Roman's Birth

          On November 26, 2017, at 38 weeks and 3 days, I felt Roman move inside my womb for what would be the last time.  Every night around 11:00pm, Roman would get the hiccups and perform a circus routine, and that night was no different. So just like any other night, I fell asleep to the peaceful lull of his hiccups.

          The next morning around 6:30am, I began to stir to consciousness as contractions started to set in.  I tossed and turned, excited at the prospect of labor, but hoping to get a little more sleep in before things really intensified.  About an hour later, I heard Ron beginning to stir, so I whispered, “Hey, you awake?”

Ron mumbled a yes, and I continued, “Well, I think I’m in labor.”  I chuckled nervously. Ron’s face immediately illuminated and popped right out of bed.  

“Really?  That is so great!” I envied his enthusiasm, as I was filled with trepidation at going through labor for the third time.  

Ron opened the closet doors, put on a dress shirt, and began buttoning it up, “I forgot I have a video interview in ten minutes.  Are you going to be okay while I’m doing that or should I postpone?”

“No, no, go ahead.  I’ll be fine. This is our third baby, I got this!” I winked at Ron and rolled out of bed and started pacing in circles, and I started to time the contractions. I made my way to the bathroom, and just as I was about to get up, I noticed a very small amount of blood.  I picked up my phone and called the doctor. When she answered, I told her that labor had just begun, but I had seen a little blood, should I be concerned? She assured me that it was probably fine, but said I should go ahead and come in anyways since it was my third child and bound to move quickly.  I hung up the phone and silently made my way to the room to get dressed. Ron was still in the living room on his interview, so I quickly sent him a text: Honey, there was a little bit of blood when I went to the bathroom.  I called the doctor, she said it was totally fine, but we should go ahead and come to the hospital anyways since it’s our third baby and things could move fast…Maybe finish up that call LOL.

Ron responded that he’d finish ASAP. I then text a couple of friends to get Aly off to school and to watch Fynn.  As the contractions continued, I woke the children up to get ready for school and the day. I laughed to myself at the absurdity of being in full blown labor, yet still dressing children, making breakfast, and packing lunches!

“Aly, wake up!  It’s time to get ready for school!  Mrs. K is going to take you to school today, because guess what! Mami is in labor!”

Aly sleepily rolled over and cracked open one eye, “What’s inlabor?”

“It means we are having the baby today! When you come home from school today, you’ll get to meet your new baby brother!”  

At this news, Aly immediately sat straight up, positively delighted by this news.  “What? This is the best thing ever! I can’t wait, I can’t wait!” Aly chanted, clapped, and bounced around her bed in excitement, being the animated child she is.  Feeding off of Aly’s energy, Fynn got out of bed and marched around the room while chanting, “Hooray, hooray, hooray!”

          A few seconds later, Ron appeared in the doorway.  “I cut the interview short. Surely they’ll understand,” he laughed.  “Hey let’s take one more picture of you pregnant before we head to the hospital.”  Ron ran into our room and grabbed his camera, while I positioned myself in front of our entry closet doors, a nervous smile plastered on my face.

“You are so excited right now,” I mused.

“Of course I am honey! I get to meet my baby boy today!  I absolutely cannot wait for this.” Ron truly is the best birthing partner.  Excitement was seeping out of his pores, and it began to hit me a bit too. “Yeah.  Of course it is exciting,” but then another contraction hit and I doubled over, “Ahhh, I’m just so nervous about labor.  I wish I could be as excited as you.” Ron smiled and responded, “Well, I’m not the one who has to birth this kid.” We both laughed as Ron snapped the final picture of Roman in my womb.

          Ron went back to the room to finish packing our hospital bag, and in a matter of minutes, our doorbell was ringing.  It was Mrs. K, ready to take Aly to school. I gave Aly a big hug and kiss and said, “Bye Aly, have a wonderful day at school.  Remember, next time we see you, you’ll get to meet your brother!” Aly jumped up and down with joy as she exited the apartment. Mrs. K wished me luck and followed after Aly.

          We had just packed everything up, when the doorbell rang for the second time.  This time it was our friend Kendra, and she was there to watch Fynn until grandparents could come take over.

I greeted her quickly as a contraction had just ended, “Hey girl.  Thanks again for watching Fynn this morning. His grandma should be over sometime this afternoon to relieve you.”  I gave her a short string of instructions for the day and then we left the apartment and made our way outside. Ron stepped outside our building to hail a taxi, while I trailed behind waddling slowly through another contraction.  Our doorman looked up surprised and excited to see what was unfolding.

