Losing our baby Thérèse changed me. Some of the ways are obvious, and others sneak up on me and take my breath away. Although it was the most painful experience I have ever gone through (and am still going through), I can’t thank God enough for giving our family that precious, little, innocent saint. I think about her a lot, and I pray to her throughout the day as I wash dishes, play with the kids, or do the countless mundane tasks that make up my days.
Sometimes, I’ll get a little reminder that if things had gone differently, she would still be with me. In my tummy. Kicking. We would be anxiously awaiting her arrival on her due date, May 20, 2013. For whatever reason, it wasn’t part of the plan–His plan. I still don’t understand the plan or even pretend to wrap my mind around it. Instead, I’m learning to stop planning, controlling, and allow God to take my roller coaster ride up and down and up and down. For this Type A Martha girl, that is no easy task! Good Father that He is, God knew I needed to learn to let Him take the reigns.
On November 2, All Souls Day, we learned on ultrasound that our precious baby was dead. I started to miscarry at home the evening of November 4. As things progressed and my blood loss became dangerous, I ended up having an emergency D&C in the wee hours of the morning on November 5. The next weeks consisted of regaining my strength, getting a blood transfusion, squeezing the stuffing out of Jane and Walt, and busily preparing for hosting Thanksgiving. I was grateful for the distraction of a major holiday!
A week before Thanksgiving at my two-week follow-up appointment after my D&C, my OB said that my exam was normal and that I was healthy. He gave us the all-clear to resume marital activities, but he recommended waiting three months before trying to conceive again. The thought of waiting three months was agony, but wait we must. He said to anticipate my cycle returning 4-6 weeks after my D&C. We decided not to start charting again until that time came.
A few nights after my follow-up OB appointment and before my cycle returned, Philip and I cried our eyes out after the kids went to bed. We talked about missing Thérèse, how much we loved Jane and Walt, and how much we desperately wanted to have another baby. We held each other and said we were ready for another baby whenever God would send us that blessing. That night, we decided we to open ourselves to the possibility of a new baby, as unlikely as that would be. After that night, we said we would follow my doctor’s instructions to avoid a pregnancy for three months.
Thanksgiving came and went. We made plans to gather our family to pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary for Thérèse on December 9. The week of the Rosary, something wasn’t right. I was moody and weepier than I had been, my breasts were leaking colostrum, and I had some abdominal cramping. Noooooooooooo, I thought. This must be from the miscarriage. My body must be hanging on to the hormones, and it must take awhile for all of the pregnancy symptoms to subside. Still…
December 4, exactly one month to the day after I started to miscarryThérèse, I told Philip that it was crazy, but that I thought I might be pregnant. We decided to take a pregnancy test to confirm that we weren’t. Before I took it, we discussed the possibility that a positive did not necessarily indicate pregnancy, but that the residual hormones from my previous pregnancy with Thérèse could create a false positive. With this in mind, I went to take the test. Instantly, the test was positive. I had to take a picture so that I would still believe the results long after the test faded.
“Oh, God,” I prayed, “Please guard my heart and give me the strength to accept whatever this means.” Just like any other time I took a pregnancy test, I brought it out to show Philip. We cried our happy tears, and we instantly told each other not to get our hopes up. It was well after office hours, so I waited to call my OB until the next morning.
First thing in the morning, I called my OB’s office, and I asked to speak with my OB’s amazing nurse. I’ll never forget her for hugging me in the ultrasound room when we found out that Thérèse had died and for helping me through the whole process. Let’s call the sweet nurse Allison.
“Allison,” I said, “I took a pregnancy test, and it was positive.”
In her usual calm manner, she said, “Oh…well…did you have unprotected sex?”
I felt like a promiscuous teenager answering that question. “Yes…but only once!” I said.
“Well,” she laughed, “that’s all it takes!”
As I expected, she was careful with her words from there. She instructed me to come in for a blood draw to check my HCG levels. “Then, you’ll come back 48 hours later. If the levels have at least doubled, that indicates that you are pregnant. If the levels don’t increase that much, it indicates that you may have some retaining fetal tissue, or you may just have some residual hormones.”
I couldn’t wait, so I went in to the lab that afternoon, December 5, before the kids’ naptime to get a blood draw. The results came back hours later, and I got a phone call from Allison. “Your HCG level is ___.” I can’t remember what the number was. I said, “Ok, so translate for me. What are we working with?” In typical Allison fashion, she said, “Well, it’s elevated. So, it’s hard to say for sure at this point. We’ll have to wait until your 48-hour blood draw to know for sure. It’s definitely in the range for a positive pregnancy test, but we won’t know for sure until after your second blood draw.”
So, I went in for my second blood draw on December 7. It was a Friday, and I was so nervous that I wasn’t going to get the results before the weekend! Right before 5, Allison called.
“Catherine? It’s Allison. I have the results of your blood test. Your HCG level is ____.”
The number was much, much higher than the first test. It had more than tripled!
“So, what does that mean?” I asked.
“It means I think you’re pregnant. Congratulations!”
