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Desmond's Death and Birth

We returned home from a two-week vacation to Montana where we met up with most of Dave's family and had a great time at Yellowstone and visiting friends in Utah on the way back. We got home on June 30 and the next day, I got out the doppler I had borrowed from my friend Stacy just to check in on littlest baby Harper. I easily picked up a heartbeat in the 130s so all was well. This baby was never moving as much as my others, but was moving, so I tried not to worry, and chalked it up to maybe just being busier and not having time to pay as much attention.

Over that weekend, everything seemed normal, and on Monday the 4th of July, we went to Holiday World for a few hours. I remember feeling the baby move while we were there.

On Wednesday July 6th I realized I didn't remember feeling any movement the day before. So I tried to pay attention on Wednesday, and was sure I didn't feel anything. Wednesday night I got the doppler out again, and could not find a heartbeat. I tried not to freak out, telling myself maybe the baby was in a weird position, maybe my placenta was in front making it hard to find, etc. Thursday morning right when I woke up, I tried again, and again... nothing. I knew then that this was bad. I told David, "I think something is wrong with the baby," and he said if I got an appointment that day he'd go with me. When the doctor's office opened, I called and the nurse even said, "That sounds troubling." Yeah. They squeezed me in at 11 a.m.

We went into the exam room and the doctor at first was very confident it was just an issue with the doppler. She got hers out, and after a minute or two of not finding anything she said, let me go grab my portable ultrasound. She came back and put that on, and right away I saw a head, but she still couldn't find a heartbeat. We went across the hall to the regular ultrasound, and that's when it was for sure - there was my baby, but there was no heartbeat at all inside its chest. Total silence.

I think Dave and I were just in shock and kind of numb, even though I'd been sure this was the case all day. We went back into the exam room and the doctor talked about what needed to happen. I was too far along (19 weeks) for a D&C (I would not have wanted one anyway) so would have to be induced. This was a Thursday afternoon and my doctor said we could go to the hospital that night if we wanted, or we could go Saturday night. My doctor was not to be on call during the weekend but wanted to be there for the delivery, but was going to be out of town all day on Saturday. So it was decided we'd check in Saturday night. She said since my body was not ready to deliver it might take a long time, 24 hours or more, so we should be prepared for a long process. We left Dr. Leinenbach's office and made it to the elevator. Blessedly we were the only ones in it, and as soon as the doors closed, we both collapsed into each other, crying. It was the first time I've seen my husband cry in 17 years of marriage.

This left us with two full days to prepare. Suddenly, we had so many decisions to make. I had already decided I wanted a doula with me at this birth, and she came over on Saturday to talk to us. I met Hillary a few months ago when I took part in Listen To Your Mother. She had worked with a woman going through this before and was able to help us navigate the bizarre and horrible situation. Questions like, does the hospital provide clothing for the baby or do we have to? Will my recovery postpartum be the same or different than if I'd delivered a full term baby? Do people do obituaries for stillborn infants? So many questions.

David really stepped up and took over dealing with so much of this stuff. I couldn't even speak the words to ask questions, and I'm so grateful he was able to tackle those tasks. I cried a lot. A lot. He cried a lot. Our kids were sad at first - Penny was so distraught - but then they seemed to get over it. Or at least keep it bottled up. Sometimes I felt like I was fine and things would be okay, and then out of nowhere something would set me off crying again. Like a box of Band-Aids. Band-Aids! I saw them in the bathroom, suddenly realized I'd never get to bandage up this little one's skinned knees, and cried, again.

I'd had a genetic screening test at 12 weeks which had come back clear for downs, trisomy, etc. It also detected the baby's gender but we had decided we wanted to be surprised at birth. Now, we felt we needed to know before the birth, since the birth was going to be completely different. So David called Dr. Leinenbach again (she gave us her cell number) and she looked it up. He tearfully told me it was a boy. Somehow this was even more heartbreaking. We both really hoped for a boy because Truman wanted to have a brother so badly. Knowing that would never happen for him made us cry again and again.

