‘At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a sharp pain in my upper left abdomen. This was NOT a drill.’: Mom opens up on traumatic micro-preemie loss

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Disclaimer: This story includes descriptions of child loss that may be triggering for some.

“I sat in my closet at 2 a.m., tears flowing down my face uncontrollably. I could barely breathe. I felt as though my heart was being ripped out of my chest. My T-shirt was soaked from tears. It was dark and lonely. My husband and son lay sleeping a few feet away. My home was full, but I felt empty. I wanted my baby. I wanted to hold him and kiss his head. I longed for another moment to breathe in his smell. It had been six months since I held Drew in my arms. Why him? Why us?

We’re Pregnant!

In June of 2021, on our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband Jim and I found out we were expecting our fourth child together. We hadn’t planned on more kids, but we love babies and always have room in our hearts for one more. Before we had time to process the news, at five weeks and three days, I began to bleed. I assumed that I was having a miscarriage. I called the doctor to schedule an appointment to get checked out. It would be two days before I could get in. In the interim, the bleeding decreased significantly.

A mom sits with her two kids on the couch
Courtesy of Erin Conley

I learned that my baby was developing well, complete with a heartbeat. I was diagnosed with a subchorionic hemorrhage. This meant that I had bleeding between the amniotic membrane and the uterine wall. There is no known cause and no treatment options. In most cases, the bleeding stops, clots, and reabsorbs with little fanfare. It does slightly increase the risk of various pregnancy complications, but a quick Google search kept me optimistic. More likely than not, I would give birth to a healthy baby at term.

In late August, things took a shocking turn. I began bleeding heavily. The bleeding never stopped. I was unable to go anywhere for any length of time out of fear of making a mess in public. I became anemic. I was unable to lift and play with my children. I was passing clots the size of my palm. It was the stuff of nightmares. Meanwhile, my baby boy was hanging on. He was healthy and thriving in the womb. Although my doctor assured me that my baby would most likely be fine, my motherly instinct told me that my son could not survive this much longer. I prayed for healing.

A pregnant mom takes a picture of herself in the bathroom mirror
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Surprise Contractions

On October 10th, at 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a sharp pain in my upper left abdomen. When the pain subsided, I tried to go back to sleep. That’s when my worst fears were realized. At twenty-two weeks and five days pregnant, I began having contractions. Being the mother of three children, I knew exactly what labor was like. This was NOT a drill. I called ahead to the labor and delivery unit of our local hospital to let them know I was on my way. I needed prompt care and I hoped that by doing this they would be ready for us as soon as we arrived.

When my husband and I arrived at the hospital, the staff seemed to take their time checking us in. One of the women at the counter said in a slightly condescending tone, ‘So you think you’re having some contractions?’ My eyes widened. ‘I don’t THINK I am. I AM,’ I responded. From the first interaction with the hospital staff, it was clear I wasn’t being taken seriously. They took their sweet time, weighing me and trying to get a urine sample. Multiple times I asked for someone to give me a pelvic exam.

The hospital was well aware of my complications and the increased risk of preterm labor. They were aware that I was familiar with the labor process, but they continued to brush off my concerns. After nearly an hour, a nurse entered the triage room. She asked me a series of questions which I answered quickly. I tried to explain to her what was happening, but she interrupted me to tell me I probably just have a bladder infection. She wasn’t hearing me. I needed help. Why weren’t they helping me?

A mom stands by a brick wall and a tree wearing a blue dress
Courtesy of Erin Conley

She got out the handheld doppler to find my son’s heartbeat. We were not hearing the familiar and comforting ‘whoosh whoosh whoosh’ that every pregnant woman loves to hear. It was silence. In that moment, I thought my son was dead. I was in labor, and now we couldn’t find his heartbeat. At nearly 23 weeks pregnant, finding his heartbeat should be a cinch. She attempted to find his heartbeat with the continuous monitoring belt, still nothing. During an intense contraction, I asked if I could move into another position. She gave a hearty sigh and rolled her eyes. Apparently, I was annoying her.

She informed us she was going to get an ultrasound machine. At that moment, I felt a slam on my cervix. Pain radiated through my body. I knew his birth was near. I asked her AGAIN when someone was going to check me. She looked at me clearly displeased and said, ‘At this gestation, only a doctor can check you,’ I responded, ‘Well, can we get someone in here then?! I’m really hurting. I need SOMEBODY to help me.’ After a back-and-forth exchange that ended with her blaming ME for a doctor not being present an hour into this visit, she left the room.

The Baby’s Coming

Jim and I were now alone in the triage room. I was lying there covered with a blanket while he rubbed my hand. I was terrified of what was coming. ‘I need help! I need help! Somebody help me. It’s happening. It’s happening. Please…’ My husband continued to hold my hand, unable to do anything. It was at that moment my son was born.

The nurse opened the door and said, ‘What happened?’ In a rage, I threw the blanket back. ‘THIS happened! I TOLD YOU!’ Her eyes widened, and she took off running. The room quickly filled with staff. They were rushing to get the proper instruments into a room meant only for exams. I lay there shaking with my baby against me.

