Motherhood changed me, but not in the way I expected.
My first daughter, Aurora, was born still on September 17, 2021, at 8:08 a.m. Her name means dawn. Considering the new day she gave us, the name suits her perfectly. Even though she didn’t stay here physically, she will always be part of our family. She will always be our first child. She will always be our first light.
As her mother, I was supposed to teach her. Instead, she taught me. She gave me a new perspective. I learned not just the feeling of gratitude, but the lifestyle of gratitude. She makes me kinder, more empathetic. She helps me live my days to the fullest. I was able to let go of a meaningless life ruled by ego and materialism. She revealed to me a faith I didn’t know I had. She taught me to nurture myself as my shattered heart continues to heal.
I remember the Sunday in January 2021 when my husband and I watched the digital pregnancy test countdown and display the word “pregnant.” Nerves and excitement followed. Were we ready for this?
My pregnancy progressed seemingly perfectly. I had no complications or indication anything was wrong. I even enjoyed being pregnant. Then on Aurora’s due date, the night of Wednesday, September 15, 2021, I realized I had not felt her much. I told my husband and we turned to Google. We concluded there was no reason to worry.
“They slow down close to delivery to conserve energy,” we read over and over. I couldn’t imagine anything was wrong. I felt fine. We went to sleep knowing we had an ultrasound in the morning.
As I ate scrambled eggs and toast, I still didn’t think I felt her that morning. While we drove to the doctor’s office, I had a sinking feeling. I remained calm but when the ultrasound tech said, “we’ve got to get this baby moving,” I knew there was something wrong.
Then she quietly asked for Dr. Ted. He entered the room and the next thing I remember were his words: “There’s no cardiac activity.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
I’ll never forget the look in my husband’s eyes above a black face mask as he leapt out of the chair to embrace me. I still remember what we were both wearing. Every detail is etched in my mind.
Dr. Ted took us into a different room. With tears in his eyes, he prepped us for what we were going to experience. I was shocked to learn I would still deliver her body, regularly, as though she were alive. It seemed cruel that I would still have to endure the pain of childbirth, but he assured us this was the best option. Fortunately, Aurora had turned head down a few weeks before after concerns she was breech late into pregnancy.
We went home and retrieved my suitcase I had so carefully packed for what I thought would be a joyous occasion. We checked into the hospital. On the elevator ride a woman congratulated us.
“Thank you,” we both said. It seemed like a cruel joke. Looking back on it now, that congratulations was warranted. Aurora doesn’t live with us physically, but we know she is here spiritually. We know we will be with her in Heaven for eternity. That is an incredible gift.
When we arrived at the Snuggery in Glens Falls Hospital we were greeted by Jamie, the bereavement nurse, who I credit with saving our lives by putting us on a path toward healing before Aurora was even delivered. She showed us a way forward when it seemed there was none. We were given literature on what to expect, what to do next, asked if we wanted a photographer.
At the time I just wanted it all to be over. I wanted to forget any of it happened, to return to the woman I was before that pregnancy test 9 months before.
“A photographer? Why would I want to remember this?” I thought.
Jamie offered us use of a cooling bassinet called a cuddle cot for our daughter so we could spend more time with her. It wasn’t until I delivered Aurora that I understood that either. She also created keepsakes for us including an ornament with Aurora’s footprints and castings of her hands and feet. All of these and her memory box are so precious to us.
After I was induced, the contractions were incredibly painful. I started to feel cold and shiver uncontrollably. I asked for an epidural, which made everything so much easier. Later in the night I felt colder. Unable to stop shaking, I also felt short of breath. Our nurse Kate took my temperature. I had a fever, though I did not know how bad it was. I didn’t realize it continued to climb as they were reading the number is Celsius. I was given two antibiotics through IV. I don’t know if I slept. I felt strange as though death was near for me, too. I looked at my husband finally resting on the pullout bed and pleaded with God not to take me yet.
After the sun rose on September 17th, I could feel I was closer to delivering our daughter. Delivery took about 20 minutes, and her body was placed on my chest, skin to skin. It was the most bittersweet moment as I studied her features and held her close. She was still warm. She was beautiful. She looked so much like her father with his nose and a dimpled chin. Her lips and shape of her eyes and her hands looked like mine. She had so much dark hair like my husband! It looked like a mullet and was long in the back. She was 5 pounds and 11 ounces, 19.5 inches long.
My fever broke and then the nurse told me it had climbed to 105-degrees Fahrenheit. At one point I was shivering so uncontrollably they were unable to take my blood pressure reading.
My thoughts turned to the night before when I called my parents to tell them our daughter had died in my womb. My dad reminded me of the Footprints poem and told me to let Jesus carry me through this. He hasn’t put me down since.
When Jamie told me my breast milk would still come in, I shut my eyes and felt tears streaming down my cheeks. How could my body just continue to remind me of my loss? She provided me with information on how to pump and donate to the New York Milk Bank. Initially, I didn’t want to do it. When I heard more about the need for donated milk for prematurely born babies and other moms who can’t provide breast milk, my heart opened to it. It felt like something I could do with Aurora and my husband. It felt like a way I could still have the experience of being a mom.
