I never know where to start when I tell my story. I thought I had endured heartache and hardships before losing my daughter. I thought that I had a good perspective of what life was before. The reality of losing a child is that you are left categorizing time before and after their existence and you learn heartache in a way that crushes you completely.
I grew up in a small rural town. My parents are amazing, hardworking, genuine individuals who are constantly volunteering their time. My two brothers and I kept them on their toes over the years – parenting is the greatest evidence of karma. I am a licensed architect with my Architecture degree from North Dakota State University (Go Bison!). This is where I met my husband, Kyle. He is a mechanical engineer, outdoor enthusiast, and the absolute best husband and father to our babies. He has been my constant through everything we have been through.
Our first shared love was for our furbaby, Leto – a wild, baby-loving German Shorthair Pointer. Together we have traveled and sought beauty in nature across the country with her by our side (or a quarter mile ahead of us).
In 2017, we had our first baby boy – William. My pregnancy with him felt stressful in the moment – I had extra appointments and ultrasounds to monitor him for preterm labor. He arrived one week early on his own time, a completely perfect 8-pound baby boy. He is a firetruck, garbage-truck, dinosaur, puppy-loving 3.5-year-old and has the biggest heart. His intuition to help and love others at his young age melts my heart. He and Leto are inseparable.
In the summer of 2019, we found out we were expecting our second child. My due date was March 19, 2020. The pregnancy went very smoothly, until it didn’t. We heard the heartbeat for the first time at 11 weeks. We did harmony genetic testing and the results came back normal. We saw our sweet baby a second time at the anatomy ultrasound in November of 2019 at 23 weeks, on Kyle’s birthday.
On February 25, 2020 I was 36 weeks 5 days along and we had a routine checkup appointment where everything checked out perfectly – a strong heartbeat & measuring on track. The reality that our new baby was soon coming began to set in. We had taken family photos the week before. Washed baby clothes, loaded the car seat, prepared freezer meals and packed our hospital bag.
Two days later, February 27 is a day that will forever be branded in my heart and mind. I woke up and couldn’t feel her moving. I told Kyle that morning ‘don’t freak out, but I haven’t felt the baby move this morning.’ He messaged me later that morning and I still wasn’t sure if I had felt her move. I called our OB’s office and they had me come in right away. This is where my life changed forever. Kyle works 30 minutes from the doctor’s office and didn’t get there before they came in to tell me ‘I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat. The baby is gone.’ I sat in the room alone, in a state of absolute shock. I called Kyle even though he was only minutes away at that point. I told him on the phone that our baby was gone. I called my mom and shared our tragic news then asked if she could drop everything to drive the three hours to pick up William from daycare so we could go to the hospital to deliver Ellie.
We checked into the hospital that afternoon. The hospital did a final ultrasound to confirm she was gone. The tech made the comment ‘she was a beautiful baby girl.’ This is how we found out that our baby was a girl. After waiting to find out the gender and saying the only thing that mattered was a healthy baby throughout the pregnancy. As if our hearts weren’t aching enough, the thought that this might be our only baby girl set in as well. I was put on meds to induce labor that evening.
Eleanor Viola made her silent arrival into the world at 3:01 am on February 28, 2020 weighing 6 lbs. 5.4 oz. We had chosen the name Eleanor, intending to call her Ellie as a little girl. She was absolutely perfect – a head of fuzzy brown hair and an adorable button nose identical to her older brother William.
We had three beautiful hours with her. That time was all too short – we spent it cuddling her, crying over her, telling her how much we loved her and that we were so sorry that she couldn’t live with us here on earth. We memorized the details of her face, tiny hands and feet, and the weight of her in our arms. The nurses helped us to give her the only bath she would have. We took photos with her and she was given the most beautiful blessing before we had to say goodbye.
In the hours that followed, I begged to be released. Being in an area of the hospital where babies are being born when yours was taken away is true agony. We were released that afternoon, less than 24 hours from when we checked into the hospital. We left the hospital with a box at the same time another mother was leaving with twins. The irony of us being empty handed while their hands were full felt unfair. Driving home we had the realization that the empty car seat was in the backseat. When we got home the reminders were everywhere. William asking where baby was and kissing my empty stomach and telling baby how much he loved her even though she was gone.
The minutes, hours, days and weeks that follow after being forced to leave our daughter behind have been some of the hardest I have ever endured. Each step along the way was suffocating. The funeral home calling saying they received her body while I was still in the hospital. Planning a funeral during a time that we should have been preparing ourselves for the final days before her arrival.
