The week of May 16th 2016 sure was a hectic one … we had just returned from visiting family in Maryland / Virginia for our family baby shower celebration and then each evening was filled with activities like doctors appointments, charity events and our much anticipated maternity hospital tour. This week was also the official last week that Got What It Cakes (the cakery where I was head baker) would ever be open for, so needless to say I was busy. The work week was suffocating, working long hours on my feet all day at almost 8 months pregnant was wearing on me – physically and emotionally. Some of our customers unfortunately weren’t the most understanding when we finally had to say “no” to the demand of orders because Mandie (the owner/my boss/only person besides me who worked at GWIC) and I simply did not have the capacity to bake one more cake or roll one more cruffle pop. But Friday May 20th, our last day open came … Mandie walked in as a puddle of tears, she had been there til 3am and was back before 8, so of course I hugged her and started crying too, we were both just so overwhelmed and exhausted. I had a bad feeling all week, couldn’t exactly pin point it but just a yucky eerie feeling of: “This week has been so stressful and I technically gave my notice a week ago, so I shouldn’t even be here, and life is just going too good in all other facets that something has to break and it’s this week that’s gonna do it.” And then I uttered this sentence to Mandie that I’ll never forget: “If the stress of this week causes any harm to my baby and me, I don’t know what I’ll do.” But I tried to push that feeling way way back and focus on the positive. Like all day we were greeted by many friends and loyal customers celebrating our goodbyes. I could see the light as this day was coming to close, the anticipation of being done and knowing I was going to have some time off before my July due date is what was getting me through. We hugged, we cried, we celebrated – all was well as that chapter closed and a new one was about to begin.
Knowing this was my last week at work, Jon and I consciously planned to leave for our Babymoon the very next day, to get away and relax. He was calling it our Babymoon, my “Retirement” and Birthday Celebration all wrapped into one long weekend. We had made plans to drive down to Greensboro, Georgia and had a wonderful stay planned at the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Plantation Resort on Lake Oconee. Nothing was on our agenda but time by the pool, spa days and dinners. We woke up early Saturday morning excited to start the 3 1/2 drive down, arriving around 12:30, our room wasn’t ready so we got some lunch on-site at one of their restaurants. As soon as we finished lunch, we got the call that our room was ready. Our luggage was delivered to our room and we began to settle in. I had a pedicure scheduled for 2pm and headed to the spa, Jon stayed in the room for a nap.
I had this eerie feeling since I woke that morning that I hadn’t felt our baby boy kick in quite some time, I mentioned this a few times to Jon in the car and at lunch. Even as we were driving into the resort, I spotted a hospital on the way saying to Jon “Well thank goodness there’s one close by in case we need it!” But we were both reassuring towards one another that I would feel something soon and all was fine. After sitting in the pedicure chair for an hour and not feeling a single flutter, I became very worried. I returned to our hotel room, starting to panic to Jon – he immediately started googling ways to get the baby to kick, do kick counts etc. We got some candy from the lobby coffee shop, hoping sugar would activate something, I chugged some ice cold water as that usually had an affect on his movements. Then we followed the directions of laying on your left side for an hour and to count the kicks, I drifted into a short cat nap and awoke to no feeling. We called the nurse on call at our OBGYN’s office back in Charlotte, giving her the run down on all my symptoms and she suggested we go to the nearest ER or Urgent Care to make sure they found fetal movement.
Feeling worried and panicked, we hopped into our car and drove the 7 minutes to the hospital that we had passed on our way in. Unfortunately they did not have a labor and delivery facility at this hospital, so we were emitted to the ER. Luckily we were seen rather quickly, greeted by a nurse who took all my vitals and asked all the routine questions. Again, she told us that they did not have any kind of OB services, but they would admit me and use a fetal heart rate doppler to check the baby. We were escorted back into one of the ER rooms and waited anxiously as she attempted to find his heart beat. She was struggling and getting all different readings, picking mostly up on my heart rate – which an adult’s heart rate is about half of what an infant’s is. Panic was starting to set in, but we were both remaining positive, thinking everything would be fine. Then the doctor came in and told us unfortunately they have no ultrasound technology they can use, but they had this bladder scanner machine that was very similar. While stressing that this hospital was ill-equipped for our situation, it also kind of provided some hope as to “Well they don’t know what they’re talking about”. It felt like eternity that he was using this bladder scanner across my belly, the screen was small and blurry, we couldn’t make out a single thing.
