Disclaimer: This story contains details pertaining to stillbirth/child loss that may be upsetting to some.
“We always wanted a big family, my husband and I. However, we didn’t envision placing a tiny white coffin 2 feet in the dirt on that summer day.
We met when we volunteered in missions/ministry together. We fell in love quickly and married as a young 22 and 24-year-old. Our idea of marriage and family was somewhat naive. I remember thinking, ‘We were meant to be together so nothing can go wrong. Our marriage is going to be a breeze.’
When we first got married, we were in and out of full-time missions overseas until we got the phone call from my dad: ‘The cancer is back. There’s no more fighting. Could you come home?’
My dad had just found out he was terminal with cancer. No more treatment, and only had a few months to live. He wanted us close so my husband and I, with our 1-year-old daughter, got on a plane that night to come home and left our lives overseas as missionaries.
We had an amazing summer with him and then a few months later my he passed away. My rock. The one I called for everything. My biggest supporter. Even though I saw it coming, it didn’t take away the trauma of his last days and the grief that he was gone.
I could no longer call my dad venting or asking for random advice, or come visit and watch him play with my daughter. I felt so lost.
We were planning to return to our jobs as missionaries overseas when I found out I was pregnant just a few weeks after we buried my dad.
We were so excited to tell our extended family at Christmas. Everyone asked if my dad knew before he died. Although I had an inkling at the time, I never told him since I wasn’t sure. We all celebrated the new life inside while also grieving that first Christmas without my dad.
Missing Fetal Heartbeat
Fast forward to being 8 months pregnant with our second daughter. Everything was going well. I was excited about a natural birth this time around since our first was a C-section. We had midwives this time but due to Covid-19, the care wasn’t to our benefit. Every other appointment was over the phone.
I remember during my 32-week phone appointment with the midwife. She asked, ‘Is the baby moving well?’
‘I think so,’ was my reply. I was working full-time at the time, had a toddler at home, and wasn’t paying particular attention to the baby’s movement. I was never taught how to kick count nor was I educated on how important it is to know your baby’s normal kick pattern.
The midwife shrugged off my response and moved on.
Next was my 34-week appointment. I was feeling good, and ready to meet the baby soon. Only at this appointment, the midwife couldn’t find the heartbeat. ‘Let me go get another doppler.’
‘Let me just get another midwife to try.’
My heart began to race. Hurry up and find it! I thought.
‘Oh, I think we found it!’
…PHEW … finally. What a scare.
‘Oh wait, that might be your heartbeat. Oh yes, moms heartbeat is the same.’
I began to plead with God.
The midwife then told me to get up, and drive to the hospital (a 45-minute drive) right away. I ran out of that office, not knowing if my baby was dead or alive. I collapsed in the parking lot and called my husband. ‘They can’t find a heartbeat!’ I frantically told him.
Though they told me to go straight to the hospital, I knew I needed my husband with me. I drove home, we dropped our 2-year-old off at my husband’s mom’s, and drove in silence the entire way to the hospital.
I held my hands on my belly begging for a kick. Nothing. I finally spoke. ‘This could be the worst day of our lives.’
We finally get to the hospital, only my husband is not allowed in due to Covid-19 restrictions. He waits in the car while I go up. A midwife who knew I was coming promptly used the doppler on me. Within a few seconds, she lets out an excited, ‘That right there is baby!’
I let out a huge sigh of relief. This was all just a mistake. My baby was just fine. A few more seconds pass. ‘Oh hang on, that might be your heartbeat.’
Next thing I know, she calls the doctor for a bedside ultrasound. The midwife tells me to call my husband up. After what felt like an eternity the doctor gently tells me, ‘I’m so sorry, but there is no heartbeat.’
After letting out screams of confusion, heartbreak, disbelief, and shock, my husband walks in. ‘She’s gone!’ I wail to him as he enters the room…
We were given time alone. I made the decision to continue with our plans for a vaginal birth. We went home and packed our bags to be induced and stay the night in the hospital. In the morning, we would meet our daughter.
I threw her things in a bag, her floral print hat, and her swaddle. I grabbed my hospital robe, toothbrush, and deodorant and we headed back.
I was so afraid to give birth to our dead daughter. While in labor I kept imagining the silence after she was born. I would never hear that anticipated newborn cry from my baby. It was going to be silent, and the thought of it was deafening.
