Elise’s Birth Story

I wrote this at an online Due Date group for July 2001:

I want to thank you all for all the love and support you have offered me. I am so overwhelmed by your care. I will read each post carefully over the next few days. I want to and I need to.

I can only say that the grace of God has carried me and my husband through all of this. I can see that He has directly helped my whole family grieve, and I’m so thankful to Him for the grace and strength He offers. I’m overwhelmed by His care. Thank you for your many prayers and hugs. We have needed them and will continue to need them.

I know that this may be a difficult story for many of you to read. I will not be hurt if you need to stop. I know that I probably could not have read it in the last few weeks of my pregnancy, but I still need to tell it. After I’m done, please get on your knees and be thankful for the life you have in your belly or in your arms. It is the sweetest thing ever, and I miss it so much.

We found out that Elise was a little girl on June 22 at an ultrasound. She was perfect in every way. She weighed 7lb 10 oz at the US (a weight that proved to be pretty accurate) and was strong and healthy. She was due on July 2.

My pregnancy had been a relative breeze. Everything was rather typical and fairly easy. I had been uncomfortable in the last few weeks, but it was only normal 9th month discomfort.

I went for my 40-week appointment on Thursday, July 5th, and all was well. Her heartbeat was strong, and she was still growing. I felt her kick all evening and into the early morning. I remember getting up at 3am to use the bathroom and feeling her kick. That was the last time I felt her move.

The next morning, she seemed so still. I tried everything to wake her. I poked. I drank orange juice. I laid down. I thought I felt flutters, but it was probably wishful thinking. Looking back, she actually seemed to list from side to side in my belly – just as if she were dragging. It was an odd and eerie feeling.

My doctor had been on vacation for the two previous weeks, and he called that afternoon just to check on me. He talked to my DH and asked if we had any questions. Grant said that I was a little worried about the lack of movement. The doctor right away got me in for an ultrasound appointment within the hour.

We left the house nervous but hopeful. I recommended to Grant that we pack the car – just in case. I remember walking up the stairs and looking into the nursery thinking, “I pray I have a little one to put in there in a few days. What if I don’t?” I tried to push that thought as far from my mind as possible. “Don’t be ridiculous!” I told myself.

We went to the ultrasound, and the tech examined Elise with my husband out of the room. She then brought him back and said she was going to get her doctor. We were both nervous, but Grant tried to reassure me. It was a very long few minutes.

The doctor came in, and the tech showed him Elise. Grant watched, and he knew that he couldn’t see any activity. The doctor asked Grant to sit down, and he said, “There’s no easy way to tell you this, but I’m not getting any fetal heart activity.” I was completely stunned. I instantly went into denial. I asked him, “How did this happen?” He said, “We could put you through a number of scans to try to find something, but it would just be agony for you. Dr. Teruel has already been called. He’s waiting for you in his office. You should go right there.”

We sped out of that place. Neither of us believed it. How could that happen? I just felt her less than 12 hours before. We heard her heartbeat less than 24 hours before. What happened? We were just in disbelief.

It hit me, however, when I walked into the doctor’s office and I saw the look on every staff member’s face. That look of pity and horror – that was for ME! I couldn’t believe it! We were quickly ushered into the doctor’s private office, and he came in. Then the tears hit. He cried with us. He offered mostly comfort. I needed to know the next step, and I wanted it done as quickly as possible. He said that he would try to schedule an induction for Saturday morning. We called our pastor from the doctor’s office. We needed advice about burial and funeral arrangements. Pastor Brooks was out of the office and would call us as soon as he could.

And then we went home. How I didn’t want to tell my parents!! I wanted to spare them of this horrible sadness. I just couldn’t imagine how it would have made them feel. On the way home, Grant went through the anger stage of grieving. I don’t think I had this stage. His was brief and I ached for him too.

We walked into the house, and I got the box of Kleenex from the downstairs bathroom. I knew this was going to be rough. My mom and dad said a very hopeful, “Well?” And I said bluntly with a choke in my voice, “She doesn’t have a heartbeat.” They, of course, said, “What?!!” And I repeated it.

