Sunday, August 26, 2012


Some of my emotions through these past 8 days have been expected, and some have come as quite a surprise. After the funeral on Monday I actually felt some sort of relief. That was completely unexpected. I had wondered if I was even going to be able to keep it together long enough to finish Mass, and surely if I did, I would lose it at the cemetery. Somehow I managed to be both present in the moment AND not a complete emotional mess. Much of it was the preparation, I am sure. But some was relief, peace. I had spent the last 6 months in this strange dichotomy. I enjoyed the time I was pregnant. I had an easy pregnancy, loved having Peter in there, and basically didn't want it to end. But on the other hand I had this feeling like every day was one day closer to the worst day of my life. And I was actually getting through the worst day of my life intact. Maybe I would be OK after all?

There was a joy and peace that we experienced, however, that I would not expect the vast majority of parents to feel when they lose a child. Peter my not have been able to see us or hear us. He was, for lack of a better word, imperfect. But in heaven, he CAN see us and hear us. He IS perfect! He can pray for us. He will never know suffering. He will be happy for all eternity. THAT brings me joy.

But then Tuesday rolled around. It was all over. It was just me, an empty womb, and my tears. The roller coaster began. As I expected, all I wanted to do way crawl into bed, ignore everyone, and cry.

My milk began to come in on Monday night, and by Tuesday my breasts were very full. That led to yet another surprising reaction. I expected the milk coming in to be the final kick in the gut that would send me over the edge. But I found joy even in that. I'd missed having milk in my breasts, the scent of the milk, knowing my body made something just for that special little boy. It's just one more way Peter has been a blessing in my life, and I'm not ready to say goodbye to what feels like the last bit of Peter I have left. 

So many people have told me that I am so brave, so courageous. I don't feel brave. I still have moments where I completely break down. I've had days over the last six months where I lose my temper with the girls simply because I am so depressed at what was to come, where all I wanted to do was lay in bed, where I would lay in the floor and scream and cry, where the pain was so palpable it was truly physical. But I feel like I did what any mother would do. And then I was reminded that no, only a very small percent, about 5%, of mothers facing this diagnosis choose this path. I personally think choosing the time and place of my baby's death would be much harder than allowing the pregnancy to continue naturally. I couldn't have done anything differently. I do strongly believe, however, that women need to take their time when given a severe prenatal diagnosis. Even with my strong pro-life beliefs and strong faith, my head was spinning after diagnosis. I knew I would carry him, but I didn't know how long. Would I need to induce early to avoid the possibility of a c-section? Would that even be morally acceptible? Would he be suffering? It was a good two or three days before I could stop crying long enough to really think about anything in a rational manner. That's why it breaks my heart when I hear about a woman having an abortion very soon after a diagnosis. How could that decision have been made rationally? Too many women regret that quickly made decision. I've never heard of ONE women who regrets giving her baby time, giving him life by carrying him to term. But there are all too many who wished they'd carried their babies to term. 

I give God the credit for my positive attitude these past 6 months. It has been a true joy to know Peter. I am so blessed to have had so many people praying for us that I just KNOW it was God's grace that brought us through. Steve and I both feel so truly blessed to have known Peter. I won't pretend that I wouldn't have preferred he lived and be healthy, but I wouldn't have changed this situation if it meant never knowing Peter. We are better people for this experience. I had the pleasure of growing one of God's precious children in my womb for 9 months, and then delivering him to the arms of the Lord. What a beautiful, glorious way to suffer for the glory of God and the joy of my son. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Peter's funeral

Peter's funeral was on the Monday after his birth, August 20, 2012. I didn't sleep well that night and was up very early. I felt sick. I didn't want to go. We went to the funeral home an hour ahead of time to see him and say goodbye. He looked so perfect and tiny. The home did a beautiful job wrapping him and laying him in his tiny coffin. He was so cold, and instinct told me to tell Julie not to touch him. I didn't want her to remember Peter that way. But I quickly changed my mind. That was wrong; she needed to say goodbye in whatever way felt right for her. She decided not to hold him but she rubbed his cheek and kissed him. I hadn't planned on picking him up but I couldn't resist. I needed to hug him one last time. I hugged him and cried and rocked his tiny body. Natalie showed some interest in him for the first time. She stuck her finger right in his mouth, which was just the right size for her tiny little finger. We spent 30 minutes with him, placed some holy cards in his coffin, a holy medal, a photograph, and a sunflower clipped from my garden. Then we proceeded to the church.

