Saturday, January 08, 2011

Stella’s Life

My wife Shelby was admitted to the hospital on December 20th after she started feeling chest, back and arm pains. Since she was 23 weeks pregnant, we called the OB on call who confirmed that we needed to come to the hospital for some testing. She was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, where the blood platelet count drops and liver enzymes rise to dangerous levels. Two different OB/GYNs we had seen in the past confirmed that they needed to “take” the baby in order to save Mom. They also told us that our little girl was too small to survive outside of the womb. By now she was about 3 weeks behind where she should have been size wise and too small to be “viable.”

We found out earlier in the pregnancy that she had a congenital heart defect, which was determined to be very operable with good chances of survival. We had also been told that she would most likely have Down syndrome. Though all of that news was absolutely devastating at the time, we took things one day at a time, and gradually came to grips with the prognosis. Despite all of our worries about the future of our child, we were looking forward to welcoming her into this world with love and kisses.

On December 23rd at 5:43 p.m., Shelby give birth to our baby girl, Stella Grace. But this didn’t happen on its own. It took several days and different methods of induction to finally bring about contractions. Stella just didn’t want to come, which made things that much more painful. The pain of dragging out the inevitable took its toll emotionally and physically. Shelby was subject to constant blood draws, blood pressure checks, and temperature monitoring. Her arms were black and blue from all of the needle sticks and IV ports. Since Shelby’s health was stable, all we could do was wait.

When the time finally came, Stella came quick. The doctor had just finished an exam, indicating that Shelby had finally dilated to 3 centimeters (they thought she needed to be at 5). The doctor and the nurse were on their way out when Shelby cried out that something was wrong. They seemed to think she was just having another contraction until her water broke and a little pair of legs poked out. As I stood there watching in a state of shock, the nurse and I helped her lay back. I held one of Shelby’s legs and the nurse the other, while the doctor started assisting in the birth, and Shelby started pushing.

As I watched, I remained calm and kept reassuring Shelby that she was doing great and that everything was going just fine. In reality, I was scared of what was about to happen, but I knew deep down that it was going to be okay. I tried to convey that trust to Shelby by smiling as she kept pushing.

It was a breach birth in which the feet and body came out first, and the umbilical cord was wrapped around Stella’s neck making her head a bit harder to come free. After some delicate coaxing, the doctor finally got the baby out. The doctor cut the cord, wrapped up the baby and put her in Shelby’s arms. I knew our little girl was either already dead, or only had a short time to live, so we just started caressing her and talking to her.

The nurse listened with her stethoscope and told us that there was a heartbeat. We just stroked her, and cried, and smiled at each other as little Stella laid on Shelby’s heart. She was tiny, only 9.8 ounces, but fully formed. She gasped for air a couple of times, which just broke our hearts more. We knew her lungs were not formed enough to actually breath, which is why they told us there was no chance of survival. She moved her tiny little arms, once to grab Shelby’s finger, and another time to put her own thumb in her mouth. She was too precious.

Our parents were all in the room and got to touch and talk to Stella as she laid on Shelby to keep warm. Another check of the heart by the nurse indicated the heartbeat was very faint. We cried and smiled and stroked her little head some more as the minutes ticked by. We took several pictures to capture the moment as best we could. Finally, at around 7:30 pm, she was pronounced dead.

At that point we requested that they do the same thing they do with living infants, so they took her weight, measurements, and footprints. They dressed her in a dress we chose from their selection and took some more pictures. We finally decided enough was enough and they took her away. I have to say that the nursing staff was so wonderful. It made a very difficult situation much easier. These women put the “care” back in “Healthcare” and I admire their level of compassion.

It was an emotionally and physically exhausting experience for us all, but especially Shelby. She did so great. She was such a wonderful mother even though she had such a short time. She made sure Stella stayed warm as best she could, and made sure she felt loved as long as she could. I only wish it could have been longer.

Shelby was finally released from the hospital on Christmas morning. Leaving the maternity ward empty handed on Christmas was a tough thing to do to say the least. The walls were covered with pictures of beautiful little babies being held by adoring parents. It was as beautiful site as it was painful.

So now we’re learning to deal with the pain of a love lost. Shelby’s pain is understandably greater since she was the vessel for this life. She loved being pregnant, feeling the tiny movements and kicks that I could never really feel. I do my best to comfort her and love her, though I can only imagine how deeply her heart aches to have Stella Grace back in her arms.

Love was brought to life that day, if for no other reason, to show us that Love is eternal.

(See the full details of Stella’s memorial service)


traceyj said...

What a journey, dear Trey, I admire your bravery in writing and sharing your story, your wife's and Stella's. Love is all there is, and we shed tears, too. With warm regards, Tracey

Trey said...

Thank you. You reminded me that I was going to include a quote by Gina Lake who I wrote to before Stella's death:

“Recognize that the love you feel for Stella Grace resides within you and originates within you. She evoked this depth of love from you, and that is her gift to you. This love belongs to you and cannot be taken away from you, and it will always be yours to give whether it is to her or some other child or to other people. She has shown you how deeply you can love, and that is a treasure. It may be her sole purpose in this life. That remains to be seen, but it is a worthy one.

It was not possible to avoid this challenge; it was given to you both, for whatever reason. It isn't for you to know why necessarily. You have to trust that it is serving a spiritual purpose. It is serving your soul's growth. All challenges hold a gift. Usually that gift is the spiritual strength and compassion that are developed as one learns to navigate such a devastating situation. The power you have is to either find the place within you that can be at peace and in love in even this situation or give way to bitterness, anger, resentment, and despair. This is the choice we are all faced with in any challenge. If anyone has a right to dark feelings, you do, but they serve no one and only keep you from your own beautiful Heart. What everyone needs now is to be in touch with the Heart.”

Anonymous said...

During this difficult time of your lives you need to be aware, as I am certain you are, of the many loving friends and family standing up and offering compassion and support. We all know that words fall miserably short in expressing the compassion and caring of those many hearts that beat in tune with you in these hours and days. You will become aware of the inspiration and inner strength that life's struggles seem to bring to both of you. I believe that human character is not so much molded as is clay, but forged on the anvil of adversity. It is important to remember that troubles may destroy us if we are not careful. I promise that you will emerge not free of pain but able to endure life with grace and courage. You will do so because of Stella and what she means to us all.

God Bless you both


ML1959 said...

Just stumbling on your blog at random by hitting the "next blog" tab on the top on my blog.

Your story is very touching and a good reminder on how all we ever really have is this moment.

Chhers and Peace, Mike

Trey said...

Dear Stella,

I want to thank you for the joy you brought your mother and I. I’ve never seen her happier than when she looked at you dancing on the ultra sound screen. I’ve seen her smile before, but not like that. She loved the feeling of you inside her, and I loved that she felt that love.

Though I didn’t get to know you as well as your mother, I got to know your love through her. Her love. Your love. My love. Our love. All love.

When we learned that you weren’t doing well, I became afraid of getting to attached in case the worst might happen. But I was already attached and didn’t know what to do. Love and fear became one emotion. Until the day you were born.

They told us that you wouldn’t make it, but we had no choice. You had to come before you were ready to save your Mom’s life. She would have gladly given her life for yours, but that wasn’t an option. You saved your mom’s life and visited us ever so briefly on your way through this world.

The joy and sadness experienced that day will never be forgotten.

Love always,