Next is the moment that will haunt us for a lifetime, the doctor final zeroed in on his heart chamber – there was absolutely no movement and he told us “I’m so sorry to tell you, but this is a case of fetal demise” My face was frozen in shock, I honestly thought he was joking in that moment … I said, “what do you mean fetal demise???” And he simply answered, “Yes, I hate to be the one to tell you this but your child has deceased, his heart stopped beating.” He then left the room to call the nearest OBGYN which was located in Athens, an hour away. I screamed to Jon “NO! No, he can’t be right, this bladder scanner means nothing, no no no, not our baby, there’s no way, there’s just no way, not our baby boy” I was in pure hysterics, crying, shaking etc. but I still had this odd feeling of hope in the back of my mind that this wack doctor, with zero bedside manner, and a bladder scanner from 1990 had to be wrong, he just had to be. Then magically they found that the ultrasound tech had not left yet, like they thought. Here she was, this angel ultrasound tech, named Sabrina, who was sweet and patient – she was going to give us the good news we needed to hear. So she explained she was going to take measurements of the baby and then try to locate his heartbeat 3 different ways … eagerly we looked up at her waiting for reassurance, and she said “let me get the doctor in here” and I said, “but first is there anything YOU can tell us?” I just needed to hear it from her … and she said “Sweetheart, I am so so sorry, but I’m not getting any kind of movement or heartbeat.” Our world was literally crushed in that one moment, I still couldn’t believe it. I was crying and told her I had a really stressful week at work. That was my exact first thought, all those bad feelings and instincts I was having just came true in this moment. She hugged me and said “Oh my goodness no, do not blame yourself, this is not your fault, no amount a stress could cause this, please don’t go there” and then she shared her story with us, she said “I experienced a miscarriage and I thought the exact same thing, since I work long hours on my feet in a hospital or that I kept my phone in the front pocket of my scrubs, that I had caused it and it’s just simply not the case.” While she provided us some comfort in that moment, there was no washing away the devastation or guilt we were feeling.
The doctor reentered and told us that he spoke to both the nearest OBGYN in Athens and ours back in Charlotte, and they both agreed that my health was in no harm, so nothing had to be done immediately and that we could head back to Charlotte to be treated by our team of doctors. We still could not wrap our heads around any of this, it’s just a really bad dream right? We’re in this small foreign town at an ill-quipped emergency room, we’re going to get back to Charlotte and everything is going to be fine is what I kept telling myself. When we walked out of the hospital, standing just outside the ER entrance, I collapsed into Jon’s arms, crying and just repeating “no, not our baby … no, not our boy” like a broken record. Here we are in the place that we’re supposed to be celebrating everything happy in our lives, instead it just gave us the worst possible news we would ever hear. Then having to head back to the resort and get everything from our room and pack back up the car … I just remember standing in the lobby, waiting for Jon to check us out, hospital bracelet on my arm, tears and smudged mascara running down my face, rubbing my belly … still thinking this is all very bad dream. Those next 3 1/2 hours driving back were absolute torture, I held onto to Jon’s hand and didn’t let go the entire drive. I just wanted to feel him kick again and to be home, because when we got home I thought everything would be OK.
My parents had just drove down to Charlotte from Maryland that morning because they were coming to watch Rocky for us while we were away. So we hadn’t planned to see them until we returned from vacation. Of course I called them to tell them the awful news and why we were headed back to Charlotte … I barely remember any of our dialogue but I just remember hearing them both whale into tears and shrieks, a call you never imagined you’d have to make to anyone, especially the excited soon-to-be grandparents. It was some kind of blessing that they were already in Charlotte though, to be able to hug them when we came in the door late that night giving us comfort the way only a parent can.
We checked into Novant Hospital in Charlotte around 11pm that Saturday evening, like I said, still oddly hopeful that my doctor would tell us something different. Unfortunately my exact doctor was not on call at the hospital that evening, but luckily the next most amazing doctor was – she was this calming, kind spirit and I just knew she’d take care of us. She proceeded with a ultrasound, and told us “Unfortunately I do not have any different wonderful news to share with you, I’m not getting a heartbeat either.” There it was, reality. The reality that we had lost our sweet precious baby boy at 30 weeks and they had no answer why. How could this happen? We we’re in the home stretch, I was healthy, he was healthy, what is going on? They prepare you for this to happen early on, just get through the first trimester and you’re safe … never imagining that you’d be faced with something like this in the third trimester.
