This is a very different post than I have ever shared on this blog before. If you follow me on social media you know that we lost our baby girl at 25 weeks of pregnancy back in mid December. I have been pretty quiet about our story up until this point, and we have taken the past few months to grieve privately as a family. Today would have been our sweet baby’s due date. It is likely the day we would have brought her into our life, so I think it is only fitting that it is the day we share her story with the world.
I am planning to start posting more “real life” on this blog, and this is about as real as it gets. Please know that this is not easy to read. It is raw, it is long, it is painful, and it is exactly how we lived it. I hesitated to share this here at all, but I know that there are so many people who care about us and want to hear our story. I know that one of the things that has helped me feel less lonely through all of this has been hearing and reading stories from other brave Mamas who have angel babies. And I know that her tiny little life had a purpose. She changed me, and if she can touch even just one person, then she has accomplished so much.
Here is Audrey’s Story:
Perfect. My first pregnancy was absolutely perfect. Our beautiful 3-year-old daughter: perfect. All of my friend’s and family’s pregnancies and deliveries were perfect. The age gap that we so meticulously planned between our children? Perfect. The first half of my second pregnancy? Perfect. The doctor even said it to me at our 20-week anatomy scan. “You have a beautiful baby girl in there! She is perfect.” It is all we knew and all we ever expected, because that is just how these things are supposed to go. Sure, people get morning sickness and some people have complicated deliveries, but nonetheless: you make it through nine beautiful months and then bam: you have a beautiful, perfect baby in your arms. Of course that is how it was going to go for us this time around too, because everything had always been PERFECT.
Until it wasn’t.
Stillbirth. Miscarriage. Infant Loss. These are all words that made my stomach churn and my heart ache whenever I heard them. I knew it was rare, but that those things do happen and I felt so deeply heartbroken for those who had experienced them. It is literally every parent’s worst nightmare. Truth be told, I ignored those words most of the time because my heart broke into a million pieces at the mere thought of it. Surely it wouldn’t happen to me. I could never be strong enough to handle something so devastating. But that’s the crazy thing about life. “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
Monday December 11, 2017 was a typical morning-before-a-prenatal-appointment. Tom had taken the morning off from work and we planned to drive to the appointment separately so that he could head straight into work afterwards. We were rushing around prepping breakfast, getting Stella ready, packing up a bag, etc. You know, a normal run of the mill morning. I was 25 weeks pregnant and we hadn’t seen the baby since the anatomy scan at 20 weeks so we were all super excited to hear and/or see her again. At these appointments they usually just check on the baby with a fetal Doppler, but to be honest I had pretty much come to expect that I would get a peek with the ultrasound as well. My placenta was anterior (on the front side of my uterus) which had so far always meant that they had a hard time picking up a heartbeat with just the Doppler, so they would usually quickly pull in the ultrasound machine, give us a peek at our girl with her heart beating strong, print out a quick photo, answer my questions, and send us on our merry way.
This appointment seemed to be headed in the same direction. Stella was sitting on Tom’s lap coloring when the doctor came in. We chatted about whether or not I had made a decision regarding VBAC or repeat C-section (I hadn’t yet). She reviewed all of the results from our anatomy scan a month prior with us. Perfect. All of it perfect. She ordered my glucose test and handed me some paperwork to take home and fill out over the next few weeks. At the top of the stack was a birth plan. I remember a surge of nervous, excited energy rushing through my body when I saw it and realized that we were already to that point. We were a few short months away from welcoming our second sweet daughter into our family and I was feeling all the feels about it. I lied down on the exam table and the doctor placed the Doppler on my very large, very full belly. I didn’t bat an eyelash when she had trouble and left the room to pull in the ultrasound machine. I do remember letting out a quick sigh and telling Tom that no matter how many times this happens, this part always makes me a little nervous. We both quickly shrugged it off and I said, “Stella, we get to see the baby!”
