The Birth That Changed My Life: Part III

This week in our Delmarva Community Birth Stories series, we're doing something a little different.  This story is shared by Thrive owner and doula, Maria Mengel.

If you haven't read Part I  or Part II yet, hop on over and check them out now.


We were in a really weird space.  Baby Charlotte's heart could stop beating at any moment.  And yet, there was nothing to do but wait.  Wes owns his own business which is right next to their home.  He would come home during lunch and talk to and read to Charlotte.

Wes would wake up in the middle of the night and feel Meghan's belly just to be sure that Charlotte would still kick back.  

My family spent a good bit of time with them during this time.  We looked at Charlotte's MRI photos, we talked about her and to her, and we tried to keep busy.  I remember Wes being pretty down.  But Meghan was surprisingly not.  It's hard to try to understand how she was feeling, but I think I can compare it to how sometimes people in devastating situations just do what needs to be done because there is simply nothing else to do.  She knew that there would be a time after the birth to grieve, mourn, process, and then finally begin healing.  It seemed to me that she was blocking those emotions while still holding out hope for baby Charlotte and her desire to spend whatever time she had with her in a positive way.

In conjunction with their midwives, the bereavement coordinator at the hospital she would be delivering in, the specialists at Children's National Medical Center, and me, Meghan and Wes drafted a number of birth plans to be prepared for all of the potential outcomes.  One for if Charlotte had passed before before birth (stillbirth plan), one for if Charlotte was born and it was clear that she would not be able to breathe on her own (comfort care only), and one for if Charlotte was born with vigorous breathing and crying (potential for medical care).  

Their specialists told them that there was only about a 5% chance that Charlotte would be born with the potential to breathe on her own since her lungs were so underdeveloped.  And after that, only a 5% chance that she would continue to be able to do so and medical care would actually be a possibility.  The statistics were pretty clear: It was a fatal diagnosis.  Because of this information, Meghan and Wes made the very difficult decision to only intervene with medical care if Charlotte was born breathing, crying, and made it very obvious to the medical staff that her lungs would function completely on their own.  The specialists told them that it would be very easy to be able to tell the difference.  If so, Meghan and Wes were comfortable providing Charlotte with the care that she needed for her renal system.  

There were so many text conversations with Meghan about how they came to this decision and why they were so adamant about not interfering.  They knew that if Charlotte was born alive that it was highly likely that they would only have a few moments or hours with her.  They didn't want those moments to be spent with Charlotte whisked away, hooked up to a ventilator, and away from the ones who love her.

They didn't want her to live her only earthly moments out of their loving arms. They didn't want her to die on a table surrounded by strangers.

My brain still has a difficult time wrapping around this issue.  I can absolutely see and understand the desire to want to do anything  possible to save your child.  And I know that there are parents out there who would make that choice.  As their doula, I planned to support them no matter what their decision was.  But truly, I felt so much respect for their decision to completely respect Charlotte's story and path and their desire to keep her as comfortable and at ease as possible.  

During this time, our conversations moved to her fears.  She had a few clear and distinct fears that she wanted to be able to work through before her birth.  In my childbirth education class, we talk a lot about using affirmations to help process fears and move away from negative thoughts.  I offered to create some pretty affirmations for Meghan to read to herself every day.  I'll share a few of them here.  

Before I do, I want to share that I understand that these affirmations are not within everyone's belief systems.  That's totally okay.  I made sure that the wording was something that Meghan was comfortable with and  that she completely approved.  I know that everyone will approach such a difficult subject by bringing their own life experiences, spiritual and religious beliefs, and heart with them.  As her doula, it wasn't within my scope or desire to express my beliefs.  I simply wanted to support her in processing her fears so that she would be as mentally prepared as possible for her labor and birth.

Some of the fears:  That Charlotte won't be born alive, that she will be in pain, that she will not breathe on her own.

Meghan later told me, "I wanted to believe them.  I read them over and over and over every day.  I hung them in our bathroom covering part of the mirror so I was forced to read them no matter how much pain they caused me."   

During the two weeks between diagnosis and birth, Meghan, Wes, and Meghan's mom and dad spent a lot of time at home as a family and cherished those final moments with Charlotte.  But we also did some "normal" things.  One day, Meghan and her mom accompanied me and my daughters to a small, low-populated beach.  Understandably, it was difficult to be in public because I'm sure Meghan would have received lots of "congratulations" comments and questions about when she is due, what her baby's due date is, what her baby's sex is, etc. Those would have been difficult questions and I know that she wasn't in a place to share all of the information yet.  In fact, they chose not to share any of this information with the public or on their social media until after Charlotte was born.  So we chose a more private, quiet outing.  Because Meghan knew my family so intimately, she told me that night after we went to the beach that it hit her while watching my girls play in the sand that her daughter would probably never know them, play with them, or grow up with them.  That was a really hard day.  We also had conversations about how to tell my daughter, Clara, who was only 2 and a half at the time, and who was over the moon about the baby in Meghan's belly.  

I did my very best to be her friend and her doula.  I scheduled her a massage.  I arranged an appointment with a 3-D ultrasound tech to get a recording of Charlotte's heartbeat in a bear so that they could hear her heartbeat forever. We talked so much about her birth plan and her desires for her care and Charlotte's care.  When Meghan told me she might like to have some maternity photos after all (they had previously decided not to do it), I called right away and found someone to come to their home that afternoon.  Melissa Goodyear of Bluebug Photography did a fantastic job with their photos.  She is also a volunteer photographer with the organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, so she had plenty of experience working with families dealing with loss and was incredibly compassionate.  As you can imagine, the session was extremely emotional.  

How they did that photo session, I'll never know.  How they smiled at all in those two weeks, I'll never know.  How we were still able to joke and be ourselves in spite of it all, I'll never know.  What I do know is that they wanted to cherish that time.  They wanted Charlotte to know that she was loved.  Meghan tried so hard to be happy and thankful for whatever time she had left.  She knew that her baby would feel all of her stress and anxiety, so she smiled and talked to Charlotte constantly.  In the last photo, they decided to take some photos in the nursery.  The photo of Wes wiping her tear gets me every time.

On the morning of Charlotte's due date, I woke up to my phone buzzing early in the morning.  Meghan was in labor.