"Can I have the honor of holding your baby?" the nurse asked as I handed my daughter over for the.very.last.time. I watched myself from outside my body as I handed over my most precious girl while the world slipped from under my feet.
Isabella was the greatest nurse and she gave the biggest hugs, the kind that envelop your whole body and you wish would hold you forever. The day my daughter left us, Isabella's shift ended at 3pm but she knew what we felt aware of, today was the last day with our daughter alive. So when 4pm rolled around for our daughter's next round of meds, Isabella was waiting for the call that our daughter had died.
She entered so respectfully, explained what to expect in the moments after death and asked if I wanted to bathe my baby girl for the very last time. I was scared but also knew I wasn't ready to say goodbye, so I followed her lead as the expert, since obviously she was.
She warmed the water, she steeped sacred tea (which turned out to be Starbucks Zen) and she gently placed my daughter in the bathwater. She taught me the sacred ritual of bathing my daughter, the last act I got to perform as her mama with her earthside. It was breathtaking and my honor to perform this ritual, and it was devastating. I dressed my daughter in her last diaper and most beautiful gown, the one that she was supposed to wear home. Instead, I held my daughter with her weight upon my chest for hours as I stared out the window watching the sun fade and the moon appear to light the night.
And finally, reluctantly, the time had come. My husband and I were exhausted. After 33 days of limited sleep and heightened anxiety, we decided to say goodbye.
That walk down the hall, I knew what was coming and I wanted to stop time. My broken heart was just beginning to feel the magnitude of what was to come. Isabella's words were the only reason I could stomach handing over my daughter. It was "her honor" to hold my sweet girl.
And then I proceeded to vomit.
Isabella was only one of the many amazing nurses that cared for us during the time of our daughter's life. Her commitment so greatly positively impacted us during what can only be defined as the most beautifully heartbreaking time of our life. Because of the support we received, we are surviving. We have survived the unsurvivable.
Nurses are human, too. I can only imagine how any of the workers felt when they left work that night to be welcomed home by their families. But, combined with devastation and heartbreak, I will never forget how I felt that night. I felt loved. I felt Isabella's love for my daughter. Her words will forever be remembered, it was her honor to hold my beloved child.
You just read an excerpt from my upcoming book Our Only Time. Our Only Time was created to motivate, inspire and show appreciation for maternal health professionals through experiences told from a patient's perspective. Through heartfelt stories, families share the sacred time spent with their baby — whether in utero or after birth — and offer insights into how health professionals positively impacted their experience. Also included are recommendations on how best to be supportive of patients and what types of actions to avoid during this devastating experience.
Through these incredibly intimate stories of loss, health professionals can better understand a grieving family's experience and become equipped to support bereaved parents when they leave the hospital without their baby. Health professionals will come away with new insights on how to guide parents, empowering them to have the least amount of regret during this loss, and allowing for the greatest chance of healing in their grief as they re-enter the world.
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Five years ago I sat bedside my daughter and two of our closest friends, the family that we were supposed to raise our little girl with, the mama who in her belly was growing my daughter's best girlfriend, the girl who I now love watching grow older while my daughter does not.
It was an amazing visit to introduce them to our sweet girl, to meet her, to love on her, to gift her their son's teddy. It was the most awful visit because it was the only one they would ever get with her. It was beautifully heartbreaking.
We sat, we talked, we laughed, I am sure we cried and in that conversation, I proclaimed, "I am going to write a book someday." I had been filled with so much love, so much amazement at the strength of my daughter, my husband, the community that surrounded us, I was sure that I needed to share this story with the world.
It was during this time that I started writing. I wrote about everything. I wrote about our days in the hospital and our long nights away. I wrote when we learned that our daughter would not be coming home, I wrote when we moved her to "her" home at George Mark. I wrote about all the beauty that surrounded this tragic time. I wrote when my heart was torn from my chest and we had to hand our baby over, for the very last time. I wrote in the years following; of intense grief, sadness, despair, hope, a new pregnancy, a little brother, joy, life moving forward, writing, writing, writing.
