Baby Rylyn Story
by Carmen Putnam
I have never been happier than when I was pregnant with our first child, Rylyn. The pregnancy was planned, perfect and easy. But in November of 2011, when I was 34 weeks pregnant with her, she got tangled in the umbilical cord and died. Giving birth to our first baby definitely changed my life forever, just not at all in the ways I’d planned.
I am 100% certain that I would not have survived this experience without my husband, Ryan. He is the reason I continued to wake up in the morning after our daughter’s death. He is what kept me going. When I felt like giving up, he’s the reason I didn’t.
I met Ryan in December of 2005. We had our first date in January of 2006 and we’ve been inseparable ever since. A year after our first date he proposed to me. A year after that we got married.
I have always believed that love and marriage could and should be a certain way. With Ryan I found exactly what I was looking for. He is kind to me. We adore and respect each other. We have fun. We don’t bicker. We fight occasionally but it’s always resolved pretty quickly. He’s my favorite person in the world and I can say, with quite a bit of confidence, that I’m his as well.
We always talked about starting a family after being together for five years. It wasn’t set in stone, but it sounded like a good plan. In the summer of 2010 I started learning about getting pregnant and how to prepare my body for pregnancy. I read the What To Expect books and became fascinated! I lost 40 pounds so that I’d be in a healthy weight range when we got pregnant. I quit smoking. I gave up caffeine and started taking a prenatal vitamin. I wanted to do everything right. In January 2011, we decided we were ready. I got off the pill. We gave it a month and started trying in March. We were thrilled! We got pregnant on the first try.
In my first trimester my only complaint was that I was tired. I didn’t have a single day of morning sickness. I had suffered from chronic back pain for the past few years and I noticed almost immediately that the pain was less and less as I got further along. I started telling people when I was 9 weeks pregnant. People were concerned that it was too early to tell people…you know…just in case something went wrong in the first trimester, but I wasn’t afraid. I felt brave and strong and as though I was made to do this.
I started showing really early. At 13 weeks I had a bump. I LOVED IT! I loved that it was obvious that I was pregnant. I loved the way I looked and felt. Ryan constantly told me how “normal” I seemed. I’m a pretty emotional person and we were both preparing ourselves for the crazy hormonal ups and downs that people associate with pregnancy. I definitely had a few, but for the most part I was calm and happy.
I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I have always believed in Karma. I’ve always believed that if you’re a good, kind person, that means good things will happen to you. I’m not perfect. Before this, anything bad that happened to me I would associate with something bad I’d done in my life. I don’t mean “bad” like pre-marital sex or swear words. I mean “bad” like mean or hurtful or insensitive things I’d done or said to people. I thought when I had chronic pain or the restaurant I worked at went bankrupt, that I was making up for wrongs I had committed.
All that to say, I’ve always felt like my wonderful, sweet Ryan was my prize for all of the good things I’d done in my life. And I’ve never taken him for granted. I was the same way with the pregnancy. I was grateful that we had no trouble conceiving. I was grateful that I felt so good. I was happy every time my doctor told me that everything was normal. I was thankful every time another woman who’d had children told me she hated me because I had it so easy. I spent every day of my pregnancy knowing how lucky I was. I was sure that everything was perfect because of my attitude. It was all because I gushed positive vibes.
Then one day it all fell apart.
On Thursday night I felt like the baby wasn’t really moving that much. Ryan and I talked to her. We played her some music. And we got her to move around a little. I was concerned but figured at 8 and ½ months, she was just getting bigger and didn’t have as much room to move. So I went on with my evening. Right before I fell asleep I felt her move again and I nudged Ryan awake and said, “she just moved.” Just so he knew that everything was fine.
On Friday morning I woke up and kept thinking about the baby. Wondering if everything really was okay. As I got ready for work I poked my head out of the bathroom and said to Ryan, “I think I’ll call the doctor’s office after they open at eight, just to make sure.” He agreed that sounded good and off I went to work. I got there and a few minutes after 8:00 a.m. I called and left a voicemail for my doctor. “Hi. It’s Carmen. I just wanted to call because I haven’t felt the baby moving as much as normal. I feel like it’s probably because she’s getting too big to move as much, but I just want to be sure. I felt her move a little bit last night…but not at all this morning yet. But I was in there on Tuesday and everything was fine. So I’m just calling to be sure.” I got a call back within 15 minutes. It was a nurse at my doctor’s office. She told me to go to the hospital for monitoring. I started crying. She was surprised and asked me if I was okay. “I just figured you’d tell me it was no big deal. Now I have to go to the hospital??? Now I’m really scared!” She tried to calm me down and said that it probably wasn’t a big deal, but it was better safe than sorry. I knew she was right, of course, and called Ryan to come get me. He stayed very calm on the phone and said, “It’s okay. I’m coming right now.”
