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"Remembering Our Babies:" To the ones we've lost

Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2006
By Mike Shellito
Special to the Free Press

For most parents, pregnancy is a time of excitement and joy, full of expectations and wonder. How often do you hear of the "glow" of a pregnant woman? Of course there are always inconveniences associated with a pregnancy, but soon after the birth of your child, all you remember are the high points.

This is a sad story to remind everyone of the unfortunate events that sometimes occur -- a story that explains how certain words or phrases, a TV show, or conversations can unsuspectingly resurrect the feelings of loss and sorrow. Oct. 15 (Sunday) is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, "Remember Our Babies."

My wife, Evelyne, was eight-months pregnant with our first child, and we were traveling to a friend's out-of-state wedding. On the way, we suspected something was not right; we had not felt the baby move. We had been told this was not necessarily a bad sign: As the baby grows and the due date gets closer, there is less room for the baby to move. We tried the usual tricks -- drinking cold water, taking sugar -- to get the baby to move -- with no luck, so we went to the local hospital. The staff there said they could hear the baby's heartbeat. Assured everything was fine, we proceeded to the wedding.

We were still concerned, so upon returning to Burlington, we went to Fletcher Allen Health Care. There, we received the devastating news: Our baby had died. "Fetal demise" is the term they use -- it sounds so cold.

You cannot imagine the feeling of having to induce labor and give birth to a baby you know has died unless you have experienced it. After delivery, we were in the same wing as all other post-delivery mothers. (Please note: That is the only place where they have the experienced staff to take care of patients who have just delivered children.) Walking down to the kitchen area to get some water, I would see the other proud fathers; they would ask "boy or girl," and I would have to put on a smile for them and proudly say I have a baby girl.

Going home from the hospital with photos of us holding Marianne, the blanket in which she was wrapped, and her inked footprints and handprints, but without her -- nothing has been harder.

Local support groups helped us through this devastating time. People don't know what to say to those who have been through this ordeal. Some people say nothing because they don't know what to say. Some people say the wrong thing, but we know they mean well and don't hold it against them. And, sometimes the most surprising people say the most perfect thing.

A few months later, my wife was pregnant again. Looking back, we should have waited longer, as we were not fully recovered from our loss. The complete cause of our stillbirth was never determined. Placenta abruption -- the placenta separated from the uterine wall -- occurred, but doctors do not know why this happened. Needless to say, this next pregnancy was the most strenuous eight months of our lives.

Everything was fine until the sixth month of pregnancy. Sudden bleeding resulted in an express trip to the hospital. After quick tests reassuring us the baby was fine, more extensive tests were undertaken to determine the bleeding's cause. The diagnosis was with vasa previa. This is a potentially devastation condition where blood vessels within the placenta or the umbilical cord are trapped between the fetus and the birth canal's opening. If a prenatal diagnosis is not made, the infant mortality rate is extremely high.

A second episode of bleeding a couple weeks later forced another trip to the hospital. After the third trip, my wife was admitted to the hospital for the duration of her pregnancy.

Reaching the milestone in the pregnancy where we lost Marianne was extremely difficult. We knew firsthand how quickly things can go wrong. At just less than 36 weeks, my wife underwent an emergency Cesarean section. Some of the same nurses who were on-duty during our stillbirth were on-hand almost a year later. In a strange way, this was extremely comforting for both of us. What was most touching was the nurses remembered us. I guess they see so much joy in their line of work; it's the tragedies that stand out more for them.

Our daughter, Christina, is now a healthy 3-year-old. When someone loses a child, you can't say "You're young; you can have another one." You cannot replace one child with another. Marianne is a part of our life, even though we only held her in our arms in death; she is our daughter and Christina's sister.

"Remember Our Babies" was created to provide support, education and awareness for those who are suffering or may know someone who has suffered a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy, a stillbirth, or the loss of an infant. To all others out there that have lost your babies, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Mike Shellito lives in South Burlington.