Casey Shay Chauffe
December 1997 to April 1998 Gestation
Casey is the reason this web site exists. I was a high school teacher when I got pregnant. My baby was due at the beginning of the next school year, so I resigned my job, knowing I would not be able to return. Unfortunately, four weeks before school let out, we found out he had died. I found myself that summer with no job, no baby, and no idea of what to do next. So I learned HTML and put up a dedication page to my baby. As the days wore on, I added pages, expanding the site. More and more women found the pages and wrote me. The web site gave me a purpose and maintaining it is still my way of keeping Casey close.
This story that follows was written as it happened. It is very sad, a little long, and quite graphic in its details. Be sure you are ready for it.
Tuesday, April 28, 1998
Today we learned our baby died.
20 weeks after we created it, our much-wanted child went to heaven, without stopping to greet us.
The nightmare unfolded much as I envisioned it could. The doctor pulled up the sonogram and peered for too long and didn’t talk for lengthy moments. I could see on the screen a small head, way too small for a baby that should have doubled in size since our last visit. The doctor pushed harder on my stomach with the sonogram paddle and asked if I had a full bladder. I told him I had emptied it already.
He moved the paddle around some more on my stomach, then said softly, “There’s no heartbeat.” For a moment I thought he had said, “There’s the heartbeat,” and my own pulse raced in hope. But then he set down the paddle and said, “I’m sorry.”
The sense that my fears were now a reality was so awkward that I couldn’t process it intellectually, but somewhere other parts of me already knew and were crying loudly. I sat up and hugged my husband John.
The doctor sat on the stool in front of me. We also hugged. I remember feeling bad when I saw a huge mascara smear on his pink shirt. He kept saying he was sorry, perhaps mentioning something about how there often wasn’t a clear reason for late miscarriages. The baby had measured out smaller than he had been at the last visit, so he must have died soon after. I thought of that sonogram. The heartbeat. The shifting of the shoulders that I had replayed over and over on the VCR at home. That movement! It was so clear that I finally had accepted it and really knew that the baby was alive and going to join us soon.
I thought of the job I had already resigned from. There was no going back to that. So many people to tell. I felt swamped with all there was to do. And we hadn’t even dealt with what to do with the baby itself.
“So what do we do next?” I asked.
He explained our options. Induced labor and delivery, which could be lengthy and painful, like normal delivery. Or a D&E, where I was knocked out and the baby removed from my uterus.
He couldn’t do the D&E on a baby so large, but he would recommend us to someone who could. I agreed that that sounded like the wiser option. I couldn’t imagine, laboring and pushing, knowing how it all would end. This way I got knocked out, and I woke up when it was over.
I thought I was in control when we walked out into the hallway, but there were too many pregnant women, and I turned and sobbed loudly on my husband’s chest. A nurse escorted us out the back way. I resented this, a little. I felt I deserved an unsettling display of public grief.
We had an hour to pass before the appointment with the new doctor, so we went to a park near the courthouse. There I felt my grief give way. How dare the sky be so intensely blue and puffy cloud filled? The trees were too green and too many flowers flourished.
Lawyers in suits and ties and legal assistants in their jewel-toned acetate dresses slipped past as John and I lay on a blanket on the grass, hugging and sobbing. My mind raced with all the things that had to be done.
When we entered the new doctor’s office, the sobbing started again. I didn’t want to go into the waiting room. I knew all too well what it meant. A couple was already there. I couldn’t fill out the paperwork, so I left it to John. I sat down and cried even more loudly when I saw the couple’s sleeping child on the sofa. They tried to avoid looking my way. John brought a history to fill out. “I don’t know the answers to these questions,” he said.
I began on them. Last menstrual period. Family history. Etc. Etc. A young woman walked uncertainly out of the doctor’s office, leaning on her boyfriend. They were in their late teens. She sat down awkwardly and smiled a laughing gas grin. I wondered why she was there. “What kind of doctor is this?” I asked. “It said GYN on the door,” John answered.
