Last Saturday, I was asked to share my story for a Pregnancy Loss Retreat held at my church. It was such a healing and emotional day, but it was something I needed. I was able to tell my story to family, friends and strangers who were willing to open their hearts and listen to the tragedy we faced. Below is the speech I gave. I have written my story out before, but this one goes into greater detail.
If you would have asked me a year ago to define that word…
The Webster Dictionary defines stillbirth as: “the birth of a dead baby.”
The medical definition of a stillbirth is: “the birth of a baby who is born without any signs of life at or after 5 months of pregnancy.”
In my 26 years here on earth, I would have never thought something so horrible and sad could happen to me. Stillbirth to me means so much more than what the Webster dictionary has to say. Stillbirth has dramatically changed my life and I am not who I once was.
Please open your hearts as I tell you what stillbirth means to me and how it has changed my life.
It all begins in February of 2013. Actually February 24th to be exact. This is the day I found out I was pregnant. Although for a few days prior I had a feeling that I was – it wasn’t until the five pregnancy tests that my husband got me that I truly believed it.
As we let it sink in, we started to become more and more joyful of our expecting bundle. I began to imagine my wonderful husband being a father for the first time. I imagined our baby to have his beautiful, blue eyes, his contagious smile and his caring heart. I didn’t care if we had a boy or girl because all I could think about was how this little one was going to be all mine.
As time went on our excitement only grew. We told our family and we told our friends of our blessed news. I was so excited to tell everyone about our expected arrival in November. I kept thinking, ‘For the holidays, we are going to have a newborn!’ I couldn’t think of a greater gift than a happy, healthy newborn for the holidays.
As the weeks traveled on, I felt some symptoms of pregnancy. I was tired all the time and going to bed at 8:00pm every night. Drew said I was a real bore! We also were going to our monthly doctor appointments. I always made a huge deal out of every appointment and we always celebrated with lunch or ice cream afterwards. Our big 5 month appointment came where we were going to find out the gender of our baby. My husband guessed it was a boy and I thought I knew it was a girl. Turns out, it’s a boy! That night we had a gender reveal party with all our friends and family. Everyone bit into cupcakes that revealed blue icing inside. Everyone was so excited, and so were we.
While we were at our 5 month appointment, the ultrasound technician commented that our little boy measured in at about a week small. She said that it was normal and not to worry. Later that night, my doctor called me and suggested that I go to Iowa City to have it further checked and to ease my nerves. She didn’t think it was a huge concern either. I just figured I had miscalculated my period and maybe that’s why he measured in a week small. I was just excited we were having a boy and I was busy planning what the nursery was going to look like!
There was about a three week period between our 5 month appointment and our next appointment in Iowa City. These three weeks were the happiest of my life. My husband and I bought a house for our growing family, we celebrated my husband’s birthday at our cabin with all our family and friends and we had a great 4th of July. Drew and I often describe that as our peak. We were at our highest of highs before the lowest of lows hit.
The day my husband and I drove to Iowa City, July 10th, 2013, for our appointment I had some nerves about it, but I thought everything would be ok. I remember being in the bathroom, getting ready that morning and saying to my him, ‘I’m kind of scared.’ But we both reassured each other that there was nothing to be worried about. Everything was going to be fine. Our appointment was scheduled for the late morning and we were planning on doing some big baby shopping afterwards. I had it all planned out.
We got to the Iowa City Hospital and checked in. We sat in the waiting room and talked about the places we were going to go afterwards and all the things we needed to get. When we were called, a nurse took us into a room to get all my information. I asked her if we should be worried about anything and again she reassured me that I was a small person and that our baby was probably just small like me.
From here, the ultrasound technician came to get us and we went through the normal ultra sound process. The ultra sounds in Iowa City are extremely high tech and so Drew and I were amazed at the different things we could see. We asked her a lot of questions like, ‘Is that his fingers? Is that his heart?’ The way she was going about things made it seem like nothing was wrong. And honestly, we didn’t even expect anything to be wrong. The ultra sound technician left the room to go and get the doctors. We just sat there and waited for a considerable amount of time. Drew and I again talked about the kind of crib we were looking for and how much we wanted to spend on it. Oblivious to what was about to happen.
From there, multiple doctors came into the room and had the ultra sound technician show them some things. All while, I am lying on a table with my pants unbuttoned, jelly goop on my stomach, and my sweet husband sitting next to me holding my hand. They asked if I had been sick at all and asked if anything had happened during the pregnancy. I quickly responded, ‘No! I’m perfectly healthy.’ They conversed for a while longer as my husband and I just stared at each other when one of the doctors told me I could use the restroom. I went to the bathroom and came back out to see everyone staring at me. They were all waiting to talk until I sat down. That was the moment that I became instantaneously afraid for my baby boy. I sat back down and the doctor rolled a chair over to my husband and myself. Just to set the scene here, there were about six doctors and nurses in this tiny room. All of them staring at me. The doctor looked at me and started talking.
