Seventeen years ago, our daughter started to Kindergarten. Her P.E. teacher was expecting a baby, but about five months she went into preterm labor. The little girl was born alive, but passed away a few hours later. I thought to myself, "That would be the hardest thing to go through".
That next summer, my sister had her first child, a little boy. While we were at the hospital visiting, there was a huge family out in the waiting room. Many of the family members were crying. We found out that the full term baby they were waiting on had died. Their family member was delivering a baby that wasn't alive. I thought to myself, "That would be the hardest thing to go through."
A few years later, in the spring of 2001, a friend told me of a family with four children who lived in West Texas. One of their children was swimming in a neighborhood pool and accidentally drowned. She had heard from a friend of hers about the little boy's funeral. Those in attendance were given helium-filled balloons that were released at the end of the memorial service. My friend, who had a little brother pass away when she was little, always remembered blue carnations from his funeral. She talked about how that visual memory was still so vivid in her mind. We both talked about children and death and how that would be "the hardest thing" as a parent, but how it might help in the grieving process to make the service "personalized" in some way. I really liked the balloon idea and told her so.
At that time, we had three living children, ages 7, 5, and 3, and we were expecting the fourth child - due December 12, 2001. The same doctor had delivered the first three children, but he had "retired" from delivering at that time, so I had to change to a new one. The new doctor was nice, but not as personal. He had a more military-style demeanor that I wasn't really used to, but he seemed very thorough. At one appointment, the nurse took some blood and later mentioned that it was some kind of test for abnormalities. I had never done any of those kinds of tests before. I never wanted to because I knew I wouldn't do anything if something happened to be wrong with one of our babies. Healthy or unhealthy, disabled or not - it wouldn't matter to us. But, the test was done and I didn't realize what was being done until afterwards. I thought, "Oh, well. It won't matter. It's just a test."
We went out of town on a business trip vacation for a week, but when we arrived back home, I had a message from the doctor. They needed me to call for an appointment. I did and was told that the alpha fetal protein level was higher than normal and I needed to go in for more testing. I was transferred to a doctor who specialized in problem pregnancies and was to see her the next day.
The morning before that appointment, I sat down to pray and read the Bible. I randomly opened it to a passage. I'm not sure which book (it could have been one of four) in the Old Testament I turned to, but I know that the first thing I saw was the name, "Caleb". We weren't sure if we were having a boy or a girl, but we knew if it was a boy, the middle name would for sure be "Trent". We had been thinking of Caleb for the first name.
Joe and I went to the appointment and Dr. "L" did some tests. During that appointment, because of the longer ultrasound needed to check for problems, we went ahead found out that we were having a little boy. We were excited! Our family would be one girl, then three boys. (Our daughter cried. She was wanting a sister!) Everything seemed fine to Dr. "L", but she told us that with the AFP level being abnormal, the chances of the baby being born with some sort of defect was almost certain. We were concerned, of course, but knew everything would be okay, even if our baby had a disability. We were prayerful that everything would be okay. The next appointment was scheduled for a month later, on August 2.
On the Sunday evening of July 28, our young adult group from church had a devotional. At the end of the devotional, a special prayer was said for us, for our baby, and for his health. That was such a special time being with Christian friends and knowing they were praying about our precious little one and for God to strengthen us for what we were going to be facing in the next few months.
All summer long I had been craving BLT sandwiches. It was a strange craving to me! Different from the watermelon (#1), milk shakes/ice cream (#2), and Chinese food (#3) that were cravings the first three times! At 20 1/2 weeks, I had gained a lot more weight with this pregnancy that I had with any of the other three. I also didn't feel quite as good, but thought that was more because of the extra weight and the fact that I was older.
The week of that appointment the kids and I went to Edmond, OK, to stay with my husband's brother and our sister-in-law and their kids. I noticed that week that I hadn't felt the baby move as much and even commented about it to a friend who stopped by to visit while we were there. On the day of August 2nd, the kids and I loaded up the van. We were headed home, but stopping in Lawton for my checkup. The kids were hungry, so we stopped at Sonic for lunch. Since I had been craving BLT's for a while, I ordered one, but noticed something strange - I wasn't craving them. I just ordered it because I had been eating them lately.
We drove about an hour to the doctor's appoint. My husband met me there and my mom also came and took the kids shopping during the appointment. The nurse began to do the normal things before the doctor came in. As she tried to check the babies heartbeat, she couldn't detect it. She tried again. Still nothing. She left. They moved me to another room to do an ultrasound. Dr. "L" checked for a heartbeat and movement. Nothing. She told me she there was no heartbeat. I said, "I'm not surprised."
