As told by his mother, Cherokee.
I’ve told my story in passing but never written it. When I was younger writing was so cathartic for me, but somewhere along the line I stopped. I’m probably not very good but this is not a literary piece, it is my life. There are a few things that I share often when meeting and cultivating new relationships, not because I am all about myself, but because I have been so blessed in where I have come I feel that if someone needs that help I am here to give my experience in hopes that it might help you.
1) I was morbidly obese for 20 years, chose to have gastric bypass, lost 135 pounds and I have never questioned that choice.
2) I am a recovering alcoholic. I was a hot mess and now, well, not so much.
3) I have 8 children, yes 8. A stepson who I met and and chose to love when he was 5, he is now 14. And together, my amazing husband and I have 7. Five of those amazing little people are with us. Then there are 2 more, they are angels. Which brings me to my fourth factoid.
4) I have had 2 miscarriages and my heart hurts.
Yesterday two things happened that rocked me to my core so unexpectedly that they woke me frequently last night, a job I reserve for Ailish or Eryn these days. Yesterday Kerrigan was gazing at her new favorite hairstyle (Pippy Longstocking braids) in the mirror attached to my bedroom door unbeknownst to me. When I opened the door her toe was jammed underneath. There was a sufficient amount of blood and five times as many tears. Kerrigan’s newest 3 year old “thing” is to bring up the most traumatic losses she has experienced in her short life while having an Oprah ugly cry. For example, recently when having a meltdown she cried out in her Sarah Heartburn-esque way, “I miss Cadet (insert excessive snot, blubbering and lip quivering here). Cadet is a border collie that we recently rehomed to a more suitable house (5 other border collies). Yesterday’s toe injury proved no different, except for who she missed.
Through streaming tears, excessive snot, quivering lips and shortness of breath she says, “I miss my baby bruver, the one that died.”
Now I am short of breath.
Where did that come from? What do I say? What does anyone say?
“I know honey, so do I.”
“Where is he?”
“When he was in my tummy…”
Crap. If I say he is sleeping she will be afraid to sleep. If you say he died it sounds so harsh. If you say he passed she will wonder what the hell that even means. WTF
“He was very tiny. He had a very tiny heart. You have a heart too but it is big and strong and it beats, a loud healthy thump thump thump, right?” (Thank you Doc McStuffins)
Her tear stained face looks back at me and she gives me a snot covered, “yet” (yes)
“His heart was soooo tiny that it just couldn’t do what yours does. It stopped and he is now in Heaven, the most beautiful place ever.”
“But I mit (miss) himmmmmmm” (insert head thrown back and Muppet-like mouth agape.
“I know honey, I do too.”
“Can we watch a moobie?”
Yup, whatever gets us out of this bathroom and onto a new subject!
Well, that was fun.
Moving through the evening, not an hour later I come across this, trigger number 2.
I honestly could have written this.
Finding out I’m pregnant always kind of unfolds the same way. Pee on a stick. I briefly consider some Pinteresty way of telling my husband and then say screw it…I hate crafts. Honestly, this time I may have texted him a picture of the positive test, its kinda how we roll, we aren’t much for pomp and circumstance.
Things progressed like a three previous little people. I bloat, I’m tired but I have no time to rest. I eat a ton of chocolate that I have no business eating and I visit the doctor which means listen to the heartbeat and pee in a cup. Merrily on my way. Until week 15.
My favorite nurse and I chat as she squirts cold goo on my belly. She is a runner, she looks like a runner, lean and fit and ageless. I wish I had the desire to be a runner, sadly I only run if being chased.
The staticky buzz of the Doppler starts and she moves it around my belly. I’m in the “in between haircut stage” of pregnancy. You know “is she pregnant” or “should she lay off the chips and chocolate”? Nevertheless, I know and I think I’m cute…exhausted but cute.
She still moves it, searching but nothing.
“I must be having an off day, let me go get Claire. Be right back sweetie.”