Just like that, there she was on a tiny black and white screen in front of us. First we saw the top of her beautiful little head, and everything looked perfect. The doctor carried on moving and angling the probe to get a better angle, until she found the perfect position. There she was: Our beautiful baby girl. Face profile, arms, hands, legs, feet, heart… And then my whole world started crumbling around me in slow motion. Where was it? Why wasn’t it blinking like it always is? Why wasn’t my doctor saying anything? She silently moved the probe around on my belly searching for a better angle, and with every movement all I saw was stillness. Still. Everything was still. Our beautiful, precious baby girl who was always bouncing around like there was a trampoline in my uterus was lying completely still. Where we always saw her beautiful little heart blinking and heard it beating loud and strong, we now heard silence. Tears started pouring down my face immediately. Everything from this moment out is a completely and utterly painful blur. I have no idea how long she was searching for just one little flicker. It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. But I knew that my baby was gone. And part of me was gone with her. I remember my doctor whispering that she was going to get another doctor to take a look, and she left the three of us there in that room. I remember looking at Tom and breaking into uncontrollable sobs. I remember him squeezing my hand and trying to reassure me that it was ok. Surely this next doctor would find her heart beating away. I remember the other doctor coming in and searching for who knows how long before quietly whispering, “I’m so sorry” and walking out of the room.
And that was it. I came undone. We all came undone. I can only remember sobbing and holding each other and grasping my round belly and hugging Stella tighter than ever. Through sobs I remember looking at my doctor, her eyes full of genuine heartbreak for us, and I asked, “What happened? She was perfect a few weeks ago.” “We don’t know….”
She left the room and gave us a few moments to ourselves. Those few minutes are even more of a blur. Complete and utter shock. I can only remember more hugging and crying and immediately wishing we hadn’t brought Stella because I so desperately wanted to shield her from this pain. I remember begging God that I would wake up from this horrible dream, because surely he would never actually allow me to go through something like this. My body was shaking when the doctor came back in. I only remember her telling us we had two options: I could be induced and deliver our baby, or we could schedule a D&E surgery. I was in no place to think clearly enough to make any sort of decision, so she told us we could go home and think about it. The two-minute walk from that Doctor’s office to our car could have very well been two miles that day. Walking out through a waiting room full of excitedly anxious pregnant women when I had just found that my baby was no longer living inside of me sent heart-wrenching chills to every part of my body. Passing in slow motion by people hurrying about their normal day when your whole world just shattered into a million pieces is a feeling I could never explain.
I honestly couldn’t even tell you much about our car ride or the rest of the day at home, except that as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot I knew that I wanted to deliver our baby. There was no other option for me. She was my child and she deserved to be birthed. I owed her that much. I sent my doctor a message as soon as we got home and waited for her reply. I remember crying a lot. All of us. I remember lying and holding each other on the couch for a large portion of the day. I remember staring at all of our Christmas decorations wondering how on earth we were supposed to make it through the holidays. I remember catching my reflection in the mirror: Looking perfectly pregnant on the outside but knowing that I was not. I remember walking into the girls’ soon-to-be shared bedroom and being punched in the stomach by her crib staring right at me. I remember breaking down when Stella prayed “Thank you for my baby sister” before her nap and we tried to explain, in the best way we knew how, that her sister had gone to heaven. I remember her crying hysterically and screaming “I want my baby” and I immediately wished that someone had given me a book telling me how to talk to a three year old about this. I remember the call from the Doctor saying that labor and delivery was ready for me tonight. I remember wrestling with the need to call our families to tell them what had happened and arrange childcare for Stella, because that somehow made it real and I was not at all ready for that. I remember packing my hospital bag and breaking down once again realizing that I wasn’t bringing a coming home outfit or anything for the baby. I remember kissing Stella as my Mother-in-Law picked her up and wishing that she never had to leave my side again. I barely remember anything about the drive to the hospital except thinking that I had no idea how much time I had left with her in my body, and I desperately wished I could keep her there.
