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)