Grief for a baby who never took a breath is such a crazy juxtaposition of emotions.
It's been two months — actually, 62 days to be exact — since we found out that our baby girl died just shy of 38 weeks, two weeks before her April 18th due date.
There was no grand finale of a baby birthday photo.
Ella was stillborn.
It seems remarkable that in this day and age, a perfectly healthy mom could lose a perfectly healthy baby. But it happened and there's no glossing over it.
There was a complication with her umbilical cord that was there from the start called "marginal insertion of the cord," and the cord was unraveled at the placental point of attachment. This resulted in the cutting off of her nutrient supply from the placenta, which led to her demise at 37 weeks and 5 days.
The good news is that the cause of her death was rare and non-genetic. The bad news is that it was detectable on an ultrasound scan as early as 18 weeks and manageable with proper care.
However, I was sent for a 16-week ultrasound and never sent back again, despite the recommendation to my doctor from the radiologist to return at 22 weeks. Of course, I didn't learn about this recommendation until it was too late.
It's taken me some time to write this, and I debated for a long time on how to share this and whether to invite more people into this difficult time. But I know that by not sharing it, I'm letting the cycle continue.
I would be allowing more stillbirths to occur simply because the subject matter is too painful to talk about. I would also be allowing more doctors to escape liability because it's easier to believe, as I'd been told, that "nothing could be done," and, "cord issues are not detectable."
But the lawyer, researcher, and advocate in me now know that this isn't true, and I've learned that we have the technology to not only detect but also manage umbilical cord abnormalities and prevent stillbirth.
It's funny because the only time we ever really discussed the umbilical cord was when I asked Brandon if he was up for the task of cutting the cord. For some reason, I kept pronouncing it "umbiblical cord," and Brandon would always laugh and correct me.
Looking back, my mispronunciation was more appropriate as the cord's development was of biblical, life-or-death proportion for our family.
When I look back at photos on Instagram and Facebook, I see scenes of a happy and loving couple about to expect a baby. I want to jump into the frame and shout, "Go back to the doctor! Get a third trimester ultrasound! Have your umbilical cord and placenta thoroughly scanned!"
But we never had that superhero moment so I hope this information can be that superhero for someone else.
Please share this information with the mama-to-be's to be in your life: Tell them to have their umbilical cord and placenta examined early and often and if any abnormalities are found, to seek help from a specialist. The worst case is that you unnecessarily alarm a pregnant woman; the best case is that you save her baby's life.
Grief is the hardest thing I've had to endure. I've lived a lifetime in these two months.
I feel like the clock slowed down for the world and I aged forty years inside my grief bubble. "Just get me to the next hour," I would think in the first few weeks after Ella's death. "If I can just make it to lunchtime, I will be okay."
I look at photos from just nine months earlier and cannot recognize the happy girl in them. I'm no longer that girl and I doubt I will ever be that carefree and happy again.
Time is a funny thing, a concept by which we measure our lives based on a moving planet and rising sun. Even though this time of grief has dragged on, I cannot believe how much time has passed since the greatest loss of my life.
"Everyday gets a little easier," said my mother, my grief counselor, my friend. And it's true. Everyday gets a little easier, until the good days outnumber the bad days, and the laughs outweigh the tears. But there is always this underlying heaviness inside me — what once was the weight of a baby is now the weight of grief.
It gets easier each day, but time doesn't stop the counting and wishing for the passing of more time. In my head I would tick off milestones: "It's been two weeks since Ella died."
And then I would count to future milestones: "One more week until we have dinner with friends. Six weeks until I can exercise again. Four more weeks until we potentially find out what caused Ella's death. Six weeks until I return to work. Two more weeks until we go on vacation. Three months until we can try again ..." And on and on.
Grief for a baby who never took a breath is such a crazy juxtaposition of emotions. I delivered Ella knowing she'd been dead for almost two days. But this tiny irrational voice in my head hoped she'd be alive and that the doctors had made a huge mistake.
But of course, there was no cry. There was no announcement of, "It's a girl!" when I delivered her. Yet delivering her was the most beautiful experience of life.
When we held her in our arms shortly after, my heart swelled a million times. I know this sounds corny and I've heard other parents say things about their children like, "My love for you is as endless as the ocean!" and, I would think, "Oh, please!" — but it's true.
I've never known love before like the love for a child. But that child was robbed from me.
Grief and sorrow quickly filled this newly found space, an ocean of love turned into an ocean of loss. Life became weeks of sleepless nights, a Texas flood's worth of tears, and a constant state of worry and fear.
I also lived this parallel life in my head — the one where space and time bend and Ella got to live. Pregnant women, social media baby announcements, and strollers haunted me everywhere I turned, and all I could think was, "Ella should be here with me right now. I should be pushing her in the Uppababy stroller. She should be wearing the little striped Hanna Anderson sweater I bought for her."
We felt like we were in this weird limbo: We were ready to become parents, but here we were stuck back in our old lives where it was just the two us. No longer a carefree young couple, but not quite parents.
At some point, I realized that this horrible thing actually happened and I couldn't change it. There is no parallel world where Ella gets to live.