There are no words to describe the despair of walking into Labor & Delivery feeling completely numb. It is a horrible, nauseating feeling that I wish no parent would ever have to experience. No excitement. No nervous anticipation. Just heartbreak for what you are about to do. But it had to be done. Tom held my hand tighter than ever, almost as if he was just trying to keep me standing. “I’m Stephanie. I think you are expecting Me.” was all I could manage when we arrived at the front desk. Looks of confusion. Then looks of recognition as it registered. Then looks of sorrow? Pity? Discomfort? I honestly don’t even know. The OB on call was passing by at that moment. She had been briefed by my OB already and immediately hugged me, offered her condolences, and told me they were going to take care of us. She was wonderful. And I believed her. We were escorted to a large room in the far back corner where a baby bassinet sat in the corner waiting for a plump, happy newborn to fill it. I couldn’t bear to look at it. It was too painful. I was given robes to change into and intake paperwork to fill out. None of it felt real. I was going through the motions. Surely this was still a terrible dream. But it just kept going.
My nurse came in to get the IV set up, and her presence comforted me more than I could ever have expected in such an awful situation. I promise you, she was an angel sent straight from heaven, and to this day I still say that she was one of the reasons I made it through that day. I found out later that she too had lost a baby late in pregnancy and that was the reason she became a nurse. I was so thankful that she was there. She and the sweet doctor talked to us, cried with us, and performed one last ultrasound as a final verification before they started medication to induce me. I prayed for a miracle every second of that ultrasound, but there she was just the same as earlier. Only this time I had an uncontrollable desire to have her in my arms. To hold her. To kiss her. To see her beautiful face. That day will haunt me for the rest of my life, but that is the moment that my outlook on it shifted. She had died. She was already in the arms of Jesus. There was nothing I could do about that, although I will forever wish I could have. So I could either continue forward through labor and deliver her in fear and anguish, or I could power through it for her, birth her in a way she would be proud of, and look forward to the moment they would place her in our arms. And that is what I did. It definitely wasn’t perfect. I had so many moments of weakness and tears of sorrow. Giving birth to a baby you know you can’t take home with you is devastating. But I did it because she is important, her life was important, and she is my child. I would do anything for my children.
There was some worry about the incision from my previous C-section, so they took the induction fairly slowly and cautiously. Pitocin started around midnight and had done absolutely nothing by 5am. They changed gears and gave me a micro dose of misoprostol and finally things started moving. I labored all through the morning and early afternoon, with Tom, my rock by my side through it all. Emotionally, I know he was feeling all of the same things that I was and he supported me through it all. There is truly nobody I would rather have by my side through this life, the good times and the bad. The thing about laboring in a hospital with a baby that is no longer living is that some people are very in tune with you and your needs, and others will do whatever possible to avoid coming into your room and having to face you. Throughout the day there were shift changes and new faces, and we experienced a lot of both types of people. My favorite nurse had left late into the night and I was watching the clock waiting for her next shift to start. Tom’s parents and my sister-in-love brought Stella to visit us and all I wanted to do was lift her onto the bed with me and cuddle her forever, but at the same time I still just wanted to shield her from this pain. She was so sweet and gentle and cautious and I cried so much when they had to leave. My contractions were getting extremely intense by that point, so they gave me another dose of the medicine to dilate me more and I decided to get the epidural. The induction medicine started working immediately and the epidural didn’t work at all. I have scoliosis, which usually makes the epidural difficult to place. I could feel everything and I was entering transition. I knew it. I never experienced transition with Stella as I had an emergency C-section at only 6 cm with her, but I had studied enough about childbirth to know that is exactly what it was. There was so much pain and pressure and I was pressing my call button and yelling for the new doctor that was on call and begging Tom to go find him for me because she was ready to come out. Only no one was taking me seriously. The doctor was “on a phone call” and apparently last time they checked I wasn’t nearly dilated enough to be in transition. So the nurses and anesthesiologists convinced me to let them try to fix my epidural. It took everything in me to sit still through those moments, but finally after 3 attempts in total the epidural finally worked. I felt my whole body relax and the physical pain was gone. But immediately as soon as I could no longer feel pain, I could feel her. She was coming and I knew it. Thankfully the doctor finally came in and said that he was going to check me to see if I had dilated anymore. I told him he didn’t have to because she was right there, and sure enough when he checked me a confused look crossed over his face and he asked me to give one little push. I pushed once and our beautiful tiny angel Audrey Quinn was born at 2:43 pm on December 12, 2017.