No OB. She had had an abortion. This shocked me out of my sobs. She had elected to give up a baby while we had lost ours. I knew she probably also had a story. But her boyfriend seemed too comfortable, too relieved. I hated them deeply.
Dr. Hansen was an older man, a few years from retirement and no longer delivering live babies. I wondered how someone could see so many dead ones, watch so much trauma unfold. He was tall and solid with a shock of white-gray hair and one deaf ear, so he always cocked his head to listen. He was in turns sympathetic and business like. I felt comfortable with them taking care of me. He did another sonogram and carefully turned the screen away. I cried anyway.
They showed me the stick of seaweed that would dilate my cervix. He explained that the baby would be taken away and cremated. I asked if the baby would come out in pieces and he looked sad at this question and answered that it would. It would be difficult to dilate me enough to get it out whole.
The only way I could do what the books said to do, to hold the baby and say goodbye, would be to endure the full-blown labor and delivery. I wouldn’t. I was in shock and trying to get detached. I asked to postpone the procedure a day or two until we got better adjusted and had talked to our parents. He agreed.
I went home and threw every possible reminder of the baby in a box. All the congratulation cards, the little photo album, the sonograms, the first little package of newborn Huggies, and the baby books. I decided to grab my maternity clothes patterns and unsewn dress and threw them in as well. Hopefully I could lose enough weight in the next week to be out of the maternity clothes and could pack them separately. There would be a time later that I would want to look at all these things, but not now.
Wednesday, April 29, 1998
I didn’t finish last night’s story. I was too tired, too dried out.
I worked in the garden today. Two of my iris bulbs were growing backward and dying. The roots were pushing through the dirt and spreading madly. I dug them up and carefully turned them over to replant. It was so easy to fix them. Now they could grow.
We called a lot of people last night. First I called school to arrange for a long-term substitute teacher. The receptionist began repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” and it sickened me.
I thought of the baby shower that was to be held next week at school. We had registered at Target last weekend, shaking toys, holding up tiny onesies, debating over car seats
John called work as well to take off with me. He was strong-voiced and unfazed on the telephone. He was going to stay with me the whole two weeks; he didn’t need to save his vacation days now.
I called my mother. Dad wasn’t home. She was giggly and excited. We were supposed to have found out the baby’s sex. I told her to call us back when Dad got home.
They called an hour or so later. They were both happy and laughing. I could scarcely get them to stop joking with each other to listen to me. “Guys, guys, I need to talk to you.” Finally they stopped. “This is going to be hard,” I told them. “But the baby has died.”
“What?” my dad asked, that heavy panting quality in his voice I knew from somewhere, but I couldn’t think at the time when it was.
“The baby died, probably about two weeks ago,” I said. I broke then, again, and I could hear my mom begin to cry. This was to be their first grandchild. They had shown copies of the sonograms to everyone.
I told them I would deliver the baby sometime in the next few days. They asked if we wanted them to come down. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about company, but they could come.
John’s conversation with his parents was similar, although his voice again had that solid calmness. They were mostly silent. They would come visit Thursday.
John and I spent the evening mostly lying on the bed, not talking. We watched some television and called a couple of close friends. We went to the drugstore and got my prescriptions for the doctor visits as well as some drugs to help me sleep.
We decided to name the baby. Since we didn’t know the sex, we chose a name that could go either way, Casey Shay. After all the months of debating the name, this one came quite easily.
The sleeping pills didn’t work, and we got up at 4 a.m. and I drafted the e-mail to our friends.
Friday, May 1, 1998
I didn’t write yesterday, so the things that happened Wednesday and Thursday are still missing. Family has been here, and nothing could help me yesterday, with all the drugs and the baby now gone.
Tuesday night we slept another hour or so after drafting the e-mail, then got up at 8:00 and read over it and sent it. I called the new doctor and set up the appointments for the birth then called my parents and they got ready to come.
