As many of you already know, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month. 1 in 4 women carry the burden of this kind of loss; the only kind of loss that does not have a title to even call it. In honor of this month, I would like to introduce to you Joshua and Amanda Bitterman and their beloved daughter, Charlie Mae.
Charlie Mae was born still February 11th, 2018. The following is her mother's writings through the pregnancy and after, along with pictures from her birth. Please be advised that their story and images may trigger deep emotions for some and care needs to be taken in the viewing and sharing of this blog.
Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. I envisioned myself with multiple children and just living the parenthood life. I grew up, met the man of my dreams, and fell head over heels in love. Before long we started to talk about children and began discussing baby names and planning our future. Soon into our dream-come-true in the making, we would find out from our doctors that conceiving naturally, without interventions, would be a great challenge for us: close to impossible. We chose to believe in God's promises to us though.
One day, my husband surprised me with a small gift. He had bought wooden letters that spelled out Charlie. Charlie Mae was the name I had picked out years ago for my first baby girl. I chose the name because my grandmother was Jessie Mae and I wanted our sweet girl to have a part of my grandmother with her at all times.
Doctors had given us a 2-5% chance of getting pregnant, however, the same day that we visited the fertility clinic for our next options, we received the call that we were pregnant! I screamed and jumped up and down and cried and cried. It was such a joyous moment for my husband and I. We found out we were expecting a beautiful baby boy whom we named Maddox. We brought him into this world surrounded by family and oh so much love!
When Maddox was around 6 months old I started to feel off. I knew the feeling. I knew I was pregnant. I was terrified. I had just started my new job and we still had an infant! My husband was in disbelief. How do we announce that we were pregnant again??? But we were so excited, and soon began to love this baby and find joy in all the little moments. That joy came crashing down when I started to bleed around 6 weeks. Doctors found a sub chorionic hematoma but said the baby looked great. The bleeding finally stopped around 14 weeks and I started to feel more hopeful for my baby.
At 16 weeks we found out that God had given us our little Charlie Mae, our little diva girl! I was SO happy, but little did anyone know I was scared. I just felt something was wrong with our baby. It sounds strange to say, but I felt it in my heart and soul. I told my husband early on that something was wrong with the baby. I told him it was a girl and that something was wrong with her heart. He told me that it was just pregnancy hormones and anxiety and to just relax.
At 18 weeks we went for our anatomy scan and found out that something was indeed wrong. Charlie Mae measured small (less than the 5th percentile) and had shortened limbs and possible hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). We were referred to UAB's Maternal Fetal Medicine and given an appointment that was two weeks out. It was the longest two weeks of my life. In the meantime, initial blood work came back showing a low risk for Trisomy 13, 18 and 21, so I tried to tell myself it was nothing. But in my heart, I knew it was something. It was worse than we thought. Little did I know that God was preparing me for the biggest hurt of my life.
A former co worker had told me that whenever I felt fear, to put my hands on my womb and say, “I believe”; speak life into my womb. The day came for our MFM appointment and I was a bundle of nerves. The ultrasound started and the technician was just so kind. She pointed out all Charlie Mae's little features and asked her name. That meant so much. During the ultrasound I kept my hand on my womb and said, “I believe” repeatedly while admiring her beauty on the screen. Then the doctor came in. She asked us questions and then finished and turned to face us.
Charlie Mae was believed to have fatal chromosome disorder: quite possibly Triploidy.
. I didn’t even let her finish talking. I quickly interrupted and said “is this fatal?” She said, “Yes, Triploidy is incompatible with life." Most babies with this condition miscarry in the first trimester. Very few make it to birth. While we did not know for sure, we were trusting God. We knew He was working in this situation and we prayed that His glory would shine through this tough time.
Journal entry: "Charlie Mae is so beautiful and perfect and we cannot wait to meet her."
I clung to Jeremiah 29:11 and my faith. I chose to enjoy every single moment with our sweet baby and I chose to give her life and all the love until the Lord would call her home. Our little lady is going to change hearts and change lives! She proved already that she was a fighter and that gave me the strength to fight for her and be her advocate. I felt God with us daily through this situation and I know He will never leave our side.
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21. At 32 weeks and 3 days pregnant I went in for a long awaited amniocentesis. We wanted to wait as long as we could to give Charlie Mae time to grow and be as strong as possible. I remember the fear going in. This was it. After this, there would be no denying our baby girl’s condition. Up until this point I would tell myself, “maybe it’s not true” or “maybe the doctors are wrong”. Surely we could not be the 1-2% that carry a Triploidy baby. We left with instructions that I should take it easy and we would hear back soon for the results.
Not even 48 hours later, my water broke in the early hours of the morning.
This was it. I knew that this journey with my girl was taking a drastic turn. We drove to our specialist's office knowing we would not be coming home with Charlie Mae in my belly. We didn’t know how much was about to change. I was admitted and monitored. I felt joy, fear and lots of anxiety. I was ready to battle doctors, surgeons, and whoever or whatever to fight for our little girl's life.
A familiar face walked into the room. It was a doctor who had monitored us throughout Charlie’s journey. The results were in. Our baby girl was full Triploidy. Our daughter was “incompatible with life” (I hate that phrase by the way). It didn’t come as too much of a shock as we knew that was expected. I won’t lie and say that my heart didn’t sink though. We started to plan and meet with doctors to get a plan in action. I was ready to do whatever. I was ready to meet my baby girl.
