Written by Natalie Arndt, Guest Blogger
I had been feeling unlike myself. SO tired and MAJORLY exhausted – a lack of energy that was just so unlike me. I blamed it on jet lag. My boyfriend John (now husband) and I had just returned from an epic vacation in Panama & Colombia. But deep in my heart, I knew something was up. For one, I could not stop peeing. So yeah, pregnancy problems. I had zero intention of getting pregnant. John and I were not in that place in our lives. We had JUST moved to Sacramento (where we met as college sweethearts) from San Francisco. We wanted to be able to afford to travel more. And let’s be honest, paying up the you know what for rent in San Francisco wasn’t fueling that dream of ours. We were happy to be back in Sacramento. It was a new start for us.
That evening I went and took a pregnancy test. I had one left over from a pregnancy “scare” a couple months before. I missed the stick. WTF?! Really? Fine, I’ll leave it on the counter and try again next time I have to pee. Sure enough, I woke up in the middle of the night during one of my many trips to the bathroom. Half asleep and mid pee, I remembered about the test. I quickly grabbed it, and thankfully peed on it *correctly* this time. “There’s no way”, I thought. “It’s just jet lag.” Two minutes later that POSITIVE blue plus sign popped up. WHAT THE ACTUAL F?!?
It was September 9, 2016. To this day this haunts me that I actually felt this way, but to be 100% honest, what I felt was sheer panic and disappointment. I DID NOT want to be pregnant. I wanted to travel, explore, and grow my PR consulting business that I had just started. I immediately ran back to bed in tears and woke John up. “JOHN, I AM F*CKING PREGNANT! WHAT THE HELL… HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!” His reaction was happy, excited, and to be honest.. a little annoying. How did he not seem at all worried about HOW we were going to do this?! This is typical behavior from him. He is always cool and calm. Unlike me, a high strung, high energetic, hot mess express. I was scared, like really scared, but I have to admit he did give me a sense of calm in those first few moments.
Weeks went by and I had barely told anyone. Not even our parents. I was still in shock and disbelief, and I wanted to see the heartbeat and be SURE this was happening. At my 8 week appointment, my husband and I saw that sweet, tiny heartbeat for the first time. I was a mix of emotions. It was so beautiful to see a little life that we created, but also WTF?! How were we going to do this? HOW were we going to tell people?! What would they think? Looking back, I wish I didn’t care what people had thought. John and I had been together for 6 years at the time, and it was pretty clear that we were sticking together. Who cares if we weren’t married?! I wish I had embraced this pregnancy more, because I had no idea how much I could lose at the time.
Months went by, we told our family and friends. People were SO happy for us. It finally felt real. We found out that we were having a boy at my 20-week anatomy scan. A BABY BOY! Oh, my heart fell so in love with him right then and there when I heard those words, “It’s a Boy!” But what made it game over for me was when I finally started feeling those tiny little kicks. OH MY GOSH, was there ever a more magical feeling?! I was in LOVE.
I had a follow up scan at 23 weeks pregnant because my little guy wasn’t in a great position at the 20-week anatomy scan. They wanted to get a few more images, so there we were, laughing with the ultrasound technician that he was already a troublemaker. Once we left the doctors office, we drove down to the San Francisco Bay Area where my parents lived. It was the day before Christmas Eve and we were looking forward to spending time with family. I was so excited and happy after this appointment. I was sitting in the passenger seat of the car on the drive down, and decided to post a photo announcing my pregnancy on social media. We had been keeping it mostly to ourselves and our close circle for a while at that point. I was nervous as hell, but I was FINALLY beaming with joy and wanted to share it. The amount of love and support we received was beautiful. It all felt so right. This is happening. We had the best few days celebrating Christmas with the family. Everyone was so happy about the new baby, and I finally was showing a little. My loved ones were starting to rub my bump. Kind of weird, but also cute, and I secretly loved it!
The morning of December 27, 2016, my life would forever change. My husband left for work that morning. He still worked at his job in San Francisco, even though we lived in Sacramento now. My plan was to head back to Sacramento alone. At the last minute, my Grandmother decided to catch a ride with me since she lived about halfway between the two cities. Thank God she did.
We arrived at my Grandmother’s house and I was helping her unload her bags and gifts out of the car. Suddenly, my dog ran across the street. He was a puppy at the time, and was not very well trained. I ran after him and suddenly collapsed, falling flat on my face. I was in and out of consciousness and was having trouble breathing. The last thing I remember was my Grandmother on the phone with 911 and then the paramedics rushing me to the ER.
