“It rained every day that month. I remember it quite clearly. I was on my back porch, laying in my hammock. Each time I pressed the ground with my foot, the hammock straps rubbed against the post and made a creaking sound. Shirtless and belly out, I felt the rain drops against my skin. Each drop absorbing and adding to the puddle that was now filling up my bellybutton. The bellybutton that would continue to be an inner rather than an outie for the remainder of this pregnancy. I felt the breeze hit my skin. I had goosebumps but didn’t feel cold. I felt numb. The baby kicks in my belly. Still alive. What does it mean to be alive? I question this as I rub my belly. I speak out loud and reassure the being inside me that all will be okay. After all, that’s what mother’s do for their children…right? Tears rolled down my cheeks. The earth cried for me that month and I with it.
At work, in the bathroom, I pee on a pregnancy strip. This used to be my go to when I had irregular cycles. Month after month of being late, I became paranoid and took a test. It was always negative. A sigh of relief would soon follow. Another month late. Another test. This time felt different though. I’m washing my hands and getting ready to head back to work when I notice two bright pink strips on the test. Surely this CAN’T be right. I quickly text my husband. Yes, I texted that I was pregnant. Because surely there was an error with the test. The remainder of the work day was spent battling inside my brain about how the test was ineffective and that once I could leave, I would take ten more tests to prove it wrong. I started counting down the minutes to go home. It reminded me of when I was in high school, butt half out of my seat, waiting for the alarm to sound so I could race out of class.
After taking 10 more tests, I could no longer deny it. I was pregnant. This time with baby number three. I look over at our two children who are currently bouncing off walls and I start to cry. Partly because I’m upset. Partly because I’m happy and partly because I’m still in shock.
Pregnancy symptoms never hit me with this pregnancy. Well, I had the worst body odor of all human existence, but besides that. Nothing. In my head and heart, I felt like something was different this time. I didn’t want to share that I was pregnant with anyone until people saw a giant belly and had the guts enough to question me on carrying a fetus or on putting on a few extra pounds.
The next few months were spent working, homeschooling and moving. I start seeing a Midwife and made the decision to have a homebirth. My past two babies were born in a hospital with induction methods. This would be our last child and I wanted it to be at home where our first two could be present. “The birth tub will go here”. I tell my husband excitedly. For the first time in months, I felt happy. I was owning being pregnant and couldn’t wait to meet this little person inside of me. At 20 weeks, I finally announce to my friends and family that our family is growing.
Since conception I felt that my discharge had changed, which I knew to be completely normal, but something felt off to me. I had testing done twice. It came back fine. At 20 weeks my Midwife suggested that I get an ultrasound done since we weren’t sure what was happening with the discharge, which clearly looked to be an infection but never read as one. At first, I felt reluctant. This time around I really wanted everything to be completely hands off since my first two were anything but. In the end I decided to have one to help my peace of mind.
Around 21 weeks my husband and I sit in the waiting room at the radiologist’s office. A kid sneezes next to me and I immediately stand guard, hold my breath and walk to the other side of the room in hopes to not breathe anything in. Kid sneezes are the worse FYI. “Miss Parrott”, They call me back. Feeling almost too excited to leave the room with the sneezing kid, I make my way to the open door leading us to the world’s longest hallway. As we walk down, I start thinking about people doing the walk of shame. Not knowing then that, that was exactly what I would be facing soon enough. We enter a small room where I’m instructed to lie down on a table. My husband is sitting in a chair next to me, holding my hand. I giddily explain that, “We don’t want to know the sex of the baby because we want it to be a surprise. We do however want to see the baby’s face, feet, hands, etc.” I lay still, breathing deeply and trying to calm my anxiety. After a few minutes of silence and the woman looking over everything with a look of sheer panic on her face, I clear my throat… “Is everything okay?” I ask. “Please excuse me. Someone will be with you in just a few minutes.” She responds. Then she leaves the room. I knew in that very moment that something was wrong. I had a flooding feeling. I instantly regretted not having an ultrasound done when I was earlier in my pregnancy. We waited for an HOUR. Alone in this small, dark room. No one came to check on us. I felt too afraid to move from my lie down position. I continued to focus on my breath again. After the hour passed someone came into the room and told us we needed to go and speak with our Midwife. She wanted to go over the results with us. I slowly came up from the table. My body dripping stress sweat and the back of my legs sticking to the table. I grabbed my bag and we headed out of the dungeon room. As we walked down the hall of shame, I saw our tech come out of a room around the corner and we briefly made eye contact. She immediately ducked back into the room. Yeah lady, I see you hiding from me. Is it really that bad? I hated her in that moment.
