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The 5th Belongs to Calvin: Calvin’s Life

It’s been four months since we said both hello and goodbye to our son. This is difficult for me because I was 4 1/2 months pregnant with Calvin when we lost him. To think that he has been gone from us for almost as long as he was with us is such a painful thought. But I’m thankful for every day that we had with him, especially because I know how much he fought to stay with his mommy and daddy for as long as he could.

Phoenix with Amazing Baby

♥ Auntie Claire
♥ Auntie Claire

Claire gave us this picture of a banner she saw on Myspace. It’s so appropriate because I am amazed at the strength of my little boy.

With this first entry of The 5th Belongs to Calvin, I’m finally ready to share the full story of Calvin’s life and the 4 1/2 month journey Louie and I were able to share with him while he was on this earth.

If you would like to contribute a picture for Calvin Phoenix, please read about the Calvin Phoenix Photo Project.

The Big Fat Positive

On Tuesday, November 25, 2008, two days before Thanksgiving, I decided to take a pregnancy test. I had suspected that I was pregnant for a while, but wanted to wait for my body to build up enough HCG levels. The line showed up as soon as I started peeing on the stick. I was ecstatic. I placed the positive test on the table in our bedroom, nonchalantly called Louie over, and pointed to the pregnancy. I remember his eyes lighting up and growing wide; he had a huge smile on his face. It’s a little known fact that Louie and I made the agreement that if he did not drink Coke for a year, I would consider having kids. Of course, he surpassed his end of the bargain :).

Waiting to Be “Viable”

A few days later, I started cramping and spotting. The cramping was mainly in one spot so I was afraid of an ectopic pregnancy. On December 2nd, I went in for an ultrasound, and learned that the pregnancy was in my left uterus (yes I have two, if you are curious, you can see my 3d ultrasound is in this post ) and was told that I could be miscarrying. The doctor wanted me to come back the next week. She gave me a form to give to the front desk stating that reason for another ultrasound: viability. To see the tiny life inside me and know that we could lose him was so difficult. Because he measured at only 5-6 weeks, and I guess because they weren’t sure if he was “viable,” I didn’t leave with a picture of my baby, but a picture of my own double uterus instead.

Louie and I went back to the hospital the following week, on December 10th. We saw and heard our baby’s heartbeat, which was amazing. He was so much bigger than when we first got the chance to see him on the ultrasound screen, and we finally got a picture of our little peanut. But after speaking to the doctor, she told us that the ultrasound tech felt that the sac holding our baby was misshaped. So they wanted us to come back again in two weeks (which fell on Christmas Eve). Again, the form read viability.

The week after that, on my mother-in-law’s birthday, I had my first prenatal appointment. Sharon, my midwife started to do an exam and saw pregnancy tissue at the front of my cervix. She tried to reassure us that some women have this and still go on to have their babies. She personally went up to the receptionist to get us scheduled for an ultrasound on that same day, because she did not want us having to wait until the next week (the Christmas Eve appointment). All we could do was cry and wait and pray. When we finally went in for the ultrasound, we saw Calvin, more than twice his size from the last week, heart beating strong, swimming in my belly. We went home relieved, with more pictures of our little salamander baby. And at the beginning of the following week, I got the most beautiful message from Kati, the genetic counselor: “You don’t need to come in. Congratulations, your pregnancy is viable!”

Amniotic Band Syndrome + Down’s Syndrome

We had about a month of respite until after my second prenatal appointment on January 29. At this appointment, we heard Calvin’s heartbeat on the doppler for the first time; it was a beautiful sound that brought me to tears. The doctor recommended that we do the screening for Downe’s Syndrome, Trisomy 13, and Trisomy 18, and we only agreed because we would get to see our baby again. We went in the next day and saw just how much he had grown – he actually looked like a baby as most people picture them, with a big round head and little belly. A different ultrasound tech came in and the mood changed; she looked so serious. Then she left. And Louie and I were sitting waiting in that room, until finally she came back and said that we needed to talk to someone about the results. They had found amniotic bands, which causes amputations and can threaten the baby’s life. I broke down. She also told us that it looked like the fingertips on his right hand were missing. Louie and I sat in the car sobbing, crying for our baby. Our family’s came that night to be with us.