I didn’t sleep in those 17 hours waiting for her. I was so excited to finally meet her, just as I would have been having she been alive – but the excitement was matched with the sheer pain and grief.
As I pushed my baby out, I could hear the sound of her limbs hitting the table beneath me. When I felt she was no longer inside me, a part of my body, I let out the deepest cry.
I had never felt so empty. I felt like a part of me was missing, gone. My body felt as if it were a tomb. The sounds that left my mouth were from deep within. Almost animalistic. They were the sounds of a grieving mother who desperately wanted her baby.
After stitching me up from the second-degree tears, they swaddled my baby up and handed her to me. ‘I’m so sorry! I didn’t know, I’m so sorry.’ These were the only words I could manage to get out as I looked at her perfect little face for the first time.
The guilt washed over me. Why couldn’t I save my baby? How did this happen? I thought she was safe in my womb. There were no answers and there never would be.
We held our 7lbs 9oz angel for 6 hours. We named her River Joy. We kissed her and took photos and videos. My husband even took a nap with her resting on his chest.
And then, it hit me. It’s time to go. I had to go home and our baby wasn’t coming home with us. We said our last goodbyes. I knew my arms would ache for her in the months to come. I knew I would lie awake at night longing for my baby. So I cuddled her once more, handed her to the nurse, and we walked out of the hospital.
I was numb. My husband and I didn’t even speak on the way home. I just wanted to go to our oldest daughter and hug her.
The next day we decided to tell our daughter the truth. She was so excited for her baby sister. We explained it as best we could to an almost 3-year-old. We told her our baby sister died. That she’s in heaven. She’s an angel now. But she won’t be coming home to live with us anymore.
I sat on the floor at eye level as I said these words to her. She didn’t say anything back, but she saw I was deeply hurting. She took her hands and placed them around my face and began to wipe the tears flowing from my eyes with her tiny little fingers.
She simply looked into my eyes and let me cry. It was the sweetest moment I’ll never forget.
I began to write about my grief and stillbirth publicly on my Instagram page. I wanted to be a hope for lost moms. I wanted them to know they weren’t alone. Writing and connecting with other loss moms online became a vital piece in my healing.
I saw there was a whole community of moms out there just like me, looking for their stories to be heard, and for their babies to be remembered.
Growing Our Family
Fast forward about a year and I began to really desire another baby. I wanted to grow our family. However, my husband was hesitant, to say the least. He was afraid. I was too but the fear of loss was outweighed by my desire for a baby. My husband’s was not and it caused a wedge in our marriage.
One evening, with tears filling my eyes, I asked my husband, ‘Could you please ask the Lord to give you the desire for a baby? If you refuse, then I will ask Jesus to take my desire for one away.’
This was the hardest thing to say, but my husband started to pray about it. One night, a few months later, the weekend I found out I was pregnant, my husband’s fear and anxiety about having another child was lifted. It was timing only Jesus could have done.
When I told him I was pregnant, we were able to celebrate with so much joy together, not an ounce of fear at that moment.
The pregnancy felt long, especially in the third trimester when I had lost River. I started to become anxious about her movements – I found myself getting checked at the hospital more than I thought, but I was thankful for an amazing medical team who understood my fear and always gave me assurance.
Mamas, never feel hesitant or bad to get your baby checked out even if only for peace of mind.
Finally our third baby girl, Harvest Reign was born on October 16, 2022. She is the most perfect child, our rainbow baby, hand-picked by her Angel sister.
I still probably get a little more anxious than most moms or dads, having buried a child before, but having our newest baby girl in our arms has been so healing.
Trauma and grief have certainly resurfaced since Harvest was born. Mostly sadness that what we have been blessed with, with Harvest, we never got with River – and grieving that again. Harvest has both reminded us of what we lost with River, but also given us tremendous gratitude and joy for what we have gained with her.
The road of grief is one I never knew I’d know so personally in my life, especially as a young mom. It’s a road that never ends. It’s a road traveled by many and everyone on it is looking for daylight, Hope and Healing. So we help each other up when we fall, and guide each other when we’ve lost the way.
So, if you find yourself on this road too, know you are not alone. There is enough hope, joy, and healing for you too.”
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