“I drove past the cemetery today while my 18-month-old slept in her car seat – she will only nap while we drive. I live nearby so I’m able to get there often. I drive by slowly, I survey Baby Land and inspect the spot where my 1st daughter resides. There must have been a service and burial earlier, the table with flowers and a tiny, fresh grave made it apparent. I have a memory of my Harvi’s casket being carried by my husband and set on a table just the same, perhaps even that exact one. That was almost 3 years ago now. My heart, which is working so hard to heal, aches every time I learn of another baby that has had to return heaven. I often wonder how any parent survives that, giving their baby back without any choice in the matter. I wonder this, as if I have no idea, then I remind myself that I am one of them. I am the mother of a child who is buried in Baby Land, the mother of a daughter that never took a breath on this earth, I am a mother who is surviving the stillbirth of her first born.
Harvi Monroe was born Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 4:57 a.m. after 13 hours of labor and a textbook pregnancy. We were 40 weeks 4 days (4 days past my due date) when she was born. Weighing in at 7.4 lbs. and 20 in long, she had dark curls behind her ears, a tiny chin, and the most precious rosebud lips. I had never seen anything more exquisitely beautiful than her. She was a perfectly healthy baby, only she had no heartbeat. A cord accident apparently, nothing else could be determined. We will never know why.
I remember reading an article about the importance of having an autopsy after stillbirth only a couple days before. It’s a strange thing to look back on because it struck such a nerve and I remember it so vividly, why had I paid so much attention to that article? When I reflect on it, so many things come rushing back. A favorite tree in our front yard had died and nearly broken the window to the nearly completed nursery, two weeks prior. I had fallen down the stairs, which only caused some brutal bruising but Harvi was fine. On a walk with my mom I tripped and nearly went head over heels directly onto my tummy, but I caught myself on my feet, barely. My husband posted a photo to Instagram of me with my pregnant belly in front of the window during a downpour complete with lightning the night before her due date, the caption read, ‘Watching the storm, waiting on the storm.’ If only we had known what we were in for. None of these events would have proved to be worth remembering had she survived, at least I don’t think.
We arrived at the hospital Monday morning just before 10:00 a.m., still expecting to have a healthy baby girl that would come home with us. We didn’t really have any concerns, I mentioned to the nurse that I hadn’t felt her move as much the past couple of days. She looked puzzled and asked, ‘Your baby hasn’t been moving AS MUCH, or NOT AT ALL?’ I honestly wasn’t sure. I mean, it was only 4 days earlier that I had been to my OBGYN, everything was fine, and her heartbeat was strong. I had asked about a change in movement and my doctor reassured me that it was normal, ‘She is running out of room,’ she told me, ‘and it isn’t unusual for baby to rest before labor.’ This is incorrect information, I know that now. It turns out, she hadn’t been moving at all. After several attempts to find her heartbeat with the doppler, and then with an ultrasound – two techs and another doctor later, we were delivered the tragic words, ‘I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.’
My baby had died. My baby had died inside my tummy and now I had to give birth to her. Before this moment, I had no understanding of pain or despair. The wails that I let out created sounds that would make up for all the silence that was to come in that delivery room. My mind was racing but the only thoughts going through it were, ‘What am I going to do now? What am I going to do now? I was supposed to have a baby… What am I going to do now?’ I felt so selfish to only be thinking only of myself.
I stood in the bathroom, gazing into the mirror and cradling the belly that still housed my sweet baby. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, I couldn’t do it, but I couldn’t drag it out and make her stay in there any longer.
It’s a backward situation to be in, trying to determine if you want to bury or cremate your baby before she has even been born.
We were only able to spend 7 hours with Harvi. 5 hours directly after birth, and 2 hours the following morning. That was all the time we had. That was all the time we had to hold her little hands, feel the weight of her body on our chests and kiss her perfect cheeks. Her poor little body couldn’t handle much more, her skin was too fragile, and time was noticeably taking its toll. That was it. We called for the nurse to take her from us so that the mortuary could pick her up and have an autopsy performed, they would have to care for her from then on. For the record, that’s an impossible call to make. I don’t know how we let her go. It’s unfathomable. They covered her entire basinet with a blanket before they exited our room, I assume as to not upset the other new parents with healthy, living newborns in the rooms surrounding ours. I wish they wouldn’t have done that in front of me. She deserved for the world to see her, to acknowledge her, to feel her impact.
Since then, I have made it my mission to acknowledge her existence and honor her memory. I have had to learn how to parent a baby that couldn’t stay, that was my first experience with motherhood. I have had to break the silence of baby loss and convey the truth, that my baby is a real baby. She just couldn’t stay. I have had to insist that people recognize stillbirth is the death of a child, not some abstract idea or loss of pregnancy. I have had to confront pleasantries intended to bring comfort, but only caused more pain. I have had to live better and love more, for her.
I’m a different person than I was before her. I attribute so much of who I am now to Harvi. She changed me, irrevocably – having children does that, whether they live or die. I see the world differently; it doesn’t work the way I thought it did. Some things just happen. They are out of our control, and there is no reason or purpose for them. They aren’t deserved, it isn’t fair. It’s just how it is. Life is hard. Grief is hard. But I can appreciate every ounce of it all because this world is amazing; more beautiful, and far more miraculous, than I ever recognized. I am stronger than I would have ever imagined. I’m still here, and although my heart will always have a hole the size of her, I’m surviving, thriving even, because of her.
Now, I am a mother of 2: an angel in heaven and her little sister, Lenix Rae. Their Momma is the best thing I’ll ever be!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marki Hinkle of Salt Lake City, Utah. Follow her family journey on Instagram here. Submit your story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.
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