The world just wasn’t ready for her. That is what I remember telling myself as I held my first daughter who was born sleeping. My story doesn’t start here, it didn’t end here either.
I was 25 years old, married, and a mom to a son who was 2. I thought I was ready for another child, and it didn’t take long; before my son turned 3, I found out I was pregnant! I was over the moon and automatically secretly hoping it was a girl. We announced we were expecting at my son’s birthday party. Everyone congratulated us with cheers, smiles, and hugs. Our family was growing, and my husband and I were excited for the future.
Over the next few months, everything was textbook normal. I mean I already had one perfect baby, this one wouldn’t be any different, right? During one of my first ultrasound, it was discovered my placenta had implanted in the front of my stomach. “What does that even mean?” I thought. After discussing things with my doctor, it just meant the baby would need to kick really hard in order for me to feel anything. “Okay,” I thought, not to crazy, no worries. I moved on.
Life got busy with work, busy with being a mom of a now 3-year-old and putting together a nursery. The weeks just ticked by, and my stomach started to swell. Before I knew it, I was 24 weeks pregnant, and it was time to have an ultrasound to see what I was having! I was so excited! I left work early and rushed to the doctor’s office because of how excited I was. It’s not every day you learn the sex of your baby. I was ready to buy everything pink or everything blue as soon as I left! I walked into the doctor’s office, impatiently waited for my name to be called. “Ashlee” a nurse called, I smiled and jumped up. “It’s my turn,” I thought! I went back, did the routine things; like peeing in a cup, stepping on a scale as I did at the beginning of every OB visit. The nurse wrote down my weight in my chart. I jumped off rolling my eyes at the increasing number she said.
The ultrasound was normal. Size wise things looked good; two arms, two legs, and spine. The moment was here! The tech asked if I wanted to know what I are having? Without hesitation, I said, “YES!” She smiled and said, “it’s a girl.” I was so excited; I was going to have a daughter. I started thinking of girl names immediately. I thought about my son protecting her because she was the “little sister.” I started to think about her whole life in just the few minutes of hearing “it’s a girl.” The tech quickly brought me back from daydreaming and asked me to roll on my side so she could try to see the baby’s 4 chambers of her heart. I did and the baby just wouldn’t turn. She was already stubborn. “No biggie, just means you will have to have another ultrasound” the tech said. Smiling I thought I get to see her again, I’m good with that. I left and scheduled my appointment for Sept. 28, 2010.
During this time, my husband and I along with family picked her name. My mother was actually the one who named her. We decided our baby’s name would be Grace. Gracie for a nickname.
September 28, 2010, is a day I can still recall 10 years later just like it was yesterday. Everything that happened during this time changed me forever, how could it not?
I made it to my third trimester, only a few more weeks and Grace would be here! I woke up, got ready for work, and took my son to daycare. It was a normal day; my doctor’s appointment was at 2 that afternoon for another ultrasound looking at her heart. My husband and I waited in the waiting room again. Waiting for my name to be called. “Ashlee” a nurse called and once again we went through the same routine as we did every time. I walked back to the ultrasound room, took my shirt off, and laid back in the chair. Excited, my eyes immediately went to the TV on the wall. The tech, who was the same one who told us we were having a girl, continued to talk to us asking questions like how we were, how’s our son, and then she stopped talking…… It was really quiet in the room, eerie quiet. I felt something was wrong, but I told myself everything was fine. I mean I’m in my third trimester what could go wrong, right? The ultrasound tech stood up and quietly said, “I’ll be right back,” and exited the room in a hurry. Not knowing what was going on, my husband and I continued to talk about our workday and what we planned to have for dinner. The tech returned to the room and started to put the doppler back to my stomach. I finally just came out and asked her if everything was okay. She said she needed to speak with my doctor, but the doctor was in surgery delivering twins. I pushed, asking more questions because alarms were going off in my head at this point. Something is wrong I felt it in my gut, I just didn’t know how bad. “Why do you need to talk to my doctor,” I asked? She said nothing. I pushed a little more because I too am stubborn, “what is wrong, please tell me,” I was searching for her to look me in my eyes. Our eyes finally met, and the tech gave in, she explained this white light surrounding the baby shouldn’t be there. I looked at the TV on the wall, I could see the white light around her. My heart started to race, what did that mean? “I can’t find a heartbeat Ashlee”. I told her to check it again and to let me look. Like I knew more than her, but in that moment, I needed to check for myself. She did as I asked, and I too couldn’t see any heartbeat. The ultrasound tech turned off the machine and said she would give us a few minutes alone. Alone? Alone? That’s not what is supposed to happen. I needed someone to help save her.
