Today I remembered.
I remembered that joyous moment, April of 2012, when I realized that I was pregnant again. I remember being simultaneously elated and terrified--my youngest child at the time was just five months old. I remember wondering how we would manage financially, and how I would cope with two very small children at the same time. I remember not caring that it was going to be difficult; I was pregnant, and it just might be a girl this time.
June 13, 2012 I went in to see my obstetrician for my scheduled 12-week checkup. There was no heartbeat, and measurements taken on the ultrasound indicated that my baby had stopped growing at nine weeks. I wasn't going to have another beautiful child in December; I was officially the mother of a dead baby.
All three of my children have had due dates in December. The first was late; he arrived in January. The second popped out in November. The third never had the opportunity to grow outside my womb.
Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This is the first year I've attended an event for it. I wasn't sure what to expect. Savanna agreed to watch Rowan and Henry so I could go without distractions. I dropped Matthew off at work at 4:15, then went to the park to wait for 7:00. I walked around the park loop. I called a good friend. I took snacks to Matthew. During all this, my heart thudded in my chest, asking me to please not go because I would be among people I didn't know, and I might cry, or do something to embarrass myself.
At 6:40 I pulled myself out of my van and went down the ramp to the Willamette Queen, where the event was being held. I wrote my precious Leslie's name on a tag, which I hung on a tree, and also on a decorated rock.
More people came in and sat down. One of the last people to arrive was a friend of mine. She sat near the front.
There is something amazing about sitting in a room full of people who know what you've gone through. Maybe they don't know you personally, but they know the same grief, the same sorrow. Every one of the people in that room had experienced the loss of a child. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings--all of us there knew the raw agony of losing a precious life.
I sat there and remembered June 17, 2012, the day that little Leslie left my body. I woke up in the middle of the night and knew it was happening. My bed was soaked with blood. I called my mom, who told me to call 911. The paramedics arrived and we found that our lovely spiral staircase, which looks so elegant, presented a problem. They couldn't carry a stretcher down it. They asked me if I could walk down the stairs. I took two steps away from the bed and nearly toppled over. I had to sit down again, in a new wave of fresh blood.
They carried me down the stairs in a tarp. My mother- and father-in-law stood by the door to watch me go. There is something about an emergency situation which eliminates the compulsion to be modest. I had put on a turtleneck to keep warm (and so I wouldn't be utterly bare), but that and my underwear were the only garments I had on, and I didn't care. They loaded me in the ambulance and away we went. Matthew followed in the van.
I remember talking to the paramedics, telling them that I was worried about leaving my children without a mother. They said I was going to be just fine, but kept checking my vitals. They put an IV in me and told me to keep talking, that they like it when the patients are talking. "Well, most of them, anyway," one of them laughed.
My mom and dad met us at the ER. I remembered that it was Father's Day, and I thought what a very yucky Father's Day it must be for my dad, to see his daughter bleeding in the emergency room, and for my husband, to be losing a child. I will forever associate Father's Day with blood and antiseptic in my mind.
I knew the anesthesiologist. My parents pointed this out to me eagerly, I think to distract me. I said hello, and promptly vomited all over. I couldn't get warm. The nurses kept putting warm blankets on my feet, but I felt like ice. The doctor came in--such a wonderful doctor he was, very caring--and told me I would need to get a D&C.
I don't remember much more beyond that. I know I was put under at some point, and I woke up in a recovery room with a heart monitor taped to my chest. Matthew told me that my heart had stopped twice. I had received two units of blood. I am very, very thankful for people who donate!
I went home that day. Matthew thought I should stay in overnight, but I wanted to be home and lie in bed beside my husband, and the medical professionals agreed. My sister kept my children overnight. I think she would have kept them longer, but I needed to see them and hold them.
Grief hits when you least expect it. I didn't cry then; I was too busy with taking care of my living children. It was another two months before I opened the pamphlet for grieving parents that the hospital had given us. I started to read it, and sorrow rushed over me in a wave, leaving me gasping.
People were kind. Some were thoughtless. Most tried to ignore it. I'm sure they felt awkward and didn't know what to say. A very few reached out in tangible ways. My sister-in-law sent a tiny baby blanket and hat she had made. A good friend sent a felt heart pocket, in which were little hearts representing all of my children, living and dead. I carried that heart with me everywhere I went for months.
Tonight we wrote the names of our departed little ones on white balloons, then walked down to the lighted pedestrian bridge. My friend and I walked next to each other; me with my one balloon, and her with three--two for her own children and one for those of friends. We all stood on the bridge, wind whipping around us and making our balloons dance. Then, on the count of three, we all released our children into the air. We grieved, we mourned--and now we are letting them fly.
Fly strong, little children.