On December 23rd 2012 our little family of 3 was getting ready for Christmas in Dawson Creek, BC. Both Scott and I were feeling a little sad about spending our first Christmas so far away from family but we decided to spend the day with our 1 year old daughter watching Christmas movies, and decorating our home to make it special.
We had been hoping for a baby for three months, and eagerly awaiting a pregnancy, but after another month had come and passed with no sign of a baby, we knew that we would be waiting a little longer. I had made plans to surprise Scott with the news in a special way when we did become pregnant. I wanted to give him a card when we came home from work one day “just because” with the good news wrapped inside. I’d been talking to one of my best friends online about different ways to surprise him. I think I tortured her with plans for my “baby-to-be” for months because I was so excited to be pregnant and to have another baby. On that day I impulsively decided to take another pregnancy test, even though the month had long passed and I’d already read negative results a number of times. I’m not sure exactly what made me take the test but I just wanted to give it one last shot.
When I read the results my eyes pooled with tears. Positive. A pee stick isn’t the most charming thing in the world but in that moment it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. I started shouting. All my plans for telling Scott in a special way flew out the window. I walked out of the bathroom practically hyperventilating, overjoyed by the positive news. I was having a baby again.
Scott didn’t believe me at first. He’d wrapped his head around the fact that we would likely be waiting another month, or longer, for our little baby. In that moment, all of the sadness about spending Christmas away from family dissipated. Our lives were lit so brightly by the news of our little baby coming in 9 months’ time.
From that point on, our focus was on our future, the expansion of our family.
We kept our baby news a secret for 10 weeks, but during that time we talked a great deal about our precious little one. I told Sierra about her new brother or sister living in my tummy. Sierra lifted my shirt to check and then looked at me with skeptical eyes when she didn’t see a baby living under my shirt where I had indicated.
I spent the majority of January feeling very sick. I hadn’t had any morning sickness at all with my daughter, and I remember thinking how awful it was and wondering if the difference meant that maybe this time maybe I was having a boy. I ate only crackers and cheese for a few weeks. Once the morning sickness subsided I craved salty things. With Sierra, it had always been sweet things that I craved, so again I wondered if this meant that I might be having a boy.
In February, my parents came up to visit us in Dawson Creek. When they arrived, our daughter was wearing a shirt that I had bought for her that said “Big Sister.” At first they were confused and then they both looked at each other and at me as they realized what it meant.
They were going to be grandparents again. They were surprised and elated. Shortly after that visit, we took a trip down to Vancouver Island where we got to give the good news to Scott’s family, and to all of our friends. Everyone was very excited for us. I had always said that I wanted to have my babies 2 years apart and this baby was going to be almost exactly 2 years apart from our daughter. The due date for baby was September 4th and her birthday is September 23rd. Between that, and Scotts birthday in mid-October, it was going to be a busy couple of months for our little family with birthdays.
We decided it was very important that year to get back to Vancouver Island to be closer to family. Scott worked very hard to make this happen. He applied for jobs in Victoria, Courtenay, Duncan, Nanaimo and was selected to interview for all of them. We sat together many nights preparing for those interviews, so eager to get home and continue growing our family near all of our loved ones. In March, Scott flew back and forth from Dawson Creek and the Island a number of times. It was very difficult and draining but he never gave up.
The good news came in late March that we would be moving back to Victoria after almost a year and a half away. Everything seemed to come together for us at once; a new baby, a beautiful location to put down our roots, and the opportunity to be close to our families and friends.
Before we left Dawson Creek, I had the chance to see my little baby on an ultrasound. I saw his or her perfect little hands and feet. I began to tear up as the doctor showed me the heartbeat and all my baby’s amazing little features. I don’t think that it matters how many babies you have or how many times you see/hear that heartbeat. It feels like a miracle every time. The doctor told me that HE was a very chill baby. I don’t know if she knew or if she just made a slip but I held onto that…a little boy.
After we left Dawson at the end of April I really started to feel my little one moving. Despite being told that he was a chill baby, I seemed to be getting kicked constantly. I don’t remember my little girl ever moving that much. He seemed to have limitless energy, waking me up at all hours of the night to let me know he was there. Sometimes I felt him do something akin to full somersaults. At those times, I had to stop and hold my stomach because I felt like I would be sick. I rubbed him lots in my tummy and talked to him sometimes to let him know I felt him and I loved him. Scott got to feel him kick a few times but lots of times he would stop kicking as soon as Scott put his hand there, almost like the baby was playing a game.
I spent much of May getting very excited about my little one’s arrival. Only three more months to go and he or she would be here. I knew that the time would go by very fast. The first six months had already felt like a whirlwind. All of my doctor’s appointments had been great. Baby was always very healthy and doing everything he or she was supposed to.
