Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of child loss that may be triggering to some.
“We were pregnant! Finally, after 2 and half years of marriage, we were ditching our DINKs (double income no kids) title and had an answer to the question everyone had been asking since our I Do’s, which was ‘when are you having a baby?’
We got pregnant without difficulty, and I felt great, though did have fears and anxieties about losing the baby, which I chalked up to having recently lost my dog of 13 years so I just thought I was more sensitive to loss because that just about shattered me and she was ‘just a dog.’
We were so looking forward to welcoming our first child into the world and headed to our 12-week fetal scan with nervous excitement for meeting our baby for this first time. Prior to the ultrasound, the doctor reviewed our personal and family history, nothing spectacular to note other than the ‘geriatric’ nature of our pregnancy. (This is not a joke, that is actually what they call it when you’re over 35.) She went on to note some of the complications we could face given our age, specifically highlighting the worst of them being Trisomy 13 and 18, but then ended with, ‘But I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that so let’s go meet your baby!’
It all started as normal as could be – the heartbeat on the doppler was perfection and as she ran the ultrasound wand over my belly and we saw our first glimpses of our little one, I remember being in awe of the life growing inside me, seeing his (we didn’t know it was a boy at the time) body take shape all seemed so magical to me.
It wasn’t long into that ultrasound when I started hearing our tech say things like, ‘I’m just not getting a good angle’ and ‘I think we’re going to try intravaginally to get a better look.’ As a first-time mom, none-the-wiser, I didn’t think much of it. It was so early into the pregnancy, I mean how much could they even see? Not to mention, I had no idea how they even knew what anything actually was on those things anyway. They pulled the doctor in, which should have been my first clue something was wrong, and yet here I was, just staring in amazement a little human was actually in there doin’ his thing.
As the doctor wrapped up the scan she said, ‘Okay, go ahead and get dressed and then meet me in my office, I have a few concerns.’ As unsettling as that was, I remember de-gooping (y’all know what I mean after that kind of ultrasound) and getting dressed thinking maybe it was a heart murmur or something simple and ‘fixable,’ or worst case scenario Down syndrome, not a thought in my mind it could possibly be anything worse. I was healthy, like the eats kale on the daily kind of healthy, and I just never in a million years thought starting a family would be anything but a totally normal experience for us.
We sat across the desk from our doctor and she started with, ‘Do you remember some of the more complex, worst-case scenarios we discussed before your ultrasound? I think we’re facing one of those.’ Shock, I’m sure, was the only expression on my face as I grappled for the words to respond. She went on to explain our baby didn’t have a pronounced jawline and I began asking questions along the lines of what can be done to ‘fix’ this. Surely there had to be a procedure we could do after he was born?!
I don’t remember much of the rest of our time in her office but I do, distinctly, remember her calling me by name at one point. Jennifer. It was like she recognized I was still in best case scenario mode and the severity wasn’t sinking in. She began explaining not only were they not seeing a pronounced jawline but they were also not seeing lower arms, legs, hands, or feet on either side of this body. His limbs hadn’t formed below his elbows and knees. Additionally, there was a cyst on his brain and they were unsure if he had a stomach. My heart sank further and further as each anomaly was listed.
Time slowed down in those moments. This couldn’t be real. The only things we knew were normal was his heart was pumping and his bladder was full so the kidneys seemed to be working, arteries were in place, and the skull seemed to be intact. Everything else was a mystery.
Trisomy 13 or 18, most likely 13 was what she thought we were looking at. It was the ONE thing in our pre-ultrasound meeting she thought we wouldn’t even have to factor in. And it wasn’t just a mild version of it, though really with that abnormality almost all are life-threatening, it was like worst-case scenario.
Then, the news… ‘It’s likely you will not make it to term or that you will deliver a stillborn or a child with severe abnormalities and no quality of life.’ My worst fears. The fear of loss I thought I was making up in my head. The agony. I didn’t know how to absorb that information. I just thought it wasn’t real. I looked at my husband’s face, disbelief crossed his expression too.
We ran the gambit of tests, not a single thing came back positive for anything! Normal across the board and yet this terrible diagnosis loomed.
At 34.5 weeks, we headed to the hospital to get checked after I started bleeding, FULLY anticipating we’d be sent back home hours later. Come to find out my amniotic fluid levels were above double normal values for this stage of pregnancy and I was 3 cm dilated, so they didn’t want to discharge me for fear of a placental abruption if I went into labor at home.
Faced with the decision of a 6-week hospital stay to term or inducing labor, we decided to break my water. The hardest decision of my life as that determined when our baby would die.
Matthew beat the odds though! Our little boy was born ALIVE and lived snuggled in our arms for 2 hours before he went to be with Jesus. It was almost as if he was determined to meet us, unwilling to leave this earth without seeing his parent’s faces.
We cuddled him as long as we could that night until finally we called the nurse in and said our final goodbyes. I remember every minute of that day and as I reflect back on it, I still don’t know how we made it through. Jesus is the only explanation.
Thankfully, they let us stay in labor and delivery for the night instead of being moved to the maternity ward. My momma heart couldn’t take seeing babies with my empty arms. Early the next morning, we were discharged and I was wheeled out of the hospital like all new moms, except instead of carrying my baby, a bag and a box sat on my lap with some remembrance items for him and a folder with resources from the hospital bereavement team.
The most beautiful sunrise filled the sky on our drive home as if Matthew left a trail to heaven. We spent the following day at a funeral home making his final arrangements and thus started life after loss.
Our story took a few more twists and turns following Matthew’s birth and death. Deep grief, an unexciting battle with secondary infertility, and a miscarriage almost exactly a year later, followed by another infertility battle.
Finally, I’d had it – I couldn’t keep trying and hoping, and dealing with the rollercoaster of hope deferred each month. I certainly didn’t feel equipped for another loss. We either needed to get pregnant or be done, so we sought the help of a fertility doctor, who ran her own myriad of tests — again, revealing nothing, no reason for the struggles. And while an outsider might find that comforting, going through it sort of just made me feel like, well then WHY?! Why all this heartache without cause?
But, thankfully, she started me on a round of Chlomid which worked like magic and a few weeks later we got our first confirmation that our rainbow baby was on the way. ‘I hope this one sticks,’ was all I could muster as I hugged my husband with tears in my eyes and that pee stick in my hands.
Well, it did stick! And we welcomed our beautiful baby girl, Sienna Avery, into the world last summer! She is perfection! The light of my life!
I have a unique appreciation for motherhood because of Matthew. He has made me a better, more tolerant, albeit more worried, mom. I take no moment for granted because of him. He’s given me the ability to slow down and recognize what’s actually important as I parent his sister. I am a different person because of him.
Trust me when I tell you, if I could write our story any other way, I would. I would give anything to have Matthew here, but as I live his legacy I continually discover purpose in my pain and direction for my life’s work. And I’m not quite sure when it happened but one day I realized I had been chosen to tell this story, hand-picked by God as more than enough to share a message of pain and triumph, death and redemption, desperation and hope. Somewhere along the way, I learned to live well after loss, as Matthew lives on in me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jennifer Morrow. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their blog. You can find their free Guide to Grief here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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