Finding Nora's Light


It’s been a week and two days since I underwent a cesarean section to remove our daughter Nora Anne who was stillborn.  Just typing that sentence brought on more tears in a few minutes than I’ve had all day, but… I feel the need to start writing about this journey.  No journey that any parent ever wishes or expects to be on when they are excitedly awaiting the arrival of their baby.  She was to be our 4th (and final) child, another girl, to bookend our twin boys Beau & Sheppard with their older sister Marlee.  Marlee is almost seven years old and was SO excited about having a sister (she literally cried when she found out our identical twins were boys!).  The boys are almost three years old, so it really felt like perfect timing to be adding another baby.  Telling Marlee the news was one of the hardest parts, but she has a bright light of her own that is comforting.

The main meanings of the name Nora are honor and light, and it also happens to be the female counter to the male name Norman (which is my husband’s middle name & the name of his beloved Paw Paw). Her middle name was Anne, like mine.

I had a pretty smooth pregnancy with my first daughter and delivered her at 38 weeks, followed by a miscarriage just before 12 weeks years later, followed quickly by my twins’ pregnancy which was monitored closely due to my bicornuate uterus.  I saw the perinatologist before leaving town at 31 weeks pregnant for their baby shower in my hometown in Alabama over Labor Day weekend in 2014, and even though I showed ZERO signs of preterm labor, they arrived on Sunday, August 31st at 31 weeks 6 days at 3 lbs 4 oz & 3 lbs 6 oz… in a hospital 3 hours from home.  They think I just ran out of room.  This led to an 8-week stay at the RNICU at UAB for them while we lived (basically were only there to sleep) a city block away in the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham. During this time my husband, David, put our house in Nashville on the market, and we moved straight back to our hometown following the twins’ release. Surviving that first year of their lives was quite a trying time, but we all did it together and became stronger from it. I wish I would’ve blogged about that time in our lives more, but it was an emotional & busy time, and I was just becoming comfortable with sharing our lives.  More about that can be shared later as it’s not the point of this blog, but it leads to it in a way. The boys are thriving and had no complications after leaving the hospital!

I’m 34 years old, and the doctors were already referring to my eggs as geriatric… which just makes you feel all warm & fuzzy inside, no? I’ve been the most healthy and in the best shape of my life in the last five years, so I was feeling good when we found out we were pregnant again.  I was terribly sick the first 16 weeks though, just regular morning (all day) sickness, that was extra challenging with three children already.  I craved fast food for weeks, needed daily naps instead of workouts, and then suddenly I wanted to eat healthy & looked forward to workouts again.  Being a PiYo LIVE instructor teaching two classes a week, I was really thankful to have that consistent motivation to show up… even if I was having to heavily modify the moves.  Those classes are not only a great workout, but it connects you emotionally to your body with the music & movements.  My doctors (there were 3 that I rotated seeing in the practice) approved of my activity level, I had no issues, no real bleeding… until our 25-week ultrasound.  We were told a few weeks later that there were shadows/bright spots over our baby girl’s bowels.  I was told it was likely nothing and not to Google it.  In efforts not to freak out about nothing, I followed those orders while awaiting our follow up ultrasound 5 weeks later.  The bright spots were still there but had “improved”, and the issue of low amniotic fluid was a factor now too.  I’d never been told this before, and it was at 8.5, which meant nothing to me until I realized the range was 2-25 and serious issues could be indicated. This was Monday, July 17th after I returned from a work trip to New Orleans, which I cleared with them before I went.  But again, I was told not to worry, and that they were going to refer me to the specialist at UAB to try to pinpoint details of the issue.  This appointment was set for me, and I was informed it was two and a half weeks away… I stayed off Google… but the worry was in the back of my mind.

I took my daughter back-to-school shopping at the mall that following Friday, which she was SO excited about.  Remember I said she had a bright light of her own? She made rings & bracelets to bring with us to give out to people at the mall… she brought so many people smiles that day… and I was one proud (and emotional) mama.  We grabbed fast food on the way home, and by bedtime I felt kind of yucky, not really sick, just off.  Before I fell asleep, I remember the opposite side of my belly bulging up from where Nora’s head had been, so I remember hoping she was starting to turn head down.  Saturday was a busy day with fellow twin friends’ birthday party and later visiting with friends from out of town.  When things finally slowed down early in the evening, I realized I didn’t feel Nora move as much or any at all that day.  I drank OJ and Gatorade before dinner, but still didn’t feel what I had been feeling as far as movement, but went to bed trying not to be a worrier.  I got up early for church with my husband (music minister of the early service) that next morning and drank more coffee than usual, and still no real movement… cue major anxiety and a panicked feeling.

As soon as I left church I went to our local hospital where (my dad is a physician) they did a heart rate check with the doppler, finding no definitive fetal heart tones, and also a sonogram, finding no movement or noticeable heartbeat.  I called my OB immediately and went with my husband to the ER at his hospital (40 mins away).  I was still holding onto hope that she was still with us, but had that overall bad feeling.  The check in process took FOREVER due to a new receptionist, three different nurses then tried to find the heart rate, and then the doctor confirmed it with an ultrasound… she was still.  I couldn’t believe it.  David and I stared at each other, held hands and cried.  Nora’s light had gone out and she would be stillborn.  Our thoughts immediately went to our daughter Marlee, and how crushed she would be, and then it was like living a nightmare over the next 24 hours.

Jessica Sanford