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Darren Charles Heuser

It’s 2013 and Colleen and I are having a baby. We are into the 8th month of pregnancy. We are having a boy and his name will be Nolan. We will get to hold him, play with him, feed him and change his poopy diapers. All this will be a first for us. But Nolan is actually our 2nd child. During the pregnancy with Nolan, we are constantly faced with the dreaded question:

“Is this your first?”

“Well, no it’s not. Our first child was stillborn. Died 20 weeks into the pregnancy. So this would be our 2nd child. However, this would be our first child that will be living outside the womb.”

This is the truth, but is rarely how these conversations go. The conversation is more likely to go like this:

“Is this your first?”

“Yes.”

It is just easier socially for the conversations to go this way. There’s no need to make them feel awkward for asking. But I just can’t help but feel bad for not giving props to Darren. So I present to you, the story of Darren.

It was the summer of 2012 when Colleen found out that she was pregnant with our first child. We were very excited. We wanted to tell everyone, but, as suggested, we waited until the 2nd trimester to tell everyone. I was unaware that the “wait to tell people” was common practice and I almost slipped the news to a friend on the day she took the pregnancy test. We started seeing a doctor for regularly scheduled check ups. I remember the day when we were first able to hear the baby’s heartbeat. That was something else!

In the mean time, we kept the pregnancy between us and our doctors. Let me tell ya, it was extremely difficult to keep this news from everyone for two months. Anytime we were going to be in a social situation where there was going to be drinking involved, we had to tactically plan out what we were going to do in order to not raise suspicion about the pregnancy.

Most famously was the martini night that we had with Sarah and John around the 4th of July. Sarah had been talking about us going out to The Vine, (which is a great martini bar near us) for months. We all finally had a Saturday free so we decided to get together. However, we knew that this was going to be impossible to pull off if they noticed Colleen not drinking at The Vine. She loves martinis, The Vine especially. I suggested to Sarah and John that we make it a more economical night and have a martini party at out house. I had plenty of vodka and martini mixers. Sarah and John agreed and we hosted martini night at our place. This could not have worked any better. Since I was the “bartender”, I was able to go to the kitchen and mix a non-alcoholic martini for Colleen, and real ones for the rest of us. No one caught on. We all got trashed, while Colleen stayed completely sober, and no one suspected anything. Success!

When the time came, Colleen was all about thinking of creative ways that we could tell people. Although we wouldn’t quite be in the 2nd trimester, we thought the perfect time to reveal our news was at the Glencoe Documentary premiere party that we were hosting in July. Most of our family and close friends would be there.

So the day of the party I had a perfect speech rehearsed. After the viewing, I got on the microphone and said a few words. I remember it perfectly. “One of the great things about Glencoe is that everyone wants to share the experience with other friends and family, so you get new people coming down every year. We brought Meghana last year, Colleen’s parents a few years ago. But this next Glencoe we’ll be bringing someone new, someone who none of you have ever met before...Colleen and I are having a baby!” Everyone was so excited for us. It was a wonderful moment of an already awesome day.

Summer went by and the baby planning progressed. We received a few gifts and 2nd hand baby items from friends who had kids. Everything seemed to be going fine with the pregnancy. Colleen felt great, no morning sickness or anything.

Ultrasounds eventually determined that we were having a boy. We were excited and really, it was what everyone predicted considering the fact that I had 3 brothers and no sisters. We were going to name him Darren Charles. Darren, because we just liked the name and Charles after Colleen’s grandpa.

Everything was going fine with our doctors appointments until they noticed that the placenta was a little misplaced. It wasn’t worse case scenario, but it definitely was worth monitoring more closely. They ordered some additional tests and a level 2 ultrasound. It was late September when we went in for the level 2. They took extensive measurements of the baby. He was growing normally, but the placenta was not in the normal location. The lab work also came back with an elevated level of alpha fetoprotein. It wasn’t at dangerous levels or anything, but it was abnormal. The doctors explained to us why this might be the case, and that we were more than likely going to have a healthy pregnancy regardless of this fact. However, they wanted to see us in two weeks for a follow-up level 2 ultrasound.

