I was a new mom but I was really good at researching what I needed for my pregnancy. I will never forget how amazed I was when I watched “The Business of Being Born” when I was in my first trimester. After watching and learning about how beautiful and strong women’s bodies are—and also how fully capable we are of having a natural birth—I knew I had to take the natural approach to birthing my first child.
My pregnancy was pretty easy. I went for massages every two weeks, had a diet filled with fresh fruits and veggies, and a birth partner who made sure I was drinking a ton of water daily.
The day it all started, I didn’t know I was in labor. I was home relaxing on the couch while the cable guy hooked up cable because I had family coming soon. I remember sitting on the couch having contractions. They didn’t bother me much, but they were noticeable. Later that night, my contractions were picking up and I contacted my midwife to give her the status, and she recommended I pop open that bottle of wine I had in the fridge to calm me down and let me get to rest so I had energy for the next day: Birth Day.
I tried to go to sleep around 11 p.m., but my contractions were coming faster and harder so I knew it was time to meet my midwife. On the ride to the birth center, I began listening to my Hypnobabies lessons to put me in a calm mindset while going through the contractions—and it worked!
I arrived to the birth center and my midwife checked to see if I was dilated. I could not believe that I labored at home all the way to 8 cm. She rushed to get my room together and made up the birthing pool.
My contractions were now intense. I was asked if I wanted to have my water broken, and I said yes. I continued to labor in the birthing pool for 2 hours until I began to fall asleep listening to Hypnobabies in the birthing pool. My midwife was instructing me to push, but I wouldn’t listen because I was so zoned and relaxed. She then made me move to the bed to wake me up.
I chose to try Hypnobabies because I was into the idea of meditative breathing and self-hypnosis. After a lot of Googling and watching other moms use it for their births, I knew it was the route I needed to take to ensure that I could have my baby without drugs or interventions.
I began to feel everything—and it was intense. All I wanted to do was push out one big bowel movement. But I soon realized that it was not poop, it was in fact the baby’s head. I continued to push and take breaks when I needed them. After one big, final push, baby Malcolm arrived.
At first, I began shaking and avoided touching him because I couldn’t believe that I really made a baby who grew inside of me for 9 months. My midwife handed me my baby and we laid skin-to-skin for an hour to bond and give Malcolm warmth. It was such a euphoric feeling. I felt no more pain, I had no more shaking—just peace and a beautiful baby boy.
Our beautiful baby daughter came into this world on Sept. 19, 2014, unable to breathe, swollen and full of fluid. We knew after being at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital for nine days that she was safer in the womb than out in the world, but we knew she had to be born and that she had about a 1 percent chance of survival.
It was a normal Wednesday for me. I was 32 weeks pregnant and dropping off my 4-year-old daughter, Lily, at pre-k. I worked part time then, and I took Wednesdays “off” to do errands, house stuff and be with my girl all afternoon. For a few days prior, I had been feeling off. I felt extra tired, swollen and different than I had before with both Lily and with most of this second pregnancy.
I had just been to the doctor a few weeks prior, but my gut told me I should call the office and check in. I called, explained my symptoms and they found me an appointment that afternoon. I clearly remember walking into the waiting room because I saw a friend who was also pregnant and I told her that I didn’t feel good. We exchanged hellos and I went back into the office. When the nurse placed me in the room I asked her, “I would like to check the baby out so can I request the ultrasound machine?” She said the doctor had it ready and I felt good about that—we will check on her, the doctor will tell me to rest more and I will be done and go pick up Lily. Well, unfortunately that was not the case.
The doctor came in, asked me a few questions and got the ultrasound machine out. Literally within two seconds, I knew something was very, very wrong. The way my doctor looked at the screen and then looked at me. She told me to breathe and assured me that we would work through this together, and then she got the ultrasound tech. I think time stopped. My husband was at work because I thought this would be a quick appointment and it was scheduled within two hours, so I called him on my way in and told him I would call him on my way out.
