Guest Blog – Kristen Bencomo
To honor October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, The Finley Project is sharing Guest Blogs.
In December of 2005, my husband Anthony and I found out we were pregnant. It was a very exciting time in our family to be welcoming a baby into our life. Several months later we found out we were having a baby girl.
Anthony and I decided to name her Gabriella. All my monthly doctor appointments went great until I was approximately 24 weeks pregnant.I was a little swollen, and my blood pressure was high. My OBGYN told me to take it easy and drink more water.
They also told me to come back a week later for a nurse visit to have my blood pressure checked. During that next visit my blood pressure was still elevated and I had gained 10 lbs.
This was not normal, and they immediately scheduled a consult with Dr. Fuentes, a perinatologist. I wasn’t overly concerned since her heart rate and movements were all normal. My Mom came with me the following week to see Dr. Fuentes.
I first had an ultrasound by the tech. She was very quiet. But I could see that the baby Gabriella was moving and had a heartbeat…all good signs I was thinking in my head. The tech left and said Dr. Fuentes would be in shortly.
We waited what seemed like an eternity and we met Dr. Fuentes. He re-did the ultrasound and the baby’s measurements. It was at that moment that my life changed forever. He told me that Gabriella was measuring in at 21 weeks- I was 26 weeks pregnant. He said we needed to deliver her right away or else she had no chance of surviving.
He notified Loch Haven OBGYN and my Mom and I headed over in tears to Florida Hospital Orlando.I was admitted and they monitored me for 3 days while pumping her lungs with steroids.
They also did numerous blood tests to figure out what was going on with my body. It turned out I had an undiagnosed blood clotting disorder-Protein S Deficiency. My placenta had clotted and was no longer able to provide the nutrition Gabriella needed to grow.
At this point they warned us, that she may not even be delivered alive. During those 3 days NICU doctors, Dr. Fuentes, and all the Dr.’s at Loch Haven OBGYN visited me to make sure I fully understood what was going on and to prepare us for the long haul of having a premature baby.
My Mom was hopeful that Gabriella would be okay since both my sister and I were very premature due to my Mom having Type 1 diabetes. We were born in the 70’s and if the technology back then could save us, then Gabriella would be okay. I was holding onto that.
Gabriella Grace Bencomo was born on May 24th, 2006 via C-section. Dr. Hill from Loch Haven OBGYN delivered her. When she came out, there was a cry, a tiny cry, but a cry! Anthony and I will NEVER forget that sound.
She was immediately whisked away to the NICU to get stabilized. Gabriella weighed 14oz and 10.5 inches long. But she cried! Once I was stabilized I got to visit her in the level 3 NICU. She was no longer than my forearm.
It was shocking, but she was my baby girl and I was going to do everything in my power to do what was right for her.
Anthony and I knew that God had a plan and He was in control. Even if we didn’t like his plan, He was going to tell us what He wanted for Gabriella and for us. I stayed in the hospital for an additional 3 days as I recovered from my C-section.
We then headed to our home away from home, the Ronald McDonald House. We then went through a roller coaster of days that turned into a few weeks. We signed a DNR for her 2x and cancelled them 2x.
We went through 3 different types of ventilators for her. She was just so tiny and underdeveloped. We had wonderful, caring nurses caring for her and for our entire family. It was exhausting but this was going to be our reality for the next 3-4 months.
It was on June 6th, 2006 that once again our lives changed forever. On June 5th she just wasn’t having a good day.They told us to spend the night at the hospital in case they needed us and they prepped “family” room for us.
I remember Anthony and I taking turns sitting by her isolette, singing and talking to her. I had fallen asleep and I remember Anthony waking me up. He told me Gabi wasn’t doing well and she wasn’t going to make it.
She was just too tiny and couldn’t fight for her life anymore. We didn’t want her to go through anything more suffering or pain, or fight any longer. We had agreed to let God take her to heaven.
For the first time in 2 weeks, I was able to hold her as she took her last breaths. Our nurse Elizabeth and Dr. Otero stayed with us, prayed with us, and cried with us as we help our baby girl in our arms and said goodbye to her.
Once our family said goodbye to her, the wonderful NICU nurses gave us all of her belongings, her footprints in plaster, her blankets, and a brochure for a support group called HEAL-Helping Endure Infant Loss.
They said to call, as it may be beneficial to help with our grieving process. To be honest it was the last thing I wanted to deal with…talk to a psychologist who has no idea what I had just went through. I had plans to just throw it away. Well Anthony had other plans. He wanted to go immediately!
Once Gabi’s funeral was over and all our family went home, Anthony called and inquired about the HEAL group. We were told the next session started in August and it was lead by 2 licensed mental health counselors who had in fact both experienced still-borns and miscarriages.
I was shocked! This was going to be someone who knew what we were going through. I wasn’t entirely sold but was willing to give it a shot….Anthony eagerly signed us up.
The first session I was nervous. I couldn’t really eat all day and just felt sick. It had been approximately 2 months since Gabi had died and I didn’t know what to expect at HEAL. Well I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Gary Vogel and is HEAL group I wouldn’t be where I am today!
Gary Vogel and his colleague Liz graciously met us on that first night We were also met by 4-5 other couples who had experienced a stillborn, miscarriage, or infant loss. We were all in the same boat.
I was surrounded by other parents who felt how we felt, our baby’s had died and we were here for each other! Over the next 8 weeks, we covered many different topics. The best part was this was our close-knit group for the next 8 weeks. Parents were not allowed to come and go week by week.
Anthony and I learned how men and women grieve differently. The men and women are split up into two groups (male/female) which allowed us to vent and understand exactly how we grieve is different but okay.
There was of course the topic of the stages of grief but I quickly learned that’s its okay if the stages of grief done necessarily go in the exact order as the “experts” say they should! We learned how to communicate with our family and friends, and letting them know what was okay to say or do for us.
Gary also had us write a letter to our babies. I was able to put into writing the sadness, happiness, the anger, and frustration I felt over Gabriella dying. But then we had to read this letter out loud to the group.
It validated that Gabi lived and she died, she was my daughter here on earth for only a few weeks, but it gave me the courage to speak out loud about her. It was difficult, but I did it.
My favorite part of the group was meeting a former HEAL couple that had graduated 1 year earlier. We were able to hear their story and see where they are 1 year later. What was it like to experiences holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.
We could ask them any questions we wanted. It gave us hope for the future that we would be able to move forward, but never forget about Gabriella Grace Bencomo.
Like I said before, I don’t know if Anthony and I would be where we are today without HEAL. I thank God everyday for that opportunity. If it weren’t for the knowledgeable NICU nurses that handed us that brochure, I’m not sure if Anthony and I would have the strong marriage and family that we have today.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to participate in the HEAL support group. We have referred several friends to HEAL, and only wish our friends who have suffered a loss in other parts of the country could have the opportunity as well.