In the ER, doctors had discovered that a massive blood clot traveled to my lung (a pulmonary embolism). I then went into cardiac arrest several times. The doctors were fighting for my life and made the difficult decision to focus on saving me instead of my baby. Unfortunately and unknowingly to me at the time, my sweet baby boy could not survive the trauma that my body went through. He did not make it. From there, it was days and weeks of struggle and heartbreak as I lost my son and had to fight for my life. I was on a ventilator for three days, unable to breathe on my own. I continuously pointed to my belly asking how my baby boy was, and no one would tell me. For fear of upsetting me while I was too weak. I cried, a lot, even though I was in and out of consciousness. I thought it was ALL my fault. What did I do wrong? Why did this happen?
My doctors were worried about how they were going to deliver my son. My body was too weak to go through any surgery, and all options were dangerous for me and my life. My family, heartbroken and worried, asked doctors to wait. On the second day on the ventilator, December 29, 2016, my body went into labor, and I gave birth to my beautiful son, James Arndt. He was 1lb 10oz and 11 inches long. Thank God I remember those moments I was able to hold him. John, my Mom, Dad, Brother, and my Mother-in-Law were all able to hold him and pray with him. On a ventilator, hooked up to a million machines, I remember crying holding my beautiful son. I felt SO guilty. How did I take this beautiful life for granted for long? WHY didn’t I appreciate him more? He was gone. Just like that.
The next day, I came off the ventilator. My body started to recover pretty quickly. Doctors were amazed that I did not have brain damage like they had been expecting. My heart and even my lungs were improving. The doctor finally was able to explain to me why this all happened. I have Prothrombin G20210A (Factor II Mutation) clotting disorder, and I would be on blood thinner medicine for the rest of my life.
After 3 long weeks in the hospital, with the love and support of my family and friends, the care from the wonderful doctors and nurses at Kaiser, and by the Grace of God, I was able to go home. It was a long road to recovery, physically, but most of all, mentally. I was heartbroken and I did not know how to begin to navigate this loss. The doctors let me know I had to wait a year before trying to get pregnant again so that my body and my heart could fully recover. A YEAR?! That felt like an eternity. Even when it was time to try again, I would be considered a “high risk” pregnancy, would be in blood thinner injections twice a day, and I would be closely monitored. Just a couple weeks before, I was considered a low-risk pregnancy and I was more than halfway through my pregnancy with my baby boy. I felt so alone and depressed.
Looking back, that time in my life was pretty dark. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I was so, so broken. Every pregnant woman, every birth announcement, every baby shower, was like a dagger to my heart. I suffered from PTSD, crippling anxiety and panic attacks, thinking something was wrong with me and that I was suddenly going to die or have another blood clot stop my heart. It was rough. Real rough.
With the support of John, my friends and family and through my faith, I was able to heal. In October 2017, John and I got engaged. I started to finally feel joy again and feel like parts of myself were coming back. Planning the wedding was almost therapeutic for me. I wanted a quick engagement, because we were going to try for another baby RIGHT after the wedding. It’s all I could think about. The wedding was perfect, our honeymoon was magical, but I was ready to get home and get that IUD the EF OUT!
I was reminded several times how risky it was, how tough this would be, but I did not care. I had one dream now, and it was to hold an alive and well baby in my arms. I started on my twice a day Lovenox blood thinner injections and all I could think about morning, noon and night was finally being pregnant. I was impatient when we were TTC (trying to conceive). I would take a million pregnancy tests the days before I was due to get my period, and with each negative, I would feel frustrated and beyond disappointed. I had a fear in the back of my mind that I was not able to get pregnant after everything. I worried that we would try for a year or even more, and I would be on twice a day injection shots for nothing. I prayed to God, and I prayed to my son. I wanted this baby.
A week before our 30th Birthdays (John & I were born a day apart), and just before moving into our new home, I found out I was pregnant. It was an out of body experience seeing that positive test for the first time. I think I took about 10 tests thereafter to be “sure” I was pregnant. I was SO shocked, SO scared, but most of all OVER THE F*CKING MOON. FINALLY, I was going to get my rainbow baby after one hell of a storm. My grandmother, who helped save my life that tragic day by calling 911, had unexpectedly passed away. Just days after my wedding. I found out I was pregnant on her Birthday. I cried SO hard, I knew it was a sign from her.
The wait for the 8-week appointment felt like a year. I was in constant fear that I was losing the baby, my anxiety was high, but I was too excited and told everyone and anyone in my life that I was pregnant. The day was finally here. I held my breath waiting for that heartbeat. Waiting…. and waiting. Nope. No, heartbeat. My doctor told me that it could be too early, and to come back in two weeks. I tracked my cycle to a T, and in my heart I knew there wasn’t going to be a baby. My biggest fear came true. I was going to have a miscarriage. A misscariage. Really!? And I did. I had a miscarrigage. After everything I’d been through, WHY do I deserve this? I was angry, disappointed, and started to think that I was never going to become a Mom. Ever.
