I went in for a routine ultrasound to firm up our expected due date last Thursday. My sister came with me to play with Little Bear so he'd stay calm when I couldn't hold him. As soon as I could make out the shape of Alex's profile on the screen, I was so happy: she was so cute, so incredibly tiny. There really was a baby, and I couldn't wait to meet her. I didn't think anything of it when the tech turned the screen away and said that we needed to do an internal ultrasound because I was so early; it was early, only 9 1/2 weeks. I never suspected anything was wrong, even though the second ultrasound lasted much longer than the first, until she turned the screen back toward me and said, "I'm afraid I have some bad news."
She didn't have to say more. It was obvious that the little flickery heartbeat I was looking for on the screen wasn't there.
I picked Little Bear up and hugged him, tight, before running into the bathroom to change. My sister asked if something was wrong, and I nodded, but couldn't find words. She buckled Little Bear into the car while I called Matt to ask if he could leave work early, and somehow I kept the tears back until I'd dropped her off and gotten to campus to pick him up.
There were a lot of tears that afternoon and evening, and again Friday morning when we sat down with my midwife to talk about what to do. She explained that the ultrasound showed Alex had stopped developing at 7 weeks, but my body hadn't acknowledged it and the gestational sack was continuing to grow and develop. We agreed on a medically-induced miscarriage with misoprostol, since my body wasn't instigating the miscarriage on its own.
Labor all through Friday and into Saturday morning was more painful than it had been with Little Bear, but the pain went away and the bleeding dropped off to almost nothing after Alex's body and the gestational sack were delivered Saturday morning. The pain and bleeding both stayed at surprisingly low levels until mid-Monday, when both began increasing steadily until my midwife sent me to the ER at 5 pm. After tests, and exams, and blood-drawing, and another set of ultrasounds, and several hour-and-a-half to two-hour stretches of waiting without seeing any nurses or doctors, they sent us home around midnight saying that it was unusual but didn't look like intervention was necessary.
Now I'm in what looks like a normal miscarriage pattern, with dull pain much like the afterbirth pains that hung around for a few weeks after Little Bear was born, and steady but light bleeding. So physically, it looks like I'm reaching a stable point--yesterday was the first day I'd describe myself as feeling pretty "normal" again.
Tuesday night was the first night I slept well since Thursday. I haven't been kept up by thoughts of Alex; my brain has just been whirling through a host of random thoughts every time I lay down, and refusing to slow down or quiet down to let me sleep. Finally getting more than a couple hours of sleep at night has surely helped with my feeling better.
And emotionally? Ironically, after all of the TMI above, this is the part I'm hesitant to write. Emotionally, Matt and I are both fine. The first couple days, the sudden realization that Alex no longer had a heartbeat and that we were no longer able to look forward to meeting her and holding her and watching her grow and learn and play with her big brother... That was very hard. Very hard. And I was angry, not so much at God as at the Church, for not saying that my little girl who never did a single thing wrong was in heaven. "The Orthodox say she's in heaven," I complained. "I don't like St Augustine's stupid limbo theory!"
But over the weekend, we read a lot about what the Church teaches about infants who die without baptism (basically, just that "we don't know," which is super unhelpful and not the comforting, reassuring thing I wanted to hear). I also read some theories extrapolated from the Catechism by theologians, though, and found great logic and comfort in the concept of Baptism by Intention. The Cliff Notes version:
- The Church acknowledges the concept of Baptism of Desire, that is, salvation of a man who sincerely desires baptism and intends to obtain it but dies before he can do so.
- The faith and intentions of the parents/godparents stand in for the child's in baptism.
- If the parents sincerely desire baptism for their child and intend to have the child baptized, but the child dies before this can happen, the same logic should hold.
The idea of Baptism by Intention made a lot of sense to us. So did carefully reading the Catechism on baptism and salvation, and realizing that it says that baptism is necessary to the salvation of those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed. Obviously, an unborn child hasn't had that opportunity! We were reminded, too, that God isn't bound by the Sacraments: He can do anything He wants to, and we know that He is merciful and wants what is best for each of us. And as Little Bear keeps asking me to read him his Bible, I keep being reminded that Christ told His disciples to let the children come to Him. I understand why the Church has to say that we don't know what happens when an unbaptized baby dies, because it hasn't been revealed and we don't know for sure, but it truly makes the most sense to me to believe that Alex is in heaven.
And believing that, her death became a much less difficult thing for us to cope with. She's in heaven! Heaven is better than earth, so much better than we can imagine. We can't help but be happy for her, knowing that she will never know unhappiness, or pain, or have to deal with any of the problems of this fallen world. Yes, there are still times when something unexpectedly reminds us of how we won't be welcoming Alex home in November and we feel sad, but in general, thinking of Alex means being happy about our little saint in heaven.
Did we logic our way around most of the stages of grief? It kind of seems that way. I'm afraid now that you'll think we are horrible, cold, emotionless people who didn't love our child... That's not the case at all! But as we see it right now, we have a choice: to be sad about not having her with us on earth, or to be happy that she is in heaven and hopeful that we will one day meet her there. And we are making the effort--daily, hourly, each and every moment--to keep choosing the latter.