The next day, January 30, I went in for a Level II ultrasound. We watched Calvin swimming and turning, opening and closing his hands, stretching his body out, moving away as the ultrasound tech pressed on my belly. Watching Louie watch our son was such a beautiful moment; it’s one of my few memories of Calvin with his daddy, and I hold it so dearly. After another 2+ hour long ultrasound, we went to speak to Kati and the perinatologist (a specialist for babies in utero). Upon reviewing the ultrasounds again, they said that our baby still had his fingers, and although there were three amniotic bands, they had not attached. Somehow, our baby had been avoiding them.

A few days later, I received a call from Kati saying that the screening for Down’s Syndrome also came out positive. We decided to refuse to the amniocentisis because of the increased risk of miscarriage (which was already there because of my double uterus), and because we had decided we would love, care for, and raise this child regardless of whether he had it or not.

I began doing my research on Amniotic Band Syndrome and on Down’s Syndrome.

Knowing His Touch

In the following weeks I began to be able to distinguish my baby’s movements from the rumblings of my growing belly. I could feel him fluttering and tumbling inside me. Louie wanted so bad to feel Calvin moving around, but I told him it was still too soon. So for the time being, it was like a secret between me and our baby.

On February 25, the day before my birthday, we had our second prenatal appointment. I guess it was because she was new to my case, but the doctor spoke with us again about the risks of amniotic bands, brought up our options of continuing with or terminating the pregnancy. It was difficult because it was like hearing the news all over again.

After a couple minutes of searching, she finally found the baby’s heartbeat. It sounded weird to me – not the way it sounded before, but she said it sounded fine, and that we could schedule the next prenatal appointment after the ultrasound. We were just so thankful that Calvin was still with us.

That Saturday, as we were sitting in his parents living room and Louie starting playing music on his laptop, Calvin started tumbling around. I told Louie and he placed his hand on my belly. He got so excited because he could actually feel Calvin moving. I don’t know why or how Louie could feel our son dancing in my belly so early in my pregnancy – Calvin was just going into 18 weeks. But I am so grateful that Louie got that chance.

Saying Goodbye

On March 4, we went in for our follow-up ultrasound. It was hard because the monitor was next to me, so I couldn’t really see it. I did notice that sometimes the numbers on the bottom right corner would range from 15 weeks to 17 weeks, which was really odd to me. I also noticed that after a while Louie had his eyes closed, and he wasn’t looking at the screen. It got really quiet. When I asked the ultrasound tech if we would get a picture from him or from the doctor, he just said the doctor would speak to us.

The doctor told us that the baby had passed away. God said no to us. He allowed our baby to die.

Louie later told me that he saw our baby wasn’t moving, that the ultrasound was not reading a temperature, but as we walked to the doctor’s office, he was trying to convince himself that our baby was okay.

It was not what I wanted. What I wanted was to go into the ultrasound, know that my baby was alive, find out for sure whether he was a boy or girl, then announce to the world his name, which Louie and I decided to keep secret until we knew.

That night, I was admitted into the hospital. About 10 hours after they starting giving me Misoprostol, and before the anesthesiologist could come in and speak to me (I had finally agreed to an epidural), I told Peggy, my nurse, “I feel something coming out,” and she rushed to get the doctor, Nita. I felt such a tremendous tearing sensation that I could not let go of my grip on the bed to hold Louie’s hand. Nita asked me to lie back, but I couldn’t. I just started crying out. I remember screaming in pain then feeling the rush of liquid and then my baby.

On March 5, 2009, at 9:54am, I delivered Calvin Phoenix into this world. Not alive and breathing, not full-term, but I have to be grateful that God did answer this prayer, even if it was not in the way I wanted. I got the chance to give birth to my son, to hold him, to call him by his name, and to see him in his daddy’s arms.

The Strength of My Baby

My attending OB, because of Calvin’s size, was under the impression that he had died 3 weeks prior to when I came in to be induced. I told her that we had a prenatal appointment the previous week – in fact exactly a week before being told he had died – and heard his heartbeat. From the beginning of my pregnancy and the threatened miscarriage with the spotting and cramping and pregnancy tissue, to the amniotic bands that invaded what should have been the safest place for him, our son fought to stay with us. He was struggling, but still he held on. Though Calvin should have passed sooner, he clung to life so that my birthday would not be a reminder of his death, but of my happiness as I felt him dancing in my belly to his daddy’s music. This is such a gift from my precious child. And I am so proud to be his mother.

Happy Four Months, Calvin Phoenix! Mommy and daddy love you so much.

Crystal is a mother-wife-writer whose explorations include parenting, grief, food, and semi-crunchy living. She is currently an MFA in writing student, a content editor for Still Standing Magazine, and the technical editor for Switchback.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

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