“Really?! Really?! Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it!” Of course, I was trying to keep myself composed over the phone, but I was sobbing at this point.
Allison told me to make an appointment for an ultrasound at 5 weeks to confirm the pregnancy. I thanked her, she congratulated me again, and I hung up the phone.
Then, the weight of it all sunk in.
I got pregnant two weeks after we lost Thérèse.
We are having a Rosary for Thérèse in two days.
It was a bizarre time emotionally. We wrestled with sharing the news with our families at the Rosary, but we decided to wait until we could see a heartbeat on ultrasound and confirm that everything was okay. So, we had a beautiful day celebrating our baby Thérèse in prayer. The day was even sweeter knowing that I could ask for Thérèse’s intercession for her baby brother or sister. “Please,” I prayed. “Please, I don’t know if I can take losing another baby right now. Please let us keep this baby.”
The days c…r…a…w…l…e…d by until my ultrasound. The day finally came, but I ended up having to reschedule because of a snowstorm. By the time I had the ultrasound, I was nearly 6 weeks along according to our estimates.
I confided in a friend what was going on, and she offered to watch the kids so that Philip and I could go to the appointment by ourselves. We didn’t think we could endure hearing that we had lost another baby with them in the room.
The same ultrasound tech that told us Thérèse had died was performing this ultrasound. I told her I was nervous and that I wanted to know exactly what I should anticipate seeing on the screen before we began. “We think you’re only 5 weeks and 6 days, so it’s probably too early to see a heartbeat, and the baby will be very, very tiny.” I prayed to the Blessed Mother to give me the strength I needed to endure whatever she told us. Before scanning my uterus, she examined my ovaries and looked over everything else to make sure it was as it should be. My right ovary showed signs that it had recently ovulated. Good! Oh, the waiting was agony. When the image of my uterus came into view, we instantly saw a tiny, tiny baby. Then, I noticed the fluttering. “That’s the baby’s heartbeat,” said the ultrasound tech.
Philip squeezed my shoulders.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. It was difficult to see the screen.
The baby’s heartbeat!
We had never even seen Thérèse’s heartbeat!
This baby has a heartbeat!
The baby is okay!
I’m really pregnant!
The ultrasound tech took some measurements and took the baby’s heart rate. The baby measured just 3mm and had a heartbeat! Amazing! The baby measured right on target with the dates we provided my OB. Without an LMP (last menstrual period) to date the pregnancy, my OB had to rely on the information that we were only together once two weeks after my D&C. If I ovulated two weeks after my D&C, that would coincide with the date we gave him. The ultrasound confirmed what we thought was impossible–we got pregnant with this baby two weeks after we lost Thérèse.
After seeing the heartbeat on ultrasound, we decided we would announce the news to our families at Christmastime. After the ultrasound, Philip and I went to get a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria. I’ll never forget the date of the ultrasound (Friday, December 14) because I watched the news about the Newtown, Connecticut shooting come on the cafeteria tv as I waited for Philip to pick up our order.) We were numb from the news. We couldn’t believe we were really pregnant, that we saw a heartbeat, and that all signs pointed to everything being okay.
I popped into the restroom on our way to the car. Then, the unthinkable happened. There was blood. I told Philip I thought it was probably from the ultrasound and that I’d call my OB if it got worse. It got worse as the day went on, but it eventually went away. A few days later, I had another bleeding episode. This time, I thought for sure that the baby was gone. I called my OB, and they had me come in on December 21 for another ultrasound to check on the baby. Despite the bleeding, all was well. The first bleeding episode was likely from the ultrasound and a little implantation bleeding. We’re still not sure what caused the second bleeding episode, but it was short-lived and considered normal first trimester bleeding. Ugh! I thought I was losing the baby every time I saw blood. I thought I was re-living losing Thérèse.
With the good news that all was well with Baby, we told our families around Christmas that we were pregnant. They were as surprised as we were, but they congratulated us and assured us of their prayers for this baby.
I had another appointment January 10, and Baby looked great on ultrasound. After that appointment, I started to absorb that I was really pregnant. I was cautiously optimistic, but I wasn’t ready to share the news with the world yet.
I didn’t have another appointment until January 31. I was nearly at the 12-week mark, so it was supposed to be a quick appointment with a check of my vitals and a quick listen to Baby’s heartbeat on the doppler.
Days before that ultrasound, my good friend (the same friend who watched the kids for the first ultrasound) met me for dessert. She asked me how I was doing and mentioned Thérèse. Instantly, I burst into tears. I realized I hadn’t even asked myself how I was doing in a long time and that I was so preoccupied with this pregnancy that I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve, process, or do much beyond get through the long days with “morning” sickness, Philip’s rotten schedule that month, or worry about the unknowns with this pregnancy.
After I got home from my dessert date with my friend, Philip and I had a great talk on the couch and checked in with one another emotionally for the first time in probably a month. That’s how it is with good friends–they prompt you to make your marriage better. Philip and I had been so consumed with the holidays and just being in survival mode that we had put the grieving process on hold. Thank goodness for good friends that help put us back on track!
