My name is Amy Allen. My husband’s name in Todd, and I am a mother to three perfect angels—two here on earth and one in heaven. This is our story.
I don’t remember the exact day that I found out I was pregnant with our third child, but I do remember the exact moment, probably because it knocked the wind right out of me. At the time we had a three year old little boy and a 14 month old little girl—a third child was not in the plan, at least not any time soon. In fact, when I bought the pregnancy test, my true reason for going to the store was to buy tampons. I was sure I was going to start my period. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
I’d like to say that Todd and I were immediately happy about the pregnancy, but the truth is that we were shocked and worried. Our three-year-old son was a daily challenge, and on the verge of being diagnosed with ADHD. And although our 14 month old daughter was a very easy baby, she was still just that—a baby. In fact, she had just begun to walk and I was still nursing her. We wondered how we would handle three kids under the age of four?
As a mother, my anxiety was quickly tempered by excitement. No matter what circumstances surround a pregnancy, I think it’s almost impossible not to feel some level of happiness. Todd struggled more than I did. It was quickly clear that I would no longer be able to work after the new baby came—the cost of daycare for three vs. my income just didn’t make sense—and Todd had valid concerns about being the sole provider for a family of five. We also worried about trivial things, like if we’d ever be able to go on vacation again to how we would fit three car seats in the back of our truck.
I’m ashamed now to admit how shallow our thinking was, but it is what we faced and felt at the time, keeping in mind that worry and regret are not mutually exclusive feelings apart from love and anticipation. And the bottom line is that we both have a strong faith. We believed in God’s plan and started making plans of our own.
I had my first doctor visit around 10 weeks. Everything was as it should be. My doctor joked that my husband and I needed to find a “new hobby” and we discussed having my tubes tied after delivery.
The weeks passed quickly and uneventfully, just as my first two pregnancies had. With two little ones to care for, a part-time job outside the home, and a part-time home business, I didn’t have time to focus on the pregnancy at all—just one of my many regrets.
At 18 weeks I started feeling movement and kicks.
At 19 weeks we went in for my “big” ultrasound. Todd was with me. Everything was perfect, including the gender: girl. It was one less worry if the girls could share a room, share clothes, etc. And I was excited about the prospect of the two girls being so close in age. My only sibling is eight years younger than I am so I was thrilled to give Olivia something that I never had. We decided to name her Isabella.
Then, sometime during my 22nd week of pregnancy, something went terribly wrong. On Wednesday, March 26, 2008, I remember commenting to a co-worker that I hadn’t felt Isabella move very much lately. Looking back, I don’t even know what “lately” meant. Had she been moving less for a few days? A week? Maybe she always moved less than normal? Every baby is different so I can’t say for sure, but I must have noticed a change that day or I wouldn’t have made the comment.
On Friday, March 28 I had dinner plans with my girlfriends. One of them was about 10 weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy, also a girl—she was due in May and I was due in July. I asked her if there were days that she didn’t feel her baby move. She said “no”, but as all of my friends quickly dismissed my worries, I did too. It just never crossed my mind that something could really be wrong at that stage. During dinner I thought I felt a kick and that eased my mind. Looking back, I’m not sure if it really was a kick, or if that was her last kick, but I know I never felt anything again.
Saturday, March 29 was the first day that I was consciously concerned. We went to a family birthday party. I ate cake. I drank pop. I didn’t feel her move once. I poked and prodded my belly in an effort to get a response, but got none. I casually mentioned my concerns to Todd but he quickly dismissed them, also believing that nothing could possibly go wrong at this stage. I took comfort in his words, but clearly I was in denial.
On Sunday, March 30 I went to visit a friend. She has two young boys and I asked her if she had ever gone a few days without feeling her boys move. She was the first person to take my question seriously. She looked worried and didn’t try to tell me otherwise. She told me to go home and call my doctor.
By the time I got home I was truly concerned and finally made the call to my doctor. I got the answering service and briefly told them my situation. Dr. Garcia called me back almost immediately—the one doctor in the practice that I still hadn’t met yet—and told me to go into Labor and Delivery.
I remember walking into Labor and Delivery; still believing everything would be ok. I told the receptionist that I hadn’t felt my baby move in a few days and that my doctor had told me to come in. She told me not to worry; that it happened all the time and was usually nothing. I still thought that would be the case with me.
When I got back into Labor and Delivery, a Nurse Midwife came in with a portable ultrasound machine. Her back was to me as she went over and over my belly for what seemed like hours. I didn’t say a word as we waited for her to say something—I don’t think she knew what to say. Todd and I finally grabbed hands as she said “there’s the head and there’s the trunk, and as you probably suspected, there is no heartbeat.”
