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.