He Sings Me Lullabies {A Story of Loss}

*This story of Laura's losses was written when she was asked to speak at one of the Candlelight Memorial Services that are sponsored by ThedaCare every December. Please reach out if you would like more information on these events*

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom.

As a little girl, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was ‘a babysitter’.  I worked with kids in any opportunity I got, babysat, and couldn’t wait to have children of my own.  Others planned and started their careers first – my first desire was starting my family.

No one ever told me how hard that would be.  I’d heard all about every typical parenting challenge – those parts were expected.  But what I had to come to realize myself was that the decision to have a baby does not make it automatically happen when you want it to.  And most of all, pregnancy…does not always equal baby.

In October of 2008, Jason and I married and had decided together that we wanted to start our family right away.  In December, just two months after we were married, we were blessed to find out that we weren’t going to have to wait long.  We told family right away, as excited and naïve as can be that we would be holding our first child in just 9 months.

About a week into the pregnancy I remember talking to my sister on the phone and asking her if cramping was normal in pregnancy.  I didn’t think twice about it, and it wasn’t until days later when I started spotting that I decided a call to the nurse wouldn’t hurt.

They had me come in for a blood draw and the results came back “a little low” for what they should be at 5 and ½ weeks into a pregnancy.  The blood draw two days later still gave us not much of an answer, as my hcg levels went UP but didn’t double as they should have.  Meanwhile, the cramping was worsening and I remember one night being in the car while Jason drove us to my sister’s house, and I almost had him pull into the ER on the way because I felt like I was in full-blown labor – the worst cramping I’d ever felt up until that point in my life.  They subsided not long after they started, but it was undeniable that this was not normal for a healthy pregnancy.  Undeniable, that is, to anyone but myself.

I had another blood draw a couple of days later, and an ultrasound was scheduled for the following Monday.  This was a Friday, so of course I had to wait in agony until Monday to find out what the results were, but I was also excited that I would get my first ultrasound too.  In the meantime, I put myself on bed rest for the weekend – I knew nothing about what was happening or what I could or couldn’t do to prevent it, but all I knew was that the bleeding slowed down when I did – so I rested.

The following Monday I went into work and in the middle of the morning I checked my messages on my phone and realized my doctor’s office had called with some results.  They didn’t say anything in the message other than to call them, and something inside me decided to wait until my work day was over to call them.  As much as I dismissed the idea that I could have been miscarrying, my gut instinct was finally starting to take over.

And it was confirmed.

I got off the phone with the nurse and drove the rest of the way home with tears spilling over and sobs filling the empty space in my car.

The words “I’m sorry, but this was a miscarriage,” were some I never imagined I’d ever have to hear.

I tried continuing on with my days as normal, but they were far from it, through my eyes anyway.  I couldn’t laugh with my coworkers the way I used to, not at first that is.  In the first initial days after our loss, I walked around like a zombie and everything was a blur.  There was always only one thing on my mind, something that I was consumed by every moment because I couldn’t understand it.  We had a baby…and now?

We don’t.

We were blessed enough to be given more hope almost right away.  In March of 2009, I had another positive pregnancy test.  This time, however, we didn’t laugh and hug and instantly become overexcited.  We were happy but so apprehensive.  Our pregnancy announcement to family went something like, “We’re pregnant again…so we’ll see.”

But as the weeks went by, I allowed myself more optimism.  And 9 months later, in November of 2009 we were blessed with a beautiful healthy baby boy who we named Aiden.

A year went by before we decided to do it all over again.  I had it in my head that our kids needed to be spaced in age a certain way, and Jason was on board for anything, so we decided to wait until Aiden was a year old to start trying again so that our kids could be about two years apart in age.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to plan your life so easily and perfectly?

I was elated when after the second month of trying, I had that positive pregnancy test.  Even though we had a previous full-term healthy pregnancy, there was still some apprehension.  I spent those first few LONG weeks googling every little symptom I had and praying there would be no blood.

pregnancy announcement

There wasn’t, and relief flooded over me as I got past the point I had been at when I had miscarried our first baby.

I hardly even had any morning sickness this time, and everything was going so smoothly…until Christmas day, 2010 when I was 8.5 weeks pregnant.

We had just finished our little family gift opening, and I went upstairs to use the bathroom.

I saw blood.  Bright red blood.  And my reaction was instantaneous.

