Missing Sebastian

Our story of stillbirth, grief, and survival.

Our Sebastian.

I know that every parent thinks their child/children is/are the most beautiful. I never really fully understood or appreciated this until I saw Sebastian.

The labour and delivery process are very blurry for me, between being completely numb and detatched, I was on a cocktail of medications that made me sleep the majority of the time. I remember them moving us to the labour and delivery area.
Brian tried to encourage me to eat something, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to, and I fell back asleep.

I’m not sure how long I slept for, when I suddenly woke up and had to be sick. Afterwards, I told Brian that I think this means it’s time. He paged our nurse, who came in to check me and discovered I was fully dilated, it was happening. I remember a mixture of terror and “how am I going to do this?” settling in the pit of my stomach. If not for Brian, I don’t know how I would have ever done it. He was my rock, while trying to grasp his grief and what was happening at the same time.

Down the hall, I could hear another woman in labour, screaming loudly. The OB on call was the only one, and we happened to be delivering at the same time. Our nurse, Betty, was the one that actually delivered Sebastian. I can’t remember if it was just before or just after he was born that we heard the cries of the baby down the hall. It was like someone ripping my ribcage open, slicing my heart each time I heard that baby cry.

It took about 30 minutes of pushing for Sebastian to come. Betty took him to the little newborn weighing station, and cleaned and swaddled him for us, and put a little blue knit hat on his tiny head. She turned around with tears on her cheeks, and told us how beautiful he was. Then she brought him to us, and laid him on my legs. I can still feel the weight of his little body, and the immediate wave of tremendous love and pain somehow mixed into one.

Then, I looked down at him. I think I audibly gasped. There he was, perfect. The most beautiful little boy I’d ever seen. We slowly unwrapped the blanket, to look at his little feet and hands. His plump little belly. The brush of fuzzy blonde hair on his head. I can still smell him when I close my eyes and remember. Brian held him, but I decided not to. To this day I don’t regret it. Feeling him so active for so many months, I couldn’t hold him being so still. I knew I wouldn’t have ever been able to deal with knowing what he felt like in my arms, not like that. I know it would have haunted me.

I don’t know how long we spent, looking down at him, memorizing every part of his face, his fingers and toes. Touching him and trying to figure out what happened. Dreading having to make the decisions about to come.

There was never any question in my mind that we would have him cremated. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being alone in a cemetery somewhere. I cried the whole way home about how terrible I felt that he was going to be alone between the autopsy and the funeral home taking him. It still really bothers me to think of to this day.

The hospital was really good to us. As I’ve said before, our nurse, Betty was amazing. She made sure we were given a memory box for him. A lady or group hand paints these beautiful boxes for families that lose babies/children. Inside it they put a little receiving blanket, a tiny premie sleeper, the hat she had first put on him, the measuring tape that she used to measure him, what would have been his hospital bracelets, the card that would have been on front of the cot he would have had, and a paper with his hand and foot prints on it, as well as the recordings of his weight, measurements, etc. They also put in a few pamphlets about loss and grief, and a schedule for a local grief group. It was a really thoughtful gesture that we really cherish and are so thankful for. I never would have thought to ask to get those things, and I would have later been devastated. Betty also offered to take some photos of him for us with a polaroid camera they had at their nurses station. We decided against it, because we would rather remember him from the ultrasound photos we have. Sometimes I kind of wish we’d taken at least one photo, but in the end, I know we made the right choice for us.

The OB on call when Sebastian was born, I could tell, was unprepared for a stillbirth. We hardly saw him, except to check me now and then, and to deliver my placenta and make sure I wasn’t bleeding or anything. I don’t remember him really spending much or any time talking to us. I don’t blame him, or feel any ill feelings towards him. I’m sure he just had not often dealt with delivering a baby that had died, or perhaps was having a hard time controlling is emotions. Either way, it’s nothing I fault him with.

