This is the part two of the story of us losing our baby. If you haven't read the first part, it might be worth going back here. Don't let us tell you what to do though. Take charge of your destiny, kemo sabe.
As you'll see, we're telling this story in turns, the way we experienced it. We both felt plenty of pain through this process, but Annamarie's was physical as well as emotional, so she gets to go first.
Telling people was hard. The first person we told was Nick's Mum. She just lived across the road the from the hospital & obviously knew we were at this appointment. So we're sitting in the car in the first level of the carpark, which in itself was pretty amazing, because after spending a lot of my time at Auckland Hospital last year for myself as well as looking after my Grandmother, I know how rare it is to get a decent park. Anyway, clearly I'm procrastinating from a painful topic here. The point is, we're sitting there, it's about 9.45am - yes, just 45 minutes to change the fabric of our entire lives - and we were just numb. Nick asks what we should do. Of course, I answer that we should tell people and we should start with his Mum as she's so close by.
She wasn't expecting us, we hadn't said we'd drop by, but she must have seen us parking across the road. I don't know how, it's not like she spends her days looking at the road, but before we could open the gate, she was there. Nick was in front of me, I couldn't say anything, I didn't have the words, I just shook my head. Nick said something, I'm not sure what, and her face crumbled and she just clasped him in this big hug. I'm standing behind him on the stairs, nowhere to go, no one hugging me, feeling a wee bit awkward. It's worth mentioning too, that I haven't eaten, which is way worse for nausea & I feel l like I could vom or pass-out any minute. I mean, she did eventually hug me too, that's not the point, the point is that we had to tell her this awful news and of course she didn't know what to do either. She rings his Dad, who is miraculously in town (he travels a lot for work) and at work 5 minutes down the road and she's sobbing telling him he needs to come home.
All I want is my Mum. Funny that, how even at 34, an adult, a mother, a wife, someone who has has managed big teams of people and is generally considered quite competent, needed her mother more than anything. But of course as was my luck for the past 3 weeks Mum had been on a cruise around the Pacific Islands with my Grandmother. She was un-contactable via phone and the internet was patchy at sea (and expensive!). Mum had booked this trip a year ago, and it was something my Grandmother wanted to do. She was turning 90, so it wasn't something she could deny her. And in hindsight, seeing as she'd be dead within a couple of months of returning from the trip, it was an invaluable experience for Mum, though more on that later.
Poor Mum had known she was leaving a 13-week pregnant, extremely sick daughter and she was worried about me. She'd been a huge help to us with childcare while I was bed-ridden, meaning we'd needed to hire a nanny while she was gone, not to mention the massive emotional support she'd provided. Just before she left I was admitted to North Shore Hospital for the hyperthyroidism, so she knew how bad I was. Then a week into her trip my then 3-year old nephew, her grandson, who incidentally was born at 29 weeks (and whose twin sister died at birth) was admitted to Starship Children's Hospital with severe respiratory problems. His asthma was out of control & he'd developed pneumonia. Throw in a collapsed lung & you've got one scary situation. Mum had been keeping up with our news via email, Skype and expensive cellphone calls when she hit land, but it was hard. When we were referred to Maternal Fetal Medicine a week and a bit earlier my Dad counselled me not to tell her that there was a small chance something was wrong. Didn't want her to worry unnecessarily. But see, she already knew I had the Obstetrician appointment, it was booked before she left (when I was referred at 12 weeks), so she was going to Skype to hear about it anyway. And besides, when you're hellishly sick and running on empty, sometimes the only person you can talk to is your Mum. So of course I told her the OB had referred me to MFM and there was a risk of a serious condition. I don't know if she was really worried at that time, because I felt I had played it down.
So she knew I was having this appointment, she knew what time I'd be done and what time she could be at the iPad for a Skype call. It was going to be about 11am our time. I'm sitting at Nick's parent's apartment, his Mum & Dad are there. Everyone is trying to get their head around it, and his Mum asks me what I need. Of course, all I need is my Mum, and it's a good hour before we can even reach her. I call my Dad. I don't even know if he remembered we had the appointment, I mean, my nephew had just got home from hospital, he had his own busy work schedule and he was actually going away for the weekend that day with his siblings. So when he answers, it's just a "Hi Annamarie", like a normal, I'm-in-the-middle-of-something-but-I'll-take-your-call-anyway type of tone. I don't know what I said, it was a quick call, he got the gist and said he'd be there. I think I asked him to call my sister & brother, maybe I asked Nick, I don't remember. I do remember waiting in the courtyard for what seemed like forever, but was probably about 20 mins, for My Dad's car to appear. It gave me something to do I guess. When he got there the discussion turned to why I was waiting so long to have "this procedure".