I walked back downstairs to Jason, crying all the way and immediately told him I was miscarrying.  The difference between never having had the unimaginable happen to me when I was pregnant the first time and denying over and over that anything was wrong when so many things were…and now, when I had just seen a bit of blood and didn’t know what was going on, yet I immediately assumed the worst.  And I was already grieving it.

I decided to call the hospital, and the nurse on the phone asked me if I had any cramping.  It was then that I realized that this was nothing like my miscarriage as I told her no.  She told me to lie down and put my feet up and if the bleeding didn’t increase then I didn’t need to come in, and I would follow up with my doctor later that week.

I took it easy, and the bleeding slowed.  We still had family to see and celebrate Christmas with, and I tried to enjoy it and stay positive.  After talking with the nurse, I had become a little more confident that maybe things were okay this time.

But not confident enough to make it through the weekend.  The day after Christmas, we spent most of the day in the ER, checking on the baby.  They did an ultrasound and the ER doctor gave us questionable information about a possible twin mole, or molar pregnancy, which we later learned was not the case.

I was able to get into my regular OB the next day.  They had me go in for an ultrasound first, and this was one of my greatest ultrasound memories to this day.  There was my little 9-week peanut kicking around and trying to do somersaults inside me – all of that movement and I couldn’t feel a thing.  It was amazing.  And we heard a perfect heartbeat.  The ultrasound technician laughed at our baby and was extremely enthusiastic about everything.

Our fears subsided.

I met with my wonderful doctor who then explained that the baby was just fine.  She didn’t see any evidence of a twin mole, and all they found was a subchorionic hemorrhage, which is a common cause of bleeding in the first trimester of a pregnancy and it should just dissolve on its own.  But in the meantime, I was given small limitations such as no exercising or lifting anything heavy, pelvic rest, and just taking it easy in general.

It had been a scary, emotional few days, but we were assured everything was fine and had seen evidence of just that when we watched our tiny one squirming around.

And the weeks went by as normal, the bleeding slowed, and I made it past the first trimester – I was safe, right?

We took a family vacation to San Diego, and it was while we were here that I felt the baby move for the first time.  I was only 16 weeks along.

california vacation while pregnant

When we got back, I started bleeding again.  It was significant enough that I went back in to the doctor to have everything checked out.  Had I done too much walking and lifting on our vacation?  To this day, I still ask that question, along with so many others.

Once again, we were told everything was fine – the hemorrhage was still there, but it hadn’t grown and yet again we were told that it should go away.

At my routine 20-week ultrasound, we opted out of learning the gender. Everything was great on the ultrasound.  But…

Aside from still showing a blood clot from the hemorrhage, my fluid level was slightly low.  The scale they use to measure your fluid level is from a 5-25.  Average at this point in pregnancy is 12.  Apparently on my ultrasound a few days prior to this (when I had gone in for bleeding again), my levels were a 9, and now they were at a 7.  Since we didn’t have any clear evidence of my water breaking (but I had been continuously bleeding at this point now, so it would have been hard to tell), my doctor suggested we see a perinatologist.  Their regular perinatologist in the Appleton office was gone that whole next week and so we were given the option to wait or to go to the specialists’ office in Milwaukee.

I asked my doctor what she thought we should do, as I didn’t know how severe the situation was.  She suggested we go sooner than later…and it was at this point that I started to really worry…especially after my OB informed me that bleeding at this point in pregnancy can lead to contractions or your water breaking…and while she still told me it was unlikely, it worried me a bit that we might end up having a baby that would need to spend time in the NICU.  I was told I’d be having monthly ultrasounds until this bleeding resolved.

It was a grueling 6 days that we had to wait until we drove down to Milwaukee for the extensive ultrasound testing.  Especially when over the weekend I had suspicious leaking that brought me back in to the doctor again.  They did a test to determine whether or not I was leaking amniotic fluid, and even though the test was negative, they told me that this wasn’t necessarily going to be the answer, especially in a case like mine where I was bleeding and that could interfere with getting a reliable result.  However, the doctor told me she was highly suspicious that I had a high leak, from everything she had seen.  The looks she gave me and a lot of what she said should have been obvious that there was not a lot of positivity on the outcome of this pregnancy and baby’s life, but I wasn’t truly listening to her.  She had to be wrong.

