November 3rd is a Sad Day for Me
That’s when I had my Stillborn Baby
November used to be my favorite month. I always liked the cold, and bare trees, and football. I’ve liked participating in NaNoWriMo, pushing myself to write. Plus, you know, Thanksgiving, the best holiday ever, so there’s that.
But everything changed on November 3, 1999, when I had a stillborn baby girl, Ruth Natalie Tucker.
I heard her heartbeat on Monday, November 1st, and was supposed to have a c-section on Thursday, November 4th, but started contractions the day earlier. Since neither Jeff nor I wanted to wait an extra day, he drove me to the hospital, where we met up with my mom, while my dad took care of our 18-months-old daughter.
However, when we arrived at the hospital, the doctors couldn’t find her heartbeat. I was trying to tell the doctor on duty that the baby was breach two days ago so she was listening in the wrong place, but someone was screaming. It was my mom, and since she was screaming, I didn’t think I should.
And just like that, between contractions, my life changed forever.
I learned later that stillbirths are more common than most people realize. They happen with one out of 1,000 births. They happen for a variety of reasons, or no reason at all. In my case, my placenta was 60 percent blocked, and we never found out why. My first pregnancy, 18 months prior with Riva, was textbook perfect. The only problem occurred during delivery, when I stopped dilating past 5 centimeters and Riva became a tired baby. So, we had to go get her. Unsquished through the birth canal, she was flawless, and nearly 8 pounds.
Ruthie was only about 5 pounds, and the doctors gathered around me, determined to at least make me comfortable as my body, not knowing any better, was trying to give birth to a dead baby. I was given an epidural, and in a very short time, in a room way too quiet, I gave birth to a baby who never breathed.
When my doctor asked me if I wanted to hold her, I immediately said yes, although I haven’t given it any thought before. Ruthie was swathed in white small blankets, but she was a wrong color, marble gray, and there were what looked like tiny warts in the inner corners of her eyes. Otherwise, her rosebud mouth, round cheeks and chin and a small shock of brown hair looked like any other baby.
We were all crying, my mother, Jeff and I, as he hugged Ruthie while I was holding her. I told my poor baby I loved her, and I apologized to her. Now, 19 years later, the guilt that I felt then is slightly diminished, but the love is still as great as ever. I know that we are not supposed to love the dead as much as we do the living, and I don’t, but our son owes his life to Ruthie. Because even as I was lying in that hospital room, looking out the window at the terrible view of a pockmarked concrete wall of the next building, I knew I wanted to try again — to have another child.
For the next year I wrapped myself in the cocoon of grief. My husband and I went to a stillbirth and neonatal loss support group. I cried. A lot. At home. In the car. A miracle of giant proportions took place — my road rage disappeared. The worst thing that could happen did happen, and now I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wanted to patrol the house at night. I wanted to light every light outside, even the one out back, the one we never lit at night because it attracted moths and other bugs. The world had stopped making sense, it was a cold and scary place, and safety was just an illusion.
On my way to getting pregnant with Sammy, I miscarried. I wouldn’t have even known if I hadn’t tested myself every five and a half seconds. But three months after that, I got pregnant again, and this time, it stuck.
Sammy was, justifiably, a high-risk pregnancy, and was watched like rare species of nearly extinct animal. I did my best just to breathe deeply during my pregnancy with him, but spend all of it terrified and quaking. I tried to laugh, as often and as deeply with my belly as I could. If nothing else, I could always find absurdities in this world to laugh at.
A positive that did come out of our personal tragedy is that Jeff and I became more compassionate. You can never tell, just by looking at other people, what personal hell anyone is going through at that moment in their lives.
I waddled into the delivery room on January 7, 2002, and was strapped into a belt that magnified the baby’s heartbeat. Whish wish, whish wish, whish wish, like the sound of a speeding locomotive filled the brightest room in the world. Those heartbeats were the most glorious sounds I’ve ever heard, better than Mozart.
No, let me correct that. The most glorious sounds I’ve ever heard was the “La la la,” crying of my son after the delivery, the exact same sounds my daughter Riva made after she was born.
Riva is 20 years old now, Sammy is 16. Ruthie would have been 19 this Saturday, November 3rd. Yes, it hurts less, with time. Yes, the guilt is diminished. But there is still such a lack of her, and probably always will be.