John Ritchey held his baby daughter in his arms as she took her last breath. John has suffered from a broken heart ever since that day. It was 15 years ago, and he can still feel the softness of her skin and the love that connected the two of them for the few moments she lived.
When a baby dies at birth, the father is often forgotten, as everyone tries to comfort the mother. As we have all heard and know the mother faces terrible sorrow as she goes home to see the crib that will not once be used and the child who will never learn to say, “Mommy.”
John wanted to share his story, so that other fathers, who lose their precious babies, know they are not alone in their feelings, struggles, and broken hearts.
The year was 1998
We had just found out “We’re pregnant!!!!” Of course, we were all kinds of excited and making plans for the new baby.
When Mitzi, my wife was about eight weeks along, she went for her first ultrasound. I wanted to go but got tied up at work that day. About an hour after her appointment, I got a call, “John; you need to get up here NOW!” At the time, I worked downtown, and wasn’t that far from St Mary’s Hospital in Enid, Oklahoma. From the sound of her voice, I could tell it was something serious, so I left work, to be with my wife.
When I found her at the hospital, she was on the examination table with a technician beside her. She had sort of an odd smile on her face, and I asked her what was wrong. She said, “Well honey, we have ‘A’ baby all right, and we have a ‘B’ baby too. The technician chuckled as he directed me to look at the screen. “Mr. Ritchey, this is baby A, and this one is baby B.”
Two babies!! Oh My God, I about fell out of my chair! From that point on everything changed. We had to have matching everything from beds right down to the bottles. My mom even made matching quilts for the twins. My whole family got in on the act in some fashion or another. We were so excited and scared all at the same time. We were on top of the world. We had two baby girls on the way, and life was good.
When Mitzi was about three months along, she was diagnosed with a condition called Preeclampsia. Among other things like causing kidney damage, it also meant that the farther along in her pregnancy she got, the higher her blood pressure would go. For a few weeks, the doctors were able to keep everything in check. The goal was to get to 26 weeks into her pregnancy for the babies to survive. However, at about 21 weeks, we had to transfer to Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.
At 24 weeks, everything took a turn for the worse. Mitzi was having serious blood pressure issues along with signs of kidney damage. The time came to have the babies or put Matzi’s life in jeopardy. Mitzi and I talked and talked as we tried to decide what to do. The reality of taking a chance on losing the two babies, or the babies and Mitzi, slapped us in the face, and we had to make the hardest choice of our life. To be honest and candid I didn’t agree with the decision that was made. That’s another story though….
On the morning of November 11, 1998, Mitzi went in for emergency surgery to have the babies. She was pretty doped up and out of it in an effort to keep her blood pressure down. I stayed with her in the operating room. When the babies were born, the first one was stillborn. Baby B, was named Susan Amanda; however, when Baby A came; she was alive. We named her, Sarah Ann. When the doctor handed her to me, she was a perfect little angel. She only weighed a little over a pound and was about 8 inches long. One of my oldest daughter’s baby dolls had come to life it seemed like. Sarah had all of her little fingers and all of her toes and was perfect. Even though they just gave Mitzi a local she couldn’t wake up enough to see her. Then, Sarah began to gasp for her breath. She never cried. I looked at the doctor, and he just shook his head at me. When Sarah’s color started to turn blue, I began swearing at the doctors. “Is there not a frickin thing you can do for my little girl?”
The doctor explained that she was just too small. I had watched her being born; she was placed in my arms, and she took her last breath while cradled in my arms. In the few minutes Sarah and I were together; we bonded forever. It’s one thing to know you have lost a child, and something completely different to see her born, then watch her die as you are holding her. Mitzi never saw her alive. Funny thing, shortly afterward I called home and told my mom that they both were gone. The first question was, “How is Mitzi holding up?” My mother, everyone else in my family, and our circle of friends asked this same question. No one thought to ask me how I was doing. I was totally alone in my experience. I felt the true definition of helplessness, and no one seemed to care. I was in depression for several months afterward and took medication for it.
Somehow, I found a way to move forward with my life, until about two years ago. The past came flooding back to me for no apparent reason; maybe it was a smell, or something I saw on TV, who knows. I cried and cried as if it was the first day. Once more, I was diagnosed with depression, then Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder. Again, no one seemed to understand. I’m writing this, so that maybe, some other father out there, who has had a similar experience, will know that there is someone who understands and cares. Losing a child in this way is the worst pain that anyone can try to endure. To you with the knowledge of this pain, my prayers are with you…