I’d taken the phone call on my cell phone into an empty office so that I’d have more privacy than my cubicle provided. I was sobbing but I knew I had to come out sooner rather than later. So I just walked out crying. I worked in an office with people who actually really love me. They really care. And when I came out a few of my closest friends came rushing over asking what was wrong. I blurted out, between those hiccup-type gasps that come when you cry too hard, “I—haven’t been feeling the baby move—and they want me to go to the—hos--pital—to—get—MONITORED!” They all said sweet wonderful things like, “oh I’m sure it’s fine!” and “I’m sure they’re just being cautious.” I listened to them like they were speaking FACTS to me. I decided they were most certainly right and I was freaking out over nothing. As I left, one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known gave my belly a little poke and said, “Move around in there baby!” I said that I hoped to be back in a few hours.
I went to wait outside for Ryan. I texted my friend Tiffany to let her know. She and I worked together and we normally emailed back and forth all day. I knew she would die if she heard through the gossip mill at work that I’d left for the hospital sobbing. And I called my mom. I just said, “I haven’t been feeling the baby move that much so I’m going to the hospital for monitoring. It’s probably nothing, but I’ll call and let you know once I get there.”
Then Ryan was there. We drove nervously to the hospital. We kept going back to the fact that I was 34 weeks and if something was wrong and she had to be born today she had a very good chance of surviving. At one point I said, “You don’t think she’s dead in here, do you?” And he quickly said, “Oh no! Of course not.” And we changed the subject. I think we both spent that drive thinking we might just have our baby that day.
We got to the hospital and didn’t know where to go. We hadn’t gotten to the tour yet in our birthing class. We asked and were directed to the Birth Center by a sweet lady that reminded me of my Grandma. It was a long walk. When we got there we had to be buzzed in. I just kept telling people. “My doctor wants my baby to be monitored. My doctor wants my baby to be monitored.” I checked in at the front desk and they quickly put me in a room and told me to strip from the waist down and lie down on the table. The nurse came in and put a monitor around my stomach to listen to the heartbeat.
Throughout my pregnancy, at every appointment, the doctor would listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Every time she’d just place the Doppler on my belly and we’d hear her heart loud and clear. Every time my doctor made the same comment, “Wow. Well isn’t she cooperative.” And we’d all laugh.
At the hospital the nurse put the monitor on me. She turned some knobs on the machine. She moved the monitor around on my stomach. I started to cry. We didn’t hear anything. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Let me just get my head nurse.” The head nurse came in. She tried the knobs and moved the monitor around. She even grabbed my whole stomach and shook it. Then we heard a heartbeat but it didn’t sound right. The heartbeat we were hearing was mine. My heart was racing. Ryan and I were clinging to each other. Then a doctor came in with an ultrasound machine. I started crying out loud. Sobs that just lurched out of me. I looked up at Ryan and I wanted him to tell me it was okay and I was over reacting. He was looking at the doctor. And I saw all the color drain from Ryan’s face. I saw it in his face in the split second before the doctor said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” And I screamed. I did. Loudly. My voice so full of agony I can still hear it when I dream about that day. “No!!!!!! God no!!!!!!!!” I was begging the universe for this not to be true. And Ryan’s eyes started tearing up and he looked right at the doctor and said, “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t being accusatory. He wasn’t being confrontational. He was begging the doctor to change his story. And the doctor said, “I would never joke about that. See? Here’s the heart. It’s not beating.” Ryan looked at the ultrasound machine. I didn’t. I didn’t want to see it.
It didn’t feel final. There was a feeling when he told us her heart wasn’t beating that felt like an ellipses. Like, “There’s no heartbeat…” we wanted to scream, “AND???? Now what?” It felt like it shouldn’t be so final. There should be more to say like, “There’s no heartbeat so we’re going to…” something. Anything. But it was a big fat period at the end of that statement. There’s no heartbeat. THE. END.
Rylyn was pronounced dead at 9:26 a.m. on Friday, November 4th, 2011.
I knew it was true. I knew they were right. She’d grown in me and lived in me for 8 and ½ months and I knew she was gone. The doctor told us that her last heartbeat had been just a couple of hours ago. Since that day, Ryan and I can’t really agree on why he told us that. Did he say that so we’d know that she was long gone and there was no saving her? Or did he tell us that because he wanted us to know that she hadn’t been gone long? We don’t know.
They told us how sorry they were and said that they’d give us a few minutes alone while they called my doctor. We cried and hugged each other. We apologized to each other over and over. Not for anything we’d done. But just that the other was hurting so much. Like, “Ryan, I’m sorry your daughter’s dead.” And, “Carmen, I’m sorry your daughter’s dead, too.” And then I looked at him and said, “We’re not going to let this ruin our life or our marriage. Okay?” And he said, “Okay. Together, we can get through anything.” And right then and there we promised. We promised that we would get through it. And we promised that we would get through it together. As a team.
Some nurses came back in. And then it hit me. And I said, “How? How are you going to get her out of here?” And one of the nurses said, “Well, honey, you’re going to have to give birth to her.” Nope. Not a chance. To be honest, I don’t remember what I said. But I know I begged them to knock me out and cut her out…immediately.
