Giving Birth to Death

The first thing I said when Chet was born and placed on my chest was “He’s ALIVE!” I now know what it feels like to give birth to life. It feels miraculous! I’ve heard people say that during childbirth the veil between heaven and earth feels paper-thin. I have to agree. That’s true whether you have a live birth or a stillbirth. But somehow during stillbirth, paper-thin still feels far too wide. Because during stillbirth your baby is on the other side. 

When I was pregnant with Ginny, I was always rubbing my belly. I loved feeling her move and react to my touch. I was always trying to figure out what position she was in. We would talk to her while rubbing my belly to bond with her. I remember when I showered, I would rub my belly and be blown away with the knowledge that my baby girl was growing in there. The morning after we got the news that Ginny had died, I showered before heading to the hospital. As if by muscle memory, I started rubbing my belly. My hands dropped and the first rush of anger fell over me. My baby girl was not growing in there. I felt foolish for rubbing a belly with no life – only death. How could I possible give birth to death? How could I possibly endure the physical and emotional pain? How could I carry the burden of death?

The doctor who confirmed Ginny had died told me that delivering her body was not an emergency. He said that some people want to deliver right away, some people wait a few days, and some people wait up to 2 weeks for their body to go into labor naturally. I chose to wait one day to give time for family to arrive. That one day was excruciating, and I have no idea how anyone could wait 2 weeks, knowing they carried death. What the doctor didn’t mention and what didn’t occur to me until the next day was that the longer  you wait, the more signs of death are present on your child’s body when they are born. During labor my wonderful nurse had to explain this to us. I know it had to be so hard for her to say, and I know it was hard for us to hear. She explained that stillborn babies are born in a variety of conditions depending on how long it has been and the delivery. We should expect her lips to be dark as blood has settled in her head. We should expect her skin to be very fragile, peeling, and easy to tear. As tough as it was to hear, it helped me to hear her describe it. I had no idea what to expect. I asked her to clean Ginny’s body and wrap her in a blanket before handing her to me. It was important to me for Ginny’s body to not be covered in blood when I first saw her. I wanted her to be as pristine as possible; these would be the only visual memories I have of her body.  

The moment Ginny was born – the moment I gave birth to death, I felt relief and heart-wrenching silence and peace and sorrow and love. God was very present in that moment. When the nurse placed Ginny in my arms, she did have dark lips and delicate skin. But I didn’t see only death, I saw her life! I saw physical proof of all those wiggles and kicks. Here was the person I had intimately known for the past 8 months. My heart burst with so much love! It burst again as I saw Daniel hold her. We treated her body so so gently; I didn’t want anything to damage her and my memory of her beautiful self. I wanted her to look as true to who she was alive as possible. Sometimes I wonder if we should have spent more time with her body, but I know each hour we spent with her she would look less and less like herself. I’m happy I have the memories I have. I do wish we would’ve gotten pictures of that moment though. The pictures we do have are from a couple hours after we gave her back to the nurse. The pictures don’t quite match my memory of her. I still deeply treasure them. 

In His nearness during Ginny’s birth, God reminded me that that I did not have to carry the burden of death. Jesus has already carried that burden for me and for Ginny. And when I held her beautiful body in my arms, I was reminded that I did in fact give birth to life. Although her life was short on earth, she is alive in heaven. She’s just on the other side of that paper-thin veil. 

Remembering Ginny’s 1st Birthday – Ash Wednesday

Ginny’s first heavenly birthday fell on Ash Wednesday in 2020. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, was not something I had grown up observing. I usually remembered it was Ash Wednesday when I noticed a few people at work with ashes on their forehead. 

Daniel and I took the day off for Ginny’s 1st birthday. We knew we wanted to honor and celebrate her, but the only thing we had planned was to sing “happy birthday” and eat cake. What were we going to do for the rest of the day? How were we going to get through the day? We heard that a church in the Lakewood neighborhood of Durham, NC was having open sanctuary that morning for anyone to drop-in to receive ashes and pray. Why not? 

We pulled up to the unfamiliar building. It was an old and slightly run down classic church with pillars and stained glass. It was clear the building had seen better days and this congregation was just the most recent of a long history of worshipers here. The tension between the beauty of the stained glass and the worn carpet felt just right for this moment. We walked in to some solemn music playing on speakers and powerful art and words projected on a screen. The only other person there was a woman sitting in a back pew by herself. 

Daniel and I made our way toward the front. We sat in a pew in silence. My heart prayed, but I’m not sure I had any words. That entire past year had been marked with death. The brokenness of the world we live in had never been clearer. And God never felt nearer. It felt like He handed us life and death and then sat us in a pew to look straight at it. We were entering the season of Lent – when we take our grief, our brokenness, our sin, our pain, and we hold it, reflect, repent, and hand it all over to Christ on Good Friday. We could then look toward Easter. This season would not be forever.

