So many thank-yous to Justina Oldehoff for sharing her most difficult story with pregnancy/infant loss and letting other women know they are not alone.
For years my husband and I were told it wasn’t likely I could get pregnant due to severe endometriosis. Shortly after our move across the country in August of 2018, we were surprised and thrilled to learn we were pregnant with our first son, Carter. The first trimester was filled with nerves because we knew about the chances of miscarriage. Aside from some nausea, it was a picturesque pregnancy. We thought we were “out of the woods” once the second trimester began.
On January 18th, 2019 at 23 weeks and 6 days, our world was turned upside down. I decided to go to the doctor because of increased fluid. Our physician did an ultrasound immediately after the exam, I was so thrilled to see our boy on the screen. But I’ll never forget the look on my doctor’s face. She put her head down, looked me in the eyes and said “Justina, everything is going to be okay, we need to get you to the hospital immediately. You’re 3 centimeters dilated”. Chaos ensued as Dan walked in the door and we were rushed to the hospital. I ruptured and was having a slow leak – our son could be born at any moment. The Neonatologist prepared us for the low likelihood of survival if he was born over the next few days and we had to face the possibility of losing our son. Three and a half days went by of labor, magnesium, IVs, antibiotics, watching the monitor every second, all while my health was deteriorating – it was an incredibly emotional experience.
On January 21st, 2019 at 9:06pm, we became proud parents of Carter who was born a micropreemie at 24 weeks and 2 days, weighing 1 pound 8 ounces. I had only dreamed about the moment we would hold our son for the first time. I wanted this to be just as we thought about and all of the beautiful stories we’ve heard about the moment you set eyes on your baby for the first time. It was anything but that. Carter was born fighting for his life, and we were by his side fighting with him.
After three challenging days in the NICU, we were called to come in late one evening. We were taken to the family room, the same room we went to earlier in the day after we heard about his brain scan. The doctor sat next to me on the couch, my husband leaned against the wall in front of us. My husband had his hand on his mouth and tears in his eyes. The doctor said, “Carter has a hole or multiple holes in his intestines”. My initial thought – okay, then fix it. It’s life-threatening – he already had bacteria going into his stomach. I kept shaking my head no. No, I won’t lose him. He’s a fighter, he’s got this. I sat there sobbing uncontrollably. The doctor kept going because he hasn’t actually said what I knew was coming. Even if we tried surgery, we will probably need to do more, and now it’s in addition to a brain bleed and a potential heart issue. He won’t have a quality of life… the words we dreaded of possibly hearing from the moment I went into preterm labor. The doctor got tears in his eyes, “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you it’s the right thing to do for Carter”. I’ll never forget those words. No words could describe that moment, I can’t even begin to try.
After the most challenging, indescribable 74 hours of life, I held, kissed, loved on our son for the first and last time. It’s okay, my sweet boy, I’m giving you permission to let go. I’m so sorry. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Carter took his last breath in his dad’s arms on January 24th, 2019 at 11:22pm.
We have experienced the great pain of losing a loved one, but you never expect to lose your child. Losing your child is unexplainable. You not only lose your child, you lose the what could have beens, the memories, the firsts, and you lose a part of yourself.
Grief is hard. There is no right or wrong, there is no guidebook.
The physical heartache, the pain, the rollercoaster of emotions, the constant questions, the guilt, the anger, the emptiness, the numbness, the loneliness, the nightmares, the what-ifs, all of it – it was all-consuming. Everything I did, everything I saw, everything I heard, reminded me that he is no longer here.
It is okay to feel of these emotions, it is okay to allow yourself to just be in the grief, it’s okay if you and your partner grieve differently… remember, there is no right or wrong, there is only your way.
The world keeps turning while it feels like your world has stopped. One day you may take one step forward and ten steps back, the next day you may take ten steps forward.
I’m almost two years into our journey of losing our precious son. I honor him every day, I can smile when I hear his name and talk about him, I can laugh, I can put one foot in front of the other… There are days I cry, there are days I feel lonely, there are days when I can feel the physical pain in my heart, there are real, REAL hard days.
While time does not make the grief go away, the grief evolves with time.
If you’re reading this because you have lost your child, my heart aches with you and I am so, so sorry you’re on this journey. You are not alone – there’s an entire community here to walk alongside you every step of the way.
Meet The Author:
Justina Oldehoff is a mom of two preemie boys, Carter in heaven (1/21/19-1/24/19) and Aron born 10/9/2019 who is home and healthy, and a wife of 11 years to Dan. Following the passing of their son, Carter’s Cause Foundation was created to honor Carter’s legacy and provide resources and support to NICU families, loss families, and support systems.