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Bella’s Story

Dear Bella,

Mother’s Day 2009 was the day I found out that I was going to be a mom to you for the first time.

I used to imagine how exciting it would be to share this story with you as you grew up. How the stars aligned to bring you to me on the day reserved for mother’s. On that day I felt like I had been granted access to an exclusive club, where the stick with the 2 pink lines telling me you were on the way was my membership card. I couldn’t wait to celebrate each Mother’s Day remembering that special day you entered my world for the first time.

Your dad and I carefully crafted how we would tell your grandparents. We didn’t waste any time heading to the store to pick out trendy picture frames emblazoned with the word “GRANDPARENT” in capital letters across the top. I photoshopped a picture of that test with the two lines with your due date and the words “Coming Soon…”. Filled with impatience and anticipation we wrapped up our handy work and headed out to deliver the exciting news right away. We felt like the Publisher’s Clearing House van about to give away a million bucks to someone special. Your Nana squealed with delight jumping up and down with hugs for everyone. Your Grandad beamed with pride. Your Papa’s eyes welled with tears because you were on your way. And your Mema bought us your first gift, a new dslr camera so we could capture every moment of you.

The first trimester began and brought on the realities of pregnancy. The daily nausea, loss of appetite, and fatigue from growing you put me into hibernation mode. But your dad tried to keep things light. He invented silly nicknames for you like Dinosaur (he thought your early sonogram photos look like little dinosaurs), and Hot Dog (remember that episode of Full House where Aunt Rebecca wants to tell that whole family that him and Uncle Jesse are expecting during a game of Pictionary and the baby looks like a hot dog?), you were Daddy’s little Hot Dog. He went on late night Frosty runs when that was the only thing I would eat, and he let me buy those $60 gluten free soft pretzels online when I experienced my first craving.

According to the doctors you were our healthy little Hot Dog Dinosaur. Strong heartbeat, active, 10 fingers, 10 toes and you were all ours. After the first trimester I decided it was “safe” to really begin planning for your arrival. Being that planner and bargain hunter that I naturally am, I spent the summer of 2009 buying nursery furniture and decor. I went shopping with a friend and came home with the first pieces of your wardrobe. I read all the baby name books and scribbled names down on paper to see if they looked right, I read names aloud to your daddy to decided if they sounded right, and we finally settled on a boy name and a girl name that simply felt right.

The minute I was allowed to call to make our 20 week sonogram appointment I was on the phone. I wanted to find out if you’d be our Bella or our Bradley as soon as humanly possible. Week 18 was the earliest we could schedule and I even rearranged my work schedule to make that early date happen. The sonogram technician was the sweetest grandmotherly figure I’ve ever met. We chatted about her son, her summer, and her grandchildren. She took her time to show us each detail of you. At least the details she could find. She couldn’t locate your bladder so she had me go empty mine. Still no luck, so she very kindly told us that the bladder may not be visible because it was only Week 18. You weren’t too keen on sharing your gender either so we still didn’t know if you’d be our Bella or Bradley. The doctor walked in and very matter of factly told us to reschedule in 2 weeks to check again and sent us on our way. That night our Obgyn called with a sense of urgency in her voice. She told us to schedule a sonogram with a high risk practice right away. She seemed to speak in whispers and code even though I know she was speaking perfect English. But motherly instinct in that moment told me something was very wrong.

I sat in the waiting room of the high risk office pondering what a terrible job it must be working there. I wondered how many times in a day they had to deliver bad news to expecting parents. I wondered if we’d be their next victim. The technician called us back and rushed us through a series of sonogram photos. She was rough on my belly, she pressed a little to intensely, I could feel you kick her back as if you were staying “Stop!”. I wanted her to stop too. She asked if we wanted to know your gender but didn’t say another word after that. The silence was deafening. I guess you were shy because you still wouldn’t show us boy or girl. Maybe that was your way of getting back at the technician for pressing too hard. She left. Minutes dragged on like hours. Then, the doctor finally walked in and broke the silence with 5 little words that would change our world forever: “Your baby has multiple problems” Without stopping for air, he continued to spout out medical jargon about this syndrome, or that syndrome. Things we had never even heard of before. He listed off the numerous organs you were missing one by one. So cold. So heartless. We were just another number to him. Pretty soon I felt like I was in a Peanuts episode where the teacher is speaking but the words come out as gibberish. He rushed us into an amnio and sent us away with orders to return to his office in 2 weeks. I was numb but held it together in that office, I didn’t want that doctor seeing me cry. Your dad almost fainted on the way out. He didn’t want to believe what he was hearing. That evening, as I googled every little snippet of medical jargon that doctor threw around at us that day I completely fell apart in your daddy’s arms.