We talked to the kids about what we should name the baby. We'd been tossing around the name Desmond. We actually liked it since Penny - at that time we were very into the tv show LOST and there is a couple with a long tragic love story named Penelope and Desmond. She was a girl, so we used Penelope. We still loved the name Desmond though and the kids agreed it fit. Then we said, well what about a middle name? Truman said, "Truman!" and we said, "Yes! That's it. Desmond Truman." It was decided and it was perfect.

last day pregnant with Desmond, 7/9/16

I decided I wanted to make him a blanket from his siblings' baby blessing outfits. But then I remembered that Lucy's little white dress had gotten colored on with markers at some point, so for her I had to use the white dress she wore on her baptism day when she was eight years old. I used parts of Penny's and Jacinda's dresses and Truman's little white suit. It seemed like such a good idea but just cutting and sewing up the top pieces was making me so very sad, thinking how he'd never have a baby blessing or a baptism or anything else. So when a friend asked what she could do, and knowing she sews, I asked if she'd finish the blanket for me. She came over and picked up the pieces I'd started on and then brought me the completed blanket on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday dragged on and on towards the 10pm hospital check-in time. It started to feel like countdown to an execution in a way. My mom came over to spend the night with the kids, to stay with them as long as we needed her. We got Jacinda to bed, and then headed over to the hospital. It was disturbing how similar it felt to when we had Jacinda. I was induced with her and checked in very early, so it was still dark outside and hot. It was also dark outside and hot but nighttime going for Desmond's birth. We parked in the same 'laboring patient' parking lot. We checked in at the same desk, got the same bracelets. As we were signing the paperwork I had the thought, what if they put us in the same room where Jaci was born? But surely that wouldn't happen. It's a pretty big hospital. We got all done and our doula, Hillary, met us as we waited for the nurse to take us to our room. We started down the hall and I felt like I was walking in four feet of mud, I had to will my feet to take the steps. We kept going and going and I realized we were in fact heading for the same room where Jacinda was born. It was at the very end of the hallway. When we arrived, we both realized it and neither of us could go in. I feared my knees were going to buckle. I just backed away, crying, and David told them the situation, that we'd delivered a living child in that room ten months ago. They had us sit in some chairs and found us a different room. A room I never delivered in before. So at least that was settled. Our nurse, Naomi, was very kind. She said that she was only assigned to us.

The plan was for me to take an oral medication, Cytotec, in big doses every 4 hours and probably do this 3 times before starting IV pitocin to make me contract. I took the first dose at 11:30 and within twenty minutes was having pretty intense cramps. I didn't think it would work that fast. They kept asking me if I wanted anything for the pain, either narcotic shots or an epidural, but I did not. It was important to me to feel and experience every aspect of the delivery. I knew it would be one of the only things I will ever be able to do for him and I also didn't want to be numbed during my last hours of having him be a part of me.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when David and Hillary had both fallen asleep and I was wide awake, I had a sudden understanding of everything - the way things can only be perfectly clear in the middle of the night. I was thinking about Truman, and how when it's his turn to take out the trash and bring in the mail, sometimes he's so excited to go ride his bike outside that he forgets to do the last part of that job - replacing the old trash bag in the kitchen with a new one. And how sometimes I don't want to interrupt his bike-riding time so I just go and get the new bag for him and finish it. I realized Desmond had gone off to do something better, and had left his body here, and because we love him, it was left to us to finish up this last part of things. I think helped me to separate from "my baby" to "my baby's body." It's the only way I kept from completely breaking down.

By 6 a.m. I was having a lot of pressure. I knew what was happening. I've been there before. I realized I was having a mental block. My body did not want to let go of the baby. It didn't understand what had happened. Dave and I had spent a lot of time talking about how Desmond was already gone, this was just the body he'd left behind. It was up to us to show it respect and care. So around 7a.m. I started telling myself, only his body, it's ok to let it go. The pressure increased a lot as I kept repeating this thought to myself. The nurse checked me at 7:30 before my next dose and I was at 3cm so Dr. Leinenbach said not to take the next dose. She came in around 8am and we all chatted for a bit but the pressure became very intense so she checked me again at 8:10 and I was fully dilated. She said I could start pushing anytime I wanted to. I didn't want to at all but I knew it was inevitable.

The delivery was so much different than any of my others. Everyone was incredibly quiet. The lights were kept low. I was able to just sit in the bed and not have to lie down with legs in stirrups. I had no IV tube and no belly monitor because it had happened with just the pills. I pushed for a few minutes in silence. Finally, I knew it was the final push and he was coming out. They were asking me if I wanted him placed on me right away or if I wanted them to take him away to clean up and wrap first. I asked Hillary to look at him and decide. She had warned me that sometimes birth hurt their fragile little bodies and things could be mangled. The moment he came out, I felt such an intense, overwhelming loss. I was not prepared for that feeling at all, and I don't think there are even words to convey it. Dr. Leinenbach said his cord was very long, and was wrapped around him three or four times. I couldn't look, but David did. Everyone in the room was crying but I didn't realize that until later. I was only aware that David and I were crying and holding each other. The doctor took a minute to untangle his cord, then they placed him on a blanket and handed him to me.

