‘She yelled, ‘I want my baby sister back!’ There was no longer a baby in my belly, but a thick pad shoved against me like a band-aid.’: Mom grieves loss of angel baby, ‘I hope they feel their baby sister guiding them’

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of child loss that many be triggering for some. 

“It’s crazy how one single event, one single day, one single hour of your life can change your entire world. How it can make you question your entire being, faith, happiness. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my experience, it’s that every moment is precious. And ALWAYS trust your gut.

That moment you find out you’re pregnant, you’re already a mom. Your heart fills with hope, with unconditional love. You start talking about baby names. You envision what they’ll be like as a little toddler, what their voice will sound like, if the baby will look like mom or dad. Every heart that’s involved grows so much bigger.

I already had two healthy, wild, spirited kiddos. I am grateful to spend every minute of every day with. Jaylee will be 5 this summer and Sawyer will be 2. Watching these two miracles grow and play together is a rollercoaster of screams, tears, laughter, and slobbery kisses – but my husband, Jed, and I felt like our hands were full. So, we decided we were done having babies, although we didn’t take this too seriously.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd
Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

Right around New Year of 2019, I was pregnant with baby number 3. My family’s hearts immediately grew with the image in our heads of having another addition to the family. Jaylee kept repeating, ‘I hope I get a baby sister!’ Every weekend at our Costco shopping trip, she ran around and told everyone, ‘Mommy has a baby in her belly.’ Jed would come over to me, lift my shirt up, press his face into my belly, and start talking to our baby. We were all already deeply in love with this baby.

I was just 11 along weeks when I started spotting. Something some women brush off as simply a result of doing too much in one day. My hope clung to this the moment I saw blood on the toilet paper. My mind raced, my heart sank, it was hard to catch my breath. I pep talked myself. ‘It’s okay, Erica. You went for a run today and probably just pushed it too hard. It’s not a lot or bright red, plus you’re not cramping or anything, so you probably just overdid it.’

Something about that pep talk wasn’t comforting enough, or maybe it was just the blood. I was shaking. I felt like I had gone into shock, the way my body had after the birth of my daughter. It was that traumatic shaking where no matter how many blankets you cover yourself with, you can’t stop. I came downstairs and told my husband. He tried to comfort me and assure me the baby was fine. I tried to play it cool, but I was torn apart inside. I had a deep gut feeling that something wasn’t right.

Again, my hope clung to the idea that maybe I just overdid it. I had two healthy pregnancies before, one of which I ran a 5k marathon just five days before I delivered. I’m a 30-year-old healthy, active person who eats nourishing foods. I work in the fitness industry and figured my body was healthy enough for another baby. My family history doesn’t include miscarriages or pregnancy issues. The more I thought about my life, past pregnancies, and health, the stronger my hope got. I planned to take some days off and maybe jump less.

Each time I got up to pee, my heart sank more and more. More spotting. I called to get in with my doctor the next morning. I didn’t want to be alone and, thankfully, Jed was off work. I got ready, helped get the kids dressed, and off we went.

The stale, nervous, awkward air of the fifteen-minute car ride there was far better than the foggy, unclear vibe of the doctor’s waiting room. Pregnant women filled the waiting room. I wondered if they could read the nervousness on my face. People were giving us funny looks. I wondered if I had suddenly started pouring blood or if it was just in my head. The most clammy, tight-chested fear filled me while we sat there waiting.

When we got back into a room with the nurse, I will never forget the lack of smiling, energy, and enthusiasm each doctor had that we spoke to. Like they knew by looking that our baby passed, before we did. But the awkwardness was broken with more awkward routine processes. They checked my vital signs, confirmed I am who I am, measured my height, my weight, etc.

Then the REAL questions started. ‘When did the cramping start? Is the blood bright red, pink, or brown? How much is there? How long has this been happening? Were you on your feet a lot more than normal?’ And many, many more. I wanted to just cut to the chase, get an ultrasound, and be on our merry way. But I had to remain patient and wait for the doctor. That tightened my chest and wrenched my gut more.

