May 23, 2019. Just a normal day for most people. For us, it was the day our second daughter, Adalyn, was born too early at 21 weeks and died. She was our second loss in a row, my third pregnancy. We had lost her brother, Wyatt, on August 15, 2018 while 9 weeks pregnant. We have one living child, Zoey, who will be 3 years old on the very last day of the year.
Scott, my husband, and I had gone to a follow up 20-week anatomy scan appointment on May 20. This appointment was not supposed to happen, but the Radiologist 3 weeks prior didn’t get good heart views and wanted us to do a follow up. When the ultrasound tech didn’t come back for a while, I began to get very anxious and filled with dread. Scott tried reassuring me that everything was fine, the Radiologist was probably just busy. The tech came back and gave us the news: my cervix was very short, our doctor had been called, and we were to go to Hoag Hospital where they were expecting us.
We met with my ob and a perinatologist at Hoag and were told our options. I tried being strong and not falling apart, but I did cry once the news sunk in. My cervix was shortening, we could lose Adalyn. I was kept there for observation and told the next day they would do a rescue cerclage, if possible, to try and save her. The cerclage was put in and everything was going well. We were discussing going home soon and what the rest of the pregnancy would look like.
As per usual for me while pregnant, I threw up. I felt a small gush and my heart sank. The nurse testing my fluids and at the last minute, the test turned positive for amniotic fluid. This meant that I was leaking amniotic fluid, but no one knew if my water had broken, was torn, or if it was a small leak that would fix itself. I started dilating and having contractions. We had to make the heartbreaking decision to remove the cerclage and see what happens next, to avoid damaging my cervix or an infection that could harm myself or the baby.
At 7:50 AM on May 23, Adalyn arrived into this world. She did not move, nor was she breathing. She was still, warm and light. She looked like her big sister’s twin. She took our breath away. The wonderful nurses and doctors cried with us throughout our 4-day hospital stay, they guided us through Adalyn’s birth and death with kind, gentle hearts and ensured we never felt alone.
Adalyn was cremated at Natural Grace Funerals and Cremations. They remembered us from when we had Wyatt cremated less than a year ago. They went above and beyond to help us and were so kind to us too. We cannot thank them enough for how they took care of us through this heartbreaking time.
Shortly after Adalyn died, I found The Cooper Project on Instagram. She is a loss mom from New York who makes necklaces for other loss moms. Her son, Cooper, died while she was pregnant with him at 39 weeks. She actually saw his heartbeat disappear on the monitor while at the doctor’s office. In honor of him, she has made necklaces for other loss moms and uses the money from necklaces sold on her Etsy shop to make more necklaces for free for loss moms. Not only does she do this, she also created the Pink and Blue Awareness project. She asked for volunteers to help make pink and blue friendship bracelets and send them to her, so she can send them out to people all over the U.S. to raise awareness during the month of October, which is Pregnancy and Infant loss awareness month. To say she is amazing is an understatement. This year, she collected over 30,000 bracelets.
Scott and I made 500 bracelets for this project and we wanted to continue to make more bracelets for Forever Footprints. We want to continue to honor the memory of our two children we have lost too soon. So please feel free to reach out and grab a bracelet for yourself or anyone else you know. We are hoping to continue to make bracelets year-round, not just for October. – Lisa Sato
Forever Footprints would like to thank the Sato Family for sharing their precious babies and their journey with our readers. With every bracelet made they are honoring and celebrating Adalyn and Wyatt. Sending our support and gratitude to the “The Cooper Project” for the advocacy they are bringing to the loss community.
You can stop into the Forever Footprints Office in Orange, Ca and pick up a Pregnancy and Infant Loss bracelet made lovingly by Lisa and Scott. Email email@example.com for more info or call (714) 509-0065. They have donated 500 to Forever Footprints and we are so grateful. You can follow Lisa on Instagram @mother_trucker13. You can follow “The Cooper Project” on Instagram @thecooperproject141
This is a season of new life. Spring is my favorite season of the year with freshly bloomed flowers spotting the green earth. Bees and butterflies dance and flutter in the breeze. I love the sound and smell of light showers falling from full clouds. Near my town, there are hills painted with bright poppies with the roadside littered with parked cars where people snap pictures of the beautiful scenery. I love this season because it reminds me of hope and a new beginning.
