Written by Joanna & Bill, proud parents of Vivienne Renee
“This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending,” writes Elizabeth McCracken in her powerful memoir. That book is currently at the top of a pile of many other sad and depressing (but inspiring) books of pregnancy and infant loss that now adorn my nightstand.
Our story isn’t much different than the novelist, McCracken. My husband and I met at the beach in 2009, fell in love, 2 years later married, a year later welcomed our first daughter, two years after that welcomed our second daughter. Another year later we decided our family didn’t feel complete and shortly thereafter were excited to learn that we were blessed to be pregnant once more. We were expecting our “third and final edition to our clan”, as I titled the ultrasound picture that I sent to our closest friends and family in a large group text message when I was about 16 weeks pregnant.
I never made the traditional Facebook announcements and always waited to share our news more broadly until closer to 16 weeks, just to be safe. Safe; that’s what I was with all three pregnancies, safe and careful in every single thing I did. I never assumed my textbook pregnancies (nausea and all) would end in anything other than a healthy, breathing baby at the finish line.
It was February 8, 2017, just a normal day, so I thought. Went into work and by noon I realized that I hadn’t felt the baby move in quite some time, but got distracted with a task and forgot about it. At this point I was 24 weeks and 3 days pregnant and still didn’t know the gender of our baby. With all three pregnancies we chose to wait until the babies were born to learn of their gender. After all, what bigger surprise in life is there.
It wasn’t until a few hours later at 4pm on my way home from work that I recalled not feeling movement earlier in the day and decided to turn off the radio in the car and really concentrate on whether I could feel anything. I still didn’t feel anything, but wasn’t too worried just yet. By the time I picked up our two girls and got home, my husband was still at work and my anxiety started to set in.
A few hours later at 7pm I called my doctor and was assured that everything was probably fine. I was advised to drink some orange juice and lie down on my side and wait for the baby to move. By 8pm there was still nothing so I put my girls to bed and had my sister come over and sit with them while I headed to the hospital just to check up on baby #3. My husband was working in DC this evening and was on his way back to Delaware so I gave him a call on the way to the hospital and told him I was probably just overreacting.
I’ll never forget that quiet walk into the hospital by myself; it was the night before a big snowstorm was forecasted to hit and the air was brisk and even smelled like approaching snow. All was calm and peaceful. As I checked into Maternity Triage, I remember feeling nothing at all and then I heard a familiar voice, it was my mother’s. My sister told her what was going on and she decided to meet me at the hospital unannounced. I scolded her by saying that it was late and she didn’t need to come in here this late and meet me, everything was going to be just fine. My mother later told me, “I had a bad feeling.”
Fifteen minutes after checking in to the hospital, the scene that will haunt me forever begins to unfold. Me on the hospital bed, my mother and a nurse on my left side, and a doctor on my right side looking at an ultrasound screen of my baby and the doctor pointing with her finger on the baby’s chest saying, “I’m sorry this is where the heart beat should be and there is no longer one, I’m so sorry.” This is what I remember most of everything, those words, and the sound of her finger tapping on the monitor. I was in shock. I don’t know what I said or what I did, but I called my husband who at this point was only a few minutes away and told him the news over the phone.
What ensued was a 36-hour labor and finally on Friday, February 10 at 11am, I delivered our perfect sleeping baby, Vivienne Renee. Bill and I were able to spend a few special hours with Vivienne, embracing her and giving her gentle kisses and even have her Baptized before we said goodbye. The following Friday we laid our angel to rest in a beautiful private ceremony at the cemetery where my family members that have gone before us have been buried.
Today, 5 months and a few days after we met our angel, I can say the pain has dulled a bit, but there still isn’t a moment that goes by where I don’t think of Vivienne. When I look back to those first few days after my world changed forever, all I see is a blurry cloud of darkness. I don’t remember much of it thankfully, but I remember how kind everyone was. People we hadn’t seen or spoken to in months came to our side to help carry us through the most difficult moment of our lives.
Before we even left the hospital I received the most important piece of mail I could ever have been given at that moment, an email from Skyler, letting me know I wasn’t alone. That’s what I needed, another mom who knew exactly everything that I was feeling and whose story I later learned was almost exactly parallel to ours.
We are forever changed and I’ll never be the same person again. In the days that followed Vivienne’s death, I remember thinking that I wanted her life to stand for so much more than what it already had. I wanted to be a new person; a better person. So when she would look down on me she would be so proud that I was her mother. She has brought so much change into our lives and for the better.
Just the way we look at life now is so different thanks to Vivienne. We are better parents to her sisters, 2 and 4 years old. We don’t take things for granted like we used to and we have even learned to count the many blessings we have been given. We learned that everyone has a story; it may not be the loss of an infant, perhaps it’s cancer, or addiction, or some other type of pain. Either way, we learned that we’re all in this together. Our love for each other has also grown more than we knew was possible.
The greatest gift that Vivienne has left us with is the friendships we’ve recently made with other “Loss Parents.” It’s a club that no one ever wants to be a part of, but this is our reality now and we have met lifelong friends within this close-knit community of supporters who are also on the same dark road that we are traveling. Right now the road is narrow and we’re all trying to figure out our new normal, but one day these friendships will no longer be based solely on the losses we will always have in common, but the many celebrations we’ll all be sharing together in the future. – Joanna & Bill