My daughter, Dorothy, was stillborn on February 22, 2016 due to complications from preeclampsia. I have written a lot about her death and the life I’ve lived after, but I have written little about the events and moments leading up to her death. This series is dedicated to remembering my last week with her before she died.
Read Day 1 here.
Day 2 / / February 16, 2016 / / Tuesday
I woke up on Tuesday morning to the sound of two voices that I didn’t really recognize. It was my night nurse talking to the day nurse who had just come on. I opened my eyes and shifted towards them. I listened as my night nurse explained the events of the night before and that I had been a real trooper so far. “How’s baby?” the day nurse asked.
“Dorothy.” I said. They both turned to look at me. In all the chaos of the night before I had never let people know our baby’s name. “Her name is Dorothy,” I repeated, hoping that I wasn’t being rude.
Both nurses immediately smiled at me and my night nurse walked right over to the board where in the space labeled patient someone had written my name and the words baby girl. She erased baby girl and wrote Dorothy. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw her name up there with mine. It seemed like further proof that we were in this together.
Seeing our names side by side was my little reminder about how much Dorothy and I were depending on each other.
After the nurses checked in and Mike woke up, I started to notice how sick I was feeling. My head was pounding, my stomach felt queasy, and I was so hot that it felt like my skin was sunburned from the inside. All of the side effects that the night nurse had warned me about were kicking in and I felt another wave of panic wash over.
Maybe it was because I was feeling so sick, but I was suddenly realizing that I didn’t know how long I was going to be in the hospital for. I knew that the magnesium sulfate drip would last for 24 hours, but what would happen after that? Would I be free to go home or would I have to stay here longer? I started feeling nervous about the idea of a long stay, but my anxiety didn’t last long.
I was simply too sick to worry.
I drifted in and out all morning. Trying to sleep away the day, but only ever succumbing to restless catnaps. I was becoming more aware of just how difficult it was to sleep in a hospital. I made a comment to one of the nurses and she laughed. “Welcome to the worst hotel you’ll ever stay at,” she joked.
Sometime in the mid-morning, my mother arrived. She urged Mike to go home so he could collect more of our belongings and maybe fit in a shower. He reluctantly accepted her offer to stay with me and after a lingering kiss on my very hot forehead, he was off.
There wasn’t much for my mother to do, but you know how moms can be. They are just really good at being there when you need them. All morning and into the early afternoon she sat in the corner of my room, quietly reading or crocheting while I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
I must have managed to fall asleep because when I next opened my eyes the light in the room had changed. My mom noticed me stirring and asked if I needed anything. Something about her question made me feel really emotional. I couldn’t answer her without crying so I just shook my head.
“What’s wrong?” she asked me. I replied that I just wanted to get better so I could go home. I wondered out loud how long I was going to be here and reasoned with myself that I would probably be here for another day or two at the most. My mother just looked at me with a strange expression. It was my turn to ask what was wrong.
“Hon,” she said gently, “I don’t think you’re going home anytime soon.”
She came over to brush back my hair and I noticed how nice and cool her hands felt on my burning skin. “I think it’s time we talk to your doctors,” she said. Again, I couldn’t really say anything without crying, so this time I just nodded.
My mother buzzed for a nurse and then she requested that we see a doctor. A few moments later, the attending doctor appeared in my doorway with a resident who had stopped by that morning. They both looked grim, but they still attempted to exchange pleasantries before turning their attention to me.
Unable to mask the tremble in my voice, I asked them how long I was going to have to stay in the hospital. They exchanged a brief look before the attending doctor launched into an explanation of all that was going on.
She explained that not only did I have preeclampsia, but I was being diagnosed with severe preeclampsia.
This diagnosis was the result of my blood pressures reaching such high levels the night before. They were still waiting to gather the results of a 24 hour urine collection and that would let them know how much protein was being spilled into my urine. These results would help them better assess the level of severity.