Over the past year, I have been slowly adapting to my new life as a bereaved mother. I’m getting used to the unfamiliar colors, sounds, and smells. Each day I embrace unique experiences. All the while, with my daughter in my heart and mind, a greater purpose for this season has risen. I never thought I could be like this. I thought my life was forever doomed for a bleak, lifeless existence.
You see, another valuable lesson has erupted from the ashes. There is a time to mourn, but there is also a time to rejoice. “But, Kaitlin, how can you rejoice after losing your daughter?!” Seems crazy, I know, but I do rejoice in my new life. I belong to a close community, yet at the same time Wendy gave me a perspective of life like I’ve never known. I have started to think for myself and take care of myself more deliberately. I have gained a better appreciation for my friends, family, and especially my husband. Yes, I see the world in different colors, and they are more vibrant than I could have imagined.
All because of Wendy. I rejoice in that.
I rejoice in new experiences every day, because I believe that suffering such incredible loss has developed me into a better version of myself. I have grown in many ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. However, rejoicing doesn’t take away the deep yearning I feel for my daughter every day. I wish she lived. I wish I could watch her grow up. I wish I knew the true color of her eyes.
It has taken me over a year to get to this place. The ability to stand amidst the charm of lovely, flowering elegance cost me crawling desperately through the dark, mournful mud. I know how hard life can be after losing a child. I know that you may feel like life will never be happy again. I know the feeling of immense loss, but it will not last forever. I promise you. It is a season, and a new season awaits. Spring will come.
Kaitlin McLaughlin is currently a grad student at Grand Canyon University, obtaining her Master’s in Education in hopes of becoming a single subject high school teacher. She’s also an Intake Specialist at a local non-profit which specializes in helping at-risk youth finish their high school education and get connected with paid work experience. After Kaitlin and her husband Ryan experienced their daughter being still born due to a neural tube defect, Kaitlin has developed a passion to help her new community of bereaved parents. They reside in Southern California with their one your old Golden Retriever. Also, they spend their time going to the beach, hanging out with friends, and exploring new eateries around their neighborhood.
I had always thought of gratitude and grief as polar opposites. To me, gratitude is associated with appreciation, relief, and provision. It fills your heart with warmth when you are pleased with something. It often follows something you had hoped for. Grief, on the other hand, is associated with deep sorrow. It can feel so painful, so isolating, and so cold. It often follows your worst fear. They couldn’t be more different from one another, thus it made perfect sense to me that they could never coexist. Surely grief was an enemy of gratitude, and gratitude was the remedy for grief.
Then I lost Ethan.
Holding my firstborn son in my arms as he took his first and final breaths, my assumptions on grief and gratitude were challenged in ways I found difficult to articulate. All at once, I was overcome with both gratitude and grief–incredible gratitude for the privilege of being this strong little boy’s mama and unthinkable grief over losing him. It was then I discovered that grief and gratitude do not cancel one another out. Grief and gratitude can coexist. Contrary to what I once assumed, grief is not the enemy of gratitude. Thankfulness can grow and thrive in the midst of pain.
To clarify, this does not mean that I was thankful for loss. Gratitude in grief does not mean that we are grateful for losses or for heartbreak. We have the freedom to call those things what they are–horrible, painful, confusing. Grief demands to be felt and my gratitude did not take away my permission to grieve. Finding gratitude in the midst of grief did not mean slapping a superficial smile over tears and searching for silver linings, but rather it meant acknowledging the gifts my broken heart had been given as I grieved.
As Thanksgiving approached that first year, I was challenged to give myself permission to embrace both grief and gratitude. I chose to be grateful–grateful to have known my son for the 28 weeks he grew inside of me and the 93 minutes after. Grateful for the ways his life has shaped and challenged me. Grateful to have caught a glimpse of the purest form of unconditional love–a love that is stronger than death. I challenged myself to give thanks for the gifts I have been given, while allowing myself space to grieve.