I have no idea what happened with anything else after that because I couldn’t take me eyes off of her. She was so much smaller than I expected. She was still. She wasn’t crying. It was so hard to see her like that, but she was so beautiful. Almost as soon as she was out, my angel nurse walked in for the shift change and I felt like the heavens had opened. After the staff we had just experienced, I was so happy that she was back to take care of our baby and us. After a couple of minutes she brought Audrey over, wrapped in the same hospital blankets as her sister, and placed her gently in my arms. Holding our beautiful baby girl and looking into her face shattered my heart and made it swell with love and pride all at the same time. It was a feeling I imagine would be impossible to comprehend unless you have experienced it. Just so much sadness and so much love. So much heartbreak for the wonderful life we had pictured for her, but also peace in the knowledge that she is in a place so much better than this earth. As we stared at her in silent tears, I told Tom that I thought she looked like Stella. I imagined people asking if they were twins when they were older. I carefully handed her to Tom, and we took turns holding her and studying her every detail. The nurse put the tiniest hat I have ever seen on her, took some photos for us, got her tiny footprints, and made us the most beautiful memory box. She gave us our time alone and let us keep her with us for as long as we wanted. The hospital chaplain came and prayed with us as I held her tight and sobbed over her. Our family came back to visit us and my mother-in-love and sister-in-love got to meet her. We asked the nurse to take the baby when Stella was ready to come in, and bring her back when they left. We weren’t sure we wanted Stella to remember her sister that way (although a couple months later I did show her a photo and her immediate reaction was “Aww! She is so cute!”) But it was so wonderful to have our little girl there, and she helped to lift our spirits so much.
The nurse brought Audrey back to us a little later after everyone had gone. We spent some more precious time with her, and then late that night we held each other, sobbed, and said the hardest goodbye we have ever had to say. We said goodbye to our baby girl.
That day will forever be etched in my memory as the most heartbreaking, painful, but beautiful day, because it is the day I gave birth to our sweet Audrey Quinn, and the one and only day we ever got to hold her in our arms.
We were discharged from the hospital the next morning. I took the same wheelchair ride out of the hospital that I had taken three years before, only this time instead of a precious, pink, bundled baby, I was clutching a memory box. Instead of feeling overjoyed and nervous and excited, I was feeling shattered.
The days and weeks and months that have followed have been so hard. We had so many questions about why and how this could have happened. After so many tests, screenings, and procedures on both Audrey and I, the short answer is that we don’t know. We will probably never know. Many stillbirths are completely unexplained, and Audrey was one of those. Her little heart just stopped beating. As hard as that was for us to accept, it is good news in terms of the future, as it means that they didn’t find anything wrong with me, or any genetic problems that would be likely to cause problems in a future pregnancy, so we are very thankful for that.
Life after loss these past three months has been so incredibly difficult. There is nothing easy about it. Sitting in a cold mortuary room signing papers. Searching for an urn that is worthy of holding your baby. Sobbing over the cardboard box as you pick up the ashes of your child who never even got a chance at life outside the womb. Devastating, heart-wrenching things that no parent should ever have the agony of experiencing. And yet somehow we are getting through it. We have been changed forever, and yet somehow life must continue on. And it does.
We have been surrounded by so much love and support, and we are so thankful for that. And most importantly we have each other. We get each other through every day. Stella gets us through every day. I am so thankful for that radiant, loving girl in our life. She brings us so much sunshine and she has unknowingly pulled us out of some dark places. She is wise beyond her years, and at the same time my heart breaks for her. For the sister she never got to bring home. The sister she kissed every day in my belly. But she knows her. We talk freely about Audrey, and Stella talks about her baby sister in heaven all the time. When she feels sad she hugs her angel “Poppy Bear” (a gift from baby Audrey who she wanted to name “Princess Poppy”). She is making it through. We are making it through. Time helps us move forward, but we will never “move on”. I will make sure that my children always know about their sister. I will wear her name around my neck and keep her ashes on my nightstand. She will live in our hearts forever.
Every life, no matter how short, has purpose. We may not know completely what Audrey’s was just yet, but I do know that she changed me. She changed us. I am stronger. I am a better mother. I am a better person because of her, and I feel so blessed that I got to carry her for her short but incredibly special life. I am so lucky to be your Mama, sweet angel.
We’ll hold you in our hearts until we hold you in Heaven.