We spent the morning on the Internet looking at pregnancy loss sites. Some of the stories were so sad and full of regret. I knew some regret too, the stress of my job, the migraines and the prescribed codeine to relieve them. I am fairly positive that the baby died on one of those really bad migraine days. I remember that I couldn’t feel him move anymore and thought the drug might have affected him. I couldn’t bear the pain though, the throwing up and not sleeping, and my doctor had given me this prescription to take. I had even researched it, and found that mice and rats had some respiratory problems in their offspring but all the other tested animals had come out okay.
So perhaps none of that is the reason Casey died. It is God’s own secret. Last night, as we cried again, I first began to think of the baby as Casey, as a little person. Before, the name had not rung true and it seemed a waste to call it a name at all. I was following the advice of the books I had read. Now I am glad to have done it. At first you want to detach yourself from it, but I see a new stage coming, where I want to cling.
Last night, as this change came over me, this realization of Casey as a person, I began to see little flashes of light, every once in a while, in the blackened room. John said he saw stuff too, little sparkles. We decided not to question it, but just accept it as a sign that Casey was out there after all, and knew who we were.
As I thought again about our birth options, I wondered again if I shouldn’t endure the delivery to get a chance to see Casey in person. I felt a strong urge come over me to do it, to see him at least once. John and I talked about it. He said, “Nothing is final until you do something.” A few hours later the fear struck again, and remembering both the doctors’ negative reactions to the idea of regular birth, I decided to simply do the D&E.
We went to our appointment at 2:30 Wednesday. The nurses were kind and hugging again. Dr. Hansen put the dilator sticks inside. It hurt some, more of a heavy discomfort than a pain. But it was only a few moments. I caught another glimpse of the sonogram he had taken the previous day. I stared at it hard but saw nothing that resembled the 16-week old baby who had shrugged his shoulders at us in the monitor a few weeks before. He was a formless white blob. I was glad after all not to try and deliver. I thought of the baby as a tiny, silent, but perfect pink infant. That’s not what I would have seen.
Dr. Hansen had been sympathetic, but businesslike throughout the two exams. I sat up on the table when he left and was about to get down to change when he came back in, sat on the table next to me and hugged me surprisingly hard. “There’s another girl in here today,” he said, and his cracking voice made me start to cry immediately, “who’s lost her baby at 24 weeks.” He sighed in a broken gush of breath, then left again.
When we got back to our house, my parents were waiting. They hugged each of us, and I sat on the sofa, a little dazed. Some flowers had arrived; others came as the day progressed. They were nice to look at, a distraction of beauty. But I kept thinking about how they were little compensation. I would have gotten flowers when the baby came anyway.
Dr. Uribe called to check on me, from his home. He said he thought about us all night and prayed for us. His voice was heavy and I was glad he had not seen too much sadness that he could not feel it. I told him I had some slight cramping with the dilation, and his voice took on a quality of business. He seemed more comfortable in this role as he explained that all this was normal and what I could take. I told him I liked Dr. Hansen, and he replied that he was one of the best.
As we went to bed, I took several Tylenol PM tablets, as Dr. Hansen as suggested. Fear was creeping over me. They were giving me tranquilizers, IV anesthesia, a local, and laughing gas. Would it be too much? Was it possible I wouldn’t even wake up? I imagined Dr. Hansen calling the ambulance from his office, unable to control the bleeding or without a crash cart as my pulse slowed to a stop. I shook it off, remembering how my last nightmare had played out. I ran my hands over my round belly; they were going to take our baby away. It was our last night with him.
The drugs worked incredibly well, and even though I was sitting up on John’s lap, I was too heavy to hold myself up. I slept easily until I saw John by the bathroom mirror, dressed and brushing his hair the next morning.
The day went by in foggy patches of awareness. Dr. Hansen said the drugs would have an amnesia effect. I believe it. I have put together what happened from those hazy recollections and what my mother and John told me.
I took two round white pills at 6 a.m. A big one and a little one. The big one was hard to swallow. I went back to bed again. I had already made a pile of the clothes I would wear by the bed, in case I couldn’t think for myself when I got dressed. I especially worried in the old-fashioned way about the underwear, knowing that someone else would likely be putting them on me.