One of the nurses told me that my body would eventually go into labor on it’s own, and I could wait, but it might take up to two weeks… And then what? I just go home with a dead baby inside me? And then what? I go to work and go on with my life for two weeks…with my dead baby INSIDE ME? No thank you. Let’s get this over with.
So they had to admit me. We hadn’t pre-registered at the hospital yet so we had to do all of the paper work. I remember the woman who came in to fill it all out was crying. And she kept saying, “I’m so sorry. What’s your address?” And, “I’m so sorry. What’s your middle name?”
The whole time I was sitting in the exam room I had to pee. At that point in my pregnancy I was getting up 8 to 10 times a night to go to the bathroom. And I remember saying a few times, “I have to pee.” And they told me that here soon they’d move me to a room with a bathroom. And I remember at first it was in the back of my mind and wasn’t that bad. But then it started to make me mad. My perfect precious DEAD baby was smashing my bladder and I couldn’t take it anymore!!!!
They moved me into a birthing room. It was a big room. I asked Ryan to remove some of the baby things from the room. There was a machine, I don’t even know what it is, maybe to weigh the baby after it’s born. It had the baby blanket with the footprints on it. The blanket that every baby is wrapped in when they’re first born. There were brochures with infants on the cover. Magazines with smiling women holding their healthy, living babies. Ryan and the nurses removed all of it.
We had to wait for my doctor to get there. We figured it was time to see my parents. They had been in the waiting room. They came after I called my mom to tell her we were going to the hospital. Ryan called his mom. My mom called my sister. I had Ryan call my friend Tiffany at work and tell her what had happened and ask her to let everyone know. I kept wondering how do I make sure to start my FMLA today and do I need to fill out other paperwork since the baby’s dead instead of alive? I wondered how to let people know. We hadn’t figured out who would handle my work while I was on maternity leave yet. And people kept telling me not to worry about work. It would be taken care of. But finally I said, “Can I worry about work? Will you all just let me worry about something as stupid as work? I know it doesn’t matter right now. I know it will get worked out. I don’t care!” I needed to worry about something that could be fixed. Something that wasn’t the fact that my sweet, perfect baby was dead out of nowhere. Something other than the fact that I had a dead person inside me. Something other than the horrifying fact that I had to give birth to her dead body. Something other than the fact that I wasn’t ever going to get to meet her or know her or raise her.
My doctor came. She was so sad and sorry. She explained why I had to deliver the baby and why I couldn’t have a c-section. She told me that it wasn’t going to be quick. It could take a day or two even. My body wasn’t ready for labor. I was six weeks early and it was going to be hard to get my body ready. I had always wanted natural childbirth with no drugs. Obviously, they would have to give me medicine to induce labor, but she told me that she wanted me to have pain medication too because there was no reason I should have to have any physical pain. They could give me something in my IV to help with the pain and the anxiety and…well…I didn’t need to worry about any of it harming the baby. Then once I was further along in labor they could give me the epidural.
I’d had a lot of fear about delivery. I always thought that I’d be fine and stronger than anyone would expect and I’d do great. But as I got further along in my pregnancy and closer to my due date, I started to get scared. Birthing classes didn’t make me more confident, they made me more nervous. But everyone kept saying to me, “whatever happens, it doesn’t matter, cause at the end you get your baby.” Not me. Nope. I had to go through all of it for nothing. The most horrible experience. Something that science and society agree is some of the most excruciating pain a person can endure. And for most people, it’s worth it. They forget the pain and the struggle, because when it’s all over, someone hands them their beautiful, screaming, squirming, warm, cuddly, healthy, perfect, ALIVE baby.
My doctor told me she wasn’t going to be able to be there for the delivery. Another doctor would come and she was wonderful. She also asked if we wanted an autopsy just in case the cause of death wasn’t obvious when the baby came out. And then she said she’d write some prescriptions for all of the meds I would want and need. Then she left.
The nurses came to start an IV. It took them four tries to get one in. I got 17 vials of blood drawn. And then they put some medicine on my cervix to help it start to dilate. I asked Ryan if he wanted me to go without the pain and anxiety meds since he couldn’t have any. I didn’t want him to be alone with this while I was all loopy and knocked out. But he said I should take them, so I did. Then we waited. During this time we asked my parents to go to our house and pick up some things for us. Ryan’s parents had arrived.
I spoke to some of my closest friends to tell them that she was gone. I don’t really remember what I said to any of them. I just remember flashes. I called my best friend since childhood, Danielle or as I call her, Double, and I think she was on her lunch break. I remember her crying and asking if she could come to the hospital. I told her not to because I didn’t want her to have to miss work. As if I’d be concerned about a few hours of missed work if this horror show was happening to her. A few minutes later I asked my mom to call her back and ask her to come.
