Monday, April 20, 2009

Caitlin's Story, Part One

We sent out hand-lettered birth announcements 15 years ago with these words:

Our daughter, Caitlin Libby Bradshaw,
was born and died on April 21, 1994--
18 weeks premature.

We felt an amazing sense of joy,
in the middle of overwhelming grief,
that we were able to hold her for two hours.

We knew you would want to know,
because she is as much a part of our lives
as if she had lived.

This was our introduction to parenthood--having a daughter who lived for two hours in our arms before her tiny heart stopped beating.

My pregnancy with Caitlin had been high-risk from the start. Since I had three prior pregnancies that ended in miscarriage during the first trimester, my OB/GYN had transferred my care to a practice specializing in high-risk.

I didn't have trouble getting pregnant, just staying pregnant. After dozens of blood tests, ultrasounds, and a very painful X-ray-type procedure called a hysterosalpingogram , ("this might be a little uncomfortable!") the docs decided that my problem was that my body wasn't producing enough progesterone to sustain a pregnancy; this was called a luteal phase deficiency.

Treatment entailed ovulation-inducing drugs, progesterone injections, and tons of ultrasounds. If you have been through infertility treatment, or you're going through it now, you know that there is nothing beautiful, natural or unstressful about making a baby under these circumstances. You want to have a baby, so you're willing to go through it; but it is hard work, emotionally and physically.

And the waiting! Oh, the waiting. It's almost physically painful. I realize that waiting is a fact of life, and everyone, not just the infertile, endure painful periods of waiting. But the specific waiting period between Cycle Day One and Cycle Day 14--when you can test for pregnancy--is such a universal challenge for the hoping-for-a-baby crowd that one of the many web sites for them is called There are blog posts and articles and on-line diaries devoted to the 2WW. Googling "two week wait + infertility" produces 365,000 hits.

The waiting ended, the treatment worked, and I stayed pregnant for 15 weeks for the first time ever. We started breathing a bit more easily, and even told a few friends and family members our happy news. We had five weeks of joyful anticipation before we encountered a brand new problem.

The 20-week ultrasound turned up a problem with my cervix. Apparently the little bugger was slacking off on its job, and starting to dilate before it received its dilation orders. The medical community, showing an incredible lack of sensitivity to already hormonally imbalanced and guilt-ridden maternal-wannabe's, calls this condition incompetent cervix. Yeah, thanks guys, for the name-calling. Could you at least come up with a name that sounds like a medical diagnosis, instead of something on a not-so-stellar performance review?

I ended up on the operating table with my legs up in stirrups and my doctor staring up my vagina. The plan was for him to put in an emergency cervical cerclage--stitches to hold the cervix closed and prevent pre-term delivery--a procedure which has a success rate of somewhere in the range of 42 - 60 percent.

"E.Peeeeviiieeee," the doctor singsonged, "We have a little problem." And by "little" he meant "life or death." Apparently my lazy-ass cervix was already five centimeters dilated, and performing the cerclage would increase the risk that I'd go into labor right then and there. I needed to decide, my doctor said, whether to go ahead and do the cerclage, or to just wait it out without the cerclage. He estimated that the longest the cervix would hold without the stitches would be a week, which would put us at 21 weeks gestation--not nearly enough for the baby to be viable.

There I was, lying on the table, pubies to the wind, facing life and death decisions, and Mr. Peevie was nowhere to be found. The doctor even had him paged him over the hospital loudspeaker; but I had to make a decision sooner rather than later.

"Do it," I told him.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story, tomorrow, on Caitlin's birthday.


wintersunshine said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful and heartwrenching story, E. I am marking Caitlin's birthday today.

E. Peevie said...

Thanks, WS.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Eve,
It doesn't sound like Caitlin passed hours after she was born. I sounds like she lives in your heart forever.

May the Lord heal your pain that I sense you still carry, as I would.

Your Gal Pal,
Mrs. D'Onafrio