December 13, 2016: still birth
Gestational age: 41 weeks
Date Senna died: December 12, 2016
Parents: Hannah and Scott
Siblings: Unnamed (miscarriage), Cyan age 1 year
Senna Lynn was, and still is, everything I imagined and so much more. When I saw her for the first time, absent of a heart beat but yet still warm from the confines of my womb, it’s like all of the story lines in my life came together. It was as if I had known her all my life. She was mine, and I was hers. I was awestruck by the overwhelming sense of love I felt for this tiny person who never even took a breath. I recall crying out, “I made this!” over and over as I held her as high as I could, her feet (which look just like mine) still touching my chest. I went from telling my husband and my midwives I didn’t want to hold her to demanding her the second I felt her slide out of the birth canal with that one final push. People can tell you what it can be like when you first meet your child and how your heart grows when you become a parent, but you just don’t know until you know.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let me rewind.
I can still feel the hope and excitement that I carried throughout my pregnancy with Senna. Pregnancy is far from my favorite thing, and I’m not one to feel an immense attachment. I call myself a human incubator, walking around outside in negative temperatures without a coat and complaining about my back. But still, there was a magic. Scott and I were on the seams of life changing forever, and we knew it. We were about to experience something we had waited for for so long and felt more ready than ever. I posted weekly updates, invited anyone who would listen to read my most private thoughts, and took in every second we could.
And then… it was all over.
There are a lot of details I could tell you. I could go over the three weeks of active prodromal labor I experiences and what I bitch I was to everyone around. I could talk about writing my final college paper bouncing on the birthing ball between contractions. I could write about how the midwife commented on how calm I was as she rushed me up the stairs of the hospital, but that’s not really important.
What’s important is that the Hannah who once was ceased to exist moment that doctor looked at me and told me there was no heartbeat. I closed my eyes, hoping to solder them shut, and screamed a scream so gruesome and primal everyone who was waiting on the other side of the triage curtain was gone by the time I came to. I didn’t even ask the doctor if she was sure, I just knew. All of the machines, doctors, and hospital staff had left the room and it was just me, my husband, and my midwife. I went from “I’m going to have a c-section” to “I am going to die.” Because when all hope is lost, how can you even imagine surviving day to day life, let alone labor and delivery of you full term infant who is also dead?
I remember staring at my bloated, pregnant belly in the mirror of the bathroom wondering how I could ever learn to love myself with my new stretch marks and forever changed body without having a baby to ooh and ahh over. I remember being absolutely repulsed by the idea that there was a dead person inside of me and just wanting it all to be over, but being unwilling to have a c-section, because the last thing I wanted was to lose even more control.
When it comes to Senna’s labor, I don’t remember as much as I once did. I wish I would have had the heart and mind to write it all out two years ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it then. I remember the panic attack I had when they started to place my epidural. This was real, this was happening, and I somehow had to find the strength. It was too much. I remember so many things that were going wrong, but I remember how many things went right. I remember the love everyone in the room had for one another in those moments. No matter where I stand with any of my birth supporters now, what transpired in that room between us felt sacred. I remember still managing to laugh, smile and joke throughout it all. When the social worker came in somewhere during my 12th hour of labor, she told us the nurses were flabbergasted by our sense of humor in the wake of such a tragedy. I responded with, “We are going to have to do this, so we were going to make sure we make memories in the process.”
And for what it was, the labor and delivery of Senna was good. So good. In those moments, I felt supported and loved more than I felt scared. None of us knew what to expect, but once she was here I was eager to share her with anyone willing. So I did.
Everyone had their chance to hold her and make their own memories. In those moments I thought they were doing me a favor by still loving my daughter even though she was dead but now, I know better. I know that every second we allowed someone else to hold Senna and relish in every detail we could think to check in those fleeting was a gift I gave to them. I know that no matter how much those people loved Senna, they are not her parents. Thought they might be closer to it than any layman, they are not us and do not live our reality.
And then, after less then two hours, we called the nurse in to ask us for direction on what to do. Senna was changing fast. Her skin was starting to peel off and her bruising was becoming more apparent. I was facing death head on, in ways I never had before, and I was overwhelmed. Due to the lack of proper training and guidance hospital staff receive on how to supporting grieving families during these sensitive times, it was suggested we say goodbye.
As I write that sentence, I grow angry. I’m crying now. I know everyone will look back on their experience and have things they wish had gone differently. I know hindsight is 20/20 and no matter what lengths hospital staff go to, parents are still going to go home without their baby. But I didn’t even bathe her. Or think to tell her I love her. Or dress her. It’s so unjust. I stay up at night and think about it sometimes. It haunts me, really. I let her go, and I never got her back. How could her mother let her go and not know these things?
I try not to beat myself up. I didn’t know then what I didn’t know now. I didn’t even know how I was going to manage to be a person anymore, let alone how to set myself up with as many memories and mementos as possible to ease the gaping void in my heart. I looked to others to know better, but they didn’t. And now I suffer more than necessary because of it.
I don’t know what to write anymore, this is really hard. This really hurts.
After the nurse made her suggestion and explained the process, we all said goodbye and I handed her body to my husband. He placed her in the cold bassinet. I watched her be wheeled out of the room, and I never saw her again. Me, a mother, never saw her baby again. Let that sink into your bones.
She is so powerful, though. Just because I never saw her again doesn’t mean she ceased to exist. She has inspired so much. I am the parent I am because of her. I’m not trying to put a positive spin on this tragic story, I’m just being honest.
There has been so much heartache and suffering in the wake of Senna dying. My husband and I, and our families, struggle every day to cope. I love a both of my children with that special kind of love every day, and everyday one of them isn’t here.
But she is loved. And loving her… I wouldn’t trade that for much (except maybe having her alive).
This story feels so raw and unfinished, and I don’t think anything could express it better.