I called my college roommate, Abby. I don’t remember much of that call either, but she’s a mother and I remember telling her that I’d have to give birth to the baby, knowing that she’d understand, at least physically, what that meant. Later, she told me that I’d asked her if I was going to be able to do it. I guess she promised me that I could.
I spoke to my sister. My mom had already told her that our baby had died. She was crying and saying how sorry she was. She asked if I wanted her to fly out here. I told her no because I didn’t want her to miss work or spend the money to get here. Later I asked my mom to call her back and ask her to come too.
I spoke to Tiffany later and she told me that everything at work was taken care of.
I was in and out of a haze all that day. They’d give me a dose of the pain killer and the anxiety medicine and I’d go into the fog, and as it wore off I’d be more alert until it was time for another dose. We’d let people come in and visit and then ask them to leave. The hospital had set up the delivery room next door for our family to be close to us. My sister and brother-in-law had plane tickets from New York for the next morning. Ryan’s sister was already on a train from Nebraska due to arrive around the same time. One of the hardest things about Friday was when out of nowhere we’d hear a brand new baby cry.
At some point on Friday they started the Pitocin to help move labor along. The pain killers worked for a while and I didn’t feel much. But later that night I started to feel the contractions. It felt like there weren’t any breaks. Just non-stop contractions. And they hurt. That meant it was time for the epidural. I was terrified of the epidural. Another doctor came in to do it. He wasn’t mean, but he certainly didn’t have the bedside manner I had become accustomed to with the amazing nurses. He was all business. The nurse had Ryan stand in front of me so I could just hug him while they put the needle in my back. He held me and comforted me. It went pretty quickly.
After that, I was done. I pretty much blacked out. Not that I fainted. But they laid me back on the bed and I was out. Sometimes an epidural can cause itching so I had more medicine for that. They had to put a catheter in. I got to the point where I was so relaxed they had to put an oxygen mask on me because I wasn’t breathing deeply enough on my own. But I don’t really remember any of that.
In the middle of the night I remember waking up and hearing Ryan crying. I couldn’t move. I was so exhausted and on so many meds that I literally couldn’t even turn my head to comfort him. I felt so guilty that I was able to escape into sleep and he just had to sit all by himself and feel everything. He sat right there in a chair and held my hand all night. He was scared that he was going to lose me too.
The next morning I woke up and was quite a bit more alert. Our parents and Double were there and they all came in to see us. Ryan’s dad had to leave to go get Ryan’s sister Carly from the train station in Denver. Even though I had the epidural and the medicine to help with the itching, I still had this spot on my foot that was itching like crazy and it was really hard to sit up and get to it. So my mom stood at the foot of the bed and itched my foot for a while.
The doctor that would deliver Rylyn came in and introduced herself. She was so kind. She said that my body was really fighting labor. All night things would look like they were progressing and then just stop. Back and forth. She said that she wanted to break my water and hopefully that would get things moving. So she did. That was around 9:30.
A little while later, I’m talking less than an hour later, I felt pressure. I really couldn’t feel a lot of anything, but I definitely felt pressure. I told the nurse and she checked me and said it was time. She dashed out of the room to call the doctor in and I lost it. I was grabbing on to Ryan and I kept saying, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” And again, he just held me and comforted me and told me that he knew I could.
The doctor and our nurse and the head nurse came rushing in and I didn’t even look at them. I just looked at Ryan. They got everything all set up, grabbed my legs and told me to push. I did. They told me I was doing great so I just kept pushing. In what felt like seconds I felt her gush out of me. And so at 10:42 a.m. on Saturday, November 5th, 2011 Rylyn Charly Putnam was born dead.
I had been adamant that I did not want to see her body. People kept telling me that I could hold her and take pictures of her and spend time with her. I just kept saying that there was no way I wanted to see her. At one point I had asked if she would be hideous. I was scared. I didn’t want all of these beautiful images I had imagined of her to be destroyed if she looked scary when she came out. They told me that she probably wouldn’t because she hadn’t been gone for very long. A lot of times if the baby stays in the womb for weeks after they die, they can look a little scary. But that wasn’t the case with her. So it would probably be fine. But I still didn’t want to. Ryan and I had talked about it and he was on the fence. He said he might want to see her and hold her, but that he wouldn’t make me if I didn’t.
When she was born I looked away. At the same moment, Ryan and our nurse said, “She’s beautiful!” And I said, “Give her to me! I want to hold her!” When they said that she was beautiful I knew that I just had to see her. I needed to hold her. They wrapped her up and gave her to me right away. They told us it was obvious what had killed her. She was completely tangled up in the umbilical cord. It was around her neck and one of her legs multiple times. Ryan had seen it when she came out, but I didn’t want to see it so they covered it with the blanket. I held her while the doctor helped me deliver the placenta, I don’t really remember doing anything. Then she had to stitch me up a little bit.
