My Stillbirth Story {Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness}

footprints

In March of 2006, we planned an impromptu trip to Disney to meet up with the in-laws who were already vacationing there. Before leaving for the trip, I decided to take a pregnancy test just in case because I was a few days late and didn’t want to chance getting on any rides should I be pregnant. Sure enough, I was! This was our very first pregnancy, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’d now have to tell my husband. I was excited to tell him, but so nervous at the same time over how he’d react. Should I tell him before we left? Or wait till we got going on the trip? I was afraid if I told him while driving to the airport, he might wreck. So, ultimately I decided to tell him right before we boarded the plane. He’s terrified of flying. This will take his mind off the flight, I reasoned. Sure enough, it worked. He didn’t even think about the flight and he had a smile from ear to ear the whole trip. The next morning, we shared the news with his family at breakfast and with my family when we returned from vacation. Baby bliss quickly set in as this would be the first grandchild on both sides of our families.

The next several months are a blur. I can recall being violently ill the first trimester and beyond that, things seemed to go pretty typical compared to what I’d heard about pregnancy. There was lots of talk about names, lots of guesses about gender (we weren’t finding out, so people went crazy with this one), we’d registered, we had the nursery all picked out, and plans were in place for my shower, etc. Gifts started rolling in and as far as we could tell, we were all set for a baby. We had plans to go out of town with some friends for one last hurrah before the baby came. The only thing standing in the way of our road trip was a quick check up at the doctor’s office for my 26.5 week visit.

My husband had been hit or miss for the last few appointments, but for whatever reason he insisted on making this one, even though I assured him it wasn’t necessary. I was trying to be efficient with our time as I was eager to get on the road. He came anyway. They did all the routine stuff like weighed and measured me.  When it came time to take a listen to the heartbeat, we noticed it took longer than usual, but the nurse assured us this was normal. “The baby could just be hiding,” she said.  She suggested we do a quick ultrasound just to be on the safe side. We waited patiently to be squeezed in the ultrasound room and when we finally got in, I noticed I wasn’t hearing the same sounds I was used to. I turned to the tech and she had a concerned look on her face. She said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Ballard, but there is no heartbeat.” I turned to my husband to make sense of what she had just said and his face said it all. We had lost the baby.

Instant heartache set in and I began screaming and crying uncontrollably. I felt like I was physically falling into my own personal pit of hell. I couldn’t process anything that was going on around me as the nurses and the doctor did all they could to calm me down. As they began to clear the room, the ultrasound tech offered to pray with us and it was then I realized that all wasn’t hopeless. It was like a light had come on in this pit off darkness I’d been sinking into, and I felt the Lord’s peace with me in that moment. I was able to breathe again. Even though I was an emotional wreck on the outside, I had an instant peace as I was reminded of the Lord’s presence. It was this and only this that carried me through all that was to come.

The doctor came back in to brief me on the process. She asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital and deliver right away or if I wanted to go home for the weekend to take some time to myself? “You mean I still have to deliver?!?” was my response. I was clueless and couldn’t imagine how in the world I was still going to have to deliver a baby in the midst of all of this. I guess I assumed since the baby was no longer alive that it wouldn’t come out on its own. She then explained that my delivery would be considered a “stillbirth” where they would medically induce labor and the baby would eventually deliver on its own.  So many questions arose and I think my doctor could tell I was overwhelmed by this decision, so she went ahead and made the call for me. She said she was going to call the hospital and let them know I was on my way. I was an emotional wreck and was in no way in any capacity to be making this sort of judgment call, so I’m glad she did it for me.  They led me out through the emergency exit, I think partially to help me save face, as well as keep from freaking out any other expecting moms on my way out the door.

My husband drove me to the hospital while I remained a total basket case. He dropped me off inside the emergency entrance while he tried to find a place to park. Meanwhile, some lady in admissions tried her best to gather information from me. I eventually just handed over my wallet with all my information and she got what she needed and handed it back without saying a word. My husband came back in soon after and a nurse led us to a hospital room. She gave me a gown to put on and I refused until someone would sit down and explain to me what was about to happen. I guess I was still in denial that this was all happening. I’d never delivered a baby before and was absolutely terrified. She called in another doctor to go over everything with me. After some convincing, I put on the gown and began to start the process.  It took at least 3 nurses to try to get an IV going before they called in someone from the lab to come up and try.  I was stuck well over a dozen times with no luck.  Finally, the lab tech was able to get it going and from there they were able to start a Pitocin drip on me.  They explained I’d start by experiencing some cramping but that since my body wasn’t near ready to go into labor that it could take a while to get things going.  “Define ‘a while’”, I asked.  She explained that it could take several hours or even days.

