Our Life was Changed by You
Photographs courtesy of the Insana Family, captured by Walk with Me
Our pregnancy was like any other – labs were unremarkable, ultrasounds looked great, fetal movement and heart sounds were strong, and baby was growing right on track. I am a pediatric nurse in a cardiac step-down unit. I have seen a lot of death and sad stories in the last seven years of my career. I have seen families’ lives flip upside down in an instance. I have watched patients take their last breath and have watched a family walk away from a hospital with nothing but their belongings. Never in my life did I think I could somehow relate even more to these families than I do now.
On June 9th, we gave birth to a beautiful boy named Grady John who was born without a heartbeat.
After our 34-week appointment, I obsessed over kick counts. Our appointment was on a Tuesday and on Wednesday I started to freak out about the baby’s movement. I went to work Wednesday night, slept poorly Thursday, and woke up in an absolute panic, a feeling of emptiness. I had dialed the doctor’s office but hung up thinking I was just freaking myself out. I had told my husband I couldn’t feel baby and we both thought I was crazy; I was just at my appointment and everything looked great. I calmed down and, on my way to work that night, thought I had felt the movement I had been missing. I instantly felt a sigh of relief. The movements never felt the same, but I could feel baby push against me.
On June 8th, I had a fetal echo at work. The second I sat on the table I knew they were going to find something. She kept scanning me and said sometimes it is hard to find the flutter based on their position. I saw all four chambers of the heart and it did not move. She brought in one of the fetal cardiologists that I work with who confirmed that there was no heartbeat. We all cried together, and they took me to a patient room to call my husband and gather my thoughts. I saw a social worker who helped talk me through what just happened, and they had an OB sonographer scan me before I left to make sure they didn’t see anything else. As she looked, she could tell that he had been passed away for what she thought was one-two weeks. The fear I had felt that Thursday of baby being 34 weeks was not just fear but a mother’s intuition that something was not right and that he did indeed pass away. I knew deep down that was the answer, but I didn’t want to face the reality.
I thought because I was feeling him move that maybe, just maybe everything was okay and that I had freaked out for nothing.
The movements, I later learned, were not intentional but rather his body floating around in the amniotic sac pushing against me. I am a huge believer in that things happen for a reason. Let’s rewind to week 5 of pregnancy. I had a moment of bleeding and had no idea if I was miscarrying or what was happening. I went in for an ultrasound and talked to a doctor who confirmed that everything was okay. My OB office has 6-7 doctors and through all my appointments, I probably saw them all a few times, but never did I see the first doctor again. The day we delivered Grady, we had the same doctor who confirmed that I was pregnant and had not miscarried. Her being my provider came full circle. We didn’t find out the gender because we thought it would be a beautiful surprise. I remember making a comment at work that I was afraid to find out what baby was in case something happened to them, I wanted to create a wall to not get attached. I had been a primary nurse for a patient who passed away and since that event, I started to put up boundaries because I knew how hard it was to get over something so special. As our baby shower came up two days before the echo, I found it odd that in all the gifts we had received, we did not get any diaper creams and breastfeeding supplies.
The morning of June 9th, we were to be at the hospital at 7 am. I was already in labor upon arrival. I was 3 cm dilated and 60% effaced. In layman terms, my body was already in the process of pushing Grady out knowing he was not alive. When I had researched how my body knew what to do, I read that two weeks after fetal demise, the body will start a natural labor to expel the fetus. Again, confirming that he more than likely had passed away in the 34th week either that Wednesday or Thursday. They told us it could take 24-48 hours, but Grady was born within 10. We had an amazing nurse with us who went above and beyond.
She cried with us, answered all my questions openly and honestly, and stayed way past her shift to make sure we were taken care of.
The hospital provided a ton of support through their chaplain services, and a Care Package from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. We also received footprints, clay molds of his feet, photos, and a clipping of his hair. The photos and items received were beautiful reminders of a beautiful soul. We didn’t realize the extent of what the hospital provided until we got home, all the items have helped us in our personal grief journey. We have been able to use those items and photos in a variety of ways to honor Grady. I had read in a few articles where people refused to take photos or take a hair clipping but knowing that they did this for us and we didn’t even have to think about making that decision was so helpful. We are forever grateful for the items as they are all we have of our son.