Longing for the child I lost is turning into longing for the family we're going to have in the future. And somehow, my love for Ella has grown my heart so much that I know I can always love her and equally love our future children.
Lately, I've begun to count my blessings instead of counting time. We're blessed with the most amazing support system of friends, family and colleagues to pull us through the hardest days, the ones where I felt like I was moving in slow motion while the world spun around me.
My family was there immediately to cook us Easter dinner and clean my apartment. My mother and sister bought me a bag full of post-maternity clothes, a little retail therapy to make me feel better about my body.
Daily texts from my sister with promises of a happy future kept my spirits up.
My girlfriends Kristen and Marnie traveled over four hours from Washington, DC the week after it happened, took care of me, and cooked us the most amazing dinner.
Friends sent texts on Mother's Day, telling me that I was a mother. Friends and family have sent calls, texts, emails, letters, books, flowers, dinners and cards. This list goes on and on.
We've been surrounded by love at every moment. We cannot thank you enough for all of the love; it's been our lifeline.
The biggest blessing of all has been Brandon. In this period of grief, there has also been this period of unbelievable closeness.
Words cannot express how much my love for him has grown. I know now that my mission is simply to love him and raise our family together. I have my partner by my side and for that, I'm eternally grateful.
We've also been lucky to raise thousands in donations, part of which will go to dedicating a tree and park bench in Ella's honor. The other part will fund umbilical cord research and awareness outreach.
One of the hardest parts of this loss was accepting that it happened, when science and research show that it was completely senseless. Her tragic ending was avoidable with umbilical cord scanning, fetal kick counting, and heart rate monitoring.
However, this is not the current or automatic standard of medical care in this country — you have to fight for it.
I hope to start a conversation around umbilical cord anomalies and accidents and I hope this conversation encourages women to be advocates for their fetal care and avoid senseless tragedies like this one. I hope no family ever has to lose a child in this manner.
We've been fortunate to find the nation's leading doctor and expert on umbilical cord accidents, Dr. Jason Collins. He's turned his practice into a non-profit, and has been helping women across the country manage umbilical cord issues and help deliver live, healthy babies. His non-profit, The Pregnancy Institute, is the recipient of the funds raised by my "work family," whom I cannot thank enough for their support.
Our favorite act of love has been these butterflies we drew that we had originally planned to send out with Ella's birth announcement.
We emailed our closest friends and family and asked them to color in these butterflies and send them back with messages of love. Dozens upon dozens of them started rolling in over the next few weeks, in all shapes and sizes, colors, and creative twists.
We love to think about the people who made them, that part of Ella's story became theirs and for a brief moment they were children, too — coloring and creating with playful whimsy. We cherish these butterflies.
The analogy of the butterfly to a growing baby is not lost on me. And while Ella never lived life outside the cocoon, her spirit lives on in the people I hope she impacts with her story.
This is the butterfly effect I hope to create — that this one small story can change the fates of babies who would have otherwise suffered. Ella died, but they can live.
I write this from a balcony overlooking the ocean in Palm Beach, with the healing luxury of time and space. This week, I've had time to reflect and to continue to count my blessings.
I'm fortunate to be healthy and equally fortunate that my husband is healthy.
I'm fortunate to be able to run, bike, swim, and partake in all of the physical activities that make me feel like a whole person.
I'm fortunate to work for a great company with tremendous opportunity and amazing people. Going back to work has given me back part of my identity as an achiever.
I'm also fortunate to have so much love in my life in the form of an incredible community of family, friends, and colleagues.
I read recently that there is just one universal human story: loss.
When this first happened, I felt so isolated in my sorrow. But I realized that we all have some loss we're going through, one we have already experienced or something we are trying to hold onto and avoid losing.
It had been hard at times to connect with people — friends and neighbors who stumble for words or worse, gloss over our loss completely without acknowledging the elephant in the room. But I know that everybody has something with which they are struggling.
Whatever pain an individual is dealing with is the worst thing in her life, and she is feeling that in as real a way as I am.
And as much as I detested those who did not acknowledge our loss or who immediately began recounting their problems or agenda, I also appreciated being treated like everything was normal because it gave us space to momentarily forget ourselves and feel human.
I cannot say I'm brave enough to go through this all over again knowing the outcome would be the same. But I do know that I cherish that moment when we held our little girl for the first time. It was the most profound moment of my life, filled with equal parts beauty and sorrow.
This profound love guides me and keeps me directed and hopeful with the dream of holding our future children. Theirs will not be the happy ending to Ella's story — that story belongs to her, and it is a short one.
But our future children will live their own stories, and these stories will hopefully be long ones.
"We are really, really lucky," Brandon said to me yesterday. "Despite what has happened, we have so much to be thankful for in our lives ... so many good people who love us." And it's true.
I'm so damn lucky to be alive, to have my partner in life, and to have hope for our future family. I never want to count the days away, I just want to continue to count my blessings in this amazing life.
You taught me the courage of stars before you left.
How light carries on endlessly, even after death.
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite.
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist.
— "Sleeping at Last" by Saturn
Rest in peace, Eloise Rose Bloch, our beautiful baby girl. We will hold you in our hearts forever.
Love, your Mom and Dad.