(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — The term ‘rainbow baby’ is the name given to a child born after a woman has lost a previous child due to a miscarriage, stillbirth or death in infancy. For one Jamaican mother, though, ‘rainbow baby’ has taken on a new meaning, as she had lost a child for each colour of the rainbow, and then some, before she finally got to her pot of gold.
At a fit 25 years old, Tamara had just got married and was ready to start her family in 2011.
“My husband and I really wanted a large family,” she told All Woman. “I first got pregnant in 2012, and after three months I had a miscarriage. We went to the doctor, who said it was normal, and we should try again.”
Though she wasn’t trying to get pregnant again just yet, she found herself expecting two months later, this time with twins. But at 17 weeks pregnant, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, she felt strong abdominal pressure, and she knew something wasn’t right.
“My husband had to drive me to the hospital, and they basically told me that I was losing the babies,” she recounted. “I had to have the procedure done to remove them, as they had both died in utero.”
A disappointed Tamara had to go home and explain to everyone what had happened, as by that time she would have been obviously pregnant. She also had to put on a smile and get back to her client-facing job in the financial institution where all her colleagues knew she had just miscarried. She still yearned for a baby.
“I saw all the top doctors in Jamaica,” she said. “The doctor I was seeing at the time recommended that I put in a stitch (cervical cerclage) to prepare for the next time, so I had that done.”
The next year Tamara got pregnant again, with another pair of twins.
“I wasn’t on any form of medication before,” she recalled. “This time they put me on progesterone, and also gave me other supplements. Then we realised I developed preeclampsia.”
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure, and sometimes damage to other vital organs, such as the liver or kidneys. Because of this, Tamara was admitted to the hospital and monitored around the clock. Still no one could have foreseen what would happen at 25 weeks in the pregnancy.
“At a routine ultrasound they discovered that one of the twins was not living, and they said I should wait it out to see if the other twin would survive. The following week we went to do another ultrasound and they said the other twin had passed, too.”
Growing tired of being told to try again by her doctor, Tamara switched specialists. When she realised that she was pregnant again in 2015, she consulted another high-profile doctor locally.
“This time I didn’t even know I was pregnant,” she confessed. “I visited because I missed my menses, and it was an ultrasound in his office that discovered the pregnancy. He put me on a blood thinner, as by now they assumed that it must be a blood-clotting issue. It was a trial and error thing now.”
By this time Tamara was beginning to notice a pattern. At her 20 week ultrasound scans, her babies were always being estimated by the machine to be 18 weeks. Though she was reassured by the doctors that the ultrasound estimations can be off by a few weeks, she could not help feeling worried when it happened once again.
“I knew there was a problem, so I went overseas this time” she recollected. “If the baby came early, I wanted them to be able to save my baby, because even if the baby came at 26 weeks here they might not have the resources to help him/her, while abroad babies who come much earlier have a better chance at surviving.”
She went to Florida, where it was revealed that her baby was suffering from Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), which means that the foetus was not growing at the rate that it should, and was at risk for serious complications. The doctors could not help, so Tamara waited, prayed and hoped to make it to at least 28 weeks.
“I felt a fluttering in my belly one night. It was very, very strong and then it stopped,” is how Tamara described the last moments of that pregnancy, at 23 weeks. She went to the hospital, where they confirmed her fears, once again.
She returned home to the cocoon of her husband, friends and family, plastered on a smile and went back to work.
“I got pregnant again afterwards. It happened that the pregnancy ended spontaneously at eight weeks. By now I thought that I needed to know what was wrong with me. Because something must be wrong, and I needed something to fix it.”
In 2016 when Tamara found herself pregnant again, she decided that she wouldn’t take any chances with this one. She travelled to New York, where they found that the child she was carrying also suffered from IUGR. But the eighth child, Isabelle, was determined to make it out of the womb.
“They took her at 26 weeks by C-section,” Tamara smiled as she remembered touching her daughter through the incubator. “Because she was so young she had to be in the NICU (intensive care nursery), but she was doing so well.”
Isabelle’s health took a turn for the worst when she contracted Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a condition which commonly affects premature babies.
“She lived until she was exactly a month old. I held her while she was dying. I remember praying and asking God please to save my baby girl,” she rasped.
Though she lost her daughter, Tamara did not lose hope. She met a doctor through that experience who helped her to figure out what was wrong.
“That doctor was Dr Jeffrey Braverman from Long Island, New York. He was the one who did tests on both me and my husband. He told me that there is a problem, and he could help me,” she beamed.
Though Tamara didn’t have celiac disease (an immune reaction to gluten), Dr Braverman treated her for it. When she got pregnant again in September of 2017, she was already on a gluten-free diet, medication to suppress her immune system, and was being tested monthly to make sure her levels were good. Though Dr Braverman was on call via e-mail, she was also seeing two local doctors — obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr John Harriot and maternal-foetal medicine specialist Dr Leroy Campbell.
“It was the first ultrasound that I went to at 20 weeks and they said that the baby was normal. Everything was normal. I felt good but I was still nervous,” she recounted. “I went abroad in February, just to be on the safe side.”
Tamara sailed through the first two trimesters without a hitch, but at 33 weeks preeclampsia reared its ugly head.
“I was hospitalised for two weeks, but they said to me that the baby weighed four-and-a-half-pounds, and was healthy, and they felt comfortable delivering him at that point, and they did.”
It was a boy, and he was only in the nursery for 17 days, Tamara shared, because he was strong enough to be discharged. Finally, she had her rainbow baby.
Reflecting on the journey, Tamara said it was just not in her to give up, as she clung dearly to the hope of having a baby, and knew it would happen to her someday.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t sad, but I never dwelled on it, because if I did then I couldn’t have got past it,” she said triumphantly. “And because of how my husband is, he helped me not to stay sad. He helped me to move past it.”
Without the love and support of her spouse, Tamara says she could not have got past the loss of any of her pregnancies.
“And my family and friends, especially my close friend, who is now my son’s godmother, and my parents, I could not have got through it without them,” she said.
“My manager was also very understanding and supportive; because I had to take a lot of time off each time I got pregnant.”
Tamara decided to share her story so that it may inspire other women who may have had miscarriages and feel hopeless and alone.
“I think it’s something that is very common, but we don’t talk about it,” she said. “Just don’t lose hope, because it [success] can happen.”
Though she understands that not all women will be able to travel to find help, she also urged them to seek out alternative opinions and treatment if one doctor or method isn’t working.
“It doesn’t make sense to keep trying the same thing if it’s not producing the results,” she said.
Although she wanted a large family, now at 33 Tamara is not sure whether she wants to try again for another child. Though she believes her journey was for a purpose, she does not wish it on anyone.
“Just to hold up your head and to say to somebody, ‘Oh, the baby didn’t make it’, is rough, and to go through that repeatedly for each pregnancy, it’s a lot. I used to ask God ‘Why me?’” she said.
She added: “The love and affection that I have for my son now, it takes away all the pain that I went through. He is now nine months old and is cruising. He is very active, and I don’t feel as if I missed out on anything with him.”