My husband and I moved from the ultrasound room to a normal exam room to wait for my doctor. Time seemed to stand still, and that eerie quietness had followed me. There were no tears, yet. I shut my emotions off because I wanted answers. I needed to think with a clear head, so I blocked my feelings off the best I could. I wanted to know the “why” right then and there. An hour went by, another hour went by, 5 o’ clock was quickly approaching, and my son needed to be picked up from daycare. My husband left to go get him, and of course my doctor finally came into the exam room where I was all alone. As soon as she came into the room, I asked her why I had been here for 3 hours waiting! It had been 3 hours since finding out Grace didn’t have a heartbeat. My doctor looked at me and said, “she’s gone.” I snapped back with “I got it,” it’s been 3 hours since I was told the tech couldn’t find her heartbeat. How could this happen? I guess the one emotion I did allow myself to have at that time was anger. I was mad at myself, not my doctor though, but she was right in front of me. I was mad at myself for not protecting Grace; I let her down; it was my fault this happened to her. The doctor went right in and didn’t hold back, which if you know me, you know how much I appreciate not sugarcoating anything. The doctor explained she had no answers for me right now, but I had to make some serious decisions. The doctor said, “we need to get her out.” The doctor explained to me I needed to deliver Grace, or I would need to have surgery to remove her. Not fully understanding what the doctor was saying, I just sat there staring at nothing while all these thoughts ran through my head. The words played over and over in my head, I needed to deliver Grace. My doctor started to explain why Grace needed to be born now, and what would happen to me if she wasn’t. All I thought was I would need to have a DNC, that is what you have when you miscarry a baby. I had no idea though how wrong my thinking was.
I wanted to know why; why did this happen. I told my doctor I wanted/needed to know why, so she laid out my options. I still remember every word. “I will let you labor for 3 days, if you do not deliver her naturally within the 3 days, we will have to go in surgically to remove her, cutting you from your breastbone to your pelvic bone”. What did she mean, labor for 3 days? The doctor finally got my attention by saying, “you are 30 weeks pregnant; you will have to give birth to her.” Sitting there all alone, it finally hit me, I would be giving birth, actually pushing out a baby just like I had done before, but this time this baby isn’t going to cry or take a breath. I would never hear what she sounded like. The doctor left the room to make sure there was a bed on the delivery floor for me.
She came back in the room a short time later telling me she would like me to have an amniocentesis. This is where a 7.5 cm needle would be pushed into my belly button piercing through Grace’s sack of water to retrieve a sample of the fluids that might tell the doctors what happened. I’ve never been a patient person and I just needed to know why as soon as possible, so I agreed. I left the doctor’s office alone, went to the high risk second floor, a place I never thought I would need to ever go, and again I waited. My name was quickly called. They brought me to this large room with all these bright lights. A new doctor walked in. The first thing she said was, “I’m sorry.” I didn’t know how to reply so I said nothing. An ultrasound machine was brought in, they started the machine, placed the doppler on my stomach and there Grace was again. I was hoping this doctor would tell me they were wrong. That Grace was okay, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I was told since my placenta was in the front of my stomach the doctor would need to take the needle and go from the bottom of my stomach moving up. The pain will be more intense she explained, but they wanted to give me something for the pain so it wouldn’t hurt. “No”, I said. Here’s where my self-loathing started. My body did this to her, I didn’t protect her; therefore, I should feel every inch of pain was my thinking. The doctor tried to argue with me. I think she thought I would change my mind, but I didn’t. I laid there saying nothing out loud, tears started to roll down the sides of my face as the needle pierced my stomach and a burning feeling started and spread through my stomach. A few minutes later it was over, I got dressed and waited to be told where to go next.