We all cried. A lot. An awful lot. I started to feel some contractions – maybe false labor from the stress, but maybe not. I lost my mucus plug sometime soon after. We cried more. Lots more. It was very, very hard. My dad and mom were still in denial. I was too a little, but it had time to sink in with me.

The doctor called back with an alternative plan. I could go into the hospital that night and they would use the hormonal suppository (can’t remember what it’s called) to ripen my cervix and prepare for delivery. I wanted to get this done ASAP, especially since I was already cramping (or whatever that was). My mom and dad didn’t know if they should come or not. We both assured them that this was just going to be a lengthy procedure and that they needed to stay at home. Saturday would be the big day.

We ate something quickly with my parents, and I checked into the hospital around 5:30, I think. The registration lady didn’t quite know what was going on, and she unthinkingly said, “We’ve had 17 births yesterday and today! We’re just loaded with babies.” My heart ached, but I knew she didn’t know any better. I just said weakly, “Yes, it must be the full moon.”

Another lady, who obviously knew my situation, came to escort me upstairs. I got the best room they said – the corner room – I’m sure because the noise would be less down there. Terry was my nurse, and she checked me in. She asked me all those questions that they ask and hooked me up to a saline IV. Our pastor and his wife came to help us. It was so nice to see them. Pastor offered to take care of any arrangements with the mortuary and the memorial service.

Then our Dean (Darren Lawson) came with Grant’s boss and his wife (The Dunbars). The Dunbars had lost a two-year old child many years ago, and they still miss her. We had thought of them immediately when our news sunk in. It was especially sweet to see them all because we knew they especially understood the pain.

After our guests left, Terry put in the hormonal suppository to ripen my cervix, and I was less than comfortable. I had to lie flat on my back, and she also injected my IV with a hefty dose of Stadol. And since I had no little one to worry about, I figured the narcotics might as well do me some good. I also wore an external monitor to track my contractions. Soon after she injected the narcotic, Grant’s former teachers and our current choir director (same people) – the Cooks – came to visit. They brought a basket of fruit (which proved to be quite a God-send) and some flowers and a magazine (great for those sitz baths). I frankly don’t remember much of what they said or what I said then. I was really getting loopy. Grant assured me later that I said nothing embarrassing. I hope he’s right. :|

I slept like a stone. I had a few contractions through the night that awoke me, but I went immediately back to sleep right after them. I saw that Grant was uncomfortable in his little chair-cot. Poor dear. I was worried for him too. He told me later that he just wanted to crawl in bed next to me for comfort and to give comfort, but he didn’t think that would work with all the wires and hook-ups.

At 5:30 the next morning, Terry came back to check on my progress. Now, this nurse had large sausage fingers, and I’ve never been so uncomfortable during an exam. It was BAD! She said I was still only a finger-tip dilated but 100% effaced. At least, that’s what I think I heard. I thought, “Yeah, but with THOSE fingertips!” The Stadol was starting to wear off, but not too much.

They started the pitocin drip at 6:00 AM. They told me that I would probably have the baby after supper sometime. Grant got dressed, and the contractions started to get to me. I breathed through them pretty well (hee, hee, hee, hooooo), but it was hard knowing that my little one was already gone. Going through the pain for someone’s little life is one thing. Going through it without that joyous ending is defeating.

I don’t know what time Mr. Epidural walked into my life. I think it was around 8-9 in the morning. I remember that I was getting contractions regularly and that the Stadol was only letting me not anticipate them as much. They still hurt pretty badly. I warned Mr. Epi about my scoliosis, and it didn’t prove to be a problem whatsoever. He injected the numbing stuff first which was supposed to be a burning feeling, but it wasn’t that bad. The hardest part for me was the position they had to put me in. They had Grant come around to that side of the bed, and they wanted me to lean on him, but I wanted to hug him. Couldn’t do that. Wouldn’t work.