20 weeks pregnant
feeling baby move

The day we were to drive down to Milwaukee, I was nervous, but as we waited to be called into one of the little ultrasound rooms, I felt what had started to become a familiar and comforting feeling…my little baby kicking inside of me, putting my mind at ease.  The first thing they did on the ultrasound was measure the fluid.  It was at a 6.  Knowing that a 5 was dangerously low, I realized that this was going to be a closely monitored rest of the pregnancy.  They checked everything else to try and determine what the cause was for having a low fluid level.  Genetically, the baby was perfect, and there were no other obvious concerns.  We basically walked out of the specialist’s office having no more answers than we came in with.

Three days later I did a little more walking than I probably should have.  I remember bleeding more that day than I had been, and I wondered if I was leaking more amniotic fluid.  It continued throughout the day and that night, I had so much blood loss, we went straight to the ER.  They immediately sent us up to labor and delivery where I and baby were monitored for a bit.  Baby’s heartbeat was fine, and I wasn’t having any contractions, and the bleeding had slowed.  I was given the option to stay overnight, but since everything seemed better and we had our 16-month-old at home with his grandma, I decided I wanted to go home.  I was told I needed to come in and see my doctor the next day.

When my doctor examined me and did a little testing, she noticed that I was bleeding a lot more than I had been.  She also at this point said that she is almost certain I am leaking amniotic fluid.  As far as the gushes of bleeding I was having now, she said it could have been a small placental abruption, but there wasn’t a way to confirm that for sure.  At this point, she gave me a plan, laying out a few different options on what steps to take next.  The first option was to terminate the pregnancy, and my doctor only briefly mentioned that because she knows me well enough to know this would not be an option for me.  The option I chose was the most aggressive, where I would be hospitalized now for two days so they could keep watch on my fluid level, start antibiotics just in case I were to start developing an infection because of the exposed amniotic sac, and be pumped with IV fluids.  After this, I would be on bed rest until I’d reach 24 weeks, at which point I would be hospitalized again, this time for the remainder of the pregnancy, which they told me would now be no longer than 34 weeks because at that point it would be safer for baby to be born than still inside me.

Life was changing quickly all of a sudden.

My mom was set up to be able to work from my house so that she could help take care of Aiden while I was on bed rest all day, and I bought a book on all there is to know about the NICU and how to handle the emotional roller coaster that can put you through.  While bored laying in bed all day, I started doing some online shopping and ordering some clothes for the baby, including a couple of preemie outfits.  In my short hospital stay, I had learned we were PROBABLY having a girl – the tech said my fluid level was so low, it was hard to tell for sure but that it definitely looked like the baby was female.  I wasn’t at all surprised.  For weeks now, whenever I would think of this baby, in my head she was “Layla”, before I even knew her gender.

It was almost as if God was allowing me to know her in a special way during that time because I wouldn’t get the chance later.

I was on antibiotics to prevent getting an infection, and on my last day of taking them, I still had a little over a week to go before I’d reach the magic 24-week mark and be able to be in the hospital to be monitored there for the remainder of the pregnancy.  Layla’s movements had had me in a lot of pain – with little to no fluid in there, any twist or turn she would make would make my blood pressure go up and I’d get all sweaty and have to squeeze my eyes shut until she’d settle in again.  I remember being able to easily see the bulge of her little bum pushing out my stomach, and as painful as that was, I loved it at the same time.

Later that same night that I had finished my antibiotics, on April 6th, 2011, Jason and I were heading to bed for the night and I stopped to first go to the bathroom.  I passed a lot of clots and I started to have tons of stomach pains.  Assuming it had to do with the bleeding and other complications in this pregnancy, I hung out in the bathroom for awhile before going to bed and curling up in pain there.  Jason asked me what was going on and I told him I didn’t know.  Labor did not even cross my mind until I realized the worst of the pains were starting to feel a little predictable.  I got out my phone which had a contraction timer app on it and set it.  After timing these pains a few times, I told Jason I thought I was in labor.  These contractions were three minutes apart consistently.  By now it was midnight, and I quickly called my mom as Jason jumped out of bed to get ready to go to the hospital.  My parents lived about 25 minutes away, and while we waited for her to come, I tried finding Layla’s heart beat on my Doppler.  I couldn’t find it.  At this point I was feeling way too much pressure, and I headed out to the car feeling like I wasn’t going to make it.  My mom arrived right as I got to the car, and Jason and I raced to the hospital.