Steve carried in the tiny coffin and placed it at the front of the church. Eric Blair was cantor, and he did a beautiful job singing the wonderful hymns we'd chosen. Fr. Steve's homily was beautiful and touching. I loved hearing Peter's name over and over. I am obsessed with his name, wanting to hear it and read it as much as possible. He spoke of how we don't know why we have such a short time with some loved ones, and how it is always especially heartbreaking and mysterious when a child dies. He told a story about a night blooming flower that blooms just once a year at night, and by morning its petals are wilted, and how that reminded him of little Peter who was born at night and gone by morning, and how that flower is mysterious, and so are the ways of the Lord when it comes to a child dying. It was beautiful and touching. 

The Mass was absolutely beautufl, and even though I didn't want to be there when I'd woken in the morning, once I was there I relished in it. I cherished every moment, tried to be truly present so that I could remember it all. It felt so right, to be there amongst family, friends, our priest, and the Lord Jesus Christ, to celebrate his short life and thank God for the time we did have. When Fr. Steve insenced the coffin, it all felt so real, so sad, and so beautiful at the same time. As I stood there in the pew next to his tiny casket, watching Fr. Steve use the insence, smelling it, seeing it float up towards the heavens, I cried for sadness but I smiled for joy. I saw that moment as a symbol of his rising to the arms of Jesus. If there is one moment I take with me from that Mass, it will be the memory of the insence, rising around the casket and toward the place where Peter waits for me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Peter Benedict's birth story

I suppose Peter's birth story starts on the Tuesday before he was born. I'd gone to Annapolis with Steve for my weekly checkup with Dr. Sweeney and the midwife. I was forty one weeks and one day pregnant. I figured we would be discussing he possibility of induction since my next appointment wouldn't be scheduled until after I'd hit the forty two week mark. Up until that point I was not willing to induce, and there really was no reason for it. So we planned to carry the pregnancy to forty two weeks if possible. But once we reached forty two I didn't feel anymore like it was a choice between being pregnant and inducing, but between gentle induction over a few days and a full-on pitocin induction, and the former sounded more pleasant, and like it would be gentler on Peter. Along with the midwife, Jessica, we decided to try a prostaglandin gel that afternoon. We expected it would need repeating one or two more times, and maybe a full induction would still be necessary. I was still only measuring approximately 33-34 weeks, and Peter was measuring around 4 pounds. The gel started causing contractions almost immediately. I went home, feeling pretty uncomfortable, contracting irregularly until about 1AM, when they stopped and I went to sleep.

We had an appointment for Wednesday evening to receive another round of gel. I'm glad my mom was able to be in town for all of these runs to Annapolis and back, so we didn't have to take the girls or find a babysitter. So we found ourselves in the same room, hooked to a monitor to make sure Peter was OK and that I didn't have too many contractions. Nicki was our midwife that evening. She stripped my membranes, something we couldn't do the day before. The first dose of gel had done enough to help me dilate a little and bring Peter down into my pelvis a little more. The gel makes for contractions that are much different than the contractions I felt in regular, natural labor. I was rather uncomforable when we arrived home. I continued contractions throughout the evening, where they were becoming regular and more uncomfortable, and closer together. We called Nicki around midnight, and she met us at 1AM. Labor slowed a couple of times but didn't stall. She placed a foley bulb to help me dilate. Peter was still breech, with at least one foot down toward my cervix, plus he was small and high. Those things altogether made for difficuly in dilating. The foley bulb itself was not painful or even uncomfortable, but boy did it work! I was contracting like crazy, and they HURT. I said at the time that they felt likie transition contractions. I was barely getting a rest between them for a good 15 minutes, and at that time, knowing I wasn't even 4 cm dilated, I thought I would probably get an epidural. I was torn about it, and even a little upset, but later I would see God's hand in it, as I had in so much of the whole experience. Around 4:30AM I discussed the possibility of Stadol with the nurse. I thought if I just got a little rest, I could push through. When it wore off around 6:30AM I was still so sleepy that I decided to request an epidural. There was just no way I was going to be able to push through without some rest. I think it was around 8AM when it was placed. My labor had slowed by that time so we decided to start pitocin, too. I was already close to 7 cm but contractions weren't coming very close together and weren't very strong. Being 7 cm already, however, we decided to call my mom in with the girls, and also called the photographer from "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep". She asked if we wanted her there for the labor, which I thought was a wonderful opportunity for more pictures, so we said yes. Everyone got there around 10AM. Each time Nicki checked me I barely progressed. Peter was still high, and the only pressure on my cervix was from the bag of waters. By the afternoon she said it was time to consider breaking the waters, but I really didn't want to. After some internal manipulations (somthing I never could have tolerated if I didn't have pain medication!) Nicki got me from 8 to 10 cm in just a few minutes! It was time to push! Yay! She broke my waters and I started pushing dear Peter down the birth canal. It took a little while to find the right position to get him down the birth canal, plus the contractions didn't seem like they were coming very close together so there was a bit of a break between pushes. I remember Steve saying he could see a foot! I reached down and felt the tinest toes coming from my body and just started to cry. I was joyful, I was excited, and I was sad. It was all destined to come to an end.  

