I wanted to share my story, but I dreaded having to find the words to tell it. This took me a week to write. I think I’ve cried off an entire tube of mascara trying to put just a few memories from those three days into words. Nothing I say or write could ever accurately express what I felt during that time. Words don’t exist to tell you how absolutely horrible, amazingly wonderful, and tremendously sad those few days were for me. It’s something that only my soul could show you.
I found out I was pregnant with Hannah on July 3, 2011. We were shocked and so excited! By 9 weeks, everyone knew we were expecting, and our little one was already so loved. I had a pretty easy pregnancy, and we decided not to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. We wanted that traditional, “Congratulations! It’s a ______” moment in the delivery room. I had several ultrasounds during my pregnancy due to a minor issue with Hannah’s kidneys, but by 36 weeks, all the fluid levels were back to normal! Now, looking back, I think that God allowed us to have so many looks at our little one because He knew that would be the only time we would see her alive and moving. The only picture I have of her smile is from one of these extra ultrasounds.
On March 15th, I had my 41 week appointment, and I was so ready to have the baby! I had an ultrasound, non-stress test, and an exam and everything was perfect. All the fluid levels looked good, and I got to see my little one sucking on her hand. I was praying I would be able to be induced soon, but next available spot the hospital had was 6 days later. I left with my induction papers in hand, and said, “Hopefully I’ll see you soon!” That night was the last time I felt her move.
The next morning, I woke up early with contractions. Nothing regular, but they were there and I was excited. I did some laundry and took a nap because I was convinced she was coming. When I woke up an hour later, I realized I hadn’t felt her move yet that morning. I wasn’t concerned because she was definitely a night owl and was often very, very still during the morning, so I poked her a little bit and ate a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Nothing. Drank some cold water. Nothing. Rested on my side. Nothing. Walked around the house. Nothing. Poked and pushed her some more. Nothing. Started crying and begging God that she would move. Nothing. Sat in my glider with tears streaming down my face. Nothing. It had only been 30 minutes since I woke up from my nap, but I knew that something was seriously wrong. I called the office and they told me to come in, so I got dressed, called Zach, my sister, and my mom, and I headed to the office. It was the longest 15 minute car ride of my life. In my head I kept thinking, “This isn’t happening. She has to be fine. She’s just really still because I’m going into labor.” but in my heart I knew that when I walked into that office, my life was going to be different.
I walked back to the same room I was in the day before, sat down in the same recliner, and waited. A minute later a sweet older lady came into the room and used the same sensor to try to find the baby’s heartbeat. After moving it around a few times, she said, “Where do they normally hear it at?” As soon as she asked me for help, I knew it wasn’t good. I took the sensor and put it on the same spot on my belly as the day before. She kept saying, “Don’t worry. I can never get these things to work right. I’m sure everything is ok. Don’t cry.” At the time, I felt like I was in that room for hours, but it was probably only a minute or two. She took my hand and led me to the ultrasound room. As she was leaving she squeezed my hand and shook her head at the ultrasound tech. I never felt more alone in my entire life.
The same ultrasound tech who did my scan the day before, had the wand on my belly before I could even lay down. She looked at the screen for less than a second and said, “I have to get the doctor. I’ll be right back.” She had the screen turned more towards her, but I could see that the little spot in the baby’s chest that I had stared at in amazement at every ultrasound was still. There was no movement. My baby didn’t have a heartbeat.
A nurse knocked on the door with tears in her eyes and said, “Your husband’s here.” He walked in the room, and through my tears I told him that the baby was gone. Nobody had actually said the words yet, but I knew. When the doctor came in, she sat on the table at my feet, and I asked, “There’s no heartbeat, is there?” Then, she finally said the words I already knew, “No, I’m sorry. There’s not.” I remember sobbing and screaming and when I finally opened my eyes, there was nobody in the room but me and Zach. She came back in the room with tears in her eyes and explained that it was probably a cord accident and told me over and over again that it wasn’t my fault. The doctor said that Hannah had probably passed away during the night. She talked about what was going to happen next: needing to deliver the baby, what to expect at the hospital, and how to deal with my milk coming in. Before we left, I asked the tech to look at the baby and tell us if we were having a boy or girl. When she said the baby was a girl, my heart ripped open.
We went home to get my hospital bag that was packed and waiting by the door. While we were there, we took her car seat and stroller out of the car and put all of her things inside the nursery. I went through the bag I had packed and took out all of the things I wouldn’t need anymore: her pacifier, the little mittens to keep her from scratching herself, my breastfeeding things, her socks. I remember checking the mail before we left and finding the newest issue of Parents magazine sitting inside my mailbox. I threw it away, closed the nursery door, and walked back to the car.
When we got to the hospital, I checked in at labor and delivery, and they wheeled me back to my room. I think our whole family was there already, but I don’t remember. I just remember standing in the bathroom and putting on my hospital gown thinking, “This isn’t right. This can’t be happening. I can’t do this. Why couldn’t it be me instead of her?” I was there for about two hours before I let them start the pitocin. I don’t know how I kept functioning. The only thing I know is that the grace of God kept me breathing. If it had been up to me, I would have died on that ultrasound table.
My labor was easy. I really didn’t feel any pain. Or maybe, I did, but compared to what I was dealing with, it didn’t even register. I remember my doctor coming in to check me and break my water. That was difficult because I knew that I was getting closer to saying goodbye. When it was time to push, I remember thinking that there was no way I was going to be able to do it. How do you mentally and physically prepare to deliver a baby who’s already with Jesus?
Hannah Lee was born on March 17, 2012 at 8:24 in the morning. She was 7 pounds 15 ounces and 21.5 inches long. She was the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. The quiet in the room was overwhelming. I had finally delivered my first child, but there were only sad smiles and tears in the room. Holding Hannah in my arms for the first time and getting to kiss her, and look at all her little fingers and toes, and tell her how much I loved her was the best moment of my life. It wasn’t anywhere close to how I pictured that moment being, but the feelings that any new mom has were there: I felt an overwhelming love for this small piece of me and Zach, pride that God had chosen us to be her parents, and amazement at her perfect little features. I was so proud to show her off to everyone who walked in the room!
Looking back on the day, I question whether I held her enough and kissed her enough. I wonder if through all my sadness, she knew how much I loved her. I hated that her birthday was marked with sadness instead of pure joy.
We got to spend about 11 hours with Hannah before the funeral home came to pick her up. I didn’t think I was going to be able to let her go because I knew that was the last time I would ever see her face. I felt God tell me, “She’s with me now. It’s time.” I knew He was right. In my heart, it was time. So, I held her tight, kissed her one last time, whispered in her ear, and handed her to Zach.
I can’t describe how it felt leaving the hospital that next morning without her. Instead of holding onto a baby, I was clutching a box of Hannah’s things as they wheeled me to my car. I went home with a blanket, a hat, a brush and bottle of shampoo, a lock of her hair, her footprints, and a Recognition of Life certificate, and it was all I had of her.
Her official cause of death was Sudden Intrauterine Unexplained Death. There were no issues with her cord. Her heart just stopped. I know in my soul that God knows exactly how many days we have on earth. Her death, while horrible, was not an accident or a mistake. Her short life of exactly 41 weeks was exactly how long God had always intended it to be. And, even though He knew that Hannah was never going to see my face, He still chose me to be her mother. And that is the biggest blessing that God has ever given me.