Picture it. The year is 1992. Twenty-two years ago. It was the start of the new year. My then-husband and I were experiencing some financial difficulties and were living with his parents in Garland, TX, which is near Dallas. I was a sophomore in college and traveling back and forth from Garland to Commerce for classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I was pursuing my education in Psychology. This was my first pregnancy, and there was an assortment of happiness, worry, fear, and excitement in the mix of my emotions. We were in love, and I hoped we would have a little boy that looked just like his daddy. I was very sick with this pregnancy. I didn't just have morning sickness; I had any time of the day sickness. I could be fine all day and then get sick at 11:00 at night. I was ignorant in many ways and scared. We had no money, and we were young. I didn't seek a doctor's care right away because of the fear and lack of money and honestly, just ignorance. I didn't know I could qualify for Medicaid until someone told me about it. I had never heard of it. So here we are in Garland living with the in-laws. I got on Medicaid and went to some kind of women's help clinic where they help with counseling, clothes, and some baby items, etc. Not long after that I went to my first doctor's appointment. This doctor was not to be my regular doctor, however, as he could only see me the one time since he already had his Medicaid load for the month. I learned on this visit that I had hypertension and was advised to not let it go too long. I heard the baby's heartbeat and wept with awe how real this blessed event really was. We had sought another doctor before this, but he was so rude to us and yelled at my mother-in-law so we just left. I wasn't about to let that man touch me. His view of women was archaic, and I was not comfortable with him at all. I was finally referred to Baylor Hospital's Outpatient Clinic in downtown Dallas. My first visit was basically an intake I guess to see if I qualified for their program. I did. My next visit was the big one. The one in which the world as I knew it ceased to exist, and the reality of how cruel the hands of fate can really be.
The exact date is February 18, 1992. My first visit to Baylor's Outpatient Clinic. The visit started out as any other in an OB/GYN office: weight, temperature, blood pressure, pulse. There was no gasp or word said about my blood pressure. Since this was my first visit there, I had to go through the gamut of exams, including a pelvic and a pap. When the doctor tried to listen to the baby's heartbeat, she couldn't find it. She told me not to worry that sometimes they were in a spot that couldn't easily be found for the heartbeat. She wanted to be certain everything was ok and told me she wasn't comfortable letting me leave there without doing a sonogram. I went into another room for the sonogram. She exposed my belly, rubbed on the cold gel, and started about her business of running the Doppler probe all over my belly. After a while, she got up and left the room and another lady, a doctor, came in. She took the probe, ran it over my belly, smiled, and left the room. As I grew very anxious, I knew something had to be wrong. The third doctor, also a woman, came in, repeated the exercise with the probe across my belly, and then stopped and said the most horrible words I've ever heard. "I don't know how to tell you this, but it looks like your baby has died." Several things occurred after that. I could feel the blood drain from my face, and I think I went into shock. I started thinking that I wanted this hurt to stop so badly I wanted to go home and get rid of everything and just pretend it never happened. And what did happen???? HOW did this happen???? I just heard the baby's heartbeat a few weeks before, and it was strong and loud and fast as it should have been. I remember they asked me if someone was with me. I told them my mother-in-law was and gave them her name. I guess she called my father-in-law and my husband because the next thing I remember is they were there. My husband was crying and asking if it was a boy or a girl. I shook my head and told him I didn't know. I didn't know anything. I didn't know how or why this had happened and why to us. We had already started buying baby clothes and other items like a stroller and some toys. This was heartbreaking! We had to go home and deal with the fact that we were not going to have a baby after all. After all the excitement, worry, fear, joy, you name it...we were left feeling deflated and confused and heartbroken. Add guilt to that for me. I felt horribly guilty. I was carrying this baby in MY body. My body that hadn't sought immediate medical care. My body that was hypertensive and overweight. My body that was sick with morning sickness all the time. MY body...why didn't I know? Why did this happen to my baby? To us? Just...why?
