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Gretchen Brooke

by ajrvoss

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998

This is the story of Gretchen, who was our fourth little girl. I found out I was pregnant on June 19, 1998, and was shocked and rather dismayed, as we weren't planning on having any more children - we have 3 girls, and had our hands full raising them. We also had tried for 4 and a half years to have our third child before finally becoming pregnant with the help of fertility drugs, so I was amazed that I was pregnant without ever trying to be! I knew, though, that even if this child were not planned on, he or she was wanted and loved already. I had the normal mind numbing fatigue, and nausea, etc. which lasted the first few months of the pregnancy and then abated. I started having marathon migraines, also, which I had with my third daughter, too. My OB prescribed Midrin, which had helped with the last pregnancy, but it didn't seem to be as effective this time. School was out and our older 2 girls, Amanda and Jacqui (10 & 8 years old) were out of school for the summer, so we were spending a lot of evenings at the swimming pool, along with our 18 month old, Rachel. In July I really started to feel that everything would be okay, and a new little person in our family would be a lovely happening. My husband, Paul, really wanted a little boy - and kept telling everyone to think positive! At 18 weeks, I had an AFP test done, and it came back a little low, so I decided to have an amnio instead of worrying about the health of the baby for the entire pregnancy. I was concerned about the amnio because it is an invasive procedure, but I didn't experience even a twinge of pain from it. The best part of having the amnio done was that they also do an ultrasound at the same time, and I got to get a good look at the baby - he or she looked perfect! We were told that the results would be back in about 2 weeks, and they would give us a call. I was feeling the baby make little movements by this time, which I think is one of the nicest things about pregnancy. I noticed the baby didn't move as much or as strongly as the others had, but I assumed it was just a quieter baby. The older girls started back to school at the end of August, and I started to think of things I needed to get done before January 15 - the due date.

On September 2, 1998 I had a regular check up with my OB - I was at the end of my 20th week. I had lost a pound, and was rather concerned when the nurse told me this, as I was having a hard time gaining weight with this pregnancy. When my doctor came in a used the doppler to listen to the baby's heartbeat, he had a hard time finding it - he kept finding mine, and finally felt for my pulse while trying to find the baby's heartbeat. He asked when I had last felt the baby move, and I told him I had felt movement the day before, or possible this morning. I wasn't too concerned, but he seemed to be (he's usually quite laid back, and jokes quite a bit during office visits). He had me go into the next room where his ultrasound machine is, and looked for a heartbeat on the screen. I looked at the screen also, and it didn't look normal to me - all was still. I had brought Rachel with me to the appointment, and I looked at her, and then back at the still screen, and then at the doctors face. I was saying a prayer to myself to please let everything be okay with the baby, but I feared things were not well. After several long minutes, my doctor took my hand, and told me the baby didn't make it. I was in such shock - I thought that once I made it past the magical 12 week mark, everything would progress the usual way, and we would have a beautiful, breathing, red-faced bundle to take home to love. My doctor went out of the room, and I followed into the hallway with Rachel. The nurse met me outside the door and gave me a hug, and a chair to sit on until the doctor got off the phone(he had called the hospital to set up a time for me to be there). He asked me if I could be at the hospital at midnight, as he would like for the baby to be delivered as soon as possible. He explained what would happen once I got there, and hugged me. I still couldn't believe that I was actually living this.

I went home, still numb, and called Paul's office to see if they had a day number where I could reach him - he was out of the state at a business conference. I reached his boss' secretary and told her I was his wife and needed to speak to him - she wanted to know why, and I started to cry and asked her to please just get him for me. It must have sunk in that the baby had died - I have rarely felt such grief in all my life. Paul answered the phone and I told him what happened - he said he was on his way, and would reach home in about 5 hours. I hung up and cried some more. I had a whole day to fill, waiting to deliver this baby, and knowing he or she wasn't alive. I started cleaning the house to help me occupy my hands - I call it "toilet scrubbing therapy". I walked to school, as usual, to pick Amanda and Jacqui up from school. One of my friends asked how things were going, and I told her what had happened. She offered to stay with our children while Paul and I went to the hospital. Paul got home soon after, and we told Amanda and Jacqui what had happened to the baby. They had a lot of questions, and we all shed a few tears together. Rachel was too little to know what was going on, and just ran around as usual, destroying the house. She helped keep things normal, and it was a real comfort. At bedtime, we tucked the girls in, and I tried to rest for a few hours, because I didn't know if I would be able to sleep in the hospital. I think I was back in the numb state again, as if all of this weren't real.

