Pam's Story - A Labor of Love
hank you for allowing me to share my story.
I have thought about for many years a way to preserve the memory of my baby girl, Courtney Elizabeth, who passed away shortly after I gave birth to her on June, 22nd 1977.
A long time ago, you might think to yourself…one would think the memory would not be so vividly etched in my mind…
Well, it is profoundly there and after this many years, it’s more than likely not going to lessen. Yes, the pain has gotten easier over the years, but not the memory of this precious and beautiful child. So this is my story for Remember Georgia’s Children
I write with a heavy hand as I reflect on the chain of events that took place 31 years ago, partially as a therapeutic moment for myself and partially with a heartfelt desire to help comfort others who have gone through a horrific loss or death of their child.
What goes without saying is that children are not supposed to die before their parents do.
Memories are so important especially when a child passes from us, no matter what age the child leaves this world. They are simply ‘our child’ and the pain of losing them is something I’ve never experienced again in my 50+ years. I write this in honor of my daughter. And, it’s an honor for me to be able to share what I dealt with in the unnaturalness of burying a child.
I suffered a miscarriage in 1977 and was so very hurt because I longed for a child of my own with my ‘then’ husband, Michael. A miscarriage to me implied that I had somehow made a mistake in carrying my baby. Miscarriage is painful enough as those who have experienced one know all to well. There is the loss of a child.
Becoming pregnant shortly thereafter was exciting and the pregnancy went well. It went so well, in fact, that I was way over due in delivering. Three weeks in fact, which should have been a red flag, so to speak, but apparently the doctors didn’t view it that way at the time.
I went for my last doctor appointment on the afternoon of June 21st and the attending physician in the group that examined me told me that he saw no signs that I would go into labor any time soon. Furthermore, if something didn’t happen soon, labor might need to be induced. I was told to go home and wait and see what happened and we would make a decision in a couple of days. Dejected and miserable at being so very pregnant, and swelled, I went home to begin very hard contractions that had very short breaks in between, about two hours later that afternoon.
This was not how I had understood that labor started…another red flag. The classes and books just didn’t read this way.
No stranger to physical pain due to rough menstrual periods and years of Cluster/ Migraine headaches, I knew in my heart that something was wrong. But then it was my first full term pregnancy, so I reasoned that my labor and delivery was just destined to be ‘different’ or at least not average.
Different it was, to say the least. Soon after arriving at the hospital, and being examined by the doctor on call, he ordered and x-ray of the babies positioning since my baby had not dropped into the birthing position. He then informed us that he was going home to get some rest and would see me sometime around 7:30 or so in the morning. The thoughts raced through my head of how can you leave me in such pain, but he assured me that the anesthesiologist would be on their way soon for my epidural.
In the meantime I was taken to radiology by an attending labor/delivery nurse.
My pains were so intense, that I could barely lie still for the technician to get the views they needed. I cried to the labor nurse who stayed with me, and was obviously of age, knowledgeable and experienced, “how can I possibly go until morning like this?” I was doubled over on the x-ray table and just in continual pain and I’m sure the annoyed x-ray tech thought what a weak thing I must be. The kind nurse said emphatically, “Honey, you won’t last until morning, we will be getting your doctor back in here well before the morning.” I just wanted them to understand that this was horrible pain that just didn’t seem right.
Back in the labor room, I felt the urge to go to the restroom to urinate and when I did, my water broke. It struck me odd that the massive amount of liquid was greenish gray in color but again I reasoned that I might have mis- read that page of one of my many expectant mom books.
So, back to the bed to try to lie still with a fetal monitor put in place, and what seemed like an eternity, when an epidural was administered. Shortly thereafter, my husband was watching the monitor and questioned the erratic reading…
Things changed quickly and I was rushed to the delivery room and apparently my doctor was on his way back to deliver our baby.
In the wee morning hours of June 22nd, at around 2:00 am, I delivered a baby girl, who we had chosen to give the name Courtney Elizabeth. Courtney sounded like a strong but feminine female name and Elizabeth was for my mother and grandmother.
Vividly aware of urgency and an impending emergency in the room after she was delivered, It began to ‘sink in’ that something was wrong. There was a muffled gurgling sound from her and all in the room went into frantic action with their attention turned away from me and toward my new born. I remember thinking, ‘fix her’ please, so I can hold her and see her! But instead it seemed the attending medical personnel blocked my view of her across the room as they frantically worked with her. Hurry, I thought, I expected to see my new born move and above all cry. But she just lay there like a lifeless baby doll…
Now what, I thought? My husband had elected not to be in the room for the delivery. Could someone explain to me what was happening? Then the moment came when Robert Mitchell, a doctor that I had seen only a few times during my pregnancy, came to my side and said, “I’m sorry, your baby didn’t make it.” Everything seemed so surreal and dreamlike but my logic kept telling me, full term newborn babies don’t die…I just cried out and uttered begging words of “please don’t put me on the maternity floor!”
