Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Birthday that Never Was

It's here again, February 7th, the anniversary of what would have been Christian Athanasius' due date.

It's always strange to me how I can spend the second half of January dreading this day and then somehow find myself surprised when it actually arrives. 

This morning I found myself sitting next to James' bassinet, with those hard days in late 2011 playing across my mind. 

For those of you who weren't along for the ride back then, I'll offer a quick recap (okay, we can pretend that's the reason, but the real reason is writing is how I process things and I'm not sure you ever really finish processing something like this... at least I'm not sure I will...). 

In May 2011 we found out that we were expecting our third child.  We were thrilled.  The baby and Mae would have only been 18 months apart and we were incredibly excited.  Things went along smoothly for the most part.  We were getting ready to move down to Ave Maria Law School that fall, and my doctor didn't like to see patients before 12 weeks, so I didn't go to my OB.  I figured that I would find one quickly when we moved to Florida, just after the start of the second trimester. 

When I was eight weeks pregnant, on Maggie's birthday, we went out to eat at a restaurant and I came home with food poisoning.  It was pretty intense and I made an appointment to see my regular doctor.  She confirmed that I was pregnant with a test and said to drink a lot of Gatorade, I would be fine. I asked if I needed any tests or medications since I was pregnant and I knew certain types of food poisoning could be bad for the baby, but she assured me that it wasn't necessary. 

I recovered a few days later and at 13 weeks I helped Paul pack up the truck and kissed him goodbye as he left for Florida.  The girls and I would be flying out with my parents a few days later. 

Not long after he left the spotting started.  I had a sinking feeling.  I went to the local ER, at our tiny hospital in the mountains, and the doctor told me that at thirteen weeks it was unlikely that anything was wrong.  Spotting happens frequently.  I didn't have anything to worry about, but they would do an ultrasound. 

The ultrasound tech was solemn as he looked for a heartbeat.  And I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the little heartbeat, blinking across the screen. 

The doctor came back in, his cheerful demeanor changed.  I was wrong on my dates. I had to be.  The baby was measuring eight weeks.  I didn't explain that if I as only eight weeks along than I would have had a positive pregnancy test two weeks before the baby was conceived. 

Regardless of the date, the baby's heartbeat was too slow and he would inevitably pass away in the coming days.  It didn't matter if I flew to Florida.  It wouldn't make a difference to the baby's survival. 

Two weeks later, alone in a hospital room in Florida, I delivered Christian Athanasius and performed a conditional baptism.  It was the Feast of the Assumption, Paul's birthday and his first day of law school.  It was also the worst night of my life. 

In a way though, moving past the miscarriage wasn't going to be able to begin, because I was about to become very sick.  We discovered that it was very, very difficult to find a doctor who would take on a patient in the middle of a miscarriage. 

The doctor that I was referred to was legally required to take me on as a patient (according to the hospital when I was discharged), but his office neither answered the phone or returned my calls (I was later told he was actually a concierge doctor).  I called around.  No one wanted to take me on.  So I kept getting very, very sick.  I went to the ER, again and again.  I finally got in to see the head of Obstetrics after a worried ER doctor called him on his personal line and asked him to see me.  He did. He thought I was crazy and told me everything was in my head

Finally we found a NaPro doctor who took my case and saved my life.  She discovered that my uterus was still "full of debris" and had been for nearly three months.  When Misoprostol didn't work she performed a D&C, almost three months after the bleeding had started.  I was put on some heavy duty antibiotics.  And I finally started to get better.  And we were finally able to begin to heal, although in the beginning there was quite a bit of fear about whether we would be able to have more children after three months of "retaining debris." 

When I went to see her and she confirmed Patch's pregnancy, the look of relief on her face told me that she had been just as worried as I had been about the possibility of permanent damage having been done in the wake of the miscarriage.  And after a worry filled pregnancy (I spotted four times with Patch) we welcome Patrick Xavier nine months and one day after Christian's due date.

Alright, I think we've proven that I'm incapable of a short summary of what happened.  Brevity is not one of my gifts. 

A few days ago Paul asked me if I ever think about what Christian would have looked like.  I turned the question over in my mind.  I haven't.  Not really.  I've tried to, but whenever I do I find myself back in the emergency room with the doctor assuring me that his death was for the best because it appeared that he would have been seriously deformed. 

Every time I've tried to picture him, the doctor's words would come back, transforming my biggest little boy into some sort of a monster. 

I told Paul that and he shook his head and said "No, if he hadn't been sick."  

No.  I haven't really been able to do that.  The words, which made me so angry at the time, which made me want to shout that of course I still wanted him... that it didn't soften the blow a bit, have always been there when I think of him, pushing their way to the front of my mind. 

These last few days, when the thought passes through my mind I try to push aside those words and think of what he would have looked like if he hadn't lived in our imperfect, fallen world.  Because sometimes, when I'm sitting on the couch holding James, watching the other three play, I find myself almost able to picture him there, a little smaller than Maggie but bigger than Patch, rough housing with his little brother, or jumping on the trampoline with Mae. 