“Yep, it’s baby time,” I offered and gave a nervous thumbs up.

“Wow, that’s great!  Good luck,” he responded.

          Once we were inside the cab, we quickly made it up the 13 blocks, and arrived a few minutes later at Mt. Sinai West, just before 8:30am.  We walked through the familiar revolving doors and made our way up to the 12th floor, just like we had every other time.  We entered the newly remodeled triage room and were immediately greeted by a nurse.

“Hello, what are you here for today,” she asked.

“Well I think I’m in labor, it’s only been happening for an hour or so, but this is our third child so my doctor said I should go ahead and come in,” I responded.

Her eyes widened and she said, “Oh! Third child! Yes, let’s definitely get you back here right away then.  Your husband can stay here and fill out the paperwork and wait to be called back. You go leave us a urine sample and then we’ll take you to a room.”

“Oh, I actually just peed before we left the house.  I don’t need to go.”

“Pregnant women always need to pee,” the nurse handed me the empty cup and walked away.  Ron had already grabbed paperwork from the front desk and was sitting down scribbling through pages.  I walked over to the bathroom. I tried to pee, but of course I couldn’t. I saw a bit of bright red blood again, but I was not remotely concerned by it.  I came back out, empty cup in my hand. The nurse tisked at me a bit, but led me back into a triage room. She handed me a gown to change into, and promptly left the room.  A couple of minutes later, I was on the bed, and the nurse was strapping the first monitor to my stomach to monitor contractions. She then worked to position the second monitor on my stomach.  She moved it around several times. Finally, she paused and removed the monitor all together. It felt like an eternity passed during the silence of those monitors. The nurse’s face was blank as she called to someone outside the door, “Can we get an ultrasound in Room 3?”  I searched her face nervously, but she avoided eye contact with me. It was in that moment that I begin to realize that something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

I thought to myself, “Oh gosh.  Something is wrong with the baby.  But why is no one whisking me away for an emergency C-section? Why is everyone being so calm right now?”  My head was suddenly spinning.  I was barely able to speak at all, but I managed to say with some authority, “Can you please go get my husband right now?”  The nurse didn’t even argue with me; she got right up and went to the waiting area to find Ron.

A minute later, Ron, the nurse, and an ultrasound technician all returned to my triage room at the same time.  Ron came in happy enough, thinking that he was just coming back because I was going to be admitted to stay. He stopped short when he saw the sheer terror on my face, “Brooke, what’s going on?”  I could no longer keep my composure, and I spewed out rapidly, “I think something is wrong with the baby, but nobody is saying anything!” Ron turned his attention to the ultrasound technician who was now rubbing her wand across my abdomen, “Is that true?  Is there something wrong?”

The ultrasound technician thought for a brief second, choosing her words carefully, “Well, we are having trouble locating the baby’s heartbeat.  I’m going to have the doctor take a look at it.” At that statement, Ron and I made eye contact, all color drained from our faces. Ron came over to my side and squeezed my hand while we waited in silence for the doctor to enter the room.  Though it only took a couple of minutes, it felt like an eternity. The doctor on call entered the room. She greeted us quickly and immediately sat down, grabbing the technician’s wand. With a solemn face, she turned towards us and said the thing that would change our lives forever, “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat; and unfortunately, there is nothing we can do.”  And that was the moment in our life that time stood still.

*****

Ron and I embraced each other fiercely as the pain of what we just heard hit us over and over again like waves breaking in the sea.  Ron was weeping uncontrollably and shouting, “No! No! No!” over and over again, and tears were silently streaming down my face. I was too shocked to believe that it could even be true.  I had felt him mere hours ago, how could this be?

“I am going to call your doctor and give you a few minutes alone,” the doctor told us, as she exited the room, leaving us alone in our misery.

“Why? Why did this happen to us? No, this can’t be happening.  Please, Lord!” Ron cried out loud desperately.

“I just don’t understand.  I felt him last night. Everything was fine.  I’m in labor…This isn’t real. This can’t be happening.  There is just is no way,” I responded.

We sat in the triage room, clutching each other, as we tried to process what was happening. 15 minutes later, my OB, Dr. F, arrived still in her spin class attire.  She raced across the room and hugged me hard,tears in her eyes. “Hi Honey. I’m so so sorry. I left my class as soon as I heard. I’ll take a look on the monitor and see if I find a heartbeat, but it is doubtful I’ll find anything different. I’m so sorry.”  She picked up the wand and began running it over my abdomen. Ron picked up my hand it squeezed it tight, as we both waited with baited breath.