We got to the hospital, and went up to labor and delivery - this was the same hospital where Rachel was born, and I kept thinking how I wished this outcome would be the same. Paul stayed until I was settled, and then went home to be with our kids, and to get the older two off to school in the morning - I hadn't felt up to finding child care in order for him to stay all night with me, as it was so painful to talk about the baby dying, etc. The nurse gave me a sedative, and the first round of medication to dilate my cervix, and I was able to doze off and on until 6:30 a.m. I started having light contractions then. I had c-sections with my other girls, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, The nurses said I would have building contractions, and then a feeling of pressure, and to let them know if that happened when they were out of the room. By 9:45 I was having intense contractions, and by 10:30 I thought I was feeling pressure, but wasn't really sure. One of the nurses brought in a tray of instruments, and while she was unwrapping them, I felt the baby emerging. I told her what was happening, and she hurried over, and sort of held the baby, telling me not to push. The doctor on call was in the emergency room, and they wanted him to be there when I delivered. Finally, the nurse went ahead and let the rest of the baby's body just slip out, and the doctor arrived a minute later. Tears started running down my face when I saw the nurse lift the baby over to the cart she had wheeled in. The doctor said he needed to examine me, I nodded, and he pulled out pieces of placenta that were still attached - very painful. He told me how sorry he was, and left. I watched the nurse - she had the baby in a big silver bowl, and was doing something with it. She asked me if I wanted to hold "her" - I said, "It's a little girl?" The nurse nodded her head, wrapped the baby gently in a receiving blanket, and brought her over to the bed. I wasn't sure I was ready to hold the baby, but I wanted to see her. After a few seconds, the nurse took the baby back to the table. I suddenly wanted my baby next to me, and asked if I could have her. The nurse brought her back, cradled in her hands, and whispered "She's so tiny". She was tiny - she only had 20 weeks and 6 days to grow. She was also very perfect, and I realized as I held her exactly what and who we lost. She was about 7 - 8 inches long, and had tiny toes, and long fingers with perfectly formed nails on the ends. I wish now that I had taken them up on their offer of footprints for us to keep, but I didn't. Paul came in the room at that time - my friend had called him and said she was coming over to watch Rachel, and he'd better go to the hospital. I was glad he was there, as there were things we needed to decide together. One of the things the nurse asked us is if we wanted to name our little girl - we hadn't seriously considered names yet, as it was so early. Paul said he would like to give her a German name - our other girls had names with differing cultural origins, and he had favored German names from the start. I told him that would be fine, but no outlandish names! He chose Gretchen, and I remember that this was one of the names he had mentioned early in the pregnancy. We chose to have her body cremated and the ashes scattered by the funeral home.

It has been a very difficult experience, and I guess I handle Gretchen's death differently from day to day. Reading these stories has helped me so much - I don't feel so alone. Writing our story has been really hard - it took me several weeks of thinking about it before I could put it into words, and I've shed a few tears while typing it out. I'm making a booklet for Gretchen full of poems, special thoughts, and a copy of her story. I'm also thinking of making something in remembrance of her - I have several ideas for quilts spinning around in my head. I've given her a middle name, too, now that I've had some time to think -Gretchen Brooke. The mother of one of Amanda's friends brought us two rose bushes to plant, and that has been very special, too. She chose a large red rose, and a miniature pink rose - I told her that when they bloom, we'll think of her kind thoughts, and of the baby. I've been surprised by an overwhelming desire to have another baby - I guess I was more prepared than I thought to raise another child. I know we can't replace our Gretchen, but she has stretched my heart so much that it feels enough love for another child.

We don't know why Gretchen died. We chose not to have an autopsy done - my doctor did have some test run to check for viruses, or an infection but they were negative. Paul's dad said that maybe her little heart just wasn't strong enough to keep beating, and I think I agree with him. I wonder about my struggle to gain enough weight (I wish I had that problem at other times!), and about the severe migraines, but we just don't know the answers. The day after Gretchen was delivered, the center that did the amnio called and said the test showed normal chromosomes. My heart goes out to those who have lost their children, and I pray that the pain eases with time. It helps me to think that our babies are waiting for us in the next life.

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