Today’s Mom Talk is a true example of the power of storytelling. Late last year, Emily Thompson wrote an essay for this space about her daughter Georgia: Her first baby, who was diagnosed with fetal hydrops and cystic hygroma at her 21-week anatomy scan, and whom she never got to hold. During her lowest moment, sitting in the waiting room at the offices where the pregnancy would be terminated, she met Sarah Mickelson-Weiman—another grieving mother whose baby had also been dealt a similar fate. The two connected and have stayed friends. After reading Emily’s story, Sarah wrote to us and asked to share her own experience with late-term pregnancy loss. Sarah felt her story would shed light on another aspect of loss—the less-spoken about decision to not try again for another baby. How she came to her decision to not chase a rainbow baby will surely resonate with women out there, who may be feeling especially alone in their loss and inability or personal decision to not try again. Read on for her story.
January 7, 2019 was a Monday. It was my first day back in my classroom after winter break. Usually I’d be a little blue, missing the time off with my son and the sparkle of the holidays. But, instead of dealing with the doldrums and abyss of January, exceptional things were taking place.
Today marked the first step in transforming the little spare room we affectionately called the Pink and Purple Room. This room was the ugliest room in the 1938 Tudor we had bought in 2016. Its cotton candy pink walls, destroyed by garish swirls of purple—two colors only a small girl under the age of eight would favor—had been left untouched during the two years we had spent renovating the rest of the house. But, now it had a purpose: it would be Quinn’s room. Our baby boy was 21 weeks in-utero and was due to make his entrance on May 22, 2019.
No longer disregarded, we chose this garish little room to take our pregnancy announcement photo; showing off a new renovation project and the real thrill, a new baby. Tonight, our wood floors would be dropped off into the room—they would replace a patch of ugly carpet from the 80s. While uneventful to some, this gesture signified the beginning of Quinn’s place in our family’s home.
I was equally eager for our anatomy scan that was scheduled after I got off work. I remember feeling very cute and pregnant that day. Standing a quarter-inch shy of five feet, I looked further along than I really was, and I loved it. I felt special. I couldn’t wait to walk into the appointment with my husband, to see how much our baby had grown, to get those glossy black and white pictures that I would hang on the fridge, and then at some point add to a baby book. We did leave with pictures that day, but they would never reside in a baby book.
I had always wanted two children, but after my first son was born in 2013, I knew I was married to the wrong man. Our marriage was always unstable, but with a new baby, all the ugliness of our relationship was on full display. After my divorce, I reconnected with an acquaintance, who eventually became my husband. Now in my thirties, I was wiser and I knew I was married to the sort of man you want to grow old with. Life had shifted for me in a wonderful way.
Glen and I bought our beloved fixer upper right before he proposed to me, thinking it might be a place we could grow our family. Between doing a massive home renovation, working full time jobs, parenting an energetic three year old, and planning a wedding, we were busy. During this time I started looking more at the big picture of our lives. I really valued our freedom and flexibility and the adventures we could afford. My son, Soren, was entering this perfect age where life was feeling easier. I started to realize I didn’t have a strong pull inside me to have another child. I was also dealing with major mom guilt at the time; going through a divorce when your child is 16 months old can do that to you. Shortly after buying our home, my ex-husband’s job situation changed and he was now an every-other-weekend dad. It was like a new lease on life to have so much extra time with my son. The thought of a baby began to feel almost invasive to my bond with Soren. And as our wedding date grew near, I began vocalizing how well off I thought we were as a family of three. Glen was thrown off by my comments at first; we had always talked about having a child together. But he came around to the idea, and for awhile there we were both fulfilled and happy, just the three of us.
I’m not sure what sparked a change in me, but my resolve to not have another child started to wane. Maybe I was feeling more secure that Soren was with us 90 percent of the time. Maybe it was the thought of having an opportunity to do the baby thing over again with a man that unconditionally loved, supported, and cared for me. Maybe it was because I lit up inside when my son said he wanted a sibling. Maybe it was all my friends encouraging me and Glen to have a baby, and mentioning how great it would be for Soren. Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I could be more mellow this time around; that I wouldn’t feel as stressed because I was in a better relationship. I’m sure all of these musings led me to casually bring up the possibility of another child one night on the couch.