I didn’t give up though, and thank God, by my very next cycle I found out that I was pregnant. Again. It was so hard to be 100% excited after having a miscarriage just weeks before. I didn’t want to tell anyone this time. I wanted, no NEEDED, to see that heartbeat. Another long wait for that 8-week appointment, and I prayed and prayed nonstop. The day came and there I am again, holding my breath while my doctor looked for that heartbeat. Then she said the most beautiful words to any Mama going through pregnancy after loss can hear… “Anddd there’s the heartbeat!” TEARS. Tears streamed down my face as I laughed and cried simultaneously. After two long years, I finally was able to hear my baby’s heartbeat again.
Pregnancy after loss is no joke. I was SO scared, SO fearful. I prayed and prayed Every. Single. Day. That THIS baby would make it, that THIS baby would live, and also that I would live. When I made it out of the first trimester, I finally stopped thinking about miscarriage. I was less nauseous and felt like I was going to get through this, but when I was 13-weeks pregnant, I started HEAVILY bleeding in the middle of the night. I SCREAMED and cried and yelled. I was visiting my parents, and my Mom rushed me to the ER. She had no words to comfort me. How was this happening again? I was able to get in right away, and the doctor checked on the baby, who was kicking around with a strong heartbeat. I was in SHOCK. The baby was still alive. Turns out, I had a subchorionic Hematoma. Chorionic hematoma is the pooling of blood between the chorion, a membrane surrounding the embryo, and the uterine wall. It guess occurs in about 3.1% of all pregnancies. I bled on and off the entire 2nd trimester. I used a doppler to listen to the heartbeat to help subside my anxiety, and I listened to that heartbeat as often as I needed to for peace of mind.
Even though I was scared, I wanted to celebrate this baby to the fullest. We found out we were having a GIRL. I decorated the nursery and took a million and one pictures. I wanted to document Every. Single. Moment. I didn’t want to take pregnancy for granted this time. What I’ve been given is the ultimate gift, and I cherished everything about it. I am one of those weirdos that LOVES being pregnant. The third trimester came. The bleeding stopped. I could feel my baby girl move, and each day, I was that much closer to holding her. Viability weeks came, and I started to feel more and more like this was actually going to happen. I WAS GOING TO MEET MY BABY! At 39 weeks, I was taken off my blood thinners, and I was induced into labor.
On July 23, 2019 at 5:34 a.m. my beautiful rainbow, Gianna Jaymes Arndt, was born. All the praying in the world could not have prepared me for how truly special and beautiful this moment was. Her little cry was music to my heart, and she was so, so beautiful and perfect. She is now 13-months old and it’s still surreal to me that she is here. After she was born, I still had a lot of anxiety about something happening to her. And I also didn’t expect to grieve my son so much during this time. The first year of motherhood is a challenge to say the least, but it’s also so, so beautiful and special.
I realize now that Gianna is here because of James. He saved my life. Without him, I would never have known about my blood clotting disorder. Without him, Gianna or I might not be here today. For that, he will always be my guardian angel. I know he is looking down on his little sister and watching over her. I feel him with us everyday. I want to make sure when Gianna grows up, she always knows that she has a big brother who has her back.
The other day, I dropped Gianna off at her first day of daycare and was driving when my navigation took me a different way. Tired, exhausted and in a rush, I am eyeing a Starbucks in the distance, when I realize I am right by the cemetery where James is buried. This is not the first time that this has happened. So I decide to pull in, and go sit with my sweet boy. I started to feel like it was a sign from him. Caught up with the stress and worry of life and motherhood that day, I didn’t realize how much I needed to slow down and have a have a moment with him to reflect and help me see how lucky I am to be here and how truly blessed John and I are to have our sweet rainbow baby girl in our lives. I prayed, thanked him for watching over our family, especially his sister, and Facetimed John as we cried and talked about what he might be like if he were still here today. Later that day, I looked at the date. It was September 9, 2020. Four years ago to the day that I found out that I was pregnant with him. I was rushed with emotions. It’s almost like he needed me that day and that’s why I was pulled there. OR he knew how much I needed him and really needed a reminder of how precious life is. Maybe we both just needed each other. Thank you for the reminder, my sweet boy. Keep sending Mama those signs. I need them, and I hope you know how loved and remembered you are, always.