We called the Obgyn the next day to follow up and demand a 2nd opinion sooner than a 2 week time frame. I cried on the phone with the OB’s office as the nurse told me our doctor was out on vacation. I cried when one of the other OB’s in the practice called me back to talk about options. I cried as she told me I needed to call the high risk doctor. I cried as the high risk doctor bluntly told me “your amnio results are back, your baby is female, there are no chromosomal abnormalities”, and I cried as he told us we should go for further testing at Children’s Hospital in Washington D.C. I dreamed that you must be ok if your chromosomes were all intact, but motherly instinct was still telling me something was very wrong.

Before our visit to Children’s we took a weekend trip to the little town where we got married. We walked and walked just the 3 of us. We sat in the hotel room and laid in bed for hours while I’d tell your daddy all about what you felt life swimming around in my belly. As you kicked and played in there I placed your daddy’s hand on my belly, and his eyes lit up as he finally felt you move for the first time. His kissed my belly and kissed my cheeks and kissed my tears away and told me that no matter what happened everything was going to be ok.

At Children’s Hospital we were met with more tests, more poking, and more prodding. But we were also met with hugs, kind words, and a wealth of information. Sonograms, MRIs, and consultations revealed our worst nightmare, the perfect storm that had been brewing all along. Missing organs vital to life, an umbilical cord that was not attached properly, and the rapid loss of fluid so important to your survival. We were given a diagnosis incompatible with life outside the womb if you even made it that far. And we were faced with the most difficult decision we will ever make in this lifetime.

Two days later, September 11th 2009, we were in the hospital to deliver you. As we sat in that hospital room watching TV where the news re-played over and over the collapse of the Twin Towers, I felt it ironic that this would be the day that you’d be born still. Just as mother’s day was so fitting to find out about your arrival, 9/11 seemed almost too fitting to mark your departure. The 24 hours that followed were all a blur of caring nurses and doctors, waiting, and wishing to be anywhere else but here. Your daddy and I were in such a state of shock. “How did we get here?” We had never dealt with such profound grief and as we were asked over and over again if we wanted to see your or hold you once you were here. We just couldn’t fathom the sadness in that moment so we declined. That, my beautiful Bella, is our one regret. Never taking the time to hold you in my arms and tell you how much I loved you.

I was wheeled out of the hospital less than 5 hours after your delivery, empty handed, with a hole in my heart. The sun was shinning too bright and seemed to be laughing and mocking me. Apparently the universe doesn’t care when your baby dies at 20 weeks gestation. I longed for the rain to come, for the universe to cry along with us at the loss of you. In the weeks that followed there was pain, guilt, sadness, and an intensely dark time for our family. I was going through the motions of each day, but had lost my spark, my passion, my zest for life. The planner in me couldn’t handle the unpredictability of losing you and I longed for a sense of order in the chaos of our hopes and dreams gone completely off the map. I did more crying in those first few months than I think I have done in a lifetime. The tears came as I drove to work in the morning, they came as I put myself to bed each night, they came one evening when I was at a dinner party with friends, and they especially came when I thought about how life would look without you.

At home the emails, calls, and cards came rolling in. Flowers began to arrive in mass quantities and I wanted a way to collect their beauty and preserve it for when I could truly enjoy it. I remembered I had your camera. The one your Mema intended to be used to to take beautiful images of you to fill her GRANDPARENT frame. Instead I picked it up after you died and used it to capture a glimpse into my fragile heart. I found I was able to interact with the world but still have a place to hide being behind the lens. I was taking photos almost daily – learning tricks the pros use – and it didn’t take long for me to become a professional photographer myself. I discovered photography to be an incredible tool in my healing, I began a blog to share life after you. Since your passing I have experienced emotions more fully, I have learned so much about myself , and I have had the opportunity to meet amazing new friends along the way. Thank you baby girl for re-opening my eyes to all the beauty still left in the world and being my muse as I sought to mend my broken heart.

xoxo.
Love, Mama