This November, let’s all give ourselves permission to feel both grief and gratitude. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to one another, allowing ourselves to miss our babies and share a good cry, while recognizing how special they are and how fortunate we are to have known them for whatever time we had. There is enough room for both joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their rainbow baby, Andrew. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met, and one on earth. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
Three years ago, I attended my first Walk to Remember. It had only been two months since I had said goodbye to my infant son, Ethan, and my grief felt so deep, so raw, and so fresh. The previous months leading up to that day had been incredibly painful and isolating in ways I couldn’t quite put into words. When a friend told me about the Walk to Remember, I felt nervous yet excited all at once–I had no idea what to expect, but something inside of me longed to connect with people who understood. I longed to celebrate my little boy and to simply say his name to someone…anyone who would listen.
I am so grateful I put my fears aside that day. From the moment I checked in, I felt seen and understood. My walls crumbled down with each person I spoke to. As each baby’s name was spoken and each rose was passed out, I felt less and less alone. While it didn’t take away the grief of losing my son, stepping into this community of like-minded people softened the jagged edges of grief in ways I never expected. I received an indescribable gift on that day—the gift of hearing Ethan’s name, the gift of honoring him, the gift of being surrounded by people who didn’t try to brush him aside or just tell me to “think positive”. I received the gift of meeting other parents and hearing about their babies–the simple gift of “me too”.
This event and the community that I’ve found in it have been a comfort to me over the years, as my husband and I said goodbye to four more babies–four more tiny babies added to the baby memorial banner. Each year, my aching heart has found comfort in knowing that I’d be surrounded by my tribe of some of the most beautiful, brave, and broken people, who shine so bright in spite of all they’ve been through. This year, I’m looking forward to including my newborn son in celebrating the five babies we lost before him.
When I look back on each year, I cannot help but see how much I’ve changed—I see the ways grief has brought out the worst in me, but far more I see the ways being a mother to five babies in heaven has made me better. And for that I cannot help but be grateful for the joy I have been given in the midst of something so painful and for the opportunity to meet and connect with so many beautiful hearts along the way–the mothers, the fathers, the siblings, grandparents, medical professionals, and friends whose hearts have been touched by a special baby in a very big way.
Each year, I’ve looked out at the crowd of attendees and have felt surrounded by support and understanding. Though the details of our stories may be different, these people know. They understand. Whether they’ve walked through loss themselves or have held the hand of someone who has, they have stood exactly where I stand. They know the pain of a due date that never comes—of “what ifs” and unfulfilled plans. They know the devastation of the words “not compatible with life” or “I’m sorry, there’s just no heartbeat”. They know the pain of laboring and delivering a child who never opened their eyes, or one who did but couldn’t stay long. They know the long days in the NICU, they know the devastation of planning a memorial service for an infant.
They also know the joy of knowing someone so small, but so special. They know the joy of knowing a love that is stronger than death. They know what it’s like not to take one sunrise for granted. They know the pride of being part of such a beautiful legacy, sparked by someone so small.
Of all people, we were chosen to be our baby’s parents. We are the best mother or father they could have asked for. We, of all the mothers and fathers in the world, were hand picked to experience a love stronger than death and to carry their legacy.
I’m looking forward to taking another another step toward this goal—together.
Forever Footprints’ Walk to Remember is an annual walk that takes place to honor babies that have died due to pregnancy loss and infant death. Parents, and their loved ones and friends, are invited to come walk the steps our babies will never take.We’d love for you to join us this year at the OC Walk to Remember or the IE Walk to Remember.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and the newest addition to their family–a baby boy they welcomed home in April. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”
— Ernest Hemingway
I felt especially connected to the seasons the year Ethan died.
The previous spring had been filled with so much excitement and the promise of new life. As the tree in our front yard filled with green lives, hope bloomed inside of me with eager anticipation over all that was to come. My heart felt warmer than those beautiful springtime afternoons.
Summer was the season of Ethan. One day we were driving home from the beach, windows rolled down, discussing baby names, and laughing over the irony of how many girl names we both liked and how few boy names we could agree on. Days later I went into the hospital for a routine ultrasound, blissfully unaware of the tidal wave lurking over the horizon. Soon after that we were sitting across the table from the geneticist as we received the devastating news that our little baby boy would likely fight for every breath. As the temperatures continued to rise, it felt as if we had been thrown into some sort of fire. Week after week brought more appointments, more scans, and even more bad news. Weeks later, we rushed to the hospital in the middle of a warm, August night. We uttered joyous hellos and tearful goodbyes. I can vividly feel the wall of thick heat that met me as I was wheeled back outside with empty arms, as sobs shook my entire body.
