My story of Grace: Part 3. Her earthly end, and heavenly homecoming
***It's pretty difficult for me to go back and re-feel all this despair. But God IS good and it's important to know that, even in the really bad times.
Photos of Grace are at the end. Prepare yourself or don't look if you don't think you can.***
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Grace’s last weekend
I don’t usually write about the weather. I feel like that’s a tactic only used by fourth graders. But when my daughter was last living, it was the most beautiful late autumn Jeff and I had ever seen. We’d had our wedding in the fall only three years before, and back then I would have paid thousands for trees this colorful. The vibrant fall seemed to sum up a perfect pregnancy, and seemed to signal the start of a new season of our lives, one of sheer excitement! (Now, with all the feelings of loss associated with it, I wonder now if I’ll even like the season ever again.)
Our third wedding anniversary was October 29, and we didn’t do much to celebrate – besides, what gift can you give one another that is better than the gift of new life, a child?! We were GIDDY!
Saturday, I ventured out to a brunch with my mommies group of all pregnant women, and held the first tiny baby born to the group. Soon, I thought, I would be holding my very own baby in my arms! Everyone reminded me that it was November 1, my due date month!
Sunday, we went to church, and Grace jammed out to the worship music! She always seemed to have a lot of fun in my belly! I felt extra special that day, and had worn a black dress with four-inch black heels. I was enormous, and it seemed like every stranger I passed congratulated me. Our drive home, we passed the hospital where I would give birth, and I got all excited thinking about how in two weeks this same drive home would be the most happy drive of my life—with a baby in my arms!
That evening, we went to the last session of our Bradley natural childbirth class. And Grace kicked all the while. Jeff said how excited he was about labor (ha! I was like, of course YOU’RE excited! I’m the one pushing this thing out!) —we were ready for this! (I was prepared to give birth without pain medications or interventions, and felt very confident in the technique—I’d told everyone about it so I’d keep accountable!) Then we went home and Jeff videotaped actors for a project. And Grace kept right on kicking, as she always did. Later, Jeff gave me my nightly back massage—he’s the best husband ever—and we watched Grace move around in my belly (for what we didn’t know then would be the last time ever).
We headed to bed and I reached over and put my hand in the bassinet attached to our mattress, as I had gotten into the habit of doing, and imagined how in a few short weeks I would be stroking my peacefully sleeping baby there, admiring her, my offspring, the greatest blessing I’d ever received.
I prayed thanks, and fell asleep.
November 3, 2008
It was a dark day out, starting to drizzle, but my first thought was how something great was about to happen. I said aloud to Jeff, “For some reason, it feels like Christmas morning!” I cannot get over how weird that feeling was. Maybe God was trying to bless me with a calm before the storm…
…because the rest of that day can only be described as the worst of my life.
Jeff left for work, and I went downstairs to make Grace and I breakfast. I sipped my OJ, but Grace didn’t kick like she usually did with that jolt of fructose. Odd, I thought, but I wasn’t overwhelmingly alarmed, and went on talking to her, telling her I loved her as I always did. I was awake a little earlier than usual, anyway. I showered, but Grace didn’t move like normal with the water’s warmth. I poked the spot where I knew her butt was, but she was obviously sleeping. Still, I thought, it was early. Yet, when I got out, I really started to worry.
I went to the nursery and lay down on the floor next to her crib (like Jeff had been doing each morning as he prayed for her, for almost nine months) and gulped cold water, hoping it would wake her up. My heart started to race when she didn’t wake. My doctor’s appointment was scheduled for 9:30 that morning, and I left the house as quick as I could, speeding down the road and arriving ridiculously early. At the stoplight before the doctor’s building, the word started flashing through my head, stillbirth stillbirth stillbirth. Everything was a blur, as they weighed me, took my blood pressure, and Jeff arrived. All I could think or say was “I haven’t felt her kick this morning.”