That’s the first time we cried, and the last time we had dry eyes for days.
The next few hours moved in slow motion. At least three other people came in to check the ultrasound and confirm Isabella’s fate. The plan was to induce me, which we thought was some sort of cruel joke. First, both of my children had been born via c-section. I had always been advised against a VBAC, so why now? And, second, why prolong the pain? Wouldn’t a c-section just be quicker and easier? I later learned the answers to my questions. First, at only 23 weeks, it was actually safer to labor and deliver my baby naturally. And, looking back, an immediate c-section would have been even more traumatic in the long run. Even though Isabella was already gone, I wasn’t ready to let her go yet. Labor and delivery is a process that I needed to go through.
And so the process began. They took several vials of blood and started me on a drug that would gently begin my labor. We were told it could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
During this time we began making our phone calls. Todd called his parents first. I remember him struggling to get the words out through his tears. It was the first time I had ever really seen him cry. His parents said they would watch our kids. Todd then called my Dad and step-Mom, and then I called my Mom. My family arrived within a few hours.
One of the first things my parents asked was if we had thought about how we would handle Isabella’s remains. The thought was overwhelming. I began crying and could only say, “I don’t want to throw her away”. That’s when my Dad told me that he had a friend in the funeral business, and that one option was to bury Isabella in the same plot as a loved-one that had gone before. We quickly decided that we would like her to be buried with Todd’s Baba (Grandma). For us, that was less painful than having her cremated, and it provided some comfort to think that she wouldn’t be alone.
This is when things get fuzzy for me. The doctors told me that they could give me as much pain medication as I wanted, which I started taking immediately, and could get an epidural when I was ready. I can’t honestly remember if I was ever in much physical pain, but throughout the induction I took whatever they offered. I just wanted to be numb.
And then we waited, and waited, and waited.
Nothing happened Sunday night.
Todd stayed with me the whole time, and my parents came back on Monday.
Still nothing was happening.
Everyone kept calling, wondering what was taking so long. Even Todd was edgy with the slow progress. I understand that everyone was confused—why did I have to go through the labor and delivery, why didn’t they just do a c-section, etc. But with each question I felt more and more pressure. I felt that I had let Isabella down, and now I was letting everyone else down too.
I am so grateful to Todd’s parents for watching our kids. Todd was able to stay with me the whole time and we knew our kids were well taken care of, but their absence was also difficult. Todd didn’t have his parents there to support him in-person, and we felt they didn’t really understand what we were going through. At one point Todd’s Dad mentioned that they could only watch the kids for one more day. We know they were just frustrated and removed from the process, while also trying to deal with their own emotions, but it was so upsetting to hear. I couldn’t control how my body was responding to a labor that it wasn’t ready for, and in all honesty, I wasn’t in any rush. My baby was going to be taken from me soon enough, and my mind needed time to process what my body already knew.
By Monday night I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. The nurse gave me a sleeping pill, and when she returned several hours later, she was surprised that I was still awake. I think I just didn’t want to miss anything—those last moments with my baby still inside me were too precious to sleep away.
I must have finally drifted off because I remember the nurse waking me some time around 4:00am (now early Tuesday morning). As soon as I woke I could tell that things were finally happening and I asked for an epidural. As they prepared me for the shot, I felt an intense pressure. She was coming and there wasn’t time.
The doctor ordered another narcotic injection and directed me to push. On the second push my water broke, and on the forth push Isabella came silently into this world. It was 5:44am on April 1, 2008. She was 1 lb. 12 oz and 12.25” long.
My Dad arrived just after she was born, but before I held her. I remember him walking into the room and saying “Daddy’s here”. My Dad and I have had our ups-and-downs, but his support during my induction and after was something I’ll never forget. I don’t think there’s anything else that could have brought me more comfort.
Dr. Ohm asked me if I wanted to see Isabella. He gently warned me that she was swollen and very red, and that her skin was peeling, almost as if she had a very bad sunburn. He handed her to me in a plain white blanket. She was naked underneath. The first thing I noticed was that the top of her head gently shook when I moved her. I now know that is normal at 23 weeks gestation, but I wasn’t prepared for it. Her little eyes were closed and her mouth was slightly open. Her skin was so thin; it was almost weeping. Yes, she was very red and swollen, but she was also my beautiful and perfect little baby girl.
I only held Isabella for a few moments. She was so fragile. I was afraid to touch her much. Todd then held her, and then my Dad. Besides Todd and myself, he is the only other person who saw and held her. I held her one last time before asking the nurse to take her, and during those last few moments, and unbeknown to Todd or I, my Dad tried to take a cell-phone picture of me holding her. We later learned that instead of taking a picture, my Dad accidentally pressed the video button. I now have a 15-second video of me holding Isabella and kissing her head. The room is dark and the quality is bad, but it’s one of my most precious possessions. I am eternally grateful to my Dad and to God for that ‘accident’.
