Mom to Isla Michaela
Died June 30th, 2009, Born July 1st, 2009
"Peanut" Miscarried December 8th, 2008
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
On September 13, 2008 I married the man of my dreams - my amazingly supportive and loving husband, Tim. Years before we were married, Tim and I daydreamed about starting our family. When we first began dating while still in university, we candidly discussed our desire to become parents. As our relationship progressed, so did the seriousness of our conversations about parenthood. We felt it important to discuss our views on parenting prior to committing to marriage, and even prior to our engagement it was not uncommon for Tim and I to bicker and banter about how we would raise our future children.
After we were engaged, during the three hour drive to my parent’s beach house on weekends we frequently debated baby names and joked around about how someday those weekend road trips would serve as venue to provide our children with “classic rock education” (as knowledge of Zeppelin and the Stones is clearly more important than learning the lyrics to “Down by the Bay”).
After our wedding, despite that we were emotionally ready to become parents, Tim and I were concerned that we were not financially ready. There was a long list of reasons why we should wait – our student debt, our professional development, our tiny two bedroom rental apartment. But, one night in November, 2008, just two months after our wedding, without any prior discussion, we threw caution to the wind. I don’t think either of us expected I would become pregnant on the first “try”, but two weeks later we found ourselves staring at two little pink lines.
I’d be lying to say we didn’t panic a little at first. We immediately began researching more appropriate housing rentals and devising a budget. However, within a few hours our fear gave way to excitement and we were beaming from ear to ear. We were going to be parents!
After a doctor’s appointment confirmed the pregnancy, we told my mother and swore her to secrecy. She was about to burst after only a few days, so we told my stepfather. His reaction was perhaps the most touching – overwhelmed with emotion he was speechless and could only cry.
Our naïve pregnancy bliss was short lived. Eight days after I found out I was pregnant and the day after we told my stepfather, I started spotting. We immediately went to the hospital, where the doctors could not confirm with any certainty whether or not I was miscarrying. I knew in my heart that it was over, but Tim and my parents held on to hope. At around 6 a.m. the next morning, Monday, December 8, 2008, I woke up covered in blood. Another trip to the emergency confirmed what I already knew. Tim’s tears broke my heart.
We had affectionately named our baby “Peanut”. Losing Peanut affirmed that matter how little money we had, Tim and I were rich with love and ready to be parents. I spent a few weeks grieving my little Peanut and praying that I would fall pregnant again quickly.
My prayers were answered. On February 2, 2009 we found out I was pregnant again. Once we passed the seven week mark (one week longer than I carried Peanut) I was confident I would not miscarry again and we began spreading the news to our immediate family members. An ultrasound at 12 weeks confirmed our baby was growing well, and we spread the news to our friends.
The new pregnancy was not the only positive turn in our lives. After losing Peanut, Tim and I stuck to our budget and with a little help from our families, to our surprise we were able to purchase our first home in April, 2009. A tiny little two bedroom house in quiet neighbourhood near the beach. The perfect place to raise a child.
On May 20, 2009, when I was 19 weeks pregnant we learned we having a girl! After receiving the news we both admitted we were secretly hoping for a daughter. After weeks of debate, we decided to name her Isla (although I still affectionately referred to her as “the Bean” or “Beanie”).
Those weeks in our new home, planning for our new baby were the happiest of my life. My pregnancy continued to progress without complications. The Bean was always active and had a very definite sleep/wake routine. At 23 weeks my doctor advised me to start tracking her movement and to contact her immediately if I had less than 10 movements in any hour. I did some of my own research on kick counts, and decided I should make a point of counting her movements every evening.
June 29th, 2010 was a busy day at work. I came home exhausted. My belly was growing too big to find comfortable positions to sleep in, and Tim and I went to Walmart that evening to buy a body pillow. My nightly routine of counting kicks around 7 p.m. was thrown off by our outing, and it did not occur to me until around 8:30 p.m. that the Bean wasn’t moving as much as she normally did. I got into bed early and Tim joined me. He held my belly and together we counted her movements. It took almost a full hour, but we did eventually count ten movements.
