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For the Life of Bea

Written by Sarah Rayna, Beatrice’s mom

I never thought I would be the infamous patient at the doctor’s office. My husband and I are both agreeable people, definitely not the type to have a reputation as “the difficult couple”, but as my pregnancy progressed it was obvious that every nurse, doctor, ultrasound tech, and scheduler knew who we were. Their smiles would turn rigid and their bodies would grow subtly stiff, like they were bracing themselves for a gust of cold air. They were bracing themselves for the pain that accompanied us.

I yearned to be one of the stereotypical happy couples that surrounded us in the waiting room. They were all the same in their happiness. All of them were secure in the knowledge that their little ones were growing bigger, that their nurseries would soon be filled, their bank accounts stressed out, and their lives forever changed. We were horribly different and so we were infamous. My baby wasn’t growing, the registry I began optimistically at 8 weeks pregnant was collecting digital dust in the recycling bin full of discarded pregnancy apps, and far from stressing about a college fund, I had confined myself to thinking only in the present tense.

We were boringly happy at the beginning. Those first 11 weeks were full of joyful moments. I remember how my husband Sean used to wrap his arms around me, placing his hands lovingly on my belly. He would rest his chin on my shoulder and I could feel his grin of contented pride on my cheek.

Beatrice was the first grandchild in my family. The excitement surrounding my pregnancy and the little life growing inside me was palpable. The beginning of my pregnancy felt just like the summer evenings of my childhood, coated in a warm, golden glow. Those precious memories at the beginning now feel like they were part of a different life, or rather the same life, but in some tragically inaccessible, beautifully golden, parallel universe.

I walked into each appointment with confidence during that time. I was young and healthy, my family history was normal, I was taking a prenatal vitamin, and my mother had had three normal, healthy pregnancies without any loss. Beatrice was the right size, in the right place, and she was conceived so quickly. I knew the statistics, I knew how easy it was for something so complex to go wrong, I knew how fragile this new life was, but even though I knew the risks, I was naive enough to think that it wouldn’t happen to me. Like most twenty-somethings, I thought that my child and I were immortal.

Those precious memories at the beginning now feel like they were part of a different life, or rather the same life, but in some tragically inaccessible, beautifully golden, parallel universe.

Learning How to Wait

The change from joyful confidence in the miracle of life to the emptiness of longing for what might have been was gradual. The first tests, obtained only as a matter of course, came back inconclusive. The doctor ordered more tests but said he wasn’t worried. The second round of tests were labeled high risk, but there was still a good chance everything was fine. The third round confirmed the worst.

After the high risk results came back, the bubble of naivete burst. The golden glow was replaced with obsessive worry. My husband Sean kept reminding me that a 1 in 10 risk was still a 90% chance the baby was going to be just fine. I heard him, but my inner monologue kept repeating, why 1 in 10 though? There must be something wrong. What would cause the high risk result if not a problem with the baby? I would obsessively research the validity of high risk test results, scour mommy blogs for stories of high risk women with happy endings, look up early signs of trisomy 15, 18, 21. It only made me more desperate for actual answers.

The final round of testing was an amniocentesis. This test would give us true confirmation, not just risk assessment as the previous tests had. Amniocentesis comes with its own set of risks, but I knew I couldn’t live with Schrödinger’s baby for 6 more weeks. After weighing the risks and knowing the high possibility there was something wrong with our child, we decided to proceed.

The test went without a hitch. The next step was to wait for the results. Again. I had been waiting for various test results over the past month. Now it was the last time we would have to wait for test results, but it was only the beginning of learning how to wait.

At this point in my life, God began to teach me how to make myself stop thinking. I have found that not thinking is a key to waiting. It was not an easy thing to do. Training my mind to stop thinking wasn’t a thing I had ever been taught to do. In fact, I was often taught the reverse. I was surrounded by concerned friends and family who would say things like, “It’s ok to feel however you feel.” These platitudes felt not only empty but incorrect.

It’s only now after making it to the other side that I know why. I was facing a very long and difficult road. The only way to survive this road was to find a way to deal with my pain and also be able to set it aside when I had to live. I had to discipline my mind now to learn how to cope with reality. I had a life, a husband, a family, a job. I couldn’t just feel how I wanted to feel. I was facing a vast span of grief that would grow with each new doctor’s visit. I couldn’t stop the routine needs of my life for the next however long while I carried a baby broken beyond repair. I had to learn how to live around the grief.