Even with these notions wrangling around in my head, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted another child. I still loved our current way of life. Soren was even older now and I couldn’t imagine producing another child more special than him. I didn’t know if I wanted things to change. But, once I put the idea of a baby out there, an ongoing dialogue formed. We wavered on the idea until finally deciding on a plan. In the Spring of 2018, over a year into our marriage, we decided to put things in fate’s hands and go off birth control. If we weren’t pregnant in six months, we’d decide if we really wanted to continue trying, but we both agreed we only wanted to try for a year. We felt relieved to have come up with some sort of decision. Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to stop taking my birth control pills until late July. I remember visiting my family in Texas, when I hesitantly took my last pill.
It was a Friday in September and I was four days late. Full of nerves, I went to Target to pick up a home pregnancy test. I decided to wait until Sunday to take the test, but after putting Soren to bed I went straight to the bathroom, I couldn’t hold out two more days. Waiting for the results felt like an eternity. My body pulsed as I walked back over to where the pregnancy test was waiting for me. The digital words decidedly read, Pregnant. With what felt like electrical currents charging through my body, I picked up the test and rushed downstairs. I paused in the living room, my husband staring at me, and said, “Well. I’m pregnant.” I proceeded to cry all weekend. Fate had in fact decided for us, and I was floored.
Before Soren was born, I had a pregnancy loss at 12 weeks. It was Valentine’s Day and I started bleeding after work. I feared the worst even though people at my doctor’s office said it was normal to bleed and my hCG levels were great. But, an ultrasound confirmed my worst fears, there was no heartbeat. Later that day, I had a D&C to remove my baby that I never would get the chance to meet. I was crushed and irrationally thought I might not be able to produce a healthy baby. I remember being in a grief-stricken fog afterwards; the only thing keeping me going was the hope of another baby. A few months later, I found out the most healing news ever, I was pregnant again. Soren would become my rainbow baby.
The shock of this third pregnancy wore off after a few weeks and I was beginning to feel excited. At nine weeks, Soren and Glen accompanied me to my first ultrasound to hear the baby’s heartbeat. I was nervous bringing Soren…what if there was no heartbeat? I wanted everything to be okay. As we sat together in that dark room, I breathed a sigh of relief as we saw the fast moving flicker inside our baby’s tiny chest.
At just barely 36, I was considered a “geriatric pregnancy.” While the term felt offensive, there were perks of my so-called advanced maternal age. At 12 weeks we were able to find out the sex of the baby because of additional testing I was encouraged to get to rule out any issues. I knew an email was due to come in any day with the results. At last I got the notification. I shouted for Glen and Soren to come downstairs. We all held our breath as we opened the message together. I instantly saw the words in big bold letters, BOY. We all celebrated; Soren had wished for a brother. As I kept reading to find out what really mattered—was our baby healthy—I read the sentence: “very, very low chance that your baby has Trisomy 13, Trisomy 18, or Down’s Syndrome.” We were in the clear, or so I thought.
I felt happy, collected, and calm at our anatomy scan on January 7, 2019. The first thing I noticed was how much Quinn was moving around. Another busy boy to raise, I thought. As the ultrasound tech explained different things we were seeing on the screen, he mentioned he was having a hard time getting a shot of the baby’s profile. He said he needed to get another camera to try to get a better look. I took his absence as a chance to use the restroom, but when I returned, Glen looked nervous. He didn’t like that the tech had been gone so long. I reassured him it was okay and I believed it would be. When he finally came back, I never noticed that the special camera he retrieved was left unused. Glen later told me the ultrasound tech set it on the counter and there it remained. As we wrapped up our appointment, I felt disappointed we didn’t have the quintessential baby profile picture, but the tech explained our baby was just too busy and wasn’t cooperating today, we’d need to come back in. I remember feeling comforted by this, another opportunity to see the baby. Blissfully unaware of the huge issues our tech had discovered, I said thank you and went home with a full heart.
