I cannot describe the feeling of intense joy and intense fear at the same time. My entire pregnancy proved to be just that roller coaster of emotions. On January 14, 2006, I delivered my first born son, Ethan Amari Plato.
My name is Sunshine Plato and I had wanted to be a mommy ever since I can remember. My husband and I were married in June of 2002 and I wanted to become pregnant right away, while he wanted to wait two years. We decided to check in with each other every six months and we would know when the time was right. In January of 2005, we decided to stop birth control pills and let God decide when we were ready. We prayed completely for His intervention and for Him to bless our child.
On May 10, 2005, after 1 day of missing my period, I took a pregnancy test and it was POSITIVE! I was so excited. All of my dreams had come true. I was finally going to be a mommy. I had wanted this more than anything. I praised God for His great creation and for entrusting me to care for this child.
One week later, I was treated with antibiotics for a urinary tract infection and was told that UTI’s were the leading cause of miscarriage. So, when 3 days later I was bleeding and cramping, I immediately called my OB, who saw me in her office right away. I was almost 7 weeks pregnant and although we saw pregnancy on the ultrasound, we saw no heartbeat and the baby was measuring less than 5 weeks. The Nurse Practitioner told me there was nothing I could do to stop the “threatening abortion” and it was a 50/50 chance. If I did not miscarry, I was to return at the 9-week appointment where another ultrasound would be performed. I was so scared but prayed for God’s will and my acceptance of whatever happened.
I continued to “spot” until my next appointment. I was not sure if I had a missed miscarriage because I did not have morning sickness or any of the normal pregnancy symptoms. I went to the 9-week check up and we did not hear a heartbeat with the Doppler, but was elated when the ultrasound showed a healthy embryo and solid heartbeat. They determined that my due date was January 15, 2006. Due to me being slightly overweight, they chose to test me for Gestational Diabetes, along with all the normal prenatal tests.
A week after that appointment I was called into the office to do a 3-hour glucose tolerance test, which came back positive for Gestational Diabetes. I cried desperately because I knew the baby was in danger but wasn’t really sure what it meant. I was referred to and educated by a Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialist and told to control the gestational diabetes with diet and exercise and to test my sugar levels 4 times a day. If my blood glucose was too high or uncontrolled then there was an increased risk for premature labor, stillbirth, heart defects, and large birth weight. I was still very scared, but again, gave my fears to God, and let Him control the outcome of this pregnancy. I trusted that He would do whatever he willed for us.
After having a couple of high glucose levels in July, the MFM specialist wanted me to go on diabetes pills, but they had risks of seizures and low blood sugar reactions for me if I took them. So, I prayed that God would control the diabetes and I chose not to take the pills. The glucose numbers regulated over a few weeks and it was no longer necessary for me to be on pills. I was certain God was in control.
At 24 weeks, my belly started to harden up. Because I had been around women who were pregnant before, I figured I was just having Braxton Hicks contractions and decided to just ignore them. Some ladies told me to drink water and lie on my left side when they happened. So, that’s what I did. I had them almost daily, whenever I would work or clean or stand up. But, they weren’t painful so I never said anything to my OB.
I reported to the MFM specialist that I had been having more frequent high sugar numbers at 27 weeks, in October. And since the sermon message at church was “what is the wise thing to do?” I decided it would be wise to get on the diabetes pills to protect the baby. He was, after all, measuring bigger than what he should be and I wanted to do everything I could possibly do to keep him safe. I had to see both my local doctor and the MFM specialist from then on. But, I chose to deliver at the local hospital unless there was something wrong with the baby. Both doctors agreed to this. I was starting not to be so scared. But, as always, prayed for God’s will.
I was told I needed to do non stress tests (NST) twice weekly from 32 weeks until I delivered due to my Gestational Diabetes. It monitored how the baby’s heart rate responds to his movements. The first one went well, except that they discovered I was having contractions every 3 minutes. It wasn’t anything new to me; I had been having these since 24 weeks. But, this time I was cramping. The doctor checked me and I was dilated to one. I was getting nervous. She gave me a shot of terbutaline that stopped the contractions. I was told that I was having pre-term labor and needed to be aware of the symptoms. One week later, again at the NST, I was having contractions every 3 minutes. It didn’t bother me, same as before but I was given another shot of terbutaline and they stopped. I was getting scared again and was certain this baby wanted to come early. I prayed daily that he would wait until at least 36 weeks to come, and still prayed that God was in control.
