A mother’s tragedy became a story of finding strength
Monday, 23 December 2013 13:48

Meise found way to cope with baby’s death

by Bill Gates

    Julie Meise couldn’t feel her unborn son moving.
    Meise, a 2005 graduate of Dundalk High, was at a pretty bright place in life. A successful professional model, she was branching out into television, hosting a talk show and working for a production company. Behind-the-camera stuff.
    She was also pregnant, and that was wonderful. She and her boyfriend, Miles, had been together for over a year, and she wanted a child, wanted to be a mother.
    But it was June 8, three weeks before she was due, and she couldn’t feel her son moving.
    It was probably nothing, of course. After all, Julie had just been to the doctor the previous day for a checkup, and Jackson was doing fine, he was healthy, his heartbeat was strong.
    Friends suggested that since Jackson was such a large baby, maybe he had just run out of room in the womb to move.
    Julie went to the hospital, anyway. Better to be safe, right?
    And that’s when her life entered a dark place.
    “They monitored his heartbeat and it was slow, wrong,” Meise said last month.
    She was immediately taken into surgery for an emergency Caesarean section.
    Julie didn’t want a c-section. She wasn’t given an option.
    “I was looking forward to a natural birth,” she said.

Such was the urgency to help her son. Julie said she wasn’t fully numb when the procedure began.
    “I felt everything,” she said. “I felt them pull my skin back. I felt relief when they took Jackson out, and I could feel the tug of the placenta.”
    But Julie’s concern wasn’t on what she felt. It was on what she couldn’t hear.
    “I didn’t hear him cry,” she said. “And I didn’t get to see him. They’re supposed to bring the baby around to you.
    “I remember seeing the expression on the faces of the nurse and the anaesthesiologist. Everyone was wondering why he wasn’t crying.”
    Jackson lived two more days. Long enough for Julie’s parents, Harry and Patricia, to fly to California and meet him.
    He weighed seven pounds and was 22 inches long.
    “He looked perfect when I finally saw him,” Julie said. “He didn’t look sick at all.”
    Six months later, doctors still don’t know with certainty what happened to Jackson.
    They know how it happened. Jackson bled inside the womb and lost too much blood to survive.
    But they don’t know  why it happened.
    “The doctors to this day still have no idea what happened or what caused it,” Julie said. “We had to come home to an empty house and an empty nursery. With zero questions answered.”
    Julie and Miles plan to undergo genetic blood tests to see if the cause was something hereditary.
    A hospital in Germany conducted tests to try to determine the origin of the blood disease. Both tests came back negative.
    While Julie wanted answers, she also wanted — needed — to escape the dark pit into which her life had plunged. To get back to the good place.
    She had suffered one of the most devastating blows a young mother could endure. Would it cripple her?
    In the aftermath of Jackson’s death, Julie’s life became “very confusing. I didn’t understand what had happened. It felt like a very bad dream. I had to get back to reality.”
    Because experiencing the death of her baby was just the beginning of Julie’s story. It ends with the journey towards pulling herself together after everything was ripped from her.
    “Nothing can prepare you for something that awful,” Julie said. “You realize you may not have any control of what just happened, but you do have control of how you come out of the experience.
    “Somehow, all of those years before [losing Jackson] I felt I wasn’t really living. But now I’m living because you know how precious every moment is.”
    Harry and Patricia Meise were crushed by their grandson’s death. That had an even bigger impact on Julie, who felt protective toward her parents.
    Back in September 2012, Harry and Patricia were attacked by two pit bulls in an alley behind Fairway during their morning walk.
    Harry suffered severe bites to his legs, but he led the dogs away from Patricia so that she escaped unharmed.
    “During the few minutes of the attack, I prayed and thought ‘I can’t die yet because I want to experience the joys of being a grandmother,’” Patricia said.
    “A couple of months later my daughter calls and says ‘Guess what?’ When a daughter calls and says that, it usually means one thing.”
    The Meises hosted a baby shower for Julie and Miles at the Dun Dealgan restaurant.
    Among the gifts for Jackson were Ravens and Orioles outfits from Julie’s brother, Jake, and a U.S. Marine Corps jogging suit from Harry.
    Julie has promised her father, a retired Marine, that she will have another son to wear the jogging outfit.
    “I can’t even begin to describe our emotions when we held Jackson,” Patricia said. “We all grieve in different ways, but our daughter is so strong and helped us tremendously.”
    Julie also drew strength and support from her friends back in Dundalk.
    Two of them, Nicole Ames and Ashley Szmanski, had recently given birth themselves.
    Nicole’s baby, a boy named, yes, Jackson, was delivered 10 weeks premature in March.
    “Julie and I always spoke to one another in regards to the pregnancies, how they were going, how we were feeling, the baby showers, etc,” Nicole said.
    When Nicole’s son was born, “Julie was one of the first people to call and ask how we were doing,” Nicole said. “She had so many questions for me, about early birth and how to handle it physically and mentally.”
    Nicole’s son came home after several weeks in an incubator and is perfectly healthy.
    “I don’t even know how to put how horrible I felt for Julie and Miles,” Nicole said. I know how scared I was when my little boy came two-and-a-half months early.
    “But Julie has embraced life since then. She does not take life for granted and she smiles every day. The courage she has to look past the tragedy is inspiring.”
    Szymanski gave birth to her son, Logan (now 18 months old), about six months before Meise learned she was pregnant.
    “Julie called me every day for advice,” Ashley said. “I talked to her the day before [Jackson was born].
    “I couldn’t imagine what Julie was going through, but I was there to listen.”
    They talked every day through telephone, Facebook and text messages.
    “Julie was devastated, but she stayed strong,” Ashley said. “I admire Julie and Miles for their courage, and their strength.
    “Julie will be such a good mom, and she will be, one day.”
    Julie went back to work in September. She is now the Acquisitions and VOD (Video on Demand) Coordinator for Lightning Entertainment, which is partnered with the Lions Gate and Anchor Bay film companies.
    She and Miles plan to have another baby late next year. It will be hard, particularly if they still don’t know what caused Jackson’s death.
    “A lot of little things helped me recover,” Julie said. “Walking outside, listening to music. Day by day. It takes time. You have to decide it’s going to be okay. You don’t understand the reason, but there is a reason.”
    A hospital nurse told Julie that butterflies only live for a few days, that Jackson was just too beautiful and God wanted him back.
    Jackson’s ashes are in a locket Julie wears around her neck.
    His memorial is in Forest Lawn, on top of a hill reserved for babies.
    “I want to inspire people,” Julie said. “I want someone to look at me and say, ‘because of you I didn’t give up.’
    “You have to move on. If you don’t like where your life is going, don’t settle. Try to change it. There’s no reason to hold anything back. I love saying the quote: ‘God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.’”