Welcome to the third floor, labor and delivery. I stood at the doorway looking in, but I didn’t walk in. I didn’t want to walk in there. I knew as soon as I did, this nightmare I wanted to wake up from would become reality. A nurse walked over to me asking if I was Ashlee, I wanted to be anyone else besides Ashlee. I just nodded my head and looked at her with wide eyes. She said, “we have been waiting for you, are you alone?” I again shook my head, and she brought me to my room. I noticed on my door there was a picture that was taped to it. The picture was a heart with a rose through it. I thought this must be how they tell everyone coming into my room that something is wrong. The nurse helped me change from my clothes to a hospital gown. After, she sat on my bed and explained for the next little bit there were going to be a lot of people coming in and out of my room. She asked if anyone would be with me, I told her my husband would be at some point, but he had to get our son. I wanted to see my son, but I also knew this wasn’t something he needed to be a part of.
The nurse was right…. For the next two hours, I had a ton of people in my room. They were giving me medicine to start my labor, hooking me up to iv’s, and taking blood samples from both arms. I just sat there watching everyone’s face. Every time someone would come in my room, I would look at their facial expression. They would meet my eyes and quickly look away. I got it; what does someone say when something like this happens?
My husband finally got there, and he did bring my son to see me. I guess he knew I needed to see him. I held my son, watched him move about and just thought how sorry I was I couldn’t give him a little sister. How could I have one perfect baby and now my second child is gone? My Mother-in-law came to get him. I said my goodbyes and again I was alone. My husband came back into the room, I couldn’t look him in the face. I told him how sorry I was this happened. He was supportive telling me it wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t hear that. I wouldn’t hear that. It was, and to this day I carry this guilt with me always.
It was late; my body was tired. I feel asleep, but throughout the night I would wake myself up by hearing myself cry. I hadn’t allowed myself breakdown yet when I was awake. I guess my subconscious needed to get it out. I would open my eyes and look around at where I was. It always took me a moment to realize I was in a hospital, and the reality of what happed would sink in again.
The morning came and the sun started to shine. I was given more medicine, more blood was taken, I just sat there, waiting. I just waited to feel any signs labor was starting. My doctor came to see me, she asked questions as to see if I was feeling any contractions; nope, I sure wasn’t. She said “your time has started. Meaning 2 more days of labor and if you can’t deliver Grace, we will need surgery.” Enough I thought, I understand! The doctor continued explaining if I did start feeling contractions, she would give me an epidural just like I had received when I had my son. This time isn’t like before though. I immediately said “NO.” I didn’t want an epidural. Looking at me, the doctor tried her best to tell me I couldn’t punish myself this way. I shook my head and said, “no epidural, that’s it, NO!”
A new nurse came in to tell me it might help if I walked to help start my contractions. Walk where? No way she thought I should walk on the labor and delivery floor, did she? Yep, that’s right, she did. So what did I do? I got out of bed; took my iv and left my room to start walking. Doing that was a huge mistake on my part, one I would regret fast. I started walking around the large area of the third floor. Suddenly, I heard a lullaby melody playing over the speakers. This melody I heard playing now was the same melody that played when I had my son. This melody plays throughout the third floor when a baby was born. Hearing that melody hurt because I knew when Grace was born there wouldn’t be any music playing. I passed by rooms where people were happy, and excited for their futures. There were family members visiting with fun little gifts for the new baby, all smiles while they got to hold the newest family member. None of that would happen this time. I was in my own personal hell, and I couldn’t run away. I needed to get off this floor, but I was told I couldn’t. I walked for an hour, still not feeling any contractions, it was time for more medicine so I went back to my room thinking I wouldn’t ever do that again! It was a mind fuck for sure.
