My next nurse, Stephania, then took us back to the delivery room, where we would spend the rest of our time. She was so kind and soothing to me. She got me all situated, started my IV beautifully and prayed with me and Peter on my hospital bed. I honestly don’t remember what led to that prayer, but it happened so naturally. I also don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was good and was a reassuring start to know that a believer would be with us until 7 pm that night, until change of shift. They started to induce me with Pitocin around 3 pm that day. Due to this horrific situation, I was immediately transitioned from the care of my midwives to the physicians. Yet, my kind midwifes checked on me throughout the entire hospital stay and kept me informed and comforted. One of my midwives told me that at the very best, from the start of induction to delivery, would be at least 12 hours but to brace for 24 hours. I was preparing for the worst, even though “worst” seemed irrelevant given the news we received hours earlier.
Our daytime doctor checked me and said that amazingly, at 36 weeks and 4 days, I was already 3 cm dilated and 70% effaced.Because I was already dilated, they could skip the initial induction drug and go straight to Pitocin. Stephania, standing by my side, looked at me and said, “See, God is looking out for you. This may go quicker than we thought.” She was right. God was looking out for us.
I felt God with me. He was with us.
By this time, some of our siblings were also with us. Josh, Peter’s brother, had arrived first, and I was so glad he was there, especially for Peter. Holly was in DC at the time we had called her with the news of Charlotte, visiting a dear friend. We later found out that she literally ran a mile from the capitol to her car and drove back to Richmond in record time to be with us. Danny, Holly’s husband, came so quickly from Williamsburg, which was such a blessing. They all brought us food (Chick fil a of course), went to our place to feed our dog, Annie, and to get us some clothes and toiletries. Then, they all just stayed in the hospital room with us. What courage for each of them to linger in that room, in that darkest of moments. That’s family.
My parents were already on their way from Pittsburgh on the six hour drive. I also found out later that some of my mom’s friends were with her when we broke the news to her. Her friend’s helped her pack a bag before jumping in the car to drive to Richmond to be with us. I was so glad to know she wasn’t alone after hearing the news. My mother-in-law was at work when we tried calling her. When we talked to Peter’s dad, the first who heard the news and prayed with us on the phone, he told us Pete’s mom was at work. Pete looked at the find my friends app a little later and saw that his dad went right away to pick up his mom. She then caught a flight from Iowa to Virginia and would get in around 10 am that next morning. Caleb, Peter’s youngest brother, was starting school the next day and thus, neither Caleb nor Peter’s dad were able to come right away. I really felt for them and missed them. But gosh, how they were with us in spirit. I remember sitting in the hospital room when Peter’s phone rang. It was Caleb. Caleb is 16. Peter answered the phone, “Hey Cabe.” “Hey Pete,” he said. Then there was a pause. “I love you.” That was all Caleb could get out. “I love you too, Caleb. Thanks for calling,” Peter said, struggling to get out the words. It was this raw, sincere moment that spoke volumes of Caleb’s heart and maturity.
Pete and I sent out texts to our closest friends, informing them of the news and asking them to pray for us. My really good friend, Abby, who lives in town, came right to the hospital after receiving the news. Abby had texted me and Peter if she could come and be with us but I didn’t see the text until later nor did I respond. Yet, she still came. I loved that she came without me having to answer or ask.
Abby’s one of those types of friends that come by once in a special while. Her husband, Steve, came home from work to watch their daughter, Nora, so Abby could come be with us. When they had Nora about a year earlier, I remember I was at work that day and knew Abby was in labor. I had this funny feeling that she had had the baby so on my lunch break, without asking her or Steve, I walked right on up to the labor and delivery unit (the same one I was currently on) and saw beautiful Nora, who had just been born. We still laugh about how I barged in that day. I loved that despite the difference in circumstances, Abby barged right in on our grief. It takes a special friend to enter into your darkest moments. I remember she crawled into the hospital bed with me and sobbed by my side. As Peter explained, it was good for me to have a friend there like that for me to let loose on. Abby told me how sorry she was and how she wished she could take it all away. And she just stayed around. Her presence was so comforting.
What felt like soon after, my parents arrived from Pittsburgh. Instead of coming to the hospital to meet their alive and active granddaughter, they were coming to console and support me in Peter as we delivered our lifeless little girl. I can’t imagine what their drive must have been like. Having my parents there to witness it all pained me as I wished it was just so different, like I know everyone was feeling. But it was also overwhelmingly uniting to have them present with us as they shared in our devastation.
