This story was written by Melissa Harness, who has suffered through five miscarriages. She has carried eight pregnancies, given birth to three healthy children, and lost five angels. She wants to tell her story to “give a voice to all those that have suffered in silence behind closed doors … who have hid their tears and tried to put a smile on their face when they just want to collapse.”
“We need to normalize loss and grief, ” Melissa says. “We shouldn’t be hidden away or forced to deal with this. We all grieve differently and we need to openly support each other in these times of loss.”
I said positive affirmations. I had more people praying for us than I can even count. This baby defied all the odds. You were so strong. We were told we would lose you so many times, but each time you proved that wrong. Each time my love grew stronger and I knew you’d make it through … until the day I knew you wouldn’t.
At our ultrasound appointment, we heard a tiny heart beating 119 times a minute. The moment the sound came on, I burst into tears. I couldn’t even hold the phone steady to record video for Eddie since he was unable to get off work. The nurse so kindly took my phone and helped me. I was overwhelmed with joy. The sweet sound of your beating heart made it all worth it. Loss after loss after loss. After three losses, we had Bryson, so we know it’s possible to conceive a healthy child. But why all the losses. We were told to come back in a few weeks for a repeat ultrasound. The yolk sac was still measuring large but maybe it would go away in a few weeks. We waited … the waiting is horrible. You dwell on the what ifs, you push yourself to remain positive and go about your normal life. Be a good mom to the other kids, be a good wife, go to work, put a smile on your face, but inside you’re a wreck. Loss changes you. Each loss has changed me differently. I proceeded to our repeat ultrasound on Monday, May 6, 2019. I had Bryson with me. Eddie had to work.
I purchased a baby giraffe with a heartbeat recorder the day before the appointment. Eddie hadn’t had the opportunity to hear our baby’s heart beating due to work conflicts. They pointed out the baby and were able to pick up a beat here and there, nothing consistent. I knew that moment that something wasn’t right. We made excuses, trying to hold on to the hope we had been given. This was an abdominal ultrasound … I’m early … my bladder wasn’t full … The sonographer was either picking my heart beat up (not sure if that’s possible), or picked up the last few beats of our baby’s heart as he/she faded away.
Onto the repeat ultrasound. As we waited an hour after our appointment time, we were finally brought into the dimly lit room where the fate of our baby would be revealed. Ugh, my stomach was in knots. I sat Bryson on the chair next to the bed. I undressed from the waist down and covered up with a sheet. Early ultrasounds are usually done vaginally. I looked forward to a clearer picture of our baby, and I grabbed the recorder so I was ready when we listened to the heart. My heart was beating so fast, my eyes fixated on the screen as I waited. Nothing. The blood flow was showing up, but not inside the uterus. There was no flicker. She tried and tried. She gave me a smile and told me the doctor would be in. I feel sorry for those girls. It must be so tough to see those things. I didn’t shed a tear. I knew it was coming. The doctor came in holding my chart close to her and told me, “I’m afraid I don’t have good news.” I told her we expected this at some point. We were instructed to head to the birthing center to discuss our next steps with the midwives. We were greeted with the familiar faces who had helped me through Bryson’s birth, and had been there for our last miscarriage a year ago in March. Hugs. They helped. I still was in shock? Maybe? I hadn’t cried yet. A script for Cytotec was called in, and I was instructed on what to expect. The next few days were not going to be easy. I walked out to my car and called work to tell them I’d need to take off and get through this at home. Severe cramping, backache, heavy bleeding and passing tissue was not going to happen at my job. Not to mention the emotional trauma of going through this. As I prepared to leave the hospital parking lot, I caught a glance of my pregnant belly … ugh.
