Disclaimer: This story contains images of infant loss that may be triggering to some.
“On July 20, 2018, our third child and only daughter was due to join our family. Her room was pink, her brothers were excited, her dad and I ecstatic for a girl. It felt so different this time and we had all the ideas of bows and frilly things and had decided exactly what her wedding day would be like.
Our firstborn, Isaac, was born at 31 weeks after a bout with preeclampsia, so this pregnancy they watched my blood pressure carefully. I was 38 weeks pregnant on July 6th and that afternoon I got a high blood pressure reading as I checked it at home. I called the nurse and she asked me to come to the hospital. However, in the hospital that day, my blood pressure never spiked, we both checked out ‘perfectly’ they said, and home we went.
One week later, on Friday July 13th, I was at my OBGYN’s for my last check before our c-section planned for the 17th. It was supposed to be my last prenatal OB visit, ever. It was supposed to be quick – weight, blood pressure, heartbeat, see you later.
The medical student in with my doctor that day couldn’t find her heartbeat. I tried calming myself over and over again. ‘It’s just a medical student.’ My doctor took over. ‘Has she been active?’ ‘When did you last feel her move?’ I was spiraling downwards. They always found her heartbeat right away. ‘I’m going to stop torturing you. Let’s go around the corner to the ultrasound….’ We were joined with a few more nurses and they all stood over me staring at the screen. My hand was over my face so I couldn’t see theirs. ‘I’m so sorry. There is no heartbeat.’
That was the moment my life became before and after. It will forever feel divided by that moment in time. We did a lot of very hard, very awful things over the next few days — one of the hardest for me was call my husband to tell him his baby girl had died. He eventually met me at the hospital. I’ve never heard such wails come from our bodies. Everything was too surreal; sometimes, it still is. Our families made their way to the hospital, as did our pastor and his wife. No one had words to say. The sadness spoke volumes.
Although everyone was telling us that she had died, there was an inkling of hope inside Dan and I both that kept wanting them to be wrong, or hoping that God would do a miracle and bring her back to life. At 3:48 p.m. our beautiful 6lbs 14 oz curly haired girl was born. There were no cries. Another layer of reality draping over us like a cold death blanket.
Before she was born, they told us that unlike how stillbirths were handled ages ago, they now typically encourage families to see their stillborn babies and spend time with them. It helps in the grief and healing process, they said. We were absolutely sure we wanted to see her and spend time with her, but still, I felt nervous. What parent wants to see their deceased child? What would her lifeless body look like? Yet, she was also our newborn babe and just like any new parent we were anxious to finally see her little face, her fingers and toes. The moment they laid her in my arms, it truly took my breath away. She was absolutely beautiful! Truly! She was perfectly formed. I was in love. She looked just like she was going to squirm, which was absolutely devastating. I could almost hear her coo. Those two polarizing emotions were pumping through our veins; it was almost too much to bear.
We named her Abigail Elizabeth; Abby (Abigail) after her great-grandmother Mary Abigail, and Elizabeth to share a middle name with her mom. She had long narrow feet and toes like her Mama, full beautiful lips like her Daddy. Altogether, we spent a day and a half together before we said the most difficult goodbye. One of the best blessings through our time in the hospital was that our children’s pediatrician happened to be doing her rounds shorty after Abby was born. Of course, she stopped in to check on us, and we were so proud to introduce her to our daughter. We called her when it came time to say goodbye to Abby —- her little body had already changed so much in such a short time. We held her and kissed her a thousand times. We told her how much we loved her and how we will miss her every moment of our lives. God made it so clear to us, that our sweet baby wasn’t there. She wasn’t wrapped in her blankets, she wasn’t in that hospital room. She was good. She was healed, restored and basking in the glory of heaven. It gave us peace as we said goodbye to her little body, and they carried her away. We know we will see her again and we look forward to that day!
We asked the doctor before she was born if he would be able to determine how she died. We were shocked to learn an estimated 50% of the time they have an answer. Abby died of a hyper-coiled umbilical cord, a freak accident they said. I soon learned that 24,000 babies in the US are stillborn every year. I learned the US does not have a system to report and evaluate stillbirth. If we don’t understand why it’s happening, how can we prevent it? With all our medical advances, how is it that only half of these deaths are understood? I learned that stillbirth is ten times more common than SIDS. I learned that between 2000 and 2015 the US decreased our stillbirth rate at .4% per year putting us at 155th in the world, equivalent to Chad and Niger. I’m not okay with any of this. Many equate stillbirth with miscarriage, they see it as inevitable. This is not always true.
As people started hearing the news, the sentiments, posts, and sympathy cards were hard to understand: ‘Be strong.’ ‘God needed an angel.’ ‘At least you have your boys.’ It was hard to hear each one of those. I believe in a God that doesn’t need anything from me, surely not my baby 4 days before her birth. I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that I can be fully grateful for my living sons and fully devastated at the death of my daughter all at the same time. My baby died and society wants me to be strong? That makes no sense to me. We, as a culture, are terrible at sitting with people in their pain. We quickly turn to ‘look on the bright side,’ and that mentality can add to the hurt of devastation like this.
It has been fifteen months now and nothing is back to normal. Almost everything our life was before Abby died seemed to vanish with her that day. I am different. My husband is different. Our marriage, priorities, jobs, church and social life, all different. How can they it not be? Yes, we keep living, yes, we go to the grocery store and gymnastics class. Yes, we even dare to hope that one day true joy will slowly begin to trickle back in. But, the outside world is impatient, the waiting world doesn’t understand. How could they?
I can’t help but wonder what our life would be like if we, as a culture, understood how to companion those walking through the darkest season of their lives, be it stillbirth, or cancer, divorce, or something else. What would it be like if we offered empathy to those in crippling grief rather than holding a subconscious expectation for them to ‘get over it’? What if we offered a place for them to be devastated for as long as they need rather hold set them on a timeline to be over it? If we, altogether were better at dealing with pain, our own pain and others’ too, what could be different?
We’ve shared pictures of our empty nursery, Abby’s unused clothing still with tags on, memorials from her funeral. And because we’ve chosen to share our story openly, so many others have bravely come to us with theirs. Stories that are all too similar, but with pain tightly locked behind a forced smile and put-together exterior. Their interiors aching for love, for someone to share in their pain. I want to walk with them.
If Abby’s life means anything, let it mean that my family is better with championing others in gut-wrenching pain. And if this is our new melody, I’ll ask you to join us. If you have the fortune of walking through the valley of shadows of death alongside someone you love, be near them. Stay the course all the long way till they can see beyond the fog. Surviving this darkness is impossible alone.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristin Naylor of Norristown, Pennsylvania. You can follow her journey on her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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