Philip and I held hands on the couch and cried as we talked about missing Thérèse, worrying about this baby, and being tired of residency’s crazy hours. I confided in Philip that I was convinced there was something wrong with the baby and that I was ready for the worst at my ultrasound. He said he understood why I was worried, but he reminded me of all of the positive signs we had from previous appointments that pointed to things being okay.
When the ultrasound rolled around a few days later, Philip was able to come at the last minute because of some very sweet attending doctors on his rotation. God bless them! Thank goodness he came because it was a stressful appointment. My vitals all looked good. When it came time to listen to Baby’s heartbeat on the doppler, the appointment got scary. I prayed the entire time my OB scanned my belly with the doppler. After searching for two minutes, my OB couldn’t find a heartbeat. Very calmly, he said, “Let’s go across the hall and take a peek on the ultrasound.” Those were his exact words at my 12-week appointment with Thérèse before we saw that she had died. I told myself that the baby was gone.
We settled in to the ultrasound room, and the image on the screen came into view. Instantly, we saw a perfectly formed little baby with a fluttering heart. In fact, he or she kicked off of my uterine wall throughout the exam and made it very difficult for my OB to take any measurements. Baby’s heart rate was right on target (161), and Baby measured 11 weeks and 5 days–exactly how far along I was that day! I told my OB how nervous he made me when he couldn’t find the heart rate. He assured me that my chances of miscarrying after that appointment were very, very low, and that Baby looked great. He said to feel good about things, and I finally believed him.
After receiving confirmation that Baby was okay and that everything looked great, we decided to share the news with the rest of our friends and extended family. We posted this picture of Walt getting an “Eviction Notice” from the nursery on Facebook. He was ready for his morning nap, and we took his pacifier away, so it was easy to capture a sad pout from him.
Since November, I’ve felt that my life has been in a holding pattern. Not a day goes by that I don’t fear losing Baby, but I’m finally allowing myself to make an emotional connection. I’m finally finding myself thinking about Baby as a part of this family and imagining him or her with us in August.
|12-week belly shot|
God is teaching me each day to relinquish control, live in the present, and trust. I’m learning to trust that He will guide the roller coaster ride I’m on through all of the scary twists and turns to a safe return home. Some days, I’m white-knuckled and feel as though I’m going to be sick (some days literally!). Other days, I allow myself to enjoy the rush as I anticipate the next curve. Losing Thérèse taught me that our lives are completely out of my hands. God will give. God will take. God will be there to love me through it all. I need only entrust myself and our family to Him. The trouble is, I forget this reality and fall into the trap of thinking our lives are in my control. Usually, God swiftly returns me to my knees where I belong when that happens.
I am so grateful for the gift of my Catholic Faith throughout these last several months. Without the belief that our baby Thérèse is a saint in heaven that can intercede on behalf of our family, enduring losing her and thinking that we were losing this baby would be unbearable. I can’t help but think that without Thérèse dying, we would never have the precious baby growing inside of me. It is bittersweet to think that this baby is due three months after Thérèse would have been born. My greatest hope as a parent is to get our family to heaven. Thinking that we already have one member there is all the incentive we need to keep working toward that goal.
I’m reading Kimberly Hahn’s book Beloved and Blessed. She recounts a conversation with her son, Joseph, when he realized his mom miscarried two babies before him.
“How soon did the baby die before you conceived me?”
“Joseph, I miscarried just weeks before we conceived you.”
“So if that baby had not died, I wouldn’t be here, would I?”
Joseph thought for a moment, and he shared this profound thought: “Mom, I’m sorry the other baby died, but this way you get to have us both!”
I love everything about that passage! How lucky am I that I get to have BOTH my saint Thérèse in heaven AND this precious baby growing inside of me?! Amazing!
So, I’m getting on with the business of remembering that we are blessed and that God want us to be happy. Sure, I’ll continue to grieve and cry for the baby I never held, but I’m not a bad mother for being happy or even for forgetting about Thérèse from time to time. After all, God’s taking care of her. She’s in far better hands with Him anyway!
Meanwhile, the precious babies we already have are helping me to remember just how blessed we are. The day after my ultrasound, Jane was looking at my belly as I got dressed.
Me: Did we get to see Baby yesterday on the tv?
Me: Wasn’t the baby so cute?!
Jane: No, Mama. The baby isn’t cute.
I was momentarily saddened by Janie’s response. Of course the baby was cute! Perhaps this was just a little sibling jealousy coming out.
Jane: Babies aren’t cute; they’re perfect. Pets are cute, Mama. Babies are perfect.
Out of the mouths of babes! She’s right, you know. What a supreme blessing and honor that humans are made in the image and likeness of God. Regardless of what lies ahead with this pregnancy (or any pregnancy), the babies are perfect because they are made exactly as God intended–with an immortal soul that He hopes will be returned to Him. If we get to keep this baby, Thérèse taught me the time will only be “on loan,” and that it is my job to return all of my babies to their Father. I know she will help me to do just that.
I hope I make you proud, Thérèse! I miss you everyday. Please pray for us.
Copyright 2013 Catherine Boucher