You were there, then you weren’t anymore. I put my hand on my belly and cried. I didnt think I’d ever stop. I cried for the pain my heart was feeling. I cried because I heard your heart beating. I cried because I just didn’t understand God’s plan. Why??!!! Why give us hope just to take it away!? Bryson kept asking, “Mommy, what’s wrong? Why you cry?” I just kept telling him, “I’m OK.” But I wasn’t. I texted Eddie. No words can describe the feelings you go through. Finally, after we settled in at home, and decided to start the process. Mom picked up Carter and we got Bryson some toys to distract him. I went into the bathroom and stared at the three little white pills that would bring this journey to an end. I cried more. I can’t believe it’s over. Just like that your gone. Another loss … my new number is five. Five angels in heaven. I used to look back on my patients’ charts and feel so bad when I would see a mama pregnant six, seven, eight times and (with) maybe one child … how could they go on? How did they do it?? Here I stand … eight pregnancies … three children … five angels. I took a deep breath, said a little prayer asking God for peace and comfort and inserted the pills.
I walked out and sat on the couch awaiting my worst fears. Eddie and I watched TV, talked, tried to pass the time. After only a few short hours my back started to ache. Soon after, the cramping started. It became more intense. I couldn’t sit still, a heating pad wasn’t helping, so I went into the bathroom to sit in a tub of warm water. As I undressed, I felt something warm trickle down my leg … I heard drops hit the floor. My hell was beginning.
I sat in the bath for quite some time. It eased the cramping and pain. When I stood up to get out, another gush as I lowered myself to sit on the toilet. Large clots had fallen out. To look or not to look. I was scared to see my baby, formed … forever imprinted in my memory. Just clots and nothing more … that’s all I saw. I cleaned myself up best I could and got dressed. We went to bed soon after. I was up and down numerous times through the night. One big gush soaked through my clothing and onto the bed … a reminder this morning of what will never be.
I got up and showered again. More gushes, more clots … more feelings of sadness and confusion. With the others I had D and Cs (dilation and curettage) … I went to sleep, I woke up and besides a small amount of spotting, it was over. It was hard emotionally but nothing like this. I opted to go this route. This was my choice. I had an assignment (optional, luckily) due last night. I couldn’t do it … I couldn’t even think straight.
The process continued until my uterus was completely empty. The fullness in my belly that I so eagerly embraced was now fading away slowly. My breasts hurt. I know what’s next. No one prepared me with our first loss. My milk came in. A few days after our loss, I woke up to find my T-shirt soaked. My body knows I had the baby, but it doesn’t know they passed. My body is still trying to produce milk and nourish my baby. I relive the trauma of my loss as my body takes the steps to care for my little one. I’ll go through this again. People have asked me so many times, “When will you stop? When will you say enough is enough and quit putting yourself through this!?” To you, this is my answer: “We have Bryson. We know what God can do. We believe in miracles. We have one running around our house right now. We aren’t giving up. Our journey has taken a long time and been so very hard, but if we are meant to have another child it will happen.”
I’m just focusing on breathing today. Trying to take in what has happened and move forward. Trying not to let this lost feeling consume me. Trying not to feel broken in this mess. A friend recently told me that the God of the Mountain is also the God of the Valley … so very true. I will lean on him in these times of frustration and sadness. We aren’t meant to understand … you just have to have faith. I sit here on the couch writing this … using this as my therapy to work through the loss of my baby. I’m searching for a tattoo in memory of all the babies we have lost along the way. When I find the right one and it’s the right time, I’ll know. For right now, I just have to breathe and trust in God. Thank you to everyone that has been a part of this journey with us. We can’t thank you enough for all your kind words, prayers, thoughts and so on. We will get through this, too. One day at a time. Fly high sweet angel, mommy and daddy will see you again one day.
Oh boy, where do I even begin this story? I guess at the beginning … or maybe even a little before Mr. Dreyer was in the making. Early in 2016, Darson and I had determined we were ready to take on the next chapter of our lives: parenthood. We began actively trying to get pregnant in May 2016. Fast Forward nine months and that dreaded little pee stick finally had two lines … PREGNANT!
Those nine months were exciting at first, thinking about making a baby, having fun with that week window, and dreaming of how we’d announce our pregnancy to everyone. But then as any couple who has had trouble getting pregnant knows, with every negative pregnancy test comes the letdown, the fear, the sadness. I know our story ended with a happy, healthy little boy and not everyone’s does. To those of you whose story hasn’t ended in such a way, my heart goes out to you, and I can’t begin to try to understand how you feel.