The fluorescent lights in the room made it look so cold and horrible in there, increasing my panic. I could hear heartbeats from Dopplers thumping loudly through the thin walls of the rooms on either side of me. But when they tried to listen to my child’s heartbeat, it wasn’t there. “No,” Jeff said to me, and grabbed my hand tightly as the doctor rushed off to find the ultrasound machine. “She’s fine; it isn’t what you think; they’ll find it; please God.” (How would I have ever survived if Jeff hadn’t come to the appointment that day?)
The doctor rolled in the ancient-looking machine and fumbled the cord, clearly flustered, and got another doctor to help her. When they finally got it to work—my stomach is in knots as I type this—the ultrasound machine showed a lifeless little girl, a beautiful heart, but one that had stopped beating forevermore.
"I’m so sorry," was all the doctor said. I put my hands on my face, where they remained for the next several hours, and whispered, "Oh my God. Oh my God." This is when shock set in—the body’s gift to its emotional state—to help me survive the blow. I had become numb, and would stay that way for the next 24 hours. I thought back to my childhood, about the night when my friend’s dad had passed away in a tragic car accident, and about how we had gone to the hospital that night and saw the family. I remembered how I had hugged my friend and sobbed uncontrollably, but that she was strong and wasn’t crying. I finally understood it. That’s how I felt now. Crushed, flattened, beaten down to silence, to numbness. I couldn’t even cry.
Suddenly, I had to get this baby out. She seemed heavier than ever before. I hated how stiff her body felt, preventing me from even being able to expand my lungs and get a full breath, and then I hated myself for disliking anything about my poor child. But I couldn’t handle having this dead baby inside me. I needed her out NOW – it was URGENT! I repeated it to each of the doctors, but didn’t watch to see if they responded or not. Everything was so blurry.
Walking out of the office, I noticed that my hands were still on my face. I wondered what everyone in the waiting room thought of me – what did they think was wrong? Were they panicked about their own babies? I thought about all of those people on the news all the time, those women in Iraq or Israel after a bomb exploded and killed their families, and how they would always be running around, screaming and crying. I wondered when or if I would get to that point. Right now, I pretty much felt dead.
In the car, I saw our new pink baby carseat all strapped in and ready to go. Overcome with too much emotion, I’m pretty sure I almost passed out. We rushed to the hospital, where the marathon of labor and delivery—that grueling emotional and physical journey—began.
We walked in and although we’d already taken a tour of the hospital, were absolutely clueless where to go and wandered around blindly. Jeff asked someone at a desk where labor & delivery was, and with major attitude, she pointed down the hall, and said, “Um, In labor and delivery.” So strange, I thought, how people have so much anger. I had just lost my daughter and I wasn’t as angry as her.
It was dark and empty in there that day. The nurses were all huddled around the nurses’ station, probably talking about who they were going to vote for, as it was the day before the presidential elections, and they all turned around when they saw us coming. Immediately, we told them who we were, and silence fell.
I felt ill. This was not how it was supposed to go at all. I was supposed to walk in here in labor, already six centimeters dilated, and near ready to push, with everyone in awe at my strength and supernatural pain tolerance. And I would breastfeed my baby girl right away, and dress her in her beautiful pink lacy outfit (that was sitting inside the suitcase in our bedroom, already clean and ironed) and bring her home in that pink carseat to a house all set up just for her. But this? Nurses feeling sorry for me? I wanted to turn around and walk right back out.
A nurse brought us to a room on the quiet, empty side of the maternity ward, probably so we wouldn’t have to hear other people giving birth to living, crying babies. I wondered how they assigned a nurse to us. Did they draw straws? Did she owe someone something? I can’t imagine anyone volunteering for such a horrible event.
I think we must have been there over an hour before we even thought to call someone. How do you tell your parents, who have been looking forward to meeting their first grandbaby for nine months, that they will never get to? I hated that we would have to make one of these kinds of calls, the kind nobody ever wants to get, the kind that you think are only made in later life when your grandparents are in their 90s. That we would have to make one of those calls now, as healthy happy people in our twenties, it was too much to bear. I told Jeff he could call, but he didn’t have to if he didn’t want, and I sure wasn’t doing it.