At 5:27PM Peter Benedict Shock made his entrance into the world. As I saw his body slip from mine I couldn't believe how tiny he was! He weighed 3 pounds 15 ounces, and measured just 15 inches long. He was placed across my chest, where I could gaze upon his sweet face, kiss his darling nose, and play with his tiny fingers. A priest from St. Mary's in Annapolis, Fr. Harrison, was there, waiting. He came in as soon as Peter was placed on my chest, and Peter was baptized. His breathing was labored, and I was afraid we were going to lose him right then. Please God, I prayed, don't take him yet! But he didn't. He continued to have some breathing trouble, as well as circulation trouble, it seemed. His lower half was mostly purple, and his face kept growing cold. His little nose was chilly; I just kept kissing it. He had the sweetest little lips. He would stop breathing for a few seconds, and I would pat his butt, and he would gasp. I don't know if he could hear, and I don't think he could see, but he responded to my touch on his cheek. And I believe he felt our love. I enjoyed every moment with him. I was truly happy. We wet his lips with a little glucose water, and he smacked his lips a little and swallowed the water. Everyone took turns holding him and loving on him. Julie absolutely adored her little brother. She looked at him with such adoring love. She was such a joyful big sister. At one point I asked her if she wanted me to put his hat on him, and she said "I don't care about that. I just love him!". She wanted to hold him as much as possible. I'm pretty sure Steve gave up some of his precious time with Peter in order to allow Julie extra cuddle time. After about 3 hours we noticed his breathing was getting shallow. He cried for a minute or so while I was rocking him. At first we didn't realize he was crying, but when we did Steve held him on the bed while I put colostrum on his lips. He drank it, and fell asleep. That was around or shortly after 8:30, and was the last time we saw him awake.

We requested to be released as soon as possible, so we could take Peter home and cuddle with him there, take foot and hand prints, and just enjoy him there. We prepared all of our things, packed up the cars, and headed home with baby Peter. We aren't sure of the exact time he passed from his body into heaven. It was sometime just after 9PM. I thought we were going to be able to get him breathing again. I patted his butt several times, rubbed his cheek, but he was gone. We'd had a precious 3.5 hours with him, and now he was in the arms of Jesus. 

At home we cuddled him, made molds of his handprints and footprints, and did ink prints. Around 1AM I dressed him in his baptism/burial gown, with his little booties and diaper cover made by wonderful volunteers from Isaiah's Promise. I wrapped him in two blankets to keep him as warm as possible. I tried to sleep but every time I turned off the light I turned it on again so I could just stare at him. Finally around 2AM I fell asleep, but I was back up at 6, staring at him, holding him, and crying. Julie woke up around 8 and came over. She asked if he was breathing, and I said no. She went to her room and cried, then came back and held him and laid with him. That afternoon we delivered him to the funeral home, Steve, Julie and I. Handing him over and walking away was unspeakably hard. But I knew that what I'd left behind was just his body. I'd already been talking to him all morning, asking for his prayers and telling him how much we loved him. There was a peace there, and that was something I hadn't expected. When I cried, I smiled, too. I thought about him in the loving arms of Jesus, made perfect and whole, knowing only joy and peace and love. If only all children could be so lucky, to know nothing but love from the moment of conception until death. 