Anyway, Mr. Epi gave me a Walking Epidural. I could still move my feet and even my legs somewhat, but the pain was abso-tootly GONE! I loved it. With that and the Stadol I was just fine. Grant said that it was actually a little creepy because I was SOOOOO out of it. I looked so relaxed. But in this situation, this was what I needed. Dr. Teruel broke my bag of waters soon afterward, and I went from 4cm to 8cm in less than an hour. They were all oohed and aahhed over my progress. Dr. Teruel said that things were going much better than planned, and I said, “That’s just what we prayed for,” through my tears.  I thanked God for being so gracious.  And then I went back to drooling.

Ms. Epidural, Mr. Epi’s co-hort, came in afterward and said, “How tall are you?” And I said wearily, “5’6”.” She said, “I’m going to bump up your epidural to 12. Mr. Epidural (not his real name. Can’t remember it.) is a little stingy, but since you’re so tall [What? I’m tall?], I think you need a little extra.” I was grateful for Ms. Epi’s generosity later.
Soon after that 8cm announcement, the Stadol started to wear off, and I was more alert. Grant was glad to have me back because, the poor dear, had been fielding phone calls and visits all morning without me. He’s been a noble, wonderful man throughout all this. I’m so blessed.

I think my nurse was glad for me to be alert too because she wouldn’t stop talking. She didn’t realize that Grant had questions for me about the memorial service and such. Somewhere in all this we decided a few things about Elise’s memorial service. I’ll tell you more about that later. One thing the nurse said is that she has a lot of questions for God when she gets to heaven. The first one is, “Why?” I thought to myself, “My first question is going to be, ‘Okay – Where is she?’” :)

I was quickly at 10cm, and I could feel the contractions before the monitor could detect them – a good situation to be in. The team was assembled, and I started to push. That first push, I burst into tears. You know how they tell you to visualize your labor? Well, I had. But I didn’t visualize it like this. I had been watching A Baby Story for months and was bawling at every birth I saw. Grant and I would always say to each other, “I wonder how we’ll react when our baby is born.” This was just not how I pictured it at all. And I was overwhelmed with grief.

I prayed. Hard. I asked God to somehow help me through this difficult task. I needed to do this one thing for Elise. She needed to be born. This was all I could do for her now. I nourished her for 40 weeks, and she needed to go home after that. But I had one more thing I needed to do. God helped me with this last very difficult task.

I don’t know how long I pushed. Grant can’t remember either. We think around 2 hours. I do know that my arms hurt afterward from pulling up. I do know that it was hard. I do know that Grant was such a wonderful help. He whispered in my ear and held me and kissed me and cried with me. The doctor told him he was a great labor coach. And I knew he would be. He was the best ever.

Between contractions, I absolutely relaxed. I said nothing and didn’t move at all. I tried to utterly focus on my body and my task at hand. It felt good to rest.

The doctor kept assuring me that I could stop pushing anytime. He could offer help. I wasn’t completely worn out yet, and I wanted to try as best I could. He said to Grant at some point, “There’s no point in making this difficult for her.” I knew he was right, but I wanted to give it what I could.

I realized at some point that I was getting tired, and my pushing was getting less effective. I think I may have been a little discouraged at the thought of not hearing a baby’s cry at the end. I told the doctor I was ready for some intervention. The nurse agreed that it was time.

Apparently, my little Elise was a BIG baby, and she needed more space. He got out the vacuum extractor to help move things along. We waited for a contraction. . . . And I pushed, and he pulled. I eeked out, “It HURTS.” She was really pressing on my pubic bone. They stopped and did something or other. They said something about numbing my “bottom” (as they all called it). I said, “It’s not my bottom. It’s my pubic bone.” Grant said they gave me the episiotomy then — 3rd degree. She was HUGE!

Another contraction came, and I pushed and he pulled. Her head was out. And then another contraction with pushing and pulling, and her shoulders came out. That little one had very, very broad shoulders, I’m here to tell you right now. It HURT!!! And then one little push, and my little Elise was delivered.

Immediately, I felt horribly, horribly lonely. My belly felt so empty. And the room was so quiet. Eerily quiet. I heard my nurse Carrie whisper, “She’s perfect! She’s absolutely an angel.” Grant whispered in my ear “It is a girl.” We both hugged and cried and cried and cried. And we kissed and cried lots more.