October 9th, 2013. Colleen and I headed to Libertyville for our next level 2 ultrasound. We were escorted to the small, dimly lit ultrasound room. The ultrasound tech, a younger woman with blond hair, sat Colleen down on the exam table as I sat on a chair across from her so I could view the ultrasound monitor. She squirted the gel on Colleen’s tummy and proceeded to drag the apparatus across it. As soon as we saw the monitor, we knew something was up. There was no movement as in previous ultrasounds. There was also no colors and I remembered that blood movement shows up on the monitor and red and blue splotches. There were none this time. Our little Darren was not going to make it into this world. He had passed.

I remember the ultrasound tech saying “I’m so sorry” but I don’t remember anything beyond that. I was just shocked. Colleen started crying uncontrollably...I followed. Things were a little bit of a blur from that point. We spent a little time in the exam room alone. Then I remember walking back to the parking lot, both of us  just sitting in my car for a bit, not knowing what to do from here.

Our main doctors were notified of the situation. We would have to deliver Darren either naturally or surgically. We opted for naturally, since doing so surgically would heighten the chances of his body coming out in pieces. Colleen would have to be induced, and we wanted to schedule this as soon as possible. We were able to schedule to get into the hospital on Friday, a couple days later.

We were scheduled to come into Lake Forest Hospital on Friday morning, but were told to call ahead to make sure that there was a bed available. Colleen’s mom arrived at our house and we were all ready to go in the morning. But, of course, they did not have a bed available for us, so we had to wait for a few hours. We were finally able to head to the hospital around 11am.

The hospital staff got us settled in a room and we were told that we had to wait for our doctor to arrive before they could start administering the drug that would induce Colleen’s labor. We waited...and waited some more. Several hours in fact. I believe the sun was almost set by the time the doctor finally got there and Colleen received the inducing medicine. Our doctor was “at her office busy with other appointments” and barely apologized. All that was needed was to administer the medicine and then we had to wait a minimum of 4 hours for it to even take effect. It seems like something that the hospital staff could have done while we were waiting around. Now were on track for giving birth at 10-11pm at the earliest.

That evening, it was a lot of waiting around trying to pass the time. At one point, I decided to go out for a McDonalds run. I left our room and headed to the elevator. There was a small waiting area near the elevator that had a few people camped out. I hit the down arrow and waited for the elevator to arrive at my floor. As I was waiting, I noticed a younger man in the group that was most likely a dad to be. He said to me with great enthusiasm and excitement “Hey, are you having baby too?”

The elevator doors opened up, I walked in, turned around and said “Actually, he didn’t make it…” I definitely caught them off guard with my response, they didn’t know what to say. I only saw them for another second before the elevator doors closed and I was off to McDonalds. When I returned with my food, I quickly exited the elevator and tried not to make eye contact with the happy family in the lobby  

It’s extremely difficult being in the birthing area of a hospital in our situation. We were surrounded by so much joy. New parents in neighboring rooms that were welcoming their children into this world. In fact, every time a baby is born, there is a button on the wall that is pressed that plays a lullaby throughout the whole wing of the hospital. We heard that sound many times throughout our stay, and it was difficult every time. I wanted to be in the new dads club so bad. I wanted to give that guy in the lobby a high five. But instead, we were in our own little bubble of sorrow. We knew what was coming, and it wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

Around 10pm, Colleen had dilated enough to start pushing. She gave it several good pushes while I stood by her side. Apparently she was not dilated enough to deliver. They gave her another round of the inducing medicine, and we had to wait another 4 hours for it to take effect.

This whole process was taking longer than I expected. I was scheduled to do a video shoot the next day. It was a college football game, and I was being relied upon to drive the Comcast video production truck to the shoot. I was stressing out about whether or not I would make it to this shoot. Pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it was the only thing that, at the moment, I felt I had control over. I couldn’t save my son, but I could save the video shoot. Ultimately, I ended up texting the guy who I was working for, telling him the situation and that I wasn’t going to make it. He understood completely.

At about 2am, we gave the delivery another shot. Colleen gave it several good pushes. Although Darren’s head started to crown, our doctor was having a hell of a time getting him out of there. It was as if his body was hung up on something. I just remember standing there holding Colleen’s hand and the only thing I was thinking at that moment was “Please God, just let him come out in one piece. At least give us that.” His body was so small and fragile that his head very well could have just popped off during this process.

