Kleenex Warning: You may need some! Proceed with care.
Charles Fleetwood Anthoine
~ Charlie ~
May 21, 2003 ~ June 14, 2003
On May 11, 2003, I was the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding. It was hot, I was dressed in purple (and resembled a lilac Barney), had cankles the size of my thighs and was downright miserable. It was a very happy day but I was a painfully pregnant woman who was ready for it to be over. But I was only 34 weeks pregnant (or close to it).
On the way home from the wedding the next day, my contractions started. They were real and 15 minutes apart. FOR THE NEXT NINE DAYS. In the meantime, I had a regular appointment, no progress and had my Group B Strep test. I was told by my awesome OB that if I was positive, I would receive antibiotics during labor. Cool. I can handle that. The contractions continued. They were painful but not making any progress so I just had to wait.
On the evening of May 20th, they got bad. And five minutes apart. So off to the hospital we headed. I was checked and had dilated a teeny bit. They gave me my GBS results. I was negative (a week earlier… yes, that’s important because your status can change in a week’s time). I was given some Ambien and put in a room to sleep some as labor was imminent. My OB came in the next morning at 7 and went to check me. As soon as I put my legs up, my water broke. Game on, man. It was go time. Only “go time” meant it would be another 14 hours until he was born (though we didn’t know that at the time).
So let’s recap, just for kicks. Contractions every 15 minutes for 10 days. Contractions every 5 minutes for at least 12 hours before my water broke. There would be another 14 hours before Charlie was born. GAH! Don’t talk to me about how short and awesome your labor was, please. The next 14 hours involved turning him (he was sunny-side-up), lots of manipulation, an internal scalp electrode, meconium staining (for those unaware, that’s where he had pooped already inside me. Yum.) and a slight spike in fever before he was finally born. The last 3.5 hours were pushing. Hard. And often. And did I mention hard?
Finally at 9:19pm on May 21, 2003, our beautifully perfect Charlie was born. He was perfect in every way. Beautiful, pink, crying, no problems breathing even though he was born at 35 weeks and 2 days. He still wasn’t supposed to be born until June 15 (Father’s Day, by the way). He did develop jaundice and spent an extra two days in the hospital under the lights but that was minor and we were all set once we left the hospital on Memorial Day.
The next three weeks were blissful. He nursed well, slept great, was pleasant, was extremely alert and “wise” and we adored him.
On his three week birthday, June 10, our world would be rocked.
On June 10, he became fussy. He wouldn’t eat – nursing or by bottle. He had a high-pitched cry (that would end up being very telling of GBS). We took him to the pediatrician. Jason had been sick for a few days and the pediatrician thought maybe he was just picking up a bug from him. He had no fever, bloodwork looked fine. All seemed normal. He told us to watch him overnight and if he hadn’t eaten by morning to come right in. (Note: we saw him at 4:45 on the 10th)
He never ate again. He stopped crying around 9pm. He slept in the bed with us where we were able to keep our hands on him. Little did we know then…
Morning came. We were sitting at the pediatrician’s office when it opened at 9. One look and he told us to go straight to the Children’s Hospital. We still had no idea what was going on. We loaded up and headed over. Checked in and a nurse (who would become a friend) took him from us and headed to the Pediatric ICU. Maybe an hour (or 10) later, she would come out and tell us very frankly that we “have a very very sick little boy who wasn’t breathing when he arrived in the PICU.” ROCKED. TO. THE. CORE.
When we were able to see him, after they had stabilized him, there was full life support on our tiny, barely 7 pound baby. Tubes and wires and monitors… everywhere. Beeps, noises, people… everywhere. It was breathtaking.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, there would be tests, scans, blood draws. It was determined he had suffered MANY strokes from the not-yet-named infection. He was having seizures in spite of the high doses of medications he was on. He was septic and had meningitis. A spinal tap was done and his spinal fluid was so thick they couldn’t get but a few drops. Though it did determine the cause. Late-onset Group B Strep. The five words that would shake us to the core and take our baby from our arms.
An MRI the next day, Friday the 13th as it would be, would reveal what we were afraid of. We had already had the discussion with the doctor about removing care from him since he wasn’t breathing on his own, couldn’t regulate his body temperature and had no response to any stimulants. The MRI showed that there was no activity in his brain. The strokes and sepsis had destroyed nearly every bit of brain function he had.
Then we were faced with actually stating the decision we had made two days earlier. It was just a matter of when. We wanted it done on our own time.
Saturday morning started with my sister coming and bringing all the hats Charlie had received for gifts. For six hours we played “hat of the hour” and changed his hat and took pictures. He was held by us, his grandparents, aunts, uncles, anyone who came by and wanted to. It was a parade of visitors that day and for most it was the one and only time they had seen him. There were enough tears to fill a bathtub from friends who had driven several hours to pay their respects to our son before he took his final breaths. I can’t tell you how much that has meant to us over the last years.
At 5:00 on June 14th, 2003, just one day shy of his original due date, we gathered with about 2 dozen very special people in the tiny PICU room and our preacher had a baptism for our most precious son. Charlie was in a beautiful white t-shirt, a green and blue hat, holding his silky blanket and puppy dog. Our preacher spoke a few touching words that I wish I remember and baptized him. My sweet Aunt Diane started singing “Jesus Loves Me” and I remember sounds of moaning and crying coming out of mine and Jason’s mouths that in hindsight don’t seem human.
After everyone left the room, we were left with our first son. Our precious Charlie. Our pride and joy. Our son who would be taken from us decades too early.
Our intensive care doctor, Dr. Clark and nurses Julie and Tina there to help with the removal of support. Over the next 43 minutes there would be tears, kisses, touches, words of love and more tears. We were later told by Tina who was in the room, that as the machines flat-lined, a big ray of sunshine came in through the tiny crack in the curtain. It had been raining for 4 days non-stop so the ONLY explanation was that Charlie’s soul was leaving the room. At least that’s what I’m sticking with.
Charlie was bathed, wrapped in swaddling clothes and taken to the funeral home. Jason and I retreated to our home and opened the door to our new normal. And as our world stopped, everyone else’s went on, waking up to greet their Daddys with breakfast and homemade cards and fun on Father’s Day.
We woke up to the truth. That our lives would never be the same.
On November 1, 2011, Charlie’s name was written in the sand in Australia.