I delivered the placenta and they took the whole thing (that and the cord and I don’t know what else) to be carefully examined. It took a long while to sew me up because I had that relatively huge episiotomy. Elise was 8lb 6 oz – only a few ounces off from the US prediction. And she was 21” long. She was HUGE!! I knew she was a big baby. I had assumed that such a big baby would be a strong healthy baby too. I wish I had been right.

After I was all clean and sewn, they brought me my baby girl. Everyone is right. Beforehand you don’t think you want to see the baby, but you do. And you really need to. I must say – she was gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful. She looks just like Grant’s mom – tiny bowed lips, slate blue eyes, big eyes, delicate features, reddish eyebrows, and the prettiest curly brown hair you have ever seen! Oh, how I would have loved to watch that hair grow. It was just gorgeous and soft. Her little cheeks were so soft too. She had long fingers and the biggest boats for feet. Her little nails were perfect. She had Grant’s ears too. I was hoping that she had his dimples because that’s one of my favorite things about his smile. But I guess I’ll see that in heaven someday. Her trunk was LOOOOOOOOOONG – very long. And that little bottom I felt moving in my belly felt just right cupped in my hand.

We talked with her. She was still warm. I told her all about the room we had planned for her. I told her about the dresses I made and the things people had bought her. I told her about Cricket (our dog). And all her grandmas and grandpas. I told her about how many people were looking forward to meeting her, and how sad they were that she was gone. We three just talked. Grant held her too, and he was unsure of how he felt about doing that. But he was glad he did. I called the nurse in and asked her to dress Elise in the dress that the hospital provides (volunteers make little dresses for stillborns with blankets and caps). And then I wanted her back for my parents to meet her.

My parents came in, and we all talked. Eventually we had to kick them out again for me to get checked and to make my little potty trip. I didn’t succeed in my peeing task, so they had to empty my bladder. Ho-hum. . . . Then I got my reward of undies! :-D

Soon Elise came back in her pretty pink smocked dress. My mom held her, and she agreed that it helped to bond with this little baby. My dad was too overwhelmed to hold her. We all talked to her and about her. I held her more. My mom and dad switched places with my brother and sister-in-law (they were watching their kids), and Steve and Sarah got to hold her too. Sarah especially cried. Steve took lots and lots of pictures for us. The staff took a whole bunch of Polaroids. We had the hospital photographer take pictures, but those weren’t especially good, frankly. She was starting to look less and less like a baby, and even Grant said that it was starting to hurt him.

So my Mom and Dad said their good-byes to the little one. They kissed her and left. And Grant and I sat down with Elise for our good-byes. We cried a lot. An awful lot. I sang a lullaby to her. I asked Grant if he wanted to pray, but he couldn’t. So I prayed. I had to pray. We thanked God for the little time we had Elise in our lives and for the joy she brought us. I remembered that we were going to dedicate her to God, and we really already had, so this was in God’s plan and for her best and our best. We just had a long talk with God and prayed for wisdom and strength. And we asked Him to hold us very, very close right now. And He has.

Dr. Teruel came in too.  He asked to hold her.  I was so worried that her little head would not be steady.  It was so moving that he loved her too and needed to say goodbye.  He left soon afterward.

We each kissed her. I kissed her once for her Grandma and Grandpa Lewis. She was already cold. We said good-bye. I called the nurse in to take her. I asked for her dress and blanket as keepsakes. They got her hand and foot prints and a lock of that beautiful hair. And she was gone.

That night, my parents came back and we sat and talked. Our dearest friends Anne and John came, and it was kinda funny. Since Grant and I had just had some closure, we ended up comforting Anne and John. I showed Anne her dress and told her what she looked like. We talked about her big hands and feet. And then John asked my Dad about his salvation testimony, and my Dad perked up and told about how he came to know the Lord. I love hearing that story. LOVE IT! And I wanted to hear the LONG version in my father’s voice. It is such a comfort to me to hear Dad tell any story, but that one is so special. It reminded all of us of how God takes care and how He provides a way to His best. It was good to know that life goes on and that all of us are loved by each other and our God.

