Michel’s Story

As told by his mother, Patti.

It was our 4th child. We were excited. Because I was 35, I had an amniocentesis and found out we were having a boy. Our other children were 9, 8 and 5. They were so excited, especially our youngest. He was now going to be a big brother and no longer the baby of the family. They were involved with everything. Coming to the ultrasound and naming our son. We wanted to keep the French tradition and the other kids names all ended in L, so we all decided on Michel.

Things progressed very normally. He was an active little one, especially if I got in the tub. Towards that last week, he wasn’t moving as much as he had. I was concerned, being a nurse. I went to my GP and he assured me that baby had a heart beat that was different than mine and as it was close to term, he was slowing down. No more space to move much. That seemed logical. This was on a Friday.

By the next Saturday, I got an eery feeling that things were not right. I got into the tub and nothing happened. I could feel his arms and things felt ‘different’. My husband and I drove to the hospital to get checked out. I was a scheduled c-section (as the other 3 were c-sections) for that Monday.  When we got there, the labor and delivery nurse tried to get a fetal heartbeat but couldn’t. As a cardiac nurse, I knew how temperamental the equipment could be so I rationalized it was technical difficulties. Next, the on-call OBGYN came in with the ultrasound machine. I clearly remember as he said, “This is baby’s head. This is baby’s spine. This is baby’s heartbeat, where it should be beating, but yours isn’t because he’s dead.” He turned off the ultrasound machine and left the room. No one but my husband and I in the room, to deal with this news. We cried and wailed so loud that another patient who I met later recalled. After what seemed to be forever, a nurse came in and said we could go home as they would not do anything tonight, as it was not an emergency. I would return the next day when they called to let me know when to come in and baby would be delivered then. I was given 2 tranquilizers and told to take them to have a good sleep and go home. What about my poor husband? Did he not deserve something as well to help him sleep? I recall his horror when they told me to go home. He said they are letting you go home ‘like that’? I knew it not uncommon for a woman to be sent home with the dead fetus inside until labor took its course, but he was not comfortable with this idea. I told him as the children were so involved, we had to tell them and also had to let his parents know to come a day sooner to look after them. So home we went. We told my parents who were watching the kids and then we woke the kids to tell them. The looks are etched forever. Our daughter, the oldest, broke into tears. The next son just stood there, and our little son hugged me.

We woke up the next morning and waited and waited for that phone call. When nothing came, I phoned them. They said I was to call when I was ready, and it was a miscommunication. So we went in. We said our goodbyes to the kids and left for that terrible moment. When we arrived, of course there was a different OBGYN on. He told us how sorry he was for the loss but that he was not about to do a c-section for this. I was puzzled as I was always going to be a c-section having had 3 prior so what had changed. He indicated there were all sorts of risks to a c-section. I knew that and told him so. He said he wouldn’t do a c-section for a dead baby. When I asked the alternative, he said to wait for labor to start on its own. This could take up to 6 weeks he figured, as I had never really labored before this. If it didn’t occur, I would be brought in an induced. I was worried about a natural delivery after a section and when I told him this he replied, no need to worry baby was dead anyway. I was still very much alive however, and was worried about the complications of a vaginal delivery after 3 sections. He indicated if I labored and developed ‘scar pain’ they would do a section. I would have no idea what scar pain was and still couldn’t understand a vaginal delivery. I would give my eye teeth to have delivered any of my children vaginally but not one that I knew had died. So I said, in that 6 weeks while waiting, what could happen. He explained that I would have to have daily blood work as the dead child could cause bleeding abnormalities and I could develop an infection from the decay of the child. I told him I was not comfortable going on as if everything was normal for an additional 6 weeks and entertain comments like, so haven’t you had that baby yet? He then began the process of looking at things. I hadn’t gone into labor on my own before, so chances were I wouldn’t now. If they induced me, chances are it wouldn’t work. If I did labor, I have a very small pelvis and wouldn’t likely be able to deliver on my own. So what were we arguing about? He went on to say he had never performed a section on a woman for the 4th child nor had he done one on a dead baby. I said, neither have I. So we agreed that the section would happen that day. I was prepared and still had the hope that they had just missed something, that the heartbeat was just too soft to hear and that he would still be OK.

Once he was delivered, the silence was the confirmation that he, in fact, had died. I recall the doctor saying, “I know why he died. The cord had detached from him.” Then I recall nothing till I woke up in recovery.

When I awoke next, we were asked if we wanted to see our baby. I said I did but my husband really didn’t want to. I talked a bit with him and he agreed to have them bring in Michel.

When they arrived and put him in my arms, I remember thinking, “Just wake up and cry.” But he didn’t. He had very red lips and nail beds but was otherwise perfect. He had a little crocheted cap on and a beautiful little white gown and was caringly wrapped in a baby blanket. My husband did eventually look at his son with tears streaming down his face. His mother was with us and asked if we could have him baptized. We asked the nurse and she was able to have Sister Alice come to do that. We were also asked before the birth if we wanted our children present.  We had decided because we didn’t know the condition our baby was in, we would not.  We didn’t want to traumatize them. That is my biggest regret I now have. They never got to meet their brother. I also blame the nursing staff for not being more insistent about that. There was nothing terrible to see. Even if there had been, they should have been able to say goodbye. Then after we had our time with Michel, we said goodbye. Again, I went to sleep.  I think I was given something. My mother in law and my husband bathed our child and dressed him in the sleeper we had purchased for him. He wasn’t going anywhere that couldn’t wait til I could help with this. There was no rush to get him to the morgue.

We were on a floor other than maternity for my recovery with no help or talk of what to do next? Did we need to have a funeral? Where would that be? How much would it cost?  none of the nursing staff talked to us about anything except idle chit chat. I had to ask to speak with a social worker. I had to ask to have our Parrish priest called. No one told me what to do once my milk came in except a labor and delivery nurse came up to visit on day 3 to see how we were. When I told her how sore I was, she couldn’t believe the staff hadn’t told me what to do. She actually talked about the death of our son and offered her help at any time we might need it.

I developed an infection within the first 24 hours, and I recall the OBGYN who delivered coming to say, “see I told you so, infection was a concern.” To this day, I hate that man. He had no compassion. I also learned later that during the delivery, he had used forceps and cracked our sons skull. Why would he use forceps in a c-section? The only explanation a nurse could give me was because the baby is flaccid and needed help other than his hands and that the doctor wanted this over fast cause he was uncomfortable. Again, no compassion.

That was 20 years ago but I can recall every moment as though it was yesterday. It changed us forever. We went on to have another child 2.5 years later. Patrick Michel, in honor of his big brother. We dealt with our grief day by day. The children, each in their own way. The 5 year old was the most ‘bothered’. He actually was suicidal. He told me one day he wanted to commit suicide. I thought he was just repeating a word he heard on tv until he told me he was going to cut his wrists and bleed to death to go to heaven to be the big brother he never got to be. That terrified me. I had no idea a 5 year old was so understanding of death. We all went for counselling to deal loss, and I later became a chapter coordinator with our local Compassionate Friends. After our next son was born, he did become a big brother and I recall in Grade 2, he took his baby brother as show and tell. Michel is our guardian angel watching over us all.

As an aside, our 3rd son, who was so affected with Michel’s death, was killed at age 24 in a car accident Mar 24, 2014, with 2 others in their car,on his way home from work. He was an apprentice electrician and engaged to be married April 11, 2015. We have 3 living children and 2 angels in heaven. Forever loved. Forever Missed.