“Craig and I were married on August 26th, 2006, after 11 years of dating, on a beautiful late-summer night. We confirmed we were expecting the day after Christmas, and while we were understandably nervous (what first time parents aren’t!), we were thrilled to be moving into this next stage of our lives.
We had a textbook pregnancy – no issues, no complications, no worries! We prepared our home for our baby, and decided to wait and not find out the gender until birth. It drove our families nuts! We attended childbirth classes, painted the nursery, narrowed down our list of names, and just generally enjoyed this blissful period of expectation.
On September 6th, 2007, 10 days after my due date, two days after our last ‘all good’ appointment, and after laboring for 2 days at home at the instruction of my doctor and hospital, my contractions were finally regular enough for them to recommend we come in. Upon arrival, they were having difficulty getting the baby’s heartbeat to stay put on the monitor; the nurses said baby kept moving. My doctor ran in a few minutes later. I don’t mean he walked in – he ran. He did not speak to me, but quickly broke my water and put an internal fetal heart monitor in.
Hearing my doctor say the words ‘I can’t find a heartbeat’ seemed to freeze time. It seemed to freeze the breath in my lungs, the beating of my own heart – freeze my life itself.
We were rushed to ultrasound, ‘everyone PRAY!’ tumbling out of my mouth as I was wheeled down the corridor. The ultrasound screen confirmed the doctor’s words. No movement, no pulsing red and blue heart. Nothing but my still baby, 10 days past my due date.
Thus began the longest, and yet shortest, night of my life. Our families gathered, but we were still in the middle of delivering our child. My body shut down. My contractions stopped, and my blood pressure bottomed out. I remember hearing my husband scream my name as I saw the world fade briefly to black. Coming back from passing out felt enormous. Through the night I labored, pushing for 4 hours. My mother, my mother-in-law, my best friend, all took turns in the room with us. My husband stayed by my side, encouraging me, even through his own grief.
At 1:07 a.m. on September 7, 2007, our amazing, precious, beautiful daughter was born. They placed her in my arms, and my husband, who had been so amazingly strong through this process, told me ‘You name her. I just can’t’.
Meghan Sunshine Downey, 7lbs 13 oz, 21.5 inches long, was here and gone in the same moment. The moment I gave birth is the moment I lost my child. Her birth was the beginning of our mourning. Her birth was the end of our dreams for her.
Meghan was absolutely perfect. Beautiful dark hair, short and stubby fingers, chubby legs; we gave her my middle name. She was still pink, and they believe she died just a few hours before we arrived at the hospital. I wish I could pinpoint the moment when I lost her. I should know that; I am her mother, the only person who carried her while she was alive, the only person who understood her moods, her movements, her hiccups, her sleep. How could I not know the moment that she slipped away?
We had a few short hours with Meghan. Our families held her, took pictures with her. We bathed her, and took her hand and footprints. We cut a small lock of her hair, which I carry in a locket. We kissed her, and told her just how much we loved, adored, desired, and missed her, and how we would forever fight to keep her memory alive.
The next days were a blur. We did not know how to prepare for a funeral for our newborn. How do you prepare for that? Music, flowers, clothing… a casket. We buried our beautiful daughter at her great-grandfather’s feet, on a sunny September morning. My heart stayed there, with her, on that dew-drenched hillside.
That was the beginning of my After Meghan timeline. My life is forever altered, forever changed, forever ‘different’. You do not get over losing your child. You do not get around it, or through it. It becomes part of you; part of your genetic makeup, part of your emotional reactions, part of your physical being.
Meghan changed us, and we will be forever grateful to God for blessing us with her brief existence. She has taught us about the frailty of life, about not always having the answers, and about embracing love wholeheartedly. She taught us that there are medical mysteries still in this world, and her death is one of them. There is no medical reason why she is no longer here, no cause for her death. She taught us that God is present, in everything, and that He supports us through it all. She taught us that faith is as vital to our daily life as breath.
She also taught us that everyone is going through something, whether we know or see it. We have been as open with our loss as possible, and it is amazing the number of people who open up about their own. Miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss are still such taboo subjects, and should not be. Our children existed; they were loved, desired, and eagerly waited for, and we should be open as a society to remembering and recognizing their impact on our lives, regardless of the number of breaths they took.
If you are grieving the loss of a child, please please please know that you are not alone. Whether 6 weeks or 9 months, pre or post birth, regardless of age, you are not alone. These tiny footprints left indelible marks on our hearts and lives.
Our rainbows, our daughter Natalie and our son Nickolas, know of their big sister Meghan. They know her pictures, her story, and most importantly her impact. They know of their brother Colin, who we lost 7 years later at 20 weeks gestation, and whose loss we thought would undo us completely. How many times can a heart heal after being shattered? We know that they will continue Meghan and Colin’s legacy long after we are gone, and their compassion amazes even me.
I mark time in my life as Before Meghan and After Meghan.
Meghan will be 11-years-old on September 7th. We have spent the last 11 years missing and grieving her loss, and that will never change. This year, however, we would like to begin consciously blessing others, as our lives were blessed by both Meghan and Colin.
We would like to encourage everyone who is reading this to do a random act of kindness on September 7th and pass along a Meghan’s Sunshine Blessing to another. We have created a Facebook page, Meghan’s Sunshine Blessings, for people to share the Blessings they have given out, and to encourage others to keep the Blessings moving. But please don’t stop at September 7th – let’s keep them flowing. Whether big or small, quiet or loud, let’s keep reminding each other that we are all loved, needed, desired, and vitally important. #sunnyblessings
So please, remember to be kind to those you encounter daily. You may never know the struggles they are facing, and you may be the only bright spot in their day.”
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