Looking back, it’s trivial to think that anatomy scans are for cute pictures or to find out the sex of the baby. The real purpose is to detect abnormalities and defects; problems that no parents want to find out about. After I got home, I showed Soren the pictures we were able to get. Still ingrained in my mind is this one particular picture. There was this perfect little foot that was attached to this perfect little leg, that was crossed over another perfect little leg, that had an equally perfect little foot attached to it. I didn’t realize it would be the last photo of Quinn.
About an hour after my appointment, I got a call. When I answered, I was surprised it was one of my midwives. I was confused why she was calling, I wasn’t supposed to get a call until the next day to go over my ultrasound. As I stood in our kitchen nook, looking out the window to our backyard, she said things that made my head start spinning. I stopped her. I needed Glen to hear this too, because I wouldn’t be able to remember all the painful things she was about to tell me. I got Glen inside, and we slowly closed the door to the guest bedroom, while Soren watched a show in the other room, thankfully unaware of the call. Once on speaker phone, she started to explain, again, that abnormalities were found. There was a medial facial cleft. A cleft palate? No, a cleft on the left side of the face. The stomach wasn’t detected. She mentioned Lemon Sign, which meant something might be wrong with his brain. The more she talked, the worse the situation got. We would need to see a fetal maternal specialist to know exactly what we were dealing with. We would have to wait an entire week to see this specialist. That can’t be right. We couldn’t possibly be tortured with this information, then have thrown in that our baby might be okay, but a fetal maternal specialist would have to do an advanced ultrasound to know for sure. I couldn’t fathom waiting a week. After the call, I sobbed harder than I ever had in my life. I somehow pulled myself together, cooked dinner for my family, got Soren ready for bed, read stories, and kissed his precious lips goodnight. I then immediately called my dad and frantically told him the news. As he listened, anything holding me together unraveled. Hoping it might conceal my cries, I hid in my bedroom closet, and I sobbed even harder than I had a few hours before.
We did have to wait a week to see a fetal maternal specialist; the longest, most agonizing week of our lives. I felt like my heart was being ripped to shreds and through it all I had to be a mom, a teacher, and walk around with my pregnant belly that I no longer wanted to show off to the world. I was tormented with feeling the kicks of a baby that felt so strong inside me. How could something be wrong with this sweet soul? The morning of our appointment with the fetal maternal specialist was exactly a week after our anatomy scan. The two ultrasound techs were so kind to us. The machines they’d be using were state of the art. All of this was lost on me, because I knew in my heart we were not okay. The ultrasound techs asked if I wanted to view the video. I instantly replied no. I didn’t want to see a high-tech 3D image of the real version of my son. I wanted to continue to envision the perfect baby that I imagined Quinn to be. We did hear the heartbeat. It was strong and solid. For an instant, that gave me a flicker of false hope. As she glided the wand across my belly and relayed medical terms to the other tech, tears flowed from my eyes. When they were done, we waited for the specialist to come in, terrified to finally have the truth. He was kind, but straightforward, and things were worse than we thought. Quinn had no stomach, his esophagus was not properly formed, there was an issue with his spine, and the left side of his face was practically not there. No left eye, nose, or lips. Out of all the awful abnormalities that Quinn had, the face plagued me the most. Even knowing the truth, I still imagine that perfect little baby face when I think of Quinn. The sweet face I know he was meant to have.
Finding out your child is not compatible with life is like getting your heart sucked out of your body with a vacuum. The torture of waiting to find out what was wrong with Quinn was replaced with a new torture the following week. We were going to have to have an unwanted abortion. After not getting calls back from my midwife office, we went ahead and paid out of pocket for an abortion procedure from the person deemed the best by the fetal maternal specialist. I didn’t want to wait anymore. If this was happening, I needed it to be over with. Every kick and movement by Quinn was agonizing. He was increasingly active. I couldn’t live in this cruel mixed reality.
