Coping With The Loss Of A Newborn Child (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Coping With The Loss Of A Newborn Child

MS. EMILY BERMAN

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Emily Berman, in this week for Rebecca Sheir. Today our theme is Letting Go. And over the course of the next hour, we'll meet people relinquishing all sorts of things, from a dangerous addiction…

MR. KEVIN CRANFIELD

00:00:22
I can't say I'll never get high again, but what I can sit here and say, I don't ever want to get high again.

BERMAN

00:00:27
…to ending our love affair with technology.

MR. MARK SWEENEY

00:00:30
It's very difficult for children to manage the demands of home life, the demands of school life and technology.

BERMAN

00:00:37
Plus, we'll consider what it means to let go when your alma mater closes its doors. And with the Superbowl coming up this Sunday, we'll hear from Baltimore Ravens fans as their team's most famous player prepares for his last game before retirement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1

00:00:52
Sad to see him go, but, man, what a better way to, like, end a retirement. It's the sweetest dream ever.

BERMAN

00:00:57
Fir though, we begin today's show with a story of a D.C. woman named Sarah Gray. Back in 2009, Sarah was 35 years old and 8 weeks pregnant when she found out she'd be having twins.

MS. SARAH GRAY

00:01:10
And I just was, like, laughing and Ross was staring straight ahead, like, oh, my gosh, are you serious? I think I was more excited and he was more scared.

BERMAN

00:01:18
A month later, at her 12-week checkup, Sarah laid on the examining table where a technician rubbed an ultrasound wand over her belly. Her eyes were fixed on the black and white images of her babies.

GRAY

00:01:29
So you can see, you know, little baby head and arms and legs and that kind of thing. It's fun.

BERMAN

00:01:36
The tech asked her to go empty her bladder, so she did. And when she came back there was a doctor in the room.

GRAY

00:01:41
And he looked at a few different things and then he said, you know, one of your twins is fine, but I'm sorry to tell you one of your twins has a lethal birth defect. And I think I just sort of thought, I must have heard that wrong. And I can show you a picture of what the sonograms looked like. So he said, you can see this one baby's skull is round, just like that. And your other baby's skull is bumpy.

BERMAN

00:02:06
It's called anencephaly, the doctor told her. That's Greek for without a brain. The skull didn't close properly in the early stages of development. And because of that amniotic fluid was getting inside the skull and disintegrating the brain.

GRAY

00:02:22
I think it was mostly shock. I was just like, you've gotta be kidding me. Like, I don't smoke and I wasn't drinking. I took folic acid vitamins. So we asked, can we do a selective termination on the sick baby? And he said, no, because the twins are identical, so it's kind of just too risky.

BERMAN

00:02:42
Sarah and Ross, her husband, left the appointment in a haze. It was the beginning of a very stressful pregnancy.

MR. ROSS GRAY

00:02:50
As people saw that Sarah was pregnant, they'd be, you know, oh, great, you're pregnant. When are you due? And you don't want to almost burden them by telling them bad news.

GRAY

00:03:00
It's like you can't even say what it is because it's so sad.

BERMAN

00:03:04
As the months went by, Sarah shopped for one set of clothes, one car seat.

GRAY

00:03:08
One crib, one stroller, all that kind of stuff.

BERMAN

00:03:10
At the same time, she was researching whether or not she could donate the baby's organs, but it wasn't clear if anyone would want them. Sarah's mom found one article online, about a family in Alexandria whose baby had anencephaly. That family had donated the baby's liver cells for scientific research. So, Sarah took that article to her next doctor's appointment.

GRAY

00:03:31
And she looked into it and she's like, you know, we don't do this a lot, but you're right. You know, we can do this.

GRAY

00:03:40
We had, you know, we had maybe four days where Ross and I slept in the hospital with Thomas.

GRAY

00:03:48
I remember holding him at the time and, you know, he just seemed such a friendly little guy. He just wanted to be cuddled so there's not really too much else you can do.

BERMAN

00:03:57
They took Thomas home and within a day he started having seizures. He was wheezing and had really heavy breathing.

GRAY

00:04:05
And the hospice nurse came over. And she sort of looked at him and she was, like, you know, this is what they call end-of-life breathing. This is the end for him. And we said a little prayer over him. And I called the Washington Regional Transplant community and they sent a van over to come and pick him up and take him to the hospital right away to get his organs.

BERMAN

00:04:32
Sarah's son, Callum, the healthy twin, is now three years old. He's looking at a photo album of hospital pictures of him and his twin brother Thomas.

CALLUM GRAY

00:04:42
Yeah, Thomas's gone.

GRAY

00:04:44
Yeah, where did he go?

GRAY

00:04:45
He's gone.

BERMAN

00:04:46
In grief counseling, Sarah and Ross met people who had gone through similar experiences. Some spoke of how they'd saved lives by donating their loved ones' organs. Thomas's organs weren't big enough for transplant and had gone to scientific research.

GRAY

00:04:59
Over the course of two years I started feeling kind of jealous of these people who had donated their loved ones' organs because a lot of them got to meet the recipient. What if they got them and they were like, oh, I don't really need these, I'm throwing this in the garbage?

BERMAN

00:05:13
Sarah asked the transplant organization for more information. And they told her what they knew. Thomas's cord blood went to Duke University.

GRAY

00:05:21
And his liver cells went to a company called Cytonet in Durham, N.C.

BERMAN

00:05:25
And his eyes went Harvard Medical School.

GRAY

00:05:28
It didn't even occur to me that I could actually go there until I went to Boston. I had a business trip. I had a conference there. So when I got there I thought, this is my last chance while I'm here to do this.

BERMAN

00:05:40
She called the front desk of Harvard's eye institute and asked if she could have a tour of the building. They said yes and the next morning she arrived early to take pictures of the outside of the building. She put a few brochures in her purse and waited for her tour guide, Carolyn.

GRAY

00:05:55
Carolyn took me for a walk through the labs and there was, you know, Petri dishes and refrigerators and posters of eyes. And she introduced me to a guy named Dr. Zieske. And I remember he was just sort of eating his lunch at his desk and she brought be over and he looked up and she said, you know, this is Sarah Gray and her son was a donor here. And he just sort of looked at me, like, oh, my gosh.

BERMAN

00:06:22
The lab, Carolyn said, had never had a donor come to visit before.

GRAY

00:06:26
I felt really emotional, like I was about to cry just meeting him. I got the feeling like he was emotional too. Like, you care enough about what I'm doing to come here.

BERMAN

00:06:36
Dr. Zieske thanked her for her donation and asked her if there was anything she wanted to know.

GRAY

00:06:41
I said, how many eyes do you order in a year?

BERMAN

00:06:45
He said his group orders 10 and that infant eyes are the most rare and valuable for research.

GRAY

00:06:52
He asked me when my son died. I told him it was a couple years ago and he said, you know, your son's eyes could still be here right now. It was just a really meaningful, really good feeling to know that I met his recipient, really. It almost felt like visiting our son at college or something.

GRAY

00:07:11
It felt like he was, like, introducing us to his friends and his colleagues and his coworkers. That, you know, my son is okay. Just the grief was gone.

BERMAN

00:07:22
On her way out of town, Sarah bought a toddler size Harvard T-shirt for Callum and felt, for a first time in quite a while, an immense sense of peace.
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