Time had stopped, the ultrasound tech, doctor and nurse all were in the room with me pointing, talking in a language I felt I couldn’t understand and making very serious faces. The next words out of her mouth were something like, “We need to take you across the street to get a more in depth ultrasound since we are seeing things we are not supposed to see.”
Across the street from Sutter Maternity in Santa Cruz, California, is a satellite office of Lucille Packard. I wish I never knew this but I do. The doctor consoled me, walked me out of the room and asked if I needed a ride across the street. I said no, I can drive, and she said they knew I was coming and to please go now and call my family. All I could think was ummm … this was supposed to be a quick check of my baby, what is happening? An hour ultrasound at the office turned into a check-in that night in Palo Alto at Lucille Packard Children’s in the antepartum unit.
What about Lily, what about work, what about my life?
The next three weeks of my life were a living hell and since then, life has never been the same. Non-immune hydrops, fluid in lungs and body cavities, antepartum, Mirror disease and more are not terms you ever want to look up on Google. Trust me. But I did. Sitting in the hospital at 32 weeks pregnant, away from my 4-year-old, praying this was a bad dream, you have time to look things up. Waiting. Praying. Asking why.
What do you mean you don’t know what’s causing the fluid? I am in one of the best hospitals in the world for the NICU and you are telling me you can’t fix this? Get in there and drain the fluid, make it go away. These are thoughts you have when seven doctors are staring at you (from med students to Chief of Surgery) every morning at 7 a.m. studying your “extremely rare case.” Every day for the nine days before she was born in the antepartum, I was hooked up to monitoring machines (almost 24 hours a day), had two ultrasounds a day, with doctors and nurses coming in and out. I prayed for a miracle.
Truthfully, they never told me she basically had no chance of survival but I knew in my gut and heart. Like I knew I should go to the doctor on Sept. 10, and check on my baby girl, I knew it was bad. The question now was when was she going to be born? Would I be here for the next two months until her due date and then have a vaginal birth only to not go home with my baby? Am I having a c-section scheduled? What is the plan? No one really knew. Breanna was literally one of the worst cases of hydrops the doctors at Stanford had ever seen. Non-Immune hydrops, by the way is a SYMPTOM not a CAUSE. WTH? You mean you don’t know WHY my baby has fluid all over her body and in her cavities? You mean you will never know why she has this condition and what caused it? Huh?
I learned that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t know how to fix things, we are human and imperfect and life is extremely precious. Before that normal Wednesday afternoon, nothing had shaken me to my absolute core. I had a pretty good, safe, “normal” life. The truth is, this experience did change me forever. And yes, I would never wish this on anyone and the grief is beyond anything you can imagine, but there are small changes that have made me a better person.
No, I don’t want my “angel in heaven” like people tell me I have. I want her here with me, with her dad and her sister. Since I can’t change the fact that she died, I try to take a sliver of good with me each time I think of her, which is every day of my life. Good like knowing that person in line at Safeway may have just lost their baby, or mom, or dad or friend. I wish everyone could have some kind of lesson in knowing that we are NOT “good” all the time. You know when someone says, “Hi, how are you?” and you answer “Good” just because? What if we met each other at reality:
“How are you?”
“Actually today is a great day.”
Or, “How are you?”
“Actually, I am really not doing well today.”
Lesson: We all have our “stuff” and yes, mine is heavy but so is yours. Don’t compare grief, but please meet people where they need to be met and not in some fake land like Facebook where everything looks perfect and pretty.
Breanna was born via emergency c-section on Sept. 19, 2014, in the evening. Even though I was at the hospital already, it was an emergency c-section as my vitals started to mirror her and things got very serious. Think of an episode of ER on the worst day in the emergency room. Probably 20 doctors and nurses in my room, bright lights, yelling, rushing, asking where my husband was.
