Meet Erica, she has been on a roller coaster for the last 6 months. While her story is a bit different from others that participating in my Healing Hearts project, her story is one that is the very reason why I started this project, to put aside all the troubles during our session together and have a bit of fun, make some memories and get in pictures. So grab a kleenex or two and hear how Erica's life changed in an instant.
"As I sat and thought about what I would write about, I realized so much of that was a time I have tried everything in my power to forget. If you have ever suffered the loss of a child you know how I feel, if you haven't, you cannot possibly fathom it. Your body's natural defense when something truly awful happens is to block it out, and while it's true that I have large gaps in my memory from that time period. I realized I needed to sit down and remember, remember what Tomas meant to me. I sat down and wanted to write about what it meant to lose a baby, but the page stayed blank until suddenly it all came in a rush.
Most women say there is no greater pain than childbirth, unfortunately there is, the pain of burying your child. People would say how brave and strong I was, our family was, but the truth is... I was scared, we all were terrified. Sometimes I didn't know if I would even survive this journey I was forced to walk. We survived the trauma, the shock, the agony of those first couple of weeks. Those long nights where I thought I might die from grief. The greatest loss a human can experience is the loss of a child, it destroys and demolishes you. But no one really has a choice to survive the grief, it's not optional, especially with 2 small girls at home. Someone asks me how I am and I simply say "I'm fine, thanks". I say this to you, because I simply cannot describe the pain.
It's been 6 months since our journey began. 6 months since that fateful Monday in November....There is nothing harder than sitting here during dialysis browsing social media and seeing little baby faces as they are welcomed into the world by their family. I'm so happy for all my friends having babies, gosh I'm so happy for them, but it hurts, and it stings, and it sucks, to think sitting at home in his little spot on the top of a glass shelf...sits a tiny urn. This wasn't supposed to happen, this wasn't the way things were meant to be. I write this to share and hopefully help someone else with my story. You aren't alone...
I was a healthy, active, normal 30yr old in the prime of my life. I have 2 beautiful girls, (7 and 3), and a wonderful husband. We were expecting our third child, a son, in December of 2016. I was extremely high risk and hospitalized several times over the course of the pregnancy, but that only made me closer with Tomas Isaac, the name I agonized over for weeks wanting it to be perfect. A unexpected bonus was weekly ultrasounds so I would see his little face develop week by week. I couldn't wait to meet him, being a girl mom I was so excited to shift to boy territory. From lace, ribbons, dance class, and pink to the trucks, legos, sports, and of course a love of the Denver Broncos. On November 14th 2016, the unthinkable happened...
I went in to the hospital at 36 weeks due to a lack of fetal movement over the weekend. When I awoke Monday morning and realized I had slept through the night I knew in my soul something was terribly wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. When I got to the hospital they attempted to find his heartbeat with a doppler and eventually ultrasound and then I was told the words that no pregnant woman wants to hear, that there was no heartbeat.
When something like that is told to you, the floor opens and you fall. At that point they told me I would need to be induced to deliver him. I was also given something to sedate me as I was understandably hysterical. I had arrived at the hospital alone because my husband was so sure that I was imagining things and he never truly felt there was any danger. Because of the sedation I actually didn't wake up until almost 2 weeks later (yes, you read that right, 2 weeks later) and learned what had happened during that time.
They had attempted the induction and Tomas's hand had come out first, in trying to reposition him my uterus had ruptured and I started bleeding out. I had to undergo an emergency c section and hysterectomy while they tried to get the bleeding under control. I had to receive 14 units of blood and the blood loss as well as fluid around my heart triggered me coding for 6 minutes. They were finally able to revive me after the 6 minutes but I had lost my kidney function at that point. I was deemed too high of a risk at this point for me to continue to stay at my local hospital's ICU and I was transferred, while still on the ventilator and with the feeding tube, to a larger hospital in Charlotte NC to their ICU for more serious care. That is where I woke up, with the tube down my throat and no clue what had happened.
I had to have Brian and various nurses explain to me, heartbreakingly multiple times that I had lost my baby and the majority of the function of my body. I have no memory of those weeks, I've tried so hard and failed to remember anything. The last thing I remember is the doctor telling me that Tomas had no heartbeat and the next thing I remember I woke up at the hospital in Charlotte. This is my greatest heartbreak. I was never able to hold my son, I never got to touch his cheeks, I never got to kiss his sweet face. I fully believe in my soul, that when I coded I said goodbye to my baby boy. He knew my girls needed me. He sent me back to finish my work as a mother. I know he sent me back because given the choice alone I don't know that I would have chosen to come back. I was broken and there is no pain like that of the pain of losing a child.
I was eventually able to come off the ventilator and discharged about 6 weeks after everything happened. I ended up back in the hospital several days later with gallstones and because I wasn't strong enough for surgery a JP drain was put in, in place of removing my gallbladder. I slowly resumed my normal life or what was left of it. After several weeks I became so sick from my gallbladder that we had to find a hospital who was willing to do surgery to remove it. My current surgeon in Charlotte was hesitant with my past history on the operating table. In addition to that, during one of my weekly Mon/Wed/Fri dialysis sessions I ended up having chest pains only to be rushed to the hospital and a blood clot found in my neck. We finally were able to locate a hospital who was willing to do the surgery on both my gallbladder and remove one dialysis catheter to put another one in my chest. The goal was at that point that I would be free and clear from the hospital. Sadly that was not the case for very long.
