My Birth Story.

It took us a year of trying to get pregnant and we went to a fertility doctor where we had to take some medication for us to be successful. When we finally were, it was the best moment of our entire lives. We kept it to ourselves until Christmas, when we told our parents who were SO happy. We then started telling friends and family and it was the brightest part of our life.

We had many ultrasounds and appointments where everything was perfect. We were considered very low risk and that the baby was extremely healthy and we were told “there’s basically no risk that anything goes wrong moving forward”. So we felt like everything was safe and started planning our future, Leland’s life, shared on social media, started on the nursery, picked out everything for our registry, started planning the baby shower…

We then went on our babymoon when I reached 19 weeks and the first stop was Tanzania. I was so scared of the very low risk of malaria from mosquito bites and focused on staying safe (which I did).

On the third day, I started feeling a bit uncomfortable. It felt like the gas pains/cramps I’d been having the whole pregnancy, nothing too bad. We went to dinner and I kept having the pains. I told Danny how they seemed more regular and I was a little scared it was contractions. But then I laughed it off since I know how I overanalyzed everything with the pregnancy.

We went to our room and played games in bed. The pain kept coming but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle. We went to sleep and I woke up multiple times in the night to the pain but would fall back asleep.

I woke up to a rush of liquid coming out. It would not stop. I screamed for Danny and jumped out of bed as it kept coming out at a high rate. I ran to the bathroom screaming I was losing him over and over as Danny scrambled to figure out what to do.

A sense of calm came over me and I directed Danny to get dressed, grab our passports, get to the front desk and find us a way to the hospital. I lost that calm and I called my mom crying and saying I was losing him.

Danny stumbled barefoot to the main building while trying to pull clothes on in complete fear. He came back and said they were calling us a taxi and we had to go. I grabbed last minute things and left clutching a towel to me as I kept leaking.

We frantically tried calling our doctors here in Chicago, but the call kept failing and we were panicking. They rushed us to a man who seemed to be in charge of the hotel, Cameron, who said he would drive us there and this man was the most amazing person and truly saved us time and time again. We will never be able to repay him.

Cameron had only been working at this hotel for a couple of months, but him and his partner tried to find a private hospital for us as fast as possible. They took us to the first one that came up. But when we walked in we were instantly terrified. Everything was broken and dirty. The men working were young and could not understand me when I tried over and over to explain that my water broke and I was having the baby. They kept smirking at me and laughing. Danny and I truly feared for my life at this point, until Cameron ran into the room and said we were leaving. He grabbed me and guided me out despite their protests and back into the car profusely apologizing and they drove as fast as possible to the next hospital. We were weaving around motorbikes and cars and no one drove with any sort of rules. 

When we finally got to the REAL private hospital, we felt instant relief. There was a real waiting area, it seemed clean, the signs were clear, it felt like I had a chance here. They brought us straight into the ER and a doctor who spoke perfect English came up to us and helped calm us. But he confirmed what we already knew – the baby was coming and he would not make it. We waited in this ER room for a couple of hours while they gave me an IV of fluids and pain meds. At one point, I needed to go to the bathroom and they told Danny to go in with me and gave me rubber sandals instead of using my own shoes. This made sense when we walked in and the floor was covered in liquid and dirt and the toilet was a hole in the ground. My clothes were already covered in all of my amniotic fluid and blood, and this made me feel even more disgusting. And at no point was I offered a gown. I had to spend the hospital stay in the clothes that I lost Leland in. While here, every time someone saw me cry they would say “don’t cry, everything is fine” when it clearly wasn’t.

I then went to an ultrasound while Danny waited in the ER. I was wheeled past many men and women who stared at me with disapproval. I was a white woman, blonde hair showing, wearing pajamas with no bra, all in a conservative, Muslim country. Once in the ultrasound I had to go into a small curtained off room with a bed covered in dirty sheets and a dirty pillow. The ultrasound was very hard to see as it seemed very dated, but while laying there I heard his heartbeat for the last time. Leland was there, he was alive, and soon he wouldn’t be.