I don’t remember getting dressed or riding to the doctor’s office. At least one of the two pills must have been the tranquilizer. I have the fuzziest feeling of being giddy although I was dimly aware that I shouldn’t be at all.
We must have gotten out of the car, ridden up the elevator, and walked through the office, but none of this is at all in my memory. I have a vague picture of Dr. Hansen in blue surgical garb and a nurse I had not met before. She told me I could leave on my bra and socks and John says he stayed with me to help me change. We were in a big room that I can’t really picture except for a stack of glass jars with odd mouths. I had a horrible vision of baby parts in those jars and couldn’t imagine them being clear. This thought was suddenly hilarious, but I don’t think I laughed.
John was still in the room as they laid me on the table. He stood at my shoulder as the nurse arranged my legs on the clear stirrups made to go under your knees instead of for your feet. I had seen these stirrups in birth pictures and thought it terribly unfair that I should see them here instead. The feeling passed. John told me later that Dr. Hansen came in and instructed him to sit in a chair, out of the way. As we had discussed, he instead went to sit in the waiting room with my parents.
The nurse put the rubbery gas mask on my nose and I was surprised to find I could still talk. We did, in fact, have a long, seemingly intense conversation on some subject. John says the nurse told him later that she had discovered she lived in the same neighborhood as we did, so we must have discussed that. I hazily recollect only two sensations during the surgery. The pinch of the needle that must have been the local anesthetic and a ghastly sucking feeling way up in my stomach near the bottom of my rib cage. I didn’t know you could go that high. I think the nurse noticed me paying attention and distracted me immediately. I think I was about to cry, despite the warnings that it would interfere with the anesthesia. I don’t think I actually did.
Later I remember the nurse spraying me with water and saying, “I guess there’s no use for modesty, now!” Then she put several thick pads on me and put on my underwear (fear realized.) We walked down the hall, me pushing the IV stand, and I concentrated on the rattling sound it made. I lay down on a bed in the recovery room and apparently slept for a couple of hours, although it seemed to me that no time passed at all. John came in and I recall his presence, and my parents came in briefly, crowding the room. I talked to them and gave some unsavory details, my mother later said. Then I slept again.
That part was over.
Saturday, May 2, 1998
Today the grief is duller but the overall depression has set in firmly. I painted some flower boxes that John and my dad had built because I wanted more flowers around. It did not go well. I used newspapers and painted on the front porch. The newspapers got soggy and fell apart, getting paint all over the porch and leaving a rim of gooey newsprint all over the boxes. I felt like a failure all over again. I couldn’t keep the baby alive; I couldn’t even paint some damn flower boxes. Some tribute to Casey.
I went upstairs and organized all of Casey’s things, what few there were. I labeled all the sonogram pictures and videos. I carefully placed all the cards in two piles, the happy congratulation cards, and the sympathy ones. The little pregnancy test stick with its vibrant purple line went in as well. I touched everything so gently, as if it were the baby itself. I caught myself cradling a picture and closed the box, astonished at my foolishness.
Later I read through the date book I had kept as a journal, looking for clues. I think the baby died the week before Easter, despite my adamant notes that I had felt him move for weeks afterward.
I read in my miscarriage book that sometimes a chromosome test can’t be taken if the baby has been dead too long. So it’s possible that we will not find out Casey’s sex. I’m still pretty sure he was a boy. And we may never know for sure what went wrong.
I still haven’t heard from any of my pregnant friends. I wonder if they are too upset, in thinking about their own babies, to write back. Or perhaps they think it’s bad luck to know someone who lost her baby. Maybe they just don’t know what to say.
I look forward to getting my bracelet. I want to carry around that little heart with Casey’s name engraved on it. I’m not sure why it is so important, but it is.
1 week later, Friday, May 8, 1998
Today I am alone with my sadness. I don’t recommend it. Without distractions around you, even other sad ones, the heaviness settles on you like a woolen cloak in summer, hot and unhappy.
John is at a meeting today. I am at home, trying to work on my resume and answer job classifieds, but I can’t focus. I feel foolish for resigning my job for a baby that is never coming. Now it’s too late to go back.
