Pastor’s Note: This blog, republished here unedited from its author, tells of one family’s experience through a difficult diagnosis and more profound time of grief. It brings hope through tragedy and speaks powerfully of the witness of God. We republish the content here with the hope that it will bring light to the darkness for others who experience such grief. The light of Christ always shines brighter.
The Day I Lost My Son (and Almost Lost my Wife).
Originally Published by Eric Porteous on his blog, Dream Addict.
“Your baby doesn’t have any viability. It is only going to live while it is in you, and in the meantime, you are very sick and need to get to the hospital.”
These were the words the doctor spoke as I sat beside my wife (Alissa) in his office one year ago. It still seems so surreal.
Just days before, we were in St. Louis for my job. Alissa had been in the hospital there as well after having a migraine that lasted for six days. Her blood pressure was also extremely high, and after a several nights they put her on some meds, discharged her, and sent us on our way.
We thought everything was fine.
We were wrong.
Now, here we were. Back in Phoenix. On our way to Good Samaritan Hospital after an appointment with a Perinatal Doctor. Praise God for a family friend who scheduled that appointment for us. He was concerned we didn’t get the right treatment in St. Louis. He was right.
When we woke up that morning, we thought the worst case scenario was that Alissa would be put on bed rest for the next few months. But here we were driving to another hospital. Scared and confused. The doctor told us that Alissa had a partial molar pregnancy and severe preeclampsia. And while he explained to us what that meant, our minds still couldn’t quite process it.
What did this mean? Our baby isn’t viable? But our baby has a heartbeat. And we just watched our baby move around on the ultrasound.
Alissa’s life is in jeopardy? How in jeopardy? How much time do we have?
My stomach was in knots as we drove to the hospital. It’s amazing I didn’t throw up. We arrived at Good Samaritan and were immediately brought to our room in Labor and Delivery. Our nurse took great care of us, and it wasn’t long until the first doctor arrived. He reiterated everything we just heard from the Perinatal Doctor and told us they needed to confirm through a blood test everything they saw on the ultrasound.
The blood test confirmed the worst. And then he told us something I never thought I’d hear another human being tell us. The only way to save Alissa’s life, was to terminate the pregnancy.
Now, Alissa and I have been Catholic and pro-life for our entire lives. During my years as a youth minister, I taught high school teens what it meant to stand for life in all its stages. But I never thought, for one second, that I would ever be confronted with that decision myself.
But here we were. Alissa’s life in danger. Faced with the ultimate decision.
Without hesitation, Alissa and I looked at each other and didn’t need to say anything. We informed him that both of us are devout Catholics and passionately pro-life. There had to be another option.
He let us know that the only other option was to induce labor. But, that was the riskier of the two options, and regardless, we needed to make a decision quickly. (At this point, I want to make it clear that every doctor, nurse, and employee at Good Samaritan was extremely respectful of our views. We never felt pressured one way or another, and as a husband, I couldn’t say enough about the care we received, both physically and emotionally. In fact, our first nurse told us that had we chosen to abort, she would’ve had to dismiss herself. That’s the kind of faith we need from our doctors and nurses.)
Not soon after, Alissa’s OBGYN had been notified of the situation and gave us a call. As a pro-life and Catholic doctor, he counseled us about what we could do to save Alissa while making sure that our baby received proper dignity. After hanging up with him, I called one other Catholic/pro-life doctor as well as a priest who was the head of bioethics for the Diocese of Phoenix. Each of them confirmed what Alissa’s OBGYN had said.
When our doctor at Good Samaritan returned to the room, we let him know our decision. We wanted to induce labor. While this was the riskier option, it would allow our baby, who was not viable outside the womb, to die a natural death. (Alissa goes into a little more detail about this in her reflection.) Though it was heartbreaking and painful knowing that our baby wouldn’t live, life begins at conception and ends with natural death. We knew that we were doing right by our baby and that God would be with us all.
Not too long after our decision, more doctors came in to begin induction. It was hard seeing my wife in such pain. A woman is not meant to be induced at 18 weeks gestation, and I could tell she was hurting as they manually dilated her. I held her hand and tried to keep her as relaxed as possible. Once the process was complete, we had to wait 6-8 hours to repeat the same process.