I was then wheeled back to Danny thankfully, and they took us to the private room we booked. We couldn’t imagine going through this without that on top of all that we were experiencing. Once we made it to the room, the nurse told Danny that he had to go get me some food. They don’t serve food at the hospital, don’t have a cafe, and it was Ramadan so everything was closed. A “customer service representative” for the hospital came and said he would take him on his moped. I was absolutely terrified of him leaving me, and so was he, but they insisted. He left on this moped for what seemed like forever as they went to a hotel to get something. Danny said that he man was so slow and even asked him to wait while he got some food for himself too. No one seemed to care about what was going on. And everyone still kept saying “stop crying you are fine.”

While he was gone, I felt the need to go to the bathroom. I was texting my mom about how scared I was to go to the bathroom without him there, no nurses in sight, but eventually I decided I had to. While in the bathroom, the worst thing imaginable happened. I felt him start to come out. 

I hobbled to the door screaming for help and said the babies coming. They said they would get someone. I laid back in bed with part of him coming out, and no one came. I texted Danny telling him to rush while I sobbed. He got back and still, no one came.

A nurse eventually came in and asked what was happening which I explained again. We got an “oh, okay. Well the doctor will be here soon.” And it took 20 minutes and no doctor until they finally said they were taking me to labor and delivery. And the worst part of this was Danny could not come. Being a Muslim country, men could not be in the room (which was not a private room) and the feeling I got here was that it was odd for him to even care. I was so so scared to do this alone. I was losing Leland and had to go through it alone.

Again, I was wheeled past the same judgmental propeller people as I cried and hung my head. They put me in a dirty room with three beds (mine seemed to have been previously used) and two women on either side of me who stared at me the whole time. And one of them was holding a baby. I sat there while they just did nothing for ten minutes and decided I could go into the other room to birth him.

When I went into this room it felt like a horror movie. Everything was old and dingy. The “beds” to give birth were chairs with stirrups and a bucket to catch things. There was no one else in the room, thankfully, but it was terrifying. I was crying and shaking. As I sat in the chair the nurse came up to me and patted my head and told me not to cry. Again. I felt alone and was already feeling shamed by this nurse, which would only get worse. As I sat there not being told anything I was so confused. I have never given birth before, I don’t know what to do. She just stood by my side staring at nothing. I finally asked what do I do? And she said “we wait.” She then put something into my IV, and I asked what it was. I couldn’t understand what she said besides the word “contractions”, so I assumed it was to bring in contractions. I had been having cramps but nothing intense before this. 

The cramps intensified and I kept asking “what do I do? When do I push??” and she would simply say “when you feel like it.” I was so scared and confused and alone. Finally I said “ok I want to push.” I did not feel an urge to push other than my mind saying I needed to do this and end this horrifying part. So she said okay and got her gloves and got ready. I started trying to push with all of my might whenever I felt cramps. It worked, and I began to see him. However, while I was doing this the nurse openly shamed me, my body, and what I was doing. I won’t go into details on this, but it made this incredibly traumatic experience so much worse and harder to go through with. I didn’t want to push because of her while knowing I had to keep going and it was horrible.

Eventually, I looked down and I saw his body. At this point, his head was stuck. I couldn’t do it. I kept trying and nothing. I kept asking her “what do I do?” and should would just say “keep going.” Another nurse walked in at this point and started talking to the nurse helping me about something. They were just chit chatting while Leland was hanging out of my body. The other nurse came over, patted my head, and said “don’t cry”. Again. Then a few minutes later a male doctor walked in and was smiling and laughing. Talked to the nurse and she was laughing back. Meanwhile, Leland is halfway out of my body. I was in shock. I then looked down, and I saw his chest moving. His heart was beating. I couldn’t believe what was going on in this moment. 

Eventually, the nurse tried to manually help his head get out while I did everything I could. But to be honest, I never felt what I thought true contractions would feel like. I never felt the “urge to push”. I just wanted to end the pain Leland was going through. So I did it. I delivered him and watched them cut the umbilical cord. His heart wasn’t beating anymore. When they took him I was so scared they were taking him away and asked where he was going, but they placed him in a clear bin beside me in some gauze. I just stared at him for a really long time. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.