The funeral home was above and beyond. They offered us any service that we wanted for him, completely free of charge. If we had decided we wanted a burial, they would have given us whatever casket we picked, as well as taken care of running the obituary for us. They were so kind, it really helped to not have to worry about any of those preparations.

Brian and I are very private people. We mostly keep to ourselves, and are often dubbed “shy”. We talked a lot about having a funeral or not. Even though we had decided on cremation, we still toyed with the idea of some sort of ceremony.
In the end, we decided against it. We’re not religious, and we were mourning in our way at the time. However, I’m planning on a memorial this year. Five years to the day that he actually died. I don’t have a lot of plans, yet, but I hope it will come together the way I’m imagining. We’re planning on building our home in the next year or so, and I’m going to look into if we can mix some of his ashes in with a concrete mixture of some kind, to make a walkway to the waterfall at the back of the property. Alas, I digress.

Leaving a hospital without your baby in your arms, is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever mentally endured. My body was telling me I had a baby, and that I needed to feed my baby. Unfortunately, nobody went over engorgement with me, or encouraged me to pump the milk. I now know I could have pumped and donated that milk to the hospital, for preemies or sick babies or for moms who weren’t producing milk. Instead, I spent several days in crazy amounts of pain, sobbing so angrily at my body betraying me like this. It was producing all this milk to care for my baby, my baby that died, that my body let die.

It was a while before we received the autopsy results. All they really told us was that Sebastian was perfectly healthy, developing perfectly. Their best guess based on test results and the cord being tightly wrapped around his neck twice upon delivery, was that blood flow had most likely been cut off. It was a “fluke” thing. Otherwise, if we so decided, we should be able to go on to have healthy, full-term babies. It’s such a bitter-sweet feeling to get some form of answers. We were (and are) eternally grateful that we are able to continue with future healthy pregnancies, but we didn’t want another baby. We wanted our baby, our Sebastian.

And now, having Adelaide, it doesn’t make the hurt or missing Sebastian any less. It just makes it different. That’s kind of how I’ve found this process works. For me, at least. Different. That one little word has brought me so much pain, struggle, strength, and joy in such ways through this journey.

To anyone feeling like the dark days will never end, hold on. You are not alone. Your baby/babies make a difference every day. I won’t patronize you by telling you it won’t hurt forever. But, I will tell you that you can find the strength to go on, and that is the best legacy you can give your child(ren).
And most importantly, be kind to yourself. Grieve whatever way works for you, for as long as it takes for you. It’s okay to be a mess. It’s okay to cry and to hurt, and to miss your baby with everything inside of you. You are not alone.

Rainbow Baby.

When I use the term “Rainbow baby” when I refer to Adelaide, I often have people ask what it means. To me, this poem is the definition.

 

“Rainbow Babies” is the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn’t mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy and hope.”

 

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The problem with waiting for five years to start this blog…

Is how much I have, and want to say, all at once. This is kind of a reminder to myself of the things I’d like to try to talk about this week. With photo help.. heh. Sorry if this is huge, I’m still learning, so thanks for bearing with me. 🙂

I know I had initially planned on continuing Sebastian’s “birth” story in this post, but, I realized I had left a lot out in my previous entries.

My name is Heather. I’m 30 years old, and live in Nova Scotia. Currently I am a homemaker and stay at home mom, to my 21 month old “rainbow baby”, Adelaide.

Aside from struggling most of my life with an anxiety disorder, I’ve always been a pretty easy going type of person. I believe in love and respect for all living creatures. I have a good sense of humour, and it often becomes my “shield” against showing real emotions.

I was not one of those little girls that wants to get married and have babies. As I got older, I often said I never wanted to get married at all. I was much too shy to date in high school, so going into my adult years I had never really seriously dated anyone.
While I always believed in love, and meeting the right person, I didn’t commit myself to actively looking for or focusing on meeting someone. I never really thought I would meet someone that I could be fully comfortable around, and with.