We'd been told the procedure might not be until next week, and we would have to go over to our "home hospital" at North Shore. But why, when I'd just come from Auckland Hospital? Surely if this "molar tissue'" was so concerning we shouldn't just wait around? I had mentioned to Anna, the midwife, after we found out our baby had died, that I didn't want to go to North Shore. My last experience there hadn't been great, and also we're from West Auckland, so having to hike over to the Shore is really quite a dumb rule. Anna had said I would have many months of follow-up and that it would need to be through my own District Health Board. There was nothing she could do. We didn't push it. We were still in shock from hearing our baby had died, but I think back at how naive we were. We were in the hospital that had the most experience with this rare disorder. Of course we should advocate to stay there. But this is the problem with hospitals - people are asked to make massive life-altering decisions when they are in no state to even choose a sandwich, let alone decide on what they want out of their health care professional.
Anyway, everyone is focused on their task: my Dad gets on the phone with my Aunt, who is a GP, then with his boss (it's a healthcare organisation). Nick gets on the phone with my GP and with Anna. Surely one of these avenues will deliver the result. In the meantime I'm sitting there numbly, intermittently crying. Nick makes me eat a banana, I don't throw it up. My midwife calls, she'd been notified straight away by the hospital, she doesn't really have anything to add, she's awfully sorry, she's calm & reassuring, but she can't help with my North Shore dilemma. Then Anna calls back. Provided we use a central city address as our place of residence I can have the procedure at Auckland Hospital and we shouldn't really tell anyone (oops, messed up on that promise now...). She's just not sure when. The "good" news is that my hCG level (pregnancy hormone) is so off the chart that my body hasn't recognised the baby has died, so the risk of sending me home & miscarrying at home is incredibly low. Let's take a minute there - my hCG level is so high my body is faked into thinking my baby is still alive. This baby bump I have grown, is really just a dead fetus I'm carrying around who is continuing to make me sick because her placenta is forcing my hCG levels to such astronomic proportions that the nausea & vomiting, breathlessness & fatigue I'm feeling is for nothing. And on top of that the molar tissue has the potential to metastasize into a cancer that will make me sicker. So just going home for the weekend, until the best specialists are available on Monday, no worries, she'll be right.
I sound really jaded and angry. I'm clearly still really pissed about the whole situation... So I got a call on the way home from Nick's parent's, about midday. We're going home, my sister is meeting us there. The call is Anna the midwife, what time had I last eaten? (bloody banana). Come in at 4pm then, she says, they'll be able to do "the procedure" this evening. Ok, we have a plan. Something to work towards.
We go home, we see my sister and her husband, my Dad is there too. We're waiting to talk to Mum. We couldn't reach her at my in-laws. Nick's been sending emails saying to call us as soon as she's online. We're sitting out on our deck. It's overcast, dark in the bush. Finally the little dot next to her name goes green. The reception is terrible. Simple platitudes, how are you, weather, terrible reception etc. Then I get straight to it: "Mum, the baby didn't make it". She can't hear me, bad connection. "Mum, the baby has died". Nope, again. My Grandmother is now in the background. "Mum, the baby has died". She hears me, she goes silent. She's silent because she's choked up. She's trying to repeat it to my Grandmother, I wonder if she has her hearing aid in. We have a short conversation. We have a date for the surgery now, we're going in this afternoon, which of course makes her relieved. She's worried about me miscarrying & haemorrhaging out at home. Anyway, job done, Mum's been told. But I'm totally unsatisfied. I didn't get to talk to her about anything. She's not here to be with me in hospital, to pack my bag. My sister, in her workout gear from her work locker, is staying, coming to hospital with me. Our son is with his nanny. She had asked if she could pick him up from preschool early to take him to The Jungle Book. She actually sent a text just after we found out the baby had passed, so that was a surreal conversation. But anyway, it's his first ever movie, I'm worried he'll be scared. It's his first ever movie and I'm not the one taking him. But he's going to have a great time, and right now, that's all that matters. She can take him to Nick's parents' place later. All we have to do now is worry about me.
And then the hospital - that was just a waste of time. After admitting me to a shared 4-bed room in the Gynecology ward, I'm poked prodded, asked many questions. At the end of the surgical list tonight, I'll be taken in. There's a lot of waiting. I see different doctors. I go through the surgical consult form. I'm ready when they are. In the meantime, I'm nil-by-mouth & chronically nauseous. Anti-nausea medications did nothing the entire pregnancy, why would they work now? Eventually about 8 or 9pm, they tell me they won't be able to do my surgery tonight, too many priority cases. Once I know I can eat, I send Nick out for sushi. For some reason, now that the fear of catching listeria & harming my baby has passed, it's the only thing I want. He just made it to the sushi place before closing, but he was gone a bloody long time. I asked the nurse if Nick could stay. But it's a women's ward, I'm in a shared room, of course he can't. "We'll look after you dear". Well, yeah, but we just found out we lost our baby, it would be nice to stay together. But this is the same nurse who asked if I had another child then proceeded to tell me I was so lucky, that some women lose their first baby, you know. She also told me I was "lucky", I still had my womb, I could try again. This was the start of the incredibly insensitive comments I would hear from well-meaning people who should have just kept their mouths shut.
