I began writing Levi's story at the beginning of this month, one month after we lost him. I was only able to write up until my midwife couldn't find his heartbeat, and I find myself still unable to complete the story. It is just too difficult to put into words the details of that day, and the next. One day, Lord willing, I will finish writing his story, but until then, here is the story of Levi's short life:
"April 1, 2012
It has been one month since my little Levi’s precious body was born into this world, lifeless and emptied of his sweet soul. One month. One month. One agonizingly painful and endlessly long month. I’ve avoided writing much until now, mainly because it’s simply too difficult to mentally relive the darkest days of my life, but it’s time now to start recording the details, processing as I write. The plan is to tell his story and then share what I’ve been learning as I journey this new and unfamiliar road of grieving such a loss as this; however, my mind is quite jumbled, and my thoughts are far from linear. So forgive the rambling, circular thoughts, and rabbit trails that I know this will contain.
That second faint, pink line…the little, tiny line that would change our lives forever in a way we never expected was both heartwarming and almost terrifying. I was pregnant a second time with new life, a baby. A BABY! I was overwhelmed with the reality that we were to have another newborn in 9 months, even though we had been expecting such news. It was awe-inspiring to think that there was really a baby in there, and my mind reeled trying to imagine starting from the beginning again with a new little person. Was I capable of the demands, the love, the energy he or she required? “God, I choose to trust you. I choose to trust you.” I had repeated this many times in the dark months of the past summer as I struggled through some pretty major anxiety issues, and there I was, using a lesson I had so recently had etched into my soul. I crawled into bed with Oliver and showed him that little pink line. He put his hand on my belly, and we smiled together. So much joy.
We shared the news with my sister first. She was visiting at the time from Illinois. I looked back on the calendar and saw that this sweet little baby was likely conceived on November 1st. I thought what a nice date it was to begin life: 11-1-11. So…perfect. We waited until Thanksgiving day to share the news with the rest of our family. I was 6 weeks at the time, but we saw no reason to delay. After all, what could be a more fitting day to share the news? We were so thankful, and even if something terrible were to happen, we wanted people to know and be there to support us. We kept the news secret until we got Griffin dressed in the morning in his brand new “Big Brother” t-shirt. This was how we shared with our friends as well. It was so fun to just let everyone discover the shirt and watch their faces as they put the pieces together. It was so…perfect.
I quickly was feeling very pregnant with more intense symptoms than I had experienced with Griffin. Constant dizziness, nausea, and exhaustion were the most physically intense, but I began to struggle once again with anxiety and depression. Honestly, those early weeks are very much a blur of laying on the couch, battling the common physical and less common emotional issues and yet trying to take care of Griffin. We watched a LOT of TV, which I felt guilty for at the time. Looking back, I’m just so thankful that TV existed so I could cope! The worst of the guilt came with the depression symptoms I was having. I was finding it difficult to function at all, had no motivation, and was having a hard time feeling engaged with the pregnancy, with my baby. What a terrible feeling that was! I even called my midwife to share the news but also to ask for advice concerning my disconnected feeling. She said that it’s very normal to feel that with the second (or more) pregnancy, with the demands of the pregnancy plus needing to care for your other child/children. Her advice was to spend a little time each day with my hand on my belly, intentionally talking to the baby, telling him about my day and telling him of our love for him. I remember talking to him through tears, sharing my struggles with him, asking him to forgive me, and reminding him that I loved him so much, that he was so very wanted and anticipated. Later, I would discover the possible reason for my depression: My midwife had the lab check my vitamin D3 levels when my initial bloodwork was done for the pregnancy. Sure enough, there was a deficiency that could itself have been the cause of the depression. Once I began supplementing, I no longer had any problems with it!
The day after Thanksgiving, I had a little spotting, and it scared me to death. I prayed and begged the Lord and researched and called my midwife. And then I waited to see what would happen. Nothing. No cramping, no more blood, and after a week of taking it easy, I left those fears behind me.
