I've known that I needed to write this out for awhile now. I'm finally doing it. It is a work in progress, but it is a start. Here is Jael's story...
We found out that we were pregnant in September of 2001. This was our first pregnancy after 9 months of trying to get pregnant. I didn't want to tell any family until I was further along as my mother had experienced miscarriages and I was fearful that I would too.
I started spotting and feared the worst. I went to the OB (by myself) hoping to hear that everything was fine. He did an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy was intrauterine, but he could not see a heartbeat. He told me to come back in one week for another ultrasound to verify that it was a "blighted ovum" and we would have to schedule a D&C. I decided I would never again go to an OB appointment by myself! It was excruciating having to tell my husband the words that the doctor had just told me. Nothing is real until I tell him.
At that point, we told immediate family. We prayed like nobody's business! When we went in that next week, there was a heartbeat! What they thought was a blighted ovum was truly a baby! We couldn't have been any more elated.
The first trimester went along normally, except that I was throwing up all day long every day. I literally just laid on the bathroom floor much of that time. The nausea let up at exactly 13 weeks. We officially told everyone that we were expecting.
We went in at 16 weeks (this was in early December) to have the normal ultrasound to check for all organs, etc. The technician looked at everything normally, but acted a little strange. She said she needed to go get the doctor to see if there was anything else he wanted to see. He came in and did his own scan. He told us that the fluid levels were low. They assured me that I probably was just dehydrated from all the throwing up and that I needed to make sure I was drinking lots of water. They told me to go home and enjoy Christmas and come back in January for another ultrasound. (Enjoy Christmas? With that on your mind? I can't even tell you how many gallons of water I probably drank daily!)
We went back on January 7th for the ultrasound. The appointment was at 2:00. The technician did the scan, my doctor did a scan. By this time it was almost 4:00. They told us they were having difficulty seeing things and wanted us to go see the perinatologist across the hall to do a level II scan. They walked us across the hall immediately. That was the point where I knew something was really wrong because they don't just send you across the hall immediately like that.
The technician at the perinatologist's office did a scan and told us that she didn't see ANY fluid at all. So, the perinatologist came in and took us to yet another ultrasound machine where she proceeded to make me roll around from side to side and poked and prodded and tried desperately to see what she was looking for.
That was when she told us that they did not see any kidneys, but they couldn't be for certain because with no fluid it was incredibly difficult to get good images. She handed us a box of kleenex, told us to take as long as we needed, and then that my OB across the hall wanted us to go back to his office. My husband and I looked at each other in complete numbness, like what on earth did she just say? Why did she give us kleenex? We were not about to sit there and cry in that dark room knowing that we had to walk back out through the waiting room of other pregnant women and across the hall to another waiting room full of pregnant women.
We went back to the OB's office and he sat down to talk with us about what everything meant. He was extremely sensitive, yet not overly helpful. He had never seen a case like ours before and would have to consult with his colleagues. He told us that since it was a Catholic hospital they did not do any termination procedures and he could not recommend that personally because he was a Catholic as well. I was appalled that there was any need to mention such a thing. If there was anything we knew, it was that it did not matter what they told us, we would carry this baby.
They still told us that there was always a chance that they were wrong because it was so difficult to get an accurate diagnosis with no fluid. We took that to mean that in the end she could be born healthy after all. (I have to add that we had no intentions of finding out the sex of the baby until we knew something was wrong and then we wanted to know so that we could pray specifically for him or her. The ultrasound couldn't even tell us that because the imaging was so horrible. They gave us a guess that it was a girl, but still didn't know. I'm just saying she because I know now!)
After about 4 1/2 hours of ultrasounds and consultations with the doctor, we finally left. We had driven separately to the hospital, but we couldn't even think of driving home alone. We both got into my car and LET LOOSE! I had never sobbed like that in my life! Why would God give our baby a heartbeat in the beginning if He was going to have something like this happen? She had to be okay.
From that time on we had everyone we possibly knew and many we didn't know praying from all around the world. I have never seen an out pour of Christian community so great. I still felt alone. I wanted someone who had experienced exactly the same thing to walk me through it. I didn't know anyone who had experienced this. We did what we could to trust God and pray.
I 100% believed that if I just had enough faith she was going to be okay. I desperately wanted God to make her okay, because I knew He could. I thought that a miracle like that would be just what some people in our lives needed to believe in Him. I didn't even stop to consider that there would possibly be any other outcome. I was determined that enough faith and He would make sure she was healthy.
We didn't prepare a nursery. We didn't prepare a funeral. We waited on God. I had moments where I just wanted her out. I didn't want to bond with her because I didn't want to have to let her go. Her kicks actually physically hurt me (I'm assuming because there was no fluid.) Those were bittersweet movements. Then there were moments where I just wanted to keep her in there forever because that meant that she was alive and I could feel her.
We continued having ultrasounds every few weeks to make sure nothing had changed. I just knew with every appointment that they were going to change their mind and say that it was a miracle, there was fluid and she was going to be okay. Every appointment was like getting the diagnosis all over again.
People would see me in the store or at church and say how little I looked for being so far along. I just wanted to scream at them because it felt like they were telling me she was not okay. I just wanted to be HUGE pregnant and healthy. I was scared to do anything because I was afraid of it hurting her since she didn't have any fluid as a protective barrier.