On Sunday, I could have gone home, but Grant and I decided we should stay. Since my episiotomy was so severe (at least the way the nurses were talking), it seemed best. Grant and I had a nice together time just the two of us. We cried and hugged and laughed and watched really bad movies and played games and cried and talked and hugged and kissed. My sister-in-law came and brought us a big basket of food (which my husband needed), and we all talked and cried some more. My brother came next and we talked and hugged and talked. Emmy, my 5-year-old niece, told her mom (Sarah) that maybe Sarah should share some of her children with Auntie Camille. Sounds like a really sweet sentiment, doesn’t it? Well, we think it was just her way of trying to get rid of her 2-year-old sister Cammie.

Our dearest friends Darrin and Christine (we are blessed with many good friends) came next. We told them the story, and they cried with us and hugged us. It was so sweet to see them. My parents came again, and we all sat and talked. I think by this point we were really healing. My Dad seemed better (I was really worried about him), and Grant and I were doing very well. We all shared stories while I ate the wretched dinner that barely passes for food in hospitals (how can they ruin jello?). Bleh. A couple from our church, the Bartholomews, came to comfort us. They have had 6 miscarriages and 3 living children. It was so nice to see them and pray with them. Grant and I got in a few more good games, and we watched wonderful Andy Griffith episodes as we went to sleep. It was the pickle episode last night – one of my favorites!!!

Monday morning we came home. It was hard. I was waiting for Grant to get out of the shower in the hospital, and I could hear the Doppler heart tones REALLY loud in the room next door. It made me ache. That was the last thing I heard from my Elise, and I couldn’t take it. I went into the bathroom to be with Grant, and he said I should ask the nurse if they could turn it down. I felt so selfish asking that. But she came in right after he and I talked about it, and so I asked. She was so gracious and took care of it right away. It was interesting – the newborn crying didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked hearing it because it reminded me of life. But that heartbeat sound was a little too much right now.

My nursing staff was so wonderful. Most of them graduated from the same school I had. Carrie Angel was my main nurse. She was terrific! She really helped me push right! And Meredith Edmonds was another wonderful nurse who goes to Anne and John’s church. Dr. Teruel was a gem and so careful with me. And even the scrub nurse goes to my brother’s church.
Apparently, the entire city of Greenville knows what I’ve been going through. It’s kinda strange. My brother had someone talk about me (not knowing I was Steve’s sister) at his class Saturday morning. Go figure. They prayed for me all over town. I have just felt the loving arms of God wrap themselves securely around all of us. I am just so blessed. I can’t believe how good God has been.

After lots of talking, here’s what we decided to do about Elise’s memorial. Grant and I have always been a little uncomfortable with current burial practices. We think that they should be more celebratory of life instead of so sad about death. So we’re having a memorial service for Elise on Friday at the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery. My parents and I visited the Gallery on the last day that Elise was alive, and my mom and I spent a long time talking about a particular painting by Mattia Preti, Christ Seating the Child in the Midst of the Disciples (http://www.bju.edu/bjmg/art_gallery/preti/tour.html). We talked about how Christ honors children and respects them as equals to adults. It seemed an appropriate place to remember our baby. The memorial service will be held around this painting to think of Elise in her heavenly home. If she’s anything like her parents, she’s already gotten into several arguments with the Apostles. :)

The service will be closed and short, and our pastor is going to read Ecclesiastes 3. That has been our theme throughout Elise’s life – that God makes all things beautiful in His time – and somehow even this tragedy will be beautiful. I don’t know how, but it is or it will be. I pray that the Lord will allow me to see the beauty in this lifetime.

And afterward, we’ll have a visitation. There will be no “viewing.” I don’t like viewings. I will bring Elise’s dress and blanket and her baby book. I think that will be a good memory. My church is preparing a dinner for the family and friends after the visitation.

