"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 to the day, we sat in this room, our apartment with Ruthie Lou. The couch has changed, the room has not. At the time, Ruthie Lou's neurologist didn't think she would survive through the night so she captured this photo, in the case that it was the only family picture we would possess outside the hospital walls. She lived another 12 days.
Yesterday we walked through those doors again, this time with our family now complete with our two beautiful boys. When we stepped in those doors at George Mark the first time, it was to say goodbye to our girl, we knew why we were there, we were bidding our baby farewell. The most beautiful time in her life was there, it is her home and we will always remember the importance of GMCH, in our life and in our healing.
But this time we went to introduce her littlest brother to the George Mark family, to share the love that he has brought into our life as well. Adam is now older than his big sister will ever be, he has surpassed her 33 days. To hold him, healthy, growing, changing and thriving, reminds me of all the things I missed with his sister and how fleeting my time with her really was. When she was living, time stood still, the world stopped moving and her brief lifetime changed mine. But now, 5 years later it seems like I have lived someone else's life, with only the heartache of missing her to remain.
For the first time, Reid asked to see the apartment that we shared with his sister and we sat on the same couch that we held Ruthie Lou on, but now with her two brothers. It was bittersweet, the closest that we would all be together as one family. These pictures of our family and with our children are sacred to me, sitting in the same spaces sharing our pure love for them. My only wish is always that they could all be in the same picture mfor real.
I love our family. I love the life I now live but it will forever be missing a third of my heart, the part reserved for my babies. The missing never leaves, the wondering never stops, and as I watch my boys and the children I'm surrounded with-I always ache for the daughter I'll never see grow.
My smile is true, I live in this moment, but the pain of living without my child is real every day.
The house felt strangely inhabited tonight. Reid wanted to "watch Rufie Roo" before bed. We probably have 2,000 photos of her, many plastered around the house, on our phones and most anywhere that we are. Reid knows her pictures, her name and that she is his sister. We speak of her, we include her in all that we do and how we live. Tonight when he asked to watch her, my heart leapt with fear and excitement. I have not watched her videos (from the video camera) for near three and a half years and before that only once, days after coming home without her. My sister and I sat on the couch in the living room and watched Ruthie Lou and cried, it was hard and it was sacred. It was so necessary. But, I haven't had the courage to watch them since.
I often picture Ruthie Lou in our daily life and that thought is full of so many emotions: sadness, emptiness, love, pride and so much loss. I feel my own loss but I also feel it for Chris and even for Reid, for the sister he'll never know. I worry about him loving her at all, and then I worry that he'll love her so much that it will cause him his own grief. But mostly, I feel so sad that he doesn't get that playmate that other kids get in a sibling. He has a sister but he'll never actually get that sister.
So tonight we snuggled on the couch, we had milk and loved watching Ruthie Lou. Reid giggled and squealed to see his mama and dad on screen and he asked questions about what he saw. We stayed up past his bedtime and we laughed and I cried and my heart was full, having both my babies in one room for almost a minute. It was a sacred moment. I kissed Reid all over his face and he even let me do it without saying, "eww". His eyes were near closed before his head hit the pillow and although I still feel like crying, I think I'll revel in the feeling of love instead.
Not a day goes by- and not many moments without missing my sweet girl. I'll miss her always.
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.