The whole way there I kept saying things like, “how can I be in labor when I’m not even 24 weeks yet?” and “what are we going to do, can they stop it?  This baby isn’t going to make it!” All the while, the pain was getting so bad, my legs were shaking and I had the worst chills I have ever felt.  I couldn’t even completely sit down in the car because of all the pressure and I felt like the baby was right in between my legs.

We were immediately taken up to labor and delivery when we walked into the ER.  Although I had to sign in to be admitted to the hospital and answer all of the protocol questions, everything still seemed to be happening way too fast and I couldn’t comprehend the situation we were in.  The nurses were trying to find Layla’s heart beat as I was checked, and that’s when our scary situation turned even more frightening.  They found her heartbeat right at my pubic bone, and it was in the 200’s.  Way too fast.  I was also 5 cm dilated, and I remember her saying she felt “either an arm or a leg”.

I remember begging for an epidural at this point because of how much pain I was in and knowing I would have to deliver a baby that might not make it.  I was told it would be a little while because they had to get an IV started and have that going for half an hour before I’d be able to have the epidural placed.

It took until this point for reality to set in, and that’s when the tears did too.

I was taken from the observation room to a delivery suite, and everybody was working nonstop.  A lab tech came in to get some blood draws from me, nurses were helping me deal with the pain and giving me warm blankets for what seemed to be a fever as my legs still had not stopped shaking, the NICU team was getting ready and the doctor never left my side, even as I asked her not to check me anymore she would still continue to look for the baby’s heartbeat and touch and push on my stomach which felt like the most painful thing in the world.  I didn’t know it at this point, but I HAD developed an infection in the uterus, otherwise known as chorioamnionitis, so aside from the full-out labor and contractions, I had severe abdominal pain and a fever as well, not to mention Layla being in distress from the infection, which is why her heartbeat was so high.

I kept asking for an epidural, but it never came.  The doctor asked us multiple times what  we wanted to do – they may not have breathing tubes small enough for this baby, and if we wanted to just have her handed to us right away instead.  We kept telling her no, please try and save our baby, although I did start to wonder if this was maybe not the right thing to do.  I was being put in a position that I could have never prepared myself for, and I was lost.  I didn’t want my baby to suffer but I also couldn’t imagine not trying to help her survive and just accepting that she would die.

I was told I wouldn’t have to dilate to the full 10 cm in order to push the baby out, because of her size.  Since I had declined to be checked again since coming in, I don’t know how far I ended up dilating before she was delivered, but I remember what the moment felt like when I knew it was time to get her out.  My body knew what it had to do, but emotionally I couldn’t do it.  Two feeble attempts later, however, and she was out, at 2:44 a.m. on April 7th, 2011.

The OB said our names, and when I heard, “here is your baby,” I sat up to look at my tiny girl in her hands.

I watched Layla’s mouth open and close, and that was the only movement I ever saw from her.

We were asked again what we wanted them to do.  We told her again, to help our daughter breathe.  I heard the pumping of oxygen as the doctor told us they were trying to open her airway.  She continued to update us throughout the process of trying to deliver the placenta, but I really don’t remember any of it.  I remember warnings of being put under for surgery if the placenta wouldn't come.  I remember asking Jason if we were making the right decision, having them try and save her when they kept asking us if we wanted them to continue.  I remember the pain, fear, and never getting that moment of hope.

A neonatologist came in to instruct the NICU team that it was time to stop.  She came over to me and told me there was nothing else they could do.

I ignored her.

They had given me pitocin to help deliver the placenta, and I was briefly asked if I wanted to finally hold my baby, but before I could even answer, Layla was placed in my arms, all wrapped in swaddling blankets that seemed to almost drown her out.  The placenta finally came, and the room started to clear out as everything was cleaned up and taken away.  My pastor came in at 4:30 a.m. to baptize her, and he waited with us until my family came.  Doctors and nurses would periodically come in to listen to Layla’s heart.  Each time toward the end, they would say something like, “it’s slowing,” or “it’s still there but very distant”.