We’re getting an autopsy, but I’m not expecting any information from it. I just can’t believe how fleeting her little life was. It honestly feels like it was there one second and gone the next. Where did it go? You see all these stories on TV with heroic doctors rescuing babies from the brink of death. But God just took Elise’s life. Poof! Just like that. What happened to it? I can’t help but remember what Job said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I’ve been sitzing and sitzing. At first it was kinda hard, sitting in that bathroom all alone for 20 minutes, just thinking. But now it’s a good time. It helps me do something for me. Something quiet, and I pray and remember my Elise. I’m taking all the stool softeners and analgesics they gave me, and I’m feeling pretty good. My mother and father and hubby are doting on me, and I had to get scolded once by my mother for cleaning off a spot on the floor that I found. That’s what moms are for—scolding and cleaning.

My milk hasn’t come in yet. It’s been 3 days. I hope it doesn’t, but I realize that it probably will soon.

Grant and I came home Monday. I saw a little baby girl in the lobby of the hospital with dark brown hair, but it wasn’t as pretty and curly as my Elise. It did ache to see her there, but not too much. It was a sweet longing without any bitterness. The Lord is truly helping us.

The crape myrtles were all blooming a brilliant hot pink on the way home. They were just the most vivid I’ve seen yet this season. We were going to plant a crepe myrtle for Elise that would bloom on her birthday. And we still are. But we’re going to bury her ashes underneath it. We want a living tribute to our daughter. Something we could see often and enjoy. Not something tucked away in a cemetery that people would fear to see. We want to celebrate her.

Within the first few minutes of arriving home, Grant and I both found ourselves in the nursery. We hugged and wept for several minutes. It’s such a pretty, happy little room. And it sits waiting to welcome the next new life in our home.

The hospital staff was so wonderful. They were all just a gift from God. They took especially good care of us, and they were so hopeful. Each one said, “We’ll see you here next year, okay? Request us because we love to see our moms come back.” I asked each of them to pray in that regard. I know they will.

So my husband waits downstairs for some together-time with just the two of us. He’s hurting too. We’re both so blessed to have each other. And we both know that. We’ve had a blessed life together, and we’ll continue that happy life. Lord willing, we’ll have someone to share it with soon.

Everything else seems so petty in comparison to losing Elise. Everything. I beg each one of you, hug and adore and kiss those precious lives you hold. They are so delicate and fleeting. Tell each one of them how important they are. And give them an extra hug from their Auntie Camille.

Comments & Responses

13 Responses so far.

  1. […] one sense, it all started when Elise was born. I could probably find things earlier too, but I don’t want to go too far […]

  2. […] is the story of how God brought us all to Him. My favorite re-telling of this story was just after our Elise was born (still). We had all just said good-bye to her — held her, sang her lullabies, admired her perfect […]

  3. […] our daughter Elise was born (still) in 2001, I was so out-of-my-mind overwhelmed that I didn’t bring any clothes for her to the hospital. […]

  4. […] burning brightly. The Candle of Hope. I cobbled together a wreath of velvet leaves I made for Elise’s birth nine years ago and some wool leaves I cut from my old felted sweater. An evergreen of a different […]

  5. […] burning brightly. The Candle of Hope. I cobbled together a wreath of velvet leaves I made for Elise’s birth nine years ago and some wool leaves I cut from my old felted sweater. An evergreen of a different […]

  6. Matt Barnhart says:

    Tears for you three!

  7. […] “See this one? This is a little girl hugging an angel. We got this the Christmas after your sister, Elise was born because she’s in Heaven with Jesus.“ […]

  8. […] proto-raisins. And now it’s got another iteration for the times. I wear it to remember that God makes all things beautiful in His time. And to be thankful that He cares about the cosmically inconsequential things that are important to […]

  9. Camille,
    I just read your # 1 Ebeneezer for the first time. I just couldn’t bear the pain of reading it earlier. You and Grant have been ‘so’ brave. How kind God has been in His comforting and consolation. Is there a kinder person anywhere than our God! NOPE! But some of or wonderful family and friends are pretty special in the kindness department! Barbara Quinn

  10. […] My daughter. Our daughter. Our oldest is ten years old today. […]

  11. […] step, God was there. Each monument reminds me that “the Lord has helped us thus far.” Our daughter’s death stripped away cultural clichés and showed me my Christian colleagues at their very best and God at […]

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