As we neared the nine-month mark of no pregnancy, we began the steps of infertility testing. Me, always the worry wart, feared the worst. Darson, always the positive one, wasn’t worried. We had Darson checked out … swimmers are good to go, wahoo!
I had a hysterosalpingogram, a test for blocked fallopian tubes, which by the way is super painful. They tell you it’s going to feel like period cramping … ugh no … it’s like a knife in your gut! Anyway, thankfully everything was normal so we didn’t pursue any further testing or interventions at this time. We were told that the hysterosalpingogram sometimes increased the chance of pregnancy because it opens up and clears out your tubes.
During that next cycle, I was trying to be patient and wait to pee on a stick until I had more of a likelihood for it to show positive, but if you’ve been in my shoes you know it’s so hard to wait. So one day, even though it was early in the process, I had this feeling like maybe I should take a test today. It wasn’t even early morning or my first pee of the day. I decided what the heck and took the test. My heart skipped a beat as I saw that first positive. The second line was so faint I almost didn’t believe it. I snapped a picture of it and sent it to my friend, Ashley. She agreed with me that there was a second line! I can’t even explain to you how excited I was, but also very nervous and trying not to get my hopes up, which was next to impossible. Ashley offered to bring me another test after she got off work. I think I ended up taking three tests that day.
Finally pregnant … now what? I wanted to wait to tell my husband for his birthday. I spent the day looking up fun ideas on Pinterest of how to tell him. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t wait. I ended up running to the store before he got home to get a baby photo frame, wrote a note on it: “Baby Grantham Coming Fall 2017,” and put it on the table with another note that said, “Happy early birthday, Daddy.” When he got home that night, I videotaped him coming into the house. I had little notes with silly hints posted as he came in the door. Seeing his face and the tears of joy in his eyes as he realized what it was all about made me so incredibly happy! One of the many precious moments to come.
Ohhhhh pregnancy … I have a love/hate relationship with you. It was the most incredible, worst, hardest, most amazing thing I have experienced in life. I was super sick for the first four months and had to take medication until 18 weeks just so I wouldn’t throw up all day. One of my many memorable vomit experiences was while driving down I-80. I had just dropped a friend off and was headed home when I started to get that feeling … you know the one … I tried to pull off the interstate, but I didn’t make it off the off-ramp before … yep, there it came in all its glory as I’m pulling up the off-ramp to a stop light. Thank goodness I had a large cup in the cup holder, that caught most of it, and my lap the rest. Ugh!
People kept telling me, “Oh, you forget the sickness. You won’t even remember how bad it was.” Wrong people, wrong. I remember all too well! Those days I didn’t feel like I could go on, laying on the floor telling Hayden, my one-year-old niece whom I babysat daily, I was so sorry I couldn’t play with her because I couldn’t lift my head up. Don’t get me wrong it’s SO worth it, but I haven’t forgotten how hard it was.
Pregnancy is also the most amazing thing I’ve ever done and experienced. There is nothing in the world like hearing that heartbeat for the first time. I remember being so nervous as we went in for our nine-week appointment. I was a wreck until I heard that heartbeat come up. It was funny because I automatically let out a sigh and the ultrasound tech heard me and said, “Ah, we can all relax now.” She read my mind. And then when you start to feel those little baby movements, hiccups, kicks and rolls inside your belly. There are literally no words I can use to explain the crazy, weird, awesomeness. I know it’s cliche, but pregnancy truly is a miracle.
I knew early on in this pregnancy that I wanted to do things, as we do most things in our lives, a little outside the norm. I knew there would be some controversy if we chose to do what I call “hippie things” such as having a home birth, using a midwife, encapsulating my placenta, choosing not to circumcise, and not vaccinating, but what I didn’t realize is that I would receive such aggressive personal attacks.
Sidenote: I refer to myself and these things as “hippie” because to me, that word signifies living outside the box and not allowing society to dictate life decisions without being fully educated.
This controversy and the personal attacks fueled my passion to learn as much as I could about all of these things, educating myself on the pros and cons of both sides of all these topics, and being vocal about our decisions in an effort to educate others and bring light to all of the choices women have that most don’t even realize.
