Trigger warning: This post includes infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Also, it is a bit lengthy.
My name is Sarah Gatlin and I am a mom to a sweet redheaded angel baby, Everett.
This is our story. Well, a part of our story. This is the story of how we fell into a love deeper than we would ever know possible. Everett Joseph Gatlin was a miracle and the love of our lives.
Joe and I have many stories. You know when someone says, that a moment or an event changed them forever and they will never be the same? We have had that, many times over. This post is just about one of them. The most important one. The one that changed us the most. For better or worse, we are still standing.
We tried for one year to get pregnant and it finally happened, the month before we were set to meet with the specialist. Unfortunately that baby wasn’t meant to be and I had not one but two DNCs. We scheduled a new appointment with the infertility doctor and charged full speed ahead.
I say Everett was a miracle baby (aren’t they all really?) because he was an IVF baby. A baby that we wanted so desperately I sucked up my lifelong fear of needles and stuck one in my stomach multiple times a day for weeks. After two failed IUI (intrauterine insemination) rounds we took out the big guns. Our first round of IVF with two transferred embryos was on my birthday which meant good luck, right? From the beginning Everett had the odds stacked slightly against him. His embryo wasn’t quite as mature as they would have liked but we were so close we decided to move forward. Well one of those embryos decided to stay. Not just stay, he settled in for the long haul – 38 weeks and 5 days to be exact. That little embryo in the petri dish was Everett and we were so in love with our little embryo.
Those first few months were terrifying. We already had the heartbreak of a miscarriage under our belts and couldn’t grasp going through that again. We made it to week 18. Week 18! We had the big ultrasound to find out measurements and the gender (something we went back and forth on and ultimately decided to find out as we’ve had enough surprises in our lives…or so we thought). The doctor scolded me for my pain medication (I suffer from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome after getting hit by a car in 2009 – see many events that have changed our life – more on that later). He told us our baby (we hadn’t opened the super secret envelope with the gender reveal that was burning a hole in my purse yet) was measuring small for his or her gestational age and we were terrified. He said we would keep an eye on it and talk more after the next ultrasound. We had another ultrasound shortly after that because the little stinker was hiding and we couldn’t get all of the information they needed for his growth etc. so we knew it would only be a little bit before getting more information and by all accounts he was a healthy baby, just a little small. We planned on waiting to open the envelope until we got home so we could soak it all in in private with our first babies (Elka and Fritzy). That idea lasted until we got into the parking lot. We tore open the envelope and were shocked and elated and terrified to learn we would be having a super sweet, sensitive, loving little boy.
When you have an IVF pregnancy they send you for a very detailed fetal echocardiogram at 24 weeks. At this point I was feeling Everett kick and swish around and knew everything about him was perfect (it even turned out he was actually measuring a little BIG for his age, the doctor had read the results wrong). Neither one of us expected anything but a glowing report. So when the doctor came in the room after reading all of the results and looking at the pictures the tech had taken and asked us to move into a different room to talk more, our own hearts stopped. She brought us to the special sad room where they give parents sad and scary information. Then she left us there for what felt like an eternity. She came back with a diagram and a short article with minimal information. Everett’s ductus arteriosus was closing…this isn’t supposed to happen until they are born. When this shows up the typical treatment plan is to deliver the baby. That was not an option at 24 weeks. Instead we changed my medication and diet to eliminate Tylenol (which can and probably was the main cause for this) and antioxidants (no more coffee…yikes). We then came back once a week for a fetal echo and once a week to our regular OBGYN for an ultrasound. From 24 weeks to 31 weeks we were on pins and needles. We went in and waited twice/week in a dark room for that little black and white screen to turn on and show our baby boy moving and grooving. Then at 31 weeks our little fighter’s heart looked good, it looked great actually. We stopped going in for echos and continued regular ultrasounds once/week at our regular OBGYN. We really thought we were finally out of the woods. He was 31 weeks so if needed he could be born and had a 99% survival rate. He was still measuring about 1-2 weeks ahead so it was decided we would induce at 39 weeks. We were so grateful and excited. We finished the nursery, had baby showers, and put the car seat in the car…
Fast forward to the weekend I replay in my mind over and over again. Friday, February 10th – 38 weeks and 2 days. I was in a meeting at work and my vision started doing strange things. There were bright lights and circles and I could only see half of people’s faces. I decided I better go to the clinic and they agreed. Joe came and picked me up from work (after some miscommunication and him driving all the way home first…oops). We got to the clinic and I was feeling a little better after eating an orange and drinking some water. They took my blood pressure and checked me over and didn’t have any concerns. They took some blood and sent me home to take it easy for the rest of the day. All of my blood work came back normal but they wanted me to go in the next morning to get my blood pressure checked again. Because it was a Saturday the next morning we went to labor and delivery at the hospital. They hooked me up to the blood pressure machine and the stress test belt. My blood pressure was nothing of concern. Everett wasn’t quite as active as they would have liked so we went down for an ultrasound just to be sure all looked OK. This is the moment. This is the moment I go back to over and over and over. Why wasn’t there a screen for me to see him? What if the tech was in such a hurry she didn’t look close enough. Why didn’t we push harder? Why didn’t we beg them to take him out that day? Why didn’t they just induce me that day? Our life would be exactly what we had dreamt of and we would not be in this nightmare. But we didn’t do those things. We didn’t and they didn’t because everything looked great. He was healthy, I was healthy. He scored 8/8 on the biophysical test. We also had an ultrasound already scheduled for Monday morning so they said we could talk with our doctor then and get another check of my blood pressure. Nothing could change that quickly…
They sent us home. We went home and we had no idea that in 48 hours we would be back in that hospital and our lives would never be the same.
Monday, February 13th 2017 – a date forever in my mind, heart, and soul. We had our ultrasound at 10am. The ultrasound tech called our name and we naively followed her back to the regular room we were in each week before. Every Monday for the last 16 weeks we had walked back to that room, made small talk about the weekend and put warm jelly on my tummy. Every Monday for the last 16 weeks our Everett would come up on the screen kicking and punching and hiding his chubby little face from us. The screen turned on but it wasn’t like the past 16 weeks. I thought it was a still photo she had just taken. She asked me if I had felt him move much that morning, I said not really but he was much more active in the evenings and when I was still, not running around all morning getting ready. This is another moment I replay over and over and it does me only harm and heartache. The moment that too many of us have had. The moment those words sound like bowling balls crashing into glass in your head. The moment your heart shatters into a billion pieces. “There is no heartbeat.” I screamed. I mean screamed and wailed like someone was stabbing me over and over again. I jumped down from the bed, I threw myself on the couch in the room. I screamed and screamed. I saw Joe. I saw my husband. The love of my life. I saw Everett’s dad. That is the moment I broke. Joe was asking if this was real, I was still screaming and the tech was cautiously trying to tell us she needed to get the doctor to confirm. We finally let her leave the room. We sobbed, we screamed, we held each other. I started squeezing my eyes shut and opening them up to see if it was a dream, a nightmare. I begged to wake up, somebody wake me up. The doctor came in, the tech came back (bless her soul). I agreed to climb back on the table so the doctor could check. I have never prayed so hard in all my life. Please please let this have been a mistake, please please don’t take him away. Joe was pushing on my stomach begging his little buddy to come back. My heart broke over and over. The tech was not wrong. It was not a dream I could wake up from and my prayers were not answered.
Everett was gone. My baby was gone.
There is of course more to this story. To our story. What happened next was a week of love, sadness, and memories to cling to. I will share that week with you soon. The week I held on to my son and also let him go. It was the longest and shortest week of my life.