After a while, Daniel and I went to the front alter. The woman from the back walked up to meet us. She dipped her finger in ashes and marked each of our heads. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We will remember. 

Happy 3rd Birthday, Ginny!

Happy 3rd Birthday to the girl who made us parents! You are so loved!

Thank you for making us better people. You are a huge part of our family, and that will never change. We cannot wait to give you the biggest hugs in heaven!

We celebrate your life today! We wish you could’ve stayed here with us longer, but we are grateful we had the time with you that we did. You are a very special girl! You deserve to be celebrated, and we are honored to celebrate you!

We miss you so so much! Our love for you grows and grows every single day!

Happy Birthday, Ginny!

Love, Mommy and Daddy and Chet

Anticipation

No one is more excited than a child waiting for Christmas morning! I remember being so eager and impatient to open gifts and celebrate the day with family. I also remember that feeling fading as I got older and how sad that was. When I was pregnant with Ginny, I was so looking forward to reliving the magical Christmas excitement through her. That was one of the many things we lost after she died. She will always be missing from our Christmas mornings, but we are thrilled to share Christmas with Chet and see his anticipation. 

Anticipation for Christmas – that’s what advent is all about. We take this time to eagerly expect our savior. And while a child is excited to open gifts, we can be inspired by their sense of anticipation and wonder to reflect our hearts in expecting Jesus, the greatest gift.

Death reminds us of how broken our world is and how much we need Jesus. Jesus came to heal and restore. Because of His life, death, and resurrection we are reunited with God and have the hope of heaven. Because of Jesus, I will get to see Ginny again. This year I am sad that Ginny isn’t with us, but I also choose to celebrate that we are one year closer to seeing her again. 

I believe God gives us small examples or metaphors from our own lives to reveal to us His heart or allow His Word to “hit home” in a way we never understood before. Christmastime is chock-full of these metaphors if you look for them. A child’s excitement reflecting our anticipation of Christ is one example. 

For parents, experiencing the love for your child is a small glimpse of God’s love for us. For loss parents, the  aching for our children gone too soon shows us God’s aching to be near to us. Our desperation to spend even one more minute with our babies gives us a small insight into God’s heart. He is a Father separated from His children, tirelessly seeking after them, drawing near to them, and wanting them to know He loves them. He does that through Christ. And poetically, it is through Christ that we will also be reunited with our children. The aching will be satisfied thanks to Christmas. It is definitely worth anticipating.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Jude 1:21

My Birthday

This is my 3rd birthday since Ginny was born. From the beginning I expected Ginny’s due date and birthday to be hard. I even knew mother’s day and father’s day would be tough, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard my birthday would be. Why is my birthday so difficult in grief?

As with everything, it’s not a straightforward answer; there are a lot of complex feelings involved. But I think it mostly involves three things:

  1. Ginny should be here. I should hear her sweet little voice singing me “Happy Birthday”. She should’ve colored me a birthday card. She should be here being excited and jumping around. We should be celebrating as a whole family. My birthday is another reminder that we have a missing family member. 
  2. My birthday has me thinking about my own birth. Why did I survive? Why did I live and Ginny die? Why do I continue to survive? I lived another whole year while she didn’t get to see the world outside my womb. Why? 
  3. This is the 3rd time I’m celebrating my birthday as this new person. This post-loss Aimee is so profoundly different. My birthday is a day I acknowledge that there is no going back to who I was before.  I’d be lying if I’d say I don’t ever miss the old Aimee with her naivety. But I’m never one to choose ignorance over truth, even if the knowledge is painful. The truth is we live in a world where people we love die. It can happen to me and my family or to you and yours. My heart was torn to shreds, but it healed bigger and stronger. I wouldn’t go back if I had the choice. I’m proud of the new Aimee. Happy Birthday to her. 

Now that I know my birthday is a tough day, as it approached I felt like I was tripping in slow motion, knowing I was going to hit the ground but unable to stop myself. Then God showed up and slid a big fluffy pillow right under me to break my fall. That pillow was in the form of a podcast episode…

A few months ago, I was honored to be interviewed by Ashlee Proffitt for the Joyful Mourning podcast. The Joyful Mourning podcast and other Morning resources have given me so much hope and encouragement over the past couple of years. It’s the number one resource I recommend to other loss moms. I was thrilled to be able to share Ginny’s story on the podcast. I didn’t know when my episode would be released, so I was surprised when it came out on my birthday! What a gift! It blessed my heart to know that people would hear Ginny’s name and our story. It somehow felt like she was a bit nearer to us on my birthday. God’s kindness shows up in the details and His perfect timing. 

