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The Story of Steffani Gwen

by Christine Killmer

22 Jul 1998

I found out I was pregnant on Martin Luther King's birthday in 1997. I was elated, but scared. I had two miscarriages in 1995 and I couldn't handle another one. It wasn't good timing because my husband, Donnie, was out of work due to an arm injury. I tried to be hopeful and not jinx anything. We didn't tell anyone, not even our other daughter, Samantha, for the first three months, until the first sonogram showed her heartbeat. I was so happy to have a viable pregnancy at last! We were going to finish our family! Things started going wrong at 4 months. I had a Level 2 sonogram , and it showed that the baby had only two blood vessels in its umbilical mcord. I had no idea what that meant. I also found out we were having another girl. I remember turning to my husband and saying, "You gave me another girl!" My OB sent me to another hospital to monitor her and that's where they found the ventricular septal defect. They were concerned, but no one ever said that she could die. At 6 months, a doctor said that becuase of the two blood vessel cord and the heart defect, she could have chromosome damage. I couldn't believe what I was hearing! So, they did a amnio. I had to wait 10 agonizing days before I found out that her chromosomes were perfect! But we weren't out of the woods yet. She was closely monitored and everyone told us she'd be fine. I was put on bedrest because my blood pressure was high. My daughter Sammi was eagerly anticipating her little sister. Everyone was pulling for us!

Five weeks before she was due, I went into labor. I didn't know it was labor; I was induced with my first daughter and it didn't feel the same. I thought they were Braxton-Hicks contractions. It was my birthday, August 20, and Donnie took me to dinner, then we walked around some stores. All this time, I had the pain, but it wasn't that bad.

We went home and I went to sleep at 11PM. I was abruptly wakened by awful cramps. I didn't know what was happening to me. After about an hour, I called to Donnie to time the contractions...they were 4 minutes, then 2 minutes. Then I had the "bloody show." We called the doctor and he said to come in.

I was in some major pain, but we made it to the hospital. They laid me on a bed, put the monitor around my swollen belly, and the needle marks were higher than I had ever seen them. The doctor comes in, examines me, and says, "You're going to have the baby now!" I was 10 cm. dilated...I had all my labor at home. That's what I always wanted. I asked him, "No drugs?" He looked at me and said, "No drugs." They had no time for an IV, no time to move me to a delivery room. He broke my water, three pushes, and she was out, right there in the bed, in fourteen minutes. She was absolutely beautiful; she looked just like her big sister. I heard her cry. She was small, 5 lbs. 4 oz. and 18 1/2 in. long. I just held her; I was so happy she was finally here! And she was born the day after my birthday--the best birthday present I ever got!

The first day was magical...we had so many visitors. So many people got to see her and love her. She didn't have a sucking reflex and that worried me. Everyone assured me that everything was fine. I didn't want to let her go, ever, She fell asleep on me.

The second day, I woke up to a doctor in my face, telling me that she was having trouble breathing, couldn't regulate her temperature, and that she wasn't urinating. I was so worried about her. I couldn't hold her because ever time she came out of the incubator, her temp. would go down. I had to watch her, aching to hold my baby. Things got worse and worse. I just cried at her incubator all day long. They finally put an IV in her little foot to hydrate her. I left the nursery at 6PM to eat so I could be strong for her. Little did I know that as soon as I left, her systems began to fail. I didn't know what was going on. I sat there for 2 hours, not knowing anything. They told me she was responding, then they told me she was critical. I prayed to God to save my baby. But, a doctor came into my room and said, "We can't save her!" I ran into the nursery, they took all the tubes out of her, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to me. She looked up at me, and died in my arms, 36 hours after her amazing birth. The cause of her death was her heart defect brought on my congenital heart disease. The baby I wanted so badly was gone. I miss her every minute of every day. My heart aches for my little "peanut girl."

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