Child Death
Stillbirth > 32 Years Later

By Sherri Smith

Honoring Casandra Lee St. Clair
Born-still April 17, 1969

My story began in August of 1968. I was a naive, not quite 19 year old preparing to marry my high school sweetheart just home from Viet Nam. We went to get our blood tests. The Doctor asked me about birth control, but because it involved a vaginal exam I declined. I had been molested as a ten
year old and was terrified of the very idea of that kind of an exam. Married on August 31st, we left shortly after that from my mom's in Illinois to drive to Tacoma, Washington where he was stationed in the Army. He didn't really want me to go with him, but I was desperate to get away from a very bad situation at home.

September 19, my birthday, we arrived in Seattle, found ourselves an old rundown trailer and rented it. Within a few days, I started getting deathly sick, every day, all day. I had missed my period. Mom diagnosed me over the phone. I was pregnant. The Army doctors wouldn't see me till I was three months along. I ate crackers in bed. My husband insisted that he had to have bacon and eggs every morning even though he knew that it made me worse. He would leave and I would open up
every single window in that little trailer. I was about two months along when he was sent TDY (temporary change of duty station). My best friend bought me a round trip ticket home.

While I was home, my mom's gynecologist saw me and gave me a prescription to stop the morning sickness, the army doctors continued this when I finally got in to see them. It never did stop, but gave me some relief at least after the morning was over. There were two times when I had relief from the awful sickness. Once a month when the enlisted guys and their wives had a BYOB party. I found that
I could get drunk and get up the next morning and feel absolutely great! The other time was when I was when I was in the air flying, and I hate to fly! The prescription that was given to me has since been pulled from the market as having been proven to cause stillbirths and birth defects.

When I was 5 1/2 months pregnant, I opted to put our things in storage and go home to Illinois to have our baby. Financially things were tough for us. The Army had made a mistake on our checks when my husband and I had first gotten married and gave us too much, and had decided that they were taking it back all at once. He was putting long hours on base, and also was facing another TDY about the time our baby was due. I was very lonely and very homesick. The first of March I flew home. Immediately I felt better. It was wonderful to feel good, to enjoy being pregnant. I had lost 20 lbs. but started showing and loved sitting, feeling my baby kicking and moving around inside of me. I vowed to that baby that I would always tell him/her that I loved them and would show them that I meant it in so many ways. My friends had a baby shower for me. I loved going through those tiny things and I prayed for a girl. I never imagined having anything but a girl. I had practically raised my sisters when they were babies because my Mom had cancer when they were little. They were 10 and 12 years younger than me and we were still very close. I wanted a girl that would be mine! I would sit and dream of what my daughter and I would do. I was an accomplished seamstress, so even if I didn't have a lot of money, she would be dressed in the best.

Just before I was seven months, my husband came home on a weeks furlough. With my Doctor's OK, we made a trip to Kokomo, Indiana to see his family. That Saturday night, my sister in law Jeannie, went to the hospital to be delivered of a healthy baby boy. I began to have pains in my back. We had already gone to bed, but they got worse and worse. My husband had been rubbing my back and finally he went to get his Mother. She came in and asked me what was wrong and then just said. "You'll be OK. You're just having sympathy pains for Jeannie, just go to sleep." I had those pains for the rest of the night. The next morning they were pretty much gone. I still felt a little tight in the tummy when we went back home to Illinois, but I thought it was just the baby moving around just a little bit.

