By Whitney Wood
May 2014 was a month full of excitement and surprises. My younger sister, my sister-in-law, and one of my best friends all announced that they were expecting babies. Then my husband and I found out that we were pregnant with our third child! Babies were popping up all around and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to experience this journey with so many close friends and family members.
September 3rd, 2014. We dropped off our two older girls with my mom while we went to get our 20-week sonogram. We had a 45- minute drive ahead of us, so of course, we were discussing names and if we think it’s a boy or girl and making plans to go celebrate the gender of the baby after our appointment. The excitement about new life brought us joy!
I had two very easy pregnancies; you could pretty much call them “by the book pregnancies”. I never had high blood pressure, I gained the correct amount of weight, and I carried both babies full term and had short easy uncomplicated deliveries. I thought nothing different going into my third pregnancy.
As we received our ultrasound it seemed to take FOREVER. I was thinking in my head, ‘either this technician is new and can’t seem to get the right angles on her images or she is just super picky on what images she sends over the doctor’. After an eternity, she asks if we would please wait in the waiting room; she wants to make sure the doctor doesn’t need any other images before we leave. I immediately knew something was wrong. I grabbed Zach’s hand and told him to start praying because I knew something wasn’t right. It was the longest 3 minutes of my life waiting for the doctor. As we walked down the hallway to the office I fought back the tears. My hands were shaky and I knew the news would not be good, but I had no idea how bad it would be.
The doctor came back to see us, wearing no smile, just speaking in a small quiet voice. She shared that they found some abnormalities with our baby girl. From what they could see she has what they call a Omphalocele. An omphalocele is a birth defect in which an infant’s intestine or other abdominal organs are outside of the body because of a hole in the belly button area. The intestines are covered only by a thin layer of tissue and can be easily seen. They also noticed that there is some disruption in her lower spine. She tells us that we need to go see a specialist immediately. My doctor then passed some information onto us to help us understand more about what our little girl had and gave us the information about the specialist -Dr. Aisenbrey- that we would travel down to Farmington, New Mexico to see. We had an appointment scheduled on our behalf for first thing the next morning. We would not be able to take anyone under the age of 18 and they prepared us that it would take a good couple of hours. My doctor then asked if we had any other questions and we both just shook our heads and she walked of the room. I honestly can’t even tell you what I was thinking. I was in shock! How could this be happening? I have healthy babies. I have easy pregnancies. This can’t be happening to us…
We walked out of the office and went straight to the car where we sat and cried and cried and cried. Our phones had more missed calls and text messages from friends and family anxiously awaiting the news on what gender our baby is. One of the hardest things was picking up the phone and calling our families to share what we had just found out. We tried to share as much information as we understood but mostly just sobbed and asked for them to pray for us.
We put some worship music on and we both just cried and prayed together the entire drive home. We knew that we didn’t know what lay ahead but what we both knew was that the Lord was with us. He was there and crying with us. He was comforting us through this heartache. As we pulled into town we decided that we were not going to share anything with our two daughters until after the appointment with the specialist. My mother kept our girls that night and Zach and I just went home and did some research to try and understand more of our sweet little girl’s condition and to decide on a name for her. Neither of us slept much that night, it was lots of tossing and turning but at 2:45AM the Lord spoke and gave my husband a verse.
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?”
Little did we know that He gave this verse to us in regards to her name.
The next morning we arrived at Dr. Aisenbrey’s office. My prayer all night long and the entire drive to the office was that this all would be a mistake and that the doctor would not find anything wrong and that the doctor we were seeing would be a Christian.
We went into the appointment with so much hope but we left feeling more discouraged and confused. We learned that our little girl’s condition was far worse than what they had found yesterday. She not only had a “bubble” on her tummy but the disruption in her spine was a lot worse and although both of these conditions could be fixable with surgery, it was the least of their worries. The biggest concern was that our precious baby girl had a very big heart defect. He heart was ¾ the size of her chest cavity and taking up majority of the room not leaving her lungs any room to grow or develop properly. Her heart was working twice as hard as it should have been. Her heart rate was 70 beats per minute; healthy babies heart rate is double that at 140 beats. We then had a Skype meeting with some genetic counselors who informed us that we would need to undergo some testing to figure out the cause of these complications. We would be able to get those tests done the same day but the likelihood of our daughter surviving the next 2 weeks was very slim. They suggested numerous times in our Skype conversation that the best thing to do was to terminate the pregnancy, but again they wanted to honor whatever our decision might be. Once that call ended, we returned to Dr. Aisenbrey’s office and discussed all that had taken place during the visit. He informed us again on all abnormalities but he did express that the heart was his biggest concern. In that time we learned that he was a Christian and he was not for terminating the pregnancy but had to be honest with us and that the next 2 weeks were very critical and we needed to understand the likelihood of our baby not surviving. We were asked to return in two weeks time and they would reevaluate our baby’s condition and we would discuss our plans for how to move forward and the care we would need to receive for baby and myself.