Before I was allowed to go home, my doctor had to discuss options with me. My options since the baby had died in utero were to 1) go about my business as usual and miscarry on my own or 2) be admitted to the hospital in a couple of days and deliver my dead baby. I didn't opt for the first choice, and of course, neither did my doctor. It was dangerous, and I didn't want to be going about my business as usual and suddenly find myself in an emergency situation. My doctor told me to go home, rest, think about my options and decide, and she'd call me that night and see what I had decided. When she called, I told her I wanted to go the safer route and be admitted to the hospital. She had me come in the next day to have seaweed inserted into my cervix to see if that would induce labor. If so, then I was to return to the hospital for delivery. If not, I was to come in the next day for induction. That day was February 20, 1992.
I arrived early the morning of February 20th. I was set up with a blood pressure cuff and the monitor for contractions. No need to hook up the fetal monitor as there was no heartbeat to monitor for signs of distress. They induced my labor around 7:00 I think. It may have been later like 9:00. I don't remember. I just remember wishing it was all over, and I could pretend it had never happened so the hurt wouldn't be real, and I could get on with my life and get back to normal. Right....back to normal. They said they could give me some medicine so I wouldn't remember the event, but it wasn't recommended because I needed to be present to deal with the situation. I was given something so I wouldn't get sick, but it DID make me sick....so horribly sick that I had stuff coming out both ends. (Sorry for that image.) It just added another measure of humility to the whole situation. I was suffering emotionally as well as physically in addition to bearing my all before doctors and nurses, all strangers to me. I didn't feel any real pain in the way of contractions that day because as soon as I started having them, I was able to receive an epidural. The day wore on with my husband at my side and his mother either with me or in the waiting room. This wasn't just hard on me; it was hard on them, too. My husband's dream of becoming a father for the first time had died a few days before as had my mother-in-law's dreams of becoming a grandmother. In and out the doctors and nurses would go, checking me, checking my vitals, cleaning up after me if need be. I just sat there staring into space in my own little world watching Popeye cartoons on TV. Occasionally, since I was in the same area of labor and delivery as the other mothers, I could hear newborn babies' cries as they entered the world and shouts of excitement from their families. I felt sad, so awfully sad, knowing that my family and I wouldn't have that result. There would be no baby's cry. There would be no full waiting room of our family shouting and whooping it up. There would just be silence when our child made his or her debut. Finally, around 3:00 pm that afternoon of February 20th, the nurse that came in at that time to check on me drew back my covers, said "Oh!", and looked sheepish as I asked her what was wrong. She said, "Nothing" as nicely as she could given the situation and left the room to go get a doctor. I didn't even know this guy, but here he was delivering my dead baby along with help from the nurse and my husband holding my legs. I asked if they needed me to push or anything. They replied that I didn't need to do anything and just relax. Relax? Sure. I heard my husband and his mother in the hallway talking and crying as they took turns holding our son. Austin Tyler Hicks was the name we had decided for a boy's name, and we were going to call him Tyler. The closer his arrival came, the more adamant I became that I didn't want to see him once he was delivered. That may sound horrible, and I now believe it is. At the time, I just couldn't do it. I was so afraid if I saw him and held him, I would not let him go. I had this irrational idea that if they tried to take him from me, I'd hop up and run away with him so they couldn't have him. I thought at the time it was better that I just not see him. Once again, part of the denial of wanting to FEEL the feelings through this journey. I had asked my doctor what would happen to the baby and would we have to have a funeral. She told me that in the state of Texas it was a law to give an unborn fetus born after 20 weeks, technically a stillbirth, a funeral. She said she was putting my gestation in my chart as 19 weeks so we wouldn't have to do that since she knew we couldn't afford a funeral for the baby. At the time, I was grateful that I wouldn't have to deal with all that, but now???? I am actually pretty irate because who does she think she is? That should have been our decision regardless of money. It was our right to honor him and give him a proper burial, but we never got that chance. I have no idea what happened to him. My grandmother told me they probably either cremated him or buried him in a potter's field. Did I mention guilt before? I have tremendous guilt. That's an understatement in fact. First of all, I don't seek proper treatment. Secondly, my body rejects him. And then when he enters the world, I don't have the courage to even hold him? Tell him I'm sorry? Tell him I love him? Tell him I'll see him again one day? No Mother of the Year award for me.