I felt weight lifted when the doctor came in. ‘Finally, we can just learn our baby is doing fine and get a reminder to take it easy,’ I thought to myself. Until she kept rubbing over my womb, having a hard time finding the heartbeat with the doppler. ‘If we can’t hear baby’s heartbeat, don’t be alarmed. It’s sometimes hard to find a baby’s heartbeat with this tool until the baby is about 14 weeks.’

Panic filled me. How could it not? ‘Okay,’ my trembly voice replied.

More rubbing the tool across my belly. Still nothing.

‘I’m gonna go grab the ultrasound machine.’

As she walked out, Jed grabbed my hand and tried to be strong for me and offer more hope. ‘It’s gonna be okay, babe. I love you so much.’ I choked back my tears and thanked freaking jesus she was quick. I couldn’t bear the wait any longer. She quickly got the ultrasound goo on my belly, turned on the machine, and got to looking. Happiness filled me, along with more hope, when I saw my baby on that machine. ‘What a breath of fresh air! There is my baby!’

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

‘I’m still not able to see because the machine image is unclear on this little ultrasound machine, but the baby doesn’t look like it has grown to what it should be for 11 weeks. I’m sorry, mama. I’m gonna go see if we can get you in with the ultrasound techs on the big screen to get confirmation.’

Tears started rolling without me even realizing I was crying. My husband held my hand while he hugged our son. My daughter hopped up next to me and gave me the biggest hug. My kids had no clue what was happening in that moment, but they saw mama fall apart, and that had never happened before.

I was lifeless. I was empty. I was confused.

Suddenly, hope filled me again. The doctor hadn’t said the baby DIDN’T have a heartbeat. There was still hope! The machine could have just been wonky… right? The doctor came back and quickly got us into the ultrasound room. She had offered to have the nurses stay and color with Jaylee and Sawyer if Jed and I didn’t want them in the ultrasound room with us. We are a family. We wanted to be together. So, in the room we all went.

The ultrasound tech wouldn’t make eye contact, as if she knew she was just confirming something we didn’t want to know about. She kept rolling around and around on her chair, then started taking measurements of things.

I asked, ‘Still no heartbeat?’

The ultrasound tech responded hesitantly, as if she didn’t want to endure the pain of the reality in that room. ‘No, there’s nothing. It looks like the baby was 9 weeks when it stopped growing. I have to take some measurements and images for the confirmation.’

Tears started rolling down my temples and into my hair. Laying down while crying was so awkward, but I had no option. I had to try not to fully break down while I let her finish her job. I glanced over at my husband, and noticed he was trying to hold it together. His eyes were red. He held my son tighter.

When she finished, she handed me some paper towels to clean the goo off of me and let us know the doctor would be in shortly. When the door closed, I lost it. I cried harder than I ever had in my life. My husband, daughter, and son all wrapped their arms around me.

‘How is this happening? What did I do wrong this time? I’ve had my lifeless baby in me for two weeks. How did I not know?’ Immediately, thoughts filled my head as I let out a whale-grunt noise of grief and cried harder. Then the doctor interrupted.

‘So, it looks like the baby stopped growing around 9 weeks. You probably started spotting because your body was trying to miscarry on its own, but it doesn’t know what to do. The baby passed and it’s been two weeks since then. It’s considered a missed miscarriage. I’d encourage a D&C to prevent risk of infection, because the longer the wait, the higher your risk is. I can see if we can get you scheduled for that today. Have you eaten anything today?’ My world was falling into a foggy mess, still trying to wrap my head around everything.

‘I had like 7 almonds around 10. That’s it. I have been too nervous to eat today.’ I miraculously found the words to respond. The D&C was scheduled for late that night. It was torture having to wait with the weight and grief of losing my baby, with my baby still in me, while waiting for the procedure.

In between the crying and waiting, I texted the handful of people and told them we lost the baby. We hadn’t announced our pregnancy publicly, although we had talked about how we wanted to the day prior to this. Thank goodness I wasn’t as impulsive as I normally am about things. It was hard to hear and watch our family and friend’s hearts break with ours. I tried to smile for them.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

Before we headed to the hospital, I took one last picture of my baby bump. I think it was my way of holding on to her as long as I could. I knew as soon as I got to the hospital it would be nothing but questions.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

And boy was that the truth. Pre-operation prep is no joke. The weird alcohol wipe bath. The removal of my rings, even though they weren’t doing anything with my hands. The pokes and pricks and all the tubes of blood. And the questions, the questions, the questions never ended.