I could talk all day about the things I learned and why I’m so passionate about the holistic, natural-care route that we chose, but that’s for another day. What I will say is that I am so grateful that we found our midwife, Dana Ericson, doula, Virginia Traxler, and the close-knit community here in Des Moines that focuses on holistic care. There have been so many awesome resources sent our way from connecting with this community from our birth class instructor, Amy Brooks-Murphy, to our lactation consultant who saved us on Dreyer’s Day 2, Angela Swieter. It has been an incredibly supportive community and we feel so lucky to have found it.
Now to the good stuff: the birth! I thought pregnancy was the most incredible, worst, hardest, most amazing thing I had experienced in life, but then came giving birth!
Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, 40 Weeks pregnant. The planning was done, the prepping was complete, but no sign of baby. I had the list of supplies tucked neatly away in a laundry basket in Dreyer’s room. We had gotten all of our midwife’s medical supplies and tucked them away in our bedroom corner. Everyone knew our plan and was ready for our all-natural home birth.
As we patiently (most of the time) awaited our little one’s arrival any day now, this mama tried every wives’ tale and trick in the book to try and get things moving. I ate an irrational amount of dates and pineapple, had awkward sex (I mean, come on, if you’ve had sex at 40 weeks pregnant, there is just no other way to describe it), went for long walks, ate spicy foods and jalapeños, rested, chiropractic, acupuncture, you name it and I probably did it. My decision is that these are exactly like they are named: tales. Like fairy tales. They’re just not true and they don’t work!
Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, I had another uneventful day of relaxing, baking cookies, and waiting for the babe. I was 40+4 weeks gestation, and in all honesty, I still felt great. I decided to go to the chiropractor in the afternoon and then I went for a walk around a nearby lake. I walked the entire way, just over 2 miles, in hopes that it would put me into labor. Well, it did … sort of. I began having some mild contractions during my walk. I assumed they would stop after I had rested for a time as they had in the past so I didn’t get too excited. I sent my husband off alone to teach our Financial Peace University class that evening and I rested on the couch.
The contractions continued through the evening, and by the time my husband got home, I was certain that this was the beginning of early labor! I sent off a message to my midwife, doula, and photographer updating them so that they would have a heads up if things progressed in the night.
My midwife instructed me to go to bed, get some rest, and call if I was in active labor. I went to bed for a bit, but soon after, I got up and went to the couch so that I didn’t keep Darson awake with my contractions, which had increased in frequency to around every 3-10 minutes varying in time. Contractions every 10 minutes or less … you know what that meant for mama: no sleep. But I was OK with it as I was excited that things had finally started!
By Tuesday morning I was exhausted. Contractions started to space out a little to maybe every 15-30 minutes. This allowed me to get some rest. My midwife came over that morning to check on me. She listened to baby who sounded perfect, checked my blood pressure, and looked me over. All checked out so she said to keep resting and we would wait for things to progress.
I had Darson stay home from work that day thinking, this is it! He later reminded me that when he asked me if he should stay home from work, I said, “You better if you want to see your child born.” Ha, little did I know I was getting my panties in a bunch. He could have worked until Thursday morning!
As you can imagine, by Tuesday evening I was not a happy camper when nothing seemed to be progressing, but the contractions continued on. I remember thinking as the sun was setting, “I can’t do this again,” referring to going all night with contractions and no sleep, but that’s exactly what happened.
As soon as the sun set, my contractions picked back up. This night they were only around 3-8 minutes apart ALL NIGHT! I couldn’t bear this alone again all night so I stayed in the bedroom and Darson woke with me during the contractions. As each contraction passed, he reminded me to close my eyes and try to rest between. For those of you who know what contractions feel like, even early ones, you know how hard it is to sleep through them. At least it was for me. I would start to doze off and be rudely awakened with the feeling of my insides forcefully tightening up and being twisted (that’s the best way I can describe it).