But alas, after a night of no sleep due to the nausea and sounds of other people's equipment beeeeeeping all night, I was told that because it was Saturday, and mine was "a big baby", the surgery was too risky to perform without the full surgical staff and blood bank team on board. Normally at nearly 17 weeks you'd have to deliver, but of course, the molar tissue meant that I had to have "all the tissue removed". This procedure still haunts me today, but I think the full story has to wait for another day.
I was sent home to come back at 9am on Monday morning because again, my body thought I was still pregnant, so the risk of me going home was low.
So we went home. We went to sleep.
And then, all of a sudden, we were back in hospital. Annamarie had woken me up at around 2am experiencing cramping and pain. She'd actually had to call me from our room (I had been relegated to a pull-out bed in the spare room for the duration of the pregnancy due to the smell of me, regardless of how many showers I took, inducing projectile vomiting from my beloved).
We had been back in Hospital since the early hours of the morning, doing what you do in hospitals - waiting. And then waiting some more. A nurse checks your blood pressure. You're not dying, so you wait, to see another overworked doctor who has probably being dealing with people who actually might be dying for the last 10 hours.
In our case, said overworked professionals showed up bright and early at 8am, and briskly informed my wife that they would proceed immediately with the operation to remove our unborn baby, placenta and other "unwanted" material from my wife's uterus. This horrible procedure is sterilized by acronym down to "D&C" (Dilation and Curettage) . If you really want or need more information, you can go here. It is not nice.
I had made what I thought was the sensible decision to run downstairs and grab a quick coffee before doctors' rounds. This would infuse me with the energy and mental dexterity to ask intelligent questions of the green-robed-demi-gods who would shortly descend upon us. Genius. Annamarie called me while I was receiving my coffee and panini. The doctors had already been. The procedure was happening. Now.
I raced back as quickly as the hospital lifts would allow and found her lying in her bed alone and scared. The crowd had disappeared, but there was an air of action about the room. Space had been cleared around the bed. Curtains were open.
The nurse came back to take some vitals. I asked some stupid, non-relevant questions. Then the mob descended again - kind and efficient nurses and orderlies took my wife through doors marked Patients Only. My parents arrived as she was being wheeled through. She looked scared, and I learned later that she was, freaked out by the speed and the seriousness of the situation.
I don't know what happened in that room. Annamarie has talked about it, so I guess have some idea. I do know it left her with some serious mental and emotional scars, that she's been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder relating to it, and that she has had panic attacks going into subsequent procedures requiring anaesthetic. I know the look she gets in her eyes when a doctor tells her she'll be booked in for any sort of operation. But I don't really know - only she does. I think she'll write about it at some point, but not today.
So again, I was waiting. This had all happened so fast I hadn't had a chance to sort out things with my job. So, I got on the phone. I had to tell work people I wasn't going to be doing work things for the next few days, and why. It helped keep my mind occupied. Everyone was lovely, and I was able to focus on responding appropriately to their kindness instead of holding my knees and rocking in a corner, which was what I really wanted to do.
It was only a few hours, but we had been told it would be an hour, maybe more - so yes, I was worried. Eventually I spotted the nurse who had been with us through the night. She recognised me, and said she would find out where things are at. After another 20-30 nerve-wracking minutes, I received a phone call from the surgeon (a phone call? We're in the same building, lady. Shouldn't they come see me? But maybe she's going into the next "procedure". I don't know.). She advised that the operation had gone well, but that my wife had lost quite a bit of blood and that she would be in recovery for a little while longer.
Eventually we were allowed to see her. She was barely conscious, drifting in and out of that stone-cold stupor that comes with a general anaesthetic. We all stayed with her, ate some sandwiches and talked about nothing in particular.
After she regained full consciousness, she told me that she had cried as the medical team had prepped her. They reassured her that there was nothing to worry about, that the operation was "normal". But that wasn't why she was crying. She couldn't stop. In the end, they had given her a sedative, and then put her under, still crying for what we had lost, for what had happened to us.
I stayed with her that night. They had given us a private room, and I was able to sleep in a leather reclining chair, which was uncomfortable but allowed me to pull up alongside her and hold hands while we fell asleep - although in truth, neither of us slept that well and Annamarie had to be given a sleeping tablet.
In the morning the doctors said we could go home. We packed up our bags, picked up the scatted pieces of ourselves, and went home to begin putting it all back together again.
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We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.