As I sit here, staring at the screen wondering how to start our story, its hard for me not to imagine what our life as a family should look like right now. As a young mom, never in my darkest of nightmares did I ever think I would bury my own child; yet, here I am, telling the story of the little, big life of my angel baby, Wells.
As my husband and I made the drive from our hometown of St. Louis to Dallas (which we did quite often since moving to Texas after graduating college), I received a phone call that, unbeknown to me, would change my life forever. I was scheduled to see an orthopedic surgeon the following day, and the office called asking if there was any chance I could be pregnant since I would be needing new x-rays. My immediate response was “no, definitely not!” yet, some part of me spent the next few hours of the car ride wondering if maybe there was a chance I could be? The tell tale sign should of been the overwhelming craving I had for McDonald’s chicken fingers that happened shortly after said phone call— which I made my husband go in and get for me, and then proceeded to become a ball of emotions, tears and all, when he came out to the car with a 3 piece rather than a 5 piece. Upon getting home, I immediately made my way to our bathroom where I peed on a stick, set it on the ground, and spent the next few minutes waiting to see YES appear on the screen. After running out to my husband to show him the news, he immediately ran to the corner CVS and spent $90 on pregnancy tests while I chugged water to be able to pee enough by the time he returned home just to make sure that first test was correct! Looking back on this night puts a smile on my face. I would be lying if I told you we weren't shocked, and that it wasn't the biggest surprise, but knowing that this night started our lives as a mom and dad makes it a moment I will cherish forever.
As pregnancy goes, we spent the next 8 months preparing for our baby boy to join the world. I could go on forever sharing the details of what it was like to be pregnant — the constant nausea and hot flashes, the vomiting that occurred like clockwork at 4pm, the overwhelming desire to eat white cheddar cheez-its, the unreal amount of heartburn, the massive body forming pillow that now became the new member of our bed so I could try and sleep... At the time, it all felt like some small form of torture. I remember calling Wells my little monster, and wondering when the “pregnancy glow” was going to hit. Yet, all of the hard parts would disappear the second I walked into the doctors office and was able to hear his heartbeat, or see him on the ultrasound. We continually had amazing remarks at every check up — heart beat was always strong, fundal height was right on track, ultrasounds were filled with talking about our “perfect baby boy” and pointing out all of his little, tiny features. I spent 8 months celebrating each milestone, knowing that the closer we got to November, the less likely things were to go wrong.
It was a Thursday afternoon — I worked as a registered nurse in the operating room at a children's hospital in downtown Dallas. Working was a normal way of life for me, and I planned to continue doing so until the day Wells arrived. My routine was the same as every other morning; however, something on this day felt off. The vomiting had returned, I noticed little white flecks in my vision when charting on the computer, I was shaky and lightheaded even after lunch. I finally sat down to take my blood pressure which came back overwhelmingly high, and knew it was time to call my doctor. I was 37 weeks pregnant, and knew that Wells would be just fine in terms of development if for some reason he would need to come early. After spending the next few hours in Labor and Delivery triage, I was sent home with orders to collect my urine for the next 24 hours to be evaluated for a condition called preeclampsia. I wasn't scared — Wells checked out to be the perfect baby boy that he always was — so I went home and did what I was told to do. I spent he weekend cleaning the house, and packing bags for the hospital just in case my results would come back positive, and they would need to induce me to avoid risky complications. Monday rolled around, and I left work early on a gut feeling that today may be the day. I got home, showered, and sat down on the couch just in time to receive a phone call from our doctor around 4pm that, sure enough, my results had come back positive for preeclampsia, and that I was far enough along in my pregnancy that he needed to schedule me for an induction. I was offered to choose between 8pm that night, or 8am the following morning. I quickly called my husband to tell him the news, and we decided that we were ready, and that we would be heading to the hospital at 8pm that evening, hoping that we would be holding our baby boy by 8pm the following night.
The next 26 hours of our lives flashed by quicker than I could of ever imagined. I was started on a cervical ripening agent overnight in order to initiate the induction. My water was broke Tuesday morning after receiving an epidural. I was slow to dilate, and was started on a stronger IV medication in an attempt to further my body through the laboring process. As the afternoon progressed, I went from 2cm to 8cm in the matter of only a couple hours, and my body reacted by throwing me into a state of nausea, constant shakes, and severe discomfort. By 7pm, I received the news that we had been waiting for - I was finally ready to push. I had been mentally preparing myself for this for the past 34 weeks, but when the time actually came, I was terrified. What if I didn't do it right? God forbid what if I do the thing that every woman is terrified to death about (whether you choose to admit it or not) and poop on the bed!? I was told that Wells looked perfect, my contraction pattern looked perfect, and that we would be meeting our son within hours.
