‘My leg is tingling!’ The morphine wore off. My heartbeat stopped, then my baby’s. I blacked out.’: Mom suffers from PTSD after child loss, now pregnant with rainbow baby, ‘I will always love her’

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“It was June 5, 2017, when we found out I was pregnant with our second child. We had just celebrated our firsts’ second birthday so we were excited and nervous. August 16th we got the NT scan and hormone blood test results back. I was 13 weeks and found out I had low PAPP-A which is a hormone produced by your placenta. It was terrifying especially since there is so little known about this and could mean so many things, or nothing at all. The main concern was the results meant my baby was high risk for trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome. Because of that, we decided to wait to announce our pregnancy until after our 20-week scan.

We found out we were having a baby girl and were so excited. My husband’s mom was over the moon because she had 3 boys and 2 grandsons, so this was the first girl. At our 20-week level 2 anatomy scan, everything looked perfect. She was growing perfectly, and I also got blood tests done showing she did not have trisomy 18. We were ecstatic! Because the PAPP-A can also lead to IUGR, we decided I was going to have growth scans in the third trimester to make sure she was still growing. At 22 weeks, I finally announced our pregnancy to the social media world. Everything was going amazingly.

First born toddler stands in grass field with two dogs and sign announcing sibling's birth
Chelsea Karr

Two weeks later, at 24 weeks on October 25, 2017, I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and had no idea this day was going to change my life. I was so happy to have finally reached viability week, but something was weird. I was a crampy and had a headache but played it off as just another pregnancy symptom, so I drank a bunch of water. She was always so active between 8:30-9:30 a.m. and by the time it was almost 10 a.m. I still hadn’t felt her move and it started to worry me. I called my OB and they told me to come in. I checked her heartbeat before I left and found it, but noticed it was slower than normal. But it was still there.

When I got to the doctor there was an issue with my insurance, so my OB came out and asked if I was ok to drive, and told me to go to labor and delivery. At the time, I was bawling from being so scared and noticed my leg was starting to tingle, but I played it off as my anxiety. The hospital was about 30 minutes away. While on the highway I was talking to my husband Hollis on the phone, making sure he was on his way. The cramping and leg pains were getting more severe, and faster and faster. I got to the hospital and could barely walk but denied the wheelchair when valet asked if I wanted it. By the time I made the short walk to labor and delivery, I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk and was crying so hard the nurses came out to get me in a wheelchair. I completely skipped admissions. They put me in a room and I got dressed down to a robe. They had me do a urine sample and took blood. They hooked me up to the monitor and was having some difficulty finding my little girls’ heartbeat, but that’s because she was so small. Eventually they found it.

I wasn’t contracting. The midwife came in and checked me and I was not dilated. I also was not bleeding, so I was relieved I wasn’t in preterm labor. I was in so much pain, they decided to give me morphine and said it should last 2 hours and if I still have pain, then they’ll give me another dose. Because of where the pain was, it was ruled as a really bad kidney stone. Hollis finally got to the hospital and his mom was on the way to pick up our son. The nurses, who were absolutely amazing, ordered an ultrasound to check where the stone was and how big it was. Right then is when the morphine wore off. They had to get me to the ultrasound, so they only gave me half a dose, checked for my little girl’s heartbeat (which they found) and got me going. I remember closing my eyes, screaming in pain on the way. Shortly after the midwife brought the ultrasound machine in, and my heart stopped. She then said the worst five words ever said to me in my life: ‘They couldn’t find a heartbeat.’ That sentence, and her face when she said it, is forever engraved in my brain.

She started the ultrasound and I saw my daughter’s lifeless body just floating in me. I saw her still heart, the same heart chambers that were beating so perfectly just a month before. That too, will always be engraved in my brain. My baby girl was gone. After that, I blacked out. I remember the midwife breaking my water to get labor started. Hollis said it was pure blood and I was as white as the sheets. Then a hoard of nurses and doctors rushed in. I guess I was in DIC, so I was bleeding everywhere internally and they had to start blood and plasma transfusions. They were going to perform a C-section but decided against it since my body was so weak. I would have died on the table, and I had already lost my daughter. I was so close to death. They started my induction with a vaginal pill, gave me an epidural and moved me up to ICU to have around the clock monitoring and continue with transfusions. I told them I wanted any and all drugs because I didn’t want to feel anything, emotionally or physically.

Around 2 a.m., labor completely kicked in. They gave me the full dose of epidural and fentanyl. I fell back asleep until 3:15 a.m. when I felt something ‘down there.’ I put my hand down there and felt my daughter’s head. The OB delivered my sleeping angel, Chloe Jade, at 3:20 a.m. I didn’t see her as I was crying so hard. She was 1 pound, 14.5 ounces and 12.5 inches long. While they were cleaning her up, the OB discovered I had a concealed placental abruption. She pulled out about 5 or 6 softball-sized clots. I was pissed, sad, and hatred for myself filled my body for failing the one thing I, as a woman, was supposed to do. I was able to spend 2 full days with her as my body made a full recovery after delivering her and receiving 16 transfusions. The doctors called me a miracle because of how quickly my body recovered and turned into a physically ‘normal’ postpartum body. Not a dry eye ever left my room —  whether it was a doctor, nurse or medical assistant. I was numb. It really hadn’t set in that my daughter was gone even as I held her lifeless body in our postpartum room. I had her cremated as I wanted her buried with me and my husband whenever we died.