Then, we all just waited. My contractions were noticeable but nothing worse than bad menstrual cramps. I was able to walk around (mostly to the bathroom), talk (though I didn’t have much to say) and eat (though I had zero appetite but forced myself to eat and drink). The feeling in the hospital room was odd. The room was full of family, love and support yet also full of anguish, earthly death and confusion. But through it all, I knew our Savior was undoubtedly present. He was the most present of all. Gosh, if I could only explain better with words how gracious the Holy Spirit was to us in the hospital, if I could only put this on paper. Just like in prayer when we had nothing to utter except our groans of agony, I know He was interceding for us. Our words don’t cut it but He gets it.
Time ticked along, faster at times and slower at others. Then, Dr. Layson Denney came in. She had taken over for our daytime doctor, both who were incredible and handpicked, I know, for our Charlotte and for us. She listened and talked with us. She thought to speed things along, it was time to break my water. We agreed.
So around 10:45 pm, we did so. That experience was less than pleasant. I’ll spare you the details. Peter comforted me through every intervention and was beyond strong. He was my biggest fan, a tower of strength for me. I remember hearing his mom through the phone when he was first sharing the news with her earlier that day, saying, “Peter, be strong for Hannah.” And was he ever. Truthfully, of all of the pain I was experiencing, physically, emotionally, spiritually, the most excruciating was witnessing the brokenness of my husband. In these moments, God knit us together in ways that I don’t think any other experience could have. It’s not that I would ever in a zillion years wish this experience on us or anyone again, but it was humbling to experience how God wastes nothing, as my mom so wisely said. Our God wastes nothing. He can even use the death of a child.
What seemed like immediately after my water was broken, I began having strong contractions, very strong contractions. I had 10-12 excruciating contractions. We had been informed that my contractions would likely be even more intense due to the Pitocin I had onboard. Peter coached me through each one perfectly. He breathed with me, rocked with me and told me every step of the way that I was doing great and that yes, this would be okay. Though nothing was “okay” and losing our unborn child and it all was beyond messed up and just wrong, Peter and I really had this sense that “Yes, Lord, it is okay.” This was His grace alone, we know that in full.
Because my pain had been very manageable prior to them breaking my water, and because I wanted to be mobile as long as possible and free from a foley catheter, I did not yet have an epidural. Ever since my leg surgeries as a kid, my parents always told me I had a high tolerance for pain. But after those contractions started, I had wished my threshold for pain had been a lot lower so that I would have already had that epidural placed! In my head, after hearing the news that Charlotte’s physical life was extinguished, I made the mental shift that every hope and plan we had made for our birthing experience was out the window. I now wanted to be as medicated as possible so that I would not experience additional pain and suffering to the pain and suffering I was already enduring. One doctor had said to me, “Time is not an issue any more…” See, in a “normal” birth, time is of the essence when it comes to pushing and alleviating any fetal distress. But in our case, time too was out the window. We could decide when to push, how much pain medication. Essentially, all the doctors kept saying that Peter and I called the shots.
On one hand, this was slightly comforting but on the other, it felt so wrong and I felt guilty by it. I felt like I was hurting her and being an inconsiderate, selfish mother. Peter kept reminding me that her earthly body was simply a vessel, a shell, and that her whole self was dancing with Jesus. The little body inside of me was her, but only partly. While writing this, I thought of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (NIV) So much of this is a mystery to me. How could an all-loving God allow me to carry my daughter to 36 weeks and 4 days? How could this all be? Yet, though I question and though I doubt, I trust Jesus and I believe in the goodness of God. Truly I do not believe my God took life from Charlotte. My God is a God of LIFE, not death. We all face death, it’s just timing. Her time was sadly short, way too short. Jesus conquered death for everyone who believes in Him over 3,000 years ago on the rugged Cross. “It is finished!” Jesus said. Right? Like how Jesus said, “ In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish” Matthew 18:14 NLT. Right, Lord? Right?
I know my God can take my venting. I know he SEES me in my pain and meets me there. Just like how He saw Hagar in the wilderness, who had fled from Sarai. After hearing from the Lord, Hagar declared, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16: 13b) Thank you God, that you look after me and thank You for looking after our baby girl, Charlotte. (Other verses God gave me on how HE SEES me in our anguish – Jeremiah 23:23-24, Psalm 139:7-10). I can’t even count the number of times I have read and memorized Psalm 139, for example for my eighth grade confirmation. However, verses 7-16 never struck me like they did when I read them after losing Charlotte. I have never been so aware that God chooses to seek me out in my darkest hours. Never have I been so honored to be the vessel that carried Charlotte Raye, where God formed her frame and that her life “will forever alter heaven and earth” as my husband beautifully said days following her delivery.