After working at it for a while, our doctor was about to throw in the towel and recommend that we surgically remove him. That would most likely mean that he would come out in pieces. Colleen wanted nothing of the sort and convinced the doctor to give her one more round of the inducing medicine. So there we waited for another 4 hours, and we both managed to get some sleep, despite the fact that Colleen had a partially delivered baby hanging out of her.

Around 6 or 7am, it was go time again. This time it seemed to go pretty quickly and easily. In no time at all, Darren was fully delivered in one piece and the nurses were cleaning him up. I was so glad Colleen convinced the doctor to give her that third round of inducing medicine.

During our stay at the hospital, the nurses had stressed about how important it was that we hold Darren and spend time with him after the birth, even though he was no longer alive. He was still our son and this would help us have closure. We were able to pick out a little hat and outfit for him. We brought a tiny stuffed elephant for him and also a kit with an inkpad so we could get his hand and feet prints. I remember getting a brief moment of escapism when I got into my creative mode and photographed all these items with the camera I had brought with.

I have to admit, I was scared to see him, as I didn’t know what kind of condition he would be in. After getting him ready, the nurses brought him out to us. He was very small, under 1 pound in weight. His skin was very red in color. His nose was a little messed up, probably from the difficult 2nd session of delivery when he got stuck. But both of us got to spend time holding him. We talked to him, played him some music. We also got some pictures with him, which the nurses said that we might not think we would want right now. But in the future we would regret it if we didn’t get any pictures.

It feels like we spent hours with Darren. We didn’t want to give him up. They gave us as much time as we needed. It was around lunchtime on Saturday when we were finally ready. They would take away Darren for good and we would be moved to another room for Colleen to recover. Before leaving the room, we had requested to press the big red button on the wall. This was the button that made the lullaby play throughout the hospital, the one that we had heard several other parents pressing when their children were born. We thought Darren deserved a lullaby too. So we pressed the button, and the lullaby played as Darren was carted away.

We were transferred to a recovery room for another 24 hours or so. The nurses at Lake Forest were amazing. They really helped us through this difficult situation. Even though the doctor is the one that actually delivered the baby, the nurses still played a much more significant role in our experience there. Colleen’s mom was also very supportive and there with us through the whole process.

We left the hospital not really knowing how to proceed from there. We had planned to add someone to our family come February, but not that was not going to happen. All baby things that we had acquired got stashed in the garage. We made arrangements with a funeral home to bury Darren at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, the same place my mom and other family members are buried. They have a special section just for infants. We picked out a tiny little casket for him. We didn’t do a full funeral. We made it a private affair, graveside, with just Colleen and I, with Uncle Tom saying some words and prayers for us. It was October, so we had bought a little pumpkin for our little pumpkin and left it for him by his grave before we left. The day was very emotional, although it wouldn’t be the last time we shed tears for Darren.

Life slowly got back to normal. We kept busy with work and family and friends. What was really difficult was the fact that everyone knew that we were having a baby, but didn’t necessarily know what had happened. Everyone close to us knew, and we even put up a post on Facebook about it so people would know. But there were constantly people who didn’t know who would ask me “so how’s the baby doing?” And each time I would have to explain that he didn’t make it. And each time that person would feel guilty for asking and say that they were sorry.

Sometimes they would ask what happened. I would tell them, and it would constantly re-hash the bad memories. I don’t blame them for asking how the baby is, they were just trying to make conversation, as I would probably do the same thing in their situation. But it was just ridiculous that when I finally thought everyone out there knew what had happened, I would run into another person that would ask how the baby is. (It even happened as recently as a few weeks ago.)

March 2013. Colleen was pregnant again. With Darren, we were very laid back, happy-go-lucky throughout the pregnancy. With this pregnancy, it’s been very different. Extreme paranoia over everything that might not be good for the baby. Colleen bought an at home heart monitor so we could listen to the heartbeat. She used it basically every day, sometimes twice a day. It was great reassurance that the baby was okay in there. I really don’t know how we would have gotten through the uncertainty in between doctors appointments. Let me tell ya, that thing is probably the best thing we’ve ever bought off Amazon.

The paranoia has definitely gotten better throughout the pregnancy. The heart monitor has been used less and less as Nolan has started kicking more and more. Doctors appointments have gone great and Nolan is growing well and on target. No placenta issues, no elevated levels of things, everything has been pretty normal. While we are excited for the upcoming birth of Baby Nolan, we can't forget Darren, the big brother that he'll never get to play with.