During another routine dialysis treatment I had similar symptoms from when I had the blood clot before. I was rushed off to the hospital where they found another blood clot in my chest directly above my heart. I was treated for that and there were some very positive steps being made in my recovery process. It's been a long road and I have a even longer road ahead of me especially with me being a mom to two daughters who still don't fully understand the loss of our baby as well as the loss of my health. I'm still struggling, with another blood clot in my lung and I just got sick with bronchitis/pneumonia a couple weeks ago, but I know my road ahead will be easier with time.
At this point my kidneys are still not functioning, we have waited, hoped, and prayed but unfortunately it doesn't look like that will work out for my own kidneys to start working again. I was placed on the kidney transplant list and the wait period is about 3 years at this point. My best hope for a match is a family member, but since I'm adopted that option is non existent. I have had several people offer to get tested, we should have all the details in the next couple of weeks and then we can start to make plans for anyone who might be willing to donate.
Telogen effluvium, I had never heard of it. I spent a afternoon last week at the doctors learning all about it after battling severe hair loss over the past few weeks. Telogen effluvium is a form of non scarring alopecia characterized by diffuse hair shedding, often with an acute onset... In normal terms, it means I'm losing my hair due to a traumatic event. My new hair just arrived, I never thought I would be wearing a wig or shaving my head but here I am, crossing off another "never" off my list. I think one of the big things I've learned is that "never" doesn't exist in my vocabulary anymore.
It's been a few days since my latest (and pointless) surgery for a permanent dialysis port, a dialysis fistula, and I've got a nice knot in my arm and what will become a nice size scar. The surgery in my arm was a bust, a small setback we weren't expecting. My surgeon opened my arm up, but however my veins just weren't big enough for him to fuse them. This was a huge frustration since he opened me up and I'm sore and hurting for nothing. There are some other options that may be available to me or it may possibly move me up on the kidney transplant list.
Scars are funny things, people have scars in all sorts of unexpected places. It's a physical reminder of what we went through, our wounds teach us something. They remind us where we’ve been and what we’ve over come. Regardless of it's me loosing my hair or another surgery it all leaves scars, both seen and unseen. This week hasn't been all bad, I did one of the scariest "firsts" imaginable this week... I picked up a baby, a newborn. I thought it would be horrible, I thought I would cry, and honestly I didn't have any intention of holding her, the words slipped out of my mouth before I even realized they were out. It was a beautiful, hurting, breathtaking moment and it made my heart skip a beat. I walked away with peace in my heart and tears in my eyes. It's an event, a milestone, a threshold. Big or small. Something that changes us and gives us hope.
My body took quite a beating over the last 6 months, but I'm not quitting, I'm not slowing down. Most people don't go to bed and expect to spend the next 6 months battling for any sense of normalcy. The permanent scars on my body a constant reminder of what I went through, what I'm still going through. The bruises and needle marks from the IVs cover my arms and hands, the dialysis port in my chest, the 3 scars on my wrist from unknown causes and then of course the biggest one of all.... Perhaps my biggest reminder, the distinct square of a defibrillator paddle forever burned on me. 6 minutes I have no memory of, 6 terrifying minutes for my family, thankfully, 6 minutes my daughters are blissfully unaware of. It's a good time to remember. Remember what I've been through. Remember how blessed I am to be here. Remember the fight to get to where I am today. I did not just stop being pregnant. I didn't lose a pregnancy. My baby died. That one sentence, 3 words that rocked me to the core. I will never forget the words of the doctor "I'm sorry, I don't see a heartbeat". It's easy to say "God needed another angel", but He didn't ask you for yours. My greatest regret is that I never got to hold my sweet baby. My little playmate, my beautiful little boy. I would have loved to cuddle him and tell him I love him. I will always love him. There will forever be a piece of me missing. I read a saying; when a spouse dies, it's called being widowed, a child who loses parents is called an orphan, but there is no word for parents who lose a child. That's how truly awful the loss is. I was so lucky that I was able to carry Tomas for 9 whole months, to hold him, and while I was not able to say goodbye in this world, I know he knew of my love for him. I believe he sent me back, when I coded I believe I held my son, I told him of my love, and we said our goodbyes. To live is a gift, and I will live my life every day thanking God I was so blessed to have Tomas. He is and always will be, the little love of my life, my angel baby, my beautiful, precious baby boy. If I can help even one mother with my story of loss and perseverance then it is all worth it.
That horrible day in November became a part of me; it was a turning point, a great threshold. Our story as a family is stilling growing, we have so much left to tell, so much left to live. Very few families can go through what we went through and survive, and function. Somehow, someway, we still are. That's not to say we don't struggle, there are days I struggle to get out bed, to move on. There are days I cry for hours until I'm so exhausted I can't breathe. The pain we have learned to live with is unthinkable. But we haven't been knocked down yet. This is my story, this is my families story, and it is far from over."
UPDATE: Since this has been posted Erica has been on the search for a living donor for a kidney as she is in kidney failure. She has ups and downs and many offers from people all over the world to be tested to see if they are a match. But in the meantime, she has had some complications from her failed fistula surgery. While doctors are considering safe options, Erica's history makes thing more risky and there is always the chance they will not work and she will become sicker. Currently, Erica's focusing on getting her blood pressure over 100 to be eligible for a transplant. If you or someone you know is interested in being tested to be a kidney donor, please contact me and I can pass along your information to Erica.
For more information on the Healing Hearts Project or to be considered for the project, please click here.
Shannon Anderson Photography specializes in newborn, baby, child and family photography in the Charlotte and Lake Norman areas of North Carolina. Shannon has a home studio in Mooresville, NC available for newborns and young children and travels around the Charlotte area for outdoor and lifestyle sessions. To contact Shannon please email at email@example.com or click here.