Then on March 27, I started having some minor pains. This was my first pregnancy so I had no idea what labor pains felt like. I couldn't sleep at all that night because the pains wouldn't go away. Finally at 4 a.m. on the 28th, I called my doctor. He thought I was having back labor and told me to go to the hospital. By the time we got there I was having quite a lot of contractions, but it was all back labor. I felt so awkward explaining to the nurse that we were almost 36 weeks pregnant but the baby wasn't expected to live. She looked at me like she had no clue how to handle me.
They were not allowed to check and see if I was dilated because I was not 37 weeks yet. My doctor came in around 6 a.m and checked me and determined that I was definitely in labor. It was Thursday of Easter Weekend. He said we could try to stop the labor, but that it would probably only last a few days and then I would be delivering on Easter, so he thought it best to just go ahead and let labor progress. I had intended to deliver without medications, but at this point decided I wanted to enjoy the possible only time I would have with my baby and so I opted for the epidural. I am so glad I did. I think the doc actually over-medicated me because I didn't feel her come out at all! One push and she was out.
The room was filled with more nurses, perinatologists, neonatal specialists, and techs than I can even recall. I didn't care how many medical personnel needed to be there if they could just do something to save her. She looked SO NORMAL! I thought for a moment that we had our miracle. She let out a few small cries, she cooed a little, she made noise!
They put her in the warmer and tried to give her oxygen, but she did not respond to it. The doctors knew that she was not going to make it. They wrapped her in a blanket, gave her a hat, and handed her to us to spend as much time as we wanted. We named her Jael Elise. Jael means "to ascend" and Elise means "pledged to God." To be honest we had chosen names based on meaning for both outcomes.
I wanted to unwrap her and inspect her body. I wanted to give her a bath. But I couldn't bring myself to do it because I wanted her to be warm. I just wanted to cuddle her as long as I knew she was there with us. We did dress her in an outfit that a friend ran out and picked up for us.
My husband's parents came in and were able to hold her before she passed. My parents were 4 hours away and didn't make it in time, but they did arrive after she passed and were able to see her and hold her anyway. We took pictures.
The nurse took more pictures of her once she took her out of the room. Those are the pictures that we have to cherish and remember what she looks like and show to anyone who asks (and some who don't too.)
The neonatalogist kept coming into the room to declare her time of death, but every time he would listen she still had a heartbeat. Finally after about two hours he determined that she no longer had a heartbeat. We kept her in the room with us as long as we possibly could. I didn't allow any one else in the room. I wish I had now. I didn't realize how much everyone else loved her and wanted to see her too. I wasn't the only one bonded with her.
We were released from the hospital on Good Friday that year. It was the worst Friday of my life! It didn't seem real to me that she had died until we pulled away from the hospital. Up until then it felt like she was just in the nursery and they could bring her to me any time that I asked.
The drive home I bawled my eyes out because she was supposed to be in the back seat coming home with us. The days following were miserable. My milk came in. In full force. I kept thinking how cruel that was. Couldn't God at least have prevented that? What a small detail that people don't even think about.
There was a funeral home in my home town about an hour away that wanted to volunteer their services to us. My grandfather bought a plot at a cemetery that had a special place where babies were buried. It was as if God provided the details so we didn't have to.
Her service was held on April 1, the day after Easter Sunday. I wanted to have a funeral because she was my daughter, but I was afraid to invite people because I didn't want them thinking I was making a big deal out of a baby that they didn't even know. Turns out now I would have invited the entire world if it would have meant that people would have come to Christ through her life.
We had our pastor and friend do the service. We didn't want to plan anything big, no sad songs, or anything like that. We just asked him to say something simple and then open it up for people to say anything they felt they needed to. We had chosen to do an autopsy, so they were unable to do an open casket. We had a picture displayed at the service so everyone could see how beautiful she was. I am still touched to this day that so many people at that service stood up and said something. I couldn't believe how much our relatives needed to grieve their niece, granddaughter, etc. I so wish I had taped the service to help me through later times. Many people told us that it was the most touching memorial they had ever been to.
I felt like I held it together really well for the entire pregnancy and shortly after the memorial. Then there was one day that I just realized how mad I was at God. I started throwing papers and things (nonbreakable) and yelling at Him. It made no sense to me. We had been faithful. Where was He? I have to be honest those are the darkest days.
She was our firstborn so I had nothing to distract me from my thoughts. I was so fearful that we would never have children because we hadn't heard yet if it was genetic or not. We had blood drawn from her at birth to do genetic testing with. My doctor told me at my followup appointment that the blood had been put in the wrong viles and that we would not be able to get any genetic test results. Since then I have seen that there is no genetic link, but then nobody could tell us that.
Through all of this, I can see the hand of God in so many ways. She was born alive. We got to hold her. We got to see her. We got to take pictures with her. She was not physically deformed at all, which was one of my big fears. I think it was Easter weekend for a reason. I think the genetic tests came back the way they did because God needed us to trust Him and not science to have healthy children. He has blessed us with three more healthy daughters since then.
There are so many things I have learned through her. I am not the same person today that I was before her. I pray that I never have to experience this again, but I know now that He will get me through anything.
The hardest part in all of this was choosing to trust God again. He did not have to prove his faithfulness to us, but He has in so many ways since then. I am closer to God today because of her.
I miss her all the time. No family photo seems complete. We sing Happy Birthday to her and blow out candles for her. We hang a Christmas stocking for her every year. We go to visit her grave around her birthday and take balloons with us just so our other children can know that they have another sister and that they will get to meet her too someday, if they choose to follow Christ as well. They talk about her like they know her. I pray someday they will.