So, after battling through the 10-12 contractions, the anesthesiologist came to administer my epidural. The pain was severe and I knew full well that I needed to hold still, very very still. My nurse mind went to having a CSF leak if I jerked and the needle went in too deep or something, but my non-nurse mind certainly did not stay there. The physician was so calm and comforting. He treated me like any other woman in labor. I didn’t feel like a spectacle. God gave me this supernatural strength to be still. It was incredible. I just knew it was not of my own doing –it was all Him. And He used the anesthesiologist, my husband and my night nurse, Susanna, to help me.
When I first met Susanna a few hours earlier, my head was turned and I was talking to Peter or someone and I didn’t see her walk into our hospital room. I then heard her say, “You’re Hannah. I have heard so much about you.” I turned my head and saw a lovely, young nurse with braided hair, whom I had never met. She continued to explain that her friend, Hallel, from nursing school at VCU, whom I discipled a few years prior, had told her all about me. Again, God was showing me that I was known, and He deeply cared for every detail. Susanna would walk through the entire birthing experience with me and Peter. She was like an oasis of comfort for me, this reassuring symbol that no detail is too small for my God and that even though this was the worst case scenario of our lives, our God was there. His Spirit was alive in that room. And Charlotte was alive with Him.
After the epidural was placed, it took about 20 minutes for it to take full effect. I was now confined to the bed because my legs were numb, as was part of my lower abdomen. My right side was more numb feeling than my left side, but they told me that was normal and to position on my left side if need be to disperse the anesthetic, or something like that. That seemed funny to me. Soon after, Susanna put a foley catheter in. It was pretty amazing not feeling a thing for that. Having inserted quite a few foleys myself as a nurse, I was grateful to not feel a thing.
As time ticked on and Susanna titrated up my Pitocin by increments of 2, family trickled out so that I could “sleep.” Somewhere along the lines, I was told that it would be good for me to get some sleep. “Who sleeps during labor?” I thought. How could I rest? Again, this went against every thing I wanted for our labor. I ended up sleeping (I wouldn’t call it resting) for about 2 and a half hours but my husband did not. Instead, he later told me that he went to the lobby and journaled about the day so far. One entry was more objective; with a chronological order of events and his other entry was more subjective and expressive. The fact that my husband was journaling struck me and moved me to tears. He tried to read the entries to me but couldn’t get through them. I read them and just sobbed. How I love my husband.
Around 4 am on August 23rd, 2016, I woke up from that odd nap during labor and had a heavy, vaginal pressure feeling. Susanna told me this was normal. Soon after, sharp pains on the left side of my abdomen emerged. These contractions kept increasing in intensity. And to boot, I was imprisoned to the hospital bed. I was rocking side to side trying to distract myself but too abrupt of movements hurt even worse. Peter woke up and coached me through about 10-15 of these contractions until our kind anesthesiologist came and “topped me off” through the epidural.
Around 4:15 or 4:30 am, Dr. Denney came in to check me and told me that at any time, I could go ahead and push because the timing was up to us. That was just so strange but again, the Charlotte who was still inside of me was a shell, her soul was already reunited with our sweet and strong Jesus. I told Dr. Denney that Pete and I wanted about 15 minutes to call our families and to pray. Susanna set up the room for delivery quietly so that whenever we were ready, the room would be, too. We then called Pete’s parents, who were already awake and praying. We then called my parents, who said they would come right away to the hospital as they were at our house about 20 minutes away. Pete and I then prayed together. The prayers were more like inconsolable weeps to God, but we were comforted that He knew our need before we could even try to utter a word.
As soon as we said, “Amen,” I felt a type of pressure I had not yet felt and said to Peter, “She’s here.” Even saying that was odd, because she really wasn’t, her soul was not here, but her physical body was. I reached my hand down and felt her bottom. Then, I immediately hit the call bell. Dr. Denney and Susanna came right in. Dr. Denney checked me and I saw her eyes get bigger for a second, seemingly surprised by how delivered Charlotte already was, or at least that was my impression. I mean, she was frank breach. Dr. Denney then paged the important looking doctor to come assist with the delivery. She then proceeded to tell me I could push whenever I was ready. She intentionally kept the lights dimmed and spoke to me softly, kindly.
During every moment of the pushing, Peter was right there with me. He kept telling me what a good job I was doing and how proud he was of me. How could he be proud of me? I was delivering our lifeless daughter. But, he was proud and I could see how much he meant it. I just wished he would have been telling me, “Hannah, you can do it. You get to meet your daughter soon!” But instead, with tears streaming down his face, he told me to push and that it was almost over. This nightmare, or at least this part of it, was almost over. How I wish I was delivering a crying, healthy baby into my husband’s arms. How I wish I could take away his pain.