I held her and Ryan held her. I gave her back to the nurse who had to take pictures of the cord and remove it. Then they gave her back to us for a few minutes. I held her tiny hand and told her that I loved her and that I was sorry. The nurse took two pictures of the three of us on Ryan’s phone. Our little family, that didn’t get to be, caught in two sad pictures.
We asked the nurse to take her away and I think that’s when our family got to see her. Some of them held her and some of them didn’t. We let them come in and see us. They came back in with Rylyn’s body but after just a few more minutes we asked them to take her away. It was obvious that she wasn’t in there. It was just a shell. We didn’t want fancy pictures of her. We didn’t want her to be dressed up in clothes like a doll. She was gone. And we wanted her body to be left alone and respected.
Shortly after that Ryan’s dad got back with Carly. And my sister and brother-in-law arrived too. It was such a relief to have them all there and I fell asleep.
We spent a while that day waiting for the epidural to wear off. I just wanted to take a shower. But they wouldn’t let me until I could stand up and get to and from the bathroom by myself. Finally they took out my IV and let me take a shower. Ryan got in with me to help me. It was horrible. My body was hideous. I tried not to look down but it was hard not to. It was empty. I was empty. Deflated. Stretched out. Flabby. It was terrible. I was weak and sore and sad and ugly. And Ryan was scared to death that I was going to fall or somehow hurt myself.
Once we were all showered they moved us to a new room. They thought it would be better for us not to be around all the new parents and babies in the birth center so they moved me over to the women’s care area. Our family helped us lug over all of our stuff. Ryan’s family went to get us some food that wasn’t hospital food. We all ate and then I think mostly everyone left. But I remember talking with my sister, Erin, and my brother-in-law, Adam for a while. They helped us push the bed over next to the window seat so that Ryan could sleep next to me. And we slept.
Early Sunday morning the doctor that delivered Rylyn came in to see how I was doing. She said she was going to discharge me. She gave me a few prescriptions. Ibuprofen, Xanax, and some other, much stronger pain killer that I’ve forgotten.
The family all came back to help us get packed up. They put me in a wheel chair and Ryan pushed me out of the hospital. We asked Adam to drive us home in our car. Neither of us felt up to driving. I honestly have no memory of arriving home. In the other stories I’ve read people talk a lot about arriving home. How painful it was to walk in without a baby in their arms. That all makes a lot of sense to me, but I don’t remember any of it.
The next few days are a complete blur. Adam had to leave on Sunday afternoon. I know Carly had to leave shortly after that. Erin stayed for a while…maybe a week. Our parents were around a lot, and Double. We really only wanted to see family.
I’ve known Double since we were 7 years old. We met in the second grade. We’ve been friends ever since. Like most lifelong friends, we’ve had some ups and downs. But we’ve always come through them. Double has always seemed like more than just a friend. But throughout the experience of Rylyn’s death and birth, it became glaringly clear that Double is family. She was always around. She came by every day. Somehow she always knew exactly what I needed, exactly what to say. She was and is amazing.
Two days later, my milk came in. It was horrible for me emotionally. I just wanted my body to know what was happening. I wanted to scream to my body, “She died in there! Don’t you realize!?!?!? We have no one to feed!!!” I was disgusted by the whole thing. I kept thinking, “I can’t deal with THIS TOO!”
I think what happens to your body after giving birth is something people breeze past. Who really cares what your body is doing when you’re trying to be a new parent? When you’re taking care of this beautiful, amazing little person, why would you think about your drooping stomach? But when you don’t have your baby, when your baby is dead, the only thing you have is your body. Your body that held her and nourished her and grew her. Your body, which also happens to be where she died. I felt like a haunted house. Beaten up, wrecked, and abandoned because it’s creepy there. Someone DIED in there.
My sister is an academic. She studies and does research professionally. Everyone wanted to help and one of the ways she found to help, was to deal with my milk. She found out exactly what needed to happen to make it as quick and painless as possible and she took care of it. We tried everything! She had me drinking sage tea by the boatload and I was taking B6 on a schedule. She would crush sage and cabbage leaves and place them on my breasts followed by ice packs, stuffed into a sports bra. We did this every couple of hours and I wore the cabbage and ice packs all day every day for three weeks, even in the shower. The point was to stop the milk production. If the breasts get warm or stimulated the milk is expressed and more is made. It was very difficult. I was constantly cold and uncomfortable. When I’d take the cabbage off to change it my breasts were red and wrinkly from the cold and the pressure. I wanted to stop but I was too afraid of the milk.
So, the first three weeks were mostly about my breasts. We got to calling our process “boob cabbage.” It was almost an assembly line. We’d say to the moms (my mom and Ryan’s mom became only “the moms”), “Can someone prepare some boob cabbage?” And then Ryan and I would go in the bedroom and remove what I had on and someone would come with fresh icepacks and boob cabbage and take away the old. And we’d get my breasts re-cabbaged. We had it down to a science.
