Today is the day my daughter was due to be born. I wish I was in labor right now, waiting to meet her. Or sitting on the couch, already staring at her sweet sleeping face, exhausted from a night of nursing. Instead, I’m writing the story of how she died. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t partly writing this for my own therapeutic benefit, but my hope is that my honesty about my loss will inspire others trust in God and take the time to grieve properly over their own loss, regardless of when it was or how it came to be.
The Story of Mary Josephine
I came home from a conference in October 2017 with a sneaking suspicion that I was pregnant. I don’t take birth control (we practice NFP) so I’m REALLY in tune to my body. I just felt pregnant, so when saw the positive results, I wasn’t that surprised. This baby was planned for, so the hubs and I were happy and excited. But by far, the most excited person in our household was almost-4-year-old Big Sister. Within minutes of us telling her, she happily announced that the baby was a girl. We laughed and said we would see, but we both admitted later we thought she was right.
After a week, nausea showed up right on schedule. But with the nausea came an uneasy feeling in my heart. Not fear, not nervousness, not anxiety, or depression. I can only describe it as “unease”. It started off small, staying in the back of my mind, but began to grow as the weeks went on. I actually had so many dreams and thoughts about the baby not making it that I remember thinking at one point around 12 weeks, “I’m surprised this baby is still alive.” I prayed to God to take the darkness away, but it persisted, even as the weeks went on and all signs pointed to a healthy baby. Around week 18, I felt the first kick, and I thanked the Lord at the dinner table in that very moment. I was so relieved. But that night, I dreamt that the baby wasn’t moving anymore and woke up feeling frantic.
The night before my anatomy sonogram, I laid in bed silently crying. I knew something was wrong. This was different than the normal anxiousness I had felt with my previous pregnancies; it was a persistent voice in my head. When I finally fell asleep, I had the same dream that the baby wasn’t moving. On my way to the doctor that morning, I shot a text to few of my closest friends and the girls in my bible study group, asking for prayers. I cried the whole way there. That darkness was so real in the car and I felt it consuming me, even as I tried to tell myself it was just hormones. I prayed to God to give me peace and tell me that my fears were unnecessary, but deep down, I knew there was a reason for this feeling.
I waited for what seemed like forever to be taken back to the sonogram room. “I’m so sorry, but there’s no heartbeat,” said the sonographer. I whispered, “I knew it,” and she left to go get the doctor. What a strange moment. I sat there in shock for a bit, alone, staring at the baby on the screen, curled up and completely still. This was really happening. That baby was my baby, and she was no longer alive. All those nightmares had come true. I was a few days shy of being 20 weeks, so it was called a miscarriage, yet I was still going to be induced and would give birth to my daughter. The reality of what my next 48 hours were going to look like started to unfold, and I became scared and shaky. My doctor was gracious enough to let me leave right away so I could tell my husband. He met me at home and we cried together. Packing my hospital bag that night was very surreal and depressing.
Arriving at the hospital the next morning was pretty much the same. I never imagined I’d be checking into a hospital to give birth to a baby I’d never get to see alive; one that I’d never get to take home. As the nurse led us down the hallway, we passed the room I’d given birth to my son in. It had a blue ribbon on the door. Someone was inside, laboring to meet their baby boy. I quickly prayed that the baby would live. At the end of the same hall was my room, but instead of a blue or pink ribbon, it already had a small picture of angel wings. As I walked into the room, I wondered how many more angel wings were on the doors on our floor. During the next 24 hours, I cried many tears. Some tears were for myself and my baby, but many were also for the past and present mothers who had arrived here with angel wings on their doors, especially the ones who had no other children to go home to. My heart ached for those mothers in particular.
The next 24 hours were brutal, but the nurses were wonderful. Seriously, some nurses are saints living on earth. At one point while I was still in labor, I was so tired of crying that I started cracking jokes. My nurse didn’t miss a beat; she sensed exactly what I needed and played along, relieving some of the pain for a few moments with a few jokes of her own. Grief is so weird sometimes. The labor was long, but thankfully, the birth of our third child, a daughter we named Mary “Joey” Josephine, was quick and easy.
We spent a lot of time with our girl. She had 10 fingers and 10 toes, 2 eyes, a nose, and ears and a mouth that were still developing. I held her until I was too tired. As I slept, I would wake up almost every hour to the sound of my own crying. I dreaded leaving the hospital, yet I missed my other two kids and wanted to go home. But the idea of leaving my child at the hospital and never taking her home was hard for me to bear. When the time came, I was wheeled out in that familiar chair, but with no baby. It was the afternoon, and people were coming and going, several of them carrying flowers and baby gifts. I was too afraid to make eye contact with any of them, but I wondered if they saw me and noticed that I had no baby in my arms.
On our way home, we stopped to get lunch and gather our thoughts before seeing our kids. Sitting next to us was a family of 5 – a mom, dad, a little girl who looked about 5, a little boy who looked almost 3, and a baby girl sleeping in a car seat. A living picture of what I thought my family would have looked like. I see little reminders of the void in our family almost daily.
Beauty From Ashes
I felt dead inside for a while. I’ve gone through waves of sadness, anger, self-pity, and jealousy. I’m not proud of those feelings, but I accept them. The grief sneaks up on me at the most random times. Every few days, I still cry. We are still adjusting to our new normal. Watching my 4-year-old daughter grieve has been heartbreaking and inspiring. All of her baby dolls are now named “Baby Joey”, and she comments on how her “Baby Joeys” aren’t dead like mommy’s is. It was hard for us to understand at first, but it’s a part of her grief process. She asks me sometimes, “Can we die and go to heaven today?”, in an anticipatory, not fearful, way. She’s actually disappointed when I say no. She already, at such a young age, longs to be in heaven with her creator and her baby sister. I often find myself in awe of her beautiful and unwavering child-like faith.
Still, through all of this, God has shown me His love in very real and tangible ways. In Isaiah 61, God uses the Holy Spirit to speak through Isaiah to tell the people that He is able to “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Perhaps the greatest beauty to come from these ashes is my growing relationship with God. Many people have said to me, “You’ve been so strong through all this!”, and I really disagree. What I’ve actually done is run away from my problems, but in my running away, I chose to run straight to God. This was just too big for me to deal with, I gave up trying almost immediately. So to the feet of God is where I ran, and it’s where I still am today.
If you have experienced a pregnancy or infant loss, please know, I am already praying for you.