We celebrated Ellie’s short life with our immediate family the Saturday before everything shut down for COVID. We didn’t know that we were entering a work from home model and our daycare closing for the next several months. We were in a world of hurt as we grieved our daughter.
Throughout our first year without Ellie, we celebrated her in every way possible. Each difficult milestone without her, we held close to our little family. Her due date. Each month where we wondered how big she would be or what she would be doing. Missed doctor appointments. Each holiday without her. Family photographs holding a vacancy that should include her. Seeing little girls that are close to her age. Advertisements for baby girl clothes. Each a reminder that they were things that should be that will never be.
We are left constantly looking for signs of our precious daughter. Each butterfly or shooting star serves as a reminder of our baby girl. During our early outdoor hiking adventures after her passing, we regularly encountered tiny blue butterflies. We have to believe that this was our sweet girl telling us that as we put one foot ahead of the other, she is with us. We planted a butterfly garden at our home to create a place to reflect and think of her. We donated a sitting wall that wraps around the Niche Ely Ossuarium where she rests at the cemetery – William loves to run across this when we visit her. For her first Christmas, we donated jammies with our story to our local hospital for families who endure an unexpected loss like ours.
Many people have asked ‘so what did happen’ to your baby. The hard answer is that she passed away unexpectedly from what doctors assume was an undetected mosaic trisomy 2. The cardiac puncture sample they took from her heart clotted before it reached the lab at the Mayo Clinic to be tested. The anomaly was found in some of the cells of the sample taken from her side of the placenta. This diagnosis is not genetic or age related. It is random and can happen to anyone. Two in one million pregnancies. Most babies don’t live beyond 20 weeks and if they do, they don’t live many days beyond birth. Most have heart conditions or have physical deformations. Ellie was visibly perfect which makes it hard to believe this was truly the answer. The scientific side of my brain accepts this answer, the mother-loving instinct inside of me finds this hard to accept. Having an answer doesn’t help me process her loss, she is still gone.
Ellie lived, for 37 weeks inside of me. She was an active baby and by far my easiest pregnancy. I am left with the stolen memories of what would be if she were here in our arms instead of our hearts. The wonder of what she would be like today, tomorrow, at each birthday. What her little voice would sound like, her adorable giggle or ability to pick up words to a song like William. Each day, I look for signs from her. I think of her and my heart aches for her to be here.
Finding My Rainbow
We were told we could try again after 3 months. It took longer to get pregnant with Ellie, so we decided we would try again if we were ready when the time came. Shortly after we started trying again, I was out for my morning run with Leto and I looked at the sky to see the smallest rainbow which brought me to tears on the spot. It felt like a sign from Ellie that there is indeed hope. That perhaps, we will weather this storm and there will be another chance at life inside of me to grow our family. A few weeks later we found out we were pregnant. Exactly one year after we had found out we were pregnant with Ellie. We were due one week after Ellie’s first birthday, March 8, 2021.
Navigating a pregnancy while grieving is difficult. Your guard is up to protect yourself and your loved ones around you. We didn’t tell our immediate family we were pregnant until we were 17 weeks along. We did so by having William show each of them the gender reveal card reading the word ‘boy’ over Facetime. Telling coworkers and friends was hard as well, some we didn’t tell until we were in the final weeks before my due date.
Appointments took an emotional toll. Due to COVID, I went alone to all except ones where we had an ultrasound. Our first appointment at 11 weeks we heard the heartbeat and saw our tiny baby. Each 4-week span between appointments we painstakingly waited for the heartbeat at each appointment. Fear wrapped its arms around my heart as I struggled to enter the same doctor’s office where I heard the words that changed me forever. Sitting in the waiting room or exam room alone I replayed the memory of that day.
We saw our sweet baby boy at our 23-week appointment and he was perfect. Once I reached 33 weeks, we had appointments twice a week to do a biophysical ultrasound and nonstress test to monitor baby. At 37 weeks they gave us the option to be induced the following week. We decided to do so as our anxiety was incredibly high approaching the 37-week milestone of when we lost Ellie.
Baby Oliver was born the following week on February 22, 2021 at 38 weeks, weighing 7 lbs. 8.8 oz. He was absolutely perfect. His cries were music to our ears. He has a head full of dark black hair and the same button nose as his sister Ellie and brother William. Bringing a baby home has been bittersweet. We soak up the middle of the night wake time, crying and diaper changes. We took Oliver to meet Ellie on her first heavenly birthday when he was 6 days old. We see her in him and feel incredibly blessed to have our rainbow baby here in our arms.
Photos taken by Hubbard Visuals.
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