All I ever wanted to be was a mother.
My mom was an OB nurse and for a lot of my childhood, I spent countless hours at work with her at the Labor and Delivery unit. I absolutely loved it. I remember being surrounded by mothers and babies, hearing the sounds of new life, always volunteering to help my mom teach the parenting class, and knowing at a young age how truly precious being a mother is. However, I never knew that sometimes, those mothers would leave the hospital without their babies. I thought that every one of those mothers would give birth to living, crying, and breathing babies. My mom protected me from the horrors of stillbirth and infant loss. My view of pregnancy and babies was full of positivity, bliss, and life.
When I met my husband, Tom, online ten years ago, I knew he would be my life partner and that he would be a wonderful dad, even though he lived thousands of miles away in England. For six years, we would travel back and forth to our small towns in Montana and Kent, England, and plan our future without the distance. On June 12, 2018, after six long years of long distance, we finally got married. Tom and I always talked and dreamed about having children one day. We also knew that if we had a daughter, her name would be Rhiannon after our favorite Fleetwood Mac song. Rhiannon was already in our hearts and hopes.
The moment those two lines turned pink in February of 2021, my lifelong dream came true. Though it was quite the surprise and shock for my husband and I, we looked at each other with wide eyes and promised to make it work. We always wanted to be parents, though we knew the timing wasn’t the best. I was one-year away from graduating with an Elementary Education degree and Tom wanted us to be more financially stable. Even though we were stressed, we couldn’t wait to finally become parents.
When we learned we were having a girl, Tom and I were beyond excited. Tom said how he always wanted to be a “Girl Dad” and I don’t think I ever saw him smile as big as he did that day. We immediately knew we were going to finally have our sweet Rhiannon Willow Mae that we have always dreamed of.
My pregnancy was healthy, uneventful, and somewhat easy other than the back pain. We got to see Rhiannon on ultrasound at every visit and she always had the strongest heartbeat. She was shy, like her dad, and only showed her face to us once. She looked just like her Daddy with his full lips and cute nose.
It was September 16, 2021. I was 32 weeks and 6 days pregnant. I woke up and didn’t feel her move, which was strange. I rubbed my belly and said, “Feeling extra tired today, sweet girl?” and continued to get ready to go to class. I remember stopping at Starbucks before school and ordered a grande vanilla steamer, which always got her to move. I still didn’t feel her. I even blasted her favorite song to dance to, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! by Abba the whole way there. Still no movement. I called my mom and she said, “She is probably fine. Take a deep breath.” We had a scheduled ultrasound later that day so I told myself we would see Rhiannon soon.
Tom and I walked into our appointment making plans to finish folding her clothes that were spread all over our couch after going shopping to buy a lamp for her nursery. We were planning to finish her nursery that very day. When the OB walked in to give our ultrasound, I let him know that I didn’t feel her move today. “She is just fine,” he said reassuringly, “let’s take a look.” The next 60 seconds were the most silent, haunting, and earth-shattering moments of my entire life. I stared at the screen, seeing our Rhiannon, still and quiet. I then felt my OB’s hand firmly grasp mine and heard him say, “I am so sorry. There is no heartbeat.”
What just happened.
My daughter is dead?
No, this cannot be happening.
All I can remember is screaming “no” and grasping onto my Tom, who looked at me with his ocean eyes filled with sorrow.
“I am so sorry.”
With Tom holding on to my convulsing body, I somehow managed to grab my phone and called my mom.
“Rhiannon is dead. She is gone. She died. Mommy, please. My baby is dead. Mommy please” I screamed.
Tom and I’s lives were over. We were no longer the Tom and Kylie who were planning to go lamp shopping, the Tom and Kylie who had a nursery full of moons, stars, clothes, toys, dreams, hopes, and everything our Rhiannon ever needed, the Tom and Kylie who thought we were going to take home our baby girl, alive, in a matter of weeks. That Tom and Kylie died alongside our daughter.
I grabbed on to Tom and looked into his eyes and said, “I am so so so sorry. I am so sorry I failed our baby girl and you. I am so sorry.”
The body that I thought would nurture, grow, and protect our daughter became her casket and I immediately felt disgusted, betrayed, and horrified by my body.