I was facing a very long and difficult road. The only way to survive this road was to find a way to deal with my pain and also be able to set it aside when I had to live. I had to discipline my mind now to learn how to cope with reality.

The Worst News

It was a strange thing how everything shifted so completely with one phone call. The very first screening I received was called cell free DNA testing. The only reason I signed up for the screener was to find out the sex of our baby as early as possible. I wasn’t worried about any chromosomal anomalies, I just wanted to know if we were going with butt ruffles or mini suspenders.

By the time we got the results of the amniocentesis, the doctor didn’t even mention the baby’s sex. What did it matter? The baby wasn’t even really a baby any more. At least, not in any chubby cheek kissing, diaper changing, milestone reaching sort of way. What did it matter if our child was a boy or a girl if it was going to die before I could put on the first outfit?

“Incompatible with life.” That’s how the doctor put it. This wasn’t, she’ll have learning delays, or he’ll need physical therapy, or even, she’ll only live a few years, as awful as those things would have been. This was, your child is so beyond our capacity to heal that it’s surprising it’s made it this long. There was no hope for our little lady and I hadn’t even felt her first kick yet.

Beatrice was diagnosed with triploidy at 15 weeks gestation. This means that instead of having pairs of chromosomes, she had three copies of every chromosome in every cell of her body. For perspective, Down’s Syndrome is where one of the baby’s chromosomes (the 21st) is a triplet instead of a pair. Just one chromosomal mistake and the effects are lifelong and devastating. Instead of one mistake like in Down’s Syndrome, all of Bea’s were wrong. Every single one of her chromosomes was wrong in every single cell of her body.

The doctor told us it was quite the feat that she had managed to live this long. Most triploidy babies die within the first few weeks of life, often before

the mother even knows she’s pregnant. Our Bea had made it to 15 weeks and her heart was still beating. The doctor didn’t know how long she would last but thought it was very unlikely that she would make it to full term. There were only a handful of cases where a baby with triploidy had been born alive. Of those few cases, most lived hours, sometimes days.

The phrase incompatible with life stuck in my head. It revolved around in sickening circles with macabre questions birthed by fear. What did that make my child? Did she even count as a human being, made in the image of God if she was incompatible with life? Was she worth the pain and misery of carrying a doomed baby if she was incompatible with life? Should she be snuffed out, removed, discarded because she was incompatible with life? If she wasn’t a life, it didn’t matter how she ended, right?

Finding Clarity Through the Fear

The law in North Carolina is women are allowed to abort their child up to 20 weeks gestation. I would have loved to have spent the rest of my life blissfully unaware of that law, but with our daughter’s diagnosis at 15 weeks, we had 5 weeks to decide what to do. It was a choice I never thought I would even consider. I have always been a staunch pro life person. My medical background, my Christian faith, and my core belief in the sacred nature of human life all compel me to be so. But here was a choice I never expected to face. My child was diagnosed with a disorder so heinous that she had no hope of developing into a person. Was I really ending a life if she had no potential for life?

I had a debate with myself mostly generated by fear. Should I allow this suffering to go on? Not just my suffering, but my husband’s, my family’s, my child’s suffering? While I wrestled with this decision, I allowed myself to use suffering as an excuse for considering ending her life. What was the point of keeping her alive only to watch her suffer and die? And that was if she even made it to birth. What was the point of letting her carry on living when she wouldn’t make it anyway? I wanted to get on with it. I wanted to put this painful experience behind me and start fresh.

I indulged in these feelings for a while. My friends and family rushed in with love and support, but immediately began to help me make excuses. “I’m not usually ok with abortion, but in this case…” and, “I don’t want this suffering to damage your soul.” But my husband, as usual, cut through all the pathetic justification. Once our friends and family had left, we were lying in bed, staring at each other in the dark. He gripped my hand in his and said, “I don’t think I can stand having our baby ripped out of you limb by limb.”

Should I allow this suffering to go on? Not just my suffering, but my husband’s, my family’s, my child’s suffering? While I wrestled with this decision, I allowed myself to use suffering as an excuse for considering ending her life.

