“The sorrow we feel when we lose a loved one is the price
we pay to have had them in our lives.”
How is it possible to feel the depths of sadness and the infinity of wonder at the same time? How can one say hello and goodbye in the same breath, with equal intensity? How can a heart break and still fill with love?
All these things are possible, as I learned this weekend.
For twenty weeks we enjoyed the happiness that comes with the announcement of new life on the way. My daughter and son-in-law, incredibly loving first-time parents to be, pondered the enormity of this new role. They had been trying to conceive for ten months, and when the “plus” sign finally showed on the pee-stick, well, there is not a big enough word for their elation, or ours.
Cautious at first, knowing miscarriages happen in those early months, Nick and Sasha told only a few about their good news. The medical checkups, nonetheless, indicated all was normal. The baby’s heartbeat was strong. And so, as each week passed, we relaxed and dreamed.
“Our baby will probably be nerdy,” my daughter said, and we could only nod and laugh. It was sorta a playful warning, and sorta an acknowledgment of their hunger for learning. Nick envisioned a wall of bookshelves in the baby’s room. And those bookshelves would be filled with volumes, big and small, on facts, fantasy, and fun.
As time moved forward, I took great delight in observing my daughter’s rounding belly and that almost startled look expectant mother’s get when the baby moves within. She and I talked about morning sickness, tiredness, and hormonal upheavals so strange that they best be navigated by off-road vehicles and patient husbands. We talked about decorating the baby’s room with a woodland theme, and the pros and cons of cloth diapers versus disposable. It was all so good.
Until it wasn’t.
There are, at this time, no answers.
On 10-28-2018, my granddaughter arrived in this world, stillborn. After approximately fourteen hours of labor, my daughter gave one final push, and there she was.
And there she wasn’t.
Sasha and Nick named her Mila.
The specialists at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, MN, speculate that an infection crossed the placenta, and the resulting damage was too significant for the baby’s survival.
Hearing the statistics—that this happens in less than 1% of pregnancies—brought no comfort.
“You may have touched a doorknob, walked into a cough, or any of a thousand things that cause no harm, usually. We are so sorry.”
Through the aching sadness, through the loss of potential and happy expectations, there emerged one thing…love.
That may sound trite but, I swear, sitting in the birthing room with Nick and Sasha I felt golden orbs of love floating all around. We knew that at twenty weeks Mila would not live. Her soul would return to the heavens. Our goal, therefore, was to love her so profoundly that she would have an easy transition. As the hours of labor wore on, Sasha’s pain increased. She started running a high fever.
Nick, always attentive, put cool cloths on Sasha’s forehead. He kissed her and rubbed her back. Nick was so strong, and yet I saw the pain in his eyes. He had planned on reading a lot of books to his little girl. In an earlier moment of confession, he had told me he secretly hoped this baby would be a girl. One with hair that was a mess upon waking, like her mom. But now…
I felt quite helpless in the big picture, yet honored that Sasha wanted me there. “Take slow breaths when a contraction comes,” I said. “Can I get you water?” It was an assortment of little nothings hoping to be of value, somehow, someway. The world was upside down, and I was trying to hang on.
When Mila arrived the doctor wrapped her tiny lifeless body in a blanket. Looking at Sasha, the doctor said, “Do you want to hold her?”
Sasha, still groggy from the hours of labor, lit up. “YES.” She held out her arms.
Nick was eager to see his daughter too and snuggled next to Sasha on the hospital bed. They gazed upon her with such tenderness and awe the room nearly glowed.
Knowing Sasha and Nick wanted private time, I excused myself. Standing out in the hallway, with tears falling to the floor, I looked for ways to avoid the swirling darkness.
—The staff at Mayo had been extraordinary. They were kind, empathetic, and genuine. The RN scheduled to a twelve-hour shift stayed longer, trying to find ways to comfort Sasha and Nick. When she did leave she hugged them both and said, “I’m doing my best not to cry.”
—Sasha and Nick, whiplashed from joy to devastation in a matter of hours, were incredible. They asked great questions, supported each other, and thought only of honoring their daughter. They asked for an autopsy, hoping for answers, and offered that if Mila’s body could be used for research to do that. If they could spare other parents from this torture something good would come out of the insanity.
—Mila (Isn’t that a pretty name?), was back among the stars. Maybe it wasn’t her time to be on earth. She will always shine upon us and through us, and that brings me comfort.
With a deep breath and large wad of tissues, I decided to go back into the room. Nick was sitting in a chair, holding and rocking Mila. His face was a mixture of torture and love.
“The nurses tell me Mila is quite the beauty,” I said.
Sasha smiled. “She is, Mom. Would you like to hold her?”
Without hesitation, I nodded yes and moved towards Nick. He rose from the chair and gently, so, so, gently handed her over. I was unprepared for the miracle I was about to see.
Mila, nestled in a fleecy baby blanket, appeared graceful and elegant. Her eyes were closed, her hands relaxed, and I felt transfixed by the minutia of her being.
“Look at her little toes and fingers,” said Nick. I did. They were so sweet it was all I could do not to “grandma nibble” them.
“We’ve decided she has my nose and Nick’s eyebrows,” said Sasha. I absorbed Mila’s features in my mind so I would never forget any part of her. She was magical and exquisite.
“Mila,” I whispered. “You are so wanted, and so loved. Thank you for visiting us for even this short while.” My heart beat against the stillness of hers, wishing, wishing, wishing for a different outcome.
I handed her back to Nick, noting the display of emotions on his face.
Intense pain, grief, and adoration.
“Are you okay, Nick?” I said. Of course, it was the stupidest of stupid questions, but I wondered if he needed a moment to himself.
He cradled his daughter and began that rocking motion that soothes babies to sleep.
“I am at peace,” he said.
I looked at Mila, my beautiful granddaughter, one last time.
She, too, seemed at peace, and nothing else mattered.
Beautiful words, Gail. Thank you for your writing. Grief somehow seems easier with the support of friends and family. I’m happy you got to meet Mila. I know Nick and Sasha will be wonderful parents.
Hi Sam. Yes, they will be extraordinary parents. If you could have seen them the night Mila was born…how they held her, read to her, cherished her…you would have seen love in its purest form. Thank you for being such a good friend, Sam. It means everything.
Kathy Gallagher Burton says
I am so sorry. There are no words that I can say other than I truly know the pain of losing a child. My heart breaks for your family. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
I do appreciate your sentiments, Kathy. This was a tough one. I think of holding her still, tiny, body, and all that could have been. There are no answers. So far all the tests run have come back negative. We may never know why she died but cling to the memory of her all-too-short visit with love.
Oh Gail, my heart hurts for your family. Peace to you and to them. ?
Thank you, Julia. I find myself crying at odd times…like walking past the baby department in Target…but chose to believe Mila is in a good place. I know you have been through heartache too, and have risen above it. I hope your dad is mending, and your life is in a much happier place.