Box of ashes for baby who didn't make it surrounded by angel figurines and pictures of her
Chelsea Karr

The months following were extremely difficult but, I got out of bed for my son. I continued with school even though my heart was shattered. The amount of support I received was just amazing. My biggest fear was, and still is, that she would be forgotten. About a month after having her, I was also diagnosed with Factor V Leiden which is a genetic blood clotting disorder, meaning I’m more prone to blood clots. It was determined that my placenta with Chloe was bad and the placental abruption was caused first by the low PAPP-A and maybe also the FVL. You never hear about leaving the hospital empty handed after the loss of a baby. Having your milk come in, with no baby to feed, and enduring the added physical pain of drying yourself up. Having the empty nursery that was supposed to be filled by your child who is no longer with you. The phantom kicks you feel. Getting your first period when you were supposed to still be pregnant. The pain of all of these triggers on top of the pain of not having your child in your arms.

Just a mere two months after having her, I found out I was pregnant again. I was terrified as I wanted to wait a few more months before even thinking about trying again. Hollis was terrified because he almost lost both me and our daughter just 2 months earlier. When I met with my OB we came up with a game plan and I also started seeing an MFM (maternal fetal medicine – high risk). We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we decided it would be best, especially for my mental health, that I saw my MFM biweekly with scans every appointment and then saw my OB on the weeks I didn’t see her. I also started baby aspirin and started daily blood thinner injections because of the FVL. I was taking all the precautions I could, but it still barely made a dent in the anxiety and stress. By the time I was about 2 months pregnant, Chloe’s due date came. Valentine’s Day, all I wanted to do was crawl in a ball and cry. All I could think about is what she would have looked like as a full-term baby, what would she weigh? How tall would she be? Questions I will never have answered about my own child.

Ultrasound of woman's baby after she had suffered loss of newborn
Chelsea Karr

When the NT scan and hormone blood work came around, my anxiety was at an all-time high. And again, I have low PAPP-A. Learning that put even a further distance between me and this baby. It sounds horrible to say, but I was so numb to this pregnancy. I didn’t want to build a bond because I just knew something was going to go wrong. We then found out this baby is a boy! I feel like that helped us accept this pregnancy a little more. The closer I got to 24 weeks, the more anxiety I got. I was starting to get PTSD at night and my mind was creating the same symptoms I had with Chloe, but they would only last about 10-15 minutes. Both my OB and MFM told me I was more than welcome to come in or call every day if that helped. But I felt like I had to cope on my own.

Pregnant mother sits on couch with firstborn in her lap after suffering child loss
Chelsea Karr

After I had passed the 24-week mark, I felt a little better for a short time, then the anxiety came back and almost worse. I am 34 weeks right now and that anxiety is still lingering, I still have the PTSD at night and I still have the wall built up between me and this baby. I feel so guilty about it, but I can’t help it. Then I also feel guilt anytime I get any sense of joy from this pregnancy. Like I need to still be grieving my daughter. I live with fears that people will think I’m ‘replacing’ Chloe, or people will call me a mother of 2. I know once I have my baby in my arms I will bond so much with him, but right now it’s so hard when I feel like he is safer on the outside than in my belly. There are so many different emotions I have gone through with this pregnancy. I feel as if I will never be able to enjoy pregnancy again.

When I was thinking about my pregnancy announcement, I wanted to do something different and strong. I wanted to make my point of my rainbow baby and how hard pregnancy after a loss is. That’s why I decided to take my own (with the help of my husband, dad and step mom) photos, so I rented a lens, got a dress, ordered some smoke bombs and headed to my dad’s house. It was stressful and a little chaotic, but that’s exactly how this pregnancy has been.

Pregnant woman who suffered child loss stands in white dress holding stomach with rainbow smoke behind her
Chelsea Rae Photography

I have started weekly non-stress tests and will continue biweekly ultrasounds to make sure everything looks good. And in just 5 weeks or less, I will have my rainbow baby boy. Even after this baby comes, I will always celebrate my daughter. I will always include her in my family photos. I will continue to tell her story and try to raise awareness that pregnancy loss happens. It’s so taboo to talk about death, but especially about child loss. So many women have reached out to me to tell me their story, and I feel so privileged. My daughter will always be part of my life and I will always love her, until I meet her again in the wind or among the forest. I keep her alive by telling her story, by sharing her pictures. What I have learned is there is no same way to grieve. Never tell a mother how she is grieving her child is the wrong way. You never ‘move on,’ or ‘get over it.’ You simply learn how to cope.”

Pregnant woman who suffered child loss stands holding stomach with husband and first born
Chelsea Rae Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chelsea Karr of Chelsea Rae Photography of Ashby, Massachusetts. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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