Sean gave me the clarity that my fear had obstructed. In a moment of raw vulnerability, he helped me see what I had been blind to. He recoiled from the idea of such a death for our Beatrice. Maybe it was because he wasn’t carrying the child himself, maybe he was just stronger than I was, but he wasn’t looking for a way out. I was too wrapped up in a desperate struggle to find a justification sufficient enough to hide the atrocity of ripping my child out of me. I think I knew, in a much ignored corner of my mind, that there was no justification that was sufficient, but it took Sean’s words to dredge it up to the surface.

The fears that were tempting me were strong. It was terrifying to consider how I would deal with the interested strangers asking when the baby was due. How was I going to cope with the awkward glances from coworkers at the growing baby bump that was home to a doomed child? I didn’t think I was strong enough to manage the sorrow that would come when I felt her move and kick. I balked at the horror of laboring and delivering a corpse. My apprehension over my own future misery blinded me to my daughter’s being.

All of these fears were legitimate but none of them were sufficient.

Sean helped me to remember that she was my daughter, my little lady, my sweet Bea. Regardless of how bleak her future was, she deserved a mother who loved her, a father who protected her, and parents who wanted what was best for her. Sean was her protector from the very beginning. He protected her from my fear and weakness, and he helped me remember that I loved her.

Our daughter was going to die no matter what we did. Her full and happy life had already been eliminated. All we had left were two mandates as her parents: to make sure that whatever life she had was as peaceful and full of love as we could make it, and whenever it came time for her to die, to help her die with dignity.

Paul and Silas

Once the decision had been made, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. I knew that 5, 10, 50 years from now, the decision to accept and fulfill our duty to our child would not haunt us. Once I had that clarity, my troubled heart was at peace. It was a peace that came with knowing our duty and it could only have come from God. It was an unexplainable peace in a time of the greatest grief I have ever known.

The next day I sent a message to our doctor asking to know the baby’s sex. It mattered. She mattered. Even though she never got to wear the butt ruffles, it mattered. The doctor told us she was a girl. We named her Beatrice which means “bringer of joy”. We named her Beatrice to remind ourselves of the joy she gave us at the beginning and the joy that we prayed God would bring us even as we went on this difficult journey.

I was hoping to take on a bit of Paul and Silas by naming her Beatrice. Paul and Silas sang hymns to God while they were imprisoned. I used to think it was just a couple of righteous men singing hymns because they never doubted nor feared. Now I think differently. I think they were singing hymns to remind themselves of their faith. To preach to themselves what they were struggling to remember in their time of difficulty. I needed to preach to myself every day that my Beatrice was a gift from God and a bringer of joy.

A Lurking Sense of Blame

There was a feeling among some of my friends and family. It was a feeling they made so small they may not have even realized it was there. They wrapped the feeling in heartfelt concern and confusion and stuffed it so deep into the corner of their consciousness that it was nearly unobservable. I sensed it because I sometimes felt the same way.

I think the lurking feeling was blame. That sense of blame bubbled up to the surface when they impotently watched me struggle with the miserable circumstances I was facing. We all want to blame someone for the suffering around us. The trouble is I was the one who chose this struggle so I was the one to blame.

I chose the path of strife. I had an easy out that I rejected. Some think that rejection is a masochistic clinging to a rigid sense of righteousness. I wonder the same thing sometimes. In my moments of deep self doubt, I wondered if my decision to keep Beatrice was because I truly believed it was what was right, or just because I felt I must hold to some conviction of principle. Perhaps they’re the same thing.

Because I sensed that blame, however unconscious or hidden, I began to hide my struggle and pain from all but my very closest loved ones. I felt that if I showed my misery, others might involuntarily think to themselves, “well, you chose this.” It was as if I was someone who decides to binge drink and then complains loudly about the hangover. The difference is my actions didn’t cause this tragedy, but I did choose the hard path. I went into it with my eyes wide open, so I had no room to complain.

I want to make it clear that despite the feeling of confused blame I sometimes sensed from my loved ones, they nevertheless supported me despite disagreeing with my decision. I received nothing but love and support from my friends and family. They may not have understood why we chose to let our daughter have a life, but they cared enough for us to be there in our time of trouble.