The amount of times I was asked ‘What’s the reason for the D&C?’ and ‘Why are you here?’ was like digging a knife deeper and deeper into an open wound. When the anesthesiologist looked at my chart and blood test results she said, ‘You’re too healthy to be in this position.’ It was like squeezing my heart. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, right. My body should have known what to do. It should have kept this baby safe.’ And so began the should have/could have mind game that still persists to this day.

The surgeon who would be doing the procedure walked in and I asked if I could see the remains. I just wanted to see them, to visually part with my baby. For my own sense of peace. ‘You don’t want to see that.’ ‘First of all ‘that’ is my baby,’ I defensively thought, as any mama bear would have. Instead I asked, ‘Why?’

‘Your uterus is scraped. We suction the baby and remains out and flush the rest out. It would look like mush or a blood clot at this size.’ Timidly, I said okay as I filled with anger in defense of my baby. What that doctor didn’t realize was that ball of ‘mush’ would have been beautiful to me. It was my baby.

My husband came back with my son and hung out with me until the OR was ready. He just kept squeezing my hand, telling me he loves me so much. Jed is a warrior and has stayed so strong through this entire process, despite the helplessness and heartache he felt. Tears rolled down my cheeks as we kissed before he had to leave. I wish he could have stayed with me.

Sadness filled me. As they wheeled me to the OR, I envisioned myself breaking free from all the machines and running out the doors, as if it all was a bad dream. I had never been under anesthesia, nor had my baby surgically removed from me. I was terrified.

I wanted to keep my baby, but I couldn’t. I wanted to say goodbye to my baby, but I couldn’t.

And in the blink of an eye, I was knocked out, and again awake. I ran my hands down my belly, then to my crotch, and tears rolled down my face. There was no longer a baby in my belly, and there was a three-inch thick pad shoved against my vagina like a band aid.

As I came out of the anesthesia in the recovery area, they let Jed and Sawyer stay there with me. I told Jed about being under anesthesia, how I dreamt I was making snow angels with the kids and having snowball fights. It was like this angelic, blissful, present, movie style moment where the rim of the screen is white. Part of me wanted to stay there. It was happy, innocent, loving. The complete opposite of how I was really feeling.

I walked into the hospital pregnant, and I walked out not pregnant. Without a baby in my arms, to cuddle, to love on, to hold close to me. All that happened in the matter of hours. As we left the hospital, I wondered if there were other women there in my same situation. If there had been women leaving after a miscarriage the same day I had left with Jaylee or Sawyer. How there is such deep sadness and bliss simultaneously under one roof. This duality has been in my thoughts since this experience has happened.

Deep sadness and pure bliss exist at the same time in my own home. I have taken time for myself in the past month, watching my two kids joyfully play. The wonder, the love, is so big and unconditional. As I smile at them playing, my heart hurts at the thought of how much love and silliness Jaylee and Sawyer would have shown their baby sister had she made it into this world.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

Instead, she only gets to watch from above. I often lay on a wet, tear-soaked pillow while my two healthy kiddos run around the house wondering why mommy is still sad.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

I hope they feel their baby sister guiding them and watching them. We are all hurting so much from this. I’ve been trying to feel and understand the reasons behind this. Although I know the closure I seek will not come, I pray that one day I will understand.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

Healing from a traumatic loss like this is messy. It’s empty. It’s raw. It’s deep. It’s the hardest thing I have ever been through myself or my marriage has ever been through. It is an emptiness that can’t be filled by any tangible thing. It can’t be mended by endless amounts of crying. No matter how long the list of ways I could have possibly prevented this from happening, the harsh reality is that this loss was never in my control.