I remember also battling back fear of going through labor again in those early weeks. It seems so absurd now, seeing as how I would give just about anything to go through labor with Levi and birth him healthy into the world, but I had to work through being a bit traumatized from my labor with Griffin. A lot of my fear stemmed out of the life phase we were in as well. Around 9 or 10 weeks, we began thinking we may need to move up to Michigan, where I would have to choose between a home birth or the hospital. I felt so uncomfortable with either choice, and I longed so badly to be able to birth at the birthing center with Lisa, my midwife, again. It wasn’t only the birthing choices I felt uncomfortable with/unsettled about; I also just did not feel at peace with moving to Michigan at all. I struggled with this for months. We were a week and half from moving, boxes packed, moving truck rented, etc. when we lost Levi.
I was around 8 weeks along when we put up our tree and 10-11 weeks at Christmas with the family. That week leading up to Christmas was when I thought I felt him move for the first time. It was so early, but I just knew it was him. I remember my sister-in-law and I talking about this early movement, as she was also pregnant, 5 weeks further along than me. We turned 11 and 16 weeks on the same day during that Christmas break, and I thought how perfect the timing was for us. We so enjoyed having Griffin and his cousin, Henry, only 6 months apart, and now we would have babies only 1 month apart! How….perfect.
At 10 weeks, I was so very bloated that I looked about 5 months pregnant. Even though my baby bump was mainly bloating, I treasured having that glorious bump again. It had been far too long! There are so many things I love about pregnancy, but my baby bump is up there on my favorites list. It is such a beautiful, miraculous thing to have a little life created and growing inside of you. This week on my pregnancy update emails, I discovered my little one was the size of a kumquat. Hah. I thought that was such a funny comparison…Who eats kumquats, let alone even knows what one is? The only reason I knew was because, in middle school, a friend and I decided we needed to go buy one of every fruit at the grocery store so we could try them all. I guess we figured we were checking things off our life to-do list. Who knows. Anyway, I started calling the baby “little kumquat.” This isn’t the nickname that would stick, however. That would come a little later from his big brother.
Around the 12 week mark, I had my first prenatal appointment with my midwife. We were so excited to hear our new baby’s heartbeat for the first time, but I was also struggling. We hadn’t yet figured out the vitamin D3 issue, so depression was still hovering, and I was nervous. I prayed that we would be able to hear a nice, strong heartbeat so I would be able to connect more, for the reality to sink in a bit more. My midwife reminded us that it is totally normal not to find the heartbeat, especially right away, at this stage. But God answered our prayers, and we heard the miraculous sound of our child’s heart beating away in my womb. He was there, he was healthy, and my heart leapt. This was real! And it was just as amazing and wonderful as the first time we heard Griffin heart beating. I couldn’t help but laugh with joy, which sounded like a monster on the fetal doppler . It was all just too wonderful.
At 13 weeks, I took belly pictures to compare with those of my belly with Griffin. I was definitely bigger this time around! As we exited the first trimester, we breathed a sigh of relief…The riskiest time was behind us. With only a 1% chance of losing a baby after the first trimester, we joyfully thought, “God is going to let us keep this baby!” Around this time, I also began to shed all those debilitating first trimester symptoms and embrace the glorious second trimester honeymoon phase.
As our baby grew, so did my belly and my appetite! I could have eaten basically all day and night if I let myself. It certainly didn’t help matters that I still had to eat very slowly to keep from making myself nauseous. So, I never really got nice and full. I suppose it’s better to eat continuously than to have several large meals a day, especially when your pregnant. By 16 weeks, I was feeling our little one move every day, usually at night. I heard his heartbeat again at my 16 week appointment. I was nervous again going into the appointment for some reason, but there was no need. His heart was good and strong, and I was relieved. We began to pack our boxes for the move, but that isn’t what we were excited for. I scheduled the ultrasound for the Monday a week and a half, almost 2 weeks before the move, and we could not wait to see our baby. We especially couldn’t wait to see if we were having a boy or a girl! When I took the 16 week belly pictures to compare with those of my belly with Griffin, I noticed that I seemed to be carrying higher. That along with the fact that this pregnancy had been so different from Griffin’s made me really think I was having a girl. I suppose I also thought that having a girl would really amp up my excitement factor, getting to experience all the different “girl things.” Looking back on that season now, I am so utterly disappointed in myself. Although I understand where I was coming from, I now realize how ridiculously shallow it was to be placing so much importance on the gender. At the time, I was worried that if it were a boy, I would be disappointed. Now, I cannot even imagine being disappointed at the gender of a healthy baby…Whatever gender God knitted together in my womb was and is just perfect, perfect for the baby, perfect for our family, perfect for me.