My Halfhearted Love

For the next six months, I carried Beatrice. She got bigger, though not as big as she was supposed to. I felt her move, though the movements were never more than little nudges. Her growth was bittersweet. My happiness at her growth and survival was tarnished with a sense of impatience. I’m often disgusted with myself for the feeling, but it was my constant companion. I unsuccessfully tried to pretend that I didn’t know it would be easier if she would just hurry up and die quietly inside of me.

I constantly wrestled with feelings of guilt and shame for half heartedly rejoicing at milestones. When I reached 24 weeks and she was still alive, I should have been proud that my little lady had made it this far. The pride I felt was tainted by dread. I was laboriously trying not to remember the other milestone. Now that she was so big, I would have to go through labor and deliver her whether she was dead or alive. If she had died before 24 weeks, I may not have had to labor and deliver her. The comparatively easy procedure where I’d get to be put to sleep and wake up without a baby was no longer an option.

The first time I felt her move I was heartbroken. I wanted to fully treasure the deeper connection to Bea, but I also knew that the confirmation that there was a little life inside of me would only make her death that much more difficult to bear. I wanted to feel her, to see her wiggle around in my belly, but I also had a putrid sense of disappointment at the confirmation that she was still alive. It was a sickening reminder of my inadequate love for my daughter.

Every heartbeat check at the doctor’s office was another reminder of my failure to truly love my child. I would hear the strong heartbeat, would get the reassurance from the nurse that she was still hanging in there, and instead of smiling and praising God for preserving my child another day, I would nod my head with a sense of resignation. She was still here, still fighting. I was proud of her strength, but I also felt mine waning with each passing month.

I chose the hard path of giving my child the chance to live. But it wasn’t as if once the decision was made I had no struggles with it. I knew it was right to let her live and give her the love she deserved, but I remain a hopelessly flawed being. I couldn’t completely let go of the fear and the dread I felt at giving birth to a dead baby. I was getting worn down by the constant struggle of living my life while carrying such a heavy burden. Worst of all was the constant self disgust I had for feeling that my Beatrice, my child, was a burden I had to bear.

Now that she was so big, I would have to go through labor and deliver her whether she was dead or alive. If she had died before 24 weeks, I may not have had to labor and deliver her. The comparatively easy procedure where I’d get to be put to sleep and wake up without a baby was no longer an option.

Pediatric Hospice

Whenever we had a doctor’s visit, Sean was there. He and I both knew that every visit could be the last. Each time the nurse passed the doppler over my belly we may not hear her heart beating. He was afraid of me being stuck alone in that tiny room while first the nurse, then another, and finally the doctor couldn’t locate a heartbeat.

There were some visits that were worse than others. The twenty week ultrasound where they do a detailed scan of the baby’s anatomy was one of the hardest. They check all the vital organs, all the structures for any anomalies. We knew going in that there would be issues. The doctor had prepared us and I had done enough research to know what the issues were likely to be. The preparation was not enough to help shield my heart from the laundry list of problems plaguing our child.

Before she began, the ultrasound tech asked me if I wanted to know the problems, or if she should just take the pictures without a running dialogue. Bea was my child. I was her mother. I was supposed to be the one with the bandaids and the kisses to make everything better. I couldn’t make her better, but I had to at least know what was wrong.

The ultrasound tech went through the scan. Bea had a heart defect, her kidneys were too small, she had a cleft lip and palate, and nearly every structure was at least 3 weeks behind in growth. The multitudes of

complications that could come from each of these problems were difficult to tally up.

We reviewed this devastating list with the doctor who told us we could pursue the problems, getting an echocardiogram for example, or just let things take their course. We had decided at the beginning of this journey that we were going to let Beatrice live. We were not; however, going to try and force her into life. The difference was vital.

I work as a speech pathologist with elderly patients. This work means I have a strangely comfortable relationship with death. My patients often have three or four separate conditions that will end their life in a relatively short period. During my years working with patients at the end of their lives, I have come to understand that death can come as a relief and often a blessing to those who are very sick. I also know what it looks like when a patient is ready to die in peace but their loved ones aren’t. I have watched children try to thrust their parents back into some sort of life with unnecessary medical interventions and end up putting their parents through weeks of pain only to lengthen, not improve, their parent’s life.

We decided to treat Beatrice like I would treat a patient in hospice care. We wanted her to live however long she would live and be comfortable. No amount of heart testing, surgical repair, or life support would change her chromosomes from triplets to pairs. Our goal was a peaceful life and a dignified death. We had no misguided faith of a miracle cure.