After two hours of pushing, I refused the use of forceps and elected to go for a cesarean section. My husband and mom were given scrubs to change into so they could stay by my side. We packed up our room so all of our things could be delivered to the room I would be moved to once our baby was here. The CRNA came in, adjusted my medications, and asked me what music I preferred to listen to in the operating room. Everything was going “just fine” — everyone was calm, everything was okay. Until it wasn’t. As I laid on the table in the operating room, going through the slow and controlled steps that were being taken to deliver what we believed to be our healthy baby boy, I remember looking over at my husband, and saying that I couldn't wait to hear Wells cry. It was so hard to believe that we would be meeting our baby any moment, that I would feel him next to me skin to skin, that we would look at his button nose, his little toes, and know that this was the life we had created together. Wells was born on Tuesday night at 10:01 — and at 10:01 the room was silent. Shortly there after, the commotion from the NICU team began, as they rushed to intubate our baby with a breathing tube in an effort to save his life. I will never forget the panic that ensued during those next 5 minutes. I screamed. I yelled. I cried and sobbed as my husband sat next to me, holding my hand, feeling emotions that I can’t even imagine as he watched his baby and his wife fall apart in a matter of seconds. That cry that I was so eager to hear never came. The NICU attending that was present came over to tell us that Wells had a heart beat, but that he had no drive to breath on his own, that he had no muscle tone or movement, that he had no gag reflex. He was quickly taken away from us before we ever even had the chance to meet him.
The next couple of hours were spent in the recovery room, waiting for news for what seemed like an eternity. The lack of an update left me wondering if our baby was even alive. We finally got a visit from our OB, who told us that they were working on Wells in the NICU. There were no answers, no explanations, other than the fact that “some c-section babies are born in shock, and require a little bit of extra respiratory support overnight to help them recover.” This seemed promising, yet still terrifying. It wasn't until the NICU attending that took care of Wells came down and spoke with us that the truth of our new reality set in. Wells was alive, but we were told he suffered from what they believed was a condition known as Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, and that his brain was damaged due to a lack of oxygen. His pupils weren't responsive, his blood sugar was life threateningly low, his blood was severely acidotic, his liver wasn't producing the necessary factors to help his blood clot appropriately, his kidneys weren't functioning to produce urine. I will never forget this doctor standing next to me, telling us that what we always knew as our perfectly healthy baby, was now fighting for his life. We were eventually taken up to the NICU, where we were able to be face to face with Wells for the first time. We were able to look at that button nose and little toes that we dreamed about, and saw his full head of dark black hair that he got from his daddy. We were able to hold his hand. As I laid in my hospital bed that night, with my husband by my side, but Wells so far away, I let my mind slip to a place where I couldn't believe I allowed it to go. What if Wells dies? What if we have to leave here empty handed?
The next day came with more overwhelmingly bad news. Wells’s brain activity was worsening, and although his heart seemed to be functioning the way it should be, the rest of his body was quickly shutting down. As our families sat together in my hospital room, we listened as the neonatologist suggested that we withdraw care — even if he survived this, he would never walk, talk, eat, or play. I again found myself questioning how all of this was even real. In a matter of 48 hours, how did we go from eagerly waiting to meet our baby, to being told that we should give up on his life. My husband and I have always agreed that we believe in quality of life over quantity; however, that was speaking in terms of our own lives. How were we supposed to speak in terms of the life of our baby who had not even been given the chance to live? As a mom, the only thing I wanted in the midst of the tragedy that was surrounding us, was the chance to hold my baby. We elected to have more tests done before agreeing to withdraw care, and also asked if it was possible to be able to hold Wells, considering the gravity of the news we were just given. Although it was short in time, the 30 minutes I spent that day with Wells in my arms will forever be the 30 most precious minutes of my life. I was terrified; yet, I was so overcome by the feeling of love, and thankful that I had this small amount of time to truly feel like a mother.