Strangely in the day after his birth I found myself forgetting for split seconds that I wasn't pregnant, that he was really gone. Physically, I felt perfectly fine. I certainly didn't feel like I'd just given birth. My stomach was still round. There wasn't a baby in my arms. I would touch my stomach and then remember he was no longer there. But now that I knew his body I could picture his tiny frame in my womb, where his face was, where his little arms and legs were. 

I spent a lot of time talking to him in those first hours, telling him how much I loved him, how much I missed him, and how happy I was for him to be in heaven with Our Lord, and asking him through tears to pray for us. He could hear me now, he could even see me. He couldn't do those things a few hours before. That was part of the peace that came; Peter's imperfect body was here but his perfect soul was in God's Kingdom. I would cry for my own sadness and grief, but smile at the same time for his joy and peace. It was odd having so many emotions at the same time. I'd not expected that. 

I can remember back to February when Peter was diagnosed. For days I scoured the internet for anything related to acrania and anencephly, both the good and the bad. I poured over blogs. I saw pictures of smiling women holding their babies who were not long for this world, moms at baby showers, or family pictures of a smiling, pregnant mom during a family vacation, and I wondered how they do it. I felt like I would never smile again. HOW could they smile while holding their baby, when hello and goodbye are only minutes or hours apart? As the pregnancy progressed I realized how they could be joyful because I, too, was joyful. But even still I wasn't sure how I was going to react when I met Peter. Would I sob over him, knowing it was goodbye? Or would I spill tears of joy because I am finally meeting my son for the first time? I can say now that I was truly blessed to know him, truly joyful to meet him, and that the room was filled all around with smiles and joy over meeting our son and brother for the first time, even when we had no idea how long he would be with us. We loved him as much, and maybe even a little more, than any other baby. After all we had to squeeze a lifetime of love into just a few short hours. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Peter Benedict Shock

Our beautiful boy is a saint in heaven, alive in the arms of Jesus and his blessed mother. He was born at 5:27 on August 16th. He weighed just 3 pounds 15 ounces, and was 15 inches long. We spent the evening with him, after which he passed peacefully. We would have loved more time with him but I knew after he was born that he wouldn't be with us for very long. Julie absolutely adores him; she misses him terribly. 

Funeral Mass arrangements are being made for Monday, 9:30am at St. Ursula on Harford rd. in Parkville. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Getting closer

I'm a little over 41 weeks along now. It doesn't seem that Peter is going to come on his own. It's not uncommon for babies with anencephaly to need to be induced. No one knows exactly what causes labor to begin but one theory is that the baby's brain sends signals to the kidneys. These babies may be unable to do that. That, coupled with his small size, and who knows how long I would stay pregnant if we let him just come when he was ready! 

I'm working with my midwives on some more gentle induction methods this week. I am hoping they'll work and decided on those early because I had a strong feeling he wasn't going to come without help, and next week they'll go to pitocin. So, rather than do nothing and then go straight to pitocin, we are trying some other things first. Hopefully we get to meet Peter sometime this week or weekend. Otherwise I imagine he will make his appearance on August 23rd at the latest. 

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where Catholics celebrate our belief that God saved Mary from bodily corruption and assumed her body and soul into heaven. I thought it would be a beautiful day for Peter to be born. I suppose we do still have 8 hours in the day!

I'm understandably scared and anxious. Obviously labor and birth are big deals even when you expect to greet a perfectly healthy baby at the end of it. I am worried about how I will handle the pain knowing that there is tragedy to follow. But there will also be joy. Keep me in your prayers if you will, that I will be able to put my sadness and anxiety aside and work with my body to have a safe, healthy, and comfortable labor. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Due Date

Wow has it gone fast. I'm 40 week today, a full week and then some longer than I've been pregnant in the past. Peter has been doing really well in there. In a week be gained over 10 ounces to get to almost 4 pounds. If he stays another week maybe he will even make 5 pounds at birth. He's been hanging out in the breech position. I hope he stays there instead of going transverse. I am allowed a breech delivery; if he goes back to transverse I'll have to have a c-section. 

I'm more at peace with the coming birth than I was earlier, but at the same time I'm still not excited like one would be with a typical pregnancy. In just a few weeks, or a lot less, it's all over. And I'm left with photos and memories and clothes and blankets. God give me strength. God, please let me focus on Peter and not myself. Let me be joyful that he will be made perfect and live in joy with you. Let me not focus on my own grief. Bring me peace. Amen.