Most of the first month after Rylyn’s death is a blur. I remember only little moments or little flashes of time. But I know that Ryan and I never left each other’s sight. It felt wrong to be apart. As though we would shatter without the other one nearby. I think we really were holding each other together.
A week after Rylyn’s birth we had an appointment with my doctor. She wanted to see us and see how we were holding up. We got to the doctor’s office and we were both nervous. We knew that the waiting room would be filled with pregnant women and babies and it was everything we had to drag ourselves in there. I don’t know why, but I had assumed that there would be a big fat sticky note on the front of my file that read, “Stillborn alert!!!” or something to that effect. When we walked up to the desk to check in, the receptionist asked for my insurance card and then asked me to fill out a bunch of paperwork. She said, “since it doesn’t look like you’ve been here since March, I’m going to need to update all of your information. Oh and I’m going to need your $40 copay.” I felt like I was choking but somehow squeaked out, “I gave birth to a stillborn baby last week.” Ryan jumped in with, “can’t we just go see the doctor and she can fill this stuff out later?” And we went and sat down. Very soon after the nurse rushed out and put us in a treatment room to wait.
In the first month we watched all ten seasons of Friends. For some reason we were so comforted by it. It took our minds off things just enough, but wasn’t too stressful or too funny or too anything. It was perfect.
Everyday the moms would come over and make breakfast and clean up a little bit for us. They would leave for a while in the middle of the day and then come back in the evening to make us dinner.
Some people at my work had come up with a schedule to make meals for us. So almost every night Tiffany would show up with some new casserole or lasagna or pot roast.
Every commercial was for baby products. Every tv show was about pregnant women or babies. Everywhere we went it felt like everyone was a baby or was holding a baby. At Target there was a huge poster with an adorable baby that said, in huge letters, “Babies are happiness.” It was exhausting. It felt like nothing was safe. But the worst thing was, silence was the most dangerous. Anytime I wasn’t being distracted, every time I closed my eyes, I would relive it. I would be back in the hospital in the exam room where they told us she was gone, or in the delivery room pushing. It even got to a point where I was reliving it from different perspectives. I’d see it from the doctor’s perspective or the nurse’s perspective. I felt like I couldn’t escape. I couldn’t sleep because of it. I’d be so tired that I couldn’t keep my eyes open to read or watch something, but if I closed them I’d be back in the hospital. It felt like I was being tortured. There was no escape.
I felt guilty. If only we’d come in Thursday night when we were a little worried. But we couldn’t have saved her. If we’d gone in the night before they might have been able to get her out alive, but she would have been brain dead and she would have had to have her leg amputated. Then we would have had to watch her die or decide to pull the plug on her. Bottom line, there was no way we could have known soon enough to save her. This was a catastrophe. Plain and simple. In a lot of ways that is comforting. I don’t have to feel guilty for the rest of my life. Ryan doesn’t have to try to forgive me for some horrible negligent thing I did to kill our baby. But at the same time, we have nothing to blame. There is nothing that I can do better next time to avoid this. There is no reason.
I also had a lot of fear about what people would think or say about it. I was convinced that everyone we knew was wondering what I’d done to kill our baby. Or speculating about how I’d screwed it up. I felt like I’d failed. All the doctors in the world could tell me over and over that I couldn’t have saved her, but I was 100% responsible for taking care of her and I didn’t. She died on my watch. And I felt like everyone knew it.
A couple of days after her death we had to deal with Facebook. I know it seems stupid and trivial to care about Facebook but it was a big deal to me. I had pictures from my baby shower up and I had maternity pictures up and we’d made announcements on Facebook about being pregnant and another to say when we found out we were having a girl. I could imagine getting a note on Facebook like, “Did you have your baby yet?” or “When’s the baby coming?” Or worse yet, the news coming out in some horrible awkward way. So I got on Facebook. I took down all of the pictures of myself pregnant. And Ryan and my sister and I wrote a statement. Almost like a press release. It said:
After 8 and 1/2 months of a beautiful pregnancy, our baby girl, Rylyn Charly Putnam, passed away Friday, November 4, 2011. That morning, Carmen didn't feel Rylyn moving, so we went to the hospital. After monitoring, they found that the baby's heart had been stopped for a couple of hours. After 22 hours of labor, Carmen delivered our baby on Saturday, November 5 at 10:42am. Upon delivery, the doctors discovered the umbilical cord wrapped around Rylyn's neck and legs numerous times. We left the hospital Sunday, and are now at home grieving.
We appreciate all your concern, love, wishes, and prayers, but we ask to grieve privately. The two of us have planned our own memorial service and there will be no further ceremonies. We would appreciate no Facebook messages, phone calls, visits, or text messages. The best way to send your love is by sending an email to Wishes@BabyRylyn.com
Love Ryan and Carmen
We actually found this to be a really great thing to have. Moving forward we and other people in our lives used this text a lot. We used it in emails to friends and family and even clients who needed to know what had happened. It was simple and straightforward. This is something that is really hard to explain. We still struggle with it. “Our baby was stillborn.” When you say that, people don’t understand. People don’t realize that that is something that still happens. It sounds like something that happened before hospitals and ultrasounds. Not something that happens in 2011. Or they think miscarriage.