At 22 I decided to apply to University in Halifax, and was accepted. About a month after moving, Brian and I met. We had an instant, intense connection. I know it’s cheesy and cliché, but that night I knew he was the man I wanted to spend my life with.

This is us a few weeks after meeting, I believe the first day or so we “officially” started dating.
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When I became pregnant with Sebastian, we’d been dating for 2.5yrs. We were excited, VERY surprised, scared, everything I assume most parents to be feel.

Around 29 and a half weeks pregnant with Sebastian.
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Here are two images from the “4D” ultrasound we had done.
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The ultrasound techs marvelled at how clear the images were when we had the ultrasound done. He slept the entire time, and I was 30+ weeks pregnant at that point. We have a CD with over 200 amazing images of our sweet boy. We decided against taking photos of him after he was born, because we had these.

I’m not going to get into what I call “Sebastian’s year” of 2008-2009 in this entry, as that’s what I’m going to be mostly talking about very soon. In the late summer of 2009 we became engaged. Brian proposed during a concert to see one of our all time favourite bands, Modest Mouse. They have a song called 3rd Planet, that to us, seems to be about losing a baby/child. “We used to be three, and not just two.”
WARNING : If you look up and decide to listen to this song, there is strong language in it.
We originally set a date in 2010, but ended up pushing it when we found out the “venue” (cabins on the beach in Cape Breton) had a 2 year waiting list.
We set our new date for October 9th, 2011. I like numerically writing the date as day, month, year. So, to me, our anniversary is 9/10/11. 
Brian found this incredible venue for us. It’s an apple orchard, going up one of the mountains (we live in a small valley), looking over the valley. You could see the other mountain across the valley, and the sprawl of trees behind us as the mountain leaned against the sky behind us.
We booked the venue, and a few weeks later I went dress shopping with my mom, dad and sister (who was getting married two months after us!) and found and bought my perfect dress. I had my first dress fitting, measurements taken, etc. With most of the “stress work” finished, we began thinking about decor and a theme.

Not long after booking our venue, and me getting my dress, we had a pretty big surprise… Our wedding was happening just a few weeks before the 3rd anniversary of Sebastian’s death. In the two years following his death, we had tried to conceive on and off the whole time, with no success. Once we set our date we decided to wait until after the wedding to continue trying. Well.. true to the way life works out sometimes, we found out less than a month after I bought my dress that we were going to be having another baby!!

I was seven months pregnant for our wedding, and thankfully had an incredible seamstress that worked magic on my non-maternity wedding dress! Brian did most of our wedding decor himself, made completely by hand! I spent our day being pampered, just happy and excited. Brian and our photographers did such an amazing job, that our wedding was featured in a Canadian wedding blog! Image

We were nervous about Nova Scotia weather and it’s notorious unpredicitability for having an outdoor ceremony, in October. However, we had a gorgeous sunshine filled day. Not a cloud in the sky, 26C and a spectacular sunset to finish things off.Image

We had our ceremony just as the sun began to set behind us, sinking behind the mountain as the valley ahead of us lit up orange, pink and red in the fading light.

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Brian wiping my tears as I made it to him. 

And then, two months later… 

ImageOur beautiful, perfect, Adelaide Bean made her arrival. December 12th, at 11:01PM. She weighed 8lbs 1oz, and came into this world screaming and pinker than any newborn I’ve ever seen! I doubt I’ll ever really find words to express the feeling of seeing and touching her that first time. Even now, writing about it, tears flow. As we held her, and each other that first time, we just sobbed for what felt like hours. I had a c-section, and our team was SO amazing. I’ve heard stories of parents not allowed to hold their baby afterwards, or having to wait hours on end in recovery before being able to nurse. Our O.B. is not only an incredibly talented doctor, he’s a very kind, genuine man. At every pre-natal appointment, he would answer every question or concern we had with patience and compassion. He never made us feel as though we were wasting his time, or that our worries were trivial.
While I was in recovery, he was there as soon as I woke up. He congratulated me, told me how beautiful Adelaide was and how happy he was for us.
My due date for Sebastian had been December 13th, 2008. My O.B. for Adelaide, was the doctor I spoke of in my other entry, that brought the portable ultrasound in with Sebastian. I was 33 weeks into my pregnancy with Sebastian when he died. I hadn’t been to an O.B. yet. I had an appointment scheduled for the Monday previous to when he died, but that doctor had cancelled the appointment and rescheduled it for the Friday after he died. Those are some of the hardest “what if’s” to this day.