There may be those who think we were being selfish or cowardly by letting our daughter live. They believe that the more compassionate thing to do would have been to abort her and end the possibility of her suffering. They also seem to think that because I wanted her to live her fullest life that I was relying on some miraculous healing or some last moment diagnostic mistake. I had no such illusions.

I do believe that God has the power to do immense and amazing things, but I also was not fool enough to assume that if I just prayed with enough conviction a miracle would happen for our Bea. We dealt with the facts we were given and made our decisions based on reality. I don’t believe in some sort of Tinker Bell, Jiminy Cricket, wishing star kind of God. It’s not as if I just had to believe hard enough and Beatrice would be ok. If God was going to do something amazing, he would. Our decisions had to be based in our faith and understanding of what was right, not on some bargain with the almighty.

Sean and I tried to walk a very narrow path. God had let Bea live this long, far longer than what was typical for babies with triploidy, we weren’t going to play God by stopping her life before it was time. The other element we had to balance was not artificially manufacturing a life out of false hope or unnecessary procedures. It was a difficult path to tread but one that was worth the struggle.

Living Around the Grief 

I managed to traverse my journey of grief by living in increments. At first I could only think ahead by hours. Eventually, I could look ahead by a few days. I had to stop thinking. That was the key. If I allowed myself to indulge in the thoughts that were always near, I would end up curled in a ball gripped with sobs. Of course that happened more than once, but I did my best to keep the thoughts from overwhelming me as often as I could. 

This time in my life taught me the true meaning of “green pastures” in Psalm 23. The green pasture David was talking about wasn’t riches and wealth. It wasn’t even just talking about enough supplies for the next weeks and months. It was enough grass for the sheep to eat for today. The green pasture God provided was enough for today. In the same way during this time, he taught me how to accept just enough for today. 

At first, I thought that doctor’s visits were going to be the most difficult. I assumed that those visits were going to be like changing a bandage. The wounds were going to be exposed. I expected that waiting in the exam room plastered with hundreds of photos of freshly delivered babies on the walls would be nothing short of torture. I anticipated sitting on the crinkly paper and breaking into a cold sweat when the doctor knocked on the door. I was certain I would be fighting back a constant flow of tears with each fresh report of bad news. 

These visits took my utmost discipline of mind. Perhaps that’s why they weren’t as awful as I dreaded. I stored up strength and mental fortitude for such visits. Somehow, I was able to go without thinking. I went through the routine: weight, urine sample, vital signs, doppler for the heartbeat, chat with the doctor, without taking in much of what was said or allowing the information to penetrate. It was as if I was surrounded by a much denser air. All of the words took a long time to make it through to my consciousness. It may not have been the best way to stay informed of the pregnancy process, but it was how I survived. 

One of the strangest alterations brought about during this time was just how awkward it became to spend time with my family. They wanted so much to be a help and solace for us, and often were, but we always seemed to be bumping into the uncomfortable topic of Beatrice with every family gathering. They couldn’t put Bea aside even for a moment to celebrate a birthday or holiday. I had had a lot of practice at pretending and was able to ignore my baby bump for small spans of time. My family was not as adept at pretense. I could see the covert sad glances and hear the awkward pauses in our conversation. They felt Bea’s presence as a pall over every gathering.

Sometimes, when I would laugh at something funny my brother had said, the others would seem surprised. It was as if they found it strange that I could find anything humorous when I was carrying such a tragedy in my belly.

Sometimes, when I would laugh at something funny my brother had said, the others would seem surprised. It was as if they found it strange that I could find anything humorous when I was carrying such a tragedy in my belly. Bea was always a step away, crowding out any comfortable, light, playful conversation. It wasn’t her fault of course, but it made even joyful times feel damp.

At home with my husband was both the best and worst time. It was the best because I could be honest with my actual feelings, even if I wasn’t sure what they were. I was free to openly grieve or feel sorry for myself. I never feared my feelings around Sean. He had more grace for my not infrequent moping than I did. It was the worst time because that openness gave the feelings room to expand. Sometimes I would feel as if I was drowning in them. I am grateful for the intimate time with Sean because it allowed me to come to terms with our loss, but keeping afloat in a sea of grief was exhausting.