Later that afternoon, some of our family members did came to the hospital. They wanted to be supportive any way they could, but it didn’t matter. Nothing really did. In a room full of doctors, nurses, and family I still felt so alone. The doctor came in again this time with paperwork. She sat on my bed, asked everyone to leave. What could be wrong now I thought?! She wanted to discuss what would happen after Grace was born. The doctor told us she would like to have an autopsy done of Grace after she was born. If by doing an autopsy could tell us what happened, yes, no question I thought to myself. We all agreed. My doctor asked if I had a funeral home already picked. Funeral home? What in the actual F? I needed to now plan a funeral too? Yes…. So, I did. As I sat there in my hospital bed waiting, I planned her funeral. I called multiple places, explained my situation, and made all the choices the best I could. I picked the funeral home, the church, the flowers, and I chose to have Grace cremated. I planned a funeral for my 30-week unborn baby while she was still inside of me. Think life can get hard? Try doing that.
The contractions started just like they did when I gave birth to my son. Just a little bit of pain every so often at first. The doctor came in, checked me and gave me more medicine to continue making my contractions stronger. She asked if I wanted to walk again, I finally said I couldn’t if I needed to walk on this floor. As the contractions started getting closer together and stronger, I was asked about an epidural again, this time by a nurse who just checked on me. “No,” I said. I didn’t want the epidural, she couldn’t understand why, no one I guess did, but I did and that is all that mattered. I made myself feel every contraction, for hours. They started getting closer together, I knew I wouldn’t have to be fully dilated to push Grace out because she was so small. After a few intense contractions, I said to my husband I thought he should get someone because I think it was time. As he left the room, a hard contraction hit me, the feeling of needing to push started. I was alone in my room, without anyone there with me, Grace started to crown. My doctor who was on the delivery floor at the time ran into my room where I continued to push. I fully deliver Grace at 9:01 PM on September 29, 2010.
The room was quiet. One doctor, one nurse, my husband, a family member and me. No one said a word. I held my breath for a moment secretly hoping all the doctors, machines and tests were wrong and she would start crying. Wishful thinking. The nurse took Grace so she could clean and swaddle her while my doctor tended to me. It was over. I delivered Grace while she was sleeping.
My doctor had finished up with me, I was impatiently waiting for the nurse to return so I could hold Grace. I knew I would only get a short time with her. The nurse returned and handed Grace to me. She was wrapped in a light purple blanket. She had a small purple bow on her little bald head. All her features were so small, her nose, her ears, her lips, all small. I unwrapped her blanket to look at Grace’s fingers and toes. She had the longest little legs. Grace was beautiful, and I could only say “I’m sorry” over and over again. My husband and I spent time holding Grace, watching her sleep, and then it was time to let her go. The nurse came back in, looked at me with her I’m sorry eyes and just like that Grace was gone from my room.
The next morning, I asked if I could go home. There was no longer a reason to stay. I filled out all the paperwork; talked to countless people, and finally got the okay to be discharged. I made it to the front of the hospital and into the car. All I could think about was how I gave birth last night and I’m leaving the hospital without a baby. As I got into the car, I was handed a purple heart shaped box. I asked what it was, the nurse replied, “it’s a keepsake box of Grace.” I didn’t open it, I just held it for the whole time we drove home in silence replaying everything over and over again in my head.
Walking into my house felt weird. I was no longer pregnant; I wasn’t bringing a baby home this time. I wanted to be alone. I quickly jumped into the shower where I sat on the shower floor and just cried. I just let it all come out finally. No one was there to tell me it will be okay or tell me it was okay to be sad. I sat there until the water turned cold. I got out, got dressed, and my husband and I left to meet the funeral director. It was all a blur; I just did what I thought I needed to do. We finalized everything, date, time, place, every detail was taken care of right down to picking out her tiny casket.
During this time friends and family started to come around or call after learning what happened. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to be left alone. I knew how uncomfortable others were, again what do you say to someone when a situation like this happens? I made myself talk with them; I let them say what they wanted to. I heard things like “things happen for a reason” or “maybe something was wrong with her, and this was god’s way” or “how could you choose cremation, that’s a sin.” Are you kidding me!! I finally had enough, I stopped taking calls, I stopped listening and when someone wanted to see me, I said no. I could not longer help others not feel awkward when I just wanted to lay down and die myself.