Okie dokie, no worries.
Claire comes in, same thing. Nothing. Now I’m not so okie dokie.
“Cherokee, I’m a little concerned. I want to send you over to the hospital to imaging where we can get a definitive answer. I want you to call Sean (she knew his name because she knew me, that helped) and have him meet you. I am not finding a heart beat.”
Um, what? Huh…this doesn’t happen to me. I have babies, I’ve had several, all healthy and pretty darn cute if you are wondering.
Kerrigan was with me. I don’t remember if it was Jenn or Lisa who came to get her but I know it was a member of my tribe. There, like they always were to pick one of us up off the floor, take care of someone’s kid or kids, tell you that you are being a jerk or to put your big girl panties, to hug you in the midst of an ugly cry or just to be next to you when you needed them most.
When you have one of “these” ultrasounds they make sure there is no sound, they turn it down. The room is dark and they are laser focused. She was nice and she had a wedding ring on. For my own purposes I assumed, more so hoped, that with that ring meant she might be a mom too. They aren’t allowed to tell you what they see, that is the doctors job. So I took a chance because while I knew the answer I needed confirmation, now.
“I see your ring. I don’t know if that means you have kids too. I know technically you can’t say anything to me but I won’t tell if you do. Can you just blink hard twice if there is no heartbeat? Please.”
I stared at her, it felt like forever but it wasn’t. On the second hard blink a tear escaped and I am ever so grateful that she did that. It was the second in a long list of silent comforts I would receive.
Sean met me after the ultrasound, he met me in the cold sterile hallway and I collapsed in his arms. He holds me up like no one else. We have to wait for the official call but I already know. The phone rings in the waiting room, the technician said it would be for me when it rings. Its like waiting for that call during the NFL draft but 1000x less cool than that.
It rings. Its Claire.
“Hi Cherokee, its Claire. The report says…” Her voice is filled with somber affection, “sweetheart, your baby has no heartbeat.”
She called him “my baby”. Thank you Claire.
Sean took me to get something to eat. As a former fat girl, I still like to eat through my troubles sometimes, not often but this time, he took me for my favorite chicken salad sandwich and it tasted like happiness, for just a few minutes. Him and I. We are weird. We joke and laugh and he pets me and I cry, then I laugh again and trudge through.
The next two weeks were, well, unique.
My OB/GYN was tied with my gastric bypass surgeon (he was at my wedding) as my favorite doctor in the world. He, as well as a very large handful of people, made this the most beautiful heartbreaking experience of my life.
A day or two after finding out I went to his office to discuss what happens next. I am carrying a baby who will not be born, he will be still and quiet. He will be tiny and look unfinished. He will have everything he is supposed to but he will be under developed and a vibrant color you see in anatomy books.
My doctor talks to me like a friend who is a doctor. He gets my brash humor and thinks I’m kinda cool. He is tender and knows what I want before I even tell him. I want my body to do what it is made to do. I want to “have” him. We discuss “our” plan.
We will let my body do what it does.
In those two weeks I wait. I talk to him and I talk to God. I talk to my friends and I talk to my husband. And I cry. I cry a lot.
My husband is sweet and tries his best other times he is a colossal jerk. Maybe twice in those two weeks I seriously searched out the perfect pillow in which to smother him in his sleep. The one time I seriously restrained myself from full out throat punching him was when I had a full on freakout. Where I cry and make no logical sense saying “I can’t do this, how do I do this, oh my God why…”
After a good 10 minutes, my beloved’s response was, “Cherokee, stop. Its just a miscarriage.” (Don’t worry, he redeems himself 1000x but at that point, he was one stab wound away from meeting Jesus).
He walked away when he knew he might be murdered. I walked away as well and looked for the pillow and may have texted someone to help me hide the body, I’m not sure.