Some of the lightest moments were when I was around strangers. Particularly when I was by myself at the grocery store or a gas station. I was just another pregnant lady to the people around me. I could go about my business unperturbed. Sometimes I would let myself imagine that Bea was a happy healthy baby growing in my belly. I could smile and put my hand on my bump and just pretend things were normal for a bit. The pretense was heartening.

Dealing With People

The majority of my coworkers knew my situation, at least in part. My closest coworkers were kind enough to pretend I wasn’t pregnant unless I brought it up. It made it easier for me to pack away my feelings and do my job. I see patients for at least 80% of my day so the time goes quickly. It also helped tremendously to be caring for others who were hurting as well. Every time I eased their suffering or helped them to improve, it made my pain seem far away. I was typically too busy caring for patients to be too enthralled by the grief.

Occasionally, a coworker who didn’t know me well would ask how the baby was doing. I was visibly pregnant. People were naturally solicitous. I lost count of how many times I had to explain to various kind people that they had actually just stuck their foot all the way in their mouth. I had to say, “well, we found out that the baby isn’t going to make it.” Their faces would drop and they would be absolutely mortified. They felt awful for committing the grave sin of being attentive to a pregnant lady. I always felt bad for these people. It wasn’t their fault. They were just being kind.

Sean became very attuned to my feelings during this time. A difficult feat for an engineer who finds most social interactions stressful. There was one particular time I remember. I was in the kitchen, he was in the living room at least 30 feet and a room away. While I was cooking, some memory or feeling hit me and I caught my breath. I didn’t sob, but the arrest in my breathing alerted Sean. He was there in a moment ready to comfort me. Our mutual suffering brought us closer together than I think we ever would have been otherwise.

It also helped tremendously to be caring for others who were hurting as well. Every time I eased their suffering or helped them to improve, it made my pain seem far away.

A Word on Being Detached

I often wrestle with feelings of guilt because I never let myself get too attached to Beatrice. I have seen new moms with their newborns. The love and adoration those moms have for their child is tangible. You can almost hear her heart vibrating from across the room. My love for Beatrice was much colder. I had my reasons for being detached, but those reasons don’t make me feel any less despicable for being unable or unwilling to entirely fall in love with my daughter.

The first reason is probably obvious. I was protecting myself from the pain that would come from losing her. I knew that she was going to die at any point, so I shied away from giving my heart to her. It turns out that falling in love with a terminally ill person is a difficult thing to do. I kept a sizable piece of myself aloof as protection knowing that her death was going to be painful enough as it was.

The other reason I was detached was that I never had a relationship with Beatrice. I loved her vaguely, as a person might love a distant relation they’ve heard a million stories about but never met. She was my child but also a stranger. The only tangible connection that we shared was the gentle nudges she’d give me a few times a day. I knew she was there, I knew she was my child, so I loved her, but not in a graspable sort of way.

I carry around this burden of guilt particularly because if any child deserved the full adoration of her mother, it’s the child that was terminally ill from the moment sperm met egg. Instead of being able to devote myself fully as her mother, I felt more like a rental home. She was my guest for a little while. I gave her shelter and kept her safe for a short period of time. She deserved more from me.

Most moms say that they really start to feel pregnant when their babies start moving. They say it’s at that point that they begin to realize that there is actually a little person in there, not just a theoretical nugget the doctor points out on a grainy black and white photo. This is when these moms truly begin to feel like moms and begin to fall in love with their babies.

We found out that Beatrice wasn’t going to make it long before I felt her move. Because of that, I was never really able to develop and cultivate my love for her. It already hurt so much to lose a vague sense of what might have been. Allowing myself to dream of who she could have become, of what her life might have been like, was too much like flagellation.

Losing Bea

I do not intend to dwell on Beatrice’s death. This story is about her life. About honoring her in the only way I know how. She made it all the way to full term. My labor was induced at 39 weeks. Bea died during what became a particularly difficult labor. We heard her heartbeat struggle on the monitors. We listened as the robust hathump hathump hathump became less steady, less strong. Labor is stressful on any baby, but it was too much for my little lady. I don’t know exactly when she died. I didn’t have some sort of motherly intuition. But by the time it came to push, she was gone.

The labor was every bit as horrendous as I had dreaded. I have no desire to speak on those hours of misery. The horror of delivering a dead child was

compounded by a medically complex and challenging birth. It was a day that will never be forgotten and a day that frequently intrudes upon my peace. My only comfort from that day was knowing that Bea died without any apparent pain or suffering.