I then remembered I would have to deliver the placenta. I asked if I should push and they said “if you want to.” I thought that this was an important part, so I pushed and pushed until I delivered it. Looking back with what I know now, I realize exactly how important it was that I did this and didn’t need additional help.

As I was getting cleaned up I asked if he would be able to come with me and they said yes, which gave me some relief. I needed Danny to see him. I then begged for my phone which another nurse had brought down and I texted Danny that I was done and okay. I was so worried about him just waiting and having no idea what was going on while I gave birth in this strange place. 

The nurse then told me she was getting a shower ready for me there in the room, so I waited. She wanted to make sure the water was warm enough. Once she said it was good, she came to get me. I walked with her over to the room leaving a large trail of blood along the way. I walked into a room with a sink, a toilet, and a bucket, but no shower. She had me remove my shirt and sit on the toilet completely naked. She then took a cup and poured water over me from a bucket and asked me to clean myself. The words to how I felt in this moment escape me, but it was a new low for me.

After this, the nurse wrapped a sheet around me, had me put my top back on, and handed me the rest of my bloody clothes. I was put in a wheelchair and she started to wheel me away, without Leland. I knew that I needed to advocate for this or I’d regret it the rest of my life. I stopped her and asked if he was coming with me. She said “oh you want the baby?” And I said “yes.” So she then took Leland, wrapped in gauze, and placed him into a cardboard box for syringes that was falling apart. I clutched him to me as I was brought back upstairs to Danny.

Once I was back with Danny I felt some relief. I needed him so badly. I was back in my bed and we cried together for a while. We just couldn’t believe that this was our life. We have always had such a good life, always been so lucky. We couldn’t believe that this happened to us. I asked Danny if he wanted to see him and he said yes, so I opened the box. 

Leland was perfect. About 9 inches long, 10.5 oz. He looked like a baby. Had tiny fingers and toes. He had eyebrows. And such long legs. We talked about how he was gonna be tall! We always said how our babies would be short. We talked about the sports he would have played, the life he would have lived. It was so incredible painful, yet also filled with so much love at the same time.

After this, the doctor and the customer service rep came into the room. They said that we would need to bury him and that the CS rep would take Danny to do that. Without me. Danny and I looked at each other and knew that this wasn’t an option. So they said they would give us some more time and come back. I started to panic because I could not be stuck in this hospital while something like that happened. And I realized I could not leave Leland buried in this country at all. We decided we wanted to cremate him so we got on our phones and began researching. We found 1 cremation facility on the island and it wasn’t too far, so we told the doctor that’s what we wanted to do. She said she would have the place call us.

In Tanzania, cremation is a Hindu practice only. It is not done anywhere else. When the man called Danny, he said he would come to the hospital to explain everything to us. He arrived, and quickly realized that the cremation was for our baby. He said “Oh… we cannot do that. In our religion, we cannot cremate anyone younger than 18 years old. It is against our religion.” We asked him if there was anywhere else and he said no, there is no other facility that isn’t Hindu. I felt so broken at this point because this was the second time religion was getting in our way and I knew I could NOT leave him here.

I became frantic and desperate. I needed to find a solution. He couldn’t be left behind. I finally realized we needed to call the US Embassy. This was NOT an easy or quick process. We called many times. We were told we would get calls back and never did. Danny had to push so hard and eventually the operator completely hated him and wouldn’t even speak, and would just transfer him. 

The Embassy had a funeral home that they worked with who we came into contact with. We told him that we wanted Leland cremated and what our issues were. He said he would call around and figure something out. Eventually, he told us that Leland would have to be shipped to the mainland and he could be cremated there. I finally felt relieved and some men came to the hospital to bring Leland to the morgue with Danny. After we spent a long time with Leland and took photos to always remember him, he took Leland away. This is when I started to feel the true emptiness. The life I had created was just gone.

