Six years ago I was a 21 year old senior in college pregnant with my first child, a baby girl. It was scary and at the same time exciting to be carrying a new life inside of me. Due just three days after the day I would graduate from undergrad, I put my plans to go to graduate school on the shelf knowing that nothing was going to be more important than having a newborn baby. I never knew that instead of raising a newborn after graduation that I would be grieving the death of my daughter-everything was going so well. That was until February 26th when I stopped feeling my daughter's kicking.
I waited until February 28th to go to the emergency room hoping she would start kicking me again, but she didn't. I went there alone thinking they would tell me everything was just fine. I was sent to the Labor and Delivery unit because I was well into my second trimester and ER's do not do second trimester ultrasounds. When I went to the Labor and Delivery unit a nurse attempted to find Riley's heartbeat with a Doppler first. We heard one, but she was worried it was my own heartbeat from the maternal vessel. Before she completed an ultrasound I called Alex at work to tell him I needed him there with me-I knew at this point my worst nightmare was about to unfold in front of my eyes and I couldn't face that nightmare alone. Once Alex got to the hospital the nurse performed an ultrasound on my pregnant belly. It was clear as day-my baby girl was lifeless....her heart was not beating. Immediately a doctor came in to talk to us, to discuss options for delivery. I immediately had to start preparing myself that I was going to be giving birth to death. Because the placenta was blocking my cervix the doctor was worried I would need a c-section, but because I was so young and had no other children, he wanted to give the placenta some time to move out of the way. He sent me home and told me to come back in the morning for another ultrasound. They would either induce me that morning or take my daughter by c-section following the ultrasound.
I know I did not sleep one minute that night. I was terrified of what was going to be happening the next day. I was an emotional wreck. I was 21 years old and knew I would have to bury my first child. I was so angry with God for letting this happened. I blamed myself, thinking I had gotten too stressed out over an argument Alex and I had about a trip he was planning with his friends just 2 weeks before my due date. I blamed Alex for causing me to get stressed out-for only caring about himself and his friends when we had a baby on the way. We had just learned the week before that we were having a baby girl-I had just spent hundreds of dollars on buying our daughter clothes-outfits she could wear for her newborn pictures. She would never be able to wear any of those outfits...she wouldn't fit in them. I would never get to take family pictures with my baby girl-I would never get to plan her first birthday party-I would never get to take her on walks over the summer like I had planned to. There were so many thoughts and emotions that night about all the things I would never get to do with my baby girl. I felt like I was dying inside.
With swollen eyes from all the tears I had cried the night before, on February 29th we had our ultrasound which showed the placenta had moved and I would be able to have a vaginal delivery. At 10:30am that morning, the induction process began. I was placed in a labor and delivery room, dressed in a hospital gown, and hooked up to an IV. I was given Pitocin multiple times to force my cervix to dilate. I had never been so uncomfortable in my life-my OB doctor who had been monitoring my entire pregnancy was not there for me...I got the lovely privilege of having male resident doctors shoving their hands up my vagina every hour to see if I was dilating and if they needed to give me more medication. Not to mention the residents had horrible bed-side manner, If it wasn't for the nurses being so kind to me I'm not sure how I would have handled all of this as well as I did. As I waited on the arrival of our stillborn daughter, I had periods where I would break down crying and periods where I tried to sleep to forget what was happening. I remember the hours going by so slowly-the silence in the room, although Alex, my sister, and parents were all there. I remember waking up at 4:00am in pain from contractions. I remember getting pain medication and falling back to sleep. I remember the sudden gush under my gown that woke me up at 5:15am and I clearly remember my hands being the only hands who delivered my baby. There were no doctors around until after she was born and my family called out for them to help me.
Five hours is all I got with Riley Grace. In those five hours we had her baptized by the hospital chaplain so we could bury her in the Catholic cemetery where my grandmother was buried. I got to hold her in my arms wrapped in a baby blanket made by hospital volunteers. I got to rub my finger over her head and through her brown hair. I got to kiss her on her cheek and forehead. In those five hours she was taken from me twice. The first time she came back with a white knitted dress made by the same volunteers who made her blanket. The nurse told me they had just taken her to get pictures. I was so grateful, and to this day still am, for those pictures the hospital took for me. Riley was not the perfect Gerber baby, but she was absolutely beautiful in my eyes and I wanted to remember her for the rest of my life.
Over the last six years my heart has felt healed and it has felt ripped open again after each one of her siblings has joined her in heaven. The reality is-I will never fully heal from the trauma of giving birth to my daughter that I could not take home with me. Every year on February 28th and March 1st, and every 4 years on February 29th-my emotions go right back to those days the year of Riley's birth and death. Today as I was riding in the car with Alex on the way to the hospital for our second IVF cycle ultrasound, I felt myself go back to March 1, 2008-I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness like I had that day 6 years ago driving home from the hospital with empty arms. Even if we were to give birth to a living healthy baby-it will never take away how I feel when I think about Riley. It will never fully heal me-a piece of me died when she did, and that piece will never be reborn.
Ironically I found a letter yesterday about the small amount of testing we did do on Riley because of the family history of Down Syndrome. The letter spoke about how I met with the genetic counselor and we attempted to do a chromosome analysis on me in December 2007 but the blood cells did not grow enough to get a result. The letter spoke about the first trimester ultrasound that we did in November 2007 that showed Riley did not have the nuchal translucency, or fluid behind her neck, putting her at a 1/10,000 risk of having Down Syndrome. The letter spoke about her second trimester ultrasound not showing any Down Syndrome features keeping her at a 1/10,000 risk of having Down Syndrome. The letter also spoke about how I chose not to have an amniocentesis completed because of the associated risks including miscarriage and stillbirth. After we miscarried Audrey in October 2013, our doctor brainwashed me to think Riley had to of had Down Syndrome too and that is why she died. He said the cord around her neck, twice, would not have killed her like we had always thought did kill her. After him telling me this I have studied pictures of Riley and started believing he was right. The letter that I found reminded me she was absolutely perfect. In some ways, Riley has been my only hope that I do have some eggs that are chromosomely "normal" and that I could carry a healthy baby because I have done it before. In other way, Riley is a reminder that even healthy babies can die from unexpected issues that are unpreventable. That is the scary part as we move forward with this IVF cycle. However, I have so much faith that Riley is working right along side God in helping to create our miracle rainbow baby!