In June of 2008, I found out that I was going to be a mother. This was a surprise after being told that conceiving would take a lot of effort, due to previous medical issues. Nervously, I awaited my first appointment to confirm my pregnancy, get my first peek at my baby, and hear a heartbeat. Completely oblivious, naïve and innocent, I laid on the crinkling white paper and waited as the ultrasound technician scanned my abdomen. Her light, excited tone changed when she found my baby on the screen. “Just a moment,” she said, “I’m going to go get the doctor.”
Even being new at the ins and outs of pregnancy, I knew by the way the technician’s brow furrowed and the urgency in her voice that something was wrong. However, I didn’t panic. Becka, my very dear friend, was with me. To lighten the mood, I joked and she laughed to reassure me—but there were tears in our eyes.
When the doctor came back to observe what the technician had seen, I knew he would affirm something was wrong. He looked quietly at the screen while he moved the instrument along the gentle curve of my belly, already proof of the child within me. “Mmmmhmmm,” he confirmed as he switched off the machine and wiped away the gel. Backing up, he began to speak another language. I’ve become fluent in it now, but at the time it was foreign. “Your baby has something called a cystic hygroma. There are many different issues this could present and indicate. The hygroma is a pocket filled with liquid from the middle of the skull,“ he pointed it out to me, “to the bottom of the back. This could clear up on its own, or it could be indicative of a chromosomal abnormality. I would like to do some more ultrasounds with your consent.”
Becka and I waited in the conference room, where the doctor later gave me more information about genetics counseling, the odds that my baby would survive and the news that her heart rate was dramatically low at 81 beats per minute. Although I had tears in my eyes, I didn’t weep. Not because the news wasn’t scary, but because this was my child. Things like this wouldn’t happen to me. My baby would be fine, I thought. I was not going to overreact to a situation that was still so unclear and had so many question marks dotting it.
I told my Mom over the phone about the cystic hygroma, as she was visiting my Grandmother in North Carolina. When I called my best friend Cindy, she was over in a flash and we Googled all of the information we could find. As I slowly began to share the news with people, I noticed their slight reactions, the hesitance in their voices to say too much. No one wanted to tell me it would be okay; no one wanted to overreact to the information either.
The doctor ordered a CVS test to find out if there were any chromosomal abnormalities that might have caused the cystic hygroma. The day of the test, I felt dutiful and like a mom for the first time. It was going to be painful, but I would do anything for my baby and I wasn’t nervous about my pain, only hers. The next day, when we received the results, I was at work. I walked outside for some privacy and fell to my knees crying when the genetics counselor told me that my baby was chromosomally normal. She asked if I would like to know the gender, which I did. She congratulated me on an “x” chromosome and I was so caught up in the moment, I had to be reminded that an x meant a little girl. I was going to have a daughter.
In the weeks that followed, I went to my doctor appointments and remained hopeful for my daughter’s health. Dr. Swanson was extremely patient with all of the questions I asked from the scribbles jotted throughout my notebook. Every time it was something new—about an article I’d found or research that I’d done. She never hesitated to be straightforward with me about how dire my daughter’s health was, but she encouraged my optimism as well. There were no guarantees but everyone was hopeful that my daughter would be the miracle.
For a month, all was quiet and I became gracefully aware of the way my daughter moved under my heart. At about 11 weeks gestation, I began feeling flutters, but into weeks 16 and 17, she danced. It was amazing to feel her twists and turns, and feel connected to a person on a level I never would have been able to understand, even with the most accurate description. We had our morning ritual of me scrunching my knees up to my chest and checking my email, with her arguing my stance. Although I was dealing with a poor prenatal diagnosis, nothing could stop me from falling more deeply in love with my daughter.
At my final appointment, there was despair in the room. The baby’s heart rate had dropped again and the cystic hygroma was not getting any smaller. Dr. Swanson told me that we would be scheduling a meeting with a team of doctors to discuss my options. The term “hydrops” had come up in my research and I knew that if my daughter developed this, it would be fatal. During the appointment, Dr. Swanson left the room to get another doctor. I heard them say “hydrops” but I didn’t let it register on a conscious level, and for the first time I kept my questions to myself. Instead, I went to work and talked about Scarlette Rose, the name I’d picked for her, and stayed as positive as I could. But I knew. In the back of my mind I knew that our time together was limited.
That evening I went camping with my family. I went to bed early and cried myself to sleep. It was as if the weight had gotten too heavy and neither Scarlette nor I had the strength to endure it anymore. I could physically feel both of us caving to the inevitable outcome. I prayed that God would do the right thing for my daughter. I prayed that, if He took her, He would give her to my Grandmother, who passed away, to hold in Heaven until I could to be there to hold her myself.
I kept busy for the next couple of days. I hated to work, but it was the only way that I could get through the weekend. Sunday afternoon, Scarlette was doing her quiet dance under my heart, as I was getting ready to work. As with every pregnancy, there seems to be something new that happens every week. The newest trick was feeling her move if I placed my hand on my belly. That Sunday afternoon was the last time I felt her.
Monday morning I woke up and began my morning routine. I sat on my bed, laptop in front of me, legs scrunched up to my chest, but nothing from Scarlette. Nothing that usually got her moving was working that morning, so I finally paged the on-call doctor. “Drink some juice, hold perfectly still and concentrate,” he told me. His accent was thick, but I could still read that this did not worry him in the least. This was the last thing I would try before going to the hospital for some reassurance, I decided.
