My story began seven years ago when my husband and I discovered “we” were pregnant. The day of our first ultrasound, I was excited wondering what sex the baby was and secretly hoping for a daughter. That’s when the doctor dropped a bombshell and told us the baby’s heart had some deformities. This problem was complicated by hydrops (fluid on the brain, lungs, and in the stomach). We were sent to a high-risk lab where two other doctors and a genetics counselor confirmed the OB’s findings.
“The prognosis is not good”, one doctor informed us.
“It’s doubtful the baby will make it to the next month”. After countless appointments to countless doctors, and countless ultrasounds all painting a hopeless cause, Elizabeth Ann was born on October 27th, 2003, one month prematurely, via c-section. She was hooked up to seven IV’s, a ventilator, and several monitors. Tiny tubes coming from her head and chest attempted to drain the fluid, while still more ultrasounds were done to determine the extent of her heart defects.
My husband rarely left her side, foregoing food and sleep in order to sing and pray over her, while our parents all took shifts supporting us. Then we were in the NICU one last time. At our request, Elizabeth was taken off the ventilator, IV’s, monitors, and tubes, and swaddled in a blanket with different colored footprints on it. We were finally able to hold our baby girl. She could hear us tell her we loved her and she could feel the strong, protective arms of her mommy and daddy as we tried to comfort her until her last breath. She had lived 22 hours.
Losing any loved one, including a child at any age, be it 2 weeks gestation or 50 years old, is a painful tragedy. Elizabeth was not an accident or a mistake; her life did and continues to touch others. There is so much hurting in our world, our nations, our states, our communities, and our homes. And this kind of hurting cannot be healed by medication, or ignoring it, or even the classic remedy of time. But it can be helped to heal by understanding, gentleness, and patience with ourselves and others.
If you are trying to be that understanding helper for someone, do not fret about the “right” words to say; there are none. The best gift you can give a grieving person is a little sincere listening. It goes a very long way.