The car ride is quiet. There’s no music. We don’t speak. We are only a 7-minute drive from the Midwives office. We park and get out of the car. It had rained, and the ground was wet. I step into a puddle and it fills my sandals. I feel annoyed that I didn’t think to look prior. My shoes make farting noises all the way up to the office. Once we are inside the Midwife tells us to sit with her. There is a GIANT box of Kleenex close in proximity. She pushes it closer as we sit facing each other. Why are those tissues so large? Are they always that big? When was the last time I used tissues? Thoughts stream in and out… I’m trying to focus. She starts crying and telling us she has never seen a case so bad in all of her career. She reads the report to us. It says the baby’s organs are essentially outside of its body along with fetal hydrops, etc. etc. My husband starts to cry and reaches for the tissues. I remain calm. I am a problem solver. “Surely there are surgeries, some sort of alternative we can try?” She doesn’t sound too hopeful. She refers us to the USF group at TGH and we go.
TGH does another ultrasound. There are a few Doctors in the room when its being performed. All of them forgetting I am a human being and not a lab rat. They use medical terminology I don’t understand, and they are pressing too hard on my abdomen that I’m fairly certain bruising will occur. They eventually tell me that the baby has fetal hydrops predominately on the back of the head but also extending to the length of the body. They tell me this could potentially be from an infection in the womb causing the hydrops. They also notice markers for Turner’s syndrome but can’t confirm. They tell me that only girls can have Turner’s but that the baby is so swollen they can’t see the sex. Now more than anything I wanted to know the sex. They wipe the ultrasound gel from my belly and tell me they will go over options in the next room. As I’m gathering my things I am feeling somewhat relieved that the baby’s organs are all intact. That’s good news, right? Turner’s is a hiccup compared to what the original report read. We make our way into the “options” room. The Dr. tells us that we have a 0% chance of survival. My jaw dropped. Is that accurate? I finally broke down and started bawling my eyes out. Hyperventilating soon following. He told me I could continue to be pregnant and let me body naturally go into labor or I could be induced. At this point I was close to being 24 weeks and he also mentioned that he wouldn’t be able to induce me after that. I had to decide quickly.
The next day we made the decision to induce. It felt like it took a lifetime of getting signatures completed and all the paperwork in tip top shape before we were able to go in. In truth, it was about a week. It was the longest week of my life. During this week, my husband worked. Friends came over and brought me meals and offered to watch my kids for me. I felt so loved and nurtured. I spent most of my time outside in the rain or lying in bed and feeling her kick. I’ve never experienced depression before, but this was the most intense sadness I have ever felt. I physically ached. My bones felt as if they would break in two just from receiving a hug from my 3-year-old. It took so much energy to get up from the bed that I decided to just lay there forever. Food tasted different. Flavorless. I no longer wanted to eat. Drinking burned my throat. I decided to just give that up as well. I wanted to die along with her. It was pure agony.
On March 28th we made our way to the hospital. We parked in the parking garage and walked over and up to labor and delivery. Every step hurt.
Once we were settled into a room our Doctor from the USF group came over. He took another ultrasound. He said her swelling had intensified.
She was still alive. I heard her heartbeat. I felt her inside of me. He asked again if we were sure about our decision.
He did a vaginal exam and told me that my cervix was already dilated to 2 cm. This confirmed in me that I was making the best choice possible. My body was already getting ready.
About an hour or so later induction was started. Our support team started trickling in after that. Charlie came to be with us along with a doula from Orlando and a birth photographer.
A male Midwife from TGH came in to introduce himself and assist us with this process. For the first time in a while, I laughed. We all hung out and joked and talked. The time seemed to fly by. For a moment in time, I had forgotten I was in a hospital bed, wearing a hideous debilitating gown and eating ice chips waiting to birth a baby that would be dead.
After some time, my Midwife told me that his shift would be ending soon and that the next Midwife on shift was not “very supportive” with my decision and that if I didn’t want her in the room that I could tell her to leave.
All confidence left me.
Hours passed by and I started intensely cramping. I got up to move around and use the restroom. I came back to the room and sat on a birthing ball and remember crying. The room fell silent and I knew in that moment that she had passed away. I started saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry. Forgive me. I love you.”
The new Midwife came in the room to check my dilation. She told me “I don’t know why you aren’t pushing. Your baby is right there!” Charlie told her that maybe I needed more time. That it’s such an emotional process. She stammered out of the room. Huffing and puffing. My team left my partner and I alone for some time to give us space.
On hands and knees on the bed I tried to push her out. Surely, I was ready? Why was she not coming? I spoke to my husband about how I was a failure and that I couldn’t even push her out. He reassured me that I wasn’t. I partially believed him.
More time passed, and I was up to use the toilet. Again. My team was back in the room holding the space as I paced the room. Always ending up on the toilet. After I had wiped for what felt like the billionth time, I paced the room again, for what felt like the billionth time. This time the Midwife walked into the room and told me to lie down because she didn’t want the baby to drop on the floor. In the moment I was too preoccupied with being in labor to think about the 101 ways to murder her. Or get her fired for being the worst care giver that ever lived.
Eventually it was time to push. It finally felt right. I was on hands and knees again on the bed and going through transition. I was saying things like “I can’t do this anymore” and “I need something, give me something, anything.” A nurse runs out in panic to grab me drugs. It’s not like they see this every day. Someone refusing to sit still and without an epidural strapped to the bed. Not to mention the whole stillbirth thing really topped it off.