Mom insisted that I go see the Doctor on Monday, right after I saw my husband off at the airport. My Doctor reassured me everything would be OK. I kept telling Mom "I don't think the baby is moving" She kept telling me, "they sometimes do that right before they are born." I knew it wasn't time. She wasn't ready. I was already scared. Monday came and went. Tuesday came. Mom ran me ragged, here, there, shopping, visiting, driving down bumpy roads, doing this and that. I started having those back pains again. She started timing them and called the Doctor. They insisted that I go to the hospital, I didn't want to go! It wasn't time! Something was wrong! People were looking at me funny! They put a monitor on me, but they didn't turn the sound on. Weren't you supposed to hear it? Nurses scurrying in and out. Surely this wasn't labor, my back hurt but not any worse that it did in Indiana and his Mother said it wasn't anything to worry about. Why can't I just go home? There's nothing happening here. I miss the girls. The shift is beginning to change, it's nearly 11 o'clock. Mom has to go for a cigarette. I'm alone, nothing happening. New nurse comes in, looks at the monitor, "hmmm" she says, "no heart beat, guess the baby's dead" and walks out of the room! Wait! What did she say? My baby is dead? NO! It can't be! She has to be wrong! I start crying, sobbing, then the pain starts in. Mom rushes into the room, she has heard me from down the hall. Now I am in real labor. For 3 1/2 hours. I struggle, I cry. What's the use? Why am I going through this? Why do I have to? This isn't fair! 3 o'clock delivery. No one there but my Doctor and the nurses. Mom not allowed in, remember this is 32 years ago. Not a cry to be heard by my own. Dr? What do I have? A girl. Can I see her? No. Is she alive? No. I learned that she was 3 lbs, 3 ozs and 21 inches long. I was told that she had red hair. My Mom bullied the Doctor into letting her see my baby. I found out much later that she had been dead for a "few" days and had deteriorated badly. Officially, cause of death, starvation due to underdeveloped umbilical cord. I have often wondered, did I kill her because of the three or four times that I got drunk? Was it because of the prescription that I took to alleviate the morning sickness or was it the Agent Orange that my husband was exposed to for twelve months in Viet Nam. I will never know.

A funeral was planned and held. I was not released from the hospital "for my own good", not allowed to attend. I chose a soft receiving blanket given to me by my best friend, for her to be buried in. Karen stayed with me while the family and my husband attended the funeral. I could only imagine the tiny white casket. The still, tiny form that I would never see, never hold. I was so horrified and hurt when they all came to the hospital half drunk after it was over! How could they?

I went home to Mom's the next day. I rushed to the room to finger and hold the baby clothes. They were gone! I asked Mom where they were. She thought it was best they not be there when I got home. I didn't see them again for over six months. So swallowing my disappointment, I struggled on. Karen took me to the grave. I saw pictures taken at the grave of the tiny Styrofoam coffin. I received cards and was encouraged to get on with my life. "You'll have another one." How did they know? "It was God's will." Who said? "She might have grown up to get in terrible trouble." Why did they think that? I had to borrow the car from Mom to go see my friend Karen, in truth, to sneak off to go to the gravesite to cry over my lost child.

I went back to work. I acted normal. My body looked normal. I was supposed to be back to normal. Karen and I were doing things together, shopping, movies and riding around town, just like I was single again. My husband was still in Washington. I had no baby clothes, no one to let me grieve, no one to let me talk about her, it was like she had never existed. Casandra Lee St. Clair stillborn April 17, 1969. My mother never went to her grave, never talked about her. Neither did my husband when he came home. He didn't want me to talk about her either.

Five months later on September 16 1969, a little boy was born in Kokomo, Indiana. He was unloved and unwanted. The illegitimate child of my sister-in-law. My husband came home in October and we unsuccessfully tried to have another baby. On Valentines weekend, we made another trip to Kokomo. We came back with a five month old malnourished, nearly dead little boy that became my reason for living again. Two and a half years later I gave birth to another son.

I still grieved for my daughter, but still never talked about her. Today, I still wonder what she would be like at 32. What would her children be like? Would her hair still be red? Would she be built like me, slightly plump? Have the same interests? Write poetry? I know that I love her still. When I meet her in heaven, will she still be a baby? Will I recognize her? Somehow I know that my heart will know her.

In the last eight years, my second husband has taken me to her grave many, many times. Has listened to me talk about her. Has read my poems about her. He has let me grieve for her. He is not her father but he loves me enough to let me grieve for the child that I never knew.

Through the years, there have been so many times that I have been able to help someone because of my experiences. My childhood traumas, my unhappy marriage, my stillborn child, so many times I have been able to give hope. Hope is what it is about. Without hope, we are nothing, we have no will to live. This is the purpose of this narrative, to give someone else hope.

Author Biography

I am 51 years old. I have 2 sons, 2 stepsons, and a stepdaughter. I have 5 grandsons and 2 granddaughters. I work customer service at a utility company. I am happily married to my second husband for eight years. My hobbies include reading, writing poetry, and shooting on two pool leagues. My husband and I live in a 2 story Dutch Colonial 82 year old house that we are slowly remodeling that I adore. I am just returning to writing again after not writing for over 35 years.

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