Goodbye North Carolina

Our time in North Carolina was the craziest three and a half years of our lives. I had two jobs, two houses, and two pregnancies. A tree branch smashed one of our cars, and the transmission died in our other car. I experienced anxiety for the first time and saw a therapist for the first time. We found a church that felt like “home”, and I was baptized. I made major career changes. We met great friends. Our beautiful baby girl died, and we brought a memory box home. We grieved and grieved and grieved. We got tattoos. We endured pregnancy after loss, and we brought a beautiful baby boy home. We quarantined and worked from home. We were vaccinated and still didn’t go anywhere. Friends died, and grandparents died. Friends were born, and nephews were born. I started a blog for a couple months and kept writing for over two years. We woke up in the night again and again and again. I nursed around the clock, and Daniel bounced. I got shingles, and Chet got chickenpox. We had so much fun; we laughed a lot. Daniel got a fellowship, grew hundreds of sunflowers, and got a professorship. We baked bread, we broke bread, we served bread, and we ate bread. Then we left. 

We buckled our baby boy in the back seat, and carefully placed our memory box in the front seat.  And then we left. It was time. That house was feeling very heavy with grief. It was the house Ginny lived and died in. It was where we spent the excruciating hours between her death and birth. It was where we wept. If we were ever away from home for an extended period of time, grief would hit us in the face when we returned. And once the world started reopening, going to places that used to feel like comforts, now felt like triggers. I know returning to that town one day will feel like a tsunami of emotions. So much happened there. 

But at the same time, we will miss it. We miss our friends so much already. I’m so grateful for them, and for technology that allows us to stay in touch so easily. We miss our church and our coworkers and my volunteers. We miss meeting up with friends in downtown Durham and some of the very yummy restaurants. I’ll miss the places I grieved the most: the hospital, the arboretum, the library, and most benches around UNC’s campus. Those places feel kind of sacred now. Those places are where I encountered God in new, powerful ways. 

A small part of me was terrified to move. Would this mean we are closing the chapter that had Ginny in it? Would we be leaving Ginny behind? Were we “moving on”? Daniel comforted me. “No way! Ginny’s coming with us. She will always be with us,” he said with a smile. Yes, it is time. It is time for a new adventure and the next step.

Auburn feels refreshing. I’m so excited to see what God has for us here! 

An Explanation

When the doctor said the words, “I’m so sorry. I have to give you the worst news.” everything went still. I could not believe what I was hearing; I was in shock. Yet somehow I still mustered the question, “Is there any way to know what happened?” He replied with a response that we would hear several times over the next 6 weeks, “Sometimes these things happen, and we have no way of knowing why. Fifty percent of stillbirths have no explanation.”

Half of all stillbirths have no explanation? How is that possible? With everything we know, how in the world is that possible? 

During labor with Ginny, Daniel and I discussed it. We would have tests done on me, Ginny’s body, and the placenta to try to find what happened. We decided it was not because we needed to know what happened to Ginny (nothing would bring her back), but it was so we could have all the information to help in planning our future family. All the tests came back negative. No cause could be identified. Doctor’s gave us reasons why it wasn’t a cord accident, it wasn’t genetic, it wasn’t anything we did, it wasn’t anything we didn’t do, it wasn’t my thyroid, it wasn’t my antibodies, it wasn’t an infection… The list went on, and everything got crossed out. I was relieved and disappointed at the same time. All they could tell us was that Ginny was small for her gestational age and the placenta was small and unhealthy.

We entered into pregnancy with Chet holding our breath with our eyes wide open. We didn’t know what had happened; it could happen again. But this time we would be closely monitored. If it looked like Chet was showing signs of growth restriction, we could potentially take action. 

Little did I know that all of Chet’s monitoring would actually shed light on what happened to Ginny. At the 11 week ultrasound, the technician identified that I have a septum in my uterus. The maternal fetal medicine doctors described what a separate uterus was. The interior of a normal uterus is shaped like a triangle, and mine is more of a heart. There is a divide at the top half of my uterus. It was something I was born with. Usually this anomaly results in recurring early miscarriages or preterm births. There wasn’t much data on whether it causes late stillbirths like mine. They couldn’t tell how large my septum was since my uterus was stretched during pregnancy. But if my septum was significant, they said it was possible that Ginny’s placenta had reduced blood flow. That aligned with the fact that the placenta was small and unhealthy, resulting in her growth restriction. The doctors explained that Chet’s placenta was growing up onto the septum, but we were already monitoring him. We would have to wait and see if it impacted his growth. 

Thankfully Chet’s growth was never impacted! He was born at a healthy 8lbs 10oz at 39 weeks!

After Chet was born, my doctors referred me to get an ultrasound of my empty uterus to evaluate the septum. I was nervous to get the ultrasound for multiple reasons: 1) ultrasounds are always kind of triggering since we learned Ginny had died in an ultrasound and 2) I so badly wanted an explanation for Ginny’s death. I was afraid that this, like all the other tests, would lead nowhere. I postponed the ultrasound multiple times because of this, using COVID as an excuse. Once I was fully vaccinated, I had no more excuses and anxiously went to my appointment at the hospital. 