After Tyler is taken away, and I'm cleaned up, I am taken to my room on the labor and delivery floor. The actual delivery, is or was the outpatient clinic, is located in the basement. As I'm being wheeled down the hallway, we pass room after room of normal labor and delivery suites with nursing mothers, rocking chairs, babies in their bassinets. Once again from my starkly decorated room, devoid of any features that would indicate a baby or its mother occupied the room, I could hear babies crying and families laughing and happy. I looked at my pale, shocked face and sank into despair and just stared at the TV or outside the window. That night I ran a fever and don't remember much. I was better the next day. My mom arrived shortly before my release from the hospital. I was given a prescription for Parlodel to dry up my milk, a set of instructions for aftercare, and a social worker came to visit me about possibly joining a support group at the hospital. I never did. I went home with a pain in my lower back from the epidural, moped around the house in my gown and housecoat, and stared into space still wondering what all went wrong, how it all went wrong, and why. Why did it all go wrong?
You know how when a loss such as this occurs and people don't know what to do and often may say the wrong thing??? That happened to me, and unfortunately, it came from my father-in-law. He told me it was probably a good thing we lost the baby because he and his wife weren't ready to be grandparents anyway. I didn't have the mindset or the physical strength to punch him, but honestly, hearing this really hurt. I mean who the heck does he think he is??? I wanted to pull the calendar off the wall and ask him to mark the date HE thought we should reproduce. I'm sure we received hugs and positive comments, but this is what stood out.
Soon I was back at school and trying to reclaim my so-called normal life and adjust to losing a baby I had so wanted and fallen in love with from the moment I knew he was the one responsible for all the "morning" sickness. Even after all the heartache and sadness of losing Tyler, I'm glad I was blessed to have him grow under my heart as long as God allowed him to do so. I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason, even horrible things that we can't make sense of in this lifetime on Earth. I do still struggle with the guilt, but even though I might have been young and scared and ignorant, I didn't do anything to intentionally hurt Tyler. There was no malicious intent. I was only doing the best I knew how to do at the time. I believe God has forgiven me. I hope Tyler has, and I hope I can learn to forgive myself one day. I guess I should add that I allowed the hospital to do an autopsy because I wanted to know what happened to my baby. I wanted to know if we should still keep trying or if there was a genetic problem. While I was at my postpartum visit, I learned what little there was to learn from the autopsy. The results were inconclusive. They couldn't really find a reason why he died although the doctors did say he had a narrow chest cavity, and perhaps, for whatever reason, he just didn't develop properly. I believe they chalked it up to being a fluke of nature. That still left a lot of questions that are still unanswered. I may never know the answer. I, in time, have accepted that this was his fate and the life journey God chose for him for whatever reason He chose for him to go down this path. In 1995 after the death of my grandmother, I was walking around the cemetery and came upon an infant's tombstone who had obviously died the same day or had been a stillborn baby, or "born sleeping", a term I prefer. It sounds better and gives me more of a sense of peace. Anyway, inscripted upon this infant's tombstone were the most peaceful words to describe such a death: "Budded on Earth to Bloom in Heaven". I take away from this that my baby boy was budded on this Earth and grew inside me, but his destiny was Heaven all along. This was probably the first time I really had a sense of some peace regarding his death. It was kind of an AHA! moment.
One particular hardship I also faced was that one of my good friends was also pregnant at the same time I was. Had Tyler been born around his due date, he would have been born at the end of May/early June 1992. My friend had her son in July. I wasn't angry with her per se but did feel sad about not having my own son. She had had a hard time with her pregnancy and became severely anemic so, of course, everyone was happy when she delivered the baby and could work on getting healthy again herself. I'll never forget when her mother called me to tell me "We have a boy!" Although I was happy for her and grateful she had a safe delivery, all the not-so-old sadness bubbled up from a shallow stream within me and surfaced quite quickly. I held my emotions in check until I got off the phone, but then I fell apart, sobbing in my husband's arms, feeling the loss of our son so fresh and raw again. I chose to go to the hospital to see her and the baby because, frankly, she needed her friends, and life goes on. I couldn't hide from her and the baby forever or any of my other friends who would be having children in the future. When we got to the hospital, however, I didn't go in guns a blazing with fake excitement. I saw her sweet baby boy in the nursery and then went to the closest bathroom and bawled and bawled until I got the in-the-moment hurt out of my system. I wanted to be happy and positive for her so I had to let the emotions spill out and drain me. I'm quite certain she could tell by my face that I'd been crying, but we didn't acknowledge it. I wanted to be there for her as her own pregnancy was a scary time for her as well, just in a different way. I got the visit over with and went home feeling depleted and sad, but at least I didn't avoid her. What I experienced wasn't her or her baby's fault, and I did want to continue to be a part of their lives. I'll tell you, though, it was damned hard to do, but I'm glad I did it. It did, however, take me longer to go down the baby aisle at the grocery store. I truly think I avoided it like the plague until I had my daughter. I can't remember. I just remember seeing all the diapers and bottles and bibs just did me in sometimes, and I didn't want to see all that stuff that I couldn't use just then.