Just to be certain, Dr. "L" ordered an amniocentesis. It proved what she thought and what we also believed. Our little baby had died. At 20 1/2 weeks, our precious little boy was gone. And then I realized something that had been a fear of mine...something that I never thought I could ever do: I was going to have to delivery a baby that wasn't alive.
Dr. "L" wanted me to take a day or two and go home. She said I could come back when I was ready and be admitted to the hospital for the delivery. I didn't want to wait. I wanted to go to the hospital right then. As strange as it seems, it was like I had been preparing for that day - or rather GOD had been preparing me for that day - for a long time.
We called my mom and she brought the kids to us. We talked to them and told them what was going on. She took them home with her and she and my dad took care of them during that time. Our preacher and his wife came to the hospital and stayed with us the entire time. They helped us so much and it was comforting to have someone there with us during the hours we were waiting for the delivery to begin. We all cried together and at times we were even able to laugh together. When little Caleb Trent was delivered, it was very, very different than from all the other births, of course. He was stillborn on August 3, 2002. He was so tiny - only 10 ounces. He was tiny, but very perfect. In fact, he looked like our youngest son, Jacob.
The only thing that the doctor noticed was that the umbilical cord was small. In fact, at the end by his tummy, it was only about the diameter of a toothpick. She explained that there are amniotic bands, which are kind of like rubber bands. Occasionally those bands wrap around fingers, hands, arms (see this post for more about amniotic band problems concerning our nephew). Sometimes the bands sever a digit. It appeared that the amniotic band wrapped around the umbilical cord, restricting the food supply and eventually cutting it off completely.
After the delivery, the four of us had a prayer together over our son. Our friends left. I know they must have been exhausted. The hospital staff made this extremely difficult time very special for us in many ways. They gave us lots of time to hold Caleb. They filled a little sea shell with plaster Paris and made a cast with Caleb's hand prints and footprints. An organization provides a little gown for stillborn babies and he was dressed in the gown. The nurses took pictures for us and gave us the disk. I hadn't seen those pictures since that time until a few weeks ago. I was looking in a drawer for something and came across two pictures. My daughter was sitting there and I said, "Those pictures are of Caleb." She said, "I don't want to see them, Mom." Maybe someday she will, but maybe not. It's okay if she never does.
The next few hours were extremely difficult. It was hard to let him go when the man from the funeral home came. I was suppose to carry my baby out of the hospital, not someone else. The nurses couldn't understand how we were so strong while waiting for the delivery. They were expecting us to be unable to cope, I suppose. Then after delivery, they were so careful when I was moved to the post-partum room. They didn't want us to hear the bells ring when a baby was born. They didn't want us to hear babies crying. But, we wanted to and we told them so! We wanted to know that babies were being born alive and healthy! It didn't cause us pain. It gave us hope!
The first place we went after we left the hospital was Walmart. I don't remember why, but I did want to buy a little tiny baby doll. I wanted it to show our children about how small Caleb was. I thought it would help them understand just how tiny and fragile he was. Purchasing that doll was extremely hard. Being in Walmart itself was hard.
The next difficult thing was going to the funeral home. The man who helped us with the planning also went to church with us, so it was difficult for him, too. I remember saying to him, "I can't believe I am sitting here doing what I'm doing." After that, I busied myself with planning the service. I've mentioned in a previous post how I've thought about my own funeral. This service, as short as it was, was very planned. It helped me to plan it - that's just my personality. I felt like I was doing something for my child as his mother. It was something I needed to do for me.
Caleb Trent's memorial service was held on Monday, August 6. We had a grave-side service followed by a family meal, which provided by our church family. The cemetery plot we chose had a mimosa tree across from it, which provided shade on that morning. Our children were given helium-filled balloons, which were released at the end of the service.
During that time, God proved to me (even more) that His promises are true. He showed me that I could get through something that I feared before, something that I thought I could never be able to go through. But, I was only able to go through what I did because of the strength He gave me.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1
In March of 2002, we found out we were expecting again. The baby was due in December, just as Caleb had been. It was a perfect pregnancy without complications. Tyler James (a.k.a. Biscuit) was born on December 5th, 2002, healthy and perfect.
We all look forward to seeing Caleb Trent again some day in Heaven, but for now we know he is healthy and happy and whole. God's plan for Caleb was different than what I had planned. But, God is in control and I'm not. And, unlike before, I don't ever think about what I "could never handle" or what would be the "hardest thing to go through". God is able to give me the strength that I could never have on my own and for that, I'm extremely grateful.