The procedure was supposed to be two days. It turned out to be three grueling days. I was physically and emotionally in pain. During those three brutal days, there were two moments that solidified that I would never try again to have another baby. One of these moments was after the first day of my procedure. I was beyond nauseous, in excruciating pain, and I looked and felt like a ghost. As we inched home from Seattle in traffic, I knew Soren was at home waiting for us, for me. He was informed by now our baby was not going to survive. Luckily, when I got pregnant, I had the wherewithal to explain to him that sometimes if a baby isn’t healthy, they can’t be born. I wanted him to be aware of this, just in case, not really thinking it would come to fruition. I could barely move when we got home. Soren hearing the back door open, rushed to me. Glen let him know he couldn’t touch me, my body was hurting too bad. Glen got me upstairs and Soren slowly came into the room to check on me, he looked scared. I weakly answered a few questions, but I have no idea what he asked. All I remember is his perfect little body, curled up on the floor next to the bed, and he said, “Mommy, all I care about is for you to be okay.” I promised him that I would be.
On the last day of my procedure, I found myself waiting alone, again, in a sterile room. As I sat on the edge of the cold table, knowing this would be the last day Quinn would physically be with me, I felt scared and fearful that something could go wrong. We signed papers the first day acknowledging that something could in fact happen to me; there were risks involved. A deep sense of fear came over me as I thought of Glen and Soren losing me through this horrible process. This was the final moment that reinforced I would not try again for another baby. I knew I couldn’t put the family I already had in jeopardy again.
When you go through a horrible situation, you can feel so alone. It feels unfair to be the ones stuck with the odds that no one wants. But, the truth is, we weren’t alone in our pain. So many people lose their babies through miscarriage, late-term loss, or stillbirth. So many complications can arise from the time you see those two positive lines on a pregnancy test until your child is born. I’ve been pregnant three times, but only have one child that I can hold. Going online I found countless stories similar to ours or worse. I no longer feel alone in our loss. But, I still feel alone in another big way.
After a loss most couples try again, but we will not be one of them. There are endless stories about rainbow babies; reassurances they exist, hope for them, and people having them. I have my own; I know first hand how healing a rainbow baby can be. But, after losing Quinn, I started the grieving process without the hope of another child. It was painful to consciously make the decision, but I knew we were not going to try again.
We didn’t come to our decision because we were told it would be too risky, we were actually told the risks were probably low. Infertility wasn’t an issue, we had no problems getting pregnant. There were not multiple miscarriages that broke us down. We made the choice not to try again, because we could not risk going through the insufferable amount of pain we had experienced again. Instead of having hope for a rainbow baby, we decided to focus on what we already had and loved so dearly. Our new hope lied in persevering through tragedy and reinventing ourselves as a family of three.
It’s now been a year since we lost Quinn. This year has gone by so slow and so fast all at the same time. I constantly imagine what life would look like as a family of four. I think about how Quinn would have transformed our family, what kind of personality he would have, how he would look, if things would feel stressed, or would it feel like he always belonged? After the procedure, I came home to packages of special baby items I knew would never be used. A baby lounger he’d never rest in, a sling that would never hold his tiny body close to mine, a stuffed animal he’d never snuggle with, and tiny shoes those perfect little feet would never slip into. Their presence tormented me and as soon as I was able, I returned them. I was also faced with all the items that I saved over the last six years from Soren. I had kept everything, down to socks, that I hoped to have the opportunity to use again someday. I haven’t been able to part with anything in the bins that are stacked up in tall towers in our basement. I’m paralyzed when it comes to parting with any of it, even though I know deep down it will never be needed or used by our family again.
Currently, I’m forced to take each day as it comes and whatever emotions come with it. Somedays I feel such a strong pull to try again, that the hope of a rainbow baby could finally heal my heart. Other days I feel thankful for our family of three and I feel confident about our decision. But, no matter what place my head or heart is in from day to day, it’s a slow process and I know we will never be the same family of three, because for a while there, we were a family of four.
The wood that was dropped off in the Pink and Purple Room on January 7, 2019, has remained untouched since the night our lives turned upside down. Whatever the room will be used for now remains unknown. While the room hasn’t changed, we have. We are choosing to grow through our pain, to love each other more than ever, and to hold on tight to what has already been bestowed upon us. We have gone through a lot of hurt, but we are hopeful, not for a rainbow baby, but for each other.
Share this story