By Genevieve Wagner
Genevieve is a dear friend of mine for many years. She has graciously agreed to share her family’s recent full term stillbirth, and the hope and faith that her family has.
Our world had tipped. How was this possible? What are we going to tell our kids? What do we do next? How do you pack for this? Everything we were planning for – the unmedicated birth like 3 of the siblings, the peaceful home waterbirth like the 4 year old’s – it was all instantly switched for a very medical birth… and we wouldn’t be bringing a baby home.
Now traveling in rush hour, it took a long time to get home. We were both in a daze. I was literally walking in circles saying, “How do you pack for this?” I stopped for a moment to share the news with my facebook friends, asking them to pray for us and for my safety in the birth. I grabbed things for me, a change of clothing for coming home, toiletries. I had a diaper bag packed in case we needed to transfer after the homebirth, so I grabbed that, too. The baby’s coming home outfit that the 4 year old had picked out. The little green “He Leads Me” onesie my girlfriends had sent me. Of course the blanket I had crocheted for this little one. The stuffed giraffe I slept with every night so that the baby would have something that smelled like mom. And the little sign that stays at my bedside with Psalm 143:8
Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You.
If ever there was a time we would need that reminder, it was now. I didn’t understand what we had been told. I knew I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to start this process because that was the end of our time with this sweet baby. But I trusted that God knew what He was doing. I flashed back to my Deaconess memory work:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9).
We stopped to drop off clothing for our children and get much needed hugs. All of a sudden it clicked for our 5 year old what had happened, and she started crying. That broke our hearts. It was hard enough for us dealing with the news that our baby had died, but knowing our children’s sibling had died just hurt. Geof got their car seats transferred over to our friend’s car, and we were back on our way to the hospital. We were met by a friend from church, already in the waiting room to be there and support us. After getting settled into a hospital gown, the man who was now taking on the role as our pastor also came to be with us, pray with us, sing with us, and remind us of Christ’s love for us. These two dear friends stayed until almost 11pm, offering to make any calls necessary, standing by as wonderful, kind nurses asked us questions about what we wanted to do with the body after birth. Our pastor had us consider what kind of service we wanted to have, what passages and hymns we wanted, he asked us whether we were planning to have a burial or cremation. These are things we had considered for ourselves in the past, but they were the furthest things from our minds for our newborn… our stillborn child. Eventually they both left and my nurses, who had waited until our spiritual caregivers departed, came in to start my induction.
The induction took all night and into the next afternoon. Our pastor had come early in the morning to pray with us again, and he stayed that day in the waiting room to call funeral homes and cemeteries, check in with other area pastors, receive any guests who came. Geof and I made phone calls for various things (photographers, friends, family, more service arrangements, call our child care to bring the kids in for after the birth), my girlfriends blessed us with ongoing prayers and encouragement in our chat window. My plans for an unmedicated birth went out the window with an induction, so I asked for “all the drugs” – I knew I was going to be in a lot of emotional pain and have limited time with my child, I didn’t want to be battling physical pain and exhaustion any more than I needed to. My blood pressure was getting dangerously high until the epidural was placed (we believe that I developed pre-eclampsia at the very end of the pregnancy), then it dropped dangerously low. It took some time to stabilize that for the time being.
When I was finally complete, the doctor was called for delivery. The nurses had him check for position. Unbeknownst to me, different nurses who had checked me over the course of my stay had noted baby’s “presenting part” had changed a few times. breech when we arrived, head first for two checks in the middle, and when I was complete – they didn’t feel a presenting part at all. Sure enough, the baby had been floating and turned transverse! The head was on my right side; the bottom on my left. I snapped out of my daze to declare, “Oh no! I did not go through all this just to have a c-section! Do what you have to do to turn this baby!” In another first, I had an external version to turn the baby head down. It worked! The doctor told his resident to hold the baby in place while he broke my water. I warned him that I always have a lot of fluid, so he placed a small, folded towel down and broke my water while sitting at the end of my bed.
And I soaked the towel – and the doctor.
But the baby stayed in place. The doctor ran to change, and he and the resident had me try a test push to remind me how they needed me to work to bring the baby out. The first time I tried, I passed out! After I came to and my meds were slightly adjusted and more IV fluids pushed, I resumed working to slowly deliver my child. After about 20 minutes, I gave birth to a beautiful, chubby, perfect baby boy – a long awaited brother for our first child and only son. But the room was so quiet. No crying from the baby, no joyful chatter from the nurses who had gathered, no cheers of congratulations. The lovely young resident asked me if it was okay to place him on my chest. I was more than happy to finally receive this little boy while at the same time awed at the respect and consideration they had that some people might not want to touch death. But all I could see was this amazingly beautiful baby whom God had made and allowed us to have for 39 weeks and 5 days.
I again had some blood pressure issues and passed out a few more times. I think my husband took the baby during that time, because once I was stabilized Geof gave him back to me. We decided on a name: Sebastian Alexander Sigmund Wagner. Venerable. Defender of the people. Victorious protector. He was 9 pounds, 9.6 ounces, 21 inches long. He had a beautifully round 15 inch head, soft strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes like all his siblings. As I’ve come to say so many times since his birth: he never took a breath, but he took our breath away.
Photo Credit to Alan Levine. Some rights reserved.