We packed and packed. I worried and was concerned about our decision to move. Each box I packed, I thought, “This is really happening?” It just didn’t feel right. I asked so many people about it, and finally decided it must be my hesitancy to move during pregnancy and my emotionally not wanting to move. It seemed like the most practical and financially wise decision for our family, but I just couldn’t shake the lack of peace. I told Oliver over and over, “I just wish we had more time here. I feel like I need more time here, to deliver our baby here especially.”
My belly grew and grew, and I started sleeping with my trusty pregnancy pillow to support my belly. I treasured feeling my baby move within me. He seemed so mellow compared to his brother. Around 18 weeks, I felt him move from the outside for the first time. I was waiting for an active time to get Oliver to feel him too. That time never came, and I regret that so very much for Oliver. I was looking forward to the baby getting bigger and feeling him move more regularly. As I got to know my little one, I began to think that he was more of a mellow, laid-back person like his Papa. Griffin had turned out so much like me personality-wise, and I loved the idea of having baby number two be like Oliver. However, I always pictured this baby with brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin like me. I guess we pictured him to be the opposite of his brother, not because we don’t absolutely adore Griffin just the way he is, but because we were getting to know our new baby as his very own unique individual.
We had been telling Griffin about the “baby in Mama’s belly” for quite some time, and I began to ask him questions about the baby. I would ask, “Is the baby in Mama’s belly a boy or a girl?” And I would get lots of interesting answers: “baby shark,” “baby cow,” and “baby bird” are some favorites, but the one that stuck was “baby bear.” Griffin regularly would refer to the baby as “baby bear,” and he got this from the Eric Carle book, which I had recently found at a thrift store. Oliver was reading this to him every night, and Griffin would fill in the names of all the animals. So, it wasn’t long before the nickname “little kumquat” got left by the wayside and was replaced with the infinitely more fitting “baby bear.”
The Saturday before the long-awaited ultrasound, I went to my dear friend Rachel’s baby shower. She was a trimester ahead of me, and it was so wonderful to celebrate their baby’s girl’s life and impending birth. I rubbed my belly and looked forward to celebrating our little baby at my shower the following weekend. My friends had put together an early shower for me on March 3rd so we could celebrate before the big move the following weekend. How different March 3rd would end up being than we could have ever imagined. I put off taking my 20 week belly pictures until I actually turned 20 weeks. That day would never come.
The night before the big ultrasound, I was so restless. I couldn’t even stand another minute before seeing our baby! Monday morning, Oliver’s mom, my friend Rachel, and Griffin came with Oliver and I to the appointment at 10am. I had such a gigantically full bladder that I was about to burst!! But I wanted our baby to be pushed up high enough to get all the diagnostic pictures taken. I asked if we could start the ultrasound with letting me guess the gender. I thought it would be a fun way to find out. Well, our precious little one was very squirmy at the beginning, and it appeared that there were no boy parts sticking out. The ultrasound tech said that if she had to guess right then, she would say the baby was a girl. She went on to take a look at all the precious little parts. At first, we saw a profile shot of our baby with his hand up by his face, which looked like he was sucking his thumb, but he wiggled around before we could determine that for sure. She looked at his brain, heart, kidneys, diaphram, limbs, fingers and toes, and everything looked just perfect. Just perfect. In the middle of it all, she went back to take a second look at the gender, and to our great surprise, there were suddenly boy parts!! We cried tears of joy, and Oliver ran out to the little room next to ours where Griffin was watching TV with Rachel to tell him that he was going to have a little BROTHER! The ultrasound showed me the how to tell the difference between the umbilical cord and the boy parts using the blood flow view. If only I had known how precious the sight of that blood flow on the monitor would be. I fell in love that day with that precious boy, my second son, our mellow little man. The ultrasound tech printed us a few pictures of our beautiful, healthy, living baby boy, and we began a day of celebrating our new SON! Rachel took me out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant in town called Monterey’s, and later that night Oliver, Griffin and I went out for dinner at Wild Wing Café and to Target to pick out a new outfit especially for our sweet little baby boy.
