We found out that Doodlebug (what we called Patrick before he was born) was lagging in growth around 10 weeks gestation. The next ten weeks felt like whiplash between hope and devastation. I went to the OB clinic at least once a week, often twice a week. Sitting in that waiting room became a significant anxiety trigger, and by about week 15 I’d break out in hives just stepping into the waiting room.
I managed my check-up after delivery okay because they had me wait in the gynecology waiting room instead of the OB waiting room. When we went to see the maternal fetal medicine (MFM) specialist, though, for the results of Patrick’s autopsy, we waited in the OB waiting room. I broke out in hives.
When Lloyd and I first started talking seriously about trying to conceive again, one of the things I talked to my therapist about was managing the anxiety of sitting in the OB clinic’s waiting room. I struggle with PTSD anyways, and I suspected that I would continue to have trouble. It doesn’t help knowing that the clinic, especially ultrasound, runs notoriously late (and after having lived through the nightmare of having an ultrasound room cleared for you, I now understand WHY they run notoriously late: because when you really need to be seen, you’re seen immediately). I hold an arsenal of coping skills, but I am still unsure of sitting in that waiting room. My therapist suggested that we may need to do some exposure therapy–going and sitting in the waiting room when I don’t even have an appointment to see if we could normalize the experience. I’d considered it but hadn’t followed through.
Last week I had some time between doctors’ appointments and was feeling like I was stable enough to manage a trip into abyss of pregnant bellies and traumatic memories, so I got into the the elevator and pressed the button for the fourth floor. As the elevator climbed, I thought that since I was going there anyways, maybe I should ask about the death certificate for Patrick (which I had been unsuccessful at locating), as well as images from his last ultrasound. Both of these were items I’d been wanting for his scrapbook, but I hadn’t had the strength to ask about them.
I stood in the doorway and waited my turn to check in at the desk. I explained why I was there, and she told me that I needed to go to City Hall. I told her that I had done that, and the nice lady who helped me at City Hall (while I had a complete meltdown) said that you only get a death certificate if there is a birth certificate. Meaning: the baby had to breathe outside the womb. The nice lady from City Hall had said I needed to go to the hospital where I delivered.
The OB secretary wasn’t really sure who to call. I explained that I remembered signing some sort of death certificate, so she called the birth certificates department, and she was told there was no such thing for stillbirth. She called labor and delivery, and she was told there was no such thing for stillbirth. Finally she called the triage nurse, Ann, who said she would see me and try to figure out what I was hoping to get.
Ann spent a significant amount of time with me, and she gave me some ideas of other places I could contact for a Certificate of Stillbirth*, but it was pretty clear that the hospital did not currently provide such a thing. She also checked in with me about how I was doing. I was able to tell her about the work I’m doing at Pregnancy After Loss Support, and she took literature on PALS and talked about what a need PALS fills.
I asked her about the ultrasound images, and she went to get one of the ultrasound techs to talk to me. Janie had done two of our ultrasounds and remembered me. She remembered Lloyd too. She pulled up the last ultrasound before coming to see me to see what the images were like. She explained to me that she wasn’t sure they were what I was looking for. The doctor who performed the ultrasound was checking for signs of movement, of life, so they didn’t take images of the typical scrapbook shots. I said that was okay; I still wanted them.
Janie took my phone so she could take pictures of the images on the screen, then came back and explained to me what each image showed. She hugged me. I choked back sobs. Here, over a year later, I had new pictures of my boy. There wasn’t the profile shot I had been hoping for, that I remembered, but that’s okay. I will hold that image in my mind forever.
I sat with Ann for a few more minutes before I left to go to my next doctor’s appointment, and as I went to leave I asked her, “Do I have hives?”
“No, honey, no hives. Why?”
“I always broke out in hives the last five weeks of our pregnancy, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to come back here without breaking out in hives.”
She hugged me, and with so much encouragement in her voice said, “But you did. And you will keep doing things you weren’t sure you’d be able to do. I hope we’ll see you back soon.”
*I have since found out that MA does have state legislation for a Certificate of Stillbirth, but the legislation is clearly not being communicated to the hospitals. I hope to partner with Nicole of MommyInterrupted to spread awareness on this issue and make sure all of the hospitals are educated to provide this documentation to families, among other standards of care that need to be made available across the state.