When we woke up on Thursday morning, I was fearful for what the day would bring. Wells was supposed to have additional tests ran, and while I wanted nothing more than to hope for good news, I had a gut feeling that we were about to experience the worst day of our lives. We showed up at the NICU around 6am that morning — Wells was maxed out on all of the medications he was on to help his heart beat, he no longer would open his eyes or react to any sort of touch from us, his arms and legs had turned dusky from a lack of circulation of his blood. Our baby was dying, and there was nothing we could do about it. I have never felt more defeated knowing that I was failing at the one job I had as a mother — to protect my son from the evil of this world. We made the impossible decision to forgo the planned tests, and spend what little time we had left with Wells, holding him, and keeping him safe as best we could. I watched my husband hold our son for the first time, and I held him as he was taken off of life support and took his last breath. On Friday morning I was discharged home. I was wheeled out to our car, where an empty car seat was strapped in in the back seat. I walked through the doors of our home to a nursery where our son would never sleep. I looked through the shelves of books that would never be read, and the perfectly organized drawers of clothes that would never be worn. I laid in my bed next to a basinet that was set out for Wells to spend his first night in. As I sit and write these words, I can’t help but wipe the tears that fall down my face, reliving these moments that will forever put a knife through my heart. The next week was spent traveling back to St. Louis in order to make funeral arrangements. We met with the pastor who officiated our wedding two years prior, and would now be organizing the service for our son. We visited the cemetery, and selected the spot where Wells would be buried. We picked out his casket. We had matching gold rings made for the three of us that Alec and I were beside our wedding bands, and Wells wears attached to the sweater he was laid to rest in — a sweater I made for him with angel wings across his chest.
The week of Wells’s funeral was the beginning of a series of months that I don't remember enough to share with you. It was a series of months where the days moved impossibly slow, and the nights drug on with no sleep. Visions and images continually ran through my head of handing over the lifeless body of my son to be taken to a place I knew all too well through my profession as a nurse, myself. I cried. I yelled. I threw wine glasses, hit walls, and kicked doors. I fought with my husband. I refused to answer phone calls from friends and family. I tried to return to work only to find myself crying in a chair in the locker room, afraid to walk out of the hospital at the end of my shift. I blamed myself. I was reminded of the death of our son each and every time I looked in the mirror — at my body, at the clothes that didn't fit anymore, at the scar across my abdomen, at the stretch marks on my hips. Every step of my life became a constant reminder that I lost the one thing that I grew to love more than anything in the entire world. I struggled with being happy, because how was I supposed to be happy when a piece of me was missing? I struggled with laughing, with smiling. I struggled being around people, being around crowds. I had a hard time becoming angry with those I love — at the advice they gave me about what I should be doing or who I should be talking to, or the encouragement to help my life return to “normal.” 8 months later, and I still continue to struggle with all of these things. Yet, I have grown into someone that is so much braver and stronger than the woman I was before I became a mom. I started a company — a company that honors the life of our son, and allows his story to be spread further than I could of ever imagined. A company that embraces remembrance, and honors a life that was only 2 days young. A company that sheds light on what it means to be a mother with empty arms. A company that has connected me with a beautiful world of those who share similar experiences to that of my own. The topic of infant loss is something that I was naive to up until it happened to me. Conception, pregnancy, childbirth - are all terms that seem to be thrown around so lightly, until you become part of the group who’s path ends in tragedy. These women and mothers who were so vulnerable and raw in sharing their stories is what brought me out of the darkest depression I have ever been in. All that I have done and all that I have discovered about my life and myself since losing my baby I attribute to these women — my hope in sharing our story is that someone who is in need of help, just as I was, will find the same comfort in my words as I found in theirs.
I have spent every second of every minute of every hour of every day since we lost Wells wondering and searching for answers of how and why this could of possibly happened to me - and the truth is, I will most likely never know. The day I found out my baby was going to die is a day that will be engrained in my mind for the rest of my life. My life since losing Wells has changed more than I ever thought was possible - and as a result, I believe I have changed too. Experiences that I never fathomed going through, I went through. I have endured the most tremendous loss; however, through that loss, I feel as though I have been able to find myself and discover a beauty in life that I was blind to up until now. I keep referring to this experience as a journey - and a journey it truly is. There is no straight path, there is no direction. There are no steps forward without two steps back. There are no rights, there are no wrongs. This is a journey I will continue on for the rest of my life, and one that will mold who I was, who I am, and who I will become. I will always and forever have Wells to thank for this life I am now living. I will love you forever, sweet boy.