Knowing how emotional labor would be and how it could take my body days to go into labor, I begged my OB for a c-section. I knew that if I was to go through labor with Rhiannon, it would kill me. I would not emotionally or mentally survive that. For my sanity and well-being, my OB reluctantly scheduled a c-section for the next day.
The emptiness of the last night with Rhiannon inside me will forever haunt me. The absolute worst feeling in the world is having a dead baby inside of you. There are no words to describe the horror of feeling your dead daughter inside of you and not being able to do anything about it. I could feel her still body, pushed against my spine, inside my womb that was supposed to protect her. I felt disgusted and pure hatred for my body. Tom is the only person who knows how much I cried that day.
Rhiannon was born on September 17, 2021 at 1:19 pm. She was 19 inches long, 5 lbs and 4 oz., and was the most beautiful baby I have ever seen.
Her skin was supple like a newly bloomed rose, her head was covered in thick, dark waves, her legs and arms were long and strong, and her face was perfectly still. There were no obvious signs of what happened or how she died. Everything about her was absolutely perfect.
The first thing I said to her was, “I love you so, so much my baby. I am so proud of you.” I got to hold our baby for a couple of hours and then I had to say goodbye.
I will never be whole again.
The hours, days, weeks, and months after Rhiannon have been a blur. It is true when they say, “Grief comes in waves.” My survival tactic was being numb. I somehow managed to student teach 4 months postpartum, with a pregnant mentor teacher, and graduated with my teaching degree. I owe it all to Rhiannon for getting me through and giving me strength.
Tom, my husband and love of my life, held me through all the screams, tears, and heartbreak. Rhiannon’s life only brought us closer, and to that I thank her with all of my heart.
In late January of 2022, still stricken with grief, I saw those two pink lines again.
I was in shock, disbelief, and frozen with fear.
“We’re pregnant, again.”
Tom and I’s were once again widened, and for the first time since losing our firstborn, we had an inkling of hope. We hoped and begged that this would be our rainbow after the storm of losing our precious Rhiannon.
We rushed to a new MFM and OB, where they found out from my postpartum bloodwork that we lost Rhiannon due to me having a blood clotting disorder called Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS).
Somehow, my previous OB and MFM failed to let us know the reason Rhiannon died. It felt like I lost her all over again. Though it was a relief to have an answer to her demise, it was a punch to Tom and I’s guts that we were never told that. I had spent the last months wondering what I could have done to save our baby and what I did to deserve the pain of losing my child. To have realized that there was nothing we could have done and they only test for this syndrome after a loss, it brought me a small amount of peace. We did everything we could at the time for our girl.
I was immediately put on baby aspirin and lovenox injections. We have had appointments almost weekly.
Now that I am 35 weeks pregnant and have passed the gestation of losing Rhiannon, I am hopeful that we will leave the hospital with a baby instead of a box this time.
However, trying to celebrate your rainbow baby while grieving your angel has proven to be heartwrenching. Every time I feel Rhiannon’s little sister move, kick, or hiccup, I sigh a breath of relief. Every second of this pregnancy is full of anxiety and paralyzing fear. I wake up each morning horrified that I may have lost this baby, too, until she moves. Through all of this anxiety, I still have a sense of hope because of Rhiannon. She sends me signs all the time and I feel her presence with us. I truly believe that Rhiannon sent us Stevie and has been protecting her for the last 8 months.
We will love, remember, and honor Rhiannon for the rest our lives. She will always be our first daughter, the one to make us parents, and the reason we live every day. Stevie will get to know her older sister and know that she will always have an angel looking over her.
To all fellow loss moms, moms who are also expecting their rainbow, moms who are waiting for their rainbow, and to those who lost their rainbows… My love goes out to you and your beautiful babies. I would like to honor Rhiannon’s life by fighting the stigma against stillbirth, pregnancy loss, and infant loss. I also want women who are trying to conceive to be tested for blood clotting syndromes, such as APS, so stillbirths, like Rhiannon’s, can be prevented. No one, NO one, should ever go through what my family and so many others have gone through.
We can’t wait to meet and hold you soon, Stevie Josephine Rhiannon.
Photos taken by Elizabeth & Samuel Photography.
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