Sadie's asked me if we can make cupcakes today and have a party for her brother.  She wants a feast to celebrate "my brother who's a saint in heaven."  And so I will try to put these thoughts aside and celebrate the little life that we were blessed to have with us for a short time, this side of heaven and when I go to bed tonight I will breath a sigh of relief that this day has passed for another year.


  1. Interesting. I had a second pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage that was termed a "missed abortion". I also had food poisoning (or something similar) around 6 weeks; had brown spotting (sorry if TMI) that eventually changed to red and I miscarried at 11 weeks. There was no ultrasound basically because it was in 1987 and they didn't do them a lot back then. I got pg almost immediately after and had a pg that had two lots of quite copious bleeding resulting in a 41 week pg and a healthy baby boy. (he's 26 now) I never had the 'retained fragments" but maybe it was something to do with the previous csec? I do think of the due date: June 4 sometimes. In my case it was also a weird pg because I never felt totally pg and my breasts didn't change as much as with the other ones. Fortunately for both of us; we went on to have healthy babies! Maybe it's still sad but I think it helps.

    1. I think you're right and that it definitely has helped with the healing. I think that if I'd ended up being infertile as a result I would have been really, really angry at all of the doctors who told me I was fine and that nothing was wrong... and that it would have been really hard for me to let go of that. And I do wonder if the retaining stuff was because of the two previous C-sections and the fact that my contractions don't seem to be particularly affective since the second one.

  2. I'm thinking of you today, and pray you'll find a sense of true peace about the loss of Christian. God gave him to you, but took him before you could see or hold him. But he is real and truly alive. Sorrow now, joy forever in heaven. I'm sure he'd be a beautiful boy, just like the rest of your kids. Sometimes God's plans don't make sense to us, and looking in the purely flesh bound way, we cannot imagine why such a tragedy would be ours to bear. You have five kids; four here, and one in heaven.

    I love Sadie's idea, that he should have a "feast day" which is his due date. Since it will always fall before Lent (I think!), it is kind of a neat thing, maybe just a mention every year, with cupcakes on the day, to celebrate the life of Christian Athanasius Wollner. That Sadie has such great ideas sometimes!

    God bless you. Don't mourn too hard today. Realize he enjoys the beatific vision, something we all long for. ~ Bonnie

    1. Thank you Bonnie! After we lost the baby I was talking to the priest at the parish we were attending and he said "we don't always know why things happen, but sometimes I think that they might happen to help us long for heaven a little bit more, to try harder so that we might someday see the ones we love again" (or something along those lines). Sometimes I like to think of it that way.

      And Sadie made cupcakes and had everyone sing happy birthday and was absolutely delighted to think of her brother who's a saint... which is such a lovely change, because when we first lost him she was absolutely crushed, so it's been amazing to see how that sadness has been transformed into joy at the thought of him in heaven over the past three years.

  3. I am so sorry. I miscarried many times. My latest was at 4.5 months. I still remember bits and pieces, but honestly I'm too sensitive, so God has helped me forget a little bit. I know - that may sound awful. But it was the only way I could survive. I just can't think about it all.
    I just try to love the one I finally was blessed with. For me, if I do it any other way, I would spiral into depression at the "only having one" thing... Sigh.

    Anyway - know that I am praying. What a precious story. I picture him as the best combination of all your children.


    1. Prayers for you too Em! And that doesn't sound like being awful, it sounds like a blessing, like you said. Sometimes I think in the days right before the 7th I have a tendency to forget, because as it gets closer it hurts more and so usually for some reason the days before are just a blur and somehow I'm surprised when it actually arrives. Thank you for your prayers and I'll keep you in mine!

  4. Thank you for writing about Christian, Cammie. I read your post yesterday evening in the ER, while probably miscarrying our own 5th child. The staff at Sparrow were kind, and also optimistic about my chances of keeping the baby, which was still visible on the ultrasound but measuring small and too young for a heartbeat. I appreciate that they would be happy about this hope, as they see it, even though knowing what I do about my dates and the amount of bleeding I experienced I don't see how the baby could survive. I will offer up our time of waiting to pray for your family today, though it is one day late.

    1. On no Anna! I'm so, so sorry! We'll be praying for you and your family.

  5. *hugs*

    You've been in my thoughts the last day or two; I hope that as the years pass you gain ever more peace about the whole situation.

    I'm sorry. I wish I had something I could say that could bring you more healing than a rather feeble "I'm sorry," but that's all I have. :(

    1. Thank you Katherine! I really think all the prayers that have been said for us have helped more than anyone can ever imagine.


I love comments and I read every single comment that comes in (and I try to respond when the little ones aren't distracting me to the point that it's impossible!). Please show kindness to each other and our family in the comment box. After all, we're all real people on the other side of the screen!