What's the hardest part? That question gives the false impression any part of this is easy. I find I'm asking myself, "Was I there for others who have been through this? Have I comforted the grieving? Have I helped anyone who has suffered this kind of loss?" I don't think I have. It's not something anyone is ever planning on facing. It's not something anyone ever anticipates dealing with. When it happens, I certainly don't want to think it could happen to me.
But it has. I have to deal with it. Our daughter is dead.
That word is so awful, isn't it? It just hangs in the air. I heard a nurse use it while she was talking to us about "next steps" and the word itself knocked the wind out of me. So final. So irreversible.
This week has been a whirlwind. There are times I wake up and think, "Oh good, it was just a dream." But it wasn't. I remember the morning after when I woke up in the hospital, I felt her moving in my belly and I thought, "Everyone! It's okay! She's moving around inside of me!" But it wasn't her. She was no longer there. I was no longer pregnant. It wasn't okay.
I have relived that moment of Harlynn being placed on my chest a million times. Her body sunk right into mine. She was so peaceful. She was so beautiful. She bounced up and down on me as I wept. How could this be real? How can I be holding my baby girl, and she's dead?
When the doctor, after viewing the ultrasound, said there was no heartbeat, I remember just putting my hand up to my face - I couldn't cry, because I was thinking, "It's okay. Her heart is stopped, they can fix this. They can fix this. They'll do something." I don't know why I was thinking this. I couldn't think anything else, though. The doctor gave us a few minutes to discuss how I wanted to deliver. She had said, since I was only at 2 cm, it would probably be a very lengthy process to deliver vaginally. I interrupted her to say I wouldn't be able to emotionally handle a vaginal delivery. We would do a repeat cesarean. She left the room and Brent and I held each other, crying. Somewhere in the conversation and contractions my mind had realized it couldn't be fixed. There was no bringing her back.
The contractions grew so strong, so fast. The noises that were coming from my mouth were so guttural. I had never heard myself do that, and I couldn't stop. The nurse kept trying to prep me for surgery. I asked if I could stand up to fight through a contraction. She and Brent helped me up off the triage bed. I immediately crouched down, hovering above the floor. I reached across the width of the bed and was literally biting the mattress. I wanted nothing more than to just be strong and quiet, and breathe through the pain. But I had no control. Within no time, I couldn't tell one contraction from another. They were incessant. The nurse asked if I wanted her to check how dilated I was. I shook my head. "Isn't there something you can give me to make these stop?! I can't do this. I don't want to do this!" She left the room at one point to get a bedside pan for me and it was almost immediately after she came back in the room that I determined I was going to stand up and get back on the bed. I slowly stood. My legs were shaking. I was still making noises. Hollering. Wailing. I tried to talk. "My water just broke." She asked if I felt like I needed to push. I lied and said no. The doctor came in and after seeing and hearing all that was going on, said, "Val, get back on the bed and let me check you." I don't know how I got on the bed. I don't know if I had help or if I somehow just made it climbing back on. The doctor checked me and said, "Val, you're complete. She's completely dilated. We need to get her to the delivery room."
"Val, you're complete."
No. No, I'm not. You're going to make me deliver this baby, who I don't get to bring home with me. Who I'll never get to breastfeed. This baby who I will have to put in a coffin instead of a crib. I am NOT complete. I am broken. I am shattered.
My eyes had been closed through all of the intense contractions, and were closed still as they wheeled the triage bed to the delivery room across the hall. I don't know much of what happened next. I was clinging to Brent. How he was able to even stand up when I was just pulling at him, I don't know. I was wailing so loudly. I was pushing and trying not to with each wave of pain. Someone administered an intrathecal. They were trying to explain to me what they were doing and I didn't care. "Just do it! Just do it!" I cried. I still couldn't open my eyes. I laid back down. I pushed. Four contractions, and fifteen pushes.
"One more push and you'll have a baby." But I won't. I pushed her out and felt the wave of pressure leave my abdomen. "Beautiful baby girl. She just looks like she's sleeping. Dad? Did you want to cut the cord?" He didn't answer...he just somberly reached for the scissors. After the cord was cut, they placed her on my chest. She was warm from being inside me. She was heavy. She was real. And she was gone. I kept pleading in my head, "Just cry! Just cry! Whimper, make a noise, anything!"
After I had held Harlynn for a long while, I asked Brent if he wanted to hold her. At first he shook his head, but then he began to nod, as he cried. I handed her over. He gazed at her. You could see the longing in his eyes - he was thinking the same thing I had, "If I just can make her cry, she'll be okay..." I put my head in my hands. There was no way this could be real. Everything was fine. What happened? Why? I looked back over at Brent, and saw how lovingly he looked upon Harlynn. His daughter. Our daughter. Haley's baby sister. My heart just broke for him. He's such a good daddy. Harlynn, your daddy is such a good daddy.
