Losing Dana

by Karen Develos-Sacdalan, M.A.

August 3, 2006 at 11:45pm, my husband John handed over an envelope; a piece of paper that seemed so innocuous but in truth contained a devastating content that drastically altered our lives forever…

Early March 2006, I learned that I was almost 8 weeks pregnant. Admittedly, I couldn’t readily welcome the idea of another pregnancy because I was unprepared for it. I cried for several nights thinking of those long-haul adjustments in practically all facets of my life—physical, emotional, psychological, and mental. My first daughter, Ria, just turned one year old, and I have barely begun weaning her. The thought of devoting 24/7 to another equally demanding, helpless infant was simply nerve-wracking to say the least. On top of all these, just a month before I had started to work in a new field of church-based ministry on a full-time basis.

I’m certainly unlike other mothers who are lucky enough to breeze through their pregnancies like it was the most natural thing in the world; I guess, it just isn’t in my natural makeup. From early on my pregnancy was beset by problems. For instance, I was compelled to go on bed rest for 15 days because of a threatened abortion. This was something I had gone through before, and I dreaded the thought of being helpless and practically incapacitated again in bed, but I didn’t have a choice but go through it to ensure that the baby will not be harmed in any way. In spite of my earlier misgivings, I had come to accept the reality that I would soon be a mother of two, and I was now responsible for the life of another human being.

As my pregnancy term progressed, my anxiety gradually disappeared. In fact, it was replaced by delight and grand expectations of the new life bulging slowly inside me. Alongside, we had some major lifestyle adjustments—purposely to prepare for our growing family. We moved into a new house which had bigger space and was strategically located nearest to my workplace. We had carefully taken serious consideration of how well we could best care for the welfare of our soon-to-be newborn.

Late June 2006, we were overjoyed to learn that we were having another baby girl. This was another definite blessing, and I could barely contain my happiness at having another girl (my preference actually). By then I was sailing through a relatively easy pregnancy experience. “Been there, done that—so this one will come in easy,” as I put it.

We gave her a name — Danella, meaning ‘wise,’ which we got from a baby book of names. We also gave her a nickname, “Dana,” after Dana Reeves, wife of Christopher Reeves, who recently died after a bout with lung cancer. Dana fought courageously alongside her quadriplegic husband until his untimely demise; she herself fought valiantly against the ravages of her own body and has been a source of inspiration to citizens across the globe. We wanted Dana to grow up knowing that she had been named after a great, courageous woman.

July 20, 2006, on my 31st week, I woke up feeling unwell. My body felt very heavy and bloated. I forced myself not to dwell on the pain and managed to report to work thinking that it was just one of those early morning sickness symptoms. However, my body kept sending me whipping episodes of pain and I finally decided to pay my OB a visit.

I was escorted to the Delivery Room, had an internal examination and underwent cardio reading of our baby’s heartbeat. They also performed tocolysis, a diagnosis and treatment of premature labor contractions. I felt my body and mind fighting against these contractions; with every heave of pain I kept thinking, I want to keep my baby. I stayed focused and determined that I would be just as fine. I reminded myself over and over, all of this is ‘in His hands.’

A few minutes later, the laboratory test results came out and eased my worries away. My baby and I got an 8/8 positive biophysical ultrasound results, which is equivalent to a grade of A, had we taken an academic exam. After an overnight stay in the hospital, I was discharged. I was told to go on bed rest for another week to regain strength and to keep our baby in the best position possible.

I stayed in bed as instructed; hoping all will be well eventually. I managed to keep away for any stress-related elements and at the same time kept my mind away from idleness. I read several books, those I had promised myself to finish whenever I had more time—and I did. Even the newspapers that hardly contained anything encouraging didn’t get spared. So it seemed that everything was well again except for my roller coaster emotional battle. Oftentimes I would find myself in such distraught conditions. Maybe I was being hormonal and all that but I slowly felt so insecure, and unconfident about a lot of things. Surely, the worst part of being into bed rest is dealing with the emotional pitfalls.

August 2, 2006, the second onslaught of contractions came and this time they were more intense and agonizingly painful. Around 5:00 pm the pain became even more intense, and so I sent a text message to my husband John to hurry back home. I waited until he came home at 9:00pm —four agonizing hours of waiting seemed forever! I was rushed to the hospital and the medical staff immediately performed what I now presume to be their SOP when someone in labor is cursing the world already.

They took me to the cardio machine to hear the baby’s heartbeat. They tried to listen for about 15 minutes. Three resident doctors took turns trying to locate the heartbeat but they all failed to hear any. As they waited for my OB, who was also the chairman of the hospital, I was simply asked to wait—lying flat on my back with the stillness of waiting compounded by the excruciating pain of the frequent contractions. At that moment, the pain that was draining my energy away was coupled with fear and confusion. Why aren’t there any heartbeats? I feared the worst, but hung on to the very last tinge of hope I could find in my heart. When my OB came, he tried to explain the whole situation I was undergoing. I had to go a belly ultrasound.

Rattled, tensed, panicky, with a heaving, enormous belly anxious to be examined. While they were going about the examination, I mustered enough courage to inquire about my baby’s condition. I was in terrible pain and I deserved some clear explanation. But all that my OB could say was—“Mamaya, usap tayo.” (‘We will talk later’). My heart sunk. I somehow understood it. I tried to grasp the reality that was unfolding before me.

John was waiting outside; I suspected that he must have already been informed of the results. I prayed in my heart that I would be spared from the inevitable moment of truth—yet at the same time, I was anxious to hear the exact words.