She informed me that although I had been responding very well to treatment, I would need to stay in the hospital so they could continue to monitor me. As I tried to take in what she was saying, I could feel my heart pounding away in my chest. I was scared to ask about the duration of my stay, so I just listened as my mother asked how Dorothy was doing.
The doctor shared that the ultrasound from the night before had indicated that Dorothy was on the small side which made sense given the preeclampsia diagnosis. Seeing the confused look on my face, she explained that often the high blood pressure associated with preeclampsia was linked to something called Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). She went on to add that I would be having another ultrasound that afternoon so they could take a better look at Dorothy’s measurements and the blood flow from my placenta.
I must have looked completely overwhelmed, because she stopped and asked if I had any questions. I had a million things I wanted to ask, but I settled on my original question–how long was I going to have to stay in the hospital.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but you will need to stay in the hospital until your daughter is born.”
I felt the room start to spin. I couldn’t spend my last days or weeks pregnant in a hospital. There was so much left to be done. We had almost nothing ready at home and I was not at all prepared to be away from work yet. I sank into the pillows, my head throbbing and my mind racing.
There were a few more questions and answers, but I felt unable to process any more information. Eventually, the doctors left and I waited for Mike to return so I could deliver the news. I felt a pang of sympathy for the doctors–this was not easy news to share.
When Mike returned, I took one look at the small bag he was carrying and started crying. He had packed thinking we would be in the hospital for one or two more nights. Now, I had to tell him that my stay was going to be much longer.
His reaction surprised me. He seemed disappointed by the news, but it was almost as if he had expected to hear it. I suppose, from his perspective he could tell just how sick I was.
Even though it was happening to me, I was having a much harder time accepting the reality of the situation.
When the attending doctor came back, I realized I forgot to tell Mike that we were going to be having another ultrasound. Despite all of the difficult news, I felt a flutter of excitement at getting to to see Dorothy again. Seeing her the night before had been so reassuring, but being able to see her with Mike would be better.
A nurse rolled me into the same ultrasound room from the night before. I hopped up on the table and braced myself. I had just heard her heartbeat on the monitor in my room, but I still worried. I reassured myself with the thought that nothing would happen to her when I was being monitored so closely.
Even still, I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I heard her heartbeat galloping across the monitor. I looked up at Mike but his eyes were glued to the screen ahead. His face lit up in a grin as the doctor pointed to our beautiful girl who was very much alive.
The doctor talked to us through the whole exam. She shared with us that Dorothy was measuring small for her gestational age. Her height and weight put her below the 10th percentile for a 29 week baby. Even though my heart sank at hearing this news, the doctor was quick to pull me back.
“She may be small, but this girl is strong. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about her.”
When I smiled back at the doctor, I tried to match her confidence but I felt shaky. There was something about her message that implied we weren’t completely safe. Dorothy might be strong, but what about me? Would it be my body that would fail us?
I did my best to shake off that worry and tried instead to focus on the rest of the exam. The doctor gave us a nice long look at Dorothy, confirmed that she was indeed a girl (our previous sonographer hadn’t been completely sure), and printed out a slew of pictures for us to take back to the room.
Traveling back to the room, I stared at the pile of pictures in my lap. They were the first images we had received where I could really see her face. I instantly recognized her lips, because they looked so much like my own. Looking at those photos made me appreciate our situation even more.
The days ahead felt crucial. I could no longer worry about having a nursery ready. I had a body and a baby to take care of. It was up to me to make sure that she was born with the best odds of survival.
Looking back at that moment, I feel foolish that my worst case scenario didn’t involve death. My only worry was making sure she wasn’t born too early. My mission was to keep her safe inside of me for as long as possible. The longer she stayed, the better my chances of having a healthy baby.
There was no doubt in my mind that my baby would be born alive.
Rolling back into the room, I waved our new ultrasound photos at the nurses waiting inside. So proud to show off my baby, not knowing that I was holding the last images of her alive.
Photo by Pixabay