We had Rylyn cremated. I remember when we went to pick up her remains, or her ashes, I don’t like either of those words. One woman said, “I’ll go get Rylyn” while another had us look over and sign the death certificate. She didn’t get a birth certificate. Just a death certificate. They brought her out and handed her to me. All of her reduced down to fit in a tiny envelope. The same size envelope as my baby shower thank you notes. Her name was printed on the front of it. It looked like the printer was running low on ink. They handed her to me. And that was it.
The day Ryan and I had found out I was pregnant it was 5:00 a.m. on April 8th, 2011. I had read that you have to take a pregnancy test with the first pee of the day for the most accurate results. So when I shot out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and had to pee, I woke up Ryan and said, “I’m gonna take that test now.” He pulled himself out of bed too and came along. We were both pretty sure I was pregnant, but when we saw that digital screen read out “pregnant” we were elated. We were so overwhelmed with excitement. We decided to go for a drive through The Garden of the Gods and watch the sunrise. Garden of the Gods is a beautiful National Park in Colorado Springs. It’s full of amazing red rock formations, wildlife and trails. It’s only five minutes from our house. We love it there. As we drove through The Garden we were in awe thinking about this new life that we were creating and watching the sunrise over the beautiful red rocks. It was the best day of my life.
So, when Rylyn died we knew right away that we would spread her ashes there at sunrise. In December we got up early, bundled up, and went to The Garden. We walked around a bit and found a nice place for her. My eyes were blurry with tears as Ryan released her ashes from the tiny envelope. And as the sun rose, we said goodbye to our sweet, adored baby Rylyn.
After Rylyn’s death it took me four weeks to go into her room. We had it all set up. I’d hung and washed her clothes. Ryan had made beautiful wooden block letters spelling out her name and had hung them over the crib. I knew that it was going to be difficult to go in there but also felt like it was something I needed to do for my healing. So, one day, Ryan and I went in. I touched everything. I sat in the rocking chair. I cried. I held her clothes. And then we packed it all up. We didn’t give anything away. We just packed it all up. We kept the furniture set up. But we took away anything that made it Rylyn’s room versus just a baby room. We have boxes of clothes that a little sister or brother can hopefully wear someday. But we also have a Rylyn box. It’s nothing fancy. Just a big plastic container that can slide under our bed. And it holds pretty much everything that was related to her short life. We have the wooden block letters in there. We have the framed ultrasound picture of her from the 20 week check-up. We have the little butterflies that we’d hung on the wall above her changing table.
It also holds everything about her death. Piles of condolence letters and cards. The packets on grief that we were given at the hospital. The little scrapbook the nurses made for us with a lock of her brown hair and her tiny footprints in black ink. There are pictures that they took of the family holding her. It’s the saddest box I’ve ever seen. But I love it. And I need it. That box is the only proof I have that she existed.
About a week after Rylyn’s birth, I weighed myself. The number was a lot more than I wanted it to be, especially since I’d lost those 40 pounds before getting pregnant. I gave myself 3 weeks to just eat whatever I could get (and keep) down. After three weeks I started dieting hardcore. I went back on the same diet I’d lost the weight on before and committed. I waited anxiously for my six week check up to get the go ahead to start working out. And once I did I went for that with a vengeance. As I’ve mentioned, I had very serious back problems before I was pregnant so I hadn’t been a big exerciser. But the pregnancy helped with my back pain and I’ve been able to work out a lot more than I could before, about four or five times a week. Three days from now will be the three month anniversary of her death. I have lost 2.5 pounds. When I started dieting so soon after she died people kept telling me not to worry about that. But I knew that the sooner I didn’t look like this, the sooner I’d start to feel better. I didn’t want to look like I’d just given birth and I was committed to working hard to change it. And three months later, I still look exactly the same. People say that stress and trauma destroy your adrenal glands, which screws with metabolism. People keep telling me to be patient; it’ll come off when the hormones wear off. But it’s difficult for me. I feel like I’m wearing a lead suit. It’s like the trauma of her death is tattooed on my body. Between the stretch marks and the weight, I can barely look at myself.
I know a woman who had her baby two months before me. Her baby is perfect and healthy. And nine weeks postpartum she looked exactly like she did before she was pregnant. Size 0. Flat stomach. No stretch marks. And she’s a lovely, kind person. I adore her. But I’m jealous. She gets her baby and her body. And I get neither.
There were only a handful of people in my life that were pregnant at the same time I was. But I still have a hard time with them. When I was pregnant I wished that someone really close to me would be pregnant with me. I felt lonely because the only people I knew that were pregnant were some distant Facebook friends and a couple real life friends in other cities. But after Rylyn’s death I was relieved that I didn’t have anyone in my life that I had to see or support when they had their baby. Watching one after the other have a healthy perfect baby is so hard. I don’t, in a million years, wish this on anyone. But I am jealous. I am. I am unbearably jealous that these people get their babies and I don’t. And it’s hard not to compare. It’s hard not to wonder why.