Alissa’s mom, in town from Seattle, joined us at the hospital to help in any way she could, and that Thursday night came and went, leading into Friday morning, October 25th. Alissa vomited throughout the night due to the medications she was on, and none of us really slept. As a husband, I was so worried. I lay on my cot during the night, praying for a good outcome. Just a few days before I thought I had a healthy and pregnant wife with a baby on the way. Now, here I was facing the reality that I may walk out of that hospital with only Alissa’s mom. (I still get choked up as I write that line.)
Finally, late Friday morning, the doctors came in to check Alissa’s dilation. She was between 4-5 cm, but only needed to be at 6 cm because she was so early in her pregnancy. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed she was in extreme pain. Part of her bag of waters had slipped out, and she went from no contractions to what felt like contractions that were double peaking. Having been through one delivery with our first born son, Kellen, I knew something wasn’t right. The doctors came in and urged her to push, and her bag of waters broke, giving her a huge sense of relief.
A few minutes later, while waiting for an epidural, they started doing an Echo Cardiogram on Alissa to make sure her heart was doing ok. As I sat there by her side, she was having contractions. They completed the Echo, and she said she felt like a huge amount of fluid was being lost. I got the attention of the doctors who were just outside the room. One doctor came in, lifted the blanket, and there was blood everywhere.
The tone of the room changed instantly. Alissa was bleeding out. And there were probably at least 10 doctors and multiple nurses in our room immediately. They began to wheel her out of the room and told me that I wasn’t able to go with her. The nurses had me kiss Alissa one last time, just in case. As someone who hates the unknown, I asked, how long this would take. They said it would be 30 minutes.
Those were the longest 30 minutes of my life.
As they wheeled her out of the room, I bawled my eyes out. In actuality, I probably cried more tears during that 30 minutes than I have my entire life. What if I just said “I love you” to my wife for the last time?
Alissa’s mom sat next to me to comfort me, but I was a wreck. I tried everything I could to say any sort of prayer, and I’m pretty sure I mustered up some Hail Mary’s, but my mind kept coming back to the same thoughts.
What if she doesn’t make it?
What will I tell our son, Kellen if his momma doesn’t come home? He’s only 18 months old.
God please watch over Alissa and our baby…
30 minutes were up, and right on cue one of the doctors came in. Alissa was alive, and she will be ok, although she will need time to recover. I never felt such relief in my life. The nurses then told me that we had a baby boy, and they would bring him in when Alissa woke up.
When she woke, she discovered our baby was a boy, and we named him Gabriel Joseph. Gabriel is the Patron Saint of Communication who delivers to Mary the news that she will be the Mother of Jesus. Joseph, of course, is the humble husband of Mary and Jesus’ earthly father. We believe that Gabriel Joseph Porteous is God’s humble saint and our little messenger in heaven. And while I’ll never get to teach him to ride a bike, never get to have a catch with him, and never get to be there as he graduates from high school, I know that God’s plan is greater than mine. Gabriel Joseph is in the best possible place, heaven, a place I hope to spend eternity the day I leave this life.
The nurses brought Gabriel in for us to spend time with him. We got to hold him, kiss him, and take pictures with him. Although he wasn’t alive, he looked perfect. His hands. His feet. His nose. He barely had a scratch on him, and even the doctors and nurses remarked that it’s very rare that a baby in this situation comes out looking so good.
We spent the next few days in the hospital and were able to spend a lot of time with our little saint. We had some smiles, shed a lot of tears, and asked him to pray for our family. Doctors and nurses came in and out on a regular basis to check on us. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many doctors we saw in those four days, but each one of them knew us, and more importantly, they knew of the heroism portrayed by Alissa and Gabriel. They could see the unconditional love that existed within our family, and several of the doctors and nurses told us how inspired they were by our faith.
I don’t say that to glorify us in any way. Alissa and I still feel, to this day, that we simply followed God’s call. God’s way is always the best way even when dealing with the most difficult of circumstances, like an extremely rare partial molar pregnancy. (In fact, one doctor told us that this had been a big year for them at the hospital. We were the third one. In late October, we were the third partial molar pregnancy, and for the doctors, that meant there were a lot.)
It’s been a year now since the day I lost my son and almost lost my wife. I wish I could say it’s been an easy year, but it hasn’t. I think about our experience often and probably will for the rest of my life. The memories are so vivid, and I feel like I left so much emotion at the hospital that day. But I am grateful to God for the blessing that Gabriel Joseph has been to our lives. And while we have been and always will be pro-life, He gave us a new appreciation for what that means. We only hope that our story can inspire others to feel the same.
“The word of the Lord came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” – Jeremiah 1:4