I watched the video this morning, the 16-week one. His little head moved so carefully! His shoulders shifted in perfect control! I can’t imagine a chromosome or neural disorder that would have let him get so far only to cause his death. I don’t know.
Yesterday morning was probably the most traumatic moment of this whole ordeal. We had stayed in Galveston all week and actually had a very nice time. The beach was quiet and beautiful. We ate at our favorite restaurants and went to a comedy show.
Then we had a nasty scare. Things had been going all right, the bleeding was normal and all and had even stopped for two days. I figured it was all over until yesterday morning when I woke up in severe pain. I got up and took a prescription painkiller that got rid of it, but woke up a little later in even more pain. I automatically started a huffy sort of breathing to get through the cramps. I went to the bathroom and it felt as though I were going to the bathroom except from the wrong place. The stuff that came out was long and slimy and covered with blood, and I caught it in my hand. It was horribly morbid; I kept looking for little hands or feet, but I’m sure it was really more like part of the placenta or the amniotic sac. I was hysterical, crouched in the pristine white tiled bathroom, spilling blood everywhere, this horrible stretchy red blob in my hands. John ran into the bathroom, but I don’t remember what he said or did. I knew I probably ought to keep it, but I wasn’t at home. So I memorized its texture, thick and stretchy. It was shaped sort of like a piece of balloon when it’s been popped. Then I dropped it back in the toilet and flushed it. John brought me a washcloth.
I called my doctor immediately and the nurse was wonderful; she explained that it was normal and that the bleeding had been stopped by the tissue. Now that it was out, I should go back to regular bleeding. She recommended that I stay put for a few hours and make sure it was all out. So we stayed a few hours more but the pain was completely gone and the bleeding was back to normal again, so we drove home. It was definitely the most traumatic moment of my life, more so than last week because there was the nightmare, real and all over my hands and no doctor around and not even in my own home. I could never wish any of this on anyone; I’m still not sure exactly how to handle it all.
Today the bleeding has stopped again and I am terribly paranoid about it all starting again. How long will all this go on?
On our first night in Galveston, the lead story on the news was a baby who had been abandoned by her mother shortly after she gave birth to it in the hospital. They showed the baby, wiggling on a white blanket, so totally unaware. I wanted to go get it. It was so terribly unfair that she could have a normal happy baby and just leave it.
Rats. Now I’m making myself cry. We went to the gym last night and I weigh exactly what I did at the doctor on my last visit. I can’t believe it. 20 pounds overweight and no baby.
John and I got in several fights on the trip. We never fight, so it was terribly frightening. I felt like my world was cracking around the edges and falling away in dry, crumbled pieces.
4 weeks later, May 27, 1998
I have survived so much now that I can only feel stronger and more assured that I can handle disaster. It has been a month since Casey died.
I returned to school for the last two weeks of my job, and the high school kids acted so normal, so utterly like they were told to do that I was amazed. While I had difficulty concentrating and holding in emotion, they made my transition easier. The only bad moment was during my last class, when a particularly whiny boy repeatedly complained about having to make up work he had missed while I was gone. He felt it wasn’t fair that I was gone and the substitutes had been unclear about the assignments and that he should have to do the work. I lost it then, emotionally, and said, sadly, hardly at a whisper, “Let me be the first to tell you that life’s a bitch, so deal with it.”
A long silence ensued; several girls cried. The boy kept his head hung and didn’t bring up the subject again. In the regret I felt for having said those things, I realized that I had turned another corner. I no longer believed that life was going to go the way I planned; I had lost a certain innocent optimism. I had no idea how I’d be able to face another pregnancy.
School is out now and yesterday I said goodbye to all my friends and the students I had taught over the years. I feel as though I have deserted them after all – that I had no good reason to leave them. But I can’t face another year of the same old stresses and long hours with another pregnancy. I will do something else, something simpler, and know that next time I am doing everything I possibly can to help Casey’s little brother or sister join us in the world, alive and healthy. Life must go on.