It’s been two years since we lost our daughter, 24 weeks into my wife’s second pregnancy. Our first pregnancy didn’t make it near that far, a miscarriage that never delivered a heartbeat. The back-to-back blows did more than shatter our worlds. They made us question so much more. Would we be able to experience a pregnancy all the way through to delivery of a happy, healthy baby? Would we have the family we want and deserve? Why is this happening? The doctors didn’t have any answers. An extreme case of “bad luck” was the closest to an explanation that we got.
However, two years later, I’m happy to say the answers to those most important questions are a resounding “Yes!” We’ll never know why we lost the first two, but our third pregnancy was indeed the charm, and on February 20, 2020, we met our happy, healthy daughter, Madelyn Grace.
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It was not an easy journey, emotionally for either of us, or physically for my wife. Every single appointment solicited the same reaction: my heart beating out of its chest, until I heard little Madelyn’s beeping and booping on the monitors. Phew. Another test passed. A hurdle cleared.
Around 20 weeks into the pregnancy, complications started to arise, right around the same time they did for Marie. These were “minor concerns” though. Nothing to be afraid of, just need to monitor the pregnancy closely. Yeah. That’s what you said the last time.
Weekly doctor’s appointments became a must. Twice weekly even, for a stretch. With every measurement Madelyn seemed to get smaller (by percentile), just as Marie did. We were told to not to expect this pregnancy to go to term. We passed 24 weeks. Another milestone. Then 26 weeks. Viable baby. 28 weeks, 30 weeks. Better odds for a healthy baby. 32 weeks, 34 weeks. That’s when I get the call. “I’m getting some cramps.”
I rushed to meet Cristen at the gynecologist. She’s dilated. Off to the hospital. In the interesting way that life works, while the nurses and doctors are trying to do everything in their power to make my wife not deliver a baby, my friend and his wife are across the hall trying to do everything in their power for her to deliver their full-term baby. (They end up having a beautiful happy boy via c-section after nearly two full days of labor).
We go back home in a couple of days. Cristen is more or less confined to bed rest. To throw another complication into the mix, Madelyn is stuck in a frank breech position, so if my wife goes too far into preterm labor, they’re going to have to make the call and perform a c-section for an early delivery.
We are probably back and forth from the hospital a dozen times in the next three weeks. I begin to tell the nurses they’re going to have to rename the maternity ward after us. At 36 weeks, Valentine’s Day, we’re sure we’re going to have the baby when the doctor on call tells Cristen not to eat anything through to the next morning.
New shift, new doctor apparently disagreed and sent us home. One exchange got heated enough to the point where we yelled “Take her out!” as we were afraid that we were fighting nature keeping her in while the amniotic fluid levels got lower with every doctor’s visit. If the science says 36 weeks is as safe as 40, what are we waiting for?
We make it to one more appointment, our 37-week checkup. After the routine scans and checks on the monitors (another heartbeat!) the doctor comes in. “Are you two ready to have a baby?” YES, HELL YES! And (to my wife): “How did you make it this far?!”
The rest of that morning and afternoon was as uneventful as at any point during the entire pregnancy. Since Cristen had had breakfast that morning before the appointment, we had to wait a few hours before the c-section. Finally, come about 3:30, it was showtime. Time to get the delivery garb on and meet my wife on the operating table. It felt like less than five minutes after I sat down behind her that they plucked out my daughter. At 4:28 p.m. February 20, 2020, I finally see Madelyn Grace Diegel, all 5lbs. 10 oz. of her.
I do my best to describe her to Cristen (she’s beautiful!) who is still on the operating table, blocked by the “shield” protecting her from the procedure. In a cruel twist of fate, as she had done the manual labor required to get to this point, my wife doesn’t get to meet our daughter for another 45 minutes or so, as she’s getting cleaned up and put back together again following the surgery.
The nurses wheel Cristen in, and I introduce her to our daughter. She finally gets the storybook moment, two years and three pregnancies in the making, and holds our baby in her chest, working with Madelyn for a first latch so we could get this tiny girl eating and growing (and boy has she done a lot of both ever since).
It doesn’t take me long to realize my anxiety from our losses didn’t stop with a healthy birth. In the early days, weeks, months, the majority of the first year, I am constantly checking her while she sleeps, making sure she’s still breathing. The combination of our experiences and having a friend who was a first responder to a numbers of SIDs cases makes the possibility of losing her all too real.
I eventually resume therapy sessions with the counselor who saw us for grief after our losses, to help cope with the aforementioned anxiety. I eventually realized it wasn’t just going to “go away.” Even after she passed the age that more or less clears children from the possibility of succumbing to SIDs, my focus simply shifted to choking hazards.As I said, we’ve enjoyed our daughter for over a year now. For her first birthday, I rigged a canopy and tarp setup, with a fire and a propane heater so a few friends and family can celebrate with us. Quite literally the best we could do amidst a pandemic in the winter.
In that year-plus, Madelyn has developed an identity as a big, happy, silly, high-energy love bug that brings smiles to the faces of everyone she meets. Our family is a little chaotic and exhausting sometimes (we have two dogs, still on the young side at three and five), and yet we happily discuss trying to add to it in the coming months.
I sometimes kick myself a bit when we talk about trying again, and the thought crosses my head. Is it worth it? Do I want to go through all that anxiety? All those doctors appointments, all the uncertainty yet again? Is it really worth it?
But the self-blame quickly dissipates, as I’m proud of the answer that pops resoundingly into my head, almost as quickly as the questions themselves.
Yes. I look at Madelyn, smiling up at me. It’s worth all of that and more.
Alexander Diegel is a freelance sportswriter, author, rugby player, and content marketer. He shares his experiences to let men know there’s no such thing as being too tough to seek help with mental health. And to let all couples know, never give up on having the family you deserve.