We are not the same people we were prior to Grady’s birth. Even though we never met him, heard him cry, or fed him, he changed us in ways we honestly can’t explain. We are parents to a beautiful angel baby. It has not been easy, we have more good days than bad now, but we wanted to touch on a few emotions we have experienced.
We had only told a few close friends and our family what had happened the day we had delivered Grady. We came home Thursday and on Friday my husband and I talked about sharing our story on social media because we knew that his short-lived life and passing had an impact on more than just us. We knew that people were going to grieve in different ways, and we wanted people to have the right to do so. The second we posted, we had an overwhelming amount of support and love from friends and family near and far.
First thing I would tell anyone is that no matter how hard it is to talk about it, share your story when you are ready. We would not be where we are today without the love, support, constant check-ins, meals, and prayers that our community provided and still provides for us. By posting our story, we have met amazing families who had gone through the same experience we had.
Grief is something I thought I had experienced before with other family member’s death, but never did I experience it the way I had with this. The first two weeks I cried all day long. The guilt I felt thinking I did something wrong, or I didn’t do enough killed me. How could I have failed at keeping my baby safe? Did I lay on my back too long? Did I bend over too much? If I would have called that night, could he have been saved? All the thoughts flooded my brain every day. After I was able to logically think about it and realized there was absolutely nothing I had done to cause this and there was nothing I could have done to change this, I hit the anger stage. A few weeks after this event, we had to sign the forms for Grady to get cremated. I had never experienced such anger in my entire life. A mother should never have to sign such documents. Through the ups and downs with grief, I have learned that it is okay to not be okay.
Everyone will go through grief differently but at the end of the day the biggest lesson I would take from grief is that you can’t just ignore it. Talk it out, cry all day if you need to, ask for help. This unfortunate event is now part of your story and we need to embrace all that comes with it to heal and to be stronger.
With being a pediatric nurse, I lived this pregnancy in fear. Fear that at our 20-week scan they would find something life altering. Fear that I wasn’t eating enough or gaining enough weight. Fear that something would happen that I couldn’t control. I am a control freak so the idea that I had absolutely no control over what was happening inside me was hard. For 8 months I lived with fear because I didn’t want something so meaningful and beautiful to be stripped away. In the end, it was.
From this, I would tell everyone that living in fear of the unknown only adds unnecessary stress to a situation that you do not have any control over. We do not have control over how a baby’s DNA is made, what genes they will receive, how their organs will develop, or if they will even make it to their due date. I do know that in the grand scheme of things, 9 months is a short time. All we can do is hope that everything is going the way it should and take full advantage of the moments. I would give anything to go back to that Tuesday of my 34th -week and be able to feel my baby kick again.
Our nursery was gender neutral with no true theme. I had picked up an elephant portrait and piggy bank. We received an elephant stuffed animal and a cute little elephant flower pot from friends at our shower. In the hospital, my husband picked up a blue elephant from the gift shop. As we sat there waiting for Grady to be born, we talked about having his symbol be an elephant. When we looked up the symbolism of an elephant, we were shocked by its meaning: “Elephants are revered as a symbol of good luck, prosperity, destroyer of evil, remover of obstacles, as well as strength, power, wisdom, memory, and vitality.” After we explained our story to our friends and family, we received many gifts with elephants on them. My husband and I got matching tattoos with an elephant and Grady’s footprints. On his due date, July 3rd, we adopted two elephants. We have seen elephants randomly everywhere. When we went to Steamboat and stayed in a little condo, there was an elephant photo on the wall. When we went to a wedding in Vail, an older woman walked off the bus wearing a satin blouse covered in elephants. It is maddening to see elephants everywhere, even when we aren’t expecting them, but it is also comforting knowing that Grady is always there with us.
It may sound strange but even with this being one of the worst things we have ever had to experience, we have tried to find the positive. If our story can touch someone else’s heart, make them feel less alone, and give them hope that beautiful moments can come out of such tragedy, then we would have upheld our promise of being better people and for being someone else’s someone.
Our life was changed by you.