So call me naive but I was still in shock, that I thought in these circumstances there’s some magical procedure to deliver the baby since he was not going to be responsive to a natural labor process. But the doctor and nurses began to prepare me for what was going to happen next, that I would be given pitocin to induce contractions and to get me fully dilated and that I would go into labor and deliver him vaginally. Still thinking where’s that magical procedure that knows what I’m going through emotionally, that I cannot even begin to imagine going through all of this physically, knowing the end result is not what we had prepared for all these months? The doctor explained, as hard as it is to imagine going through labor in these circumstances, that in the long run, I’m much better off to recover quickly from a vaginal labor, then talking about surgery where the healing process is much longer. So I had to wrap my head around the fact that I was going into labor and would be delivering our lifeless sweet boy. They urged me to wait and start the pitocin in the morning after the traumatic day we had, and by now it was almost 1 in the morning and they didn’t want me to be in pain the middle of the night if the contractions started. So they gave me an ambien to make sure I got rest before I started the long process of inducing labor so early. Now I have taken a few ambien in the past, and that crap would knock me into another loopy comatose universe … but all the thoughts running through my brain, it barely made me drowsy.
Sunday morning came and it was time to start inducing me, giving me the max dosage of pitocin. The whole day was just a fog of laying in a hospital bed, with my husband next to me on his hospital couch-bed, us just crying to one another, still not believing that this was our reality. Periodically a nurse would come check to see if I made any progress being dilated, it was a very slow process and was only feeling contractions every now and then. By 11pm that night I was almost 4cm dilated and the contractions were becoming more intense, so I opted to start the epidural process. The insertion of the needle just to numb your back before they insert the epidural is no joke, I squeezed Jon’s hand so tight, my thumbnail left a permanent mark on him. I felt the cool sensation of the medicine traveling through my spine, and shortly there after the numbness set in. They explained I could dose myself as needed with the press of a button if it started to wear off, and it doesn’t allow you to overdose yourself. I felt relieved that through the night, I didn’t need to press that button.
When I woke Monday morning, the doctor came in and wished me a Happy Birthday, which I had forgotten. I was still feeling pretty pain free, except from the periodic vomiting – part caused by the epidural, part anxiety and the other part not having anything to eat since Saturday. I was checked in the morning if I had many any progress dilating, nope still hanging out around 4cm. Mid afternoon, I started feeling intense pain on my right side, so I finally decided to press that button to get my next epidural dose. The nurses said it would take about 10 minutes to feel anything kick-in and that I could press that button 3 times within one hour. After 15 minutes the pain was becoming much more intense, so I pressed it again hoping for relief. Another 15 minutes passed and my entire left side was the most numb it had ever felt, while my right was in excruciating pain. We called in the nurse to let her know the situation, that I had given myself the 3 extra doses and was not getting any relief on my right side. They called the anesthesiologist to come check and make sure the epidural was still inserted correctly, saying sometimes it can get shifted. He said everything looked fine on his standards, so he just upped the dosage. I felt some immediate relief once he injected the extra dosage, so the nurse came in to check on me and said I was almost 7cm dilated and by the evening it would most likely be go time. Well things progressed pretty quickly from there, the epidural was wearing off all over at this point and I was feeling a lot of pressure on my lower half. I expressed these feelings to the nurse, and she was certain it was just because I was feeling a lot of pain and a hour ago I was only at 7cm, but I asked her to check again, sure enough I had progressed to 9cm and I knew it was go time. They called the doctor to prepare for delivery but they still wanted to wait until I was a full 10cm and that my contractions were regular.