He was so strong that day. He made the calls to our parents, one by one, out in the hallway. I’m so glad I didn’t have to see his face as he spoke those words. And he called his boss to tell him that he wouldn’t be back in for a very long time. Months later, we learned that his boss actually called our church that day to let them know about the situation, and thus we had our church praying for us from the very beginning.
On the phone, my dad didn’t believe the words that Jeff told him, saying that He knew our God was a miracle worker, and that Jesus could raise our baby from death. Until the next day when we left the hospital hours after Grace had been born, Dad didn’t believe that she was really gone. In my shock and numbness, I didn’t have the faith to believe that kind of miracle could happen. I loved my dad for it though—I loved his faith, and I loved his deep love for his granddaughter. If only I could go back, with the faith that I now have, and experience that day, I wonder if that miracle could happen? Could I have believed God and allowed him to work in such a big way? Maybe I wasn’t giving Him an “in.”
But God was there, beckoning me to him. Whether I wanted Him or not. All those years of my asking him to “be with me” to “comfort me” to “strengthen me” to “guide me” were coming to fruition. He was answering those prayers when I needed them most.
A song started playing in my head, one that I didn’t know I knew, but the words kept playing… “You spread out the skies, over empty space, said let there be light, in a dark and formless world…”
“Ugh,” I thought, “Go away music. Go away feelings. Go away everything.” I didn’t want to think, or pray, and I definitely didn’t want music. But the song kept right on playing in my head. “Gosh, where is that song from?”
Our nurse sat down on a stool in our room and asked me a gazillion questions. The doctors did too. Had I fallen recently? They all seemed to ask that question. Because, there has to be someone to blame. Had the baby been kicking regularly the last few days? Car accident?
Everything had been so normal, the whole pregnancy! I felt not an ounce of guilt. Boy was I thankful at how perfectly I had treated Grace in there all nine months. There wasn’t anything I did that I wouldn’t do again. I wracked my brain, but no, there was nothing. This was as random and tragic as you could get.
Before beginning the induction, the doctor came in and prayed with us. One of the great things about our doctors’ office is that it was a Catholic organization, and they were very open about the fact that they prayed for their patients. I don’t remember much about the prayer, except how I thought it was odd that she opened it by calling God “Daddy.” Maybe she did it on purpose, or maybe God just wanted us to hear it, but, He was a daddy too, and He too lost His only child.
Because it was so cloudy and gross outside that afternoon, you couldn’t tell if it was day or night, but it seemed like we’d already been there an eternity when 1:15 rolled around and it was time to get things started.
As it was still two weeks before my due date, my body wasn’t even slightly ready to give birth. My belly hadn’t dropped, there was zero dilation, no effacement, zip. It looked like Grace hadn’t planned on making her grand entrance for quite a while; she would have probably come quite late. We were well aware that because my body wasn’t ready, this induction may not work, and we could potentially end up having to go home and try this again on a different date or have a c-section—both which sounded like ways to somehow make my worst nightmare even worse.
In a small way, though, we felt like that part of things was already taken care of. People were praying for this delivery to go smoothly, and we could already feel God working through those prayers. This induction was going to work. And I was going to deliver a baby—who was no longer living. I’ve never been more scared in my life, or dreaded anything as much as I dreaded what was ahead of me.
The doctor inserted the cervadil, which simply makes your cervix thin out so a baby can come through it. For some people, this alone can trigger labor, although it certainly isn’t the most common outcome. We didn’t think I’d be in that outlier group, and fully expected to be in that hospital for a good long while—at least a day or more—before anything began to happen.
But once again, I was the exception to the rule, and labor kick-started almost immediately! I began to have huge contractions every two minutes, sometimes even closer, but the pain was manageable in my typical “go big or go home” mentality. Because of all the hard work I’d put into the natural childbirth classes, I stubbornly insisted on bearing this pain without medications. I was in labor-mode, not allowing myself to think about the reality of this situation or how emotional it was. By that point, I was still in such a state of shock that I had almost forgotten why we were here. So we marched through the halls, pretending like we were every other happy couple about to have a baby, stopping and hunching over when the contractions came.