I silently pleaded with God, “Please Lord, please.  Work a miracle. Bring my son back to life. Don’t let him be gone, just let it have been a finicky machine.  Please let her find his heartbeat. Please, please, please…”

After several long minutes, “I’m so sorry you guys.  The doctor was right, there is no heartbeat…I wish I had better news,” Dr. F concluded as she set down the wand, her face mirroring our grief.

“But why? What happened?”  Ron asked, desperate for an answer.

“Well, it looks like the placenta abrupted, which means that it came detached from the uterine wall,” She pondered a moment before continuing, “It is strange that you don’t have any other symptoms with it and just a small amount of blood.  I imagine there will be a lot more blood to come, so we will need to monitor that.”

“But why would the placenta have abrupted?”  I asked, trying to grasp what was now reality.

“Well, that’s also strange.  Usually, it comes from some sort of trauma to the stomach, smoking, drinking, or older age.  But none of that applies to you.” Dr F. looked straight into my eyes and continued, “Brooke, there is absolutely no reason that this should have happened to you and your baby.”

Ron who had been sitting in the chair with his face buried in his hands, suddenly sat up as a new worry entered his mind and interjected, “Is Brooke going to be okay?”

“She is probably going to lose a lot of blood, but we will be monitoring her.  If she loses too much, we will be prepared to do a blood transfusion. Try not to worry, her safety is our first priority right now.”

Ron nodded his head silently at this.  Five minutes ago, he was being crushed by the news of the death of his son, and now he was panicking at the prospect of losing his wife too.  It was literally his worst nightmare playing out before him. I heard him whisper, Please Lord, not Brooke too.  Leave me my wife, Lord. I can’t bear this.

My mind was still on the stillbirth and I asked, “Does this happen often?  Do you see this a lot?”

“No, honey.  I’ve been doing this for 21 years, and it is very rare for this to happen this late in the pregnancy.  I remember every patient it has happened to though. Somehow it always seems to be my favorite patients,” She said with a weak smile.

We all sat in silence for a few moments.  “Okay, well, I’m going to give you guys a few minutes alone.  I need to go and cancel my appointments for the day; I’m going to stay here with you all day.  When you’re ready, we’ll move you to a room and start some Pitocin,” Dr. F. patted me on the leg and left the room.  Ron and I were alone again, still trying to process everything that had happened in the last half hour.

“I guess we should call our families and let them know,” Ron said through sobs of tears. I silently nodded in agreement.

Ron took out his phone and called his parents first.  He managed to say, “Perdimos el nino” before completely losing it again.  I held Ron in my arms and wept alongside him as we made it through the first of these conversations.  I shakily picked up my phone to call my mom. “Mom, we lost the baby,” Tears flooded out and my entire body started shaking uncontrollably.  “Yes, we do still want you all to come. I mean, I-I-I still have to give birth.” I burst into tears again and absolutely broke down at the prospect of still having to go through labor and delivery, and I simply handed the phone to Ron to end the call.  We continued calling our remaining family members and then sat together for a short while.

As I began to contemplate what was to come, fear welled up inside me. I said to Ron, “Honey, I can’t give birth right now.  There is just no way. Please, will you just ask them if they can do a C-section? I can’t go through this right now. I can’t give birth to our dead son.  I just want this nightmare over now.”

“No babe.  You can do it.  We’re going to get through this, and we will hold our son and see his face.  I know you can do it,” Ron responded confidently. He was being so incredibly strong in those moments when I just could not. I silently nodded, as the tears stream down my face and the cruel contractions continued to hit, my body unbeknownst that there was no longer life inside.  Lord, I can’t.  My soul is so crushed right now.  I am in such pain, emotionally; pain beyond anything I have ever felt.  God, there is no way that I can go through such physical pain right now too.  I need you to get me through this.

There was a small knock at the door, and Dr. F. appeared, ready to escort Ron and I back to a delivery room, where we would birth our stillborn son.

