Trigger Warning: This is a story about infant loss.
I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant with Oli. In our apartment in Phoenix surrounded by boxes, just hours before we left on our next adventure across the country. I was so overwhelmed in that moment. Could it really be true? Were we going to have our miracle baby? Doctors had told us just a month before that we would probably never be able to have children and there it was that little test showing me that God had different plans.
The next few months weren’t exactly smooth but after my issue with a blood clot in my leg everything seemed to settle down. I watched my belly grow every week and looked in awe at every scan. It was really happening! I was going to have a baby. I remember the first time I felt him move. It was like he was tumbling inside of me. Every flutter, every kick reassured me that he was okay.
We had made it past the first trimester and were just days from finishing the second trimester when everything started to go wrong. On Friday October 25thI woke up feeling like I had been hit by a truck, just typical as this was my day off. I text my sister and told that I felt awful and she said she would be round to check on me in a few minutes. Within 10 minutes I was throwing up and we decided I just go and see the doctors. They took my blood and said that I had the Nora virus and sent me on my way with some anti-nausea tablets. Over the weekend I started to feel a little better but I couldn’t get over this nagging feeling that this pain I was feeling in my back and side wasn’t right. So on Sunday morning my husband and I decided we should go to the ER just to be safe.
The ER we had to go to was over an hour away and as we drove the pain go steadily worse. By the time we got to the ER I was crippled with pain. They took my blood and did an ultrasound of my liver and gall bladder and checked that the baby’s heartbeat sounded good. Then the doctor came in to explain what was happening. The next few moments changed my life forever. Even as he explained my diagnoses I had no idea what was about to unfold. I had HELLP syndrome, which is basically a severe form of preeclampsia where the red blood cells starting breaking down, the liver enzymes get elevated and your platelet count starts dropping. Basically you are dying and the only way to save you is to deliver the baby.
The next few hours were a whirlwind of emotions and medical procedures as they transferred me to MUSC. As I lay in my hospital room with my mum and husband at my side, trying to take in all that was happening, I knew that the baby being born so early was risky but that he would also be in the best possible hands. The NICU at MUSC is one of the best in the country and as the doctor explained to me 90% of babies born at his age survived. 90% that a good statistic right?! Plus I didn’t have a choice I was dying and they had to deliver the baby.
The next thing I knew I was waking up back in my room next to an incubator with my tiny baby in it. There he was Oliver Philip, the son I had waited and dreamed about for so long. They showed him to me for just a moment and then he was gone. I sent my husband with him so he wouldn’t be alone. The next 24 hours were awful as I had to recover in bed and I couldn’t see my baby. My husband and family kept assuring me that he was strong and he was doing really well. Finally on Tuesday morning I was well enough to see him. As they wheeled me into the NICU I remember thinking how surreal this all was. But then I saw him, my precious little Oli, all wired up but safe in his incubator. He was so tiny but I could tell he was strong. He had been breathing really well and all the nurses kept telling us how well he was doing. That afternoon I visited him again and they let me touch him. I placed my hand on his head and he sighed this deep breath like he knew his mum was there and that he was okay. It was such an amazing experience! Of course I was worried about him all the time and I hated that he was so far away from me, a few hospital floors seems like a very long distance when its keeping you from your baby. But I kept trusting that he was in the best possible place and the medical staff kept saying how well he was doing. I visited him every day. I would just sit there and talk to him and tell him how much I loved him. He looked so tiny in his incubator but he was strong and he kept fighting.
On Saturday morning I visited the NICU to do Kangaroo care with Oli. Kangaroo care is where they lay your baby on your chest skin to skin. There is evidence that it helps babies in the NICU get better faster. It has been shown to regulate the baby’s heart rate, improve breathing patterns and oxygen saturation levels. It was the most amazing experience. He was so tiny and he just lay there asleep for two hours on me. I talked to him and sang with him and slept. I was finally holding the baby I had longed for and dreamed about for so long. He was my son and was overwhelmed by how much I loved this tiny little person. He only been born a few days but he had already stolen my heart.
Late Saturday night I woke up to my husband explaining that Oli’s health was deteriorating and the NICU doctors weren’t sure why. During the past week my husband had spent every waking hour with Oli and I could see in his eyes that his was concerned about our little boy. We called my parents and they gathered together our incredible extended family and started a 24hr prayer cover for Oli and me. Over the next 24 hours my husband rarely left Oli’s side as he stood and prayed and fought for our son. The strength and determination he showed in those hours was truly incredible and as I lay in my hospital bed too weak to be up in the NICU, I knew that my baby was safe and covered in prayer.
Then on Sunday at 3:30pm everything began to fall apart again and this time there was no coming back. I was sitting in my hospital room with my friend when the NICU nurses came rushing in and told me I had to come to the NICU now. I could tell by the look on their faces that something was dreadfully wrong. If I had had the strength to run I would have, nothing could get me to my son fast enough. As they wheeled me into the NICU there was 20 or so doctors stood around my precious son trying to keep him alive. My husband arrived moments later and as we sat there hoping & praying I watched the numbers on his screen plummet and I knew we were going to lose him. In that moment I remembered what I had told myself all through my pregnancy which was that I trusted God with my child no matter what the outcome. I had to hold on to that even as I dreaded the worse.
After crashing for the 2nd time the doctor came over and explained that they only way they could keep alive was to continue the compression and that it was probably time to let him go. As we nodded in agreement the world fell from underneath me. They stopped what they were doing, took off all his wires and handed me our son as he took his final breaths. As I wept over him I couldn’t believe this was really happening. How could he be gone already? We hadn’t had enough time! But even as I held him and the tears flowed down my face I knew I had to let him go. In my heart I gave back the baby I had longed for and prayed for and trusted him to be held by Jesus till I could see him again. Somehow I knew that if I tried to hold on to him it would end up destroying me. Just as I had trusted him to God every day of my pregnancy I had to do it one more time. Even as my heart broke I gave him back and held onto the hope of seeing him again.
For the next hour and half we wept and held our son as our friends surrounded us with love & prayer. Then my parents and siblings arrived and the NICU nurse came to give him his final bath. I will never forget sitting in that room with my family weeping over my son as the nurse bathed him and we took photos of him for the last time. I kissed him goodbye and told him I loved him and then he was gone.
How could it be true? The baby we had longed for and dreamed about was gone so soon. Over the next few days my mind was filled with questions and confusion. Many of the questions I asked and pondered will never be answered.
Even now 2 yrs on, there are days when I miss him so much but day by day, little by little the pain has subsided. Though we lost the battle and the precious son we longed for I know that the victory is ultimately still ours. Although this road has been painful I can be sure that every loss is redeemed and that Oliver will be waiting for me when I get to Heaven. I’m forever changed by Oli and I’m honored that I got to be his mum. I’m so thankful for every moment that we had got to spend with him.
I am thankful that he is happy and whole and in the arms of Jesus! I am thankful that I will see him again one day! I am so incredibly thankful for his little brother, Jackson who brings me so much joy everyday and heals my heart in ways he will never understand. I am thankful for the life of my son, Oli even as short as it was. Those 7 days mattered and they always will!
Even though my heart will always long for him to be here with me I have chosen to still believe in a Heavenly Father that loves me and knows the plans he has for me. Though I don’t always understand His ways or His timing I know one day I will see it all more clearly and until then I will put my hand in His and let him lead me.