We were approaching what would be week 17 and also the weekend of my daughters birthdays. Reilly was turning 4 and Kerrigan was turning 1. A huge barbeque was planned. A beautiful Fancy Nancy Butterfly cake was coming from out of town. All of our family were coming. All of our friends and childrens friends would be there. I could not “have” him with a house full of visitors.
I guess nature needed help.
Dr. Littlejohn and I talked. We would go to the hospital on Wednesday. We would use Cervadil and I would “have” him.
OB nurses are special. Like any nurse they do what they love but to be part of the unit that involves new life is something very special. It does not always mean that their patient takes that baby home and they know that.
Tragedy in the birthing process can happen in an instant. I knew he was gone and they knew this is what they were dealing with. They spoke a little quieter a little softer. There was a butterfly on the frame of the door so that any nurse that came on shift “knew” I was a mom but would not be leaving with a baby.
The Cervadil worked faster than I thought it would and all of a sudden he was there. No screaming, no moaning…he just appeared. The nurses gently laid him on a something blue. I knew he was a boy. His name was Rowan. No middle name. I did not want his name to be bigger than he was. Rowan Sprague. Small but Irish and strong.
For those keeping track, this is where my husband redeems himself and I fall in love with him more than I was on the day we married.
He stood over my tiny little baby and said “how can anyone think this is not a baby” and he held him. He sat next to me while they did all the things you do with a baby you would take home. Measured, weighed and tiniest little footprints. I held him and talked to him. He stayed with me.
During my overnight stay I slept little and cried a lot. I had two weeks prior to this in which to mourn him and begin to process this.
Now what? Hell if I know but all we can do is move forward.
One moment that meant so much was the root beer float. It was 2am and the floor was quiet. The nurse assigned to me came to check on me. I, surprise, am awake.
“Would you like a root beer float and some company?”
Former fat girl and lonely mom says, “I would love both.”
We talk. She has been a nurse for some time, she loves OB and her husband is in construction and is helping construct the new parking garage at this very hospital. Not sure what other topics we discussed but I remember enjoying her company, the conversation and that root beer float.
I just want to go home and see my kids. No need for Sean to miss work, he was here for when I needed him and Lisa, my partner in crime said she would come get me. The babysitter is at home and I don’t have a lot to carry out. Lisa brings Chinese food and we sit on the hospital bed and eat wonton soup. We do what we do, talk about dumb crap, make each other laugh and curse a lot when we do it.
We are good, no tears just happy goofiness…until Dr. Littlejohn comes in.
He stood in the doorway.
“Ready to go?”
Lisa and I were bagging up the remnants of the Chinese food we destroyed when he continued.
“I’d like to do something for you.”
Puzzled, “Ok? Thank you.” I say in that grateful yet confused tone.
He says, “You may have seen the Tiny Bubble mural at the entrance. People can make a donation to the unit in honor of their child. I would like Rowan to be the first…” I tear up typing those words. What doctor does that? My doctor, my beautiful, kind, giant hearted and giant handed doctor. I am still at a loss for words when trying to explain how amazingly blessed I am to have had him as my doctor.
I was not allowed to leave with Rowan. Leaving the hospital without a baby is wrong. So wrong. He was taken to the funeral home. Mr. Xxx was kind and soft spoken and tender. He gave him back to me and it happened again. The sound in my ears of a shattered heart. I took him home. Placed him in a beautiful box with a letter telling him I was so sorry that I couldn’t save him. An angel figure rested next to him. A rose from flowers that my husband sent me to tell me he loved me.
Our priest found him a spot in the parish cemetery. My husband dug his grave and I broke a little more when he was laid to rest. Just me, Sean, Father and sweet Rowan. We listened as Father said a prayer. Then we left, again, with out him. Brokenhearted.
There is not a day that passes that I don’t believe that the loss of Rowan (or his sibling who I ironically lost on Rowan’s due date November 8th…funny how God works) is the most tragic yet beautiful experiences of my life. Not everyone shares their experience with pregnancy and infant loss. If you never have, you are not alone in your sadness. Your baby was yours, and they were loved.