Written By: Kim Whitmore
Photo Cred: Krysthol Davis Photography
In January of 2018, I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor after experiencing numbness on the left side of my face. Fortunately, the tumor is benign and the plan is to continue to monitor the growth every few months and avoid surgery until it grows larger and/or my symptoms worsen. Reflecting on this diagnosis, my husband and I decided to try to have another child before I would need a potential high-risk surgery in the future – our “bucket list” baby. In the summer of 2018, I was fortunate to become pregnant with a baby girl. My pregnancy was relatively uncomplicated despite having several high risk factors (i.e. my age, tumor, clotting disorder). However, everything changed on the evening of February 25, 2019. After reading bedtime stories to my two boys, Quentin (10) and Christian (5), I was resting in the rocking chair next to their bunkbeds watching them as they fell asleep. I was 8 months pregnant at the time and had felt exhausted after a long day at work teaching graduate nursing students and working on my research in my role as an Assistant Professor of Nursing at UW-Madison. I suddenly begin to feel sharp pains in my abdomen that grew exponentially worse. Within minutes of the onset of pain, I found myself in an ambulance on my way to the hospital terrified that I was going into pre-term labor. What happened over the next few hours changed the course of my life and the life of my family forever.
When I first arrived at the hospital, the first thing the nurse did was connect me to the fetal heart rate monitor. However, after several attempts, repositioning, and bringing in others to try to help, they were unable to find my baby’s heart rate. The moments after that were a blur to me. I was in so much pain and disbelief that my 8-month-old baby girl had died. I had just had a routine check-up appointment at the maternal fetal medicine clinic that morning and everything was fine. I even recorded the sound of her strong heartbeat during the non-stress test that day, not knowing that would be the last time I would ever hear it again. How could this be happening?
What I learned after waking up from an induced coma in the ICU the next morning was that I had an acute total placental abruption that disconnected my child completely from life sustaining blood flow. The massive internal injury that this caused inside me trigged a rare condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). My body responded to the internal injury by sending all the clotting factors to the placenta to try to stop the bleeding. However, this resulted in the depletion of clotting factors throughout the rest of my body and led to life-threatening internal and external bleeding. I lost close to 5 liters of blood (nearly my total blood volume). They transfused more than 15 units of blood products in order to sustain my life. I eventually was taken to the operating room for an emergency C-section. However, this was a very risky thing to do, since performing a major surgery on someone in DIC could result in further uncontrolled blood loss. However, my body was already going into shock and the only way to stop the bleeding and reverse the DIC was to remove the placenta.
Fortunately, under the care of an amazing healthcare team, I survived the operation and am one of the few lucky ones to survive DIC. Unfortunately, my 8-month-old baby girl – Alana Rose – did not. What is worse is that my husband and two young boys witnessed this all happen. My husband grabbed both boys out of bed that night and followed the ambulance to the hospital to be by my side. My boys experienced the double trauma of losing their baby sister and watching their mom almost die. I cannot imagine how frightening this must have been for them. The recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks that my 10 year-old now has regularly is just one sign of the long-term impact this experience has had on our entire family.
Over the next few weeks, I focused on my physical recovery and planning arrangements for Alana’s celebration of life. Instead of going to the pediatrician’s office for well child checks, I was going to the maternal fetal medicine clinic for ongoing care to monitor my own medical condition. Instead of sending happy baby announcements to friends and family, I was receiving sympathy cards. Instead of singing my baby to sleep with lullabies, I was crying myself to sleep from the grief of losing my daughter. Instead of laying my baby in her crib at night, I was preparing to lay her in a coffin for eternity. My “bucket list” baby is now my “angel baby”.
My physical healing took several months, but my emotional and spiritually healing will likely continue for the rest of my life. The grief was overwhelming to me. I often describe my blood loss from that night using the “bucket with a hole” metaphor. My body was like a bucket with a hole in it. The doctors had to keep infusing blood just to sustain my blood volume as I was bleeding out everywhere. The same metaphor applies to how I now feel emotionally. I feel like there is a giant hole in my heart and that all the love and life is draining out of me. The love and support I receive from friends and family is what is sustaining me.
It has now been four months since Alana died and I am learning to live with the duality of opposing emotions. I am experiencing profound joy and happiness while also experiencing profound grief and sadness. I feel blessed and broken. I am grateful to be alive (though at first I wished I would have died with my baby) and I am thankful for the two amazing children I have on earth. But everything seems to remind me of my baby girl and the memories we will never have the opportunity to create together as a family. Seeing butterflies, roses, or anything purple usually brings a smile to my face; however, there are so many random triggers that cause paralyzing grief and sadness. The sound of a baby cooing or crying. A mom pushing a stroller in the park. A pregnant woman adding items to her baby registry at Target. A coupon for baby formula. A TV ad for diapers. A little girl with curly brown hair. A glimpse of my C-section scar in the mirror after a shower. The list goes on…
While I am still struggling with grief on a daily basis, I am trying to channel my energy to help create something positive from this experience. I created the Alana Rose Foundation to help raise funds and awareness about placental abruption and infant loss. For Mother’s Day, we held a fundraiser to purchase a Cuddle Cot to give grieving moms the gift of time with their babies after they die. In July, we are hosting an Angel Gown Donation Drive to collect wedding dresses that can be used to make burial gowns. In October to celebrate my birthday, we will host a virtual blood drive and to celebrate my baby’s birthday in February, we plan to host the 1st Annual Butterfly Ball to help raise funds to create a Butterfly Room at the local hospital so grieving parents have an environment that is sensitive to their needs. My hope is that the work we do through the Alana Rose Foundation will help support grieving families and normalize conversations about infant loss and grief.
Blessed & Broken
|Grateful for two living boys||& Grieving the loss of my baby girl|
|Thankful to be alive||& Wishing I would have died with her|
|Learning to accept our new reality||& In denial that she is really gone|
|Enjoying time together||& Feeling incomplete|
|Loving our new home||& Hating that her room is empty|
|Understanding what happened||& Confused about why it happened|
|Accepting there was nothing I could do||& Feeling guilty for not protecting her|
|Relieved they saved my uterus||& Worried I’ll lose another baby if I try|
|Glad I was able to hold you||& Regretting I ever let you go|
|Happy for your new addition||& Sad that my baby died|
|Excited to watch my boys grow||& Dreading each milestone she will miss|
|Trusting in God||& Losing faith|
|Finding strength||& Feeling powerless|
|Comforted by memories of her||& Worried you’ll forget her|
|Filled with joy||& Filled with pain|
|Moving forward||& Paralyzed by grief|
|Learning to be patient with myself||& Frustrated by my slow recovery|
|Healing physically||& Hurting emotionally|
|Living life to the fullest||& Feeling empty|
|Hopeful for the future||& Afraid I will never move on|
|Surrounded by love||& Feeling alone|
|At peace||& Restless|