Mom, Community Ambassador
In memory of Brayden
I was born and raised in Fresno; we have been here for three generations. I asked my mom a lot what was her process and she told me that back then Fresno was so small that there was one hospital. You could only birth at one hospital. So there weren’t a lot of choices. There weren’t any birthing centers, doulas or things like that. You pretty much went into labor and then you went into the hospital, even scheduled C-sections weren’t that popular back then.
The lack of health care out here in Fresno is something that everyone is used to. My family felt like “It is what it is.” It has definitely expanded and developed since my mom’s time, and there are now three hospitals in the area.
My pregnancy was really tough. I wanna say that about three or four months in I started bleeding. Complications started fairly early in that pregnancy. I went to a doctor who is a family friend and she is a Black doctor, so I felt like I could trust her and that she understood my body because she was a Black woman like myself. She put me on bedrest twice. We were running all these tests and never could never really find out what was wrong or why I was having these complications, and came to the conclusion that I was stressed.
I knew I was having twins, but my doctor didn’t talk to me about the possible complications of having twins. At the time, I was 20 years old, a lot of times doctors have this notion that “Oh, you’re young and healthy and so you are fine.” I couldn’t get certain tests because I wasn’t of a certain age and I didn’t have a genetic risk in my family history, I was told. For instance, an amniocentesis. They didn’t bring me in for extra ultrasounds when I had pain. Bedrest was their only answer for everything.
But at the time, I was going to medical assistant school, so I said, “Please, please, please just let me go to school.” So while I was in class at 25 weeks along, I ended up going into preterm labor. I was just sitting down and I wasn’t doing any strenuous or overexerting my body. I just, out of nowhere, went into labor.
My instructor had taken my blood pressure and noticed it was dangerously high. She said I needed to go straight to the doctor and allowed one of the other students to take me straight to the hospital. When I got there, everyone was really nonchalant. I had the feeling that they thought, “She’s probably being dramatic.” They took their sweet time, and by the time I was admitted into a room and they checked my cervix, I was three and a half centimeters and my cervix was paper thin. So then now everyone was in a rush and they were calling my doctor and they were telling me, “You’re not going anywhere until you have these babies.”
A week later, I had my twins at 26 weeks via an emergency C-section. It took them three hours to get me ready and prepped because my doctor wasn’t there — she was actually on vacation. I had to have an on-call doctor do my emergency C-section. It was really quick. I didn’t have options. It was “We have to do what we have to do to save these babies.”
They gave me a quick rundown that included an epidural, a spinal tap, and that they were going to numb me from under my arms down. I didn’t have time to prepare for that. It’s scary getting a spinal tap, you know. I just had to suck it up, be strong, and get it done. They took the babies out and they had to put me under because they cut really deep, so they took a while to sew me back up.
After I woke up, they brought the babies in, and then after a short time, they went, “Alright, mom, say bye to your babies” and they were off to the other hospital because the NICU was not in the same hospital that I delivered. It is in the next town over, it is not even in Fresno.
They had to wait for my doctor to come back from vacation. While I was still in the hospital, I had to sign papers to allow Brenton to have surgery without seeing him before or after. His bowels had perforated because he was underdeveloped, and they needed to repair it. At that point, I think I was just so traumatized that I was like, “Whatever it takes to save my babies.” I signed whatever. I did whatever. We have a really good children’s hospital out here so I knew we were going to be okay. At that point, my biggest thing was, “Get me out of this hospital so I can go see my babies.”
When my doctor did come back, she discharged me early. I didn’t get a lot of information in the postpartum wing about what I or my babies needed in terms of being a NICU parent, breastfeeding, or recovering from the C-section. I was separated from my babies for a couple of days. Once I was discharged, I went to the NICU and I felt scared because they were so little. I didn’t realize how little they were until I got there. They were in incubators, so I couldn’t hold them, I couldn’t touch them.
The NICU is where they helped me with breastfeeding — because when they are that little and they are preemies, they require breastmilk. Whether I pump or they get it from a milk bank, they had to be on breastmilk. So I got a lot of lactation support at the NICU. I spoke with a social worker. They have a whole team that helps parents at the NICU. Of course, when they are that little they are on social security benefits and social services. It was a process.
I wasn’t expecting to give birth so early. My grandparents were both retired, so I had them. They always offered to take me to the hospital if I didn’t want to drive out there. My parents worked but they were also very supportive. My family is the kind that just comes together when they need to. While the twins were in the hospital, my family planned a baby shower.
I was really hopeful that they were both going to get out of there, and they did. They both came home. The one who survived, Brenton, was in the hospital for four months, and my son Brayden who passed was there for three and a half.
