“I’m going to be a father!” I couldn’t believe it. I had been waiting for this day for so long. My wife, Andrea, had taken her first pregnancy test of that day on March 19 when the results on the stick read dark blue, indicating that we were going to be first-time parents. On November 25th, 2019 I was scheduled to hold my baby for the first time and I couldn’t wait.
We had been trying to conceive for about 5 months at that point, so naturally, when we found out, we were overwhelmed with joy and spent the rest of the day laughing, crying and planning our future with our soon-to-be new member of the family. I remember how proud I felt holding my wife as we stood in the kitchen, hovering over the pregnancy test. We were on our way to parenthood.
After the initial excitement died down and phone calls were made, we went completely baby crazy and committed ourselves to preparations, both big and small. Andrea arrived 15 minutes early to each doctor’s appointment, switched to organic fruits and vegetables, converted to decaffeinated coffee and downloaded an App on her phone that allowed us to track the baby’s growth progress by receiving updates every Thursday morning.
Everything was right on track as the months passed by and Andrea's belly started to grow. On April 10 we heard his heartbeat. On May 2 we found out the sex; a boy--we named him Louis. On July 4th I felt him kick for the first time and on July 27th Andrea wrote out the baby shower invitations and stacked them on the table to be mailed the following morning. On the following morning, July 28th, our son Louis died.
Andrea woke me up at 3 am on the 28th and said she was having terrible cramps and stomach pains. Not taking any chances, we called the emergency room and were told to come right in. By 3:30 am she was in the maternity ward surrounded by nurses and hooked up to a Cardiotocography machine to track the baby’s heart rate and her contractions. By 4:30 am her doctor arrived and there were talks of flying her to the University of Vermont Medical Center to utilize their NICU. At the time, we were living in the Adirondacks and they were the only hospital equipped to deal with a micro-preemie. The helicopter ride from New York to Vermont would only take 25 minutes, but she was already 4cm dilated and was told that she would be giving birth that day. We couldn't leave, especially with her contractions steadily increasing. At 5:39 am, Andrea gave birth to our son, Louis Augustus De Fino at 1 lb 4 ounces, 11.8 inches long and 17 weeks premature.
In our hospital room, there was an entire team of doctors and nurses working on his little body in the corner as we watched on in shock--they stabilized him as best they could and moved him into the NICU. Shortly after, a doctor we didn’t know came in and said he was part of the team working on Louis and for the moment, Louis was hanging in there. We felt a glimmer of hope, despite the grave prognosis the doctor’s continually reminded us of when a baby is born so premature. “Things change rapidly in the NICU, we have to take things minute by minute” the doctor explained. About 20 minutes later, we got the update we knew was coming. His vitals were dropping and he wasn’t getting enough oxygen despite having the breathing tube in. The doctor, with tears in his eyes, apologized to us and gave us our options on how to proceed. We elected to stop treatment so Louis could spend his final moments where he belonged, in the arms of his parents. At 22 weeks and 6 days, his lungs weren’t developed enough to breathe on his own. He wasn’t going to survive. We had to accept his fate. We had to accept the fact that our son was going to die and we would never get to see him grow up or even hear his cry. When the nurse brought him to us he was wrapped in a teal blanket made of yarn and a beanie to match.
For the next 90 minutes, we took turns holding him and then we held him together. We kissed his soft face and told him how much we loved him. All I could think about was how beautiful he was. He looked just like a full-term baby, only smaller. We looked for identifying features in his face that replicated ours. Tucked underneath his beanie were little blonde hairs, on his face were blonde eyebrows and eyelashes, just like his mother. Andrea pointed out that he had my nose. I said his face was heart-shaped, like his mom. He was perfect. We took a few pictures, said we love you and apologized for not being able to keep him safe. We said the most painful goodbye of our lives and handed him back to the nurse. For hours and hours, we cried ourselves to sleep, nestled together in her hospital bed built for one; the same bed where Louis was just born.
There are no words to describe what it felt like losing my son and watching my wife lose her first child at birth. I felt helpless. How do you keep yourself together after child loss? How do I stay strong for myself and my wife? The grieving process would not come easy for us and we would both lose hope for having more kids in the future. Over the next few weeks, we started to question life and God and cursed the universe. We were angry and unapologetic about it. In a depression that neither one of us had ever felt before, we did our best to stay strong for each other.
We were now proud parents of a beautiful baby boy who unfortunately left us too soon, but we didn’t want that to be the end of our story. A few months after we lost Louis, we went to see a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist in Vermont. The specialist couldn’t officially determine the reason why Andrea went into pre-term labor, but after ruling out the most common factors, they are leaning towards an incompetent cervix. Despite the diagnosis, the specialist gave us the green light to start trying for another baby. With that news, we desperately wanted to get back home to WNY. If we were going to have another baby, we had to be close to Oishei Children’s Hospital, as any subsequent pregnancies would be considered high-risk. Soon after, we happily packed up our home and headed back to Buffalo.
“Does this line look dark to you?” On an early Monday morning, while visiting Andrea’s family for Christmas, she handed me a pregnancy test and asked me if I thought the line was dark enough to confirm a positive pregnancy. It was dark enough. We smiled and quietly hugged each other. We thought about Louis. We were going to be parents again."
Richard De Fino, a freelance writer by night, first became a father at age 34. After losing his first-born at birth, he was determined to keep his memory alive the best way he knew how; through words. And with another baby on the way, he plans on capturing what it means to be a parent to a rainbow baby. Richard and his wife, Andrea, live in Western New York with their memories of Louis, and their dog Zeke, and 2 cats Bebe and Georgie.