I’m sure I must have been given an injection to calm me as we left the delivery room for my next destination. It seemed like an eternity before I would see any of my family. And then there was the something administered to ‘dry up my breast milk’,
But then I thought why would I need that milk anyway? My baby was ‘gone’…
As a Christian, my faith was greatly shaken and I started asking why had God taken my child? What had I done so bad to punish me this way? I was in so much mental pain that I wasn’t very aware of the physical pain at first. My mother is really the first person that I remembered at my side, holding me and sobbing, as she said, “honey, I’m so sorry, I’ve always been able to make things OK for you and this time I can’t. Ironically, I wanted to apologize almost for not ‘doing well’ with giving she and my dad a grandchild that they had hoped and prayed for.
I stared into the night after I was alone in the hospital room and ironically could see the nursery where the new babies were. How odd and cruel I thought and asked the nurse to please close the blinds. For whatever reason, even though given sleep medication, I fought to keep my eyes open.
I can’t remember at what point I vaguely heard that my baby girl had died following Meconium aspiration. I had read the word meconium in reference to the first bowel movement after their birth. How does this happen? Courtney had been so over due in being born that she had expelled the meconium in the birth canal and had aspirated it before she could be delivered. They had tried to resuscitate her but to no avail. She was in fact ‘in trouble’ when the monitor reading was erratic.
As the hours wore on, I asked my dad and husband to please go and dismantle everything we had so lovingly created in the nursery for our new baby for when we brought her home. Furthermore I asked them to close the door before I came home.
Minutes crept by, hours dragged on and I couldn’t close my eyes. Well meaning people came by and I just couldn’t bear to talk to them very much. I didn’t want to hear their words of condolence. I just wanted this to be some kind of nightmare and wake up with my baby in my arms. Instead people around me were looking into funeral arrangements and burial plots and what Courtney would wear for the burial.
A christening gown was decided upon by my mother-in-law. How ironic, I think now…a christening means to welcome one into the church and given a name. She had her name but her ‘welcoming into church’ would be Heaven.
And so it was, a funeral home was chosen and Courtney’s little body was taken to be prepared for viewing and we proceeded on with what one does when a child dies.
One of the physicians in the OB/GYN group that I used commented that I should not go to the funeral home or funeral, under any circumstance. I remember looking at him with what must have been dagger like eyes and thinking, you try and stop me, from saying goodbye to my child.
The time came for me to be taken to the burial of my baby after spending time beside her petite little casket to ‘greet’ people as they came to pay their respects. It all seemed very odd to me that people were ‘visiting’ and making conversation.
The time came for me to be taken to the cemetery for the burial and grave side service and I was ushered into our car parked directly behind a pale yellow Cadillac. How unusual, that our baby’s nursery was decorated in yellow Through massive tears, I watched as my young teenage brother and brothers-in-law’s acted as pall bearers and carried the little casket down the steps and put into the back seat of the ‘would be hearse’. The procession began the long drive and by this time pain medication was wearing off. I quite frankly could hardly sit still due to a quick cut emergency episiotomy, that I later found out was the culprit of my physical pain. But that didn’t even rival the pain I felt as I longed for my child. One well meaning lady, our pastor’s wife, even came to me and commented on what a beautiful name we had chosen. “You should use that name for another child.” It struck me so odd that she should say that with two lovely young daughters of her own and certainly not having the same name. Why would I give the name I had selected for this baby girl to another child??? I just wanted to disappear and not hear one more word about how Courtney was now an angel with the Lord.
Going back home was torture and I cried almost every waking minute. I prayed to dream of her upon falling asleep. In the hours I was awake, I would just sit in our living room most days with no shower or make up and sob and stare into space.
It’s been an interesting journey after burying my baby girl. It changed my life at a very young age. I process time differently from others. You see I watched life come and go within a very brief period of time. So, I’ve viewed ‘time’ and the value of it in a different way from most. I have wanted to experience or work at as many various things as I could. I have difficulty in being still or not doing something productive.
My life is different now. I went on to have a beautiful, talented, and Godly daughter, Lyndsey Brooke on June 17th 1978. Just one year and four days after giving birth to Courtney.
Ironically, Lyndsey has shared with me on many occasions that she feels that someone, a sister or sibling, is missing in her life…
Courtney and Lyndsey’s father, and my marriage became more an more rocky over the next several years and we eventually divorced when Lyndsey was 18, after 23 years of marriage. I’ve read that few marriages can survive after the death of a child. Ours was never the same after experiencing the pain. It is very hard to not blame each other in some way and more difficult because each person is grieving alone and can’t seem to help the other partner with their grief process.
Never thinking I would marry again, I was introduced to a wonderful man, Tim Cavender, who I’ve been happily married to for 10 years. He has cried with me and stood by the graveside of Courtney and even knelt by her little heart shaped monument to clean away the grass clippings and dirt that had settled there on the pink marble.
He has loved me and my living daughter, Lyndsey with a heart as big ad Texas.
It’s been 31 years ago. Time does heal, as they say, but memories don’t fade. And they shouldn’t, you know…
One of the most profound things ever said to me was from my maternal grandmother Annie Childers, my “Mama Childers”, when her 60+ year old son died of Lou Gherig’s disease. I went to the funeral home and she just reached out and held on to me tightly and we wept together. She whispered to me, “you know this pain, don’t you honey?”
It was a moment that she an I shared that despite the age of our children at their time of passing, child is a child, no matter how long you have them in this world.
My sweet baby girl, Courtney Elizabeth; your forever in my heart and always on my mind.
Appreciating the opportunity to share, Remember Georgia’s Kid’s parents, friends, families an supporters