By now we had a different doctor, still not my doctor, and not the angel woman we had upon being admitted. He was this older, tall, stoic gentleman and we were told by every nurse we would not have a more experienced doctor taking care of us, but he lacked the tenderness we needed in a situation like this. While I was certain it was indeed go time because I could now feel everything, the doctor literally just sat in the chair in our delivery room waiting, and I had to tell both him and the nurses, like this is really happening. So then the doctor checked me and instructed me that he was going to break my water, I did feel a gush like they talk about in the movies. And then he said, you probably were more dilated than we thought because your water was pressing on your cervix, so he sat back down in his chair. A few minutes later, I said, “Are you sure? Because I’m still feeling A LOT of pressure!” So he checked, and sure thing I was finally dilated the full 10cm. I’m not quite why sure no one in that room believed me, I know this was my first time at it, but not only was the epidural completely worn off but I just knew it was time.
The whole labor is forever ingrained into my brain. Most women say they can’t remember much, because once it’s over you have the euphoric feeling of holding your sweet baby. This was not our case, so I remember every push, every drop of sweat and every feeling. He was breach, so the first few pushes were the most difficult. I was pushing with all my might but not getting anywhere. Everyone kept telling me I was doing great, but I felt so defeated. I held my breath and pushed with all my might, but again feeling no progress. Also, because a baby who is alive has the instinct that it’s go time for them too, and they know how to get out, our sweet boy had already lost his life, so he didn’t have these instincts, it was all up to me. I continued pushing with everything I had, the doctor had to assist because of how breached he was. Eventually with a few more pushes, he was out. Silence filled the room. We didn’t hear what we had anticipated over these 8 months, the first big baby cries or the doctor saying “he’s here, he’s beautiful!” Just silence as they whisked him away to the nearby bassinet. I looked up at Jon, both our eyes filled with tears and we just held one another in that moment. He kissed me and told me how brave I was and how great I did. I certainly did not feel any of those things, I felt depleted. I began shivering, drenched in cold sweat and wondering if they had any answers why. As I could see in the corner of my eye the doctor and nurses examining him in his bassinet, I couldn’t look over quite yet, still fearful of what I might see.
The doctor said upon examining him that he was quite the perfect and healthy baby boy: ten fingers, 10 toes and completely developed for this stage of life. He said upon delivery is when he knew what went wrong, it was the umbilical cord. His cord was wrapped around his neck 3 times, causing him to suffocate and pass in my womb. So we got our answer “why” but it doesn’t make it any better, and it certainly won’t bring him back. Of course my initial thought was, “did he suffer?” Imagining a tiny baby getting caught in the one thing that is giving him life, is what killed him. And my next thought was, surely all my stress that week at work is what caused him to get tangled. So of course I asked it again, “Did my stress or excess movement cause this?” We we’re told unfortunately cord accidents are more common than anyone would like to admit, and also nothing causes them and nothing can prevent them. Our doctor explained it truly is a freak accident, the baby is surrounded by so much fluid in there, constantly turning and flipping, that majority of the time they are just lucky not to get caught, but he wasn’t one of the lucky ones. So any increase or decrease of my movement had no effect on him, and once it happens, it happens so quickly that it cannot be prevented or saved. Because I literally felt him kicking Friday night and Saturday morning I felt nothing, and Saturday afternoon is when we found out. I just wanted something to blame, and it might as well have been me. I was supposed to keep him safe and my womb ended up his tomb.
Baby Boy Hurtt was born on May 23rd (sharing his Birthday with mine) at 5:09pm, he weighed 3lbs 4oz and was 17 inches long. And those next few hours are the ones I will cherish for a lifetime, we got to hold our perfect son. It was striking how much he looked liked Jonathan, their noses are identical. He has his beautiful caramel complexion, a full head of hair, also long and lanky just like him. Then both sets of our parents, his grandparents came in and got to hold him and spend time with him too. We were also fortunate enough, through a charity called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, a professional photographer came in and documented these memories for us. And that professional photographer just happened to be fellow wedding industry friend, Julie Staley from Old South Studios. How lucky were we to have a familiar and comforting face in such a heartbreaking time. So now these memories are even more forever with us, because we have his picture to always look at.
After a few hours, the grandparents left to give us our last moments with him. We were then transferred from our delivery room, into a recovery room at the hospital. We brought with him us and passed him back and forth to one another, soaking in all the moments we could, holding him and kissing him for one last time. Around midnight we knew we had to say our goodbyes, so we did, the hardest goodbye we’ll ever have to say. My one thought at that moment and still to this day is, what color were your eyes sweet boy? And if only they could have locked eyes with mine …