The doctor arrived and assessed the situation. They spoke amongst themselves and not to me. Eventually, she said, ‘Do you want to see the baby?’ This confirmed my worst fear. My son was dead. Why else would she ask me IF I wanted to see him? I said, ‘Of course!’ I feared what I was about to see. She clamped and cut the cord and laid him on my leg. I looked down to see a tiny baby, normal looking in every other way. They were still working on me, but I was watching him. That’s when I thought I saw his leg move. I convinced myself this was wishful thinking. I wanted him to be alive so badly that I was imagining things.

They wrapped him in a towel and handed him to me. What followed is jumbled in my mind. It took them quite a long time to verify he had passed away. I thought this was a show of kindness considering the trauma we had just experienced. I would have never imagined there was more to the story. We spent the rest of the hospital stay with him. He grew colder and darker in appearance. I held him feeling defeated. I felt I had failed my son. I stroked his hands, face, and feet. I told him I was sorry. We left the hospital with a memory box, not a baby. Saying goodbye to Drew was the worst moment of my life. I had a hole in my heart that would never be repaired. A part of me died with him that day.

A woman sits with a bouquet of white flowers at her son's grave
Courtesy of Erin Conley

The Aftermath

I had to tell my living children that their brother had died. I had to plan a burial. I was living in a dream state for days. None of this seemed real. I found myself crying out to God. My body physically hurt. I was holding on to my Lord to carry me through my darkest hour. There is no pain like the pain of a mother losing her child. My only comfort was that my Drew was in the arms of my Savior Jesus Christ.

Approximately six weeks after my son’s passing, I was checking my hospital’s online portal for test results completely unrelated to my pregnancy. I noticed there were doctor’s notes available from the hospital visit. Things were as expected, until I saw Drew had an Apgar score. It wasn’t zero. The Apgar is a test administered to all babies one minute and five minutes after birth. This helps doctors quickly determine the status of the baby’s health and whether they need additional care. If it wasn’t zero, this meant my son was born alive.

Upon review of records, I learned he was in fact alive at the time of his birth. I wasn’t imagining the movement. The hospital not only deprived me of the care I needed that day, but they also stole the choice that Jim and I legally have to attempt to save my son’s life. I entered the hospital that day armed with information on the treatments and outcomes of babies born at that gestation. I had the legal documents saved to my phone. I was ready to make an educated decision based on that and my son’s overall condition on whether to pursue intervention. They stole my ability to mother my son. They stole a piece of my soul. They weren’t being kind by letting me hold him before snatching him to check for signs of life, they were waiting for him to die.

A baby's grave with balloons spelling his name: Drew
Courtesy of Erin Conley

As the months wore on, I was in and out of waves of grief. I had moments of joy and despair. I was surviving. In January, my grandmother’s health sharply declined. She had been battling Leioblastoma sarcoma for years. Her body was now failing her. I knew I would never be prepared to lose her. I got ready to ride the wave.

My grandmother wasn’t a sweet little lady who greeted you with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. She was feisty, crude, and packed full of wisdom. A lifetime of laughter, struggles, ups, and downs, wrapped up into one person who was always there. I still remember the feeling of the wind in my hair as we blasted Huey Lewis and the News while hitting the whoopty-doos on Farm Road 182. That was over 30 years ago. Now she lay sleeping, looking little like herself, waiting for the Lord to call her home. On January 26th, 2022, she passed away.

A woman sits with her grandmother at a restaurant
Courtesy of Erin Conley

Grieving

As I muddled through my own grief and tried to lift others up, I asked for God’s guidance. I wanted to do something bigger than just bring my mother a coffee. I wanted to help more people. I didn’t want anyone to feel the isolation and despair that I felt. I didn’t want anyone to walk the road alone. I started blogging about my grief journey. I wanted to provide a sense of community. If sharing my story could help people, I was all in. I created a YouTube channel to add another dynamic. I have participated in various discussions and most recently shared my story on an Instagram live for Twenty-Two Matters, an organization advocating for the care of micro-preemies.

My son’s story will not end with his body going into the ground. God is always working for good. I don’t know why He took Drew so soon, but I will not let his memory only belong to me. He lived and he mattered. God gave me the trauma for a reason. I cannot be silent while others suffer. I will serve for the glory of God while honoring my son and grandmother every step of the way.

A word to my fellow grievers: the loss of a loved one can seem impossible to navigate. Grief takes a mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical toll on a person. In your darkest moments, know that you are not alone. God IS with you. Ask him to carry you, and he will. Latch on to the moments of joy. It is OKAY to laugh. It is OKAY to cry. It is OKAY to miss a meal or a shower, but don’t give up. I could have let the darkness overtake me. I choose to live in the light of the Lord. I could have given in to bitterness and anger. Instead, I choose empathy and compassion. I choose life.

‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30″

A mom stands with her two young kids outside by a tree
Courtesy of Erin Conley

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erin Conley of Springfield, Missouri. You can follow her journey on YouTube, Instagram, and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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