Bea died as she had lived. Quietly. Her entire life she was small and unobtrusive. She never taxed my body the way full grown healthy babies can. She was so small I never felt short of breath or exhausted from daily living. My feet never swelled and she never kicked me hard enough to hurt. She was just a peaceful little passenger. The tragedy of her mortally flawed existence created great pain, but her physical presence was never a burden.

Bea was an odd juxtaposition. Her brokenness and fatality brought some of the worst grief and the hardest time in my life thus far. Her huge emotional presence was completely opposed to her small stature and unobtrusive physical presence. It was a remarkably easy pregnancy when only considering the physical. No stretch marks, no difficulty breathing, no swelling, no nausea. It was as if God knew that her emotional toll was going to be enough for me to bear so he made her physical burden as light as possible.

The Aftermath

We returned home from the hospital on a dismal January morning. I don’t actually remember anything about the weather. It could have been a glorious day. I have a vague impression of cloudy and cold but have no reliance on that remembrance. The house when we returned was cold and empty. I had a white rose instead of a new baby in my lap. Everything was quiet, my husband was attentive, and friends and family came by every evening with food and commiseration.

I was surrounded by loved ones but they couldn’t prevent my loneliness. My solitude was literally internal. My body’s constant companion was gone. I repeatedly caught myself placing a hand on my belly only to be jarred back to reality by the relative squishy flatness. I would sometimes feel a kick and then remember that it couldn’t possibly be a kick. There were constant reminders that my little passenger had left me.

The grief I felt during that first week wasn’t as sharp or brutal as I had anticipated. I suppose it was because we had spent the past six months grieving over our doomed child. We lost her when the triploidy results came in. At least, we lost her future. All the planning and dreaming ended that day. Now, we had

finally physically lost her. She was gone, but the grief wasn’t blinding and cruel as it was when we first found out.

I think my grief was dulled by a sense of relief. Part of the relief was that my child was now at peace. She was whole and unblemished in her father’s arms. The other part of relief was more selfish. My struggle was over. We had made it through the dreaded ending. She had left the cruelty and suffering of this fallen world behind her. Now I could see that the rest of my journey of grief would get easier to bear, not harder.

I talked to my closest friends and family about our labor and birth experience. I repeated it over and over as a way to wrestle with what had happened and come to terms with the brutal, agonizing memories. Sean was there, my constant solid comfort. He made me food when I forgot to eat, scrubbed the bathtub when I needed a hot bath to soothe my wounded body, and held me close when the grief overwhelmed me.

A few days after our return home, we had to go pick up the cremated remains of our child from the funeral home. I wanted her with us at home for a little while at least. I knew this was going to be a difficult experience, but I was also glad we were going to be able to keep her with us. She had haunted me every night. I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter lying somewhere in a hospital morgue. Alone and cold, in a dark drawer. Did they have smaller drawers for the dead babies? Was she lying in an adult sized drawer tiny and horribly alone? Which was worse? An infant in an adult sized body drawer or a body drawer made for an infant?

Bringing her home would give me some relief. I needed the comfort of having her near me. I knew what we would be bringing home wasn’t her. It was just what was left of her. Despite knowing this, I still felt like having her with me meant I could keep her safe. I could remember her. I could sing to her with her in my home and near me. There in my home, she would never be completely forgotten.

Our first outing after we lost Beatrice was to the funeral home. I squeezed my still swollen body into real pants and a blouse, I put on makeup and brushed my hair. I wanted the funeral director to know that Bea had a respectable mother. I stood at the door waiting on my husband to get the keys. As I stared out of the window, it began to snow.

A Digression for a Love Story

I have a very romantic relationship with snow. It’s partially because I grew up in warm climates where snow was only seen on television. It became more than just a fun pastime for me one Christmas day when I was 20 years old. It had been a very rough year. I had had a really hard breakup and was dealing with major family troubles. I was feeling very alone that Christmas.

Part of my romantic inclination to snow was my desire to have a white Christmas. I had a silly notion I might get engaged on my first white Christmas. Something very sweet and hallmark channel had always seemed appropriate to me.