The next few hours were a blur and I hardly remember what happened. I’ve even tried to recover some things from my husband and he feels the same way. We have often described it as being hit by a truck. But I’ll do my best to describe what happened.
I remember the doctor saying that my placenta did not form correctly. Instead of being spread out, it was in a concentrated spot. She said that the baby was not getting enough nutrients and cord blood. They described the blood flow as having an absence. There should be a constant flow of blood, but when my heart was at rest (between pumps) the baby wasn’t getting any blood flow. Which was not supposed to be happening. The doctor also said that because he wasn’t getting all of his nutrients and blood flow, he was small. After that, I just broke down. I felt as though I was dreaming and I was just waiting to wake up. The doctors were handing me boxes of tissues and I remember asking, “Is my baby going to be ok?” They were all quiet and said they didn’t know for sure. They said they wanted to do some further testing on the baby and myself. They said we were going to stay the night.
After this, they took my husband and I to a small room where we were left alone for a period of time. I suppose for us to take it all in. I remember being so scared and asking my husband, “Is this really happening? Is this really happening to us?” We both just cried and prayed for our sweet boy to be ok.
After 15 minutes, I called my mom. Told her what I knew and the next thing I knew, both of my parents were on their way down to be with us. I am so thankful I have such great family. Their love and support certainly did not stop here.
Over the next 36 hours, my husband and I spent our time in about 3 different hospital rooms, with about 12 different doctors, countless nurses, millions of tests, and very little answers. By the time we left, we were so drained and broken hearted. We just wanted to go home.
The doctors did not put me on bed rest. They asked me to keep track of the baby’s kicks and they told me every day was a gift. They gave us 2 weeks max that the baby would survive. The doctors told me to go home and live my life normally.
But my life had a new normal. Every day I woke up wondering if my baby was alive or not. I’d wait to feel for a kick then track it. I remember thinking, “This can’t really be my life.”
We went in and out of the hospital a lot. We had ultra sounds twice and three times a week to check on his blood flow and see his growth. The drive to Iowa City became our new normal. The drive there was always filled with hope and by the time we left, it seemed like all our hope was lost. At the beginning he stayed consistent, which was almost a small victory for us. The doctors were floored that he has survived this long, and kept telling us that he probably wouldn’t make it. We kept thinking, ‘If he could just stay where he is at – we’ll make it all the way.’
We did this for 5 weeks straight. Our lives and our families lives were put on hold for 5 weeks. Looking back I couldn’t imagine my life a year, a month, a week into the future. I couldn’t envision my life beyond that present day and present moment. I didn’t know where my life was going and I didn’t know if a baby was going to be included in it.
I tried to stay calm during these five weeks and keep the stress away from the baby, but it was hard. Drew says I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and crying in rage. I couldn’t even escape my reality in my dreams. I became a hermit. I stayed home and rarely went places. The thought of someone seeing me and asking how far along I was – was complete torture. I know they didn’t know what was happening, but it was just another reminder of the pain we were going through.
Then during my 7and a half month of pregnancy, my family was over for supper and helping us unpack some of our things into our new house. After supper, my mom gave me the most beautiful baby blanket with Jonah Melvin embroidered on. She told me she got it for Jonah when we found out we were having a boy and before we knew about any complications. She told me how she had been waiting to give it to me because she didn’t want to make me sad or upset, but felt as though she should finally give it to me. That night we all wept for Jonah and prayed for him.
That weekend I remember being exhausted. I remember feeling so tired and worn out, but I assumed it was being that we were in the midst of moving and all the incredible stress we had been under. My mom had even mentioned to me that I seemed swollen and puffy. On Monday, when I was 7 ½ months pregnant, I wasn’t feeling right and my mom urged me to go to the hospital here in New Hampton. I was hesitant because by now I was sick of hospitals, sick of doctors and nurses and sick of testing. I remember feeling him kick that morning, so I didn’t think anything was wrong. But I decided to go and thankfully, Drew was with me.
An hour later, our doctor had confirmed that our baby did not have a heartbeat.
We left the hospital and went straight to the funeral home to see our family. I needed all the support I could get. They all dropped everything they were doing and we all sobbed together. My dad called Father Mark to come to the funeral home to pray with us. We gathered in a circle and Father asked if we had a name for our baby. We said – Jonah Melvin. After that, Father read from the book of Jonah and related our life to the story of Jonah and the Whale. He talked about how we, like Jonah, were in a dark place – like the belly of the fish. He anointed me before I was to make the journey to Iowa City to deliver my our first born son.