Seven weeks later, January 13th arrived and I was more uncomfortable with each contraction. I had finally made it to two days before my due date and was completely sure that after all the drama in this pregnancy, my son was on his way safely to arrive. God had chosen his name to be Ethan Amari. Both strong Hebrew names meaning firm will eternal. I contracted all day Friday and into the morning hours on Saturday. My husband came home from work at midnight and after watching me labor and switch positions for a couple hours; he decided it was time for us to go to the hospital. We went to the labor and delivery room at 2 am and I was dilated to 4. At 4:30 am when I had dilated further, the doctor broke my water and found it to be meconium stained. She said I would have to have a pediatrician available for suctioning his lungs at the delivery but he should be fine. After a few minutes, I began to have violently painful contractions that made me want to push. I had a hard time controlling the urge and asked to have narcotics for the pain. Labor pains were not what I had expected. I thought I could do it without drugs. Boy, was I wrong. I then began vomiting and then shivering. The nurse said that was common for transition labor and put more blankets on me. I was completely miserable. After the meds kicked in, I was able to rest on my right side and close my eyes. About 20 minutes later, I awoke and since I was on my side, the monitors were not picking up the baby’s heart rate. The nurse checked my temperature and it was 102. I turned over and the nurse decided to check my cervix because I was having some bloody show. I was 6 centimeters and when she pulled out her hand I was bleeding profusely. The nurse noticed that Ethan’s heart rate was accelerated. She paged the doctor and the doctor was able to stretch my cervix to 8 centimeters, but I couldn’t deliver vaginally in time to save the baby. She told me I must have had a placental abruption and needed to have an emergency cesarean section. It was somewhere between 5:30 and 5:45 am on Saturday, January 14, 2006.
I was rushed to the operating room and asked the doctor if I was going to die. She said, “that is why we’re doing the surgery.” I was feeling weak and going in and out of consciousness. I told my husband to pray for us, because I didn’t think we were going to make it. It seemed that we waited in the operating room for a long time before the anesthesiologist arrived. (Later, my husband told me that the anesthesiologist walked toward him and shook his hand and chatted with him before she entered the delivery room). I had a spinal block and the section began. I was having difficult time breathing and at one point told my husband I was going to die. I think I was choking on mucus, and couldn’t cough it up. I then spit up blood. The anesthesiologist told my husband I was doing okay on the monitors, but I still felt like I was dying. At approximately 6:30 am, my son was pulled out of my abdomen. He was not breathing and the pediatrician and nurses removed him from the OR to work on him. Meanwhile, the doctor could not stop my bleeding. I was given more than the usual dose of medicine to stop the bleeding, and finally was able to save me from having a hysterectomy. I survived. I lost over half of my blood volume and needed to have 2 transfusions, but Isurvived. I was so weak and yet wanted to hear any news about my baby.
My husband finally came to my room about 7:45 am and let me know that Ethan was not breathing at birth, but had a heartbeat, so they bagged him and had been pumping air into his lungs. He was scheduled to be transported soon to a NICU in the MFM’s hospital. Ethan’s pediatrician came to speak with us and told us about a new procedure called a “cooling cap” at the regional university hospital that could reverse the effects of the oxygen deprivation on his brain. Hope was again reborn when the doctor from the regional university hospital called and said that there was a 70 % chance of survival with minimal brain injury if he could be placed on the cap for 72 hours. Of course we consented and he was moved into my room so I could take a peek at him. He was hooked up to a ventilator and other machines and lay inside of a stretcher/isolette combo and I could only see the side of my beautiful 8 lb, 9 oz infant boy. I was mortified. They wouldn’t let me get closer and kept saying they needed to go. I just wanted to see my baby. Was that too much to ask? They rushed him off within minutes and he was on his way to the university hospital. I still prayed for God’s will with both my baby and me.
Over the next few days, I suffered with severe Pregnancy Induced Hypertension symptoms (High Blood Pressure) and my liver and kidneys were failing. My legs swelled to three times their normal size. I was severely anemic from the blood loss and had an infection in my stretch marks. I was extremely sick physically and yet couldn’t sleep worrying about my son. I was on countless meds and the doctor kept taking blood samples to check my status, which caused my arms to be black and blue because my blood wasn’t clotting properly. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be okay again.
Thankfully, friends and family came to support our new family. Renee, from Tiny Purpose, was a friend of mine from church and came to my room the morning that Ethan was born. She stayed with me most of that day and comforted me in a way only someone who has been there can. She came by daily and left her phone number for me to call if ever I needed anything. My son and I were separated and both fighting for our lives.
After 72 hours, my son was going to be removed from the cooling cap. This was Tuesday. He was then supposed to have several tests to determine the amount of brain injury and whether or not he was improving. I was still not healthy enough to leave my hospital, so my husband and his family and our church family went to pray over my son. Later that night, my husband called and told me that although he felt Ethan squeeze his finger and breathe over the ventilator, the ultrasound of his head showed some hemorrhaging. But, he was still hopeful and there still needed to be an MRI test to be done. I discussed this with a friend of mine who was with me at my hospital and she encouraged me to call a nurse at the university hospital. I did. I learned that Ethan had severe brain injury due to his birth trauma and had “little hope to recover” and I needed to come see him soon before he died. It was at that moment that I realized I was not going to be bringing home my baby. I cried and felt so angry and scared and unsure if that is really what she told me. My friend called Renee and she immediately came to see me. She held me as I cried and she cried with me. Renee called my doctor from across the room and pleaded with her to release me so I could say goodbye to my son. The doctor agreed to check me in the morning and if I was stable to let me go then.