At some point I am no longer wearing my glasses, and someone placed a bed pan underneath me and the nurse runs back in with drugs for my IV. I scream. No. I roar! I am a fierce Lioness submitting to my body and my baby. She falls out of me and into the bedpan. The drugs kick in. “Where are my glasses? Did I poop? Why is there a bedpan here? I can’t see my baby! Someone give me my glasses!” They tell me to lean back. I feel a haze go over me. The drugs are strong and I feel out of it. They hand her to me. I am surrounded by a room of crying people. I feel confused at first. I don’t cry. I just look at her.
You know that moment when you have a baby and everyone in the room tells you how beautiful they are and what a wonderful mother you will be? I was waiting for that. I looked at her and I’m not sure if it was because of the oxytocin or the drugs, but it didn’t hit me that she was not breathing. My instinct was to have her skin to skin and to keep her warm. I lowered my gown and held her to my breast. The photographer took photos and left. The doula and Charlie decided it was time to leave as well so we could have time together with our daughter.
We spent a good 18 hours holding her. Her body quickly became cold, yet I still held her to my breast. We wouldn’t leave her alone. If someone had to use the restroom, the other held her. Who would leave a newborn on the bed unattended? Not me.
Eventually we were transferred to the postpartum ward. In a way it felt like prison. The room was tiny and our window even smaller. We didn’t sleep for those 18 hours. We just cried and held her and cried some more. I counted her toes and fingers compulsively. We dressed her. Diaper and all. She was close to 3 pounds when she was born. Almost 2 of those pounds were retained fluid. After some time, the fluid started to seep from her body and we realized it was no longer mentally healthy to be with her any longer.
A nurse came to take her and told me how “lucky” I was to have been able to hold her. She told me she had two stillbirths in the military and that they whisked the babies away. She asked to hold my dead baby. She cried as she rocked her. In the moment/time I felt like this was incredibly insane and unprofessional and how dare she share this story with me, right here, right now? Now, looking back, I hope in a strange way that holding her brought her some peace.
She tagged her ankle and went to wrap her. “No! Please don’t wrap her.. She needs to be able to see..” Loss brings on all sorts of irrationalities. She unwrapped her and promised to keep the blanket off of her face, then she left the room.
The nursing staff gave us all sorts of information and pamphlets on funeral homes. Also, there were a few financial assistance forms inside, which we found out didn’t apply to us. In fine print it tells you that if you terminate for ANY reason, it won’t help cover costs.
We leave the hospital the next day. We go to pick up our children from our friend’s home. They ask us to stay the night saying they will feed us and care for us. So, we do. Of course, sleeping isn’t possible. My pad keeps filling with blood in the night and I repeatedly get up to change it out for a new one. I think of our daughter, Astrid. I wonder about the space she is in. I imagine her being cold and without her mother there to hold her. I then imagine her coming back to me one day. I imagine her dreaming. I imagine all sorts of things while sitting and bleeding into the toilet. I feel my empty, hollow belly. I check my bellybutton for any sign of rain puddles. I am tired. It is decided I must sleep. I clean up and make my way back to the bed. I scream into my pillow and then fall asleep.
The next day we drive back home. Our children are full of questions. Most of which my husband answers for I have become a mute. It hurts to open my lips. To make sound come from my throat is unheard of.
Within the days that follow we make our way to the funeral home to make arrangements for Astrid’s body. The building smells and I’m pretty sure the receptionist smoked right before she shook my hand. I feel as though I will vomit. “She hasn’t touched my baby, has she? Astrid could get cancer.” All sorts of crazy stories go through my mind. She tells us that Astrid can’t be buried because she was considered a termination. My gut knots and churns. I tell her that is the most terrible thing I have ever heard and go on about it for some time. She shakes her head at me understandably and says, “I’m sorry”. Sorry wasn’t good enough.
We take turns going into a room where Astrid’s body was being held to say our final goodbye’s. Her body was stiff and cold and blue. She no longer looked like herself at all. It was there that I saw her last.
We had her cremated and was able to take her remains home.
In the days that follow we paint a large terracotta pot. Each of us getting a separate section to contribute to Astrid. We plant roses.
The kids and my husband are napping. I am in the bathroom, changing my pad. The bleeding is starting to lessen, and the thought of no longer bleeding makes me sad. In a way I wanted to bleed forever because it’s what kept me connected to her.
The rain is coming down hard. I go outside and sit in my hammock. Shirt off, empty belly out. I let the rain hit my skin. It feels familiar. I use my feet to push me. The strap rubbing against the beam each time with its squeaky noise. I remember her inside of me. I talk to my belly as if she is still there. I tell her it will be okay.”
Sarah Parrot, mom to Astrid, has been a birth worker for a little over 7 years. A big part of her focus is death care and pregnancy loss. After experiencing a stillbirth herself, it's completely shifted her paradigm on women's reproductive support and what that should look like. Early miscarriage, stillbirth, termination or loss after birth all needs to be honored and acknowledged. To do so she has joined with our 501c3 Nonprofit community center The Community Roots Collective to bring our community Full Cycle Loss Support.