Instead, on a very lonely, miserable Christmas for the first time in my life, it snowed. I went outside and sat on the porch for hours. At first I was miffed at what felt like a missed opportunity. My first white Christmas was supposed to be a magical day filled with romance, not on this dismal Christmas. As I sat there, the muffled quiet and bright stillness that comes with a fresh snowfall began to take hold of me. The moon was full, and in the quiet of the night I felt my heavenly father telling me that he was with me. This white Christmas was my reminder that no matter how alone I felt, he was there.

It was the best Christmas gift a girl could ask for. Ever since then, the snow has been a reminder of God’s love for me. A gentle nudge from my father that I am his child and that his love for me is always with me.

So there I was, standing at the back window waiting to go pick up the ashes of my firstborn child, watching it snow. It had been a particularly warm winter thus far. That area of North Carolina doesn’t get much consistent snow. That winter, it snowed just once and for just one afternoon. It snowed while I went to the funeral home and brought what was left of my baby girl home with me in a box.

My husband, after finding his keys, stopped short as he looked at me. I was standing there, staring at the snow falling in big fat clumps. I was grinning and tears were running down my face. My father in heaven was there, reminding me that he loved me.

As I sat there, the muffled quiet and bright stillness that comes with a fresh snowfall began to take hold of me. The moon was full, and in the quiet of the night I felt my heavenly father telling me that he was with me.

In Conclusion

After Bea was gone, I began to worry about forgetting her. Forgetting her little nudges, her face, her fingers and toes. I realized that now she was gone I would have to remember her far longer than I ever knew her. Her memory would fade and the sensations I had would dull. It was for the best. I couldn’t spend my life as I was at 29, humans are created to change with time, but I still felt the guilt of knowing that her memory would never be clearer than it was at that time in my life. This story, written with more tears than I care to count, is one small way I have attempted to keep her memory alive in my heart.

It has been a year since we lost our Beatrice. I have had an entire year to think over the decisions we’ve made, grieve her loss, and try to find the right way to cherish her memory. Although that time in our lives was by far the most difficult we ever faced, I can honestly say there wasn’t much I would have done

differently. I had many failings during that time, but Sean and I managed to give Bea the best life and most peaceful death that we could.

I have only grown in certainty that giving Bea a chance to live was the best decision we could have made. The grief and pain that year brought was tremendous. I cannot deny the suffering nor do I wish to minimize it. Despite the massive emotional toil, the time she was here with me made every heartache worth it.

My little passenger, my sweet Bea spent 9 months with me. I felt her gentle nudges, heard her heartbeat, and saw her move on the ultrasound monitors. Those memories and connections to her were not nearly sufficient for my heart’s longing, but I could not imagine losing a single one. I wish we could have met her. Even for a few hours, just to hold her hand and look into her eyes would have been a treasured memory for the rest of my life. Her cheeks deserved so many more kisses and her hands never got to be held. No one marveled over the smoothness of her baby soft skin or her tiny toes. The trouble is that it never would have been enough. If we had gotten to meet her, I would be longing now to have had days, months, years more. Whatever amount of time we were given wouldn’t be enough.

I regret my inability to fully embrace and love my daughter. I wish I had found the strength to love her with my whole heart despite the impending pain. I know why I couldn’t manage to love her as she deserved. I think my reluctance was understandable, but I still wish I had managed to give her my whole mother’s heart. She deserved it.

Bea changed my life forever. She made me stronger. She taught me that with enough prayer and mental discipline, I can endure great suffering and arrive on the other side more complete as a human being. She showed me what a solid, courageous, and steadfast man I married. And she taught me how to rely on my father in heaven for my green pasture every day.

Donate to our “Still their mom” campaign to support our ministry efforts for moms like Sarah

Real life ways we support loss moms as an organization – and the associated cost:

  • Our organization is sending 20 of the 100 moms to the Bereaved Mother’s Day Tea this Sunday. (cost: $50 to send 1 mom)
  • We have sent 60 free care packs to new loss moms in the last year. (cost: $2,400, approx. $40/ea)
  • We sent 300+ cards to bereaved moms and infertility warriors this year. (cost: $450)
  • This past year, we gave out $25,000 to cover loss-associated medical bills for 18 moms and their families. In the fall, we plan to give $25,000 more.
  • We design spaces and connection events for moms to share and meet other moms. (cost: ~$25,000)