She moved ten times in an hour. As far as I knew, I should not have had any cause for concern. Neither my doctor or the so called “pregnancy bible” cautioned me to report any changes in the pattern of my baby’s movements. In fact, the “pregnancy bible” told me only to call my practitioner if I felt less than ten movements in two hours. But, in my heart I knew something was wrong. I usually only had to count movements for seven or eight minutes before reaching ten. I was very anxious, but eventually cried myself to sleep. That night, for the first and last time, Tim read Isla On the Day You Were Born, a Father’s Day gift I had bought for him (and her) several weeks earlier.
The next morning when I woke up, she wasn’t moving at all. I’ll never forget lying in bed, jostling my belly telling her to “wake up baby, wake up”. I ate breakfast and drank some juice. She moved once.
breakdown. I began crying hysterically and left him a message that I thought something was wrong withI had to go to appear in court that morning (as a lawyer, not a defendant) and no one was available to take my place. As I drove to the courthouse, I tried to reach Tim. Voicemail. Hearing his voice made me the baby and I needed to speak to him.
I still can’t believe I went to court before seeing my doctor that morning. Somehow after leaving my hysterical voice message for Tim, I convinced myself that everything was okay. I was able to pull myself together to make my brief court appearance. However, as I left the courthouse panic set in again. I can vividly recall pulling an illegal turn in busy downtown traffic to reach my doctor’s office, which thankfully was only blocks away.
When I checked in at reception, the reaction of my doctor and her staff gave me more cause for concern. Any change in a pattern of movement was serious. However, the doctor had no difficulty finding the Bean’s heart beat with the Doppler once she examined me. The look of concern on her face gave way to a big smile when we heard those little “thud, thuds”. “Don’t you feel much better now?” she asked. Hearing her little heart beating away was definitely reassuring, but my mommy instincts told me something still was not right with my baby. I told the doctor she still was not moving, and she agreed to send me for an ultrasound, “just to be sure” everything was okay.
It was almost noon by this point and I still had not been able to reach Tim. As I waited for my ultrasound he finally called my cell phone. I told him her heartbeat was fine and I was having an ultrasound as a precaution. I kept myself together on the phone for his benefit, and since objectively it seemed like all was well we agreed that he would stay at work and I would call him after the ultrasound.
The hour long wait to be scanned felt like eternity. Within minutes of beginning the exam, the technician left to seek assistance from someone more senior. Not a good sign. My pulse quickened. The technicians were very sweet, but were prohibited from explaining anything about the ultrasound to me. They did not have to say anything for me to know something was wrong.
Eventually I was asked to empty my bladder to have an internal ultrasound performed and on my way to the bathroom I saw Tim in the waiting room. His daddy instincts had also told him something was wrong and he needed to be there. Finally Tim was able to join me in the ultrasound room and we were given three 3D photographs of our baby girl. She had her hand over her eyes, but it was difficult to see she looked just like me. Those were the last photos of our baby taken while she was alive.
Once she conferred with the radiologist, the ultrasound technician advised me to immediately report back to my doctor’s office. That was when we knew with certainty, something was wrong with our baby. My doctor called the radiologist rather than waiting for a faxed report, and asked us to join her in her office. We had always met with her in examination rooms. The office felt huge when we first entered, but as she began talking it felt as though the walls were literally closing in around us.
Our baby was alive. Her heart was strong and the blood flow between her and I was good. She was measuring right on track, but for her stomach which seemed tiny and there appeared to be blood around her bowels, suggestive of a perforation. My doctor did not know what any of this meant. She debated sending us straight to triage or to the office of a high risk specialist, and decided we should see the specialist before I was admitted.
We travelled across the hospital to the specialist’s office. He was a very kind man who came to meet us in the waiting room when we arrived. He apologized and explained we would need to wait for him to see us as he had to perform an emergency c-section. The two hour wait to see the doctor felt like eternity. Tim and I were alone in the waiting room. I prayed hard and stared at the photos of other babies on the wall.
“She isn’t going to die, right?” I asked Tim. “I promise everything is going to be okay Baby”. I knew that was not the type of promise he could make, but his words were nevertheless reassuring. A few minutes later she kicked. She kicked so hard it hurt. That was the last time I ever felt my baby move.
Eventually we met with the specialist and his resident. They performed another ultrasound and the specialist was not in agreement with the radiologist’s earlier findings. He felt the Bean’s stomach looked fine, but was concerned that she had effusions (fluid) around her bowels and her heart. He began questioning me about exposure to viruses and decided to send us for a specialized ultrasound to confirm that I had not contracted parvovirus and that anemia was not the cause of our baby’s distress. It was decided that depending on the finding of that ultrasound the Bean would either receive a blood transfusion or be delivered immediately by emergency c-section.
