Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rowan’s Birth Story

by Laurinda Reddig

Two years ago today, I gave birth to a beautiful 8lb 11oz baby girl named Rowan. She never breathed on her own, and lived for just one day, so I never felt up to writing her birth story. Now, with my second daughter Willow asleep on my chest, I will try to write Rowan’s story…
My second pregnancy was much more difficult than the first. We had decided not to find out the gender but everyone thought that since my morning sickness was much worse than with my son, continuing throughout the pregnancy, it was a good chance she was a girl. Unlike my first birth, I had a lot of Braxton Hicks and regular early contractions every evening for weeks before my due date. After the fourth false alarm, we headed back home on Friday morning to wait for the real thing.
When I woke up from a nap on Saturday evening, my due date, I told my 3 year old son Griffin to tell the baby it was time to come out. He did just that, and about 15 minutes later my water broke. We headed to the birth center, stopping for ice cream to share with the midwives. Things progressed slowly, as we watched a movie and enjoyed the ice cream. I perched on a birth ball, crocheting a cocoon for the precious life we awaited.
Once the battery ran out on our laptop the movie was over, so we tried to get things moving. I started walking up and down the stairs, pausing for contractions, and realizing the difference between these and the ones I had been feeling for weeks. As things intensified, I went into the birthing suite to try the tub. After a little while I got a little overheated and decided to get out to go to the bathroom.
As I sat in the bathroom, I suddenly felt my baby drop and engage. My son had also not dropped until I was almost ready to push. But this time was different. I could feel my baby struggling, thumping on my pelvic bone repeatedly. My midwives immediately checked her heart rate and discovered it was erratic. They moved me to the bed, trying all sorts of different uncomfortable positions, but her heart rate did not improve. All of the strange positions flared up my asthma, so they gave me an oxygen tube. Meanwhile, they had called the paramedics who were in the lobby of the building. They checked inside to be sure that the cord was not tight around the baby’s neck and gave me the option to try pushing.
As soon as I was in position on the birth stool, which helped to open the way, the baby’s heart rate went back up. After just 3 or 4 long, hard pushes, our baby was born into the waiting arms of her father who handed her to me. As he handed me this tiny slippery baby, my first thought was to check the gender, a girl. Then I held Rowan to me and realized that she was not breathing.
My midwife immediately gave her oxygen from the tube, and began CPR. As I knelt next to them, still attached by the umbilical cord, my midwife and I saw a spot where the cord appeared to have been kinked at some point. As soon as the cord was cut, the paramedics loaded the gurney with our precious baby. My midwife and one assistant went along to continue CPR, and my husband stayed with them and Rowan.
I was left with the second apprentice midwife and my doula. We were informed that another ambulance was there, “to take mom to be with her baby”. We tried to push the placenta out, but it was not coming, so we went along to the hospital.
When we arrived in the hospital ER, I could not even see my baby. No one would give me any answers. They finally explained that Rowan’s organs were in severe failure, and they needed to cool her body down to slow it down and transport her to a hospital with a NICU for further tests. I was finally able to see Rowan when they wheeled her incubator into my room on her way to the ambulance which would transfer her. She looked so small, connected to so many tubes which were all that were keeping her alive. For a few moments, they opened the incubator so I could hold her cold, motionless hand.
My midwives tried to help me get my placenta out, but after the adrenaline of the situation and the ambulance transfer it may not have been possible. Apparently the OBs upstairs chose not to answer their calls and the ER guy actually asked the midwives if they could help. I was left bleeding in the ER for several hours, nearly passing out more than once. It was also during this time that the ER guy pulled off what was left of the umbilical cord and tossed it out with the rest of the waste, so we will never know exactly what the kink we saw was. It may have been caught when her head engaged, or been a kink that had gradually cut off her oxygen over the course of time, or even an aneurysm at some point. We will never know.
When an OB finally deigned to see me, I was put under full anesthesia for a D&C. When I came to in the recovery room, I choked on the oxygen they shoved into my throat raw from a breathing tube. Again, no one would answer my questions. The nurses would not even look me in the eye. I could not stand their looks of pity, when no one would tell me what was going on.
I was relieved to be greeted by a smiling nurse who brought me to my room and made me as comfortable as she could. I will never forget that nurse. As soon as I was settled into the room I was told that my husband needed to talk to me on the phone. He tried to explain to me what the doctors had said, but it basically meant that they were waiting for me to get there before they took our little Rowan off life support. He also asked if we should bring Griffin to the hospital, but at the time I did not see the point and thought it would scare him. The same kind nurse discovered that they could not send me because the other hospital was short staffed. She offered to drive there on her own to transfer with us so I would not have to wait any longer.
My mother rode in the ambulance with me, feeding me the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies she and my son had made when I first went in to labor. The same recipe we have made during each of my labors. I did not taste the cookies at all. The trip was slow as the bridges were blocked off for a bike race. The paramedic asked if they were waiting for me to make decisions about our baby and I said yes. I actually smiled when they used the sirens to pass the blocked traffic, even though we were not technically an emergency.
I finally arrived at the hospital where my baby was, but I still could not see her. They wheeled me into a postpartum room, complete with nursing gown hanging in the bathroom and large print of a father laying with his baby on his chest, much like the first picture we took of my husband when we came home with our son. I immediately asked them to take the picture down, and noticed that the next time we came back to the room it was gone.
Eventually I was wheeled into the NICU to see my daughter. My family was all there, gathered around our poor baby who lay motionless except for the small movement of her chest from the machines that kept her breathing. The doctor explained again, the second time for my husband and my father. Even if they could repair the damage to her body, at some point her oxygen was cut off too long, damaging her brain too severely for normal functioning.
Once the decision was made, I was wheeled back to my room to eat and rest. As we passed through the postpartum ward, I saw older children there to meet their new siblings. I suddenly realized how important it was for Griffin to come meet her. My sister had had a baby just 4 months before and he had been in the waiting room when her son was born. At three years old, he knew what was supposed to happen, and would be very confused if we just did not come home with a baby. But that is another story*.
When I returned to the NICU they wheeled me into a large closet to choose a handmade quilt to wrap Rowan in. That quilt, and the crocheted afghan she was wrapped in are some of the few things we were able to bring home to remember our baby. Looking through the pile of handmade quilts to choose a bright pink and green one for Rowan, I began to think of how Rowan’s short life could make a difference to other parents going through the same thing. As we prepared to say goodbye to our first born daughter, I was envisioning the Remembering Rowan Project*, donating blankets in her memory.
My husband and I got the chance to bathe our baby, wash her hair, and dress her in a simple white gown. My father played his harp, something beautiful for Rowan to experience during her short life. They removed the tubes pumping oxygen and medicine which was all that kept her body going. They had a large double rocking chair where we sat with Griffin to introduce him to his baby sister and explain why she was not coming home with us. Then he took a walk with his uncle while the rest of the family gathered together to each have a chance to hold her, kiss her, and say goodbye to our precious baby. Then the nurse took her vitals and recorded her time of death.
I had to stay overnight in the hospital after all of the blood loss. As they wheeled me back to my room, it felt so strange to leave our baby in the NICU knowing we would never see her again. They told us we could bring her back to the room with us, but that just seemed creepy. We had already said goodbye. It was only her body and holding it longer would not have brought me any comfort. I am not sure her spirit ever really inhabited that body. I have come to believe that there is a small spark that comes at the moment of birth, seems to me babies would get really bored in there for nine months. Call it the soul or the spirit or whatever. But I have to believe Rowan’s tiny spark just never connected, and instead she is everywhere, in everything.

