“You gotta watch out for the little ones, they are the sneakiest” she said, watching my 20 month-old daredevil run down the hall, his squishy toddler body on the move. “How is your newest little one? A boy, right?”
About two months ago, I seized the opportunity to watch my oldest son swim during preschool swim time and sat chatting with the other moms over my growing belly. They excitedly shared their birth stories, their emergency C-sections, and their decisions to stop growing their families. I listened. I had never had a C-section so I just listened. They asked me if I knew what I was having, and for the first time in any of the pregnancies, I did. Another boy. Three boys, and no, we weren’t trying for a girl. And no, we won’t keep trying for a girl. The same conversation I’ve had before. I had long since mourned not needing to know how to French braid. Yes, another boy. Three sons.
And now, here I was. My heart ached. I thought she would have known. I had told one mom, surely they would have spread that around in a fit of gossip. But no, she didn’t know. It had to happen eventually, right? When we lost Reece, I avoided taking our oldest to preschool for as long as I could. Now that I had to, I had been hurrying through the process of dropping my son off to preschool to avoid having to have this conversation with other preschool moms.
“Uhh,” I started, bracing myself, “He died.” She blanched, gulped, and left her mouth open. She blinked twice, came back to herself, then asked, “What happened?!? Oh my god!Were you expecting it?”
“No, we weren’t expecting it.” Not any more than one can expect to be T-boned by a semi truck while proceeding through a green light. “His heart just stopped beating.”
“Shut up! Seriously? …What happened?”
She kept asking. It was her voice, but I had heard those words in my head a thousand times, especially in the night, as the distractions of my bigger boys melted away and the house quieted and there is nothing left but the darkness and the unanswered questions. Why?? Why did this happened? Why did he die? Why did this happen to me? Why me?What happened??
Back in August, my husband and I went for the routine 20 week ultrasound and to discover the sex of the baby. Everything was perfect, his heart, his head, his tiny kidneys were churning in all the right ways. She took his measurements and noted that our baby was on the small side. I didn’t think anything of it since his oldest brother was just a peanut when he was born. At my 130 pounds, 5’4″ frame and my husband with the stature of a green bean, we just weren’t built for ten pound babies. The office wanted us back for a follow up.
So we went back. And he was growing but was still small. This was repeated again and again until they called me to schedule a pregnancy management consultation. Um, what? No. Pump the brakes. I requested a second opinion and was scheduled for another ultrasound on Tuesday, November 3rd. Reece checked out perfectly. His heart, his brain, his little kidneys all churning along just as they should. The placenta was a great shape with posterior placement, the cord flow was perfect, the amniotic fluid was plenty. Except Reece was still small. The specialist I had originally seen discussed Intra Uterine Growth Restriction with us and cited that as a reason for his smaller size. The new specialist asked me one important question.
“Could your due date be wrong?”
Holy shit. Lightning bolt. Why, thank you for asking because, absolutely, yes, it could be. In fact, I was nursing my second while this baby was conceived so I have no evidence of a true menstrual cycle. And everyone knows that’s how pregnancies are dated.
“Yes, I think it could be wrong if using my last menstrual period, which could have been spotting from stopping The Pill. But I can pinpoint the day this baby was conceived,” I declared. Because I could. Because I remembered how we threw caution to the wind and the wind blew it back into our faces. With that knowledge, the doctor was able to adjust my due date two weeks backwards, putting Reece up against the correct agemates. So finally, he was out of the bottom percentiles and the ultrasounds could be over. That was Tuesday, November 3rd.
Reece’s heart would stop beating just four days later on November 7th, 2015.
Why?? What happened? He was medically perfect. I was medically perfect. We were textbook. What happened? How? How could a medically perfect baby just die?
Once the shock wasn’t so bright, I started reading and doing research about the causes of stillbirth. Obesity. Poor nutrition. Low social economic status. Blood clotting disorders. Previous complications in pregnancy. Smoking. Alcohol consumption.
None of those things were me. I wasn’t a candidate for any of those reasons.
Then I looked into something called “cord accidents.”
Posterior placement of the placenta. Yes. Frequent baby hiccups. Yes. Active baby, including body shifts and rolls. Yes. All of these things can increase or signal possible cord issues, including it just getting in the way. Hiccups can cue a problem in cord flow to the baby, like kinking a garden hose slows the water. In looking back at the night before he died, I posted on Facebook about baby hiccups. My other boys had had them and I thought nothing of it. A baby that rolls and flips might be reacting to disrupted flow and trying to get away from the cord. Reece was a busy as I have ever experienced.
I was on a stationary bike that morning, having finally been cleared for cardio, I was ready to get my sweat on. Reece was kicking up a storm but I chalked it up to me bumping him with my knees as they cycled up. Could that have been the moment of his death? Was his head smashed against his cord and his whole weight smashed on top of that?
Sometime that day, he just quietly slipped away. No blood, no gush of water, so peaceful. It wasn’t until my husband returned from work that it occurred to me that I needed to sit and drink some water since Reece hadn’t moved much that afternoon.
There was nothing I could have done. Yesterday was my final midwife appointment for this pregnancy. We discussed the pregnancy at length. She inspected every inch of my placenta and it was healthy and normal. She inspected every inch of Reece, even noting his well descended testicles at 34 weeks. She rejected the idea of IUGR because he was almost 5 pounds and at 34 weeks (and even keeping at 36 weeks), he was a good healthy weight. There was no clot in the cord that she could see, but then she said it.
“If the cord is pinched or kinked and Baby’s heart start to decelerate, it takes 10 minutes before that tiny heart just can’t start back up again.”
So what happened? There was no heart complications, no clots, no placental tears, no deformities, no infections, no diseases. We were both medically boring. Our best guess, that will never be confirmed because pinches and compressions don’t leave their mark, is cord accident.
“Oh my God,” she said, “Were you expecting it to happen?”
Not any more than one can expect to be T-boned by a semi truck while proceeding through a green light.
To find out more about cord accidents and to read some super exciting statistics, click this link.