While this was all going down, my husband had the seemingly more horrific task of calling our friends and family to telling them what was happening. I hated that for him. It’s hard enough to hear those words, but to have to speak them so soon seemed even more gut-wrenching. Before we knew it friends and family began flocking to the scene and we were faced with the awkward silence and waiting for the inevitable. Phone calls came flooding in, but I wasn’t really prepared for what to say. I did my best to remain positive and tried to focus on maintaining my composure just so I could get through this delivery and get home to grieve with some privacy. I will say the nurses did an excellent job of walking me through this time. They made sure that we had privacy whenever we needed and they did their best to notify everyone on my floor of the situation to keep cheerful outbursts to a minimum. They prayed with us, they cried with us and they just overall went above and beyond to make this as easy as possible.

At some point into it, I started to feel more than what I’d call mild cramping and began to feel some real discomfort. In some ways, I was relieved that we were making progress, but mostly I was still pretty terrified. At my first complaint of real pain, the doctor suggested I go ahead with getting an epidural. He said I was under too much emotional strain and it wasn’t necessary for me to endure the physical pain of the delivery.  I had to agree. I was in no mental state to get through this med-free, nor did I care to. Bring on the drugs, please! After the epidural, it was a pretty smooth transition. I was able to relax and rest somewhat, which made things progress a lot quicker. The nurses kept checking me more frequently as I began to dilate further. At final check, her eyes widened as she realized the baby had delivered on its own without me even realizing it, not even a push. I was so relieved, because I was imagining the worst when it came to getting the baby out. The doctor came in to cut the cord and asked if we’d like to know the gender. We said yes.  He quietly whispered, “It’s a boy,” not in the excited tone you’d expect after having a baby. That’s when the floodgates opened. I’d been holding in my emotions for nearly 36 hours to get through this process and now I could finally let go. On Saturday, July 29th at 7:30PM, Joseph Robert Ballard was born without ever taking a breath on this earth. He weighed only 1 lb. 1 oz and measured 12 in. in length. It was gut-wrenching to know now that we had a son and that we’d never get to do all of the things you’d imagine with your baby boy. His whole life as I’d imagined it flashed before me. My heart ached for Ernie as I knew having a boy is every father’s dream.  All I could do was pray that God would one day send us another child, so that we could experience the joy of being parents past the point of delivery.

Just when I thought the worst was over, the doctor explained he had to deliver the placenta, since it did not come out on its own. “Huh, what?” were my first thoughts, and the next thing I knew he began pushing on me like crazy. I think at some point he had all of his body weight on me as he used his arm and elbows to not-so-gently squeeze out whatever was remaining inside of me. He apologized for having to be so rough but explained the importance of not leaving anything behind in there, to avoid having to follow up with a DNC procedure. “Then just do what you gotta do,” I told him.

After the delivery was over and they were able to get me and the baby cleaned up, the nurses took extra special care in handling him and making sure memories were preserved. We were sent roses from a friend, and she took one of them and placed his hand and footprints on petals for us to keep. She made keepsake cards and even took the blanket he was wrapped in and made sure his prints were on everything. I’m so thankful for these things because they are the only physical reminders that I have of Joseph.

Once she had him dressed, she asked if I’d like to see him. They had previously explained that because he had died sometime earlier (likely within the past week) that his body, specifically his skin had started to decompose somewhat. Ernie had already seen him and I asked if he thought I should look. He told me that I might have a hard time. I didn’t want to regret not ever seeing him; so I took a glance, but I couldn’t look for more than a second. As much as I wanted to sit and stare at my child, I couldn’t bare the image of his face. On one hand I could see features of my husband which were so beautiful; but on the other hand, his face seemed frightening to look at and I couldn’t let it be how I remembered him. I chose to look only at his hands and feet from that point on, which were perfect and precious in my mind. He had the longest fingers and toes which I know he got from me. I was in awe of his outfit that they dressed him in which was provided by Threads of Love. You’d never think that there are babies out there who need doll-sized baby clothes because even the premie sizes are too small for them.  Well, this organization provides these items, as well as blankets for families as a keepsake.

Additionally, Social Services offered to take pictures for us.  They explained that we did not have to get them, but they would always be available should we ever want to retrieve them.  I accepted thinking in that moment that I would not want them; but again, no regrets.

After much activity and waiting, it was finally time to move out of the delivery room and into a regular room. The nurses were kind enough to offer me a room on the surgical recovery floor rather than the baby floor, so I wouldn’t have to hear babies crying throughout the night. They were so thoughtful in every aspect. It’s sad to think they’re pros at this.

The next day, social workers came in to offer us counseling services and answered questions about burial services, etc. My doctor then came in to asses my mental well-being. He suggested I take a month off of work and I begged for him not to make me stay home for that long. I knew right away that I would go stir crazy if left alone for that long and felt the best thing for me would be to dive back into reality as soon as I was physically able. We compromised on 2 weeks leave and we were discharged soon after. They insisted on wheeling me out even though I wanted to run, not walk, out of there.  I just wanted to get home so badly.