We were rushed to the ultrasound department, but once there were left to wait again. At least 45 minutes passed. My parents arrived while we were waiting. I sat with my eyes fixed on the floor and prayed some more. I have never felt fear like the fear I felt in those moments.
Half way through the specialized ultrasound the technician left without a word. My doctor, the specialist and the resident walked into the room together. “You’re scaring me” I said, “all of you here together is scaring me”. I smiled hoping they would say something reassuring. No one smiled back. Instead the specialist put his hand on my leg, and said the words that would change our lives forever “I’m sorry sweetheart, your baby just passed away”. At approximately 5:45 p.m. on June 30th, 2009 the Bean died. Her heart had stopped during the ultrasound.
I immediately went into shock. I sat up and announced, “that’s it, I can’t do this anymore” and looked at Tim and said, “we’re just going to have to adopt”. I’m not sure how I was thinking about future babies at that moment. Tim started to cry. I held him and stroked his hair, but felt completely disconnected.
I asked to see my parents. They were crying too, which made me feel frustrated and I asked them to leave and get the doctors so I could discuss whatever came next. It was agreed that I would be induced later that night.
I returned home to eat dinner and shower. Reality crept in only for a moment as I showered and looked at my belly. I cried briefly but it hurt too badly to come to terms with what had happened, so I pushed my thoughts away. I knew I had a job to do. Dead or not, the Bean needed to be born.
We checked into the hospital around 11:00 p.m. at night. Neither Tim nor I could sleep. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. I do recall telling him I was afraid to see her.
After 22 hours of a very difficult labour, at 10:44 p.m. on July 1st, 2009, Isla Michaela Johnston was born.
The doctor who delivered her was cold and distant. While we had decided we wanted to see her once she was born, Isla was not placed on my chest, but rather on the bed beside me. The room was silent. For a moment I was afraid to look at her, until our wonderful nurse said, “oh my, look at her” with such amazement that I knew she was beautiful.
And beautiful she was. Never have I seen a baby so beautiful. At 25 weeks gestation, and only 1lb 12 oz, Isla was perfect. Instantly I fell madly in love with her. I instinctually reached for her and brought her to my chest.
Despite that I knew she was gone, I don’t think the experience of seeing my first born child was any different than that of any other mother. The sight of her brought me great joy. I was in awe of her perfect little features. Curly brown hair, ruby lips and a perfect button nose. She looked much more like me than her daddy, but her fingers and toes were undeniably his. She was OUR baby.
We spent about seven hours overnight with our sweet Isla. Despite being exhausted I could not sleep for fear of missing a moment with her. I knew this would be the only time I would have. Tim dosed off for a few hours, and I enjoyed quiet time with my baby. I told her over and over again how much we loved her and how beautiful she was. I kissed her tiny little cheek over and over again.
When Tim woke up, the three of us laid in the bed together. Isla was getting warm and her skin was getting tacky, and Tim felt it was time for us to say goodbye. That was the first time since her death and birth that I remember really crying. I sobbed and told him I didn’t think I could let her go. Eventually I did. I still don’t know where the strength came from to let her go. If I had known the pain and sorrow that would become my life without her, surely I never could have done it.
Isla’s autopsy confirmed what Tim and I already knew about our baby girl –her anatomy was perfect. There were no detectable viruses or bacteria. Without any other plausible explanation, the pathologist concluded that the autopsy findings were “suspicious for an umbilical cord accident”. However, the specialists we have seen since do not feel her death can be attributed to a cord accident, so her death remains a mystery.
Through our love and devotion to one another and with support from a few important people in our lives, Tim and I have somehow survived the death of our precious baby girl. While Isla can never be replaced, Tim and I still daydream about being parents of living children and joke about “classic rock education”. I’m currently almost 30 weeks pregnant with Isla’s little brother, Charles. Aside from our obvious anxiety, this pregnancy has been very complicated and high risk for reasons unrelated to Isla’s death. Despite the complications (including months strict bed rest) we are grateful for each moment our little man is with us, and we’re hoping that Charles, who is due to arrive in December, 2010, will be a Zeppelin fan.