- Alexis Fretz went into labor when she was just 19 weeks pregnant
- Her son Walter Joshua Fretz was born and died in her arms
- Her husband took photographs of the tiny baby and Fretz shared her story and pictures on her blog
- She wanted to share the story with family and friends in her small town and not have the agony of retelling the traumatic experience
- The story spread much further afield and has been shared by thousands around the world
- Fretz says she hopes the story of her son Walter can help open up discussion about pre-term labor and miscarriage, which affect more than 1 million women in America each year
A Pennsylvania mother who gave birth to her son at 19 weeks posted her story and photographs on her blog to share with friends and family, but her brave choice has spread way beyond her immediate circle to bring comfort to other grieving mothers.
Alexis Fretz was 30 years old and 19 weeks pregnant with her third child when she began bleeding lightly.
Not overly worried, she called her midwife and as a precaution was advised to head to the ER in a Kokomo, Indiana hospital for a check-up. By the end of the day, her son Walter had been born and died in her arms.
WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
Perfectly formed: Alexis Fretz holds the tiny hand of her son Walter
Precious moments: Fretz holds her son, who was born after she went into labor while only 19 weeks pregnant
Fretz had no inkling that the day, which began with a pedicure and lunch with a friend and bride-to-be whose wedding she was supposed to photograph the following day, would end in such devastating loss.
In a waiting room in the hospital, Fretz was given three glasses of water to drink in preparation for an ultrasound. Soon after, she began to feel the first twinges of pain.
A few minutes after 6pm, ‘I knew I was in labor, there was no doubt in my mind,’ wrote Fretz on her blog.
Nurses were sceptical and she was finally taken for her ultrasound at 7pm. Fretz felt heartened when the technician found a heartbeat, but soon her bleeding increased and the pain of her contractions intensified.
Taken too soon: Walter’s tiny heart was still beating as his mother and father said their goodbyes
Closure: Joshua Fretz and his wife Alexis say being able to hold their son and say goodbye has helped their healing process
The ultrasound technician told her husband when Fretz was out of the room, ‘I’m sorry, and I don’t want her to see me crying, but I will be praying for you.’
‘At this point there was no break between the contractions. Just as one finished another would start. I knew that I was at the end. I didn’t give up hope, but in my heart of hearts, I knew that I was losing my baby.
‘At some point the PA came in and said “your foetus is still viable.” I seriously wanted to slap her. When the doctor checked me and sat down beside me on the bed and told me that we were going to be delivering our baby, it was the first that anyone had called him a baby.
‘I immediately started bawling and asking if there was any other option,’ she wrote.
Walter Joshua Fretz was born at 9:42pm.
Family: The Fretzes also wanted their two daughters to be able to farewell their longed-for brother
Discussion: Alexis Fretz says pre-term labor and miscarriage aren’t spoken about and many women are not given an opportunity to grieve after losing a baby early in pregnancy
‘I was crying so hard at this point but he was perfect. He was fully formed and everything was there, I could see his heart beating in his tiny chest,’ wrote Fretz.
At some point, Fretz’s husband Joshua went to her car and retrieved the camera she was going to shoot her friend’s wedding on and took photographs of the couple’s first son.
‘I am so very glad that Joshua [did that]. At first I did not want any photos, but they are the only thing I have to look back on now,’ Fretz wrote.
‘I held him, cuddled him, while his heart was beating I held him to my heart, I counted his toes and kissed his tiny head. I will always cherish those memories that I have of him.’
Beloved son: Fretz says the term ‘fetus’ is insulting, and that her son was a baby, even though he was so tiny
Fretz shared the confronting yet touching images not to cause controversy, but to open up discussion about a tragedy that affects more than 1 million American women each year: pre-term labor.
‘Pre-term labour and infant loss is not something the public wants to talk about,’ says Fretz. ‘To most people it’s not a big deal, you just try again for another baby, so they pretend it never happened and go on with their lives while the mother and family are left in a pile of grief they don’t know how to deal with.
Memories: Photographs and memories are all the Fretzes have left of Walter
‘It is also very common for medical staff to take these babies away and dispose of them as medical waste, so many mothers never get to see or hold their babies, or even know if it was a boy or a girl.’
Fretz says she’s had many emails from women who have experienced miscarriage and for whom her words and pictures helped to bring healing.
‘I’m still in shock at how much his photos have been shared and commented on. In his short life of just a few minutes he has touched more lives then I ever could have imagined,’ said Fretz.