God’s grace shows up again and again. He provided comforts for me during my appointment. As I was waiting in the crowded waiting room, I met a husband and wife who were staying at The Family House where I worked. They were there to get a check up after being 2 years cancer free! They told me how helpful Family House was to them and what a special place it is. Hearing that warmed my heart and helped me during the anxious wait. 

When I got called back for the ultrasound, the technician was a sweet young woman. She asked if Chet was my first, so I told her about Ginny. She empathetically listened, and then shared that she had a miscarriage two weeks earlier. We were able to have compassion for each other. We discussed losing a baby, when to decide to try again, and pregnancy after loss. We said we would be praying for each other. She was the exact right person at the exact right time. We both needed each other, so God allowed our paths to cross. 

After the scan, an OB who I’d never met came in. He said that my septum was in fact significant. He said that septums like mine do cause 2nd and 3rd trimester losses. The good news is that it can be removed with a simple outpatient surgery. 

It was the answer I wanted. It gave me such peace. This explains what happened to Ginny, and it is fixable! I knew in my heart that it was my body and not hers that caused her death, but I didn’t have an answer until now. Ginny’s death could’ve been prevented if I had known about my septum, but I had no way of knowing. Some guilt was lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t something I did, and I couldn’t have known. 

A couple weeks later I met with a surgeon from the fertility clinic. He said my septum is 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down into my uterus and it is very wide at the top. It is more of a wedge. He said I am a great candidate for the surgery. The surgery only takes 30 minutes, and the recovery is only a day or two. When I asked him his thoughts on this causing my stillbirth, he explained that the portions of the placenta attached to the septum would not receive adequate blood flow to keep up with the needs of a growing baby. Then he said, “What I can’t explain is how you had a healthy pregnancy.”

We knew Chet was a miracle. This confirmed it. He is a miracle in so many ways. He beat the physical odds to be born big and healthy even though I have a septum. He brings us so much joy and love as our rainbow. And because of him, we now have answers about Ginny. I’m so grateful for our boy! 

I’m scheduled to have my septum resection in early July. I’m a little nervous but mostly just relieved.  After over 2 years we finally have an answer. It doesn’t bring Ginny back, but it does offer some rest. I am blessed to be part of the small percentage of loss moms who found out what happened and can do something to hopefully prevent it from happening again. 

Wilting

Ginny’s 2nd birthday was a sweet time at the beach. I felt good that we honored and celebrated her life. We reflected on how much of an impact she’s had on us. I left feeling blessed. 

Then the next day it hit me. That tsunami of grief I thought I had avoided. Those heavy and dark feelings of fresh grief came back. It felt like a punch in the gut; my heart was being wrung. Two years later and the disbelief returned – How did this happen?! Why did this happen?!!

It hit me during Chet’s nap time. I was working on my computer at the kitchen table next to a bouquet of flowers my family sent the previous week to remember Ginny. I looked up and noticed some of them had started wilting. My heart sank – this means her birthday is over. Then my mind was brought back to the week after Ginny died when all the bouquets loved ones sent started wilting. The sight and smell of turning flowers triggered such a wave of memories and grief. I remembered that when the flowers died, it felt like Ginny was dying all over again. How could time be moving forward? How could we be moving away from holding her instead of moving toward holding her? My heart was breaking yet again. It felt like she was dying all over again two years later. I just miss her. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I want her here. How can we keep moving forward? I just want to hug her. 

Tears started streaming and didn’t stop for a long time. It was actually dawning on me that it has been two years. She should be two. She should be here, but she’s still gone. It still hurts…really bad. 

The pain in my heart somehow makes her feel closer. Maybe two years isn’t as long as it sounds. I try to remind myself that I’m not just getting further from when I held her on Earth, I’m also getting closer to when I’ll hold her in heaven. Each day I’m getting closer to her. It still hurts. 

Happy 2nd Birthday, Ginny!

Dear Ginny,

Two years old?! How is that possible? Two years of missing you, and two years and 8 months of loving you. It feels like I’ve loved you a lifetime already, but it also feels like you just left us. My arms still ache for you, and my heart still breaks everyday missing you. 

I’m grateful we get to celebrate you at the beach today. It feels like you all around us, from the sunflowers greeting us at the door to the bright pink sunset. We are so blessed. But even with all the sweet reminders and God winks, we just want you here with us. We want to hug you and kiss you.

We wish you were here! We wish you were playing with your brother. But just because you are not here doesn’t mean you aren’t a part of our family every single day. You are our first born. You are our big sister. You are ours, and we are yours. And we will be together again. 

Happy Birthday sweet girl! We love you very much! 

Love, Mama