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or if the contractions really did get stronger through the night, but I was so exhausted that every contraction felt more unbearable than the last. I got in the bathtub a couple of times, which seemed to help with the pain, but I nodded off and almost fell asleep in the bath water. Then came the lovely contraction to wake me up and I had to pull myself up to a sitting position to bear it. Oh yes, and this was the night I lost my mucus plug. To this day, I will tell you that this was the grossest thing out of the whole birthing process. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Eek. Losing my mucus plug brought me more hope, though—it meant that we were getting closer and things were finally progressing!
After a VERY long night, we had made it to Wednesday morning and it felt like an eternity had passed. Again the contractions spaced out. I think they were more like every 10 minutes again at this point. My midwife came over again to check on me. This time she checked my cervix: 1- 1 ½ centimeter dilated and 75 percent effaced. All I could think was, “Seriously? Two flipping nights of contractions and I’m only at 1 centimeter?!
However, my midwife said something that sounded like music to my ears after she checked me: “Let’s have this baby today.” I was like, “YES, LET US.” We decided to bring out the big guns at this point and call on the dreaded castor oil. I took the first dose mixed with some OJ and ice—not so bad. About 30 minutes later, I threw it all up … gross. We waited awhile, took a walk, and then took another dose. This time was just plain yuck! OK, here we go, this has got to do something.
Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, noon, I feel a gush. Yep, my water broke! My heart leaps! Here we go, FINALLY! I run (OK, waddle) to the bathroom to make sure it is my water. My heart sinks—I see green fluid in my pad. For those of you who don’t know, that means there was meconium (baby’s first poop) in my water bag. I automatically knew what this meant. We would have to transfer to the hospital due to the concern of respiratory complications for the baby. There goes my plan, there goes my home birth. I was crushed. Mind you, I was going on 48 hours of no sleep so I was exhausted and very emotional.
As I walked out to the living room to tell my husband, I remember tears just welling up in my eyes, the same as what’s happening this moment as I’m reliving it while I write this. I took a deep breath and sent a picture to my midwife. She confirmed that it was meconium and said she would call me shortly. Those moments as we awaited her call I was a mess. My husband was so sweet, talking me through it and being so supportive. I knew we needed to go to the hospital for the safety of the baby, which was the most important thing to me, but I also could not help feeling all the emotions going through me and all I could think at that moment was, “I wanted this so badly. What about all those people who didn’t believe I could do it? What about our plans? What about the birth banner and Christmas lights I hung up? This was supposed to be perfect.” With the support of my husband, I began to come to terms with what was happening. Above all, I knew it was for the best and I knew that this had been a possibility all along.
My midwife called us and we discussed options for transfer. We decided to transfer to Broadlawns Medical Center to the care of another midwife, Rebecca Schleuger-Valadao, who had recently started practice there. We feel so blessed to have been able to transfer into her. She was amazing and the staff at Broadlawns were wonderful. I felt good knowing that I was going into the care of a midwife whose background was home births. I knew she would understand and respect my wishes for a natural birth. So we quickly loaded up and headed there. On the way, I let my doula and photographer know the plans.
When we arrived at the hospital around 1:30 p.m., my contractions were getting much stronger and I could barely walk. I remember the 10-minute wait in the registration area seemed like forever. I hated being out in the waiting area where everyone was walking by. There was no privacy as I was wriggling around in pain trying not to make any sounds that would draw more attention to myself. Once we got to our room, I began to feel more comfortable—not as in having less pain, that continued to increase. But I was at ease with the transition.
The transfer into the hospital was fairly smooth. The staff came in and introduced themselves, the nurses, the midwife, the pediatrician, the residents, etc., which was great and they were all very nice, but it was so distracting to me. I was trying to zone out and concentrate on making it through each contraction and in the middle of one, someone would walk in and tell me who they were and explain that they would be there for the birth and why. Honestly, at this point I didn’t care who was in the room during the birth, I just wanted them to get the heck out of my room so I could get through my contraction. It was so frustrating at that moment. I was trying to be patient with them, though, because I’m a nurse so I know that they are just doing what they are supposed to.