As I had known in my heart that first day we saw the fluid, she was sick, very sick, but we got to hold her and be with her for four hours. She passed away in my arms with my husband, Rob, at my side. I smelled her, touched her fingers and toes, saw her hair, and held her tightly and told her how much she was loved. Life isn’t fair and my anger has lessened a bit. I believe in God, I believe in heaven, but I don’t believe my God wanted my baby in heaven. My God wanted my baby here on Earth with her mom and dad, her sister, and her friends and family to experience this precious life we all get to live. You are supposed to leave the hospital with a baby after giving birth.
We had a memorial service for Breanna about three months later, which really helped me continue my grieving. It was hard, but necessary. I needed to know she existed, she was real. I can’t say enough about the support my family and friends gave us during our long hospital stay, after her death and every day since. On her one-year anniversary, my family and friends came together at my church in Aptos and released balloons (probably 30). It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life as we each said something about her and how she has changed us.
The next morning, up the coast by Davenport at sunrise, my uncle and cousin were motoring up to go fishing. Out of the corner of their eyes they spotted a pink balloon floating on the water out in front of them. They slowed down and literally could not believe it as they were at the balloon release the day before. They took a picture and sent it to me. I cried for what seemed like hours. In this broken world that we live in, there is hope and there is reason to get up each morning. Whether it was a sign from Breanna, a sign from God or a random pink balloon floating in the middle of the ocean … it gives me hope.
A few lessons to pass on:
Hug someone and look them truly in the eyes instead of just asking, “How are you?”
Look at your children as miracles because they are.
Don’t compare grief—just support your loved ones in it and through it no matter what it is.
When you are in line at the grocery store, remember it’s not only you that is in pain or having a hard time, it’s everyone around you. Let’s be kind people.
Thank you for letting me share my story. It is so important to know that infant loss happens all the time and to support each other in it instead of keeping it silent because it’s so awful to talk about.
Written by Jillian Holmberg (mom to Lily and Breanna)
Mason Benjamin was born still on May 12, 2002. My pregnancy had been near perfect. I never suffered from morning sickness, I was relatively comfortable right up until the end, and my energy levels were good throughout my 8 ½ months of pregnancy. It wasn’t until the day before he was born that we realized something was very wrong.
My husband and I tried to conceive for several years before finding success, and I had two first-trimester miscarriages before we got pregnant with Mason. We saw several doctors in hopes they could help with our fertility issues, but no one seemed to have an explanation as to why we were having such a hard time.
When we got the positive pregnancy test with Mason, we were cautiously optimistic. After experiencing two miscarriages, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. But once we crossed over into the second trimester, I began to feel a bit more secure in the pregnancy.
Late in the second trimester I began to feel Mason move. It was the most incredible feeling. He was a mover! Not a day went by in which I didn’t feel him moving around in there. So when I noticed a decrease in his activity at 39 weeks, I became concerned. I tried all the usual things to get him to move: drink something sugary, lie on my back, eat something. But still no movement. Though I was concerned, I remember thinking, “He’s fine. I’m being paranoid.” My past experiences seemed reason enough to worry. To be on the safe side, my husband and I decided to go in to the hospital.
The nurses took my vitals and the doctor came in with a doppler. Time seemed to stand still as he searched for a heartbeat in my belly. We heard nothing. He assured us that sometimes the baby is hiding, or in a weird position, etc., so not to worry, we’d do an ultrasound.
The ultrasound confirmed our worst fears: Our baby boy had passed away in the womb.
The flood of emotions that came over me is hard to describe. I was sad, angry and confused. Why had this happened? How could this happen? No one had a good explanation. There was no obvious cause for Mason’s death.
At 39 weeks, there was no option other than to deliver Mason. Knowing I’d have to experience labor and delivery and not have my baby afterward was almost more than I could take.
