lord was so faithful to answer each of my fears in these areas. A little after 7 a.m. on Monday, October 24, my water broke. One of the doctors happened to stop by at that time. She told me that if I felt any more pressure, to call my nurse right away. As she was talking with me, I felt things shift and asked her to check. Sure enough, our baby was on his way and with just a couple of pushes he was born (so different than a regular birth!) at 7:40 a.m. This was a small thing but I was so grateful the doctor was right there with me when the delivery started.
We had the sweetest nurse that morning. At our request, she took Isaiah to be cleaned and wrapped in a blanket. I knew his poor little abdomen had so many abnormalities, and to be honest, I didn’t want those to be my lasting memories. She wrapped him in a sweet blanket and put a little hat on his head, so we got to enjoy seeing his face and admire his tiny hands and feet.
I think seeing and holding Isaiah was the hardest point for Dan, since everything was finally real to him at that point. Because I had experienced everything physically inside of me, it wasn’t as much of a shock to see him as I had worried it might be. I felt strangely calm and peaceful.
It was a marvel to see just how tiny he was, weighing just a touch over a pound and being 10.5 inches long. He had long fingers and feet, and dark, arched eyebrows. I wanted to see if his nose looked like the girls’, but it was so itty bitty, it was hard to tell. I was surprised he didn’t have any hair yet on his head (it must have been too early, because the girls were born with full heads of hair). He was so tiny and fragile.
We spent some bittersweet moments holding our little guy while we waited for the rest of the delivery (thankfully, everything went fine and there was no need for any procedures).
Dan and I are so grateful for how respectful, kind, and gracious each of the staff at Legacy Emanuel were, both of Isaiah’s little life, and of our needs and wishes. The child life specialist (a counselor of sorts) made a priority to come and meet with us that morning, and help us talk through whether we would have our girls see little Isaiah. It was tough to decide what was best. We didn’t want to traumatize or scare them, but we did want to give them closure.
In the end, we decided to have them see him briefly. Dan’s mom, Debby, brought them up to the hospital later that morning. I had missed my sweet girls so much! With Debby’s blessing, we had delayed telling them that we were in the hospital and that Isaiah had passed until they came to see us that morning. We wanted them to have a good weekend with their Nana, and not be sad or scared when mommy and daddy weren’t there to give hugs and reassurance. (I had worried that Evelynn, being pretty perceptive, might guess something was up, but she said she had no idea over the weekend.)
When asked if she’d like to see Isaiah, Evelynn said yes. We explained that he didn’t look like a normal newborn, that he was very tiny with dark skin, and that his lip had a boo-boo on it (cleft lip). When the nurse brought him in, she just wanted to look and observe. Our oldest girl really has to process things internally. Sienna was fascinated, and said “Ooooh, baby!” She wanted to give her baby “Isa” love pats.
Soon afterwards a wonderful volunteer with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep came to take some pictures of our family and of little Isaiah. What an amazing group of giving people! We are incredibly grateful for the gift of those photos she gave us (you can see some of her photos below).
To finish our story – I was doing well enough that the doctor was fine with me going home after lunchtime. It was strange to walk out of the labor and delivery unit with no baby inside of me and no baby in our arms. But we were so ready to be home with our girls and get some rest.
I guess the way I would sum up our experience of that weekend is with the word carried. We felt carried through the difficulties by our friends and family who showed love to us through their words and tangible acts of service. We were carried by the caring and compassionate staff at Legacy. Ultimately we felt carried by the Lord through the process. I love how the prophet Isaiah pens the Lord’s promise (so many gems in this book!):
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:4)