The rest of the day is a blur. Todd and I hadn’t slept in days so we napped as much as our overloaded emotions would allow. The chaplain came in at one point and asked if we wanted to have her blessed, which we did. A nurse asked if we wanted any pictures of her, which we did. We ended up with one of her whole body—she’s laying in a bassinet in a little hand-made outfit and hat that was donated to the Child Remembered Program. We also have three of her hands. Another nurse brought in a heart-shaped memory box that was also donated to the Child Remembered Program. Inside was Isabella’s hat and outfit, a birth recognition certificate with her footprints, her blessing certificate, her hospital wristband, and her pictures.
We decided to leave the hospital that day. Just before we left, one of the nurses mentioned that they don’t release babies to the funeral home until the parents have left, just in case they want to see their baby again. It had never dawned on me that I could see her again, but I wanted to. They brought her back in and placed her in my arms. She was already deteriorating. I remember her one little eye was now open and I wish I had closed it for her, but I am glad we had the opportunity to hold her once more.
We arrived as three, but left as just two.
I didn’t want to have any sort of funeral but Todd insisted. I just felt like people wouldn’t understand, like they would think we were ridiculous to have a funeral at all, but Todd felt that we were doing an injustice to her if we didn’t. We decided to have something very small. Only our parents were invited, and the Pastor that had baptized Olivia presided. It was very short and awkward. No matter how supportive our parents were, I felt they didn’t understand, which just made me more uncomfortable in my grief. It now makes me sad that we didn’t do more–that I felt that she didn’t deserve more just because she was… what? Small? To this day that is the one thing that still really bothers me. I wish we had shared that moment with more people. I wish we had felt that it was ok to be grieving so much. I wish we had let people see that.
We had Isabella buried in a white blanket that my Grandmother made for me, and that both of our kids had been baptized in. Todd put a special necklace in the casket with her, and I wrote her a short note on the back of a picture of me, pregnant with her. We also included a family picture. I wish we had gotten an outfit for her.
It was excruciatingly painful to leave her, both when we left the hospital and when we left the funeral home. Mommies aren’t supposed to leave their babies. And though we know she is in Heaven, I still felt like I was leaving her alone.
My milk came in full-force four days after her birth. It was a torturing reminder of our loss. After confirming the safely with my doctor, I decided to pump and give my milk to Olivia, who was only 18 months old and was taking whole milk from a bottle. I remember the first time I gave my milk to Olivia. I was worried she would reject it and that would have crushed me, but she loved it and I cried tears of joy. I pumped until my milk gradually dried up over the next 4-6 weeks, and that was the best way for me to handle the situation. While that might seem torturous to some, for me it was one little positive thing that I could still have and hold on to.
The days after we lost Isabella were the darkest of my life. I felt so lonely. It was hard to focus or get anything accomplished, but I still had two small children to take care of and a business to run. Looking back, they were my saving grace. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning and function.
I craved understanding and empathy, and found it on-line in the stories and pictures of others, as well as through the comfort of my husband. This was the most emotional and traumatic thing we had ever experienced together and it truly it deepened our relationship. Todd and I spent many nights just talking and crying—reevaluating what was important in our lives and where we were headed. He filled in my fuzzy memory of my labor and delivery and we shared our feelings about everything—my regrets, Todd’s guilt, our overwhelming sadness.
I took six weeks off of work, the maximum my doctor could allow, and dreaded going back. My company had gone through some major changes over the last year and the working environment was horrible. I hadn’t planned to go back after Isabella’s birth, and knowing that was the only thing that got me through the previous five months. Todd and I ultimately agreed that I would go back for a short time. He thought it was important for me to get out and “face the world” again. I went back mid-May and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. Everyone was so welcoming and it felt good to be in a routine again, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I quit for good at the end of July.
I often look at my daughter’s baby dolls—so many are exactly Isabella’s size, with long thin limbs and an oversized head—and I wonder what our lives would be like if she were here? But I know God has a plan for my life and I have faith in that. I try to focus on why He gave her to us at all—why she shared my body for 23 weeks—vs. why she was taken from us.
Right after we lost Isabella, I had countless regrets. I regretted not holding her more, but at the time was painful and awkward. I regretted that I didn’t look at her more. I uncovered her body, held her hand and kissed her head, but I never looked at her feet. I regretted not taking more pictures, and I was angry that the hospital had not told us about NILMDTS. And I really regret the way we handled Isabella’s memorial service; although, even to this day I don’t know how we could have done it differently. The list goes on-and on.
