Warning: This storey contains pictures of child loss that may be distressing to some readers.
“I’ve been married to Tommy for five years. We’ve always wanted to start a family. After a long period of trying, our first pregnancy terminated abruptly in 2016 due to a tubal pregnancy, necessitating emergency surgery. Ren was our first child, and we were pregnant again in 2018. Ren was diagnosed with Down syndrome at the age of 17 weeks, thanks to genetic testing. We were taken aback at first, but we immediately became acquainted and were eager to welcome this unique spirit into the world.
I had a blast being pregnant. I’d never felt so connected to my hubby before. I was a lot more lovey-dovey than other people maybe. It was a picture-perfect pregnancy. We discovered the gender through an aerial drop. We stood there watching as blue powder shot across the sky. We were eagerly anticipating the arrival of our baby child. We had the nursery finished, the hospital bag prepared, and diaper stations strewn throughout the house. We underwent many stress tests throughout my pregnancy, and in the end, we were getting them twice a week for precautions, because Ren had Down syndrome and I was already at high risk with my tubal. We believed the surprises had come to an end. We had not anticipated anything like this.
4th of April, 2019
We arrive at the hospital and sign in, then proceed to my regular room, where I am seen regularly. We get right to work like we always do. This time, however, things were different. The nurse goes around in circles looking for his heartbeat. I informed her where we generally look for it, hoping she was just looking in the incorrect place, but she had no luck. I wasn’t too worried at first. We both assumed he was in some sort of weird posture, and she even stated, ‘He’s kind of flipped.’ She was able to detect MY heartbeat via an artery that goes alongside the baby. Until she promptly stated, ‘That is your heartbeat,’ I felt a sliver of relief. The nurse came to a halt and raised her eyes to me.
‘It’s time to summon the ultrasound technician,’ she announced.
Tommy hurried over from work as soon as I texted him that they couldn’t find Ren’s heartbeat. It seems like years passed before the technology arrived. Of course, I wanted her to come so we could see what was going on, but I was also dreading the knock on the door. We were finally having our ultrasound, and the silence seemed to last an eternity. My nurse was already clutching my leg as if she sensed what was about to happen.
Ren’s little feet and legs could be seen as the technician adjusted the monitor’s angle. She then worked her way up to his little legs to his belly button before resting on his chest. ‘That’s his heart right there, and there’s no heartbeat,’ she remarked as she held the photo up to the monitor. I’ll never forget her finger resting on the monitor over his motionless little heart. My heartfelt as if it were being suffocated. In my entire life, I had never experienced such agony. I then looked down at Tommy, who was holding my other leg at the foot of the bed. I could see the surprise in his eyes, and I let out the most horrible shriek that I’m sure everyone else in the labour and delivery room could hear (a detail I don’t recall, but Tommy remembers).
Our doctor arrived shortly after, her eyes welling up with tears. She explained our delivery alternatives, which we knew we’d have to consider soon. She discussed the several ways I could be induced, and we chose the quickest option from the list she provided.
5th of April, 2019
I made it until about 11 a.m. before getting an epidural. An ultrasound tech arrives in minutes after I had repositioned my paralytic body on the bed to see how he was doing. Up until this time, Ren had been completely focused on every appointment we had. They discovered he was transverse, meaning he was laying on his back in my pelvis, almost as if it were cradling him. He was still in a bad position after yet another scan. The doctor sounded sceptical, and I mentally braced myself for an emergency C-section.
After a few hours of labour, I began to feel my contractions. The anesthesiologist wanted to adjust the tube before I had to push, even though it wasn’t awful. I was sitting on the side of the bed, waiting for it to happen when I began to feel pressure. To be honest, it seemed like something was sticking out of me. Before I told the nurse about how I was feeling, he was able to successfully replace the tube. She raised the sheets and said, “Oh, I see parts,” before rushing out to summon the doctor. Ren was on his way. The doctor entered, lifted my gown, and began giving birth. When the nurses tried to glove her up, she answered, “No gloves, no time,” and began asking for items she needed while holding Ren inside with her bare hands. I’m sure you’re curious as to how he fared after all the excitement! He came out butt AND feet first, putting him in the foetal position with his knees up. Thank heavens for that! Ren Michael Register was born on April 5th, 2019, at 3:45 p.m., weighing 4Ibs 5oz and measuring 35 weeks and 6 days.
Before they gave him over to me, I requested, ‘Can you clean him up and cover him in his blanket first?’