The next morning came (Wednesday) and although I was not fully recovered, the doctor allowed me to be released under the conditions that I return on Friday and if I felt weak or in pain to be checked at the university hospital. I arrived there at about 3 pm and was too scared and afraid to go to the NICU to see Ethan. I finally was wheeled in to see him at 6 pm. I saw that his face had swollen to twice its original size and he lay flat and limp. Nothing like I had ever seen a newborn. I cried and told him I was sorry and made my husband wheel me out. The ache was so intense. So heartbreaking. Every couple of hours, I returned to look at him for a couple minutes and then left again to cry and pray. At 1:00 am, I finally touched his hand and told him good night and my husband and I went to the Ronald McDonald House to sleep. As soon as we walked into our room, the phone rang and it was the hospital telling us that Ethan had just made a turn for the worse and probably wasn’t going to survive the night. We needed to come back right away. Being stabbed in the heart with a knife does not nearly describe the horror I felt. I was broken. I fell to the ground, unable to stop the wailing and tears from coming. I saw and heard my husband cry audibly for the first time. As we held each other, we cried out to God, begging Him to take this burden from us. We pleaded with Him that this was not fair. We prayed still for a miracle, sobbing between each breath. As we drove to the hospital, I called Renee and she encouraged me to take lots of pictures and to hold my son while he was still living. She prayed for us and we entered the hospital.
Our son was so blue. He definitely was dying. I found the courage I didn’t previously have and chose to hold my son for the first time. The chemical hospital smells infiltrated my nose, as I tasted my salty tears. It was bittersweet. On the one hand I felt such joy to hold my long sought after newborn and yet such heartache knowing he was so close to death. And then, he pinked up. His heart rate rose and his temperature improved. We were shocked. Was God providing His miracle? Were the doctors wrong? The doctor explained that this can happen several times and although he appeared to be improving, our son was still in the dying process. Exhaustion and frustration overwhelmed us and at 6am, we decided to return to the Ronald McDonald house and take a nap. We would have a conference in the afternoon with a team of his doctors and discuss the options. I had not slept more than 2 hours at a time since I begun labor and still did not that morning.
We returned at noon on Thursday, January 19, 2006, and the doctor met us and told us that the MRI showed no brain activity; that he was essentially brain dead. We had to choose to remove him from life support. My husband and I got down on our knees and prayed. The miracle was not to be found. We chose to let our friends and family come to say goodbye to him and then we would remove him. This still allowed God some time to show His miracle or a positive sign. Several people from church came and our family came and all had their chance to support us and say goodbye to Ethan. Both Renee and Alaina came too and brought with them a plaster mold to allow us to take a 3D molding of his hand and foot.
At 11pm, Ethan began to get blue again and his oxygenation was down to 15%, the nurse placed Ethan into my arms and said he is going to go. It felt so comfortable to hold my son. He fit so perfectly into the crook of my arm. The flashes of the camera twinkled, as I held him and kissed his cool cheek. My husband and I caressed and loved him and slowly Ethan left this world. Mercifully, God had allowed Ethan to die before being removed from support. It was 11:25pm.
Renee and Alaina were in the waiting room, among our other supporters, when we told them that our son had passed, and a peace overwhelmed the room, as it had been one long exhausting week. I learned about Tiny Purpose and was determined to go there to share with other mothers about our unique experience.
To properly end the story, I went back to the local hospital on Friday and my PIH symptoms weren’t as bad as before, so I only stayed there for 4 hours. Then I was released with blood pressure medicine and sent home to make funeral arrangements. Within 3 weeks my liver, kidneys, anemia, blood pressure and infection in my stretch marks returned to normal. God provided yet another miracle. But, the heartache remains.
There is nothing that will fill the void of my child. This type of loss is the most difficult because no explanation is good enough. Over a year later, I delight in the time I was able to spend with my son, but my heart is still filled with emptiness. There is no medical reason why my placenta abrupted that caused my child’s death. But, I know that God has a purpose for both his life and his death. I trusted God to do as he willed throughout my entire pregnancy and Ethan’s short life and still trust that He allowed him to die for a good reason. I hate that I have to be a part of a support group, but now that I am with Tiny Purpose, I feel that Ethan’s life is validated; he is real; he is loved. We mothers choose to show the love we have for our heavenly children to the many hurting, desperate women whose children die every year. I thank God that Tiny Purpose was formed before my loss. How lonely it must be for those who have to go through this alone.