****

          As we made our way out of the triage unit, we walked past an open doorway, and I heard another baby’s heartbeat being monitored.  It was as if the sound was coming over a megaphone, each beat reminding me of the absence of heartbeats inside my own womb. We continued on down the hallway into our labor and delivery room.  We began to get settled in, Ron in the chair next to me, and me in the bed. Within minutes I was dripping sweat, dizzy, vomiting and near fainting. It was a combination of grief, anxiety, and losing so much blood rapidly.  In between contractions and dry-heaving, I begged for an epidural. If I could just sleep a little, maybe this nightmare would go away. A nurse came and pressed a cold towel to my head with one hand as she called for an anesthesiologist with the other.  Within 10 miserable minutes, they were prepping me for the epidural. I was so dizzy, I could barely sit up. Ron braced himself in front of me, but I was certain that if he let go of me, I would topple face first onto the floor. Soon I could feel the iciness of the epidural spreading throughout my lower body, slowly easing my physical pain, but doing nothing for the pain I felt in my heart.  

          I must have dozed off for an hour or so, because I found myself stirring to consciousness as the desire to push overcame my body.  I knew it was time, so I asked Ron to go get the doctor, and just before he left the room, I said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”  He gave me a quick hug and said, “We’ve got to though.”

Two minutes later, the doctor came in.  The silence in the room was deafening. The doctor silently came in to examine me; Roman was already halfway out.  She quietly asked me to push. I had no energy or motivation, so I gave one measly half-hearted push, and at 11:57am, out came my handsome, but silent son.  In the months and years to come, as the memories of that day become fuzzy, that silence is something I remember clear as day. It was another reminder of the unnatural of that day.

          Throughout the entire pregnancy, Ron had wanted to be the one to hold Roman first when he was born.  Though the circumstances changed, this desire did not. Ron was the first to hold our sweet Roman. He held his still warm body against his bare chest and let his tears wash over him.  After a few minutes, he handed Roman back to the nurse to weigh him (6 lbs, 10 oz), get his footprints, and clean him up a bit. Ron snapped dozens of pictures knowing that these would be the only pictures we’d ever have of him, some of our most prized possessions.

Once Roman was cleaned off and swaddled, I got to hold him for the first time.  In the hours leading up to that moment, I didn’t know how I would feel. What would it be like to hold my dead son in my arms?  Did I even want to? I wasn’t sure. But once he was born, there was no question in my mind. I wanted nothing more than to hold him and drink in every square inch of his body.  I needed to memorize everything about him, I knew this was my only chance. I felt his classic newborn-soft skin. I kissed his tiny nose and lips. We admired his full head of matted hair, though to this day I’m still not sure if it was curly or straight.  We counted each of his little toes and fingers. Everything about him was absolutely perfect. One of the most frustrating and heart-breaking things about the situation was that he was perfectly healthy and ready to join the world; life was just cruelly snatched away from him before even got to experience a minute of it here on Earth.

          Ron and I spent the next 4 hours just taking turns holding Roman and soaking up every moment with him.  There were moments where it almost seemed normal and like he was with us, perhaps just asleep. But the silence and his continually colder body would quickly remind us of the truth.  Ron and the nurse washed his hair so that we could save a clip of his hair. The nurse brought us a keepsake box to begin to collect the pieces of that day that we could keep. It was a very surreal afternoon.  It was just the three of us, and those 4 hours that we held him in our arms would have to carry us through a lifetime.

          As time went on, we decided we needed to say goodbye to Roman, and move to a recovery room, so that Aly & Fynn could come to the hospital and we could break the news to them in person.  Saying goodbye to Roman’s body at 4:00pm was one of the hardest moments of my life. We continually had to remind ourselves that he was already in Heaven, and that this was merely his body that we were letting go of.  But the agony that accompanied that is excruciating. There would have been no amount of time in which I would have been ready to say goodbye to him. I couldn’t give him enough kisses before he left. Ron gave him one final hug and kiss and handed him to the nurse; he was the first and last to hold our son.

          Soon after we said goodbye to Roman, we were transferred to another floor to recover.  The hospital was so gracious in every step of care for us. They placed us on a completely separate floor, far from other new moms and babies.  We had a private room, unlimited guests with no curfew, and Ron was allowed to stay the night. We basically got to do whatever we wanted in that room; everyone knew that even these small gestures paled in comparison to the loss we were experiencing.

          So we settled into our room and waited for Ron’s family to arrive with Aly & Fynn.  We contemplated how to tell our 2 and 4 year old that their brother had died. There was just no easy way, but I knew that we needed to be the ones to do so.  We also didn’t want family to have to lie to Aly, as she knew we were at the hospital to birth Roman. So we asked that the kids come right after we said goodbye to Roman.  Soon enough, we heard the pitter patter of our children running towards our door. Aly burst through the door with a huge smile on her face, her eyes darting all over the room looking for Roman.  A few seconds passed, and she looked up at me and eagerly asked, “Mami, where’s Roman?” Ron brought the kids over to my bed, as we both tried to hold back the tears long enough to tell them the truth.