Rebecca was wonderful. She gave me a warm welcome and talked me through my options, giving me the rundown on how things would progress, but I have to tell you, I about lost it again when I heard those dreaded words: “We will get the Pitocin started.” I mean, I knew that I didn’t have a choice at this point but to be induced due to my bags of water being ruptured and meconium in the fluid. I knew I was now on the clock, but to hear it out loud and know that it was real, I had to take another deep breath and come to terms with the fact that this was all in my baby’s and my best interest, and even though I had my heart set on an all-natural birth, this was best.
We started Pitocin around 2:30 p.m. and I continued to labor. My husband, midwife, and doula were all with me helping me through each contraction. I had to be moving to make it through them, sitting on the birthing ball, moving my hips in a circle, or dancing with someone. I just had to move and breathe through them. They became so strong that it took all my energy to get through them. I was going on three days with no sleep and constant contractions. It’s an understatement to say that I was exhausted.
My team of support kept me going. They were incredible! I honestly don’t know how I could have done it without them. Baby’s heart rate stayed perfect—he’s a champ! So we continued on. My midwife and doula were huge advocates for me. They got the staff to bring in the water tub. I got in that for a while and continued to labor there as long as I could.
Around 7:30 p.m., I was having very strong contractions and my bloody show. We decided to have the nurse check me again thinking I would be around complete. My heart dropped when the nurse said I was only at 6 centimeters dilated.
I thought, “OH MY GOSH, how the hell am I going to do this any longer?” I was so exhausted and the contractions were so strong. If you don’t know anything about Pitocin, it can make the contractions bigger and stronger than normal contractions. I don’t know for certain, but I truly think that is why my contractions were so strong and almost unbearable … well that, and simply because my body was SO tired.
After I had been checked, and it was determined I was only 6 centimeters dilated, my midwife questioned an epidural. Up until this point we had not even talked about an epidural because everyone knew that it was not what I wanted. My midwife, being so incredibly wise as she is, knew that I was exhausted and needed rest in order to gather the strength to push this baby out. We all discussed it. No one pushed it on me, we simply talked about the pros and cons. At one point, I even turned to Darson and asked him if I should do it. His reply was, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you do it, you’ll be so mad at yourself.” His reply wasn’t wrong at the time. After talking it through with everyone, I decided I needed to have an epidural. I think I had the sarcastic thought at one point, “Might as well, everything else has gone the opposite that I planned.” I knew that my midwife was right, though, and I’m so grateful for her knowledge. I needed to get some rest while I continued to dilate in order to muster up some energy to push.
I cannot even explain the relief I felt when that epidural took hold. I hadn’t realized how tense my whole body was until I felt the release when that medicine kicked in. I think that is why I wasn’t progressing. It was around 9 p.m. by this time. Everyone except my husband went home, and we settled in to get some rest. It may not have been the best sleep I have ever gotten, but it sure felt like it to me.
By 3 a.m., I was complete (my cervix was fully dilated)! YES! From then until 8 a.m., I labored down (meaning we let my contractions do the work of bringing the baby down further before doing active pushing). I continued to rest feeling only some pressure during contractions.
At 8 a.m., everyone had returned to the hospital and it was time to push. We decided to turn my epidural down so that I could feel the contractions and have more effective pushes. When the medication started to wear off and I began to feel the contractions and pressure again, I thought to myself, “Why the hell did I do that? I was so relaxed before.” I am so glad that I did, though, because I felt everything as I birthed my child. I felt so strong and powerful as I felt his head crowning. I don’t know how to explain the pain and experience in any other way than an out-of-mind experience. It was more pain, stronger pressure, and different than anything else I had ever known, yet my body knew exactly what to do and it took over. I knew I couldn’t stop the pain and I knew I had to get through it. One of the most vivid and memorable moments to me was feeling my baby move through my birth canal and into this world. They say you forget the pain, but I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling. It was incredible.
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, at 9:39 a.m., Dreyer Lee Grantham was born! In the midst of all the unexpected and all the unplanned is where all the beauty of it is. Dreyer did not have any respiratory trouble from the meconium. He was a perfect little baby. I only had a second-degree tear, was healthy through the incredibly long week of prodromal labor, and with the rest from the epidural, I was able to push Dreyer out in just an hour and a half.
Everything was perfect in all the imperfections. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a perfect story!