For three months my husband took care of sterilizing the equipment and bagging the milk while I pumped. These pumping sessions became therapeutic. I would sit and mediate or watch nature documentaries and remind myself that there was beauty in this world. There were still things to hope for and look forward to. There was reason to live.
The New York Milk Bank has a butterfly tree display with the names of all the angel babies whose mothers provided donated milk. They sent me a picture of Aurora’s name on a purple butterfly written in silver ink. I felt so proud of my little girl. She was already making a difference.
I gradually decreased the amount of milk I was pumping each day and sent my final shipment in November. We provided 459 ounces total, enough for more than 115 bottles.
To help us continue to heal, we looked for ways we could help other people who go through this. We started a petition to urge New York state to provide a tax credit to parents of stillborn babies. We participated in a walk for Angel Names — the organization that helped us pay for costs associated with saying goodbye to our baby. Our friends and family — and many people we had never met but were touched by Aurora — helped us raise more than $4,000 for Angel Names.
Before Aurora was born sleeping, I was living my life half asleep. Before now, I was blind to the abundance of love and generosity that blooms within my community.
After Aurora’s delivery we had to make difficult choices quickly – funeral homes, caskets, cremation, or burial. In a strange coincidence, the only casket for babies at the funeral home we chose was the “Aurora.” More of what seemed like signs followed. We found the perfect burial plot in the cemetery, which happened to be Row 8 Plot 8, a beautiful spot in the sunlight near a pond. She was born at 8:08 a.m. The number 8 seems a constant reminder for us of her eternal being. In the Bible, the number 8 represents a new beginning, meaning, and man’s “born again” event when he is resurrected from the dead into eternal life. It is a symbol of infinity, with no end and no beginning.
About a month after her delivery I was at a bookstore with a friend and was drawn to the children’s books. It hurt to look at them, but I didn’t want to stop myself.
“Why am I doing this to myself?” I thought. A beautiful stuffed swan was sitting on a shelf with some other stuffed animals. It caught my eye.
“I wish I could buy that for Aurora. Don’t pick it up. It’ll only hurt worse,” I thought.
I couldn’t resist.
“Maybe this could be a gift from Aurora to her future sibling,” I thought.
I turned the swan upside down and there, on the tag sewn into it, was the name, “Aurora.” I couldn’t believe it. It was made by Aurora World, a plush toy company.
I bought the swan.
Today as I write this, on Mother’s Day 2022, a day I thought would be so different, I am blessed with a rainbow baby. About 3 months after Aurora’s death, our second daughter was conceived. Right now, I feel the kicks and movement and I think about how I couldn’t see a path to this point 9 months ago when we lost our first daughter.
We don’t know exactly why Aurora died.
That word pierced our thoughts in the beginning. Why did she die? Why did this happen to us? We saw a maternal fetal medicine specialist when I became pregnant with our rainbow baby. She examined Aurora’s records and the placental pathology report and found there was a placental infarction — an interruption in blood flow between the placenta and baby. When did this happen and why? We don’t know. Was this what caused Aurora’s death? It’s not certain. Slowly the question of “Why?” became less important to us.
Now we think about, “How?” How can we keep Aurora’s memory alive and honor her?
Since Aurora’s death, my relationship with God has been revived. He is truly close to the broken hearted. I turned into Him and not just studied my Bible — I felt the words and truths reverberate within me. The projects my husband and I took on, such as the milk donation, helped us heal. With all of this, along with the support of family and friends — and some people we had never even met — I found my rainbow, the symbol of hope and God’s promise.
Motherhood changed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
The tears are so constant they are part of my skincare routine, but I don’t mind.
I carried Aurora for 40 weeks, and I will carry her forever in my heart and soul until we are reunited.
Below is a poem I wrote for Aurora after watching the sun rise while in the hospital the day after she was delivered.
From Mourning to Morning
Sweet Aurora Rae.
First light of our hearts.
You weren’t here to stay?
How could we bear being apart?
It was our darkest hour.
“Why?” was all we could say.
We didn’t know your power,
would show us the way.
We fought through heartache and grief.
We thought we’d be broken forever.
We summoned every shred of belief.
Mommy and Daddy feared for each other.
Somehow through a 105-degree fever and pain,
Mommy delivered your earthly form.
She didn’t labor in vain.
With Daddy’s courage, Mommy’s strength was born.
Holding Mommy’s hand, staring into her eyes
Our spirits were in triage, but we emerged more alive.
Mommy and Daddy held you skin to skin,
A beautifully-formed body, pure with no sin.
5.11 pounds, 19.5 inches
Delivered at 8:08 a.m. — number of infinity.
Ageless, timeless, love for eternity.
September 17, 2021 — day of affinity.
Then one morning we awoke,
seemingly empty, without hope.
A ray of sunshine in the dawn peeked through the trees —
a light in the darkness that brought us to our knees!
Now we know you’re with us forever.
We just look up to the sun,
and feel the warmth of heaven.
Photos taken Charissa Pallas.
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