And in the midst of writing, my life has continued to shape what has grown to be my passion; educating others about infant loss and grief, providing hope for recovery and healing, and supporting bereaved parents. I started the Ruthie Lou Foundation providing Comfort Boxes to families when their baby passes away in the hospital. I was educated as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist and began working with grievers to help heal their broken hearts. And along the way, I became the face of infant loss in our community, and an advocate for grieving parents; answering any email, text or phone call from other mamas missing their baby.
While the story of Ruthie Lou's life has yet to be written anywhere other than these pages as of yet, I saw a need that I could fill. When we left the hospital, when we left George Mark, we left without our baby and we left without many resources. I now know that there are resources available, but 5 years ago, the conversation of babies dying was deep in the internet hidden in blogs and had not become mainstream conversation-yet. I scoured the internet, it left me scared and frightened of the lifelong grief I was facing. I checked every library & bookstore, it left me feeling alone. In the meantime, I continued to get questions from other bereaved moms, asking the same questions tryin to navigate this unknown journey of grief.
I started writing the answers to the questions I was receiving from friends, the very same questions that I had asked of others during my early days of grief; the logistical pieces of this journey and what to expect as the days led to weeks and then months after our daughter died. Slowly, Navigating the Unknown was created.
This book became a labor of love, one that I wrote as if speaking to my very dear friend. If you are in this community of bereaved parents, I immediately love you. We understand eachother in a way that (thankfully) many parents never have to experience, but we know a secret language-the language of losing part of our self when our child has died.
I wrote this book, kindly, respectfully, lovingly yet direct. There are hard topics in this book, things that "normal" parents will never have to consider-but we do. Choices that we have had to make; autopsy, burials, funerals, thoughts that give any parent nightmares at night. But when your child has died, this is our reality and I wrote this book to guide bereaved parents through the most devastating time in their life and help move them through the days that follow and how to re-join the world again. As the book follows through the first year after death, my intent is that it creates a community of support and offers hope that although our baby is not physically with us, there is hope for healing. There is hope to feel joy and have a purpose driven life, once again.
So while I have yet to write the book that I promised that night in the hospital room, this book poured from my heart and could not have been stopped. This book is my heart on paper, loving any parent who has the devastatingly need to read it.
Unfortunately, this book is needed. I hope that when you hear of a family who has learned that their baby has died whose life will be brief that you immediately give them this book. There is no time for hesitation, they only get a short time with their baby-please let them make the most of every moment. This book will help guide them through this heartbreaking loss.
I don't get to write in my journal as much as I used to; a toddler, a husband, a career, a non-profit business, and the book that is near completion, take up all my time. My days are beyond full and the nights to recover are far too short but each day, I am pulled to moments out of this life as I feel this baby move, bounce, jump and tumble through my belly reminding me of life's fragility. It pulls me back to the core of my being, the person I now am and the person I have wanted to be my entire life-a mom.
I am a mom to the most perfect children, THREE of them now! My daughter, the girl who made me a mama- she changed me. She changed the trajectory of my life, what I thought would be, who I thought I was, what I was capable of achieving and the passion that now fuels me. My son, the boy who reminded me of the simple joys in life, who makes me laugh, who challenges my very patience, who makes me strive to be the best role model I can muster. My baby, the one in my belly, who has given me renewed hope that good can be returned to us, that we are worthy of a joy-filled life, that although what was taken from us can never be returned, we can still be a family and give our boy a living sibling.
It is not easy to balance all these obligations, these responsibilities, and this overwhelming love that pours through my soul, but I do it, perhaps not gracefully, but I do it eternally gratefully. All I ever wanted was to have a good life, and to create a family, to be a mom.
I am a mom now, to three perfect children who are the reason I strive to be my best and to live my best life. For them. All three of them.
I am mama of three beautiful babes; two sons whom I have the privilege of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.