Those two weeks were a whirlwind of emotions. I definitely had good days and bad days. I was super confused but also trying to stay strong and keep life as “normal” as possible for my girls at home. We were overwhelmed with the amount of support and love that we received from friends and family near and far that letting us know they were or had been praying for our sweet little girl and us. I was taking in every moment that I had with our baby girl. I knew that I needed to cherish all the little kicks from her dancing in my belly to the sleepless nights that I couldn’t sleep. I was making every moment count with this little one because I had no idea how long I have would have her with me.
In those two weeks we landed a name for our beautiful little girl. We named her Bryn Lea Joy. Bryn means ‘from the hill’. Which if you remember the night we found out about Bryn’s condition the Lord woke my husband up and gave him the verse Psalms 24:3. This was confirmation to us that even in the midst of this tragedy the Lord was with us. We gave her the middle name Lea after my mother-in-law because Bryn’s due date was on my mother in laws birthday and Lea means ‘clearing/ pasture’. And then we added Joy to her name in the midst of everything going on we wanted there to be joy amidst the mourning.
On September 17 we headed back down to Farmington, New Mexico to have our second appointment with Dr. Aisenbrey. We learned that Bryn was actually worse off than they had thought two weeks before and she no longer had an Ompalocele but that in the two weeks time they were able to discover she has a condition called “Body- Stalk Anomaly”. Body-stalk anomaly is a severe abdominal wall defect that results from abnormalities in the development of the cephalic, caudal, and lateral embryonic body folds. This maldevelopment results in the absence or shortening of the umbilical cord with the abdominal organs lying outside the abdominal cavity and directly attached to the placenta. We basically were told that this condition is fatal and there is nothing that they can do. Because of this condition I was considered “high risk” and that any level 1 hospital would not be able to take on my case. I would have to deliver Bryn at a higher-level hospital, which meant that I would have to travel up to Denver, Colorado and or down to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We left more discouraged and shocked and honestly at this point I was just angry. Not only had we just been given devastating news about our daughter we were now being told that her condition was fatal and there was nothing they could do to help her. We were told that we needed to turn our focus on me and that this pregnancy was placing me in a dangerous state.
Five days later on Sept 22, Zach and I headed down to Albuquerque to get a second opinion on her condition and there we learned that everything we had been told was true. Bryn had a fatal condition. We were given a couple of different options but none of them were anything any parent wanted to have to decide. Because of Bryn’s condition the doctors were no longer focusing on her but shifting their focus to me. Her condition had placed me in a very dangerous state. I had the option of staying the night and being induced or if I wanted I could leave and go on carrying Bryn as long as she would be with us but understanding that once I went into labor the chances of me bleeding out were 90% because of her condition. If you remember I mentioned before that at our first appointment Dr. Aisenbrey shared that we would not be able to deliver her at a level 1 hospital and that when the time came to deliver her I would have to travel to Denver or Albuquerque, both of these locations were 3+ hours away. So after much prayer and many many, many tears Zach and I made the decision to stay in Albuquerque and deliver our beautiful baby. It was on September 23, 2014 in the early hours of the morning that we delivered our precious baby girl. She was perfect in every way, looking so much like her older sisters yet being her own little person.
I know that I will never understand why we had to walk through something so tragic as to lose a baby, but I am finally becoming okay with not understanding. Yes, it took me a almost an entire year to get to this place, but I know that what I learned has changed me forever.
I learned that there is no right way or time frame for mourning. I learned how to celebrate with friends and family even in the midst of pain. My perspective on LIFE is SO different. Because I only carried my little girl for 24 weeks, I know that so many people do not understand the devastation of what it means to lose a child that you didn’t get to meet, but please, don’t brush off a loss of a child just because a woman did not carry it full term. Don’t think that the effects of an unborn babies death are less significant than any other death. Bryn was a LIFE for 24 weeks. She was with us. Her story and the way she impacted so many people including her father and I have changed us. I am so grateful for the grace the Lord has continued to pour out on me every day. I am thankful for the discussions we have with our daughters about heaven and our precious Bryn getting to live there with Jesus until He is ready to have us join her. This journey of mourning the loss of a child is not over, but I am thankful that I can now look back on my story and smile, feeling the Lords love and seeing how He is using even this tragedy as a testimony.
As I write this, I am 24 weeks along with our fourth baby. Abel Wilder Wood is due February 1, 2016. In no way does Abel replace Bryn; you can’t replace a person. But he does bring new joy along side our mourning. We know that God gives and takes away and we are blessed to receive what He has in store with our son.
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