I finally got to have my anatomical ultrasound on June 3rd, 2013. Dawson Creek hadn’t had many ultrasound techs so my ultrasound had been pushed back to quite late. Baby was almost 27 weeks old by the time we went in when it is normally done at closer to 15 weeks.
This appointment was very exciting because it would be the first time Scott was able to see the baby. He hadn’t been at my earlier appointments when I’d heard the heart and seen the baby on the ultrasound screen. He made a point to take an hour off of work so that we could go together. That day was one of the happiest days of my entire pregnancy for me. We saw baby on the screen moving around. The ultrasound tech even had a 3D option, so we were able to see our baby’s face very clearly. We knew right away that he or she looked so much like our daughter – same lips, nose and mouth. We even saw the baby yawn at one point. I couldn’t believe how big baby was. The ultrasound tech told us everything looked very normal.
Our baby was perfect and healthy in every way. I noticed that the baby sometimes put his little hands or legs up to block the ultrasound scanner that was prodding him. “Good for you,” I remember thinking; a little fighter. By the end of the ultrasound we were both feeling ecstatic. Scott didn’t want to go back to work because he was too pumped up from our good news, and from seeing his baby for the first time. I spent the rest of the day in a happy daze, thinking about all the great things we’d heard and seen on our scan. It made everything feel so much more real. We had a baby who was already 2 and a half pounds! On the scan he looked like a full sized baby, all ready for the world.
That night we showed our good friends the ultrasound pictures when they came over to watch a show. I left them on the counter and looked at them lots throughout the next day and a half. Tiny perfect feet. Tiny perfect nose. Tiny perfect head, arms, legs, tummy, lips. You could see all of these things very clearly despite the black and white shading.
Two days later on June 5th at 1:30 in the morning I awoke to what I thought were Braxton Hicks contractions. I had been having them throughout my pregnancy and thought of them as more of a nuisance than anything. These ones were a bit more uncomfortable but I didn’t think much of them as I tried to get back to sleep. But I could not sleep; they were too painful to sleep. At about 3:30 in the morning I told Scott they were feeling a bit like real contractions.
Again, we both decided that it was probably just Braxton Hicks. It was way too early for labour. We still had at least ten more weeks to go. I felt baby kick a few times which reassured me. Probably just wondering what all the raucous was with my body giving him periodic “hugs” as it gently tightened and released again. At 5:30 in the morning I knew something was wrong. I had experienced strong labour contractions with my daughter when I was induced and this felt very similar to those. Too similar. Scott phoned the doctor to ask what we should do. I spoke to him and contracted while I was on the phone. The doctor could tell I was probably in labour and instructed us to go to the hospital. Everything else happened very fast.
When we arrived I was immediately seen by the nurses as well as my own doctor who we had phoned earlier. When the doctor checked I was already 3cm dilated. I was told that the baby was likely coming and I was given a shot of steroids to speed up the development of baby’s lungs. I was so afraid and I cried because I didn’t know what was going to happen.
I didn’t know anything about premature labour. I thought it was something that happened only to people who were sick or who were not taking care of themselves. I was neither of those things. How could this be happening to me?
At around 9:30AM, the baby dropped down very suddenly and my water broke. The nurse was not expecting things to happen so soon and she rang an alert bell to call all the doctors and nurses who specialized in preterm infants. I vaguely remember a number of people running into the room but mostly I remember feeling him right there and ready to come out. I pushed once or twice and he was there.
Ivan Scott Mitchell was born at 9:39 in the morning on Wednesday June 5th after only 8 hours of labour. 2lbs, 10oz and 37cms long. They placed him on my stomach and I felt his head and I cried and cried. He was so tiny but so perfect. I loved him so much. All I wanted to do was hold him, but they needed to take him away. At first no one told me the gender but after a while a nurse said “your little prince is adorable”.
A boy. I couldn’t believe it. My own little boy. A little brother for Sierra. A son for Scott who always wished to one day have a little boy. My little tiny baby boy.
Our baby was rushed off to the neonatal intensive care unit, which is a special unit for infants who are born ill or preterm. I was told that babies born at 27 weeks have a very long and difficult road to recovery but that almost all of them survive. He had a very good chance. I needed those words in that moment.
Once I was able to get up and walk and leave the delivery room Scott and I went to see our son in the NICU. He was in an incubator hooked up to a lot of machines via tubes in his mouth, nose, and belly button and on his chest, arms and feet. The doctor told us that his lungs were not working. The blood from his heart was not reaching his lungs. He needed a machine to breathe for him. This is a common problem for babies born this early. We cried and held each other as we watched our little boy fighting so hard for his life. We were not allowed to hold him because the stimulation was too much for his tiny body. They needed to replicate an environment that was very similar to the womb, which meant no stroking or physical handling.