Brayden actually passed away at home. He would stop breathing. The nurse would tell me, “Mom, go home and get some rest.” The minute I got home, I’d get a call because he would stop breathing. The reason they gave for this health condition was his underdeveloped lungs because he was premature and they said it would resolve. It was difficult. I was tired, I was stressed, I was exhausted. I really did think he would make it through and be fine, because he actually came home first. It felt really good to take Brayden home. I felt accomplished and was thinking “one down, one to go.” It was Brenton that I was more worried about because I couldn’t hold him, since he had surgery twice and was under two pounds, but two weeks later he came home too.
That morning, I took them to the doctor to have their last checkup at the hospital. They were cleared. They said, “They are fine. They are healthy. If anything goes wrong, bring them back right away.” I took them home and I thought it was probably time for a nap so I laid them down. Brenton woke up and was screaming, so I sat him in his baby chair. Brayden, I went to pick him up and he wasn’t moving. He was limp and lifeless. I did CPR, luckily my mom’s husband had just come home and he did CPR classes with me so he took over while I called 9-1-1. They came to take him to the hospital and when we were there, they took us to the prayer room and that’s when I knew something wasn’t right.
There were signs but I didn’t know how severe it was. When he left the hospital, they just said, “When you sleep at night, put the breathing monitor on because you are going to be asleep for a longer period of time, but if you are just laying him down for a nap, then you don’t have to put him on the monitor.” He came home with those breathing concerns. But I never thought that it would just happen so quickly. They let me take him home so obviously they thought it was safe to do so and that he was doing better than before.
There is a place called Angel Babies out here, it is a support group for mothers who have lost their children. That was an option. My family and my church family showed up for me. I wasn’t in the right head space at the time for therapy. I just wasn’t ready and it took some time for me to get to a place where I was really okay.
I wish there were more resources. Infant mortality happens more often than we know. While I was waiting for Brenton to come home, I had made a friend in the NICU, another single mom, and she ended up losing her daughter too. After it happens, you are just kind of left in the wind. I didn’t even know why my baby had passed for a whole year. I was told that because he was premature and an infant, the autopsy takes some time. He had that breathing issue but he didn’t have a whole heart murmur or brain damage. There was nothing like that. They didn’t know why he had passed away.
Having a local resource that reaches out and checks on you or not just leaving you there with pamphlets and that’s it — that would have been helpful. I had to learn how to deal with his passing on my own throughout.
Throughout my second pregnancy, my anxiety was really bad and I had a lot of physical pain because of a degenerative disc in my back, but I didn’t have the same complications that I had last time. Part of the anxiety came from the fact that they didn’t know why I went into preterm labor the first time, so I was being monitored by multiple doctors this entire pregnancy.
I was in the medical field working 14-hour shifts, and because I was seeing two doctors, it was really difficult. One was a neonatalogist at the children’s hospital right outside of Fresno and I would see the other doctor, both once a week. Most of my time was consumed with doctor appointments and work.
I was trying to be okay but also expecting them to find something. It took me 10 years to even do it again but on top of that, my marriage was failing and when Grayson was born, he looked just like my son Brayden who had passed away. I was ripped apart. When I was in the hospital, I had a few mental breakdowns. I couldn’t sleep for the first three days, and I was scared he was going to stop breathing. Eventually, it smoothed out but during that time and even when I came home, it was really tough. I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared and didn’t know what was going to happen.
Brenton ended up testing out of social services at about two or three years old. He is really smart. He has ADHD, which is the only thing aside from a little heart arrhythmia, but it is not that he can’t play sports or anything like that. He is healthy.
I felt guilty for a long time. You prepare yourself to raise two but then, as you are only raising one, the thought comes into your mind, “I wonder what it would have been like for Brayden to be here, too.” And I never kept it a secret from Brenton, so he has suffered from what I feel is PTSD. He has always felt this essence of emptiness. When he was a baby, he used to always carry around his blanket and we used to call him Linus because he wouldn’t never let it go. Even to this day, he has a lot of stuffed animals on his bed because he needs that comfort of having someone with him.
I’ve come to meet a few more mothers who have lost their children and I think it is important to show people that you can still live and you can still wake up every day. You are going to be okay. You can still have more children and get married, but in that moment, you don’t feel like that. You feel like life is over. I remember at one point in time, I felt like I wasn’t going to make it. Especially back then, no one my age really lost a child, or at least no one I knew about. It felt like I was the first person it had happened to. I really felt that way. It’s been a journey. It is smooth now but it has been a journey.
I started a nonprofit, called The Compassion Care Center, to teach women how to deal with trauma, getting them resources, hosting events and activities like yoga, and doing vision boards. Because I want to show women what it looks like to heal. A lot of times we go to therapy and we talk about it, but you are talking to someone who maybe did not experience what you did. From domestic violence to losing a baby to divorce, I’ve experienced it all, so I just really want women in Fresno to know that even though we live in a small city, we can have the resources that other cities have.