I have had a life-changing experience this summer.
It began at the end of June. My sister found out the the little one she was carrying and due to give birth to in October seemed to have a heart defect. She was referred to specialists in Des Moines and because neither she nor her husband like driving up there, I was enlisted to get them to some of their appointments. I was thrilled to be able to help them this way, as I thought that the appointments themselves might be stressful and I didn't want them to have any extra stress on them and it would be a wonderful opportunity to get to spend more time with them, something I've been too neglectful of in recent years. So we began our weekly trips filled with hope that the doctors would be able to help her little one. There was no doubt in our minds about that.
She was about 23-24 weeks along when we went to see the pediatric cardiologist. Since the baby was so tiny, just under 2 pounds, he really couldn't get a very good look at the heart and so we scheduled another appointment for 4 weeks later. In the meantime, the ob doctor was seeing fluid in the baby's belly and that was a strong concern. If to much fluid built up, the baby would have to be delivered early in order to alleviate that problem. We kept praying that the fluid would go down and that the baby would stay in the womb until at least 34 weeks.
Weeks went by. Accidentally, the baby's gender was revealed. She was a beautiful little girl! The fluid remained on her belly, but didn't really change. The time came for our trip back to the pediatric cardiologist. He was so thorough. The ultrasound took about 50 minutes. He took picture after picture. When all was said and done, he helped my sister up, looked her in the face and said, "I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but the baby's heart is way sicker than I thought."
Our hearts fell to the floor. He left to consult his associates and we tried to come to terms with what he was telling us. He came back and said that they concurred and that he would go talk to the ob about the situation. When he came back, he explained some more and said that she had to stay in the womb in order to be big enough for a major reconstruction surgery of the heart, but that he wasn't sure she would be strong enough to survive even in the womb. Her ob had told her two days prior it was time to get the steroid shots to strengthen the baby's lungs in case they had to deliver early and we were supposed to do that right after the cardiology appointment, but we were so stunned, we were sure what to do. After a quick trip to the ob office, he wanted us to go ahead and get the shot. In a stunned numbness, we walked to the car to make the short trip over to the hospital labor and delivery floor.
As we were going up, a brand new baby was going down. The waiting room was filled with expectant grandparents and friends, women in labor came in as we waited. Our hearts were aching, scared, sad. Seeing all the happiness around us seemed a bit ironic and a hard pill to swallow. Somehow, though, we continued to cling to hope.
A few days later, we returned for her regular ob visit. She had an ultrasound every time we went in and this was no different. Baby was moving and provided us with several times where we could really see her face and features and the technician would flip over to 4D so we could really see our pretty little girl. My eyes would fill with tears every time they did that. When the doctor came in to tell us how baby looked and how the fluid was in the belly, he reminded us that she really was a very sick little girl. He admitted that sometimes they were wrong, but he wasn't terribly hopeful. We determined that we were not going to give up hope.
That following weekend was hubby and I's 25th wedding anniversary. I spent the day getting a shawl project done for the fair. In late afternoon, hubby and I headed to Des Moines to drop off my fair projects and go out to supper. He asked for a couple of Tums on the way there, he's had stomach issues for a couple of years. We went for steak and we shared a Texas Rose onion. It was kind of greasy, but yummy! He had a couple more Tums on the way home. At 11:00 that night, he came down with a horrible stomach ache (having had my gall bladder out 22 years ago, we'd been suspecting that was his problem for quite awhile), so by 1:30 am, he was tapped out and finally willing to go to the hospital.
It was definitely his gallbladder and we ended up in the hospital for 3 days. When he was finally able to have his surgery, it was the afternoon before my sister's next ob appointment, so I called her while he was in surgery to let her know I wouldn't be able to go and asked her how things were going. She replied that baby was quieter but still wiggling and twisting. I had a sinking feeling, but didn't put words to it and being so wrapped up in what I was going through, I'm not even sure I said a prayer. Hubby came out of surgery, we got him back to his room, he ate, etc., and we were finally discharged at 9:30 pm. We got home and collapsed into our own bed.
The next morning, 1200 baby pigs were coming in and son and daughter-in-law and favorite boy came out to do the work and so it was hectic around here, I completely forgot that sister had her appointment. At about 10:30, when things had settled down here a bit, the phone rang. My sister was on the other side. "She's gone."
There have only been a few times in my life where I've felt as though my heart has been ripped from my chest. This was one of those times. I didn't understand. I didn't want it to be real. I didn't want to give up hope. My sister, though, said something so very wise and so difficult given what she was facing, "At least she won't have to face all those surgeries and pain and suffer anymore." She was right, of course, but, oh, how it hurt!
Sadly, she still had to face the delivery. She went into the hospital that evening and it took over 48 hours before her body finally gave into the drugs and went into labor. The morning she was born, we were all able to go up and spend the day. We prayed together as a family, crying out to God in our pain, yet thankful for the beautiful little life He shared with us for such a short time. We held her, stroked her cheek, kissed her tiny forehead. We bonded as a family in a way we'd never been able to do before.
We buried her a week ago today in a tiny plot in our local cemetery in the section named "Babyland". Her tiny little casket carried to the grave by her grandpa. Our pastor did a wonderful job given the sad task he was handed.
Each day gets a little easier, I suppose. I still break into spontaneous tears as I think about all the hopes and plans her mommy and daddy and big brother and big sister had with her. The clothes and other things they accumulated. The love that had grown for her despite us never seeing her alive outside the womb.
One thing I have learned, we are a family that loves! We love babies, we love each other, and we love life! Babies are a gift from God! Despite how long or short their lives are, they touch us with their spirit.
Another thing I've learned or become might be a better way to describe it--I'm way more pro-life now that I was even before. This was a precious human being, made in the image of God. I can only pray that others will begin to see that, too.
Psalm 127:3 (ESV)
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.