I guess I was scared, like everyone else who has never seen a dead infant. However, once I had him in my arms, it was the polar opposite. I wanted to unwrap him and examine every detail, such as his little belly and whose feet he had. We were afraid we might rip his skin because it was so delicate. Isn’t it unsettling? You’re afraid you’re going to tear your baby’s skin. The baby who had been perfectly OK in your mind for the previous 24 hours. The baby you’ve been carrying for 35 weeks and counting, eagerly anticipating his or her arrival. Now I’m unwrapping him gently, trying to take in every detail before they take his small little body. Trying to remember every photo, posture, and handprint while also trying to recall his newborn scent. We took off the cap they gave him after he had died down a bit and saw that he had tiny little blonde curls, which is my favourite aspect about him.
We were quite lucky to be able to stay with Ren for the night. We were able to keep him for approximately 24 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone, not even Tommy, but that night I made the room as chilly as possible to preserve his little body as best I could. Of course, I desired him, but I also felt guilty. Is it wrong that I didn’t put him to rest? I’m not certain. But I wanted to do everything I could to protect him. His small lips were drying out, so I spent a lot of time wiping his tiny mouth with a damp paper towel.
The following day arrived brutally, and we knew exactly what we had to do. Before we gave Ren up, I wrote him the following letter:
‘Ren, I’m sitting next to you in my hospital bed, and I can’t help but feel all of your feelings at the same time. Your lips have darkened and you’ve lost all of your facial colours. They keep coming in to inquire about our funeral plans and when they should arrive to get you up. When I hear the new baby cry from down the hall, I can’t help but get triggered. That was supposed to be you on the other end of the line. That was the plan all along. You were meant to arrive in your beautiful new car seat that we had purchased for you. You were supposed to sleep in the bassinet we had set up next to our bed for you. You were intended to keep us awake all night and weary us with feedings. You were intended to wear the teeny-tiny newborn diapers we already had on hand. Teva, your older sister, was scheduled to meet you. You were meant to be a part of our life. I’m terrified of returning home. I’m terrified to walk into your immaculately decorated room and find myself alone. I’m terrified to think of all the gifts you’ve received that are still in inboxes. I’m worried about our families returning to their normal lives. I’m worried about what’s going to be our new normal. I’m frightened I’ll be alone. I was still in shock when you were born, and I was afraid to look, and I apologise for that. You’re very stunning. I’m glad for how you’ve transformed my perspective on life and people. I’m thankful for the few hours we get to hug you and kiss your precious face before they take you away. I’m glad you were a part of our strategy. I’m confident that your spirit is where you belong. In paradise, I’m sure you’re surrounded by love and family. I’ll keep Daddy company, and you should do the same with your future siblings. Your spirit is gentle, and we sense your contentment. You’ll always be our baby boy, no matter what. Sweet baby, till we meet again. Your Mama, with love.”
We got a knock on the door shortly after finishing this. It was he who was dispatched to find Ren. ‘I’m John, and I’m sorry for your loss. I’m here to return Ren to the funeral home, where he’ll be stored until his autopsy in Seattle,’ he added. We requested a few extra minutes to say our final goodbyes, which included many tears, cuddles, and “I love you”s. I couldn’t bring myself to personally place Ren in the box that would be used to transfer him when the time came. I turned to Tommy and asked if it was all right with him to go ahead and do it. I could see his heart shatter apart as he consented. I could hear him whisper, ‘I’m sorry buddy,’ as tears flowed down his face as he placed him down. Ren vanished without a trace.
It was difficult to leave the hospital empty-handed. On our way out, I tried to hide my face in Tommy’s chest since I was sobbing violently. We were supposed to be proud parents, strolling out with a new baby in his new car seat and a brand new newborn clothing that we had chosen for him in advance. That was the conclusion of our adventure with our darling kid.
I hope that by sharing Ren’s storey and by being an encouraging and helpful friend to many other bereaved parents, I can make a difference in their lives. If you’ve gone through this or something similar, first and foremost, know that you are loved and that you are not alone. Even if you can’t see beyond your darkest days, you’ll make it. Reaching out to other mamas who understood my grief journey was a game-changer for me. Please contact me if you haven’t already. Both sadness and joy can coexist. It’s perfectly acceptable to be fine one day and a complete wreck the next. Your feelings are very legitimate. Allow yourself to be gentle with yourself, and don’t be hesitant to tell your tale. You never know who it might be able to assist, but more importantly, it will assist you in healing. Speak their name and know that you are exactly where you should be.”
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