Dear Trusted Doctor,
I knew at 16 weeks.
At 18 weeks I spoke up.
At 20 weeks I pleaded.
At 22 weeks it was too late to stop.
Despite aggressive measures at 23 weeks, five days, I cradled two perfectly formed babies in my arms. For two hours I held them, kissed them, whispered over and over, “I’m so sorry,” and tried to squeeze in a lifetime of memories until they took their last breaths in my arms.
This is the third letter I’ve written to you, none of which you will read. You see, this was my first pregnancy, and I didn’t know my back pain was the stepping stone to full blown labor. I’m not one to question authority, so even my request at 18 weeks for the appropriate medical intervention was a big step for me. I know you would have changed your decision if you could see the pain coming. You were a good doctor, and I’m confident you went home and felt the magnitude of what we endured, but you almost had me fooled. For a while, I thought my intuition was wrong and I didn’t know my own body. This is not to shame you as the real issue does not lie in your court.
The takeaway here is learning to fight for me. Learning that if something doesn’t feel right you speak up, you question, you speak up, and question again until you know you have done every. single. thing. you. can.
The weight that pulls on a mama’s heart when she didn’t keep questioning and the unthinkable happens is almost more than one can bear. Twelve years later I can still remember what it feels like to cry while completely asleep. I know the pain of leaving the hospital clutching two neatly sewn envelopes with two tiny hats, two tiny outfits, and two tiny sets of footprints inside, but no car seats holding children. I still feel the pain of your body not realizing your babies did not live and producing enough milk for two. I know the hole in your heart when people don’t ask what their names were, how labor was, or who they looked like because they just don’t know what to say in the face of such pain. They were real people, just too young to live.
But, I learned. Oh, how I learned.
I learned how grateful one can be for clarity at the moment when life-changing decisions must be made and how much they can sting once home and all is said and done. I learned that I would never have to experience a storm like this alone. Calling your strongest friend and rattling on about how relieved you are to finally be in a hospital and can she just hurry up, only to hear her break down seconds later as the nurse in her knows the reality of what is to come. I learned that after all these years I can still call friends, crippled by the magnitude of decisions we made, and they will always breathe life back into my lungs that feel like they will never inflate again. Watching your family and friends holding and kissing two babies with minutes to live and still holding them hours later will fiercely sear memories in your heart. Do you remember talking to them? To this day I don’t know what they said, but you told me they advocated for me before, during, and after labor when I could no longer. That was when the urgency began for me.
Had this not been part of my story, I would never find myself asking others to throw out the “everything is great” tactic, because everything is not always great. Mental illness in women, mothers in particular, is a prime area for silence. And, my brain rages with it. Absolutely rages with anxiety and depression. I’m beginning to peel back the many complicated layers surrounding this affliction. It may have taken years, but you have given me the confidence to speak up again and raise my flag until it is seen and heard to a point where I feel peace. And, while it is still not easy for me, it is necessary.
You are bound to have this happen again as women continue to cross the threshold of your office. I only ask that you listen. Listen critically when she brings up a concern for the first, second, or fifth time. She just might be onto something. She might be like the 29 year old first time mother that found herself in your office on November 28 not knowing what beautiful heartbreak would come on December 2, 2005.
Through all this, thank you for knocking the scales from my eyes. I see now that teaching my precious girls, Kallie and Maryn, how to self-advocate when the stakes are high, and even when they are not, might be one of the biggest gifts I could give them. As for me, I’m getting that fight back again, and I’m doing it for myself and for my sweet angel babies, Kinsey and Ryan, that thankfully didn’t have to know the hurts of this world.
With a heavy but healing heart,