After this, I had to stay in the hospital for the night which was really difficult for me. I slept a couple of hours, didn’t eat, and I just wanted out of there. In the morning, we called the funeral home again and found out that there was no way to have him cremated in the entire country. It felt like another layer of devastation that I couldn’t handle and I completely broke. I needed Leland to come home with us. I sobbed and begged them to find a way. I asked if we could take his remains back with us and we were told no because since he was a “fetus”, he was considered “organs”. But the man we were in contact with at the funeral home knew how important this was to us and was so helpful. He tirelessly called all of his contacts and somehow convinced the hospital to give us a death certificate, which they had refused to us because of how far along I was, and told us that he was able to come home. The relief I felt after this whole rollercoaster was so intense and I cried tears of joy for the first time. We set things up with a cremation service that was near our home to pick him up from his flight for us, and we would receive his ashes from them.

After this was sorted, multiple doctors came in to see me. They had all of my information wrong and had no idea what I actually went through. They then told me I had to stay another night. I started to panic because all I wanted to do was leave. I asked them multiple times about leaving and they finally said if my ultrasound looked okay I could go with antibiotics in pill form. 

After this, we had to wait another couple of hours and I was taken to the ultrasound room. Again, I was wheeled past the many people judging me. I laid on the dirty bed again, telling myself it was almost over. The ultrasound tech didn’t say a word to me and when I asked if everything was okay they said the doctor will let me know. I was taken back to my room and the doctor came a while later to tell me that I had “tiny tiny bits of placenta left” so I needed to take a pill in front of her and then I could leave. I happily took it and started to prepare to go home. 

After this, I had to go to the bathroom. When I was there my body started to shake uncontrollably. Danny said it look like I was having a seizure. Mentally, I was all there, but I could not stop shaking. I looked up the pill to find out it was an abortion pill and the shaking was a side effect. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to leave, but the doctor said it was a known side effect so I could go. 

Thankfully, Cameron from the hotel made this process so much easier. They comped the night we were in the hospital and gave us a night in a new, beautiful room so I wouldn’t have to relive my experience in the old room. He also set up our driver to come pick us up. As we drove back, I realized I hadn’t even looked out of the windows once on our way to the hospital and hadn’t realized what it even looked like there.

Once we got to the hotel, I laid down and began to feel the cramping. This cramping was worse than the labor contractions by far. It was awful. At this point it started to feel like as soon as one thing was over, another terrible thing happened. Despite how comfortable we were at the hotel, I just wanted to get home. I did, however, finally start to eat. Fruit seemed to be the only thing I actually wanted, but it was something. 

After spending many hours cancelling the rest of our trip (or at least attempting to), we then booked our flight home. We decided to do business class because of the pain I was in, which was a difficult decision for me. I felt like all of this was my fault and I did not deserve to spend more money for my own comfort. I cannot count the amount of times I said sorry to Danny. He never once made me feel like I needed to, he did the exact opposite, but it kept bubbling up in me and I would just tell him how sorry I was over and over. We finally went to sleep that night and I actually got rest.

The next day we woke up and I decided I needed to spend some time outside. To be honest, at this point we both felt relief. The weight of what happened seemed to be lifted for that day and we were just happy to be going home. We comforted each other and sat in the sun. Then we watched the last sunset in the place where our sun was born, before we left the next day.

Our last day in Tanzania was when my breasts started to swell and hurt. The pain this brought me both physically and emotionally was greater than I could have expected. It was another reminder of how I had a son who wasn’t alive and with me. The pain started to increase through the day and when we got to the airport it felt unbearable. Danny called our doctors and explained, and they told me to prevent an infection I would have to hand express some milk. I had to go into the bathroom stall of the small airport lounge and do that myself. I sat on the toilet crying, googling how to do it right, and completely failing. I was in pain, having to deal with this, and nothing felt fair. Meanwhile, women were lining up outside getting mad that someone was in the stall for so long and I was so embarrassed. And on top of this, I was dealing with the pain and bleeding of the miscarriage itself.