I’ll always remember her earthly delivery; the details are vivid. I was so appreciative of how Dr. Denney led the delivery. The moment was so devastating, so quiet without any cries from my baby girl, so surreal, yet so sacred, so peaceful. Jesus was right there the whole time. Jesus was so present, so WITH us during every second of this experience. Never in my life had I felt the presence of God like I did during the hardest day of my life. By the time the important looking doctor came into the room, Charlotte had already been delivered. I was relieved that it had only been Peter, Dr. Denney, Susanna, Charlotte, and me. The dichotomy of emotions that day and onward is hard to explain.
After four pushes in less than 10 minutes, Charlotte was delivered. At the moment she was born, I happened to look at Dr. Denney’s pager, which was hooked on her scrubs. Her pager was lit up with the time: 4:55 am. Peter then cut the cord. I could tell he was both pained and proud to do so. In “normal” births, you cut the cord to distinguish the baby’s life from the mother’s, to initiate independent living from the womb. But Charlotte’s cord had already been cut in a sense. She was already released into the freedom of Heaven. As a dear friend of ours had later said, “Charlotte wins.” She wins! She was spared from this world. When I later talked to my mother-in-law, she said she had been working through that word, stillborn. Stillborn but STILL BORN. Charlotte has still been born! And it was so neat because when I later spoke to my mom, she too had that same type of revelation, that though the word stillborn is the only verbiage we can muster up in the medical world, Charlotte was born into the presence of God; she was born into Heaven. How comforting! And for a short while longer until my earthly life is extinguished, I lose, Peter and I lose, our families and friends lose. We all miss out. But I have heard God tell me, “It’s not over yet! Remember, Hannah, I get the last word! I am the Judge. Very soon, because I have already been victorious through Jesus, you too will win! It’s not over yet!”
I was open to Charlotte coming right away to my chest depending on the state of her skin. Susanna informed us that depending on how long Charlotte had been in utero after being delivered into heaven, her skin might have deteriorated, which it had. Looking back, I am so grateful for the words of my friend, Anna, just 24 hours earlier. God used her to prompt me to act. I wonder a lot of things and know that not all of the wonderings are healthy. I know that the “what ifs” serve no good purpose, but rather, are a tactic of Satan. Nevertheless, I do wonder how much more of Charlotte’s skin could have been deteriorated if I had waited to be evaluated. We were able to see all of her sweet facial features and I forever hold the picture of her beautiful face in my mind. I’m thankful for that. How I love my stunning little girl.
Susanna wrapped Charlotte in blankets and then brought her to us. Peter kept saying how perfect she was and that she was the most beautiful little girl he had ever seen. I told Charlotte how much mommy loved her and how beautiful she was. I told her how sorry mommy was. I told her that Jesus was the One really holding her. I mean, I was holding her bodily shell, but she had already been delivered into the arms of the Good Father. He was holding her in the most beautiful nursery and she was wrapped in the loveliest blankets, drinking the most nourishing milk. She was free.
Looking back, God knew how perfect Charlotte’s name was for her, given that one meaning for Charlotte is free. It comforts me to know how intentional God was and is. It comforts me to know that my child is free from the sadness of this world. She is forever free in the presence of the Lord. Perfectly said, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). I’ve listened to quite a few songs that talk about how wherever the Spirit is, wherever our God is, there is freedom.(Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher, Freedom by Bethel , and Thank you Jesus, for sparing our daughter.
All of the hospital staff told us that we could keep Charlotte in the room with us for as much or as little time as we wished. I did not think I would want her to be in the room with us too long; I just thought it would be too painful. But in fact, I felt the opposite. And isn’t that how this grieving is? Unpredictable, dynamic, unexpected. I loved having her in the room with us. It comforted me. Holding her was harder for me though. There was just something about holding a dead baby that felt so wrong to me. And it wasn’t just any baby, it was our baby, our firstborn. I hated that she wasn’t breathing. I hated that after the entire 36 weeks and 4 days, we would walk out of the hospital empty handed. Part of me feels so selfish to say that but honestly, it just feels so wrong. I feel robbed. I can’t help but think of how Jesus identifies for us who the true thief is, the prince of this broken world, Satan. Like God’s Word states in John 10:10 (NET), “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” The word, life, has taken on such a fuller meaning for me now. I always knew this verse did not just mean life on earth but how much more I understand this now.