I’m sorry this is so all over the place, and probably confusing. Hopefully it will help me keep on track through this week with what I’d like to try to talk about, including the rest of Sebastian’s “birth” story.

I leave off with this photo of Adelaide, from her first birthday party, last December.. my beautiful blue-eyed babe. Every single day I cherish how truly lucky I am.

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Our Story.

Brian and I met in August of 2005. I’d always believed in love at first sight, and the second I saw him, it was pure electricity. In the Spring of 2008 we were living in a small apartment in North End Halifax, when we found out I was pregnant. We were 25, and neither of us were working very stable jobs at the time, so we decided to move back to my home town to get on our feet and prepare for baby to come.

Brian started work pretty much right away, and I worked on the whole being pregnant part of things. Aside from some morning sickness until the 3rd month or so, I felt great and all my tests and every doctors appointment pointed to the baby being healthy.

We weren’t exactly sure on dates, so my doctor had scheduled me in for an ultrasound to find out how far along exactly I was, etc. As it turned out, I was exactly 20 weeks and 1 or 2 days at the ultrasound. The tech didn’t tell us the sex, even though I was pretty sure I saw “boy parts”. The doctor came in after reviewing the images, and said everything looked great, and baby was healthy and measuring perfectly. And VERY active!

The pregnancy progressed normally, I felt great, my belly steadily grew and baby got stronger and stronger. We booked a “4D” ultrasound appointment for October 6th, first thing in the morning. We were so excited to finally for sure find out if it would be a little boy or girl! My mom, sister and brother-in-law came to the appointment with us, and we had Brian’s mom watching online in real time. As soon as they put the “wand” to my belly, there was this perfect, beautiful little baby.

The tech asked if we wanted to know the sex, and when we said yes, she asked what my prediction was. I told her I would be very surprised if she said it was a girl. A second later, she got me to look at the screen and asked what I saw, I looked and sure enough.. it was a boy!!!

As soon as we left, we agreed on his name. Sebastian Beck. Our perfect little boy. Unfortunately only 3 weeks later, our excitement and joy would in an instant turn into a nightmare.

On October 26th, I woke up and noticed that Sebastian didn’t seem to be quite as active as normal. I didn’t think too much of it, since he’d had a growth spurt a day or two before, and I’m quite petite, so I assumed he was starting to get pretty cramped in there. I was only six weeks away from my due date, after all. Through the day, he was moving a bit, but still not much compared to what was normal. By that evening I was starting to get a bit nervous, but shook it off as “first time nerves”, and assured myself that I had felt him moving through the day on and off, I had no pain or bleeding, everything is probably fine.

The next morning I woke up, and there was no movement. It immediately struck me, because most mornings we woke up to him kicking Brian’s back through my belly. Even though I was worried, I talked to my mom and decided we would wait for a bit to see if he was just still asleep or something. By that afternoon, I hadn’t felt him move at all. I started to get panicked, so we decided to go to the E.R.

They took Brian and I back to a room as soon as the nurse finished her initial checking my vitals and everything. She brought out the doppler, but told us not to be nervous if she couldn’t find his heartbeat because she wasn’t very good with it. At the time I accepted this, still clinging to hope that everything was okay and he was just asleep or in an awkward position. 

She brought out the jelly, put some to my belly, then touched the doppler to it… Nothing but my pounding heart. In that second, I knew it was bad. Very, very bad. Even when I was hardly showing, the doppler immediately would pick up the strong “woosh woosh woosh” of his little heart beating away. The nurse kept trying to reassure us that she just wasn’t any good with the doppler, but I could see the look of fear on her face.