Once home, we were able to rest a little. We were immediately surrounded by our community and it felt good to be loved on so well. However, the next day we had to begin planning funeral arrangements, not something I’d ever imagined having to do at this point in my life. We let our pastor handle the majority of the plans, but for things like deciding where to bury our son and how big or small we wanted the service to be was left on our shoulders. We visited a few places and ultimately chose Green Oaks Funeral Home and Memorial Park, mostly for its “Garden of Angels” availability. It’s crazy to think that we are one of many families faced with the loss of an infant, but found comfort in knowing we were not alone in this.

Ultimately, we decided to have a private funeral service with just immediate family members present. We had an open house sort of reception at our home afterwards for those wanting to come and see us would have a less formal way of doing so. On the morning of the funeral, it was a most awkward feeling.  I had breasts as hard as rocks as they began to fill with milk; so I had to keep them wrapped and wear a sports bra, and I still had a seemingly pregnant belly. It was already a daunting task to decide which outfit you’ll wear to your child’s funeral, but these physical setbacks made it all the more uncomfortable. We arrived at the service and our pastor preached some of the most beautiful words my ears have ever heard. He made it clear that our son was in a better place than we could ever hope to be and he would never have to know the pain and suffering of sin in this broken world. My husband and I placed letters to Joseph which we had each written the night before inside of his casket and said our goodbyes. From there we went home to unwind and welcome friends and family over. Before long it felt as though we were comforting others in their grief as we were past the point of emotion. It turned out to be a beautiful day spent with family and friends and we even managed to laugh through some points in the day.

As people cleared out and the quiet set in, sadness fell over once again. I couldn’t bear the thought of going into the baby’s room, so the door remained closed for some time. Eventually, I was able to go back to work; and although I had my bad days, I was able to distract myself from much of the pain by keeping busy. It wasn’t until a month or so later when I had my checkup that we were able to get some answers from the lab work about what had happened. The doctor said I had a rare blood disorder that had let to a condition called “hemorrhagic endovasculitis”, which is a medical term for my blood was too thick to clot through the cord and caused it to hemorrhage and burst open. The worst part was she said that recurrences are known to occur, but reassured me that with proper treatment we could likely prevent that from happening. It was like someone had poured salt in my still-bleeding wounds. To look back on what we’d been through was enough to make me want to crawl in a hole and die, but to think that something like this could potentially happen again was something I wasn’t sure I could ever face. After much prayer and consideration, we decided to not to think about all the “what ifs” but to focus on “even if” something like this were to happen again, wouldn’t it be worth the risk at the chance of having another child? The answer was always yes.Photo-2F05A701-CB33-4D34-9B51-9224ABF6C9E2-20131110-131307-2048 - cropped

Thankfully, the Lord soon blessed us nearly 3 months later with another pregnancy; and this time with medication to thin my blood and the watchful eye of Maternal Fetal Medicine, we were able to successfully deliver our son, Trace, and 3 years later another son, Fisher.   We are currently pregnant with our first daughter, Gloria, and anticipate her arrival in the spring of 2015.  We are blessed by our Father far greater than we could have ever asked or imagined and are so grateful for our experience with our son, Joseph.  We choose to talk about him with our kids, so they know they have a brother that we will all one day meet again and we celebrate him and our family each year on his birthday to keep his memory alive.

Ashley is a mom of two smart, handsome little boys, Trace (age 7) and Fisher (age 4). She was born and raised in Grand Isle, LA, where she and her hubs began dating way back in high school. They moved to Baton Rouge in the late 90’s to go to LSU (GEAUX Tigers!) They fell in love with this city and have lived here ever since. Learn more about Ashley and her family at her personal blog: www.babyballard.blogspot.com. Ashley’s passions include loving and serving her family and community, party planning, baking, cake decorating, reality TV, trying new restaurants, finding fun things to do around town, and above all, loving Jesus. She also likes to partake in some good retail therapy and loves the thrill of a great deal! Becoming a mom has been the highlight of her career and she loves getting to know other moms and talking “Mommy Talk” any chance that she gets.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Your story is my story….December 20, 1979. Almost identical loss of a first pregnancy from the description of being told there was no heartbeat- to the pitocin drip, epidural, and delivery-to the room on the surgical floor so I wouldn’t hear the babies cry. I too was at Woman’s Hospital, and they definitely handled it professionally but compassionately. However, even after being placed on the surgical floor for recovery, when I was being wheeled out and in the elevator, I was flanked by two other new mothers–each holding their babies. That part almost did me in. I am so happy that you were able to have your precious sons, and expected daughter. I also was blessed with two very precious daughters–but one never forgets the one lost. It’s been 39 years and I still can recall every minute. I’ve read many stories of infant loss–but this one literally could have been mine. Blessings on you and your sweet family.

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