My broken heart welcomed the arrival of Autumn. The trees were stripped bare, their leaves falling like tears, and I felt understood. I found comfort in the way the changing of the season seemed to reflect my own feelings. Everything that had once bloomed so vibrantly now felt so lifeless and bare. As the cool of winter set in, questions, anger and defeat swirled around me like harsh winds. I struggled to stand beneath the force of it all. Everything felt so cold and I struggled to remember what spring had felt like.
But it came. Just like clockwork, spring returned and brought life to the trees that had once looked so dry and barren. As the warm afternoons returned, my weary heart began to find comfort and Hope. I was reminded that, though a part of me would remain changed by the seasons I had faced, spring would come again. Though a piece of my heart may ache, there was still hope–there would be spring again.
Autumn is more than a season of loss and grief to me. It is a season of harvest. It was as if I were pruned through the harsh winds of grief, and entered spring changed–more compassionate, more grateful for the sweet gift I had been given. Unlike the literal seasons, we have no idea how long the harsh winters of our lives may last–but we can cling to hope that winter can pave the way to spring. Springtime would cease to exist without Autumn and Winter.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota, and the newest addition to their family–a baby boy they welcomed in April. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
Main photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash
From the moment I first held that pregnancy test in my hand, my heart was filled with dreams for my son’s childhood–one that I hoped would be filled with love, laughter, and plenty of family traditions. I envisioned the milestones to come: his first birthday, his first day of school, his high school graduation. My dreams were shattered into a million pieces when our precious firstborn baby was born prematurely and succumbed to a fatal genetic condition at just 93-minutes old. The milestones that I once looked forward to with such joy and excitement were now anticipated with such deep sorrow. Three years later and my heart aches each time kindergarten enrollment begins, and I often find myself blinking back tears as I count down the years until Ethan’s class will start school.
The loss of a baby has a way of changing a simple date on the calendar into a point in time that feels so significant and so heavy with a wide spectrum of emotions. How can we face the due dates, the birthdays, and the milestones that now feel so bittersweet?
As we approached Ethan’s first birthday, I reached out to my friends within the loss community for ideas of ways to spend the day and received plenty of great ideas for celebrating and surviving milestones.
Throw a bash
One of my loss mama friends throws a birthday party for her son each year. Through the years, this tradition has been a great way to celebrate her son’s life with friends both new and old. Some party ideas include a butterfly release, cake and icecream, showing a slideshow, and/or selecting a theme that reminds you of your baby.
Several of my sisters-in-loss commemorate special dates each year by lending a helping hand in their baby’s honor. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as volunteering at a local charity, hosting a Random Act of Kindness day, donating memory boxes through Forever Footprints, or making a contribution to an organization that has had a positive impact in their life (at Forever Footprints, you can personalize a fundraising page with your families story to make it more personal). Here are some suggestions for ways to give back.
Take time to reflect
Whether you prefer to have a quiet day or one filled with plenty of activity, don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself. Go to the cemetery, look through photos and special mementos, take a walk, and/or listen to songs that remind you of your baby. Turn off your phone if you need to. Give yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions you are met with–whether the day makes you smile, cry, or both.
In my experience, there is no one-size-fits all approach to celebrating and surviving milestones. Free yourself of any pressure to face the day in a particular way. In the first year after Ethan died, I felt pressure to celebrate milestones with grand gestures–I wanted to show the world just how much I loved him. Yet at the same time, I craved a day to myself. It took me some time to accept the fact that, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with grand gestures, Ethan didn’t need that from me. My love for him was undeniable and he was at perfect peace regardless of whether I threw a big party or spent the day alone. That first year, my husband and I each took the day off work, visited the cemetery, ate dinner at Del Taco (I couldn’t get enough Del Taco during my pregnancy with Ethan), and shared a small smash cake at home. We needed a quiet day together that year. However, by the time Ethan’s second birthday arrived we wanted to get out and be around lots of people. What we have needed has changed year to year, and even day to day, and it may be the same for you. Give yourself permission to celebrate each milestone in the way that is best for your family.
And remember, no matter how you choose to spend the day, your baby knows nothing but love.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their rainbow baby. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to one baby on earth and five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
Main photo by David Ananda on Unsplash