Fortunately, we were able to offer him our hands and allow him to grab hold of our finger. We spent that entire day standing by him and letting him grab hold of our hands. He felt very strong for such a small boy. He was only 2lbs and 10 oz but he was moving just like a baby at full term, I thought. He opened his eyes and looked at us as we talked to him and told him how special he was and how much we loved him. We told him we were so proud of him and we couldn’t wait to bring him home. I tried very hard to only smile at him. I only wanted him to see me smiling, so when I began to cry I would move away from the incubator.
We decided to name him Ivan, after Scott’s grandfather. We called him “Ivan the Great,” because he was such a fighter and so strong for such a tiny baby. Over the course of the first day Ivan had the opportunity to meet his sister, his Grandmas, his Grandpa, and his Aunty as everyone took their turn coming in to stand beside him and get to know our little boy.
They held his tiny hand and watched over him, offering all their love and support. Ivan also had an amazing team of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who watched him every minute. They cared a great deal about him and they did everything they could to make sure he was well taken care of. They watched him closely over the course of three days every minute.
Their expertise and teamwork allowed my son to live for much longer than he would have. They gave him the very best chance, which is a gift I will always be thankful for. Unfortunately, Ivan’s fight was too big for such a precious and delicate little boy.
On June 7th in the late afternoon we walked into the NICU and were able to hold our little boy for the very first time. I asked the doctor to put on his tiny blue hat and blanket, which his Grandma and Aunty had bought for him the day before. They placed him in my arms and I held him and wept. The nurses and doctors left the room and we were alone with our little boy for the first time.
He opened his eyes so wide and curled his little hand up to his cheek and snuggled into his blanket. We told him all the things we wanted to say over the course of the last 3 days. We told him we loved him and that we were so proud of him for fighting so hard. We told him that we were so thankful that we had the time with him that we got. We told him about his sister and about his grandparents, aunts and uncles who loved him so much. We kissed his head and his face and his hands. We wrapped him up tightly in his blanket so he would not be cold and we held him as close as possible against our bodies. We held him up to the window and showed him the sun and the trees and the world outside the hospital.
After a while the nurse came in and took his picture. She took pictures of us holding him and of his tiny hand with daddy’s ring on it. Scott’s ring fit around Ivan’s hand almost like a bracelet.
Baby Ivan passed away very quietly at 5:18 on June 7th in my arms. He took a big part of my heart with him when he went. I’m glad that he has it. It was full of love that was just for him.
I don’t think I will ever know why Baby Ivan came into the world so early. I spend a lot of time feeling that this is very unfair and wishing so badly for my son back.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of answers when it comes to preterm labour. Most of the time, no one ever figures out why. This is what makes things more confusing and difficult to process.
At the same time, I am very thankful for everything that Ivan brought to my life. He gave us so much hope and excitement when we were tired of living in Dawson Creek away from our families. He motivated us to come back to the island so we could be close to our loved ones. He warmed my heart and made me smile so many times when he kicked and moved in my tummy. He brought happy tears to both of us when we saw him dancing around on the ultrasound monitor. I spent many hours planning my life with Ivan, which I will treasure for always.
His fight over the course of those three days reminded me about how precious and fleeting life can be. I hope everyone who knew Ivan is reminded of how precious every single moment is. Every second matters. Every breath matters. Every person matters.
In Tuesday’s with Morrie, Mitch Albom wrote that death ends a life, not a relationship. When a person dies, their bodies may not continue on but in a way they are immortalized in the way that they touched other people. Ivan is very much alive in the love he has from Scott and I, and from everyone who knew him or knew of him. The tiny ripples of Ivan’s life will move through the world in important ways despite his very brief time here.
To my baby boy,
I will never ever forget you. You will always be a part of me even though we can’t physically be together. I look at the tiny streaks of red that you left behind on my tummy and I am so thankful they are there. Those are yours. My little reminders of all the happy time you spent cuddled against me. I wish I could hold you every single day. I hug your blanket tightly and I breathe in the spot where you lay as your dad and I held you that last day. You will always have so much of my love. May that love surround you wherever you are, and wherever you may go. May it keep you warm and always remind you of how special you are. Your braveness and strength gives me hope and courage for the future. I never knew how strong people could be until I met you. You are stronger than I ever could be. I am so proud of you. I am so blessed by you. Thank you for being you.
Holding you with me,