Eventually we let the nurse take her for weight and length measurements, and then take her to the nursery to clean her. Brent and I held each other. We wept. We comforted each other. We tried to process what had just happened. I reached for his hand and we prayed.
Later the same day, we had pictures taken of Harlynn. We held her again. We wept over her. We let Haley see her. That was so tough, but we didn't want to have regrets on any of our parts years later that she couldn't "meet" her baby sister. I would look across the room at the little cart that had the blanket pulled over Harlynn's face and just yearn, long, for a peep - a noise - a breath. Later that night, Brent and I knew we had to say goodbye. We had to let her go. We walked over to her and pulled the blanket back. We held her hand. We stroked her hair. We kissed her. We wept more. We told her how loved she was. I told her, over and over, I was so sorry. So, so sorry.
We told the nurse it was time. She took Harlynn out of our room. We will never see her on earth again. The last time I carry my baby, she'll be in a casket and I will place her in the cemetery. Her baby book will be a registry of people who attended her funeral. None of this makes any sense. None of this seems possible.
I was so angry. There was no one to blame. There was nothing to point to. But my baby is gone. It was several hours later into the next day that I was able to reflect and see how God's hand - the very hand I was angry with - played such a gracious and loving role in the entire situation. Harlynn's heart had stopped beating a while before I had gone in. The fact that I decided to go to the hospital despite being told it wasn't sounding like real labor, was a blessing. I had contemplated toughing contractions out at home. I reached a point where I couldn't do that, though.
When I delivered Haley by emergency cesarean at 32 weeks, I felt like I was robbed of her birthing. I wanted nothing more than to deliver Harlynn vaginally. When we got to the hospital and found out she had died in my womb, I knew that vaginal delivery was out of the question. Emotionally, physically, I wouldn't be able to handle it.
God knew better. Had I gone in to the hospital any earlier, there would have been no choice but surgery. We couldn't save her, but we could save my need, my emotional need, to deliver her the way I wanted. The fact that I went in and labor progressed so rapidly was a blessing. The fact that I chose not to tough it out at home was even more of a blessing. It would have gone so fast, and no one would have had time to take me anywhere - plus, I wouldn't have been warned ahead of her birth that she would be stillborn. That would have been far more traumatic for me.
The nurses, even the doctor that were there when we went in - everyone was there who was supposed to be. The timing was blessed. The care I received afterward was second to none. Each nurse I had was a God-send. She was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed her. I had two doctors come to my room - the doctor who was my OB when I was pregnant with Haley (and who had seen me twice during this pregnancy) came in and held me as I wept. She cupped my face in her hands. The doctor who ended up delivering Haley and who was my OB during this pregnancy came in and held me as I collapsed in her arms, again, weeping. She just held my head tight against her. These were doctors. The fact that they even stopped by, and made me feel like a person instead of a chart number - I can't even tell you the value of that experience. These two women I have always been fond of, but now, I can't even express how important their roles in my life are.
Our church family - our wonderful, amazing church family - once again surrounded us with love and support. So many friends, family members, complete strangers, surrounded us with support. I commented to Brent that it's one thing to have people share condolences and feel bad for us, but people are literally grieving with us. Alongside us. It's surreal.
Today, Harlynn's death notice is in the paper. Tomorrow her obituary will appear. Tomorrow is also Harlynn's visitation. Monday is her funeral. I'm not sure how I'll make it through either. Yet, I know I will. I will never forget Harlynn, my precious baby. I will never recover from losing her. But I will go on and aim to be the woman I would have wished to raise her to be. I will be Haley's Mommy, and I will do a damn good job. She will know beyond a shadow of a doubt she is always going to be Mommy's special girl. I will be Brent's wife and make sure not a day goes by where he isn't assured of how wonderful, amazing, and strong he is. I will mourn, and I will cry, and I will break down at every remembrance of my precious Harlynn...and I won't apologize for it.
Sometimes these things happen. It wasn't that God willed Harlynn to die. It wasn't that it was His plan to break our hearts. God wouldn't will this suffering on His children. Sometimes, these things happen. He has her now, of that I'm sure. If she can't be in her mommy's arms, I can't think of a better place for her to be.
Harlynn, your mommy and daddy can't express how much we love you, or how much we miss you. Your sister Haley can't communicate how she longs to be able to play with you, and how sorry she is that you died. But we all long to share in your peace, your dwelling, and your dancing with the angels. One day our hearts will be mended, and we'll see you in your perfect form, and we'll be together, praising the One who brought us through the tragedy of losing you. We will celebrate with you, baby girl.
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