My birth plan was to deliver naturally. I didn’t want any pain meds, and I hoped to avoid a c-section if possible. But under these new circumstances, I hoped they’d offer one. In hindsight, I could’ve asked. It felt as though this was all just happening to me. I wasn’t myself and I couldn’t voice my wants and needs at this time. I couldn’t even tell my husband what I was thinking. Looking back, I think I must’ve been in shock.
I was induced that evening and labor began the following morning. The pain got very real, very quickly, and I screamed for an epidural. Nobody questioned me. I think the emotional pain I was going through was more than I could handle. The physical pain was just not tolerable.
I got the epidural and looked to my doctor for advice on when to push. When the time came, it only took a few pushes before Mason was here. His lifeless body came out gray and floppy. All I could do was cry hysterically. My heart ached so badly knowing I’d never hear his voice. I’d never feel that first latch, or watch him grow into a little boy. I was sad for my loss, but also for his. He was never given a chance to live this life. This innocent baby wasn’t given the life he deserved, the life my husband and I wanted to give him.
They examined him briefly and to my own surprise, I still wanted to experience skin to skin with my baby. I didn’t think I’d even want to see him, but he was still my baby, and I am still his mother.
I’ll never forget the moments I had with him. He is in my heart forever.
What I went through with Mason is something I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from. It’s the kind of trauma that just doesn’t subside. But what I can say for sure is that my story is not entirely unique. When I confided in friends and family about what had happened, I learned about so many other women I know who had experienced pregnancy loss. It’s important to acknowledge and honor those women and their experiences that forever changed who they are and the paths of their lives. They are mothers without babies. That’s why I’m sharing my story in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
April 9, 2009, was the day I became a mommy. My husband Mike and I headed to Sutter Maternity Center in Santa Cruz, California, early that Thursday morning. I had a scheduled induction, as I was 11 days past my due date and there was some concern that my placenta had become too worn to continue to do its job.
When we were all checked in and settled, I was given an IV with Pitocin, as well as an antibiotic drip. During my pregnancy, I had been diagnosed with Group B strep and the antibiotics were to ensure that it was not passed on to my baby. The nurse had a hard time finding a vein, and both of my arms were bruised and in so much pain—not really how I expected this experience to start, but soon enough the pain in my arms would be a distant sensation.
Over the next couple of hours, the contractions started. They were light and tolerable. I had the thought, “This is easy, I got this!” But, as the contractions grew stronger and closer together, I began to doubt myself. I wanted nothing more than to deliver without any kind of medical intervention or drugs, but the pain started becoming more than I thought I could bear. Little did I know, I hadn’t even hit transition yet, when things would become so much more painful.
A few hours in, my midwife made the decision to break my water. In her hand, she held what looked like a crochet needle. I was standing up and she used this tool to break my water. I remember the sensation of the warm fluid running down my legs and feeling so uncomfortable and even embarrassed by the mess.
As soon as my water broke, like the very SECOND, the contractions came on strong and hard. I had my arms draped around Mike’s neck as I hung my head low and rocked back and forth. I got to a point where I just didn’t think I could push on without some pain relief. I had tried a warm tub, massages, bouncing on a yoga ball. While some of these methods helped get me through my contractions, I couldn’t talk myself out of the pain. I cried out for an epidural even though in my gut, I wanted nothing to do with it. I needed someone to talk me off the ledge.
I am so thankful for the amazing nurses, my husband and my mom, who reminded me of my birth plan and distracted me enough through each contraction to get me through it without any drugs or an epidural. There is one nurse who I will forever be grateful for. I was in the middle of a contraction and these guttural, animalistic noises were coming out of me. I looked up and we locked eyes and I swear, I looked so deep into her eyes I felt possessed. But there was something about what her eyes were saying to me that gave me this deep sense of relief. She didn’t say a word and never looked away. This moment always sticks out to me when I think back to this day.
