I have this pair of black pajama pants with a whole in the crotch and a frayed hem. My black pajama pants are exactly four years old today. I remember exactly how old my pajama pants are because I remember the exact day I bought them. I remember the exact day I bought them because I remember the events surrounding that day with, often too much, stunning detail.
I found out I was pregnant with James in August of 2007. A few short months later, in January, one of my best friends found out she was pregnant for the third time. Her pregnancy was unplanned. She already had two children, and her marriage was rocky. While it took her awhile to come around, I was elated and started daydreaming of our two babies growing up together.
Her ultrasound was scheduled for the same day as my six week postpartum checkup. We went to the same doctor so after I received the “you may return to normal activities” I waited to find out if she would be having a girl, it would be her first, or another boy. I waited, and waited, and waited, and just as my concern reached the peak where I was going to go back to find out what was going on, she called.
“It’s a girl.”
“Awesome! I was starting to get worried.”
“Yeah, it is taking awhile. They want me to talk to the doctor.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“No. It’s okay. Take the baby home.”
“Call me if you need me.”
I didn’t hear anything from her that night. A mutual friend called me the next day. Something was wrong the baby. I sat on the couch, snuggling my perfectly healthy infant, crying and wondering what to do. Without much thought, I got up, took a quick shower, bundled up the baby, and went to her house.
I did not even call.
I just showed up on her doorstep.
She opened the door and fell into my arms crying.
The next few months were hard. Our doctor was unsure what was wrong, but referred her to a specialist. Unfortunately he had the beside manner of a Attila the Hun. He delivered heartbreaking news in the most brutal manner possible.
“Your baby has developed without a brain. You need to have an abortion.”
No official diagnosis. Nothing. Just, “you need to abort your baby.”
We held onto each other and cried some more.
One day at home she saw a news story about a doctor at Texas Children’s hospital that had performed surgery in utero on a baby with success. Not knowing what was wrong with her baby and with a “I will fight for my child” attitude, she sent the doctor an email. He responded immediately. After speaking with him and his nurse, she phoned me.
“Is there any way you can go with me to Texas Children’s tomorrow?”
I was still on maternity leave and had no idea who I could get to watch James, but I knew I had to be there with her. My neighbor watched the baby for me, and the next day Misty and I drove to Houston. We talked to several different doctors and she had an additional ultrasound, an MRI, and some other tests. Finally they called us back to talk to us.
As we sat in the office holding hands, she was finally given an official diagnosis.
“You’re baby has alobar holoprocensephaly. This has caused her brain to not develop properly. We’re very sorry, but babies with this diagnosis often do not make it full term, and when they do they die shortly after birth.”
The hospital staff could not have been more gracious, kind or understanding. They sat with us and answered every single question we could think of for hours. The nurse even walked us out of the building, and with tears in her eyes, she assured my friend that she could call her anytime.
We cried and laughed all the way home. Laughter would be the only thing that carried us through the next few months. Our ongoing joke was that after the baby was born she would drink a gallon of whiskey.
The next day the head of the neurological department called and asked if we could come back. I once again got my neighbor to babysit and we headed back to Houston. Dr. Clark met with us and talked to us for over an hour about the diagnosis and what was to come. He also told my friend that the decision was hers to make, but if she chose to have the baby he would take her as a patient if she lived. He gave us hope.
My friend came home and started planning a funeral. She decided to keep the baby, but even with the extremely slight chance of hope we were given by Dr. Clark, she knew that the numbers were not in her favor.
She called me the afternoon of September 5th, 2008.
“Jennifer, it’s time. I went to the doctor today and they could not find a heartbeat.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“We don’t have an outfit picked out for her yet. It’s the only thing I haven’t been able to do.”
“I’ll do it. I’ll meet you at the hospital as soon as I can.”
I left work and did not even go home. I went to Target and picked up a few things I would need for the hospital, including a pair of black pajama pants so that I could change out of my work clothes. Next I went to the nicest department store in town and purchased the smallest pink dress with smocking and a bonnet I could find. It looked just like the dress I brought Cady home in from the hospital. Lastly, I went to the liquor store and bought a gallon jug of Crown Royal.
They induced her that evening and she labored through the night. The next morning, with me on one side and her husband on the other, she delivered her stillborn baby. It was the first time I had ever been in the delivery room outside of having my own two children. No words can express the wrongness of a baby born without a cry.
Afterward, I looked at Alexis in her pink dress with the smocking on the front and the tiny bonnet nestled in the bassinet. She looked like perfection. I rested my hand on her back and said goodbye to a baby I loved that never had a chance to live.
As more and more family arrived, I hugged my friend and quietly left. I drove home with tears streaming down my face. The rest of the weekend was spent with my James in my lap and Cady snuggled to my side.
I still wear those black pajama pants. Even though they have a whole in the crotch and a frayed hem.