SHARED BY CHRISTINA RELACION FINNELL
As a child, one of my favorite things to read was A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series. The following is a quote from Pooh Bear: “Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” Reflecting on that sentiment after everything that has happened in the last year makes it even truer. I never knew how much love my heart could feel for someone until I was pregnant, but I also didn’t how much pain a person could experience until I lost my beloved child.
My son Emmett’s story begins on my 35th birthday. It was January 24, 2016. I was given the most wonderful present of all: after almost seven years of marriage, my husband, Brett, and I saw those two little blue lines on a pregnancy test. It was positive. We were going to be parents. We were full of emotions: excitement, elation, and anxiousness.
My health care team had just given us the go-ahead to start trying to get pregnant a few months earlier. I suffer from a few chronic health conditions, including fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, and a rare, genetic form of anemia. I took a lot of prescription medication daily to help with constant pain, but I wanted to be off those medications as much as possible before trying to conceive—to avoid any possible complications. I worked for more than two years with health care professionals to improve my own physical and mental well-being. Besides a little extra stubborn weight and a very tiny daily dose of Prozac, I was in excellent health, and all of my doctors were confident I would become pregnant without much difficulty.
The early weeks of pregnancy passed with wonderful anticipation for a new baby. We decided to tell our closest circle of family and friends the news but would wait until the second trimester to tell everyone else we were expecting our first child. We picked out a gender-neutral Winnie the Pooh nursery theme (we love Disney), and everyone was giddy to start buying us things.
In the end of February, we went for our first checkup. Everything looked good, and the doctors let us know to expect our baby on September 26. They couldn’t hear the heartbeat on fetal Doppler, but they eased our fears, saying that most likely it was the position of my uterus. We would try again at our next appointment in March, when they would do our ten- to twelve-week ultrasound.
Over the next few weeks, we planned our larger pregnancy announcement. We went online and found a tiny pair of Mickey Mouse ears on eBay. In a photo to post on Facebook, we were going to place the baby’s first pair of ears with each of our ear hats with the caption: “A New Mouseketeer is Joining the Club in September 2016.”
Sadly, that announcement would never go out as planned.
In late March, Brett and I prepared for our ultrasound appointment. We sat anxiously, holding hands in the radiology department. The ultrasound tech took us to a dim room. The anticipation was palpable. A few minutes later, she showed us a little bouncing blob on a black and white monitor with a heartbeat thumping through the room’s speakers. That was our baby! This amazing creation that was possible because two people were just so incredibly in love with one another. The technician quietly continued to take more measurements, and the ultrasound machine chirping as she marked sizes of various things. She printed a few pictures and placed them in a folder for us and said, “Please head upstairs so the doctor can review the ultrasound with you.”
Brett and I looked at each other, thinking that was a bit weird, but maybe that’s something they do for first-time parents. We floated to the obstetrician’s office through the hospital’s sterile hallways, our faces exuding huge smiles that could’ve been rainbows.
The doctor sat with us in a tiny consultation room. She had a grim look on her face as she said, “Do you know what a cystic hygroma is?” We looked at each other and just shook our heads. She told us how she suspected our baby had a chromosomal issue, either Down’s Syndrome or Turner’s Syndrome. She referred us to a larger medical facility for another ultrasound and a consult with high-risk doctors and genetic counselors. Before we left, she printed out some highly technical medical jargon about cystic hygromas and chromosomes, saying we should go online and research more stories from other parents who have faced this type of diagnosis.
We stood there, stunned and taciturn. In less than a half hour, we went from total excitement to complete despair. I cried alone in my car for twenty minutes, not able to follow Brett home.
Two days later, we went for the high-risk consultation. The first doctor’s assumptions were true: our baby had developed a massive cystic hygroma and had Turner’s Syndrome, a disorder where the baby develops only one X chromosome. They also found fluid in the heart and lungs, called fetal hydrops. This new obstetrician told us it was unlikely our baby would survive to full-term, and there would be additional risk for me to develop maternal hydrops. Most babies who develop this condition don’t make it past first trimester, she said, due to the mother’s body naturally miscarrying—and even fewer survive more than a year after birth.
However, our baby was fighting hard. We decided to wait a month to see if things would improve.
Another three weeks passed before our next ultrasound to see if the situation had improved. I spent most of my waking hours scouring online message boards to try to find any glimmer of hope. Sadly, I found only one other story of a family that was able to go full-term and deliver their baby. Deep in my heart, I knew we were prolonging the inevitable, but I had to hope and be strong for my husband. We wanted this baby so much. How could something like this happen to us? It seemed like some surreal nightmare that we were watching from the outside.
We made the grueling decision to terminate our pregnancy. We had just reached eighteen weeks, well into our second trimester. We were given two options at this point in pregnancy:
- Labor and delivery. The doctors would induce me, and I would be able to hold my baby, who most likely would be born sleeping.
- Dilation and Evacuation (D&E), a surgical process by which medication is inserted to soften the cervix, and then the pregnancy tissue is removed with a vacuum-like aspirator.
According to my research and after speaking with other moms who have faced similar outcomes, we were lucky. We were given an option. Some doctors force their patients one way or another. Our doctors let us make the decision that was right for us. They didn’t sway us one way or the other with personal commentary or judgmental tones. I’m very thankful for that.
The following Monday, we arrived at the labor and delivery department in the hospital, the same floor where the other pregnant moms give birth. It was difficult walking into that building, knowing I was coming here to give birth but that I wouldn’t be leaving with a baby. Less than six hours after starting the induction process, Emmett John Michael Finnell was born sleeping. He was perfect, despite the puffiness from the cystic hygroma. The doctors and nurses took the baby away to do measurements; then, they wrapped him in a teeny knit cocoon. We took a few pictures, and stayed together for eighteen hours as our small little family, knowing we would never have any more time of the three of us together.
Together in Dreams
This decision was the hardest we have ever had to make as a couple. I think it’ll be the hardest decision we’ll ever face as human beings. No matter what you call it—termination, miscarriage, abortion, D&E—it’s still a loss. It still hurts. It was the only decision we would ever make for our baby, and we had to make the best choice we could as his parents. When we looked toward the future, we had to weigh what his quality of life would be. We couldn’t bear having him live his entire life in a NICU, attached to machines, never getting the chance to come home and play. We had to make that most difficult decision to let him go before we even had a chance to know him.
The physical pain of terminating a pregnancy is difficult, but the mental pain it leaves behind is almost crueler. At times, I literally feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. In the months immediately after his passing, I was constantly reminded how “unpregnant” I was. How I never got to wear any maternity clothes. How we never got to finish the nursery. How we never got to announce we were pregnant.
I’ve found solace and comfort in writing. I started a blog with my mom to share our grief journey with others. We weren't close when I was little, as I was adopted, but this has brought us closer together as mother and daughter. Our writing has helped us face the pain and heartache as Emmett’s mother and grandmother, but it has also allowed others to feel less alone about their own pregnancy loss. We have heard from people all over who’ve been touched by our story and willingness to openly talk about how much we miss Emmett. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, and I see a counselor on a regular basis. But writing is a free therapy that allows me to put whatever I want down on paper. I only share it if I want to. It permits those thoughts to escape my head—so I don’t become hyper-focused and fixate on things, which make it even harder to process my already-boiled over emotions.
At night, while I still have times where I cry myself to sleep, there are the other times where I’m hopeful I can meet my sweet Emmett in my dreams, and that’s where I’ll be able to watch him grow and flourish. It reminds me of another quote from Pooh: “I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we're in each other's dreams, we can be together all the time."