The pain was intensifying and I wanted to lie down to see if I could catch a break. Ha. Wishful thinking. I was checked by my midwife and was told I was in transition. I was also told that my baby’s heart rate was slowing down and there was a chance that the cord was wrapped around his neck. They administered oxygen to me, to increase the levels the baby was receiving. Things started becoming blurry. I felt the pain but I also felt like I was watching from above, Like my body just took over and my mind completely checked out. This is when I could hear, what seemed like just a faint whisper from miles away, “It’s time to push.”
I started pushing. My midwife was seated between my legs with the sweetest and most reassuring demeanor. My mom and Mike each had a foot in their hand. With every push, they helped me by pushing my legs up. I kept pushing but it didn’t feel natural. I didn’t have the pushing urge and wanted to be told when to go. I just wanted it to be done. About 30 minutes into pushing, I frantically pleaded to my midwife to just get in there and pull him out. I guess it doesn’t quite work that way.
Things weren’t moving as quickly as the medical team wanted, considering my baby was in distress. My midwife put a mirror between my legs, because she felt if I could see him crowing, it would help me push him out. I took a glimpse and I am pretty sure my face went white. My heart dropped and I became so introverted. I never imagined what my body would look like while pushing a baby out and I was shocked at what I saw. Mike saw my reaction and quickly asked her to move it.
It became apparent that if I wasn’t able to push the baby out within the next several minutes, a C-Section would be required. In an attempt to give me one more shot at delivering vaginally, my midwife reached inside of me to cut the umbilical cord so it wasn’t around my baby’s neck. At this point, I had a very short window to finish the process on my own. It was only a couple more pushes (45 minutes total) and Dylan was born. Six hours, start to finish, and I was DONE. I did it. No pain medication. No epidural. Baby safely delivered. Just like I wanted.
Dylan was placed on my chest and within seconds was quickly swopped out of my arms. I didn’t even have the chance to kiss him or to study his face or smell his hair. I remember seeing him out of the corner of my eye, his white body being held in the nurses arms as she was gently hitting his butt. He was not crying or making any noise and they were trying to stimulate him. I felt like I was watching a movie. It all seemed so surreal, like a dream.
As the nurses were tending to Dylan, I felt like I was fading and almost going in and out of consciousness. As crazy as this sounds, I almost had forgotten I just had a baby. I wasn’t wondering why he had been taken from me, I didn’t ask if he was OK. I was in some sort of shock. And that’s when I heard a loud buzz, from a button my midwife hit, and within the blink of an eye, a team of about 10 medical staff were in my room. I was told I was hemorrhaging and they couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. I felt helpless on the hospital bed. I was just lying there while they injected me with medication that would slow the bleeding.
As this was all happening, Dylan had been whisked away to a room where he could be observed and monitored. Mike and my sister made the incredibly tough decision to leave me as I was going through the afterbirth and hemorrhaging, but there wasn’t a chance Dylan was going to be out of our sights. I had my mom by my side the whole time.
Two or three hours passed and it wasn’t until that time that I finally came to and realized I didn’t have Dylan with me. I came unglued. They brought him to me and I got to hold him and nurse him for the first time. The sadness I felt for having things turn out the way they did, completely dissipated as I held him and nursed him for the first time. He was healthy, but they wanted to keep an eye on him just to be sure. He was perfect … a big boy at 8 lb., 14 oz and 21.5 inches long, with a head full of black curly hair and the most intelligent, wise, soulful and loving eyes. What a ride we had endured together.
Because of the amount of blood I lost, and the awful tearing that happened, recovery was hard. I was easily winded and needed help just to walk, go to the bathroom, adjust my position in bed, etc. BUT, even with all the pain, uncertainty, fear and every other emotion I experienced that day, I would do it all over again. Dylan and I both fully recovered and now we have quite the story to tell.
I am so amazed and proud at what my body (and mind) were able to endure that day. Birth is such a beautiful thing and no matter what the path leading up to it looked like, the end result made it more than worth it.