The other night a friend on Facebook, that I honestly haven’t spoken to in at least ten years, announced that her water had broken and they were at the hospital. All day the next day I felt anxious and I was checking her page every ten minutes. I mean, obsessively. I didn’t know how long she would be in labor. I know that after you have a baby there are bigger things to deal with than posting on Facebook. But all day I kept thinking, “Did the baby make it?” And I felt insane because I don’t really even know this woman anymore, but I worried about her all day with a kind of panic I can’t even describe. And I wonder if that’s how I’ll feel anytime I hear that someone in my life is pregnant or in labor, for the rest of my life.
On December 20th, 2011 Ryan and I went back to see the doctor for my six week post partum check up. It completely shocked me because one of the first things she asked was, “How many friends have you lost?” I said, “one.” And she said that was pretty good. She said that it was very common for people to lose friends or family relationships when something like this happens. Sometimes it’s because it’s too much for people to handle. Other times it because people outside of the parents don’t really understand why it’s such a big deal. It’s the idea that we “never really knew her.”
The friend we lost was mine. We’d been friends for 14 years. We did theatre together growing up and went to the same high school and college. To say we’ve had a rocky relationship is an understatement. We’ve been inseparable at times and sworn enemies at others. But the past few years had been incident free. I’ve thought a lot about why our friendship fell apart so abruptly after Rylyn’s death and I don’t think it did. I think it began to fall apart a long time before. I think being a parent changes a person and for me that began with the positive pregnancy test. And the fact that my baby only lived inside me doesn’t mean those changes didn’t take effect. And I have people in my life who aren’t parents that understand. But I think this friend just couldn’t relate to the pregnancy or to the loss.
It was so much easier six months ago when I believed that if I’m good and kind and try hard that good things will happen. It’s sad to think that for the rest of my life I’m changed. I’m a woman with a dead baby. If I get pregnant again, how do I answer questions that used to be simple? “Is this your first?” Or even, “Aren’t you excited?” Last time these questions had obvious answers. Next time, I have no idea what I’ll say.
I’ve been getting the impression lately that people are in a real rush for us to have another baby. People love to say, “Oh you’ll have another.” It feels like they think that a new baby will erase the dead one. As though we just want a baby, not any one in particular. Like the death of our child was simply a delay in the process and once we have one we’ll be happy. It’s just a bump in the road on the way to parenthood. Hopefully I will have another child that lives. But that child will not be Rylyn. Rylyn is still gone. She will never come back. And I’m certain that we will love the next baby just as much as we love Rylyn, but not instead of her. The fact is, even if I do have a living baby, I will never feel the pure joy that a woman is supposed to feel when her child is born. I will be afraid. I will be doubtful. And I will be mourning my first child if/when I hold my second. That’s the truth. And it’s unbearably sad.
One thing that I hear a lot from people is, “I don’t want to bring it up if you’re not thinking about it.” My daughter died three months ago. I’m always thinking about it. There has yet to be a moment where I remember that she died. There were times when I was pregnant that I’d be watching a movie and when I’d get up I’d remember that I was pregnant. Or times after Ryan and I got married that I’d go to say my maiden last name and then remember, “Oh yeah, I’m a Putnam now!” But I have never had the luxury to forget, even for a moment that my Rylyn died. She is on my mind always. She is the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night. I don’t think it’s just me either. I think mothers everywhere love to talk about their children. And just because mine isn’t here with me doesn’t mean I’m not proud of her. She was perfect.
Since Rylyn’s death a lot has changed. I quit my job and I work at home with Ryan now. After Rylyn we realized that we can do everything right, wait for the perfect time and things can still fall apart. We’ve been wanting to do this for years and we kept saying eventually, eventually. And finally it was like, what the hell are we waiting for? This is either going to work or it’s not. All we can do it take the leap and try our best.
It’s now four months later and we have kept our promise to each other. We are getting through it together, as a team. We talk about her often. We never pretend it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t hurt. But we laugh together again. We even make sad dark jokes about our dead baby. Maybe it’s sick, but it helps us. Either you’re going to laugh or you’re going to cry. It’s very true that some days are easier than others. Some days I feel sick from the heaviness in my chest. Other days I feel pretty good. Some days it’s debilitating and other days it’s more of a dull ache. I have no control over what kind of day I’ll have. It just happens to me.
I know that I’ll never forget Rylyn. It will never be okay with me that she’s gone. I used to believe that everything happens for a reason, but I don’t anymore. There is nothing that I could possibly learn from this that would be worth it. Any wisdom I could glean from the death of my child is trivial. I would rather have my baby. Talk to me in 20 years and we’ll see if I’ve changed my tune. But for now, I just miss my Rylyn.