I was prepared that he'd be very small, and that his skin would be very red. I wasn't prepared for how it would feel like holding absolutely nothing. He felt like he had no bones at all, just a weightless bag in the shape of a baby. We could tell he was a boy for sure. His face was a little disturbing to me, because the lack of blood flow for a few days had caused his little skull bones to start to lay down on each other. He was my baby though, and even in his condition I could tell that he looked like his siblings. I wasn't sure what to do holding him, it was confusing. I didn't want to see him and at the same time I never wanted to put him down.

His little feet and hands were absolutely stunning and perfect. His legs and arms were too. We took some photos. Our doctor hugged us and left, the nurses cleaned things up and left. Hillary stayed with us for a couple of hours. Eventually I went to take a shower and the nurses took Desmond away to clean him up some more and take photographs of him for us. They gave us the photos on an SD card.

Desmond's hand with Dad's hand

We decided his appearance was too scary for the kids to handle, so we asked my mom to keep them at home. I needed to stay at the hospital for several hours to make sure I wasn't going to bleed too much (sometimes an issue with preterm deliveries), or develop an infection. We decided to keep Desmond's body in the room with us. The nurses said they could take him out any time we wanted or we could keep him. It felt wrong to send him away if we were still there in the building, but as time went on, his little body was rapidly deteriorating. It was shocking to us to realize how frail our human bodies are when there's no spirit living inside of them - even one hour to the next we could see a difference in his color and condition. For the last couple of hours we left him in the little bed, covered up.

Finally at 2:30pm I got the Rhogam shot and they got the results of my CBC back as normal so we were free to go. The nurse gave us all sorts of keepsakes (she called them "momentos" which was funny and endearing), like his footprints and handprints on little stones, his little hat, a ribbon that they photographed him holding. We could have stayed with him longer if we'd wanted but like the day before, it just felt like the more time that passed, the more we were delaying the inevitable. So we lifted the blanket and said goodbye and tried to leave as quickly as we could.

My friend Karin had messaged me the day before and told me that she had lost a little boy at 19 weeks as well, and that the hardest part was going to be leaving the hospital without him. That was completely true. My heart was screaming at me to go back for my baby, and I had to force my legs to take every step from the hospital out to our car. Fortunately we live just a few minutes from the hospital, because the car ride was excruciating. We got home and got to see and hug our kids, who had made us cards, and immediately we felt so much better.

It helps knowing what happened, that his cord was very long and just got tangled around him and knotted. It doesn't tell us why it happened, or why that ever happens to anybody's baby, but at least I know it wasn't because of medications I took or days I didn't take my prenatal vitamins or that I ate sushi or any of the other 1,000 things pregnant women are told to do and not do. It's just a sucky twist of fate that no one deserves but seems to happen way too often.


  1. Thank you for your analogy of Truman's chores not finished. What wonderful light we receive in our darkest trials. Thanks Heather for sharing and I am sending my love.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Crying. Love you Heather. Beautiful.

  3. I read your story on babycenter. I'm so very sorry for your loss. You are a wonderful writer. Prayers to you and your family.

  4. I am so very sorry for your loss. I came here from babycenter where you posted Desmond's birth announcement. I cried along with you and all the people in that hospital room as i read your story. May the Lord give you comfort and peace in this heart breaking time, you are such a strong mama. *hugs*

  5. Heather - thank you for sharing. All I can say that matters - because I cannot remove the trauma, loss, or pain - is make his life a point at which you change something important that matters for you, for your family. Remember his life and death as a turning point for something important. Best, Stacy

  6. Hello friend. I'm so sorry that you lost one of your precious children. Desmond's hands and feet are perfect in every way. I know that we have not spoken in years but I also lost a son - my Jude was stillborn at 36 weeks on 9/15/11. Sending my love and condolences to you and your family. (HUG)

    1. Jen I'm so sorry you also have lost a son. It's such a heartbreaking tragedy because it means a loss of hope and plans and all the time thinking, "I *should* be" this or that right now. Nothing was supposed to go wrong. I was out of the first trimester. My genetic screen was perfect. It wasn't supposed to end like that. (Hugs) to you too, friend.


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