An hour later, I sat straight up, looked in the mirror over my dresser and I knew that was the moment my daughter’s soul left our bodies. To my reflection I said simply, “she’s gone.” And I knew she was. In my heart, I know that was when my daughter’s soul went to Heaven.
I called my mom and asked her to please come to the hospital with me. All of the details, those small details that don’t matter at the time, they are the last moments I have so I recall them all well. I remember what I was wearing. I remember not putting on much makeup after my shower, knowing that I would be crying. I remember sitting in the parking lot of the hospital, debating whether or not I was just being paranoid—praying that I was. I remember the woman who was sitting at the desk when I walked in. I remember seeing a customer from work behind another set of curtains and waving. I remember asking my mom if she had eaten. I remember the doctor was sweet and looked young. I remember that she brought another doctor into our curtained room. I remember that neither of them said anything as the older, male doctor searched fruitlessly for my daughter’s heartbeat on the ultrasound. I remember how perfectly still she was. I remember that the doctors weren’t the ones to tell me that my daughter was gone—my tears were. I remember that my mom held my foot while we watched, and then cried with me as she realized what I had realized.
I remember every single moment leading up to delivering Scarlette the next morning. Telling her father, telling my boss, cracking jokes because that’s how I handle grief, and crying because that works too. I tried to look at the positive side a little because they tell you you’re supposed to. So, I reminded myself that I could have wine and Ahi tuna again. Later, I didn’t want anything that I couldn’t have had during the remainder of a pregnancy. It was a long time until I was actually hungry again. But at the time, waiting to be induced, it was something to make the people around me laugh. It was something to pretend I was finding the positive in.
No one I’d known had gone through anything like this, so there was no part of me that knew what to expect. I really didn’t realize what exactly it all meant. I knew that I was going to be delivering my daughter and it terrified me. I also knew that I had prayed for her to be big enough to hold, if I had to lose her at all. But I never really believed it would happen so I never let myself picture it.
At 12:54 the next afternoon, the doctor told me to push. The idea of letting go of the only way I knew how to protect my daughter was overwhelming. Inside me, it felt like she still had a chance. Outside my body, she was dead. The more they told me to push, the more I wanted to hold on. Finally, not being able to fight it anymore, I turned my face towards the window, tears streaming and let my daughter go.
She was born still on a Tuesday afternoon in September. Scarlette Rose only weighed a slight 7 oz and measured 7 inches. She had my hands and fingernails. Her lips would have had the same dimples that mine have under the corners. Her legs were long and looked athletic like her father’s. At first, I was afraid to hold her, but one look at my beautiful angel and then I wasn’t sure how I would ever let her go.
We stayed with her for only 4 short hours. The lists of things I wish I had done now are longer than my lanky arms. I wish I had held her longer. I wish I had sung her more songs. I wish I had told her I loved her 100 more times. I wish I had taken more pictures. I wish I had kept the sweet little pink layette the volunteers dressed her in, and picked out an outfit for her to spend eternity in. I wish, I wish, I wish.
We had a small service for Scarlette on a beautiful October afternoon. Somehow, there is a song called “Scarlet Rose” that I happened across while planning her funeral. We played it and left the most beautiful roses in front of the columbarium where her ashes were placed. The first gift I’d ever gotten for her, a pair of tiny pink booties that said, “I ‘heart’ mommy” on them from Kisha, were placed next to her urn. Who knew that was where they would end up when they were purchased a few short months before.
The next few months were the most difficult of my life. Never had I experienced life and death on this level and it consumed me. The grief made me feel like I had gone crazy. Sometimes things would seem like they were getting better and then, out of nowhere, I would feel like the world was crumbling all over again. On New Year’s Eve, leaving 2008 and going into 2009, I had finally hit rock bottom. The party I had planned with my good friend was going on without me. I just couldn’t pull myself together long enough to make it there. I reapplied my makeup three different times and finally realized it would do me no good. All I wanted to do was hang on to 2008. The year I had Scarlette. I didn’t want the New Year and whatever it would bring. I wanted the old year and what I thought I’d have. I fell asleep crying.
But when I woke up the next morning, something was different. I’d never truly felt a change in the New Year before then. The air was crisp and clean. I could breathe again. River Dog, my faithful Chihuahua who I adopted just days after losing Scarlette, and I went for a walk. I could feel 2009 drape itself over me, and I decided to like it. Embrace it. Become who I was going to become without my daughter. And suddenly an idea popped into my head.
Scarlette’s due date would have been February 17th. I wanted to do something to honor her memory, so I decided to raise money for the program at the hospital that had helped me through my bereavement process. In the next couple of weeks, I met three amazing women who would transform my simple idea into a lasting and broadened concept. From one simple fundraiser came so much healing and strength between the four of us, that we now have enough to pass on to others in the community who have suffered the loss of a baby. I can’t imagine where I would be without Angel Kisses and without Traci, Tracy and Amy. The past year has transcended any expectations of healing that I had last September when I lost Scarlette.
Not a day will go by when I won’t think of my sweet angel princess, Scarlette Rose. Not a day will pass when I won’t wonder what my life would have been like with her. And every day that passed since she as gone, I have missed her. But God gave us our short time together for a purpose and I believe I cannot question Him and His intentions. I can only hope to catch a glimpse of reason in the eyes of my rainbow baby, the families who have been helped by Scarlette’s legacy and the strength of the women who have become sisters through our understanding of one another’s losses.