“Aly, sweetie…unfortunately Roman died.”

Aly immediately burst into tears, “No Mami, no! Why? Why would he die?  I loved him so much!!”

“We don’t know honey.  He was fine, but when we got to the hospital, he had already died.  We don’t know why.”

Aly was uncontrollably crying as she tried to process this, “But you told me this morning you were going to the hospital to bring my brother home.  Why would you lie to me?” The pain I felt throughout the day only increased as I had to watch my four year old daughter endure the same pain, a pain no one should ever have to feel, but especially not at four years old.  The four of us huddled up on my hospital bed, just crying and clinging to each other. In that moment, I was completely crushed. We hugged Aly and Fynn fiercely, now knowing just how fortunate and precious each of their lives were.

          Our kids and family soon went home, and we spent the next 24 hours in the hospital to recover before heading home.  Instead of breastfeeding classes and birth certificate paperwork, we met with bereavement counselors and filled out mortuary forms.  I remember one conversation where the bereavement counselor said in passing, “And the funeral home will come and get your baby from the morgue…”  The morgue. She said it so casually, as if someone was mentioning your baby being in the nursery down the hall. I thought to myself, “My son is in the hospital still.  He is downstairs and all alone. He needs his Mami and Papi. I just want to run down there and scoop him back up and hold him!!”  But then in an instance, I forced a reminder to myself that it was just his body downstairs, my son was gone.

          We left the hospital that afternoon with my hospital bag full of Roman’s untouched pajamas, swaddle, and pacifier.  Instead of a car seat, we carried out a box with the only pieces of Roman we had from that day—a lock of hair, his hat, a diaper, and his blanket.  I slowly waddled to the cab, and Ron helped me carefully climb inside. We hugged each other tightly as we left the hospital, knowing that once we were home, we would begin planning our son’s funeral.

*******

          One thing I have said from the beginning is that I don’t know how someone does this when it’s their first child.  As devastated as we were, we still did not come home to a silent, empty home. The joy and laughter from our children was life-sustaining.  Suddenly, the parenting struggles, sibling fights, and tantrums seemed so insignificant. We laughed instead of getting angry. We hugged instead of scolding.  We cherished each moment. There were, of course, oceans of tears shed that first week, but we kept moving.

          On our second day home, my milk came in, as if going through labor and not getting to bring my son home was not enough.  This became excruciating pain, as I tried to not to pump and wait as my body figured out that there was no baby. It felt so unfair in those moments, even my body was physically aching for my son.  That night, when the pain became so unbearable, I pumped while hovering over the bathroom sink. I watched as rivers of tears mingled with breastmilk washed down the drain. This was not how it was supposed to be.

          The next day, Ron worked tirelessly to plan and delegate tasks for Roman’s funeral.  We made it through meetings at the funeral home, but I lost it after trying to shop for the funeral.  At three days postpartum, I could barely walk, nothing fit, and most of all, it just hurt so much that I was shopping for my son’s funeral instead of snuggling him in my arms at home.

          Friday came, December 1, 2017, the day of Roman’s funeral.  That morning as we got ready, I was wrought with emotion and questions.

Should we even be having a funeral?  How will I feel to see him again? Will he look worse?  Will they put the wrong color makeup on him? Will I regret my last image of him being in a casket?

By God’s grace, none of my fears were justified. The moment we arrived at the church, I ran straight for Roman, laying peacefully in the tiniest little white box at the altar.  Once I saw his face, I instantly felt a flood of relief wash over my body. He was absolutely perfect. He looked beautiful and exactly how he should have looked. It gave me such peace to see him again and to be able to kiss him one more time goodbye.

The service was beautifully done.  The songs that we sang still bring me to tears this day.  But the thing I remember the most from that day was the sheer number of people who showed up for Roman’s memorial service.  At first, I didn’t even realize just how many were there, as we were sitting at the front of the room. It wasn’t until I got up and turned around, that I saw the multitude of people filling the room and spilling into the lobby.  We were absolutely floored by the love and support of everyone. In that moment, the amount of love I felt by our community outweighed the amount of grief I felt. Though it didn’t diminish the grief at all, it suddenly felt like, maybe, just maybe, we could survive this.