I now must delve into the most shameful part of my story. I don’t even want to write about it because I’m so ashamed of myself, but I think it may be important to just process it. I wish that I could say that I was happily satisfied with a healthy boy. I was very thankful for a healthy baby, and I was even thankful that Griffin would have a close brother, a playmate and friend for life. That brought be great joy. But for whatever reason, I had thought I was having a girl. So, I had to sort of be sad for the loss of that dream, at least for this baby. I worried that I would never have a girl, and even shed a couple tears in the baby clothes section of Target, passing over all the heart-melting sundresses. This disappointment only discolored a day’s time, but in light of what happened next, I am simply disgusted with having wasted even a moment with my son upset that he was a he and not a she.
The next day, I felt a couple especially strong kicks from my growing son. I remember thinking about how much I was looking forward to more kicks and rolls and elbows, but I also had a momentary, fleeting wave of fear. I wondered, “I hope that the ultrasound didn’t cause any harm to him.” But, as I had put into practice so many times over the past year, I said “no” to the fear, pushed past it, and thought positive thoughts. As I write this, I don’t believe the ultrasound had anything to do with what happened to Levi, but it makes me wonder when I look back on that chilling thought that day...on the eve of the darkest season of my life.
I had scheduled the ultrasound on Monday morning and my regular prenatal on that following Wednesday morning. (My midwife doesn’t do ultrasounds in her office, so I went to the independent ultrasound place that she referred me to.) Oliver had to work and wasn’t able to come with Griffin and I to my prenatal visit, and I knew it was going to be crazy because Griffin was so hyper. My midwife and I chatted for a while, and I remember asking her if it was okay if I wasn’t feeling constant movement. She assured me that it was, and that many women don’t feel regular movement until 23 weeks or more. It was completely normal that I was only feeling him move a little each day at almost 20 weeks. After going over all the routine stuff amidst Griffin being extremely rambunctious and disobedient, it was time for me to hop on the table to measure and listen to his heartbeat. After a couple prenatal visits where I was nervous waiting to hear the heartbeat, this was the first time I was just plain excited to hear my healthy boy’s heart. There was no worry, no concern it wouldn’t be there for the first time that pregnancy. I had just seen him two days before, healthy, just the right size, and perfectly formed, so there was no doubt, no fear. She measured; I was measuring 21.5 weeks, and I chuckled and said that I was used to measuring weeks ahead of my baby’s actual age. There were times with Griffin where I was measuring a whole month ahead of my due date! She got out the fetal doppler, placed it on my belly, and began scanning for a heartbeat. And scanning. And scanning. And scanning. I was distracted by Griffin flipping out over me being on the table, and I was reassuring him everything was alright while trying to keep him from messing with the light used for pap smears and vaginal exams. And scanning. And scanning. And, “Is there something wrong, Lisa? Is this normal?” Adrenaline surged. I felt it, coursing, my face flushing and tingling, my heart lurching, racing, pounding. If only my heart could quiet down so I could hear his. “I think I might be hearing an echo every now and then. Sometimes, they wiggle way down, and it can be hard to get a clear sound.” “Wait! That must be him…It’s fast like his.” “No, honey. That’s you. Let me have Alex come in and try with her doppler.” I began to feel very faint, and got up to move around a bit."