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My Stillbirth Story

27 Mar

When I was about eighteen, I had an abortion in my first trimester. Afterwards, I felt bad and vowed to never have another abortion. At that time, I considered the baby to be an nonliving embryo. I now believe that the baby, although not fully formed nor born into this physical world, was a living soul. I don’t know whether it was male or female.

When I was twenty-one, I resided with my paternal grandparents and two elderly uncles in Center City Philadelphia. I left my office position at The Metropolitan Reporting Bureau and became a cocktail server at The Top of Center Square. My fiancè resided with his parents in South Philly. He was a construction foreman by day plus night and weekend bar manager at Manny Brown’s. He was separated, seeking custody of his toddler son, and a divorce decree.

I suspected that I was pregnant and went to a clinic. They said my test results were negative. I was not pregnant.

My work uniform grew tighter. Buttons were bursting on my shirt and I couldn’t zip my skirt. I traded them for larger sizes — medium to large shirt — size 6 to 10 skirt. Several periods were skipped but I was not pregnant. I concluded there was something very wrong with me.

My mother’s fiancè was a podiatrist. She kept abreast of Who’s Who in the local medical community. I think she saw Dr. Jerome Check on television. He was a world renowned reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist located in Philadelphia. I scheduled an appointment. My fiancè paid for my visit because I didn’t have health insurance.

I was prescribed medication to resume my menstrual cycle. I followed doctor’s orders and ingested the pills as prescribed to no avail.

In July 1986, I was lying in bed in my attic room at my grandmother’s haunted house. Suddenly, my abdomen jumped. I was terrified because I was not pregnant. What could possibly be wrong with me? Did I have some mysterious disease? Was I going to explode? Was I possessed à la The Exorcist?

I returned to Dr. Check’s office and was physically examined. He inserted, then removed his hand. “Congratulations! You’re pregnant!” He said it was too late to have an abortion, which I wouldn’t have done anyway. He said he knew a couple who wanted to adopt a baby. All of my expenses would be paid…

I requested unpaid maternity leave, applied for state medical benefits, and moved into my future in-law’s house. We furnished the spare bedroom as a nursery and decorated in green because we chose not to know the baby’s sex until birth. We read baby name books and selected names for a boy and a girl. We and our families were overjoyed. It was a happy and hopeful time with many smile-filled family snapshots.

In September 1986, I was told the baby died ~ no heartbeat. I was scheduled to give birth via induced labor at Pennsylvania Hospital, where I was born. It was a sunny, blue sky day. When I hear the line “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”, I am reminded ~ no heartbeat.

Induced labor means the contractions are constant. They don’t stop and start as in normal childbirth. I was grateful my fiancè located nurses and urged them to assist me. He was my advocate as his mother’s medical malpractice lawsuit against a different hospital and doctors was still pending.

In the hospital room afterwards, I was happy to be alive and surrounded by family. And then… a nurse entered the room, carrying him, wrapped in a blanket, face covered. No one asked me. No one warned me. She handed him to me. I cradled him in my arms, glancing from face to face of family members. He was heavy and thick and cold. Death cold… like my grandfather’s hand in his casket when I was seven. They said he had a cleft palate and a club foot. I didn’t look under the blanket.

Upon discharge, I was anemic and took prescribed iron pills. I also had phlebitis from being repeatedly (maybe seven times) stuck with needles in one arm in search of a vein without trying the other arm. My fiancè’s father kindly brought cups of hot tea upstairs to my bedside. He said that back in the day, women were hardy. They would squat in the field, have the baby, wrap it in a blanket, and resume picking asparagus.

Our son lived in utero for nearly eight months. His heart beat. His arms flailed and legs kicked. They decided his name was Baby Boy Bianchi. We decided his name was Andrew Philip Grasso. Pennsylvania didn’t issue birth certificates for stillbirths then.

An autopsy was performed and I think the cause of death was “unknown.” I don’t know what happened to his body nor do I recall receiving a death certificate. This week, I learned that I can request a Fetal Death Certificate, a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth, and make Corrections to Fetal Death Certificate.

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