They took all of her measurements and she was bigger than they had expected.  She was 1 lb. 4 oz. and 11.5 inches long.

pregnancy loss at hospital

It was around 8:30 when Jason handed Layla back to me again, and I knew that she was gone.  A doctor came in right after this to listen to her again, and this time turned to us to say “there are no signs of life, she’s gone.”  She continued with tears in her eyes, “Thank you for being so strong, and I’m so sorry for your loss.”  She handed her back to me and over the next few hours, Jason and I continued to take turns holding her.  A photographer from NILMDTS came in to take pictures of her, and the nurses also took her away for a bit to take some pictures of their own.  Shortly after all of this, I asked family to leave.  Jason and I had about two more hours with her alone, and I will never forget the moment we walked out of the hospital room.  The only thing I remember about the long walk through the hospital and out to the car was the looks we got from others in the halls as I carried a purple box and cried.

I wondered if they had any idea what we were having to do – that we weren’t able to bring our baby home.

Since her birth, I had many more medical conditions – it almost seemed as if my body was shutting down, dying along with her.  I had a hysteroscopy that resulted in a D&C to scrape leftover placental tissue out, after which my doctor told me I had developed placenta acreta during the pregnancy, where instead of just attaching to my uterus, the placenta had embedded itself into my uterus – which is why it took so long to even deliver it, and I was lucky I hadn’t bled out from that.  Numerous other complications delayed the possibility to try and conceive again, but about 6 months later, we were finally to the point where it seemed my body was ready.  A few months later we had a confirmed pregnancy.

A long 8 months later, after constant and extensive ultrasounds, doctor’s visits, and P17 injections to prevent preterm labor, I delivered a healthy baby boy on September 2nd, 2012, exactly one month early but full-term size and completely ready to come home with us.  We named him Jonah, which means “peace”.

It’s been 6 and a half years since Layla died, but I feel worn, as if I’ve been living with this for much longer than that.  Then there are other times when I feel fresh pain again and still find it hard to accept.

This was especially true when we had another loss in August of 2013, just a few days after we found out we were expecting.  We only knew for a few days, and yet the pain of that loss was as deep and real as anything else.  It was enough time to tell family, to schedule my first doctor’s appointment and ultrasound, to download some pregnancy apps on my phone, and to rearrange Aiden’s room, in preparation that someday soon we would put the boys together in there so they could share a room and free up the nursery for the new baby.  And then just as quickly as you start planning and preparing for this new future, it comes to a halt and the new picture laid out for you just looks damaged and painful.

I’ll never fully understand why we have almost as many babies in heaven as we do here with us, but I do know that I feel extremely blessed to have been given each and every one of them in the first place.  Here or not, they each have their special place in my life and heart and are all a part of what makes me who I am today.  I may be someone who feels the sting in even the simplest or most common things in life, such as being asked the question, ‘how many kids do you have?’ But I am also someone who now appreciates every moment in a pregnancy, the good and the bad, and I would never want to change that.  I have felt God’s hand in my life more than I ever had before losing Layla.  I allowed Him in because I needed Him, and He showed me some amazing things.

I know not all of us have the same beliefs, but I think we all share a common outlook in that our babies are okay, that they are in a better place.  I take comfort in knowing that my daughter and our other two babies are in heaven, in the hands of the One who made them.  They couldn’t be any more safe.

It still doesn’t change how much I miss them…how much I hurt for wanting to know who they would be today.  But I want to end with a poem that perfectly describes how I now view life here without our little angels.

Daddy, please don’t look so sad, mama please don’t cry

Cause I am in the arms of Jesus and he sings me lullabies.

Please, try not to question God, don’t think He is unkind.

Don’t think He sent me to you and then changed His mind.

You see, I am a special child, and I’m needed up above.

I’m the special gift you gave Him, the product of your love.

I’ll always be there with you and watch the sky at night.

Find the brightest star that’s gleaming, that’s my halo’s brilliant light.

You’ll see me in the morning frost that mists your window pane.

That’s me in the summer showers, I’ll be dancing in the rain.

When you feel a little breeze from the gentle wind that blows,

That’s me, I’ll be there planting a kiss on your nose.

When you see a child playing, and your heart feels a little tug,

That’s me, I’ll be there giving your heart a hug.

So Daddy, please don’t look so sad, Mama don’t you cry.

I’m in the arms of Jesus, and he sings me lullabies.

*Laura and Jason went on to have another daughter in 2014 - Audrey, and another boy in 2016 - Jensen. Layla's NILMDTS photographer is the reason Laura became a photographer herself. She has been an affiliate photographer for NILMDTS and serving other grieving families in bereavement photography since 2015. 
NILMDTS preterm baby loss