This embarrassment continued onto the plane where I had to ask the flight attendant for ice packs. She kept asking why and I finally pointed to my breasts. She seemed to think I had work done or something because she was not kind once I said that. When she finally brought them much later, I started to cry and told her I would need some time in the bathroom and it might take a while because I had just lost my baby. Her face completely changed and she said she would do whatever to help, and did bring some tissues. I then had to try to express while on the plane every couple of hours. I was able to get extremely small amounts out, but enough that I wasn’t in constant, overwhelming pain. 

On our layover, we had access to an extremely nice lounge that had showers. I lucked out and got the last available shower room as soon as we arrived. I spent a long time crying in the shower, bleeding, attempting to express more. I texted my mom and my friends, who had been an amazing support system, just crying about everything and how unfair it all was. Finally, when I was done, Danny and I got some food and then found some sleeping pods for a nap.

The next flight was pretty uneventful and I did not have to express anymore. We spent time reading and watching a movie. This was the first time a trigger happened, where the characters discussed a baby they had lost. I had to take the headphones off and stop. I couldn’t handle it. 

When we got home my mom was there to pick me up. Danny had let her know I was having a really hard time on the plane and I wouldn’t want to talk about it immediately, so we got in the car after a long hug and made some jokes about the flight. We got to my parents house to our first of many shows of support from our friends and family. Our parents and one of my best friends, Amy, had supplied bags and bags and coolers full of food for us. Weeks worth of supplies. It was absolutely incredible. 

The support didn’t end there, and we received many flowers, home cooked meals, cards, very thoughtful gifts, and more from our support system. I didn’t realize we had so many people that cared about us. Truthfully, I’ve felt pretty alone all my life, and this made me realize that’s not the case at all. It was overwhelming, but in the best way.

We went to our doctors right away after being told we should based on how and where everything happened. This led to our first bad experience at this doctor’s office with someone we had not seen before. She said she didn’t know why we were there and told us that there was nothing we could do to prevent in the future. When I asked if I was at risk of it happening again, she said “oh definitely”. Leaving that appointment, we lost all hope we had left and felt destroyed. 

After that, I spent every waking moment researching. I tried to find anyone like me out there and it honestly was a lot harder than I thought. I found others who had gone into labor early, but not like I did. That is why I wanted to share this story. To help anyone else who is looking.

For the next week, it was pretty uneventful. Danny stayed home and we spent that time comforting each other, crying, and feeling guilty for any moments where we felt happy. We talked nonstop, including making up a whole life for Leland and what he would have been like. And then I started to feel more pain. I went back to the doctor and had some ultrasounds done. I was told I had retained placenta and I had to have a D&C. This was probably because I didn’t feel “true” contractions and basically just pushed everything out myself. I have never had surgery or been under anesthesia, so I was terrified. And after looking up the potential for scarring which can cause future miscarriages, I was even more scared.

I went in for the operation and I was so incredibly scared, but Danny was there for me. The machine was measuring my heart rate and you could hear it go down whenever I was looking at him. He stayed until the second I fell asleep from the anesthesia.

When I woke up, I was told everything went really well. She said she didn’t really have to scrape and she does not think I am at risk for scarring. After this, I bled lightly for about a week, but I felt more like my normal self and it felt good. It was sad to not feel any of the pregnancy left anymore, but good to be able to move forward and not have one thing after another. Later that week we were notified we could pick up Leland’s ashes. 

Picking up his ashes was very emotional. The reminder was back, but this one was in a good way. He was home with us and we would always have him there. It felt good, but also led us to think of all the things we thought we would be able to do with him and can’t. 

Since then, we have focused on therapy (with a therapist focused on loss), spending time with each other, keeping me healthy, and how to move forward while never forgetting Leland. 

If you are one of the 1% that has to go through something like this, I hope finding someone like you in this story has helped. Please reach out to me if you need any support and I will be your sounding board. And if you know someone that is going through something like this, my advice is to let them know you love them while also allowing some space. Check in regularly and don’t forget about them as time goes on, because it does feel like the world goes on while you are still living in your grief. And food was extremely helpful for us because it was one less thing to worry about. 

This was the most devastating thing that will happen in our entire life, so I wanted to thank everyone who helped us. Our friends, family, online community, anyone reading this – thank you. We appreciate you. We love you.

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