As my son’s first birthday approaches, someone recently asked me what I would tell him about the day he was born. And to be honest, I don’t really know the answer to that question. Why? Because my birth story was not typical. It was a day filled with such joy but also unimaginable sadness. In putting my story into words, I have realized that there are many gaps in my memory. I think that this is my brain’s way of protecting me from the trauma of that day. But, here is what I do remember….
On March 10th, at 32 weeks pregnant with my boys, I went in for my weekly NST and ultrasound. During my NST, the tech, Jeanne, was having a hard time finding baby B’s heartbeat. She said he kept moving around and wouldn’t stay on the monitor. She would pick up a heartbeat, and then it would go away. After monitoring the boys for an hour, she said that baby B was just being difficult and that they could just do a BPP (biophysical profile) on him when they did my ultrasound. We went into the ultrasound room and the tech came in and within seconds she got very quiet. She told us she couldn’t find baby B, William’s heartbeat, and that she needed to get the doctor. I was already in tears when Dr. Grace, our perinatologist, came in. He scanned me and confirmed that William had passed away. I didn’t understand how this was possibly. We had just seen him a week earlier on ultrasound looking great.
From this point on, I had no choice but to continue to carry both twins. I did not begin to go into labor for another 3 weeks. Many people have commented that it must have been challenging to carry William around for that long, knowing he wasn’t alive. But, in many ways I am grateful for that time. Yes, it was the most difficult thing I have ever done. However, I had 3 weeks to say goodbye to my baby boy and I will cherish that time forever. We even made a “bucket list” of things to do as a family during this time. We went to the playground, our favorite park, and the zoo. Someday, I will be able to tell my son, Asher, that he did these things with his brother.
At 35 weeks, I started having contractions every 2-5 minutes. Being a first time mom, I was instructed to go to triage. My contractions slowed slightly and I was only 2cms dilated and 100% effaced. They gave me the first of the 2 steroid shots to help mature Asher’s lungs and sent me home. Of course my contractions kicked back up as soon as I got home. The next day when we went back to the hospital for the second steroid shot and were admitted overnight. I was still only 2.5 cms dilated and I begged my doctor to induce me. At this point I was just so tired, physically, mentally and emotionally. I was in a living hell. Here I was, about to give birth, but in the same breath, I was filling out the consent paperwork for my son’s autopsy. Although I look back on the extra time I was given with William to say goodbye as a blessing, in that moment it felt like pure torture. I begged her, tearfully, to put me out of my misery and help induce me. But because it was beneficial for Asher to stay in as long as possible, she wouldn’t do anything to help me along. I would not have gotten through my pregnancy and especially my delivery, had it not been for my doctor, Heather.
We went back home on Sunday morning to continue laboring at home. I was having what is referred to as prodromal labor. Prodromal labor, or latent labor is labor contractions or other symptoms that do not do anything that will result in a baby. Monday morning I went in to my OB’s office for an NST and even though I was still only 2.5cms they sent me to the hospital for more monitoring because of my contractions. After a few hours I asked to go home as nothing was happening.
Finally, Monday night things started to feel different. Part of me knew something in my body was wrong. But the other part of me was sick of going to the hospital only to be sent home. So Tuesday morning, I told my husband to go into work and that I would be fine. Well, I things were not fine and I ended up calling him back home within a couple hours. Things had escalated quickly and I needed to go back to the hospital. They admitted me and determined that I had spiked a fever and developed an infection. When my doctor came in she told me that because of the infection she felt that it was time to deliver the babies. I broke into tears of joy and pure exhaustion. At that point, when she checked me I was 5cm. We were in a special room, away from the normal labor and delivery rooms. It was a room for moms delivering stillborn babies, away from the sounds of other babies first cries and families’ joy. It was near lunch time at this point. I got an epidural to help me relax so I could hopefully get some sleep, as I had not gotten much since Friday. I snoozed briefly here or there but not much(which I regret because little did I know I had a long night ahead of me).
When I was about 9cms dilated, my doctor, was about the break my water but I think it broke on its own. They had to introduce a internal monitor because Asher was not cooperating. They also had to introduce fluids back into my uterus because once Asher’s water broke, his heart rate kept dropping. Around 11pm I started pushing. Labor was not what I expected. I don’t know if what I experienced was typical, but it just seemed really laid back. My doctor, Heather, was in there the entire time, not just for delivery. Lori, our nurse, was there by my side the entire time as well. She is an incredible woman and will always be a part of our lives. She was there for us during the most difficult day of our lives and I know she loves both my boys. Sometime around 3:00am on Wednesday morning, I was still pushing. Yes. I had been pushing for 3.5 hours at this point after not sleeping for 4 days. Every time I pushed, I used all of the anger I had from the death of my son. In my head, I screamed about how unfair all of this was. At 3:23am on April 5th, Asher William Collins made his appearance into the world. I do not really remember meeting Asher for the first time. I think that my husband cut his cord and they placed him on my chest , but I believe they took him from me after a few minutes.
Writing this, I remember talking to my OB, way before William passed away, about our birth plan and that I wanted to hold onto Baby A while I delivered Baby B. Obviously, this was not our reality. A short time later, at 4:00am, William Paul Collins followed his brother into the world. The nurses swaddled him and brought him to me. I had spent the weeks leading up to this moment so scared to meet him, as we had been warned that his body might be in rough shape. But the moment I laid eyes on him, all of my fears went away. He was perfect in every way and looked just like his brother, only smaller. Asher was still in the room with us on a warmer at this point as and he was brought over.
This was one of the few moments we had together as a family. It was the only time that I psychically held both of my baby boys in my arms. There was a photographer there that captured everything for us and I am grateful we made the decision to have photographs done as a family. When a baby passes away or is stillborn, it is common for parents to take pictures or have an organization like Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (a nonprofit that photographs stillborns or babies that pass away). I was hesitant at first to allow a stranger into such an intimate moment in our lives, but I am glad I did because it is the only concrete memories I have from those moments, minutes, hours. I have the photographs of me holding both of my sons, so I know it happened, but I don’t remember doing it. From the moment Asher was born things are a blur. At some point, Asher was taken away to the Special Care Nursery and William was swaddled and placed in a Cuddle Cot(a cooling bassinet for stillborns that allows families the gift of time with their child).
We spent the next few days in the hospital, as Asher was still in the Special Care Nursery being watched. William remained with us in our room. We held him, read to him, talked to him, kissed him and tried to cram a lifetime of love into our time together. I held him and danced to a playlist that I had made specially for his arrival. And I cried. Many, many tears. These moments with Will are both the most difficult but also the most proud moments of my entire life. When it came time to be discharged, Asher was not ready to come home. It was also time for us to say our final physical goodbyes to William. Leaving the hospital without either of my babies that day was physically the most difficult part of my journey, more difficult than the contractions or my retained placenta. Walking out of there was painful in a way I can not begin to describe.
A few days later, Asher joined us at home. While there is a piece of my heart and family missing, I strongly believe that Asher has helped heal me. This was my journey into motherhood. And it’s messy and heartbreaking. But the day I became a mother to my 2 sons was my proudest moment. And I suppose that when I tell Asher about the day he was born, I will start with that.