The nightmares are vivid. I wake up covered in sweat, only to look down and realize my boobs are leaking milk for a baby that is not there to feed from them. It tears me apart. On the outside, I still look and feel pregnant, and on the inside my brain thinks I birthed a baby (which is what my doctor explained as the reason for my leaky boobs and mood swings). I see pregnant wombs and ultrasound images everywhere, the water drips in the shower, the texture of the walls, and the social media baby zone that all bring me to tears and remind me that I am no longer with child.

In the weeks leading up to the loss of my baby, I was in a highly toxic job. In fact, I had quit the week prior to discovering the miscarriage. I was in an HR suit as a victim of harassment and I was under a lot of stress. I wonder if I had left earlier, spoken up sooner, and trusted my gut about the situation, would it have happened at all? Would my baby still be growing inside of me now? That glass of wine on the day we found out we were pregnant, or possibly one less workout. Would my baby still be alive had I not done these things?

‘Still no heartbeat?’ This question runs on repeat so loudly through my head EVERY single day. It’s every pregnant woman’s worst nightmare, and something I hope and pray you, or any parents, should never have to experience.

My mind goes round and round, like a never ending carousel ride, constantly dizzying me with the what ifs, the guilt, the shame, the sadness, the anger. Some days it’s slower than others. Some days I smile more and feel the hope of living with this loss. The truth is, miscarriage changed me. No longer do I wake with optimistic enthusiasm for the day. No longer do my eyes sparkle with the joy and drive for life the way they did before the miscarriage. Now, my reality is navigating my day to day with an emptiness I know cannot be filled while I’m surrounded by the happiest, loving people.

We have been blessed with amazing family and neighbors who have been comforting and encouraging to us. The outpour of messages and texts from people checking in on us, or just sending words of hope, have been uplifting. One neighbor brought me comfy socks and the kids some goodies one day and flowers another. Another neighbor came over to pray with us and helped us find comfort in the grieving process. He explained grieving like a ping pong ball, bouncing around to all the steps of the process in no specific order, with no warning of where it’s going next. I thought that was perfect. It was spot on to how I have felt throughout the process of grieving my angel baby.

We honored our baby, whom we named Dakota, with a lakeside ceremony. It was as close to perfect as we could have gotten. My mom had flown out to be with us, spend time with her grandbabies, and just give the in-person comfort we needed. I don’t care how strong of a person you are or how old you get. You’ll always need your mama. We bought Dakota a couple bouquets of the most beautiful flowers to send down the river at sunset. We each wrote on a little card we had attached to the flowers, and my mom found a precious charm we wrapped around one of the bouquets.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd
Courtesy of Erica Shepherd
Courtesy of Erica Shepherd
Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

As we stood there, on the snow-covered ground, the sun had started to set and skies changed to baby blue and pink. A bird sat on a branch next to us. It was as if Dakota was there with us, dressed as a bird, providing us with courage and strength. My mom read a poem, then we each took some flowers and tossed them in the river. I wanted to jump in the frigid cold river and grab the flowers, thinking fishing the flowers out would bring back my baby. Instead, we watched them flow towards the sunset as tears ran down our cheeks.

Courtesy of Erica Shepherd
Courtesy of Erica Shepherd
Courtesy of Erica Shepherd

As we turned to head back towards the car, my daughter Jaylee let out a deep, gut-wrenching wail. I turned thinking she fell into the snow, but saw her arms stretched towards the river, yelling, ‘I want my baby sister back!’ as she cried.

I wanted her back too.

I find myself driving to our spot on the river some days, to feel Dakota as the sun shines on my face, as the snow melts, and the river flows towards the sunset. I find comfort in the place we honored her life. I love that honoring her that day provided me with a place to go sit and think about her. To talk to her. A place to feel her presence wrap around me. I know she’s always with us, in our minds and in our hearts.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erica Shepherd of Idaho. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from strong women battling miscarriage:

‘There’s NO WAY I’m pregnant!’ In my mind, having a baby would save my marriage and fix EVERYTHING. I silently made an appointment with my OBGYN.’

‘It was midnight and everyone was asleep. I texted my friend, ‘Come quick! I need you. Lots of blood.’ I prayed she’d wake to the sound of her phone.’

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