In case you're wondering if I did have other children, the answer to that is yes. I have two children. My daughter is 20 and a junior in college pursuing her education in Music Education while my son is 17 and a junior in high school who is busy with his studies and is very active in choir. They do know they have an older brother. How did I explain it to them? Honestly, I don't remember. I guess as they got to an age I thought they would understand, I told them about Tyler and explained what happened and that he was with God in Heaven, and we would see him one day. There were several times when my husband and I would be driving around town either before we had our other children or they weren't with us in the car, and we swore we felt Tyler's presence. We felt him kick the back of seats in the car as a young child would do. I like to think it was his way of saying, "Hey, don't forget about me. I'm right here."
A few years ago my daughter told me she had a dream about Tyler. She said he looked like my son but older. She said he told her that everything was ok, and he was smiling. I truly believe he connected with her on some level to send her a message to all of us that he's not suffering, and he's happy where he is. I can't wait for the day I get to meet him and tell him "I'm sorry" and "I love you". I pray he welcomes me with open arms and a smile and tells me he forgives me. In honor of Tyler and to keep the memory of his existence alive, my daughter got a tattoo with his name, the date he was "born sleeping", and his right footprint. I plan to write a children's book about the loss of a sibling and entitle it Tyler's Footprints. His footprints are all I have left of him, and they are very tiny, smaller than a baby doll's. I have no pictures although I believe the doctor took some in the hospital. I never made him a baby book. I have, however, decided to frame those footprints against a baby blue background and print inside a couple of bubbles the words I found on that infant's tombstone from the cemetery and the phrase "born sleeping". I have read other phrases that help parents heal with the loss of a child, especially an infant. A lot of those have to do with the baby's footprints being small and indeed leaving a big impact in our lives and in our hearts. I definitely believe Tyler's footprints have left a huge impact in my life.
If I could give anyone any advice in the event of such a tragedy, it would be this:
1) When you find out you are pregnant, regardless of your financial situation, seek and receive medical treatment and follow your doctor's orders.
2) If you are delivering a stillborn baby, take the time to hold him or her no matter how painful or scary it is. Take pictures. Heck, take family pictures. He or she is a member of the family no matter how small. His or her existence made his or her presence in your family.
3) Have a funeral. I so wish I had done so. It would have made the experience more real and would have given me an outlet in which I could really grieve and begin the grieving process.
4) When people don't know what to say or do, tell them it's ok and not to say anything. Sometimes you just need a hug or someone to let you cry on their shoulder. If they want to help you for a short time with household chores or preparing food, let them do it. If someone says something dumb, because it will probably happen, try to remember they are just trying to help. (That is, unless they say something really rude and inappropriate. In that case, deal with it with as much emotional strength as you can at the time).
5) For couples, keep the lines of communication open. Seek counseling and/or support groups. They can really help. I also wish I had taken advantage of a support group. A family tragedy such as this can either bring you closer or tear you apart.
It's now 22 years later, and I wonder what Tyler would look like. Would he have blonde hair or brown hair? Blue eyes? Be tall or short? Any facial hair? Tattoos? What would he be into? Sports? Band? Choir? Would he be in college now? What would his major be? Or would he be in the military? Or would he have taken time off to go backpacking in Europe? Would he have a girlfriend and what would she be about?
I wonder what it would have been like to have heard him cry or laugh or talk. So many questions....so many answers left unspoken.
Until we meet again, my dear son Tyler, please know your footprints are forever embedded in my heart and have made an impact in my life and on this Earth.