I agreed to be induced to reduce chances of infection. Induction started and I requested to not have 24/7 monitoring because I didn’t want to panic in case I heard her heart stop.
Just before the induction was started:
It was a long and slow wait. Several hours in though, I just felt something. I knew. Our doula went and got the nurse.
My primary nurse came in and worked so hard to find Charlie Mae's heartbeat. The room was silent as we all held our breath, waiting, hoping, but knowing. She called for the charge nurse. She too worked hard to find her heart beat. Nothing. They called for the doctors and an ultrasound. They had to have two doctors give confirmation.
I hear the first doctor say, “I’m sorry but I’m not seeing any cardiac activity.” I hear a wail. I thought it was myself until I realized it was my husband. My tough, "manly" husband who never cries, was weeping in the arms of our doula. Our daughter was gone. She was in the arms of our Savior. The next few hours were a blur. I tried to stay strong for others . I remember breaking down when I was finally alone. I was trying to eat because I had not eaten in hours, but I couldn’t taste the food. I couldn’t hold the tears back. My only daughter was gone. I would never hear her cry. I would never see her smile. So many dreams that I had were gone in seconds.
This is stillbirth.
It’s a pain you can’t explain. It hurts to the depths of your soul. It shakes you to your core. Physically you will be present, but mentally you will not be. You will hear the doctors and nurses, but in reality you don’t hear anything after, “I’m sorry but we couldn’t detect any cardiac activity”. You feel as if you can’t breath and you just want to scream for everyone to leave you alone, but being alone is the last thing you want. You want to fall asleep so that you can wake up and this all have been a dream, but it won’t be and when you open your eyes it all comes flooding back. You watch your masculine and tough husband sobbing, a sound you’ve never heard from him before; it is a cry from the bottom of his heart. You know it’s a pain that is tearing at his heart because you feel it too. No one prepares you for this pain. No one can prepare you. There are not enough books or doctors or counselors who could prepare you to birth your child and never hear their cry, never see their little chest rise and fall with each breath. It all hits you at once. You will never buy diapers or cute clothes for your child. You will never see them take their first steps, hear their first word, or get one of their slobbery kisses.
No one prepares you that the pain never goes away. It stays with you...forever. Sure, you learn to be stronger and you learn to hide the pain, but it will never get “easier”. Every single day that you wake up, you will know that you will not have your child with you and a piece of you will be missing. You will forever wonder who they would have been and what they would have looked like. No one prepares you for the moment when your child is born and all the pain disappears for a moment and you feel so much joy and love that you could burst.
After my daughter was born still, I just looked at her. I looked at all of her perfectly imperfect features and fell in love. I talked to her and loved on her, as did my husband. We smiled and laughed because she had her daddy’s feet and she shared her little nose and dented in chin with mama and big brother. We bathed her and dressed her.
No one prepares you for the hurt that will come after the joy. No one and nothing can prepare you for the silence and searing pain that comes when you have to give your baby over to the funeral home. No one prepares you for the thoughts that will cross your mind after your child is no longer in your care. "Is she cold?” “Did she know I loved her?” “Did I do everything that I could for her?”
No one prepares you for the fact that people, including family and friends, will be afraid to talk to you because what happened may come up in conversation and they don’t want to hurt you. Little do they know though, all you want to talk about is your child. You want to feel like your baby mattered because she did! She was beautiful! She was perfect! She was MY child!
Stillbirth is so often hidden away and not talked about. This needs to be changed. These babies mattered and their names should be remembered. I want these raw emotions and pictures to show the true feelings of the hurt. I want my words to help a mom be able to talk about her experience without shame. We are taught that we should hide our feelings and “get over it”. I will never “get over it”. I will forever say my daughter’s name. I will forever talk about her every chance I get, no matter how much it hurts and how sad it makes me. Charlie Mae was so beautiful and perfect and she will forever be loved and remembered. She was loved by SO many and touched many lives.
God gave us 32 beautiful and amazing weeks with our girl. We chose to give her life and she gave us so much more. She showed us love and loss. She brought us closer to God and gave us so many beautiful memories. My hope and prayer in sharing our story is that it reaches those that need to see it and helps bring awareness and support to other parents who have gone through similar circumstances. Talk about your children, because they matter. If you know someone going through something similar, reach out and show them love. It means SO much to child-loss parents. I also hope that this brings more awareness to Triploidy and shows that babies with chromosomal disorders or fatal diagnoses deserve life too. These babies are so strong and in my experience bring so much love and joy.
Through this journey I have found joy. My joy and comfort comes from knowing that our sweet, Charlie Mae, is rejoicing in Heaven with our Lord and Savior. I find comfort in the arms of the Lord and in knowing that we will see Charlie Mae again one day in Heaven. This is stillbirth...crushing pain, but yet so beautiful.
To my beloved Charlie Mae, my little diva,
“You are my angel, my darling, my star...and my love will find you wherever you are.” I carried you for 33 weeks and 1 day. I sang to you. I read to you. I prayed for you. I fought for you. I went through what felt like literal hell to get you here. And, I want you to know...I would do it all again for another moment with you. Another moment to feel you near me. Another moment to feel your gentle little kicks. Another moment to know that you’re safe inside my stomach. Another moment to smell you and touch you.
"I love you to the moon and back my little winter bear
I know you know how much that is cause you're already there.
I never knew a love like this could ever possibly
exist, I love you to the moon and back as long as I live."
Winter Bear by Coby Grant