* Read more about the Remembering Rowan Project and her other crafty ventures on Laurinda's Blog. She also wrote an essay on helping her three year old understand the loss of his sister.


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I always appreciate a reminder how precious and miraculous our babies are, and not to take for granted a single day.

  2. I think every one of us, mothers, thinks of the possibility of something going wrong... Thank you for sharing your story with us. It is very painful to read, but also it gives hope that even something like that one can live through. I hope you and your family can heal and find strength in each other. Thank you.

  3. Laurinda, thank you for sharing Rowans story. I am so very sorry for your loss. :( Your beautiful Griffin and Willow can never replace her, but they are a great comfort I am sure. I still want to read about how you helped Griffin with the loss. I can't imagine how tough that part was...

  4. Laurinda, you and Mike are such strong and amazing people and I am so blessed to have you and your family in my life.

  5. Such a heartbreaking story, and not just at the loss of a daughter, but at the sheer oblivious ignorance of the hospital ER staff. I can't imagine the added pain and frustration you had to experience because of their delay and inefficiency. But what a magnificent nurse to come through for you. And I cry every time I hear you speak of Rowan's passing, with her family around her and her Grandpa Kit's harp playing. Such a brief life, but how powerful a love to still be inspiring you and all of us who know you. You are such an amazing woman.

  6. Some people can live for 100 years without touching anyone, some people live only for a day and touch hundreds of people. I don't think anyone can read this story and not feel incredibly moved by it. Thank you for sharing this, you are very brave.

  7. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story of precious little Rowan. What a wonderful project you have started in honor of her! How sweet to have been writing Rowan's story with a new little one sleeping on your chest! :)
    Some good friends of ours lost their little boy last year. Mason - lived 4 days after his birth. They too felt inspired & decided to start an organization called "4 Days to Eternity." It's a wonderful blog of remembering... thoughts & stories of loss, hope & understanding. http://www.4daystoeternity.blogspot.com/

    Take care :)

  8. Laurinda. Thank you for sharing this precious memoir with us. Tears as I read your story. I had no idea the depth of your experience with Rowan. Yet how wonderful that you have created the milk blog and knitting blog in her memory.

    A little note. I tried to find you on facebook and didn't find you :(


  9. I was referred to your site by my sister, who is a friend of your sisters. My husband and I lost our first born baby girl, Rumi, July 8th 2012, after only living for a few short minutes. The magnitude of pain I feel is unexplainable and there is little I take comfort in. Thank you for sharing your story. I'd like to think those last few sentences relate to Rumi too...and she carries herself everywhere, in everything. I admire your strength. Thank you, again.