This is the story of our daughter Hope Christine, who now lives with the angels. She is no longer in our arms, but forever in our hearts. May all who read this be touched by her story, and realize how truly precious and fragile life is.
My husband Brett and I were highschool sweethearts married in June of 1988. We had our first child, a son named Austin Lee in April of 1993. My pregnancy with him was completely by-the-book, and I loved every minute of it. We planned our children about three years apart, and we were very excited to be expecting our second baby on July 11, 1996.
Everything was exactly as it should be with this pregnancy, at least in the beginning. As I entered my third trimester, I was concerned about the degree of movement I was feeling from this baby as compared to Austin, whom I swore would be born on a Nordi-track machine! Someone even said that I was probably carrying a girl, and she was just being lady-like. I tried to dismiss it as just being a different baby. However, I was also getting strange comments from people about my size. Everyone said I looked too small for my gestation. My Dr. wasn't concerned, as I had carried small with Austin. I didn't have routine ultrasounds with either one, and skipped the AFP test as there was no known history of defects in either family. One Saturday, about seven weeks before our baby was due, there was on movement. I tried everything I knew to get things going. The Dr. said to come to the hospital for a non-stress test, just to see if the baby was alright. Needless to say, I was terrified. I just knew something was very wrong. My head and my heart had been playing this cat-and-mouse game of "something's wrong"..."no, it's not" and I felt the truth was about to come out. What I feared was that the baby had passed away in utero due to a cord accident. As soon as we got to the hospital and got the machinery hooked up, the baby started kicking, and I started crying...I was so very relieved. That was short lived, as they weren't happy with the test results. They like to see an increase in fetal heart rate when the baby kicks, and ours stayed the same or decreased. We came back the next day to try again, with the same outcome. My Dr. scheduled an ultrasound for the following Friday just to see what was going on.
I will remember that day and everything about it for eternity. It was May 31st, 1996, and it was gorgeous outside. I remember what I wore, exactly how the room looked....The technician was scanning and measuring various parts and recording everything as she told us what we were looking at. She tried for about five minutes to get a clear picture of the head. She had her supervisor try, and she grew very quiet, but then told us quite cheerfully that we were done, and that we could go see our Dr. for the results. We went over there with a feeling of dread. On one hand, we still didn't KNOW anything was wrong, but there was just this overwhelming sense that our lives were being forever changed. My Ob/Gyn has been my Dr. since I turned 20. He is very kind and sees each birth as the miracle the parents do. He did the best job anyone could have of telling us our baby was not ours to keep. He explained that our baby had anencephaly, what the defect was, and the fact that it is without exception fatal. I honestly kept waiting for him to say "But" or "However" and that there was daring new technology to try. We fell apart completely in his office. They were so kind to us, and talked to us for as long as we wanted to stay. We were told that as our gestation, couples almost always choose to have their labor induced. It is supposed to be emotionally easier that waiting for the inevitable to occur. We went home with the seemingly impossible task of telling our parents and Austin. I can't tell you what that weekend was like, really. I don't have words for that kind of hurt. The baby was moving more vigorously than ever before, and it just killed me. I sat up both nights holding my belly and crying and asking over and over "why". I have always thought the loss of a child was one thing I would never be able to survive. Now we were faced with labor, delivery, our child's passing if the baby survived the birth, and then a funeral and burial. I honestly didn't think I would live through it. I COULDN'T lose this baby and go on. Our parents were beside themselves; they were going to lose a grandchild and were watching their own children suffer in a way that, thank God, they had never known. It was during this time that I told Brett that if this baby was a girl, I needed to name her Hope, as the voice of our Dr. was forever etched in my head saying there is no hope for babies with this condition, and I HAD to give her some. I knew the things I would be able to give this baby would be few, and this name was something that was a must.
Our Dr. wanted to do an x-ray to confirm the condition on Monday morning. I clung to the slightest chance that there was a huge mistake, but that was not to be. Our induction was started that morning. This is something I will struggle with forever. I know the outcome would not have changed, I just wonder what our baby thinks now. While I was in labor, we chose Christine for a middle name, which means near to God. We knew this was where our baby would be. At 9:45 p.m. on June 3rd, 1996, Hope Christine was born....alive!!!! She weighed 3 1/2 LB. and was 16". I cannot give words to the combination of physical and emotional agony of that day. I can say that the physical wasn't even close to what I felt on the inside. They handed her to us in a hand-crocheted cap and blanket, and she was so very beautiful. With her cap on, it was almost possible to pretend that there was no way this child would soon slip away. We had several pictures taken, which we treasure immensely. We spent the four hours of her life in my bed, and tried to make sure she felt how we loved and wanted her for always. In the end, she just stopped breathing. Letting go was the hardest part. You can never go back. Once she was gone, there was only memories....
She was buried five weeks to the day from when she was due. Leaving the cemetery after her service was so very hard; what mom can leave her newborn baby anywhere that she is not? To this day, it is so painful to leave. She is resting in a peaceful country cemetery about 20 minutes from our home. Her tiny casket was laid horizontally at the top of my plot, so when the time comes, I will rest in the same spot. In the three years since Hope's death, she has remained in my thoughts every second of the day. I am so very grateful to Brett and Austin and our families for all the support I continue to feel to this day. We were blessed with Hope's baby sister, Leila Faith, just under a year after Hope's passing. I like to think that Hope picked her out just for us, and that she is Leila's guardian angel. As I said earlier, I knew I was so very limited in what I could give to my baby, but what she has given me is immeasurable. The fact of how fragile life is, that nothing should ever be taken for granted, and the deepest of loves in my heart for the smallest of angels. I will always morn not only for our loss, but what she will never know: sunshine, Christmas lights, school days, children of her own. Then I realize these are mortal things, and that she knows a peace and tranquility that we only dream of. I believe she knows the depth of our love, and that she watches over us for always.
Please visit Hope's Memorial Page!