Brian and I waited, and waited, and waited, for about an hour (it felt like a year) until the doctor finally came in. He tried giving us some reassurances that maybe he was just positioned inwards, etc. etc. After he unsuccessfully tried for several minutes to find his heartbeat. It was now around 10PM in the evening, on a Sunday, and he told us that he would schedule an ultrasound for first thing in the morning. 

Somehow I held it together until we got to the waiting room and met up with my mom. Gulping through sobs I told her they couldn’t find his heartbeat, and that we had to wait until the morning for an ultrasound. She replied with something along the lines of “screw that” and called another hospital when we got to her house, that told us to come right in.

It was uncommonly warm for the end of October, and it was a very dark, windy and rainy night. I remember thinking how fitting it seemed, on the 30 minute drive to the hospital. Watching the wind lash against the trees, ripping away leaves, making them dance across the ground and through the air. That’s how I felt, completely out of control, about to be broken and blown through the air, not knowing when/how/if I’ll ever land. Wondering how I could ever survive being so tattered and torn.

When we arrived at the hospital, they immediately took me into the labour and delivery area and hooked a monitor up to my large belly. The young nurse instantly said “there he is!” a wave of relief rushed over me, even though in the back of my mind I still felt like something wasn’t right. I can only hear one heartbeat on the monitor, if that’s him, where’s mine? After several minutes another nurse came in, and said it was my heartbeat, not his it was picking up. She moved it around for a bit, trying to find anything. Still nothing. I don’t remember what she said, if anything. I just remember it being me, Brian and my mom and finally blurting out that I knew he was dead.

I don’t remember much of a time line at this point. Everything seemed to move very quickly, yet slowly and in a haze. An O.B. came in, with a portable ultrasound to check things out. After a few minutes, he told us it didn’t look good, but he wasn’t prepared to “call” anything until they did a full ultrasound, and they would call the tech in right then. (This was now 1 or 2AM) I knew he was gone, though. I knew this was a formality, before they can actually tell us that he’s gone.

I couldn’t look at the screen when we finally went to the ultrasound room. I don’t remember who told us there was no heartbeat, I don’t remember who or when they actually said he was gone. I just remember simultaneously feeling like someone sucked the air completely from my lungs, while punching me in the stomach.

We made arrangements for me to come in the next afternoon, so I could be induced. I think numbness is the only way to really describe how we got through that night. My mom hardly left the hospital, as well as my sister, who came in from Halifax. As well as Brian’s parents from Cape Breton, later that day. They had me on a cocktail of drugs, so the time in the hospital is largely a blur for me. They started the induction medication Monday the 27th at 4PM or so, and I delivered Sebastian at 11:14PM on the 28th.

The doctor wasn’t in much through the delivery, it was actually Brian and our nurse that delivered him. We were so lucky to have a nurse like Betty with us through the delivery and everything. She spent a lot of time just talking with us, and was so genuine and kind. That Christmas she sent us a card to tell us that she was thinking of us, and that we inspired her and she admired us a lot. It really meant, and means a lot that she thought about us and Sebastian, and took the time to send us that card.

Since this is a long enough post as it is now, I’ll continue on with Sebastian’s delivery story in my next post.

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A prologue, of sorts.

I’ve been thinking so much about starting this blog, for a long time now. Now that I’m “here”, I’m nervous to start.

It’s very difficult for me to really open up to people, especially when it comes to my true emotions. At the best of times it can be difficult to really open yourself up to another person, but when it’s potentially to both strangers and those I know and love, it’s more than a little terrifying.

However, my need to talk about Sebastian, far outweighs any fears. Even though for a short time, he did exist. He was special. He is loved. He is remembered, and missed.

If in telling our story, I’m also able to help someone else that has lost a child, or better helped someone understand what someone that has is possibly feeling, or give someone hope, I will truly be honouring our sons memory.