Somewhere in all of that pain, my family and Jeff’s mom showed up at the hospital. It was surreal seeing them there under these circumstances. I was very convinced this was a bad dream. I sat down in my bed, and my dad sat in a chair next to me and began to pray for miracles. Nobody knew what else to say or do. For such a normally chatty group, everyone was quiet.
Totally numb, all I could think to say was, “I’m going to become a very bitter and angry person when this is all over.” My mom very quietly but firmly replied that I would not.
But I couldn’t even imagine how I would live past this day. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel when the loss of my daughter finally entirely hit me. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever smile again. I knew I would be forever changed.
Needing to feel useful, my family asked what they could go out and get us—they felt a need to help in some way! I hadn’t felt the urge to cry until that moment, when I replied that I would need my suitcase--because it had Grace’s coming-home outfit in it. Because, she would still need an outfit—to be buried in.
In the evening, the contractions became horrendous, and the nurses begged me to get an epidural. But, I had wanted to keep this one goal of going med-free, this one tiny part of my plan intact, and refused the epidural again and again.
But eventually, it dawned on me that there was no real reason to avoid pain meds. There would be no reward at the end of this journey, no living healthy baby who would benefit by having no drugs in her innocent little body. When I had conversations with other mothers later, nobody was going to ask me to share my birth story, and I’d never get to tell about the experience of going epidural-free—nobody would want to know about the birth of a dead baby.
And I realized that my fear of epidurals’ risks—becoming paralyzed or even dying because of misplacement of the needle in the spine—were no longer an issue for me. If I died today, I thought, it would be better than having to live the rest of my life without Grace.
“Oh God, why her? Why couldn’t you have taken me? I would have gladly given my life for her! I would have done anything for her! A child should not die before her mother, “my soul cried out to Him. I felt so empty, so worthless.
I finally took the nurse’s suggestion to “stop being a martyr” and got the epidural. And compared to my emotional pain, I couldn’t even feel the pain of the needle going in. The whole time, though, tears were flowing down my mom’s face and the anesthesiologist asked, “Why are you crying?! You should be excited!” I guess he hadn't been debriefed.
Unfortunately, instead of making this nightmarish journey more bearable, the epidural only made things worse. What control I had felt with managing my own pain and having something to work through to distract me from this horror, was taken away from me. Not only did I become confined to lying down in a bed because of the epidural and Foley catheter, but I also had more side effects from the epidural than I had ever heard of anyone experiencing before!
First, I began to shake uncontrollably. The shaking was so bad that I had to have my mom and mother-in-law hold down each of my legs because it was using all my energy to try to keep them still. I felt completely out of control of my body and mind– I felt like a mental patient! Then I started to swell. I hadn’t swollen at all during pregnancy, so this was shocking. My feet blew up and turned purple. My face was huge and puffy. My fingers looked and felt like they would burst.
Then I got a fever of 101, so I had to get antibiotics. From there, the drugs continued to multiply. I started to itch—all over—it was unbearable. Everyone kept telling me to sleep, but the itching (on top of having everyone in the room staring at me) made it impossible. I felt like I had bug-bites on literally every millimeter of skin and I was scratching ferociously. So, I got an anti-itch drug in my IV. That didn’t work, so they tried a different one. Now, I had been lying down for some time, not able to sit up because of the epidural, so I got heartburn. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the stomach acid was eating me alive. So, I got heartburn meds.
As everything became more and more chaotic, nurses were telling me to get some sleep so I could have energy for pushing. They had no idea. In their world, things were moving along smoothly. In my world, everything was crashing down. When I closed my eyes, I kept feeling like my soul was being lifted out of my body. In my mind, I could look down and vividly see my lifeless body lying on the bed below—it was as if I was willing myself to die.
It was then that a song started playing in my head again. It was the same one as earlier, but this time it grew louder. “You made the world and saw that it was good, You sent your only son, for you are good, What a wonderful maker, What a wonderful savior, How majestic your whispers, And how humble your love…” I still didn’t know where it came from. I didn’t know who sang it, and I was shocked that my brain was reciting the words to a song that I thought I didn’t know. And it didn’t stop until we left the hospital. “With a strength like no other, And the heart of a father, How majestic your whispers, What a wonderful God.”