I was induced in the late afternoon of August 12, 2013. My husband and my mom were by my side the entire time. I’ve never thought about it until now, but what a hard thing I asked my mom to do. Stand next to me as I do the hardest thing of my life. She did because she loves me and that’s what you do for your child. You do anything for them.
I remember my mom telling me how to breathe and different positions to be in to help with the contractions. I never got to take a baby class with my husband and never got to learn what to do during labor. I am so thankful my mom was there. I think people are surprised that I had to actually go through labor and deliver my baby like any other person would. The pain was grueling, yet the pain of my broken heart hurt even more.
Throughout my labor, I kept thinking that I was going to have a healthy baby in the end. It was as if my mind was playing tricks on me. I was praying and hoping for a miracle. I wanted so badly to hear a baby cry.
On August 13, 2013 at 2:10am, after 12 hours of labor, my sweet boy, Jonah Melvin Johnson, was born an angel into this world.
The silence that followed was deafening. There was no crying. Just silence.
Then the nurse wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to me. My sweet boy, with all 10 fingers and all 10 toes – he was perfect.
I passed him off to Drew and it was incredible to see him become a father for the first time. We held hands and prayed the Our Father together as a family.
Later that day, I came home and went to bed. I wanted to be left alone and in the dark. I stayed this way for a few days.
That Friday we had a visitation and funeral for Jonah. Friends and family came from all across the state to tell us how sorry they were. I even got to hear other women who experienced miscarriage or stillbirth. I am so glad I did this. It was such a healing experience.
2013 was a hard year for us. Nothing happened the way we told each other it would. God’s plans for Drew and me were so different than what we expected. I would give everything I had to bring Jonah back, but I know I can’t. This is who we are and how God is shaping us to be. His plans are greater than my own.
I have to say thank you to my family. They brought me out of some of the darkest days of my life. They dropped everything they were doing just to hold me while I cried. I have to especially thank, my husband, Drew, without his listening ear, his strength, and open heart – I would be lost. You are my best friend and the best father I could have ever imagined.
Jonah will always be my angel and I will always be his mommy. I am so lucky to have so many memories with him, but so sad I couldn’t have more. Jonah has a greater plan then I could have ever imagined for him. God is using him as the ultimate chapter in my book. Sometimes those pages make it hard to look back, but he will always be my favorite part. The part I read over and over again.
Thank you for listening to my story of life after stillbirth. I wanted to end with a letter I wrote to Jonah shortly after he was born…
I love you as deep as the oceans, as far as the stars and to all the ends of the earth. I have always loved you. Your daddy and I knew that we were going to have you someday and we already knew long before then how much we loved you. But it wasn’t until I found out I was pregnant, that my world changed. My love for you grew stronger and deeper. I never knew I could love someone so deeply and entirely before I met them. But, I knew you Jonah. I knew you long before I held you. I already knew you had your daddy’s heart – a heart of gold. I already knew you were kind and sweet. I knew you were feisty with your big kicks and your somersaults. I already knew you were the perfect piece to our family. I knew you were the reason why I was here. I knew I was here to be your mom. That’s what I was made to do.
For seven and a half months, it was you and me – together. Everything was better, because we were together. You changed my outlook on the world and opened my eyes to see all the beautiful people and things around me. You brought such great joy into my life. No one could bring me down, because I had you. When we told your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends about you, they all were so happy that you were coming. Everyone wanted to meet you.
I’ll never forget that first moment when I saw your daddy hold you. He looked at you, with tears in his tears, and smiled. You were perfect. He dreamed of taking you fishing and taking you to your first football game – probably a Packer game 🙂 He became a daddy in those moments and goodness, what a good daddy he is.
Thank you for all the wonderful things you taught me along this journey. You taught me to love unconditionally and without hesitation. You taught me that without love there is no true happiness in life. No money, house, job, car or success can bring you the kind of happiness love can bring. I am a better person because I have you. I will forever see the good in all the surrounds me. My heart feels broken right now, but it still feels full of love.
Jonah, you make my heart sing!
I wish I could shout it from the rooftops!
I was made to love you. And I wish that I could take care of you in the way I dreamed, but I know you are taking care of me right now. And I need it, sweet boy. I need you. I need you to spread your beautiful wings around me and keep me safe. You soar among the angels and you are absolutely beautiful.
Thank you, Jonah. Thank you for all the wonderful gifts you have given me. Thank you for letting me be your mommy. And I know there will be a day where we will meet again.
I will always love you…