And then the dreadful words came—“I am so sorry, but your baby is GONE. From the ultrasound results I can estimate that she’s been DEAD for almost 2 to 3 days…”

I stared numbly at him and blurted out, “Are you sure?! You said she was ok last week!” and I began crying violently while trying to understand, trying to seek the answers to my millions of ‘whys’. My OB couldn’t give me any outright answers at that moment as to why this thing happened. He could only give me the answers until after he examined the dead fetus. DEAD. The words hung in the air, but I couldn’t seem to grasp their meaning.

My OB continued to explain that based on the ultrasound findings my baby’s parietal skull bones had collapsed already and her size indicated a 27-week old reading as opposed to the 34-week old reading that she’s supposed to have.

They took me back to the Delivery Room where there were three other pregnant mothers strapped with cardio machines which seem to happily sing out their baby’s healthy heartbeats. To me every sound was like a dagger that ripped through my heart and rendered it to pieces. At that moment, those heartbeats were the most poignant sounds I could hear, similar to the sounds I heard from my own baby. My baby.

I felt insulted. I was overcome with envy and the maddening heartbeats stung my ears. I cried. It was all I could do.

Dazed. Bitter. Angry. Confused. I was swimming in all these emotions. I never thought life could give and take so fast.

The rest of the medical procedure was immediately put in order and John stayed with me the whole time, still bewildered yet encouraging in every way. We remembered our Lamaze discipline; we used our breathing techniques to ease the painful contractions. I was given labor-inducing medicines and was told to prepare for a vaginal delivery (my first daughter was delivered via Caesarian section).

We became oblivious of the passing time and it seemed, of our own existence and attendance to this horrible event. We felt removed and seemed to view things numbly as if from a distance. The intensive care unit room seemed too cold, dark and taunting too.

More agonizing hours of waiting before I heard and felt my water bag popping out with warm fluid gushing out in torrents. I panicked and held back the tears. “Stay with me… ready… one… two… (inhaling and exhaling)…” John comforted me by squeezing my hand as he helplessly watched me turn pale.

I was quickly moved to the Delivery Room where we waited for more intense labor. My OB came in to explain that the amniotic fluid they examined was termed, “tobacco stain.” It was the color of the final stage which indicated that the baby had been dead much longer than they had initially suspected. In fact, that color told them that the baby had been dead for a week already.

My last glance at the clock of the Delivery Room told me that it was already around 7:00am of August 3, 2006. I was crying out loud due to labor pains. I passed out. When I woke up, I was in the recovery room with a bag of ice placed on my belly.

My body recovered fairly well after my delivery, but inside I was wrecked. I was discharged from the hospital three days after.

It all seemed like a dream, or maybe I just wanted everything to be just a dream. The true horrors of the aborted motherhood came back to haunt me further when I finally got home. I began lactating. My chest hurt so badly and I felt feverish since I had stone-hard breasts filled with milk — nature’s way of sustaining a new life — supposedly new life. But there was just none.

It was a double-edged sword – apart from the physical pain that I have tolerate because of the inevitable lactation, I had to cope with the emotional wounds that came with the horrific reality. Each drop reminded me that there was no baby. I succumbed to painkillers and medicine to restrict the lactation and each day I struggled wondering… “Why? What happened? Who’s at fault?” As my OB tried to explain by uttering those words of consolation — “It’s nobody’s fault, it was bound to happen. It was pathological. The best way to look at it is that you survived…” By thought, I could only submit to God’s sustaining power, but by heart, it all seemed impossible to experience comfort.

And so that very night, I opened the enveloped with a small airtight plastic containing the ashes and death certificate of our baby Dana. We had her cremated on the evening of the day of our hospital discharge. With trembling fingers I examined the papers — it said that the cause of her death was IUFD (In Utero Fetal Demise) due to umbilical cord complications secondary to cord knot. John and I found ourselves cuddling and crying — trying to comfort each other and trying to make sense of all that happened. Then, out of the gloom we realized two certain things: Baby Dana loved us so much that she left us with no threatening complications whatsoever. And most of all, God’s love carried us through; the Lord truly was in charge. His love will calm the storms inside us. We have our Ria. To us, those were enough reasons to hang on.

I remember what Corrie Ten Boom wrote in her book, The Hiding Place: “Perhaps only when human effort has done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.” I was miraculously spared from blood poisoning! A near-death experience, but I have survived by God’s grace.

My sister Kathy she wrote, on the occasion of the death anniversary of our beloved Dad: “There is only one way to live again – and that is to know, to affirm, and to live with the assurance that in spite of the temporal things here on earth, there exists the ultimate hope of the life beyond. While death necessarily punctuates our existence here on earth, there is something that death cannot conquer.”

As human beings, we are not spared from sufferings, tragedies, and yes, the certainty of death. I myself have witnessed firsthand the deaths of two loved ones – my father’s and Dana’s. But does this mean that we have to stop embracing life? Does this mean that must live in dread of what the future holds? I believe that the answer is a resounding NO. This will be the lesson that I will tell my daughter and prayerfully, to the rest of my children, when the right time comes.*

About the Author

Karen Develos-Sacdalan is the Human Resources Head of Greenhills Christian Fellowship South Metro, an evangelical church whose aim is to know Christ and make Him known (see www.gcf.org.ph and www.gcfsouth.com). She is also a part-time lecturer at Mapua Institute of Technology under the Graduate School of Engineering Management where she teaches Human Resources Management subject. She finished both Bachelor of Science and Masters of Arts in Psychology major in Industrial Psychology. She also writes for career advices in www.career-pathways.net.