Midway through the night, the nurses decided to speed up the labor even more, so they gave me pitocin. Around that same time, my epidural began to not work. I could feel contractions all through the right side of my body, especially in my leg.
This, of course, is when my body decided to begin its “transition”(the most painful) stage of labor. Each contraction lasted two full minutes, with no real breaks in between. I was dilating quickly, so the anesthesiologist had to run in, and take out the epidural and completely re-place it.
In all of that pain, I hadn’t even noticed that my water had broken. I looked down to see the soaking wet bed, then stared up at Jeff. I wanted to communicate to him all the disappointment I felt, knowing that instead of having some exciting TV-drama sort of water-breaking moment—out shopping or at church or at dinner with friends—my water had to break like this, under these sad circumstances. This just wasn’t fair.
The nurses told me that I was progressing unusually fast, and that in the future I should prepare myself for speedy labors with my next babies. Minutes later, they checked me and with surprised faces, said I was completely dilated and I could push when I felt ready.
Well, you can never feel “ready” to push out a dead baby. Dread and horror flooded my entire being. So I told myself I’d just hold her in. I simply would not be pushing her out. I couldn’t. I would just hope to wake up from this nightmare, in my own bed at home, and find that my baby was peacefully sleeping and kicking away inside me.
When I felt contractions, I would try to ignore them. Of course, only about seven minutes went by before I could feel the baby coming down, whether I was ready or not. The doctor and nurse came in, Jeff held my left leg and my mom and mother-in-law held the right, and it took only 10 quick pushes to get the baby completely out.
And when she came out, Grace didn’t cry. (I’m so deeply envious of anyone who has ever heard their baby cry.)
This is when the doctor saw the cord wound tightly multiple times around her long, beautiful little leg. Her source of life—the umbilical cord —had become her cause of death. The doctor handed me Grace, and I began to wail.
I can’t even remember the depth of the pain well enough to describe it here, for I’d never experienced anything like it before, and I haven’t even experienced it since. It was by far the saddest moment of my entire life.
I cradled her lifeless body gently in my arms.
Her skin was torn in places and her lips were a dark crimson red, because she’d been in my womb too long without oxygen. It is unbearable for a mother to see her child like that—to think that any part of her child is imperfect, to imagine that Grace had gone through any pain. I wanted to bandage her skin, I wanted to hug her tight enough to warm her up, I wanted to breathe life into her limp body!
But those thoughts are too heavy for any human to bear.
And that’s why God blessed me with a hint of joy. For, she was my BABY and I was a proud MOTHER! I got to hold her! It was something I’d waited my entire life to do! She was a precious, gorgeous, perfect gift and I got to ADMIRE her!
At seven pounds, she was a chubby little girl for being born two weeks before her due date. She didn’t look tiny or fragile—she didn’t even have that “wrinkly old man” face that so many newborns have—she was completely beautifully feminine, with a soft, full face. Even with the feminine features, we could tell she had more Jeff-genes in her appearance than Heather-genes. Like Jeff, her lips were full, her nose was rounded, her earlobes were meaty, and her eyes turned down at the corners. She inherited the look that drew me to Jeff when we were teenagers! She would have gotten away with so much naughtiness with an innocent, adorable face like that!
But her body looked more like me. She was measured at 21 inches long, but we both noticed that when the nurse was measuring her, her little knees were bent, so we’re almost sure she was actually over 22 inches. She would have been tall! Her toes and feet looked exactly like a miniature version of mine, so the ultrasound had been correct in indicating she was going to get the Heather Glasgow bigfoot-ness. Her legs were lanky too, and so were her arms. When everyone held her, we all remarked how heavy and big she felt.
Her coloring—porcelain pale with light blonde hair—was like the both of us. Her eyes were most assuredly blue (since we both have blue eyes), but we weren’t able to see them. I tried opening her eyelids, but her eyes had darkened with death—they didn’t look like eyes. And not being able to look into your little girl’s eyes is torture.