Her funeral came, friends and family were there. Honestly, I couldn’t understand why though. They didn’t know her, never met her, who was she to them? I understand now, they were there for support, I get it, but at that time I didn’t. I was angry, angry at myself, angry at the doctors, angry at everyone and thing. I was angry with God for taking her. What God takes an innocent child? This was where I lost my faith in faith.
For the next few weeks my mind played tricks on me. At night I would wake up to hearing a baby’s cry. I would get up and go into the nursery. There wasn’t a baby in there, I would check each night I heard a cry. One night while everyone slept, I went into the nursey and finally opened the purple heart shaped keepsake box. In this box there were pictures of Grace, her purple bow she had on her head, her purple blanket she was wrapped in and a few other items. After looking over all the things, I put it all away, walked out of the room and locked the door so no one could go in there. I didn’t want to go in there, it was just too hard.
The day finally came when I received the phone call requesting I come in to go over all the test results that were now in. During that meeting with all the doctors who ran tests on me, I learned I had a genetic disorder called pai 1 4g4g poly morphism of the hypofibrinolytic plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 gene. Basically, short terms it means a lot of things but one thing that happens is your blood clots. My doctor explained I formed blood clots in Grace’s umbilical-cord which cut off all supply of any oxygen and blood to her. It was just another blow and confirmation I did this to her. That was it. I was sad, angry, depressed and I didn’t know how to get out of the dark place I found myself in. No one else I knew went through something like I had. I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want to share it. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted the one thing I couldn’t have, Grace. I had 12 weeks of maternity leave, but I only used 3 weeks of it. Looking back, I should have taken all 12.
I was dead set on not having any more kids. My husband asked me if I would try again, and without hesitation I said “no.” Speaking with my doctors they said I could try again if I wanted. I thought they were all crazy. I guess though deep down I did want more children. I was just scared of the same outcome. A few short months later though, right after Christmas and New Year’s, I found out I was pregnant again. I saw my doctor right away who laughed as she came into the exam room and said, “you were supposed to give your body time to heal,” she confirmed what I already knew. I was pregnant. Panic set in. What if the same thing happened again? What would my body do this time? What if my blood clotted again? So many things ran through my mind in just a few minutes after confirming I was having another baby. The plans started immediately, in order to thin my blood, I had to give myself shots in my stomach every day. The shots left my stomach badly bruised all over. I was now considered high risk and went to appointments every two weeks. I ended up in the hospital at least once a month for monitoring. I hid my pregnancy as best I could, only close family and close friends knew. I didn’t buy any baby stuff; I didn’t get the nursery ready; I waited. The fear of going through what I had with Grace was all too real. I though at any moment I was going to lose this baby, too. On my last appointment with my doctor, I picked out my date to be induced. She spoke to me about having to stop giving myself shots two-weeks before I give birth so my blood wouldn’t be too thin. We went back and forth on this. There was no way I could stop two-weeks before I had this baby, what if? The doctor put it in these terms for me, if my blood was too thin from my shots, it won’t clot after I gave birth, and I could bleed out. As in die. I told the doctor I would meet her in the middle. I wouldn’t stop taking shots two weeks prior, but I would stop one week before delivery date I had picked. The rest would be up to her to make sure I didn’t die. It was all I could do; I wasn’t going to lose another baby. My doctor not happy with me agreed and scheduled me to be induced on September 27, 2011. After 8 hours of laboring Emily Grace was born at 11:12 AM. I brought Emily home on September 29, 2011, this date has an extra special meaning to me.
September 29, 2011 was Grace’s first birthday. As we drove away, while looking at Emily, I thanked Grace for sending me her.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story and be a part of something bigger than me. Although it isn’t something you ever get over, with time you learn to live with your loss every day. Remember, you are not alone. The world just wasn’t ready for Grace …
Photos taken by Sara Brown Photography.
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