Some of those thoughts still bring the sting of tears to my eyes, but I am no longer angry about the decisions that we made, or even those that were unintentionally made for us. We did what hurt the least at the time, and I am at peace with the path that our lives have taken.
I still think about Isabella daily, but it’s rarely in a sad way anymore. But when my mind is still, I replay those silent movies in my head: the end of my pregnancy, the induction and delivery, and those short moments we had to say “hello” and “goodbye”. Well-meaning people often assume that those memories are painful so they shy away from resurrecting them in any way, but I now find those memories comforting. Yes, they can bring me to tears if I let them, but they are the only memories I have of my sweet angel so I also cherish them and revel in the opportunity to share her with others.
Today Todd and I struggle with whether or not we’d like to have another child. Todd would be happy with just Olivia and Coleton, but I’m not so sure. I still feel like something in our family is missing, like God has another child planned for us someday. Time will tell.
In the meantime I am eternally grateful that God led me to Angel Kisses. I’ll never forget the day that I received an email from Anna LaFountain, who is the true founder of Angel Kisses. Just three months after losing her first child, Scarlette Rose, she decided to hold a fundraiser in her daughter’s honor. She wrote me a heartfelt email asking for my support. The crazy thing is that we didn’t know each other. I am an artist and I sell some of my work at a local boutique. Anna had visited the boutique during her pregnancy and decided that would be a good starting place to request donations for her fundraiser. But before she even contacted the owners, she found my contact information on the boutique’s website and decided to contact me instead. You can imagine my initial reaction to her email was somewhat skeptical. I wondered how this ‘strange women’ would know about my loss and what she really wanted from me, yet something still lead me to respond and share my own story.
We spoke over the next few days via email and telephone before deciding to meet. The friendship was instantaneous. We both feel that it was God’s hand and our angel babies that brought us together, as only they could. I will be forever grateful to Anna, and all the wonderful people I have met through my work with Angel Kisses. Besides the friendships that I have developed, volunteering truly feeds my soul. It brings me such joy to help others that will unfortunately experience the pain and heartache of losing a baby. And, ultimately, knowing Isabella’s life had a purpose has made it much easier for me to find peace.
If you are reading this story and have experienced a loss, I am so sorry. I wrote this story not only to memorialize my daughter and the grand impact her short life had, but also to reach out to others who have experienced a loss. If I could say one thing to you, it would be that it does get better. In those days after losing Isabella, I remember feeling like I would never truly smile again—like I would never truly be happy. But I am.
How did I get there? First and foremost, with God’s help. My faith got me through. Some may ask what that really means so I will share just one example. We never found out why we lost Isabella. My blood work all came back fine, as did the cord and placenta. We decided against having an autopsy, but we did ask for a chromosome test to be done on a tissue sample. After two weeks of anxiously waiting for the results, we were told that they were inconclusive. Basically, the sample didn’t grow in the lab and therefore the test couldn’t be preformed. I was disappointed to not have an answer, but only because I wanted to know what we would be up against should we ever try to have another baby. It didn’t really matter to me what the earthly reason was for Isabella’s demise. The fact remained that it was God’s plan. It didn’t really matter whether it was a chromosome issue or a blood clot; God never makes mistakes—He only meant to give her to us for 23 weeks.
Of course, having a supportive husband, family and friends was also key. Grieving with my husband was an amazing experience. Seeing him so emotional and open helped me to do the same.
And then getting involved with Angel Kisses has been an on-going outlet for me—a way to connect face-to-face with other mothers of angel babies, and do something positive in the name of my daughter.
To those who have lost a baby, I hope that sharing my story will help you to know that life does go on after a loss and that you can find true peace and happiness. And my hope is that you will also be inspired to seek positive outlets in which you can share your experience and help others. Of course, volunteering can be an amazing route for some, but simply seeking out a support group, or even one other person with whom you can talk face-to-face can be an incredible healing experience. Some prefer the anonymity of chatting with others on-line, and I understand that they can be a lifesaver—they were for me, but there is nothing better than developing a new friendship over coffee with someone else who just ‘gets it’.
To my baby girl, Isabella, Mommy loves you and thinks of you often. Thank you for coming into my life. Until you are in my arms again, you will be in my heart.
To my soul mate, Todd, you are the best husband a woman could ever hope for. How did I get so lucky? We are blessed. I love you.
To my Lord and Savior, thank you for the strength you have given me and the many, many blessings you have bestowed upon my family and myself. I pray that you bring strength and comfort to all who read this, and all who have lost. I know you will hold every angel baby in your arms until we all meet again someday.
If you have questions or comments, you can contact Amy at email@example.com.