I can’t even imagine how wonderful it feels to have your baby look up at you. It almost seems too good an experience for any human being to deserve. That type of blessing isn’t even of this world. It is most certainly a piece of heaven itself.
When I saw Jeffrey hold her, I fell in love with him a million times over. He looked more handsome than ever before, holding his daughter. He was a natural, completely meant for the role of father. He was so loving and gentle, powerful and strong; he looked like he could carry her every burden. He too would have sacrificed anything for her. It tore me apart to think that I couldn’t watch him hold her or parent her ever again.
The Remainder of November 4
Somewhere in the whirlwind of everything going on, the doctor stitched me up (I’d torn from such a fast delivery and big-boned baby) and did all the doctorly things. I let the nurse take Grace to be cleaned, measured and dressed in her beautiful pink coming-home outfit. She cut a lock of Grace’s blonde hair for us to keep, and did her footprints. Meanwhile, I threw up several times (from the drugs, anxiety and sheer shock of the situation), and had to get some anti-nausea meds. The placenta was looked at —it was perfect, Grace’s blood and skin sample were taken for genetic testing—all of which turned out perfectly healthy as well; everything about her was ideal. I couldn’t stop thinking what a healthy little baby she had been. I’d given her the perfect life; her entire existence was such a blissful, happy one.
Everyone there got to hold our precious gift. She was passed around the room, and my tears flowed as I watched my mom, dad, Jeff’s mom, and each of my sisters (except Jennifer, who was regrettably in CA) admire their long-awaited newest family member. At times, I worried that they might be scared or uncomfortable touching a dead person, but they lovingly assured me that they wanted to keep on holding her.
Time stood still as we enjoyed and loved on our little girl.
I wanted to hold her forever. I wanted to cuddle her and sing to her and talk to her. But, we didn’t get enough time. She faded so quickly. Within an hour, she no longer looked like the baby I had just birthed. She turned blue, cold, stiff. We didn’t have time to argue which side of the family she looked more like. We couldn’t stare and look at her from every angle. And pictures just don’t capture it all. I didn’t get to experience the little baby “head smell” that everyone says is so sweet. I didn’t even get to see that cute little pudgy butt that had poked out the top of my belly for the last three weeks of her life.
I was desperate to be able to nurture her and breastfeed that little open mouth. I wanted to be mommy to my baby. I wanted to bond with her. There were millions of moments that I didn’t get to share with my baby. Millions. I could sit with you and list forever everything I wanted to experience with her.
Goodbye My Baby
I know that some people will continue to hold their stillborn babies for hours in the hospital, because they can’t bear to part with them, regardless of how quickly the baby’s body fades. With us, though, we knew we would see Grace again. And in Heaven, she would look healthy and beautiful. Boy, I can’t wait!
The nurses knew there was no reason for us to remain in the maternity ward with all the happy new mothers, so they allowed us to check out, little more than 24 hours after arriving.
Our parents and my sisters left the hospital, allowing us time alone in the dimly-lit room to have our final moments with Grace as a family of three. No words were spoken, except for “I love you so much, Grace” again and again, and of course our silent prayers to God, pleading for as much strength as He could give us, for we simply could not do this on our own.
We placed her on the baby bed, and I made sure she was tightly bundled in that warm blanket, so her body wouldn’t get hurt when she was moved to the morgue. I knew it didn’t matter now, but as a mom, I still felt the strong instinct to protect her.
My hopes and dreams were all wrapped up in that bundle of blankets, and I would have to leave them all behind at the hospital that day.
We told her goodbye, and held hands as I was wheeled out. We silently left the hospital with empty arms.
But in Heaven, Grace’s soul was already in the presence of our Almighty God, experiencing peace and joy beyond human description. She was already among angels, worshiping our Father, her hands raised to Him who knew that it was best to allow her to be taken out of our imperfect world. Together with all the souls in Heaven, she now sings out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
I can’t wait to hold you again, Grace.
There's more to the story, at My journey to a living baby.