She was due January 11, 2000. Our first baby. We had recently purchased our first home, so the timing seemed perfect, even though she was a surprise. We found out at our ultra sound appointment that we were having a girl and couldn’t be happier.
It wasn’t until after we had picked her name, Natalee, that we learned it meant, “Born on Christmas Day” and we often would joke that by choosing that name we had pre-determined her birthday. By December, I was becoming more uncomfortable by the day and ready to pop, so I wouldn’t have minded at all if she were born on Christmas.
On Christmas Eve we attended the normal gatherings at our friends and families house. It was a hectic night and we didn’t get home until late. I was so tired and immediately went to bed. After a restless night of sleep I awoke late on Christmas morning. I felt something different. I couldn’t pin point it right away but soon realized that Natalee hadn’t moved. I drank juice, ate cereal, all the tactics that usually get her going. Nothing had worked.
We went to the Hospital by the afternoon just to check and make sure that all was okay. The nurses immediately tried to hook me up to the heart monitor but could not find Natalee’s heartbeat. Three nurses came in to try, and eventually they brought in the Ultra-sound but would not let us see it.
They informed us that the Doctor would be there shortly, and that was all they said. We waited, we prayed, we cried. It was the beginning of a really bad dream that was in fact, becoming our reality.
The Doctor came in and immediately sat down, grabbed my hand and confirmed that the worst had happened. Natalee was gone. I was hysterical. It was Christmas. My baby was dead. This couldn’t be happening. She then informed us that I would be induced immediately and would deliver naturally. We could hardly process what was happening, it all seemed to happen so fast. In a split second our lives were shattered.
My husband, Paul called our families with all the strength he could muster. He was so strong, so brave. After that the rest is kind of a blur. Soon after we learned Natalee was gone, I was drugged with Demerol and put on Pitocin to help start my labor. My husband stayed by my side as I faded in and out. Friends and family filtered in and out. Tears in their eyes, I could hear some of them, sometimes open my eyes and see them hugging my husband, hugging each other. It all seemed like a bad dream.
I went through 13 hours of labor. During that time, friends and family held vigil in the waiting room, along with a support group leader, Heidi, who had come in to help us all through. I don’t know how I would be here today if she didn’t walk into our lives that night. The support and the love was unbelievable. It truly reflected the meaning of Christmas, a day that would never hold the same meaning it once did.
At 7:09 am on December 26th, I delivered a 7lb beautiful baby girl. In a still, quiet, room full of silent tears, shattered hopes and dreams. She looked perfect in every way except, to spite our prayers for a Christmas miracle, she was born still. She looked as though she might take a breath at any minute, but she never did. She was so beautiful. They then informed me that the cord was around her neck and that was probably what had killed her. We later learned it could also been a rare liver condition I had called Cholestasis of Pregnancy. Characterized by this strange itching I had all over my body after my 34th week. We had opted not to have an autopsy since in many of stillborn cases, a cause is never found.
We spent some time with her. We held her; we kissed her, talked to her. I couldn’t stop myself from constantly apologizing. I apologized to her; to my husband, whose pain was so intense and I wanted so badly to take it away from him. To our families, who I had felt I let down somehow. I wanted to go back in time, start over with a different outcome. My husband didn’t deserve this. Natalee didn’t deserve this. How could this happen to US?
There was a very special nurse there, who photographed our Natalee. She took so many wonderful pictures. They are my most prized possessions today. They are all I have left to remember her every feature, every spec on her face. All I had left to remember the beauty of my daughter.
Three days after delivering our Angel, it was time to go home, then it really hit me. I was going home empty handed, leaving our Natalee there. How would I get through this? All I had were two boxes which contained, a hat Natalee wore, a lock of her hair, some pictures, and her feet and handprints. This was all I had to hold on my lap as they wheeled me out, down a hallway that was so long and cold.
The nurses had all prepared for my departure by clearing the hallway of all baby-related items, closing all the doors of the rooms that contained mothers happily admiring their babies. This was an act of compassion that I will never forget.
As I looked out the window that day on the way home I remember it was sunny. I noticed the world was still turning. People were still shopping, still mowing their lawns. I was amazed at this. Didn’t they know my baby died? My world had stopped cold. How could it go on for everyone else?
I had to rest for Natalee’s funeral; it was on New Years Eve. I wanted to try and appear strong that day; it would be the first time I had to face people.
So many people came. I was overwhelmed. Friends I hadn’t seen in ages, family, and co-workers. It was a packed Church. The priest gave a beautiful eulogy. He talked of love, of remembering Natalee each Christmas in a special way. I wondered how we would ever celebrate Christmas again.
My Aunt also gave a beautiful talk. She spoke of the love and support we received from our friends and family. The love we all had for Natalee. As I stared at Natalee’s pictures surrounded by flowers at the front of the church. I broke down. Why? How will I ever survive this? What made God think I was strong enough for this?
New Years Eve night was so difficult. We knew it was a big deal all over the world and it had been a century that we had looked forward too, but now it felt empty. I remember hoping that night, that maybe the world would end. That maybe the earth would suddenly explode at midnight and then we could be with our Natalee. I remember, I could literally feel my heart breaking that night. We went to bed by 9:30 trying to figure out how to get through this next year.
I realized that night, that my life, my views, my whole persona would never be the same. I was changed forever. The new challenge would be getting to know this new person, introducing this new person to our family and friends. I’ve always felt that Paul understood me, but I worried how to face the rest of the world.
In the weeks that followed, Paul and I were stuck to each other. I could not be without him. I felt so weak, so fragile. I needed him more than I have ever needed anyone before in my life. Before, I had always been a very strong, independent person. Now I was so hurt, so confused. I didn’t trust anything anymore. The only time I felt even remotely at peace was when Paul and I were together. Even months later, as we had both begun coping in our own ways, I felt the best when we are together.
After a couple of months passed, I started to get glimpses of this new person I was becoming, sometimes a more compassionate person, sometimes bitter. While I was still very confused, very sad, I was realizing that I had to get through this. I had to somehow survive this, come out a better person, and not an angry one.
I wanted another baby; I wanted to live life. I had to learn to be strong. I loved my friends; I wanted to keep them. My poor family, they were always so worried about me, I had to somehow radiate the strength I was hoping to find to release them from their worry. Somehow, I had to incorporate this pain, this loss, into my life without letting it take it over.
I began by buying books, every book I could find on loosing a baby, on grief, anything related. I read all the time. We then got connected to the Internet and I began to find support through various boards, and form friendships with other Mom’s who had lost their angels. I attended the HAND meetings and I began my journals. In one, I wrote about my feelings, the other I dedicated solely to poems and letters to Natalee. It really amazed me how writing her a letter often made me feel like I had really talked with her. I could tell her all the things I longed too. How much I loved her, how proud of her I was. My grief was in the very beginning stages, but I feel lucky that I realized early on that I had to go straight through it to survive. Not pretend that I was ok, and not avoid things that reminded me. I had to let myself feel this excruciating pain, let myself sob until I couldn’t breath, let myself miss Natalee with all my heart and soul. Now it has been over a year since we lost our precious girl. She now has a baby brother here I am happy to say. I believe he has a special angel watching over him in heaven and will walk with her on his shoulder for the rest of his life.
By Anne Musial
In loving memory of Natalee Elizabeth – Born Still on 12/26/99.
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